Is obsolescence becoming obsolete?

Today, Apple announced new MacBooks and MacBooks Pro (that’s right, I said MacBooks Pro). And I couldn’t care less.

I’ve got an 18-month-old Unibody MacBook Pro that I’ve dirtied, scratched, scraped, dropped, dented, and abused. And I honestly think it’ll be my main machine for at least 12 more months. And this is coming from a guy who used to upgrade every 6-8 months. What gives?

For one, I have an iPad. At 1 GHz and with 256MB of RAM, it sounds like it’s a ten-year-old computer, which is why you don’t see Apple bragging about the specs. But nobody really cares. I do nearly half of my computing on this machine now, and don’t find many occasions to open the laptop unless I’m at work.

Second, I bought an SSD. Forget gigahertz, the new standard is MBps. (And that’s even for those of us who care about such measurements.) Most people don’t yet realize that the reason they constantly see spinning beach balls isn’t that their computer is too slow, it’s that they’re relying on slow, inefficient, and increasingly crashy hard disks for storage.

After 2 failed hard disks in 3 months (admittedly, one was because I dropped my laptop), I opted for the Crucial RealSSD C300. It’s arguably the fastest SSD out there right now, and at $700 for 256GB, definitely in “early adopter” territory. Still, I would much, much rather have this upgrade than a new MacBook Pro. In daily life, things that took minutes now take seconds.

And it’s a confluence of these factors is breaking the traditional notion of “obsolete”. The tasks you ask of a computer are often small, like playing YouTube videos or word processing, and these are easily within the grasp of my iPad. But even the most demanding tasks like running Photoshop or editing a video can be done quite effectively on a 3-year-old laptop.

Do you remember a time when you cared about how many colors your monitor could display? It used to be that there was so much we wanted to display on a computer, but our hardware could only render one color, then sixteen, then 256, and then thousands. Then, about 10 years ago, we settled on “millions”, and never thought about it again.

I think that this time is approaching with processor speed. The gap is wider between “benchmarked speed” and “real-world speed” than ever. The Core i7 technology excites my inner geek, and I’d love to convert some video with it. But that’s not what I do on a day-to-day basis.

Intel has made the new processor inside the new MacBooks faster by a factor of two, by many benchmarks. But in the real world, my life would not improve by a factor of two. My “computing quality of life” might increase by 5%. That’s odd, because my solid state disk had a much bigger impact than 5%, and the vastly-less-powerful iPad has improved my computing life by at least a factor of two.

We’re now focused on removing bottlenecks like disk speed (using solid state disks) and RAM (by using 64-bit software to address more than 4GB), or even interface elements (think eliminating the mouse). My computing life is much faster, more efficient, and more fun than it was 18 months ago, and it has nothing to do with there being “Intel inside”.

My first week with the iPad

After spending time with the iPad, I have to admit: it does feel like I’m interacting with the future of computing. Simple, elegant, fun, hassle-free. I don’t think you should have to tether to a computer to get this experience, but it’s a pretty decent start. Here are my “notes from the field” after a week with an iPad:

THE HARDWARE

The first thing I did was to put the precious iPad into its first-party case (more on that below), so it took a few days for me to wrest the iPad from of its case and get a feel for how precise and perfect everything feels. I’ve come to expect that from Ive and the team at Apple, but it’s nice to feel that kind of quality in something this compact. It’s a big jump up from the iPhone 3GS.

Battery life is just astonishing. It is like witchcraft. I am a heavy, heavy user, and I recharge 1 time a day. Yesterday, after using it for a little email and web surfing, I had 97% when I got home from work.

THE ACCESSORIES

The case is substandard, but that’s to be expected. My experience with Apple is that they lack the kind of passion for their accessories that they have for their hardware/software. If you remember the first iPod case, packed-in with the 3rd-gen iPod: A flat piece of nylon, bent into a U shape, with a piece of elastic sewn in to hold the iPod inside the U (but leaving the top and sides exposed). It was a piece of crap, but it had a belt clip. It would do until the third parties caught on (and catch on they did).

Apple only produces an accessory when they don’t want to wait for accessory makers to take the lead. In this (ahem) case, Apple saw that a thin cover that makes a wedge, covers the screen, and can stand up is of great utility. And it is! It’s just a piece of crap. The edges are heat-fused, sharp and plasticky, it feels cheap, and the material picks up dog hair better than most lint rollers.

Still, the case offers screen protection (a must) and decent utility as a wedge (however, it makes for a pretty wobbly stand when set up to watch movies).

Aside from those, the best thing about the case is that it provides anonymity. Unless you want to be the “iPad Guy (or Girl)”, I thought it was cool to be the “guy with an iPod” all those years ago, but with the iPad, it’s a bit more conspicuous than I care for anymore. Most can’t tell whether you’re rocking a Kindle, iPad, or even a little pad of paper with the case on.

For typing in-lap, the Apple case is a requirement. I’d love to see someone take a stab at a nicer, classier version.

