“Rebellious shopping”

Keep shopping

Keep shopping

Pretty interesting opinion piece in the NYT today. In “Unequal, Yet Happy”, CalTech researchers Steven Quartz and Annette Asp make a case that unlike the past, today’s opportunities for individualistic expression/consumerism are partly responsible for keeping a lid on discontent re: the wage gap.

They start first by laying out some facts about “happiness inequality” that might surprise people:

All of the wage gains since the downturn ended in 2009 have essentially gone to the top 1 percent, yet the proportion of Americans who say they are “thriving” has actually increased. So-called happiness inequality — the proportion of Americans who are either especially miserable or especially joyful — hit a 40-year low in 2010 by some measures. Men have historically been less happy than women, but that gap has disappeared. Whites have historically been happier than nonwhites, but that gap has narrowed, too.

Apparently, conspicuous consumption was about keeping up with the Joneses (but I think the Joneses always knew you couldn’t).

The pursuit of “the cool,” in our view, fundamentally altered the psychological motivations underlying our consumer choices. In conspicuous consumption, our emulation of higher-ups means we compete directly for status because we want what they have. But rebellious consumption changed the game, by making a product’s worth depend on how it embodied values that rejected a dominant group’s status.

To me this feels related to the Wal-Mart effect. While wealth concentrates at the top, a broader group of people have access to more “stuff” than ever before. I don’t think a broad group of people are actually really “cool” in the narrow sense that they are hipsters riding fixies up hills with great looking beards and skinny jeans.  I do think that millions of people can buy Martha Stewart at K-Mart and feel some degree of fashion, and a connection with the elite. And perhaps this leads to increased contentment.

Or maybe we actually brought Millenials up well, and they realize money and stuff is far from the end all.

Professor Maslow, your Apple Watch is ready

With reviewer embargoes lifted, pre-ordering started, and thousands of people trying on the Watch every minute, the debate about the need for these devices has become more pronounced. For me, I’m much more interested in whether it actually works.

Probably the best review out there is Nilay Patel’s from The Verge. It uses the day in the life method to show the watch at work across a variety of realistic scenarios. He’s very thoughtful, and they produced a video to go along with it…well worth it.

Of course there is the usual chatter out there about feeds and speeds — and battery life — versus various alternatives, but we all know improvement will not stop, and in five years, smartwatches will be thinner, more capable and possibly dominated by use cases we don’t even know about now. Refreshingly, gadget enthusiasts don’t worry about “need” because that’s totally besides the point. Annoyingly, they aren’t satisfied with simply saying they prefer something, instead insisting on telling you why your choices suck.

“Needs” — beyond, you know, Maslow’s physiological, safety and security categories — are  pretty damn subjective and relative, and I find it amusing that some people seem to be taking a strong stand with this watch.

Take the Incremental convenience provided by Watch: you no longer need to fish your phone out of your purse or pocket to get something done, or to triage a notification.

Yes, it’s only a couple of seconds saved from a task that you could do better on the phone. Yes, you are a pathetic dopamine addict who can’t possibly miss the latest cat video or selfie from someone who matters to you at the moment.

But so what? Did putting a piece of paper between each cheese slice hurt someone? What about the cordless phone? Or automatic buttons in cars? What about the $20,000 for an extra 100 horsepower in a car? Our culture is full of stuff that isn’t needed to survive..but is better.

Per above, my larger concern with the watch is user experience. I don’t mind buying toys, but I want them to actually work. If Apple can’t figure out how to solve the latency of loading data from the iPhone on which it’s dependent, then I’ll probably skip this version altogether. Is it non-optimized code, or does it have to do with the (presumably un-upgradeable) S1 chip?

“Shelley was so right: atheism is an absolute necessity in this world of ours. If we are to survive as individuals we can rely only on those resources provided by our human spirit—appeals to a deity or deities are only a form of pretence. We might as well howl at the moon.”

— William Boyd, Any Human Heart (2002)


Battery momentum

More on batteries…this today about Aluminum Ion batteries from Stanford (via the WSJ).  Lower energy density than Lithium Ion, but less volatile, and probably more abundant.  Worth a watch.

Tesla’s CTO speaks

Forget the glitz.  This talk by Tesla’s CTO JB Straubel is largely free of hype and pretty cool. My favorite slide from his presentation (both the video and the slides are posted):


How many people live in that patch in Nebraska?


Straubel makes the point that it wouldn’t be practical to build a giant square of PV, and that the square footage would be distributed widely on rooftops etc. Good distribution reasons include weather, transmission distance, national security, etc.

But if you’re an optimist about what could be achieved if a gun were put to our collective heads, this should be encouraging. Too bad it may come to that.

