The needle and the damage done

The Tour De France ended today in Paris and a nice man called Nibali won it. He climbed mountains faster than anyone and didn’t fall off over the cobbles, he even survived two days in Yorkshire. 

He rode the 2.276 miles in 89 hours 59 minutes and 6 seconds – for some context, today I rode 12 miles at an average speed of 10.1mph, with that in mind it would take me (assuming I keep that same average speed, which is very unlikely) the same distance would take me 225 hours 20 minutes and 47 seconds. With a following wind, no doubt. 

It’s quite the achievement, but the problem is that since Armstrong I no longer feel the same. I used to love cycling, the way the bunch swept up the inclines as if they weren’t there the way a bloke who has been leading by miles alone all day is sped past by a peloton in full force or the lone attacker on a huge col, a col so huge it is HC or outside the usual categorisation, winning by peddling faster up up up with superhuman effort. 

It’s the superhuman that bites. Armstrong was the superhuman superhuman and I believed in him, in his achievements. The look at Ulrich, the detour across the grass with Beloki prone on the road, the spectator and the strap of his bag. Pantani and the Alpe d’Huez. 

I loved it and no failed drugs tests seemed to confirm he was doing it on his own, the naysayers could moan all they liked, but science is science and not once in all the years was there a failed test, the arse cream aside, naturally. But then the big reveal on Oprah. So little so late. 

All of this and more has destroyed my trust in cyclists, probably unfairly but for all seven of Armstrong’s years in yellow it will probably take another 70 before I get too worked up about a winner of the tour especially as so many of them now have an * against their name. 

Such a shame as I’d love to not think that Nibali is on drugs, but I can’t shake the feeling that in ten years time there’ll be another * to add to the list of past winners of the greatest cycling race. 

Lance Armstrong Tour De France 2005

Leaving Dennis

One of my favourite in-house ‘jokes’ at Dennis was that in every leaving card Felix would sign:

Fuck off, Felix.

I always checked any card for it and childishly it always raised a smile. Wasn’t him, obviously and I doubt he knew of this tradition, but it was just a little bit of fun that permeated the building entire. Ads, HR, editorial, marketing, board of directors, post room, didn’t matter which department you worked in, if you left and you got a leaving card somewhere on that card would be the final sign off from ‘Felix’. It’s there in mine and it still makes me grin. I don’t know if it still happens, but something tells me it does, or did until today at least. 

Like all good company traditions that mocks the attitude and personality of the boss or company there’s a little bit of truth in it too. 

Dennis was an awesome (and challenging) place to work and as the management mantra goes “you set the tone” Felix most certainly set the tone from the top down and though it wasn’t always roses and sweet dreams (what workplace is?) I have incredibly happy memories from my time working at Dennis and today’s news is very sad and not just because a stupid old joke must now be retired. 

Dearest Kindle

I just don’t know how it happened. One minute you were there and then gone. Gone to the great LCD screen graveyard in the sky. There’s much and more to lament about your passing – so much pleasure in your bits and bytes and I mourn your untimely death in that very modern way by immediately trawling the Internet for a new model. You’ll be replaced, of course, but still, but still. 

We shared so much you and I. We’ve walked the trenches of The Great War and stormed the beaches at Normandy 20 odd years later. We spent horrifying months together on Peleliu in fox holes full of blood and guts and rain, oh the rain. We visited animal farm took the road to Wigan pier spent some time in 1984. We thought about the five people we might meet in Heaven. We’ve flown on the back of an eagle from Mordor to the Shire and played the Game of Thrones, we still don’t know who will win. We’ve ridden up big mountains with Lance Armstrong and discovered his big dirty secret on the way down. Gone back and to the left with Kennedy and Oswald. Touched the face of God and travelled into space aboard Apollo 13, made it home safe too, then just for fun gone on the other missions. Together we marvelled at the arrogance of power through Nixon and Bush and Clintons both. We fought Liston and prejudice with Ali and learned how to be a woman. Lived America’s great depression with mice and men, flown on a mockingbird’s wings and started Ulysses over and over and over. One day my friend one day I will reach that beautiful last line without missing out the main body, but not you. 

 

Kindle Broken Screen

Apple does/did cover travel expenses for the media

Apple does not cover travel expenses for the media; and even if they offered to, I wouldn’t accept it. 

Perhaps not now, but as recently as 2006 Apple paid for me (as a member of the media) to go to WWDC. Not only that, first they flew me (and a host of other UK and European journalists) to New York first to see the Apple Store with the cube on top before giving us plush 10th row seats at the keynote. Apple stumped up the cash for flight and hotels and meals. They offered and I accepted.