The iPad is so hard to get out of the case that I haven’t even had occasion to use the Dock yet.

THE KEYBOARD

I was surprised I didn’t miss a physical keyboard. I still haven’t paired it with the Bluetooth Keyboard, something I’d planned to do on Day 1.

There’s an unexpectedly satisfying drumbeat to the tapping of fingers on the screen that’s vastly superior to the iPhone, and maybe even more fun than clacking away on the real thing.

The keyboard is a cruel taskmaster, though: any resting of fingers, even for a millisecond, is met with a jumble of letters on the screen, a kind of rap across the knuckles from an angry typing teacher. Between the iPad keyboard and the Magic Mouse, it seems Apple is trying to teach people to hover their fingers over touch surfaces, and never to lazily rest your hands on anything. It can get tiring.

Ergonomically dubious though it may be, it really only requires a few hours of retraining muscle memory to get used to the idea. At this point, I’m pretty comfortable with it.

The best tip I heard all week was to hold down the comma key to get an apostrophe, solving one of my biggest gripes.

BUILT-IN SOFTWARE

It’s a huge pain to constantly exit my app, go back to the home screen, click settings, click General, adjust the brightness, return to my app’s screen, and re-open the app. I’m honestly considering giving a coveted Dock spot to Settings, due to its all-too-frequent use. It’d be great to have some more convenient access to brightness control in more apps (or even by some tweak to the Volume switch).

At no point have I missed multitasking. My thinking is that when OS 4.0 comes out, it’ll be exactly the sort of feature I wonder how I ever lived without.

Spell check and its “replace” function was a fantastic surprise, and worked well in everything but text-entry fields in Safari (which seemed odd).

My family loved the Photos app. It makes the iPad the best photo album on the planet right now. Some of your photos may go on the iPhone, but all of them go on the iPad. It just feels like this is where your pictures go. Browseable, shareable, emailable… My sister spent 2 hours looking through old photos and emailing herself photos of interest.

Also interesting is that all photos seem to be sized down to around 3 megapixels before being transferred to iPad. They look great, and photos now email in full-resolution, unlike the automatic resizing that happens when you email a photo on the iPhone (so no need for copy-paste workarounds).

Getting files on & off the iPad is a well-documented nightmare. Hopefully Apple has some plan to move toward cloud-based storage of this stuff. Photos would be a great start.

BROWSING THE WEB

This is a good news/bad news scenario. The good news: Browsing the web on a tablet seems like the “proper” way to surf. It just feels better than on a computer. Surprisingly, I didn’t miss Flash, especially since inline YouTube plays without issue… lots better than the way iPhone launches a separate app.

Browsing the Web in a portrait orientation feels like I’m seeing movies on a widescreen TV for the first time. Like “oh, that’s how that’s supposed to look.” Amazing stuff.

The bad news: I really, really miss tabbed browsing. You have to hunt down the multi-page button, just like on iPhone, but it pulls up an array of pages to tap, rather than a row to browse through. It’s a pain to hunt down a dedicated button to see which pages are currently open.

Ah, but that’s the trick: they’re not open at all. I usually see one or 2 thumbnails and 6 blank pages. It seems the iPad can only cache one site (two max) at a time, so with 4 or 5 tabs open, it throws up a blank screen, and forces me to reload the entire page.

That’s time-consuming and irritating in itself, but if you have a half-written blog entry, forum post, or email in a browser window, you’d just better finish it up before opening another tab, because once you do, buddy, it’s gone.

All told, there needs to be some polish done on the mechanics of Safari for iPad to bring it closer to its Mac cousin, but I haven’t touched on how fun it is. Browsing the web on a portrait-oriented touch screen just feels like the way the web was meant to be explored.

APP STORE

This is the killer app, period. I find myself checking for changes to the “top 100” and for updates at least twice a day.

Two apps that I missed last time are Twitterific and NetNewsWire. These are used so frequently that I treat them like built-in apps. Email, RSS, Twitter, Web. That’s 75% of my iPad use.

One more piece of app news: Air Video went HD for iPad (at no additional charge!), and transcodes my movies into high-res, iPad-friendly movies and streams them to me like a champ. After iBooks, it’s the app I show people to really show off the fact that the iPad really is the future.

GAMES

“iPad as gaming platform” is not as ludicrous as it sounded to me at first. As I posted before, I am finding myself drawn to the games on iPad as I rarely do the games on my console systems.

Interestingly, the accelerometer seems friskier and more accurate on the iPad. I don’t know if it’s due to the iPad’s size (and therefore takes longer to move around), but Real Racing seems to be vastly more accurate on the iPad than iPhone. Controls are tight and fun.

I have nearly worn blisters on my thumbs from playing Geometry Wars so much. Seriously, my thumbs hurt. This could become a phenomenon.

EBOOKS

I bought a Kindle a year ago. It lasted a month. I bought a Sony Reader afterwards, and it lasted for 2.

