Pick a Kindle

When I composed my thoughts on the new Kindles awhile ago, one of my concerns was that the lineup was becoming too splintered. Potential buyers might have a hard time knowing which one they want, especially when comparing their options to the relatively straight-forward iPad lineup. This was my attempt to demonstrate the confusion:
from theunderstatement.com
When including Special Offers in the pricing mix, a purchase decision could go something like this: "I want the cheapest Kindle. That's only $79. But, for $109 I could have the same thing without any potentially annoying ads. Buuut, for $99, I could have an even better Kindle and put up with the ads. Or, spend $139 to get rid of the ads. But then, for only $10 more I could add 3G. And add ads. Or wait, maybe I want the one with the keyboard. Same prices as the touch one? Oh. And they're both $189 without ads? Very appealing...but hey! for only $10 more I could have the one that looks just like a little iPad!"
It turns out that Michael Degusta at The Understatement found a visual way to communicate the problem. I've included his chart in this post, but made it too-tiny-to-read, so you'll have to visit Michael's site to see it full-size. It's worth the proverbial thousand words.

Incidentally, and for what it's worth, I'm as excited about the Kindle Fire as I have been for any non-Apple product that I can remember.

Print Is Not Dead, But It May Be Soon

My grandfather owned and operated a printing company for the vast majority of his professional life.

For about half of my corporate career, I worked at the company responsible for stuffing your Sunday papers with five pounds of recyclable materials. You're welcome!

In short, I've heard for a long time that print is dying; and over the same period I've heard insider and outsider explanations for why this is, isn't, or never will be true.

I used to subscribe to Architectural Digest. If I could pick up a subscription for less than $10/year, I'd do it simply because I like looking at beautiful architecture in a glossy magazine. But towards the end of my last subscription, I started seeing the Power of Print ad pictured at right with alarming frequency.

This always struck me as the print equivalent to a giant, tacky "Your Ad Here" message on a battered billboard along a rarely travelled stretch of highway. It reeked of desperation and self-delusion. Ironically, the target audience of this ad is the potential advertiser; not the reader, and definitely not one of the 300 million paid subscribers (who says you have to be a tech company to practice user hostility?). You don't demonstrate your value to potential customers by showing off your excess inventory.

The implicit message of the Power of Print is: "We sustain our business by selling ads, but for this issue we came up a couple pages short. So we decided to use the space to remind you (and convince ourselves) that our format is still relevant, valuable, and - dammit - thriving! Don't over-think this, just take our word for it. And hey, if you're a media buyer for a company with a substantial marketing budget, let's do lunch! Have we got a deal for you!"

Incidentally, I think "300 million paid subscriptions" is a totally meaningless value proposition. Advertisers today place a diminishing value on anything they can't measure. "This magazine shows up in someone's mailbox every month" says absolutely nothing about the recipient's interaction with the magazine itself, or the ads therein.

My continued stupefaction* with the popularity and existence of Twitter notwithstanding, I consider myself to be neither ahead of nor behind most cultural trends. So, for what it's worth, here's how an average guy has come to use magazines in their print form:
  • I will probably never subscribe to AD again. They reached their zenith with their coverage of Jennifer Aniston's house; and every issue seemed to contain one project I loved, one I hated, and a bunch that were meh. Also, about 50 pages of ads for stuff I'll never, ever own. Between the lost time and the $10/year, this became a net drain.
  • I've kept a current subscription to Esquire for the past few years, the most recent of which was a much-appreciated gift from a thoughtful friend. I still find time to flip through it cover-to-cover every month, and Lori likes to read it too, for some reason. I think it's the interviews.
  • Around the time iOS 5's Newsstand was announced, I picked up 1-year subscriptions to GQ and Wired for $4.99 each, and another for The Atlantic for about the same price, because I figured the print subscriptions would come with free access to their iPad counterparts (and I was right!). I wanted some content to view in Newsstand, and I'd be damned if I was paying $4.99 per month to get that content. My point is, the print versions of these magazines were an afterthought; a means to an end.
  • When packing for a flight to San Francisco a month or so ago, I scooped up about half a dozen of these magazines that had accumulated unread around the house. I figured I'd need something to read in that critical time between the closing of the airplane door and the ascension to 10,000 feet, when all electronic are (supposed to be) turned off. I pulled the first magazine out in the waiting area of the airport, because I'd already become annoyed by the weight they added to my bag. I flipped through two and a half magazines before boarding, and - in what I thought was a stroke of minor genius - tore off the half of the one magazine I'd already read. That amounted to about 2.5 pounds in the airport recycling bin. I also tore out an article that I thought a friend might appreciate. I gave it to him, folded and crumpled, and I'm quite sure he threw it away unread. (Would he have read it if I'd e-mailed him a link? Probably.) By the time I landed, I'd flipped through the rest of the magazines, but I was surprised at how much of their content I'd already stumbled across elsewhere and read (usually in Instapaper). I left them in the seat-back pocket. I spent most of the flight catching up on Reeder and Instapaper stuff I'd stashed away. Also, inexplicably, I listened to the Dead Milkmen's first three albums. Overall, good flight!
  • When packing for another recent long weekend, I again scooped up the magazines laying around; but this time they were all still in their plastic wrappers. This is not a good sign for the Power of Print. I got through about half of these over the course of the weekend, and left them all at the house where we stayed.
Recently, Darrell Etherington at GigaOM reported that Newsstand has been very good for digital publishers:
[Condé Nast], which puts out many top-tier magazines including Wired, GQ and The New Yorker, has seen digital subscriptions rise 268 percent since Newsstand arrived with the iOS 5 update almost two weeks ago. 
Not only did subscriptions increase, but single issue sales also skyrocketed with a 142 percent increase when compared with the eight weeks prior to Newsstand’s launch. Both represent increases as measured across all nine of Condé Nast’s digital titles available on the iOS platform.
I wonder if the Power of Print ads will run inside the iOS versions of these magazines. At least that way their impressions will actually be measurable.