I’m not sure why but there’s a very definite split between US and UK/European journalists on accepting this sort of ‘gift’ from a company you cover. In the US it appears that you have been seen to leave your integrity at the door if someone else is paying. My experience of the UK is that no one thinks it out of the ordinary or that it would affect your independence.

Jon Ronson’s Frank Story WORLD PREMIERE (nearly) The Hebden Bridge Trades Club

The Trades Club at Hebden Bridge is a small spit and sawdust sort of place that a Guardian review would probably describe as ‘intimate’ a Telegraph one ‘unmistakably northern’. A Yorkshireman’s view would most likely be ‘shithole’ but in a cuddly and sympathetically warm and loving way. Bottom line is, The Trades probably hasn’t seen many world premieres, but there are always boundaries to be pushed and Rubicon’s to be crossed and so it is home to the very second airing of Jon Ronson’s Frank Story. Second because Jon admits to performing a warm up rehearsal of the show in Brooklyn, but that didn’t count because he was the only person in the room who had the slightest clue what was going on.

The story of Frank Sidebottom is thoroughly intriguing. Today he would be a massively popular, but un-winning novelty contestant on Britain’s got talent, delivered to millions for weeks, talked about endlessly in school classrooms and playgrounds, filling column inches in tabloids and weekly chat mags and then unceremoniously dumped out of the collective consciousness damned to open supermarkets or tour what’s left of the working men’s club circuit until bankruptcy and or a stint heading up Iceland’s advertising campaign thrust him ever so briefly back into the limelight.

Frank’s rise to almost fame from the margins is told with love and, importantly, first-hand experience by Ronson. It is a eulogy of sorts for the man who played Frank and Frank the character, Ronson flits perfectly between the two – just when Frank’s larger than life on-stage persona is set to steal the show Chris Sievey staggers back in to with a dose of real life to balance out the story.

It’s also a homage to Ronson’s youth, a tale of those ridiculous early days as an adult where preposterous freedom and, often, financial necessity breed situations that in retrospect seem utterly bizarre, but at the time perfectly reasonable. The story goes that a single phone call is all it took for Jon Ronson to drop everything and join Frank Sidebottom’s band for a life touring the North of England to packed halls of “nearly 500 people”

Whatever your connection or disconnection to Frank Sidebottom the story as Jon Ronson tells it is compelling, warm, sweet and a little bit bitter. The ten-year gap where Frank and Jon didn’t speak seemed glossed over, as is Sievey’s death from cancer and funeral. The installation of a bronze statue in Timperley belies, just a touch, the idea of Sidebottom as a marginal character too – Eric Morecambe was dead a long time before his hometown saw fit to immortalise him in a metal of any sort. A section about Jon’s Twitter argument with academics from Durham University felt incongruous and out of place as well.

Funny, fringe and a little bit odd this show is a wonderful tribute to Sidebottom and Sievey, the list of people he inspired or worked with is like a who’s who of TV, music and radio establishment, only he worked with them before they were famous.

At the end Jon asked if there were any requests or questions and without hesitation the man next to me demanded a singsong. Obligingly, Ronson played a verse of Frank Sidebottom’s I Should Be So Lucky and for a brief few moments the audacity and ridiculousness and shear fun of Frank Sidebottom was alive in the room.

 

Dates for the rest of the tour  

More on Frank and Jon

Apple to double Macintosh production to meet demand

I’ve been doing some research on the original Mac launch and found this little story by Eric Bender for Computerworld in July 1984. It’s nothing spectacular, but I do love the hubris of Jobs. An early example of his ear for a soundbite, especially the dig at IBM.

“It took IBM a year-and-a-half to get where we are in six months,” Jobs said.

Seeing high demand for its Macintosh personal computer, Apple Computer, Inc. plans to double Macintosh production capability by 1985, Chairman Steven Jobs said here at a press conference July 9.
Apple is approaching the 40,000 per month capacity the company predicted in January, Jobs said. “We are installing almost double that [capacity], which will be on-line by the end of the year,” he said.

Apple posted sales exceeding $400 million during its recently concluded third quarter, President John Sculley said. “When the rest of the computer industry was in a slump, we were up 33% over our second quarter.”

Strong sales
Sculley claimed that sales were strong across the company’s entire product line, including the Lisa personal computer, “a product we had a tough time selling to anyone as recently as seven or eight months ago.”