I love e-ink. It’s like a miracle, with no discernable pixels, even though the iPad has a higher-res screen than the e-ink crowd (1024×768 vs. 800×600). Text on the iPad is a bit rough around the edges, literally: you can see jaggies, anti-aliasing tricks, and most importantly, the backlight (I’ll get to that in a sec).

And if you’re planning on reading outdoors, well… you may want to budget an extra $260 for a Kindle, or skip the iPad altogether. I don’t care what I’ve read elsewhere, it’s damn-near useless outdoors, even on a somewhat overcast day. I don’t really read outdoors, but the combination of backlit LCD and mirror-reflective screen make it even less tempting.

All that said, what’s the verdict as an e-reader? I choose the iPad as my e-reader, hands down. I was really worried about eyestrain, and was an issue at first, but as I learned to really dial down the screen’s brightness, I’ve found myself using the iPad as my preferred way to read. I actually have a physical book sitting on my dresser, begging for attention, but reading on the iPad is my preferred mode.

GoodReader is a great, powerful little app for organizing, managing, and reading PDF content. It’s got a couple of quirks that I’d like to see resolved (how about using the left/right edges of the screen for page turning, for one?). But for someone learning to program, or anyone with PDF e-books, it’s a godsend.

The biggest surprise to me in the whole iPad experience is how good Kindle for iPad is. I’ve tried to buy 3 books on the iBooks store, with no success. So I jumped over to Kindle, and bang, bang, bang… all there. The reading experience has fewer graphical flourishes, and is generally easier to use than iBooks. It’s obvious they put their best developers on this one.

The side benefit to Kindle is that if I do get a Kindle again as a backup reader, all my books are there via whispersync.

One side note about reading: I was worried that I’d never get anything read on the iPad because I would be too distracted with

other possible uses of this many-purposed device. That’s not true, as the iPad melts into whatever configuration best suits the task at hand. It’s an awesome dedicated e-Reader. Just turn off email notifications. Every time I hear the “Bong!” of a new email, my curiosity gets the better of me and I’ve lost my momentum.

The best thing about it is that it’s easy to be in the middle of however many books you want, in one of the many ebook readers for iPad. Currently, I’ve got bookmarks in no less than 15 different books. Since I’m reading programming books, it can be slow going, so it’s nice to have a place to keep track of my place in my entire library, without resorting to a foot-tall stack on my nightstand (which I actually do currently have).

CONCLUSION

I was a fanboy from day 1. But what has surprised me is how the iPad has worked its way into my life. I thought I would be playing with Pages and reading e-books, and the Wi-Fi-only model would be perfect.

The trend that’s emerged is that I find myself picking up the iPad when I want to relax. I’ll catch up on RSS, the latest tweets, read some books, surf the web… and I’ll pick up the laptop when it’s time to work.

I suspect that this will lead to a kind of tech “Disneland Dad” mentality, where people love the iPad so much because it does all the fun things while the laptop nags us to get back to work.

In terms of screen size and usability, it’s a lot tougher to go from iPad to iPhone than it is from laptop to iPad. I can’t explain why, it’s just utility is somewhat retained on the iPad, where the iPhone’s tiny screen just obliterates it.

Anyone with an iPhone is going to be disappointed with the Wi-Fi version, because eventually, you’ll wind up somewhere with no (or flaky) Wi-Fi, and you just want to check Twitter or send an email. I am absolutely upgrading when the 3G version comes out, and that was not what I’d expected.

You’ve probably already made up your mind as to whether you have any reason in your life to own an iPad, but I’ve obviously found many, and as more apps pour into the App Store, I suspect the number of people who have a good reason to buy an iPad is going to steadily grow.

12 Killer Apps for iPad

I wasn’t going to write this post on my iPad. It felt like a bit of a cliché, you know? Plus, I thought it would be a bit like fighting with one hand tied behind my back. And it is, to some degree; I type about half as fast as I do on a laptop.

So why go through with it then? Because the iPad is so fun to use, I don’t feel like getting out my laptop.

I have my share of gripes and praises for the iPad, but it’s just 9.7 inches of blank screen without the apps to make it useful. And they do. In fact, “revolutionary” is not going too far.

So, with the aid of the iPad’s WordPress app, here are 12 apps I already can’t live without.

The first thing I want to say is that the iPad is an absolute joy to use. By that I mean that using the iPad elicits actual joy. Everyone was wondering what the killer app for the iPad would be. I think that the killer app might just be the experience of using an iPad, period. But to better answer the question, the answer is twofold:

– Everyone’s going to have their own version of the iPad’s killer app.
– You are going to find at least 10 killer apps within your first 48 hours

Here are 12 of mine.
READING:
I bought the iPad primarily as a reading device. It has already delivered on more than its promise. It’s not hard to imagine having an entire page of apps dedicated to the various types of reading I do. My favorites right now:

GoodReader ($1)
Without solid PDF support, I wouldn’t be able to read programming books on the iPad, and that would be a deal breaker (lame PDF support caused me to return both the Kindle and Sony Reader). Although the PDFs don’t render with lightning speed and the page turning mechanic is wonky (honestly, who turns pages from top to bottom?), this is an app that already shows maturity. I threw a 500MB PDF at it, and it cut through it with ease. GoodReader also has a raft of network-aware features, and although they’re a bit more geared toward power users, they handily circumvent Apple’s insane methods of getting files on and off the iPad.

iBooks (free)
iBooks is the app that always elicits the remark, “now they’re just showing off”. Graphical flourishes aside, it’s fast, beautiful, and fun to read books on. I had serious concerns about eyestrain, but those proved to be unfounded after fiddling with the brightness a bit. The included Winnie the Pooh book was a bit of unexpected genius; a sign of things to come as you dig deeper into the iPad experience.

