Friday, November 11, 2011

How Apple Makes Money

Apple's secret weapon for making money is to control the supply and production chain—from manufacturing to retail. A Bloomberg Businessweek article provides a jaw-dropping look at how Apple controls how its products are built, shipped, and sold. Just amazing.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

When College Presidents Were Eloquent

In his November 9 column, George Will discusses the financial power of college football—how teams are switching conferences, and traveling thousands of miles cross-country for games, in pursuit of ever-larger television and bowl appearance payouts. As a contrast to the current state of affairs, he cites the refusal of Andrew Dickson White, Cornell University's first president, to allow Cornell's football team to travel to Cleveland to play Michigan's team in 1873:

"I will not permit 30 men to travel 400 miles merely to agitate a bag of wind."

That's the kind of elocution one expects from a college president!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

How Cats Use Computers

My daughter and her cat, Trina, are bunking with me temporarily after relocating here for a new job. Here is how Trina uses my daughter's iBook—as a be-hind warmer, apparently. If Trina was a Lab, a Vizsla, a German Short-haired Pointer, a Weimaraner, or Rhodesian Ridgeback, she would have had the computer open reading Drudge, making trades, or setting up a night of poker with her pals. But not Trina. As far as she knows, the white plastic thing is a hotplate just for her. Cats.


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Ultimate Tweaker

If you don't have time (or interest) to read the just-released 600-page biography of Steve Jobs, a condensed version of Job's personality is at The New Yorker here. It's a quick read, but captures the darker side of the man who many know only as conquering hero. I confess to feeling much differently about Jobs after reading the biography. Before the book, I saw him as a genius with quirks. After the book I saw him as a deeply flawed man who I wonder if I would have enjoyed knowing.

This article uses the paradigm of the English Industrial Revolution as a way to think about Jobs. He was not an inventor but a tweaker—the most obvious example being his implementation of the technologies developed at Xerox's PARC center that appeared in the first Macintosh, and which the world thought Jobs & Co. had invented: the GUI (graphical user interface), the mouse, and more. There were portable music devices and cell phones before the iPod and iPhone—but Jobs tweaked what existed and made it great. And drove people crazy in the process.

He was such a perfectionist that it took eight years for him to begin furnishing the house he and his wife bought—he insisted they discuss the "purpose of a sofa" for a long time before buying one. Same with a washer and dryer. In the hospital he rejected nearly three score nurses before he found a couple he could tolerate, also rejecting the oxygen mask and finger BP sensor because of their poor design. These and MANY other examples are in the book—and there are enough in the New Yorker article to flesh out an accurate picture of the man.

Perhaps the saddest example of his perfectionism came near the end of the life (this story is in the biography, not in the article): He only got half-way toward deciding whether there is a God or not. In one of his final interviews with his biographer, Walter Isaacson, Jobs said he wasn't sure about the existence of God. He figured there is a "50-50 chance" that God exists. Taking eight years to decide about furniture is one thing. But taking a lifetime to decide about the existence of God is a far more weighty gamble—and an unnecessary one in light of the evidence:
"But the basic reality of God is plain enough. Open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can't see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being. So nobody has a good excuse." (Romans 1:19-20, The Message)
I can only hope that Job's perfectionism—the demands that he made on those around him—didn't carry over to his contemplation of the existence of God right up to his final moments of life. The verse just quoted says there is enough evidence to decide. But perhaps not enough for those who demand complete compliance to their standards.

Monday, November 7, 2011

African-Americans, Diabetes, and Veganism

The American Diabetes Association says that 14.7 percent of African-Americans over the age of 20 have diabetes. A new study from Loma Linda University found that vegan African-Americans have a 70 percent reduced risk of being diabetic, while lacto-ovo African-American vegetarians (those who eat dairy and eggs but not meat) have a 53 percent reduced risk of being diabetic.

With the Centers for Disease Control saying that one-third of American adults (all races) could be diabetic by 2050, you wonder why this vegan/vegetarian solution is not being shouted from the government rooftops. Can you spell m-e-a-t a-n-d d-a-i-r-y l-o-b-b-y ?

Read the article here. (Thanks, Daniel)

How to Change Your Genes

Great Atlantic article summarizing some research on the effects of lifestyle on genes. In short, poor lifestyle choices (e.g., smoking) can make good genes go rogue, but people with genetic markers for, say, heart disease can greatly decrease the likelihood of the disease through things like exercise and eating more fruits and vegetables. The idea that our health and longevity are genetically predetermined and outside our control is no longer viewed as correct.

Summer Camp

If you're in the market for a summer retreat in the beautiful Adirondacks of upstate New York, you'll want to check out this unbelievable offering from Sotheby's—a collection of rustic structures on 42 acres on a lake, yours for $6.5 million. If you look at it for fun (I'm obviously not in the Sotheby's market), be sure to click on the various links (Interior, Exterior, etc.) to see more pics than those on the home page. Especially stunning are the pics taken at night showing the expanse of stars (the point is made that the nighttime pics are not Photoshop'd—that's really how it looks at night). The pic I've posted here is of the outdoor fireplace. Can you see yourself sitting around this on a brisk New York night? See it here.