*Today I Learned that stupefication is not a word. Has this always been true? Is this like nucular and resauranteur, or am I the only one who had this wrong?

Steve Jobs' [Missing] License Plate

It's now common knowledge that Steve Jobs liked to drive a Mercedes SL55 without a license plate on it. There's no coherent explanation for why he did this. And until now, there's been no clear explanation of how he did it without running into constant trouble with the police.

iTWire has the scoop:
Some outlets have suggested that he doesn't care and will happily pay a fine if ever confronted by police; others, quoting Steve Wozniak, suggest that he had some kind of permit to do so. 
Neither is true.  In fact the truth is far simpler. 
Steve (or someone close to him) spotted a loophole in the California vehicle laws.  Anyone with a brand new car had a maximum of six months to affix the issued number plate to the vehicle. 
So Jobs made an arrangement with the leasing company; he would always change cars during the sixth month of the lease, exchanging one silver Mercedes SL55 AMG for another identical one.  At no time would he ever be in a car as old as six months; and thus there was no legal requirement to have the number plates fitted.
I'm actually surprised no one figured this out on their own. The loophole can't be that obscure, can it?

Merely the Next Step in Evolution

Mutant life imitates artThree Eyed Fish Caught Outside a Nuclear Power Plant

Salad Bar Arbitrage Update

I think I've finally beaten the salad bar. At $5.99/lb., here's my winning lunch recipe:
  • Lots (ideally, half a pound or more) of field greens and baby spinach for nutrient density, plus a little romaine for crunch. The romaine is probably my least profitable choice in the Green Leafy Vegetable section, so I don't add much. This should go without saying, but iceberg lettuce is for fools and horses.
  • As many blueberries and blackberries as I can eat in one sitting.
  • A little bit of quinoa salad (quinoa, roasted corn, tomato, black beans, and I think a little sesame oil), which may eat into my profit margin, but it gives the greens some flavor. It's like a nutrient-dense substitute for dressing and it adds some protein to boot.
That's it. I recently measured out a sample salad, and here's the breakdown:

Greens: 0.4 lbs. ($7-9/lb. retail, if you buy it by the tub)
Quinoa: 0.1 lbs. (let's say it would be $4/lb. if they sold it at the deli)
Blackberries: 0.25 lbs. ($11.40/lb. in the produce aisle today, which seems higher than normal)
Blueberries: 0.25 lbs. ($14.51/lb. today, which is simply ridiculous)

My total cost at the salad bar was $6 vs. $10.07 in the produce aisle, for a 40% savings. Plus! the convenience of grab-and-go without the minor hassle of leftovers.

Win-win. Or, the victimless salad.

On a related note (and in "why didn't I think of that?" news), there's a company that arbitrages gift cards; and they just got bought for an undisclosed sum (read: "a skillion dollars") by the company that stocks all your favorite gift cards in all your favorite stores. You know - the display case where you grab last-minute gifts for second-tier friends and relatives.

Correction of the Year

Dan Frommer puts this in the form of a question, but I declare it emphatically: this will go down as the correction of the year.
Correction: October 22, 2011 An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the premise of “Angry Birds,” a popular iPhone game. In the game, slingshots are used to launch birds to destroy pigs and their fortresses, not to shoot down the birds.


Last night a Ravens player was ejected from the game, and the Ravens were penalized, for "punching a player in the facemask."

They say virtue is its own reward. Likewise, I think punching someone in the facemask should be its own penalty. If you're dumb enough to think you're going to harm someone by slamming your fist into the stout metal cage that protects their face, then you should just live with the broken fingers and your team should be able to carry on without you.