Apple’s recent exhibit at the National Computer Conference here was designed primarily to showcase software applications now becoming available for the Macintosh, Jobs said.
The company expects more than 70 packages to be offered within 90 days, Jobs said. “By year-end, we expect over 150,” he added. The number “will avalanche” in 1985, with more than 2,000 programs offered by year-end.

“It took IBM a year-and-a-half to get where we are in six months,” Jobs said.

Many packages “are not just simple ports from the [IBM Personal Computer], but innovative software written specifically for the [Macintosh],” Jobs maintained. As one example, he mentioned Filevision, a “visual data base” from Telos Software Products in Santa Monica, Calif. “You can create your own images, you can create a data base and link them together,” Jobs said.

As software becomes available, “we are starting to get important interest from large corporations, even though [that] was not one of our key strategies for 1984,” Sculley said.

Although company officials declined to mention any specific deals, Jobs said Apple is signing contracts with two or three large corporations each month. “We will have sold to 10% of the Fortune 500 by year-end and one-third of the Fortune 500 by the end of 1985,” he predicted.

“The first wave of Fortune 500-type accounts will be those who are very much like Apple,” said Michael Murray, marketing manager for the Macintosh division. “They’re risk-takers. They’re not dinosaurs in whatever industry they’re in.”

Copyright 1984 Computerworld, Inc.

Shipping Nest at Volume

I must be smoking the wrong sort of crack. Perhaps I missed all the Nest sells millions upon millions of units stories. Maybe the news that Nest has become incredibly relevant all of a sudden passed me by. 

Did Nest ship millions of units at high quality? Is there any evidence at all that Nest is any better at making high quality consumer tech at large scale than a. n. other tech company? Is 40,000 (unconfirmed) units a month large scale?

If not, did Google pay $3.2 billion just for Tony Fadell?

 

“oh man, only Nest and Apple can ship quality at volume” said no one before the 14th of January 2014

I Fanboy.

None of this is new or particularly interesting, but I need to write it every now and again just to remind myself.

I have a tiny, tiny, tiny reputation in the Apple world, it is something I’ve worked really very hard at. I have contacts within the company who I can turn to and be ignored by. Nothing on the scale of a Gruber or Dalrymple, but they are there. I have worked for all of the Apple magazines in the UK and a few in the US. For many years I worked exclusively on Apple related publications, I have studied its history for those lovely self-indulgent ‘ooh this was good’ pieces, I’ve interviewed Gil Amelio, John Sculley, Steve Wozniak and Andy Herzfeld and Jef Raskin. I know who all those people and more are and the role they played at Apple and I can tell you without looking it up. I’ve reviewed iPods, iPads, Macs and a variety of Apple made kit. Naturally, I’ve also written about a host of other Apple industry related issues too.

This leaves me open to the accusation that I am somehow blinded to reality by my Apple blinkers – I cannot bear to see the company I have devoted a good part of my career to denigrated in any way shape or form. No matter what the story or argument I can’t be trusted to be logical or balanced because I am beholden to Apple. Dare to argue that a viewpoint expressed is at odds with my own opinion and wherever that stream crosses the Apple related rubicon I am immediately at risk from the ‘Apple fanboy’ epithet.

I’ll freely admit that sometimes my view on what Apple might do next or how a certain situation will play out is based entirely on my gut feeling or personal experience, dare I say sometimes even an anecdote. I suppose there’s no way for me to be 100% certain that I’m not letting any residual emotional attachment to a company I’ve covered for a lot of years colour my judgement. Yet I know it isn’t.

The world of the ‘Apple journalist’ is a relatively small one – very few people cover just them anymore now the company is a major player in the industry. I know or have worked with many of those Apple-only journalists and there’s one thing I can say with confidence about them and there’s lots I could say about them: they aren’t fanboys.

Now, I would say that wouldn’t I? They do, on the face of it appear to come up to bat when people say stuff about Apple and I could understand why a lay person might assume this was lazy Apple ‘fandom’ but maybe, just maybe its not that at all.

It could be our range of contacts within the industry that help us to define a more rounded, though not always correct, judgement on what Apple is up to, what its aims and intentions are. I suppose one could also argue that having an understanding of the multi-layered customer base which Apple has is helpful when colouring our opinions, knowing that the core ‘Mac fanboys’ of the early to mid 1990s are much older and a little wiser than they once were. How they differ from the Johnny come lately iMac fanboys of 1998 vintage and how they are different to the iPod and iPhone and iOS fanboys, not to mention, of course, the vast swathes of people who use Apple products who are simply users and not fanboys at all. Maybe its the years of experience of ‘Apple’ that makes us more clear on the ins and outs of the environment surrounding the company. Perhaps it is the knowledge of the long history, the little things that people often forget like the Apple Hi-Fi and the Motorola Rokr phone that the 1984 advert was just that, an advert, that the Apple ][ was a commercial success and the original Mac was not, initially at least. We can have a conversation about 030, 040, 604e and know what the fuck that is.