Marvel Comics (free)
This is another app that really shows off what the iPad can do. I’m not a huge comic book fan, but they look so lovely on the iPad’s screen that I may pick one up from time to time.

MEDIA:
Air Video ($3)
It’s an iPhone app, but while the team works on their iPad version, they deserve your 3 bucks. With a simple server app, you have access to all the media stored on your home computer anywhere, even over 3G. Media not encoded in iPad-compatible h.264? No sweat. It’ll convert on the fly while it streams your TV shows & movies, and even pixel-doubled, media looks fine.

Dear, departed Simplify Media ($N/A)
This one is a big WTF. Being able to access my music and photos remotely made this easily one of the most useful apps ever. Simplify not only streams your music from anywhere in the world to your iPad, it allows you to share your entire library with friends (and share theirs in turn). It’s the poster child for the idea that your media shouldn’t have to fill local storage to be accessible. But you can’t buy it, can’t download it, and even if you own it like I do, it will stop working in a couple of months. Rumors are swirling that these guys have been bought by Apple, and the mystery surrounding their disappearance is certainly consistent with past Apple acquisitions.

Sketchbook Pro ($8)
Smart controls and pro-caliber features make this the king of the sketch apps. Using it makes me wish I had more talent. I have seen it do amazing things in the hands of greater men than I.

PRODUCTIVITY:
SugarSync (free)
Apple has crippled this genius app. Access to all my documents, synced automatically from my desktop, anywhere… It’s a fantastic promise. On the iPhone, it doesn’t matter that the documents are read-only. But as soon as you need to edit a word document or save a PDF to GoodReader, you’re out of luck until you go through Apple’s convoluted manual sync process, or email it to yourself (and then it’s a crapshoot). Even with its limitations, SugarSync is a great app and helps point out the gaping hole in Apple’s cloud storage offering.

Instapaper (free)
There’s little to say about Instapaper other than that it’s nearly perfect. It’s a simple premise: save longer web articles for later reading. And what better place for all this to wind up than on your iPad? The “nearly” in “nearly perfect” is because Apple doesn’t allow in-app brightness control from third-party apps (though Kindle for iPad seems to have found a clever workaround).

Evernote (free)
Another simple-but-brilliant idea: all your notes, write once, sync everywhere. Clippings, links, anything you’d rather not forget goes into one safe place.

COUNTERPRODUCTIVITY:
Games were the biggest surprise on the iPad. Aside from the week of my life I lost to fieldrunners, I’m not a big iPhone gamer. But with a larger screen, the games on iPad a compelling enough that I don’t foresee firing up my Xbox or Wii anytime soon.

Geometry Wars ($10)
This was the Xbox 360’s only memorable launch title, and it’s made quite a splash on the iPad. The dual-analog-stick-emulating controls are fantastic, though you need to place your thumbs well inside the bezel to get the best results. It’s quick to pick up, and I feel it pulling at me even now.

Top Gun ($5)
It’s dumb, retro fun. Tilt controls are a great way to experience this game that feels like a cross between Top Gun for NES and After Burner for arcade.

Touch Hockey ($3)
The iPad was made for moments like this. You pull out your tablet, set it on a table, and challenge a friend to a realistic, fast-paced round of air hockey. The highs and lows are just as visceral as the real thing, and it seems like a great way to strike up a conversation with a girl. Try doing that with your Kindle.

The iPad has tremendous potential for graphics capability, and I’m still holding out hope for a beautiful-looking, bumper-grinding arcade racer like Burnout (or an entry in the Burnout series).

Incidentally, the WordPress app for iPad (which I posted this from) is not yet a killer app; it’s a larger version of its iPhone cousin. Give us some HTML formatting help and better image handling, and we’ll talk.

I had to use one other app to make this post: Photogene ($4) to rotate and resize the photo I used in the post. Seems pretty cool, I look forward to using it more.

So there it is: for $30, a great way to start off your iPad experience. $40 if you include Pages, but I haven’t yet found occasion to use it.

I have a lot more to say about the iPad in general, but it can probably wait until I’m at a more comfortable keyboard.

Shut up, Frank Kern.

I fell for it.

I watched some videos 18 months ago. Here’s this surfer dude who claims to work 40 seconds per month and make millions by flipping a switch. He seems like a straight shooter, walks the walk.