Apple Watch Bits: fighting the Phone Zombies

Leave it to Apple to build a fat business solving a problem that it played the most prominent role in creating: the now common tic of relentlessly checking one’s phone.

It’s so rampant in my family (see picture), that at times I call the kids “Phone Zombies” — eliciting the desired protests, and briefly halting the behavior.


Phone Zombies not being in the moment

I do think this is related to the purpose of Watch. Is Apple trying to drive its products into the few moments of waking life that it doesn’t already serve? Or is it intentionally cannibalizing its own customer connection on the iPhone screen in favor of easier, less disruptive Watch glances and touches? Is the Watch a new category, or is it a more convenient and less socially disruptive accessory of the iPhone? I think it’s more of the latter, even though it will be an incremental, multi-billion dollar business.

It’s always been rude to surreptiously check one’s watch in the middle of a conversation: most often you can’t hide it, and at minimum it signals that one’s not paying full attention. At worst it signals boredom. Watch will not solve this issue. But it might bring the zombies back into a more mindful state.


The 2nd Watch launch event the other day held few surprises. Most analysts had already dissected the tech, the likely use cases, and especially the pricing. @Gruber in particular got pretty close, and I think convinced a lot of people ahead of time that a $10K+ version was not outlandish in the luxury watch / fashion business.

A few notable bits from the event, and the commentary that followed on the web:

Focusing on style

Most people probably thought it a throw away line, but Tim Cook offered something that I think is the primary driver of much of Apple’s effort around design and fashion:

“Apple Watch is the most personal device we have ever created. It’s not just with you, it’s on you. And since what you wear is an expression of who you are, we’ve designed Apple Watch to appeal to a whole variety of people with different tastes and different preferences.”

Geeks are a tiny minority, and most people don’t like wearing hideous things. That’s even more true of geeks that are women. The Android Wear collective will struggle to break into the mainstream.

Various things about the device

Memory: what’s notable is the total lack of focus on specs. There’s some memory aboard, but it’s limited. Nobody knows exactly how 8GB of memory translates into Watch apps or songs songs stored, and frankly few people care right now. Anybody comparing speeds and feeds of the Watch to Android Wear are entirely missing the point.

Metal: Probably fluffery, but Apple made three videos to explain the superiority of their metals. Jony Ive narrated manufacturing porn. Stainless steel that’s 80% harder than what? My fridge door? Or Rolex’s surgical steel?

Water resistance: it turns out that it’s IPX7 certified..which means you can submerge it in your bathtub for 30 minutes. All those people who were insisting a smartwatch must be shower proof should be ok now.

Battery: if you were expecting Apple to ship a watch that wouldn’t, with normal usage, get you through a day, then, well, no one can help you. It turns out you’ll be fine if you sleep 6 hours or more every night and plug it in during that time (as I do with my iPhone). I don’t sleep with a watch on, but some people do, and so maybe this is a show stopper for them. Also, Apple announced that the battery would be replaceable, pushing off obsolescence just a bit. (I still wonder whether the chip — and even the sensor pack — might be upgradeable).

Weight: depending on the type of metal and case size, the Watch weights cases span 25 to 69 grams, with the aluminum 38mm Sport being the lightest, and Edition the heaviest. I have a stainless steel mechanical watch, and the case weighs roughly 50 grams…just like the Watch in stainless. A Polar exercise watch, including the integrated strap, weighs 56grams.  I’m guessing a little, but I think the Watch Sport will be on the light side for a fitness watch given what it does (if you don’t count the iPhone you need to schlep along). I hope no one is planning on running with a gold watch for other reasons.

Pricing: tons of coverage out there of the various permutations, and no need to go over it in depth here. Suffice it to say that if you want to try the Version 1.0 Watch (which will relentlessly get thinner, lighter and more capable over the next couple of years) then you’re looking at $349. That is what I think I’ll do.

For per capita startups, Seattle no better than Wilmington DE

Ok, so that’s a bit alarmist, but according to a study by The Brookings Institution, that’s a fact.

Apparently, Seattle has only 3x the average US First Fundings per Capita. As a comparison, San Francisco down to Redwood City is nearly 25x. (OK, maybe that’s gerrymandering the results a bit to fit the thesis — should Everett really have been included in the Seattle-area metric?) And then of course there’s the problem of much smaller denominators:

Via Brookings Institution


I’ve been impressed with the many efforts to stimulate entrepreneurial activity in Puget Sound (Techstars, AoA, @Geekwire, Madrona Mentors, a host of Super Angels, etc.), and there’s no shortage of discussion of the perceived startup lag vs. Silicon Valley.

I’m not sure what’s more shocking, that SF is 8x+ Seattle, or that we’re so much closer to places like Charleston.