It’s this that give us a grounding in what might be truly catastrophic for the company and what they care about. What is not much but a passing controversy unlikely to do any lasting damage to the brand. For instance, the terrible reception the 12 Days Of Christmas app received in 2011/12 when the first download was Cheryl Cole single, there were technical issues with some of the gifts and the app didn’t work with previous iOS versions.

Or, it could be that we are mindless Apple fanboys ourselves unable to separate opinion from fact always tweeting, emailing, writing with the direct consent of Apple’s PR team, making it up as we go along not bringing any of our knowledge or expertise to bear on any opinions and insights. The sort of awareness and experience that might make one unlikely to push forth with baseless predictions about where the company might go next, what the company is up to behind closed doors and so on. Makes us less likely to entertain the sort of hubris that puts much value on App Store reviews as a wider indicator of anything, or uninformed and frankly ridiculous predictions, like, for example, an Apple laptop running iOS.

The next time the Apple Brigade offer a dissenting opinion along the lines of, “hmm, not so sure I agree” it might be worth considering their experience and knowledge as something to be contemplated rather than blithely dismissed with a wave of the hand and the F word.

The Microsoft Surface a tablet the tech press wanted

The Surface 2 and Surface 2 Pro along with their predecessors seem to be manufactured to satisfy the opinions of those who scoffed at the iPad when it was first introduced. That thinking is three years and over 100 million units past its sell by date. For those of you not in the room at the time the reasons the iPad was doomed to fail were that it didn’t have a full fat operating system or a full size USB port, it didn’t even have a keyboard full sized or otherwise. A lack of Office and storage space were popular too. 

But we all know the story – the iPad is what people want, even without all those essential features. The iPad with all those failings is the tablet that people are paying (handsomely) for. This idea that what’s wanted is Windows or some derivative has been completely disproved in the marketplace and Microsoft does’t even have to do any expensive market research to find that out they just have to check the Apple earning statement. 

People didn’t buy the Surface RT because they thought it was bad at worst and just not for them at best, not because they couldn’t understand that RT was different to Windows 8 or because of the advertising. Apple fans would do well to remember that the 1984 advert, so well thought of, was followed by abject sales of the original Mac and Apple could show 30 seconds of Bob Mansfield’s face and still sell 9 million iPhones in a weekend. 

Of course, there’s the argument that you shouldn’t compare the Surface to the iPad, because the Surface Pro at least is much more of a traditional PC hybrid closer to a high-end laptop than an ARM powered iPad, what with its pen and keyboard cover and dock to boot. This doesn’t make any sense either. The original tablet PC wasn’t wanted, certainly not in any real numbers. 

It’s as if Microsoft is trying to launch a tablet into a world where the iPad doesn’t exist and the tablet PC wasn’t a failure. 

 Getting it wrong since 2001

Boom. One. After. Another.

Under the turtlenecked-one, we got the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad, one after another. Since Cook took over as boss in 2011, there has been reiteration rather than innovation. The iPad, except smaller. Now with a sharper screen. In pink. Ho hum.”

Ok, I’ll bite. Steve Jobs returned to Apple when Gil Amelio bought NeXT, that was in December of 1996. A whole 11 months later Jobs had seen off Amelio (and employed Tim Cook) but it was August 1998 before the candy iMac appeared.

The iPod followed hot on its heels a mere three and a bit years later in 2001. Then, in the blink of an eye came the iPhone just six years after the iPod. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that the iPad was pretty quick on the tail of the iPhone, what with it being an iPhone, but bigger. Even so, there was a three year gap.

The main argument here seems to be that Tim Cook hasn’t achieved in two years what Steve Jobs managed in about 13. Well. Shit. that’s just not realistic.

Lest we also forget that the first thing Steve Jobs did after the initial success of the iMac was… … … to offer it in a range of colours including pink.

It’s not as if Apple really is all that innovative either – all the products that they’re revered for had been tried before. Apple didn’t really innovate the tech as much as package them in such a way as to make people buy it. But, that’s an argument for another day.