On the other hand, I firmly believe that the NFL rule against "using a helmet (not worn) as a weapon" should stand.

A New Perspective on the US Budget

My natural tendency is to think of "remove eight zeroes" as a subtractive operation, as in "take away $99,999,999," but it's division. The difference is eight orders of magnitude, as in "divide by 100,000,000."

There are about 115 million households in the US.  That's about $18,800 per household in federal revenues and $33,200 in expenditures. These numbers represent revenue and expenditures at the Federal level only.

Note the numbers depicted at right are out of sync with current data, so they are likely from a recent year.


Did I spend an hour last weekend watching videos of industrial shedders devouring everything from washers and dryers to whole engine blocks and transmissions?

Yes I did.

It's absolutely mesmerizing.

Note, this is one of only two limited contexts in which I will use the word "shred," so enjoy!

Logging with Love

I'm mildly surprised that Maine has a surfing culture, but positively shocked that people actually make surfboards there. Local, sustainable craftsmanship. Beautiful:
People ask us why the business is in Maine and not in California or Hawaii or something, and the short easy answer is that it's in Maine because we're in Maine and this is a business that's partially about trying to make a place for people where they want to be. And that should start first with you answering the question "where do you want to be?" and...we wanna be in New England.
via %$#^ Yeah Made in USA, which came via kottke.org.

How to Peel Garlic

You will never peel a head of garlic the old way again:

via MetaFilter.

Tyler Cowen is the Chuck Norris of Economists

Who happens to be "passing by the Perugian courthouse when they announced the acquittal of Amanda Knox" and, of that small number of people, who can speak of it so casually and off-the-cuff?

We have chucknorrisfacts.com; why no tylercowenfacts.com? If 1% of Marginal Revolution's readership bought a t-shirt, I'd guess the revenue would justify the investment of (someone else's) time and effort.

The Taking Tree

If nothing else, the narration is hilarious.

In Memoriam: Steve Jobs (1955-2011)

I have nothing personal to add to all the remembrances of Steve Jobs, so I'm collecting links to others' thoughts and reflections for future reference. I will update and appended this post as new stories emerge.

Notable videos, some of which are referenced in one or more of the items below, are: Steve's Stanford University commencement address, Steve's iPhone announcement, a version of the "Crazy Ones" TV spot that never aired, narrated by Steve, and (one of my personal favorites) Steve's presentation to the Cupertino City Council concerning the proposed new Apple headquarters. The authoritative video collection can be found at Devour.

MacRumors.com had the first of the best story and quote collections, from which I get several of the links below.

Wired.com came in a little later, but their tribute is more artfully presented.

As with just about everything he does, Randall Munroe (whose artwork sits atop this post) is sublime. Be sure to visit the picture at Randall's site, though, because the hover-over text is the most pitch-perfect, succinct tribute you will see.

Steve Jobs, RIP

Apple has lost a visionary and creative genius, and the world has lost an amazing human being. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to know and work with Steve have lost a dear friend and an inspiring mentor. Steve leaves behind a company that only he could have built, and his spirit will forever be the foundation of Apple. 
If you would like to share your thoughts, memories and condolences, please email rememberingsteve@apple.com


After any Apple product launch, it's fun to make fun of the people who got their predictions all wrong. Or, in the case of those who made so many predictions they couldn't possibly be all wrong, it's fun to make fun of the ones they got the wrongest.

But, the really fun thing would be to prove how smart you were by debunking these now-obviously-stupid predictions. Can anyone show me some of that?

The Devil's in the Details

Apple announced the iPhone 4S today. This was their first product launch in the post-Jobs era. Everyone else in the world can comment all they want on the gadget itself, but I was floored by a detail on their website that violates the standard of perfection Jobs hewed to for so long.

The iPhone page features some cool HTML5 animation (highlighted by John Gruber), but look at the corners of the iPhone images. What is that sloppy white border?! It's mysteriously absent from the iPad and iPhone on the "iCloud" slide, but it's there throughout the rest of the animation.

Eating Your Spirit Animal

For future reference:
Is my spirit animal tied to my consciousness?
Yes, your spirit animal is inextricably tied to your consciousness. It sees everything you see. You cannot sneak up on it.
How can I kill it if it can see what I see?
Use a blindfold. There's one provided in your welcome kit. You can then poke your spirit animal with your tree branch.
That sounds like a piñata! Are you just fleecing me out of $7500?
A small number of people do get piñatas as their spirit animal. This is not a trick though; it's just the spirit animal they were dealt by the cosmos.

Thereof On Steroids

I think I've tried to use insofaras once or twice before being rebuked by spellcheck.

Alarming Innovation

If this had existed when I was in college, I might have been a C+ student.