4 or 5 obviously artificial “product launches” later, I’m seeing the same emails over and over. “Is this product for everyone? No. Not if you don’t intend to actually use it.”

What does that mean? So if you don’t intend to use this product, it’s not for you?

Great job. “Is this product for you? No, not if you’re lazy. Not if you’re a loser and hate money. Not if you can’t follow through.” Really? Wow, you’ve really run us through some funnels. Only the few, the brave, the well-intentioned, remain.

Trying to create an artificial market segment that includes “everyone” is the coward’s way out. Show some balls and pick out real people who won’t benefit from your product.

Like me.

Popsicle sticks

After working through dinner and quite late into the night, I realized that I should have eaten many hours earlier. When I put myself in that situation, my food judgement tends to revert to that of a six-year-old.

So as soon as I walked into the house, I threw my bag into a chair and cracked open the freezer and fridge simultaneously, for maximum food visibility. And lo, there were crunch-covered ice cream bars, a rare (maybe first ever) sight in our home.

I pulled one out, anticipating a garden of creamy delight, and went to work. It struck me–even in my famished state–that this was not good. Sugary ice-milk with a waxy cocoa shell: pretty typical store-brand fare.

But though I could have walked away after one bite without remorse, I was bound and determined to treat myself, so I continued eating. My mind wandered, possibly from the boredom of this so-so snack, and I started reading the wrapper. Hey, it’s something to do.

On the back, written in an airy font, I found one last hope for this snack to get interesting. I imagined it would say “Midnight is a great time for an ice cream bar–just unwrap quietly,” or some other whimsical musing about the nature of indulgence. I looked closer.

“Units not labeled for individual sale.”

I longed for a popsicle stick with a knock-knock joke, anything to enhance my enjoyment of this ice cream bar.

Is a revelatory, escapist fantasy too much to ask for from a store-brand bulk food item? OK, maybe. But with a few carefully-placed words, I would have had a different story to tell, about how a 67-cent, wax-covered ice-milk bar was my day’s most hedonistic, decadent moment.

Don’t forget to be whimsical! It only takes a small amount of effort to look for places you can add brushstrokes that will turn your customer’s experience from generic to memorable.

The Parable of the Sushi Coupon

First of all, here’s a surefire way to conquer writer’s block; buy an iPhone. I downloaded the WordPress app, and being able to post when a thought strikes is awesome (plus the iPhone keyboard encourages brevity).

On to today’s topic.

My wife and I have been wanting to go out for sushi for many weeks, but due to the time and budget constraints of having a new baby, it’s been difficult to get out.

We’d made up our minds to go tonight, and planned to go to a nearby place that is not amazing, but a known quantity.

In the mail today, we received a flyer for a new sushi place near our house, offering 20% off any order. Two things scared me: 1) messing with an unknown, new restaurant serving raw fish, and 2) that this restaurant’s poorly-designed flyer needed to offer 20% off to draw customers.

So why did we end up at the unknown restaurant?

It wasn’t a sense of adventure. It was the 20% coupon, precisely the thing that turned me off at first. The idea of cheaper sushi compelled us there.

We werent the only ones; the place was more packed than any new restaurant I’ve seen. I doubt this new sushi place anticipated the result they got; as a marketer, I sure wouldn’t have. But in a tough economy, people don’t give up the things they want, they just look to pay less for them.

In this age of social media and “viral marketing”, it’s important to remember not to look down on the less flashy stuff.

There are lots of ways to make money in a down economy, but if you’re asking how you can help people save money on the things they’re already planning on buying, it’s not a bad start.

And the sushi was excellent.

The Age of Lying is Over.

First, watch this unbelievably awesome video.

Today, I had a fantastic, revelatory day on an entirely new scale for me. And legally, I may never be able to disclose exactly how it went down, but suffice it to say I am thinking about the way I choose to work in this age where everyone’s connected. Now that information is contagious, lies no longer have the power to prop up a bad business, at least not for long.

Remember Extenze? Enzyte? Superjuices that are 95% grape juice and 5% bullshit? It’s over. If you were doing those things for a living, I hope you made enough to retire. You can still lie, but they’re uncovered in hours, not years.

Of course we all want to put ourselves in the best light, but being forthright (especially mixed with a dash of humor) lets people know you don’t take yourself too seriously, and are probably trustworthy in other areas.

A few years ago, I told a job interviewer exactly how I had been recently fired, and why I deserved it. I tried to handle it with humor and grace, but on the way home, I got the sick, panicky feeling that I’d over-shared. I got a call back letting me know that everyone was talking about “the fired guy”, and I got the job.

In the case of this amazing video, it took a fan to shine a hilarious and honest light on Trader Joe’s. (Let’s see if Trader Joe’s has the chutzpah to hire this guy to do an entire series.) Let’s be our own fans and look at the experience we provide from the outside in, and share the good with the bad, as long as the bad doesn’t outweigh the good. And if it does, we’ve got problems marketing won’t fix.

(From Boing Boing)

English Is Murdered at 943 Years Old

Why? WHY?

