Reaction to the Sony Hack Is ‘Beyond the Realm of Stupid’

It has already been widely linked, and I can’t help but point out that Vice put “beyond the realm of stupid” in quote marks while the actual quote in the article is “the realm of beyond stupid,” but this interview with Peter W. Singer is still a great read for its takedown of Sony’s actions:

This same group threatened yesterday 9/11-style incidents at any movie theatre that chose to show the movie. Here, we need to distinguish between threat and capability—the ability to steal gossipy emails from a not-so-great protected computer network is not the same thing as being able to carry out physical, 9/11-style attacks in 18,000 locations simultaneously. I can’t believe I’m saying this. I can’t believe I have to say this.

What Happened When Marissa Mayer Tried to Be Steve Jobs

From the NY Times profile of Marissa Mayer’s non-turnaround of Yahoo:

Yahoo had a market value of $33 billion at the time, but that figure owed largely to its stake in Alibaba, the Chinese Internet conglomerate. According to Jackson’s valuation, Yahoo’s stake in Alibaba was worth roughly $37 billion. But if you subtracted that position, the entirety of Yahoo’s core business, all its web products and content sites, actually had a market valuation of negative $4 billion.

The article mostly paints a picture of Mayer as inept:

At F.Y.I.s, Mayer liked to tell employees that she believed in taking risks and that she was unafraid to admit failure. This philosophy worked well for web products but not for strategic hires. Despite the board’s urging, Mayer opted against vetting Henrique de Castro. As a result, she was unaware that de Castro had a poor reputation among his colleagues in Google’s advertising business. Many had derisively called him the Most Interesting Man in the World, in reference to the satirically fatuous spokesman for Dos Equis beer. De Castro had a tendency to make grand, awkwardly worded pronouncements. He was the inspiration for the Twitter handle @HdCYouKnowMe, which posted tweets that straddled the line between reality and parody: “To incentivize the sales force, you need to hit them with the carrot” and “Product is like snakes . . . slippery — we need someone with a big hammer.” De Castro’s new Yahoo colleagues got a full dose of his strange locution at the company’s annual sales meeting, in early 2013, when he berated his sales force with a rangy, pedantic speech. (De Castro did not respond to requests for comment.)

De Castro’s plan for growing Yahoo revenues focused on user-generated content, like the videos available on YouTube or Instagram. The only problem was that Yahoo did not have access to enough user-generated content to support this plan. (Its attempt to acquire Daily Motion, a YouTube clone, had fallen apart.) As Yahoo’s ad revenues continued to decline, de Castro began to alienate his staff and fellow executives. After one of his direct reports gave a presentation about Yahoo’s business in front of some 40 senior executives, de Castro humiliated the person, saying: “I think your strategy’s more of a fantasy. You make it up. You just make it up.” More important, advertising revenue declined in every quarter since he was hired. Within a year, Mayer had personally taken control of Yahoo’s ad team. De Castro would leave the company in January 2014. For about 15 months of work, he would be paid $109 million.

But she clearly inherited a company in shambles:

A couple of days into the job, Mayer was having lunch at URL’s when an employee walked up to her and introduced himself as Tony. “I’m a mobile engineer,” Tony said. “I’m on the mobile team.”

Mayer responded to Tony, “Great, how big is our mobile team?” After some back and forth, Tony replied that there were “maybe 60” engineers. Mayer was dumbfounded. Facebook, for instance, had a couple of thousand people working on mobile. When she queried the engineering management department, it responded that Yahoo had roughly 100. “Like an actual hundred,” Mayer responded, “or like 60 rounded up to 100 to make me feel better?” The department responded that it was more like 60.

Fitness trackers

David Pierce reviewing the new Microsoft Band for The Verge:

I don’t even want it to be a smartwatch. Smartwatches and trackers just have fundamentally different, even competing needs. A smartwatch must have a big, useful screen. It must also be fashionable and easy to interact with. I’ll put it on in the morning, matching it my outfit. I’ll take it off at night and when I shower. A tracker, on the other hand, must be invisible. It should just be there, all the time, collecting data without me ever thinking about it. I don’t know how any company will resolve those two things, and it seems to me that the smart bet is making the best of one or the other. Right now the Band straddles the middle, and it doesn’t quite work.

He’s right about smartwatches and fitness trackers being fundamentally different. I think that explains part of my disappointment with Apple Watch: I’m not convinced yet on the value of smartwatches, so I mostly wanted to see a no compromises fitness tracker (however unlikely a fitness-focused device from Apple was).

I’ve resisted buying a fitness tracker for more than a year for the fact that most didn’t seem to do any more than an iPhone app could do.

The Basis was supposed to be the ultimate fitness tracker, but it’s big, ugly and I’ve heard of it dying on multiple people.

The Microsoft Band clearly doesn’t fit that bill, according to The Verge’s review.

The Fitbit Charge HR looks like it checks most of the boxes on my list (long battery life, elevation tracking, heart rate monitoring, wireless syncing) though it seems to still rely on just an accelerometer for sleep tracking, which, I’ve read, isn’t exactly accurate.