English is dead, murdered, at the blood-stained hands of Corporate America.

As a video game enthusiast, I ran across this article regarding recent Microsoft Layoffs.

“The realignments of headcount are directly intended to strengthen the Xbox 360 platform and align resources with key strategic initiatives, including Xbox LIVE.”

If I were to try to remember how we used to speak, I think the Microsoft spokesperson was trying to say:

“We fired a ton of people, but we tried to not fire the people responsible for the profitable stuff like Xbox Live.”

But I don’t know, it’s been so long since I’ve read English that this Orwellian Newspeak is almost starting to make sense to me.

English will be missed, and is survived by its children, TXT, LOLSpeak, and Jargon.

This Is Why We Proofread, Apple.

I was perusing the new features of iMovie ’09, and discovered this remarkably stupid grammatical error.

Bush league, Apple. Bush league!

I’m compiling pet peeves an upcoming post rounding up writing mistakes that make companies and people look stupid, but I never would have thought a marketing-obsessed megacorp would perpetrate one of them.

Yeah, Sure, Blame the Economy.

First off, I am so glad to be blogging again. My last post was the day before my first child was born, and babies, as it turns out, are a “disruptive technology”. 

I’ve collected a lot of thoughts and decided on a more personal direction for the blog (at least for now). Rather than regurgitate and link out to things on the Web I find interesting, I’ll post more thoughts about what inspires me in the world of writing, marketing, and life in general.

This evening I went to the local grocery store and was shocked. It looked as if a hurricane were bearing down on us: empty shelves, disheveled aisles, wide open spaces where goods were once jockeying for my attention.

There’s no other sensation quite like depression, and that’s precisely the feeling that bore down on me as I traversed the aisles, looking (in vain) for Size 2 Huggies. Each empty shelf added to the melancholy, until I could only imagine a new version of that littering commercial, with Alan Greenspan shedding a single tear as consumers drive past an empty store.

What happened? Flyers near the exit told no more of the story than “Goodbye as of February 23.” I think I can fill in the blanks.

Albertson’s was the closest supermarket to our home. It’s right on a main road in a residential area, and one block from a new I-15 onramp/offramp that’s being built. This is prime real estate for a grocery store.

It wasn’t particularly dated, either; clean, late-90’s decor, and good upkeep lent a trustworthiness to the meat and produce that other, decades-older stores in the area seemed to lack.

But the explanation for this store’s demise (and I forsee more) is simple: Albertson’s gambled against the customer and lost. In a robust economy, they noticed that with “Preferred Savings” cards and yellow “look at the price” labels everywhere, customers didn’t notice when they nudged prices on staple goods ever higher.

Plus, every week I’d go in and a specialty brand or variety I used to purchase had been eliminated, losing a battle for shelf space with the generic Kroger brand. So instead of 24 varieties of soup, there are 12. It wasn’t just soup, it was any item that seemed to sell well. Selection tanked while prices rose to an insane degree. In a robust economy, people aren’t watching as closely, and Albertson’s took advantage of the situation in a move to boost quarterly profits at the literal expense of the customer.

I use a simple indicator for a store’s general sense of value: What’s the everyday price on a 12-pack of Coke, Dr. Pepper, or Pepsi? At Smith’s, it’s typically $3.50. At Harmon’s, it’s $4. At Albertson’s, they had, over the course of 5 years, jacked it up to near $8. You could walk out to the vending machine and buy individual cans of soda for less!

The saddest part is that this and other future closures will be blamed on the economy, no lessons will be learned, and the executive staff at Albertson’s/Kroger will continue to insulate themselves from the needs and feelings of their customers, until they are out on their collective asses, wondering what went wrong.

I’m not saying there are no real victims of this economic downturn, but I’ll bet that out of 4 businesses that shut down and blame it, 3 are victims of mismanagement, bad business models, or sheer hubris.

What’s the lesson? For starters, stop screwing your customers over. You know who you are. Your prices are too high. Your service isn’t good enough. I can promise that the customer doesn’t share the sense of value you think you’re offering with your product.

Old justifications of value don’t work, because suddenly, we’re all on a fixed income. Everyone’s looking for a NET COST SAVINGS: How can I pay less next month than I paid last month?

Second, if you’re selling a commodity, you’d better be darn sure you’re priced in accordance with other avenues the customer will take. Because right now, customers will take those avenues, loyalty or convenience be damned.

I’m confident that we as a nation will weather the storm. My hope for myself and for you is that we have the wisdom to quickly learn the lessons necessary to prosper during the downturn and to retain them when it’s over.

DRECKWATCH: The lamest video, the saddest post, the worst blog.

Surprise! Our friends at That’s Fit are foisting their self-gratifying garbage upon their hapless readers again. This time they’ve reached a new low:

Watch my kid do pull-ups, blah blah blah blah blah…

I guarantee, not one non-relative of the author cares! I would scarcely tolerate this on a private blog, much less a professional, ad-supported one.

Please don’t forget, you have to factor in that anything regarding your kids or pets is exactly twenty times less interesting than you think it is!