Then there’s the Jawbone Up3, announced a few days after the Fitbit Charge, which, while it inexplicably lacks elevation tracking (which I like for hiking in the mountains), “uses bioimpedance sensors that measure heart rate, respiration rate, body temperature, galvanic skin response as well as an accelerometer” for sleep tracking. Curiously, the Up3 FAQ originally contained some questions about contactless payment that clearly weren’t ready for primetime and were quickly removed. Is that a sleeper feature that is going to be added with a future firmware update? Either way, this might be the device that finally wins a spot on my wrist.

Neither the Fitbit nor Jawbone has a sale date, but the Jawbone is available for preorder.

16 things I want to see from Apple on the 16th

It happens every October. Apple sends out an invitation, sometimes with a wink and sometimes more cryptic, implicitly promising Some Great New Product the Likes of Which the World has Never Seen. The Apple rumor industrial complex spins into a click-bait frenzy, making predictions of the obvious (oh, you mean they’re actually going to release a new iPad version?), the crazy and the stupid. And they’re oh so boring.

So instead of making any kind of prediction, here I merely offer 16 things I’d like to see from Apple this Thursday. We might not get any of them, but I’d like to be surprised.

  • Fix all the little regressions in iOS 8. My shiny new iPhone 6 has been soft restarting itself when it freaks out, just like iOS 7 did for a long time before being fixed.
  • The ability to merge Apple accounts. It’s been way too long.
  • Discount for upgrading from SD to HD movies. I wanted to buy “The Life Aquatic” in 1080p but that wasn’t an option. Now it is an option, but I already have this standard definition copy and no path to upgrade.
  • Discount for buying a previously rented movie. Oh, that film was really great. I’d like to be able to watch it all the time now.
  • Extend “iTunes in the Cloud” to include audiobooks. I realize Apple gets these audiobooks from archnemesis-Amazon-owned Audible and licensing is probably sticky, but not being able to download audiobooks more than once feels punitive.
  • Ability to hide/forget previous purchases you have no intention of ever downloading again. No one needs to know I bought Season 5 of “Scrubs,” and I don’t even know what half the apps I have tested do.
  • Fix iTunes Match.
  • App Store for Apple TV.
  • Roku-style search across streaming services on Apple TV. (I know this is very unlikely to ever happen.)
  • Siri control of Apple TV from iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch.
  • Remember when Steve Jobs stood on stage an introduced an Apple speaker with integrated iPod dock? I’d like something like that for the modern age. Not dissimilar from a Sonos speaker or the Aether Cone, but something that can stream iTunes Radio.
  • But why stop there? These network connected speakers should have their own app store to extend functionality.
  • Would it kill Apple to give us all a free album that’s actually good?
  • A revolutionary network a la carte alternative to cable and satellite companies
  • Double the memory of all existing 8 and 16 GB iPhones. I hear Hogwarts is available to help with this.
  • Maybe consider changing the name of iTunes? It’s not really managing just our tunes anymore.

Seattle left

Seattle left (noun): a left turn in which the driver starts from a right lane and cuts across at least one other lane of traffic, known among a large subset of Seattle drivers as a “left.”

Example: That stupid fucking asshole nearly hit that Vespa, Tesla and row of pedestrians with his Seattle left turn.

Wearables

For as much potential as it has, I was still a bit disappointed that Apple’s “one more thing” was a watch. Fast Company is here to sate my ambitions:

Mark Rolston used to be CCO at Frog Design. Now he runs his new consultancy, Argodesign. And as part of our Wearables Week, his firm generated a series of concepts based upon our simple mandate: No watches.

The results are worth checking out, even if they don’t have as much mass-market appeal as a watch (or maybe because they don’t). I especially like the Snapchat IRL.

NYT Cooking

The New York Times Cooking website and iPad app launched today, and if you like food, they’re worth checking out. I’ve been using the beta website for a while now and branching out in my cooking as a result.

There’s also (naturally because this is 2014) a newsletter. The writing tends to be a bit repetitive, but once in a while there’s a gem like this:

It’s amazing what we’re finding in the far reaches of our recipe archive here at NYT Cooking. Most recently, this recipe for a chicken cooked in a watermelon. Yes, you read that right. “A recipe made for Instagram,” said one of our editors. Pete Wells, the restaurant critic, chimed in as well. “It’s a good start, but I think we need to put a cantaloupe inside the chicken and then put the watermelon inside a Mini Cooper,” he said. “Roast 12 hours then drive it into the dining room.”

But this bit really sums up why you’ll enjoy getting the thrice-weekly curation of recipes in your inbox:

Time was, a dad like me would head out to the garage on a Saturday morning, get to work on the old Trans Am or build a house to lure purple martins to the back stretch of lawn. Now it’s all I can do to not start cooking something on Friday in advance of a bunch of people coming over for Sunday supper. Maybe tonight’s the night for Ian Fisher’s version of Marc Vetri’s three-day guanciale, for a spaghetti carbonara fix at the end of the weekend?

Cooking is a hobby now, for many of us, not unlike golf or stamp collecting. It is what we live to do after work, what takes us out of ourselves and allows us to create. Some people assemble scrapbooks. Others knit or collect license plates. If you’re reading this newsletter, you probably cook.