Why don’t we write like this anymore?

So when this guy was president, doctors were already becoming aware of the dangers of smoking. But they just said it so much more eloquently. Here was Charles R. Drysdale’s recommendation on secondhand smoke:

“Women who wait in public bar-rooms and smoking-saloons, though not themselves smoking, cannot avoid the poisoning caused by inhaling smoke continually. Surely gallantry, if not common honesty, should suggest the practical inference from this fact.”

Somewhere between the late 19th and the early 20th century, the mode of writing shifted to today’s simplified, less ornate manner. But just read some old Thomas Paine tracts and the writings of America’s founding fathers, and see if you don’t wax poetic.

I assume this is the result of extreme literacy moving from the hands of the extraordinarily wealthy to the basic mass literacy we have today. That’s good, I guess, but we’ve lost some of the magic. Plus, in marketing, you’re told to write to about a 6th grade level, which is teetering on the Orwellian vision of Newspeak.

If anyone has more information about this shift (books, etc.), let me know; it’s a topic that captivates me.

Required Viewing

If you’re not watching Mad Men on AMC, you probably know from the Emmy Awards that you’ve been missing out.

If you do any sort of marketing and haven’t been watching, keep a notepad out while you watch. Don Draper, while not a believer in psychology or psychotherapy, has a mastery of the psychological underpinnings of marketing and advertising.

It’s a brilliantly-written show: moving, resonant, with lots of little in-jokes for marketers. Drop it in your Netflix Queue and thank me later.

A great clip:

Looking into the outage

Oops! I haven’t even finished setting up my theme, and I’ve already had my first “too many connections” MySQL overload.

Based on the fact that I haven’t touched it in the last 24 hours and none of my other hosted sites were affected, it looks like a DDoS attack on this blog only. 

While it’s probably a coincidence, I have posted some inciting comments lately…

I’m looking into what happened, and will get the blog to 100% shortly.

Are You Emulating The Worst Blog On The Internet?

The best blog on the internet is Boing Boing, which probably goes without saying.

The worst blog on the internet should also go without saying, but you probably haven’t heard of it. Luckily, I’ve got a lot to say about it.

It’s That’s Fit. And if your blog suffers from any of the 4 things I’m listing below, you’re next on my list.

Those that know me well know this blog fills my daily rage meter to boiling. I’ll quickly run down the reasons, and again, if you’re guilty of this kind of stuff, cut it out! And if you write for That’s Fit, that goes doubly.

I first saw That’s Fit as the AOL network was pimping it heavily on other blogs like TUAW and Engadget a few years ago. As someone who periodically blogs about fitness, I added the RSS subscription to my NewsGator feeds.

Since then, I have wanted to post the following comment after every entry: “Shut up! What’s wrong with you?”

I could go through a post-by-post rebuttal of their writings; they’re that stupidly-written and wrongheaded. Instead, I’ll list 4 things that indicate your blog is doomed to obscurity’s hell:

1. You preach to, rather than relate with, your readers.

This may seem hypocritical in a post telling you your blog is going to hell, and so what if it is? I’m more referring to the fact that the phrase “my children” appears 707 times in the blog.

What does that mean? Let me offer a couple of examples:

“Gold medal phenomenon Michael Phelps never stumbled at the 2008 Olympic Games, but what was he thinking when he signed the Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes sponsorship agreement? A cereal high in sugar, low in fiber, made with mostly refined grains. One of the last meals I’d feed my kids for breakfast.”

“Parents just have to get on board, too, and save soda for the rare treat or avoid it altogether.”

“[My son’s teacher] banned candy from her classroom. I thought it was wonderful. The kids will still be allowed to have candy on special occasions such as Valentine’s Day. But on a day to day basis, my son’s teacher is promoting good nutrition that will give them the energy they need.”

“…parents need to answer the nationwide Help Wanted ad for Gaming Gatekeepers — now. This is especially relevant for our family at the moment, based on watching my seven-year-old’s new, disturbing behavior after receiving his very first, high-tech video game a month ago.”

“Your loving online Fitzness Expert (me) who has extremely high standards on what I put in both my children’s mouth and my own can spend a day at the Magic Kingdom or EPCOT and eat as well as I would in my own home.”

This begs 2 questions: First, how did every blogger on That’s Fit achieve the position of “World’s Best and Most Responsible Parent”, especially considering the fact they take the time to post to the Web while uttering phrases like “high-tech video game”? The second question is:

2. Oh, you’re an expert at what? What the hell is a Fitzness Expert?

This irks me to no end. I work with highly respected experts and authors, highly regarded in nutrition and exercise, and they blush at being called “experts”; such is the humility of the true expert.

The credential-less jabberers at That’s Fit actually altered the word Fitness to accomodate their names! This Fitz K character is seen wearing every piece of sporting equipment she can get someone to take a photo of her in (not to mention the fact that her posts are intolerable name-dropping garbage). If she’s clamoring for fame, she should probably be doing it on a blog whose readership is larger than it was last year, not smaller.

It’s fine to be an expert, guru, or Zen master, but earn the title, rather than self-assign it.

Speaking of “FitZness”:

3. Un”BEAR”able headlines

Pun-based headlines? Sure! Painful and trite? Absolutely. And nonsense? You bet.

“Drinking water for weight loss: Is it a ‘waist’ of time?” — Hilarious, and topical!

“Get cut like your fruit” — Oh, I get it. No, actually, I don’t.

“Think Healthy.” — It may not be original, but it’s also not grammatically correct.

“BODYFLOW yourself” — WHAT. Did you just tell me to…

“Row, row, row your back” — What pudding-brain thought this was good to post?

“How Many Calories … in an IHOP omelet?” — From the “Burning Questions” category, I guess.

And that’s not counting the “5 ways to blah blah blah” and the “8 foods that blah blah blah” posts. If you aren’t clever, don’t try to be.

Come straight at me with your intentions, and I’ll be less likely to want to cut myself just to make sure I still feel after reading your post.

And most importantly, if you have this, you are going to have all of the above:

4. An impossible-to-care-about purpose

Choose a blog topic that people have an interest in! How hard is that? Not so easy, actually. Most blogs are self-indulgent to an insane degree. It requires a lot of discipline to focus on things other people find interesting.

It doesn’t have to be for everybody. My sister maintains a blog about her dog, her adorable husband, and her adorable life. It’s perfect for her readership of loved ones.

But as soon as you start blogging for the general public, no one cares about your children’s wise eating choices. Educate me. Entertain me. Make me laugh. Point me to something interesting somewhere else. Just don’t write to fill space.

A fitness blog is a misguided choice. New information relating to fitness comes up once or twice a week, at the most. So you start filling space with opinions, meaningless stories, largely-unrelated news items, calorie counts from take-out menus, and other regurgitated and painful-to-read stuff.

So there you have it. A recipe for failure, from the blog that is the Julia Child of EPIC FAIL.

More fail:

Are your communications morbidly obese?

Much of the reason I’ve been sparsely populating this blog over the past week is that I’ve been laboring on a 10,000-word marketing opus for my day job.

That was about 7,000 words too many, and now it’s a process of “killing babies” until it gets there.

It doesn’t matter whether you write for a living every day or not; the fact is that everyone is a writer, and more so if you’re in marketing.

When you’re in high school, writing assignments are padded to reach a certain word count. After high school though, overly verbose writing is the hallmark of the lazy. George Orwell’s rule is, “If you can cut a word out, always cut it out.”

This goes for emails, blog posts, and especially ad copy: you can take the easy way out and write so much that you wind up diluting your original message, or you can spend time trimming fat and condensing it into something potent.

How do you know if your communication is overweight? I use these guidelines:

  1. Did you say everything you wanted to? Great, but that’s exactly twice as long as it should be.
  2. Think it should stay? Delete it first, and see if you miss it. Chances are, you won’t.
  3. Stop thinking about what you want to say, and start thinking about what you want to get across.

No one likes cutting up their own communication, it’s time-consuming and ego-deflating. But, much like sharpening a pencil (or losing 500 pounds), you won’t miss what you lose and you’ll be much happier with the result.

Listening for your Cassandra

I had a coworker remind me recently, when confronted with some negative talk, to not be too dismissive of our “Cassandras”. I am not intimately familiar with Greek mythology, so I had to look up the reference.

Cassandra is the story, in Greek myth, of the woman who received the ability to see the future, only to be cursed that no one would believe her. This would be an exquisite form of torture that all of us, at some point, have the unfortunate ability to relate to (particularly those of us that have attempted to advise teenagers of the rocky shoals ahead).

In today’s society, as in those before us, we tend to be dismissive of those that approach us with such negativity. We’re conditioned never to bring up problems without pointing out a silver lining, for fear of being perceived as naysayers.

As I was perusing The Consumerist today, I was reminded that some of us just didn’t get that message:

Jim Cramer 1 year ago

And a year later, unlike Cassandra, he can recall his prescience to those that called him crazy 1 year ago.

Now the Consumerist calls this “gloating”, but if you watch the follow-up, you’ll see more of a general feeling of frustration that people ignored and still aren’t fixing the underlying problems that caused our current economic meltdown.

It was a sobering reminder that all too often, when we hear the voices yelling for us to stop the line because we’re walking into disaster, we dismiss them as “tactless”, “negative”, or “crazy”, and push forward with our admirable exuberance.

I understand that if we spent all day pondering the doomsday prophecies coming from society’s fringes, we’d never sleep or get anything done. But we’d do well to at least consider these viewpoints from time to time.

How do you listen to find your Cassandra? The nice thing is that you don’t have to look too hard, as they’re usually vocal enough to attract attention to themselves. If you’re working on a project and someone predicts impending disaster, it tends to stick out a bit.

Rather than dismiss, correct, fire, or ignore them, it might be in your best interests to indulge them for a moment and let them explain their reasoning. You can teach them tact later.