Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for September 17th, 2022

Apple Is Already Dying, And This Process Has a Name

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Alan Trapulionis has a very interesting article in Medium:

If Steve Jobs saw the Apple of today, he would be disappointed.

“He believed that once-great companies often declined after they became monopolies, innovation slowed, and the products they made became an afterthought. Eventually, they put salespeople in charge and prioritized how much they sold instead of what they sold.” (Tripp Mickle, “After Steve”)

Well, Apple today is a monopoly. Its innovation has slowed. The products they’re making do seem like an afterthought. And yet, they’re selling more white boxes than ever.

The current narrative is to blame Tim Cook, the “replacement” CEO.

In ten short years, Cook put Apple on steroids and turned its rockstar design studio into a trillion-dollar manufactory that prioritizes profits over products. The “salesperson in charge” who would lead Apple into inevitable decline seems to be the very person Jobs trusted to continue his legacy.

At the same time, the core talent that made Apple Apple seems to have left. Jobs is gone, and now they’ve lost Jony Ive, who left the company “after years of frustration, seeing the company migrate from a design-centric entity to one that was more utilitarian.”

(Ive was basically the design brain behind iMacs, iPods, Macbooks, iPhone and iPad all these years.)

It’s easy to believe this narrative.

Under Cook, Apple barely innovated:

  • The “infinity pool” iPhone X design was envisioned by Ive before the first iPhone was ever created
  • The new iPhones barely offer anything new, focusing more and more on proven features like camera and battery life
  • The Apple Music was solely built to mimic Spotify, and failed miserably
  • The M1 was amazing, but it’s straight out of Michael Spindler’s playbook — the CEO who almost bankrupted Apple with his “performance first” philosophy
  • The Watch was cool, but smartwatches were nothing new in 2015 (see photo below)
  • Even the small details like bringing back multiple colors are inspired by nostalgia (original Macintoshes came in a rainbow of colors) and not forward thinking

None of this works at a company that survives on fashion and hype.

Apple’s entire business model relies on people paying a ridiculous amount of money for a certain amount of swag. Their margins are insanely high (35–40%) and they have a ridiculous amount of cash to play with.

But they’re still reliant on buzz to make new money, and the buzz is slowly wearing off.

During the last 11 years, Tim Cook only showed us that he’s able to preserve and multiply Steve-era pearls. He never introduced anything truly new, and Apple will soon have a hard time justifying its price tag to frequent, repeat customers, which has been the lifeblood of the company since its birth.

But is Tim Cook responsible for Apple’s inevitable demise?

No! For all we know, Cook is a great CEO. It is said that “Apple’s supply chain is 50% of the company’s value,” and guess what — that value has been chiefly architected by Cook’s department during his 24 years at the company.

Cook is no Jobs, but he never pretended or intended to be. Jobs knew that, and he nevertheless gave Cook an insane amount of money to stay at the company for another 10 years.

No, the truth is a lot simpler.

The truth is that Apple was doomed to fail by design.

The fundamental problem at Apple is what can be called . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

17 September 2022 at 9:11 pm

State sovereignty was tried. It didn’t work.

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Heather Cox Richardson:

In 1761, 55-year-old Benjamin Franklin attended the coronation of King George III and later wrote that he expected the young monarch’s reign would “be happy and truly glorious.” Then, in 1776, he helped to draft and then signed the Declaration of Independence. An 81-year-old man in 1787, he urged his colleagues at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia to rally behind the new plan of government they had written.

“I confess that there are several parts of this constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them,” he said, “For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information, or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise.”

The framers of the new constitution hoped it would fix the problems of the first attempt to create a new nation. During the Revolutionary War, the Second Continental Congress had hammered out a plan for a confederation of states, but with fears of government tyranny still uppermost in lawmakers’ minds, they centered power in the states rather than in a national government.

The result—the Articles of Confederation—was a “firm league of friendship” among the 13 new states, overseen by a congress of men chosen by the state legislatures and in which each state had one vote. The new pact gave the federal government few duties and even fewer ways to meet them. Indicating their inclinations, in the first substantive paragraph the authors of the agreement said: “Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom and independence, and every Power, Jurisdiction and right, which is not by this confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled.”

Within a decade, the states were refusing to contribute money to the new government and were starting to contemplate their own trade agreements with other countries. An economic recession in 1786 threatened farmers in western Massachusetts with the loss of their farms when the state government in the eastern part of the state refused relief; in turn, when farmers led by Revolutionary War captain Daniel Shays marched on Boston, propertied men were so terrified their own property would be seized that they raised their own army for protection.

The new system clearly could not protect property of either the poor or the rich and thus faced the threat of landless mobs. The nation seemed on the verge of tearing itself apart, and the new Americans were all too aware that both England and Spain were standing by, waiting to make the most of the opportunities such chaos would create.

And so, in 1786, leaders called for a reworking of the new government centered not on the states, but on the people of the nation represented by a national government. The document began, “We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union….”

The Constitution established a representative democracy, a republic, in which three branches of government would balance each other to prevent the rise of a tyrant. Congress would write all “necessary and proper” laws, levy taxes, borrow money, pay the nation’s debts, establish a postal service, establish courts, declare war, support an army and navy, organize and call forth “the militia to execute the Laws of the Union” and “provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States.”

The president would execute the laws, but if Congress overstepped, the president could veto proposed legislation. In turn, Congress could override a presidential veto. Congress could declare war, but the president was the commander in chief of the army and had the power to make treaties with foreign powers. It was all quite an elegant system of paths and tripwires, really.

A judicial branch would settle disputes between inhabitants of the different states and guarantee every defendant a right to a jury trial.

In this system, the new national government was uppermost. The Constitution provided that “[t]he Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States,” and promised that “the United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion….”

Finally, it declared: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

17 September 2022 at 8:40 pm

Why is the Oldest Book in Europe a Work of Music Criticism?

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Ted Gioia has posted (in two posts: Part 1 and Part 2) the first chapter of his book Music to Raise the Dead. Part 1 begins:

Greek workers were simply trying to widen the road from Thessaloniki to Kavala. On January 15, 1962, the work crew had arrived at Derveni, a narrow pass six miles north of Thessaloniki in present-day North Macedonia, where they stumbled upon an old necropolis.

They didn’t know it at the time, but they had discovered a burial ground near the ancient city of Lete. Judging by the weapons, armor, and precious items, it had served as a gravesite for affluent families with soldiering backgrounds.

Here among the remnants of a funeral pyre on top of a slab covering one of the graves, they found a carbonized papyrus. Experts later determined that this manuscript was, in the words of classicist Richard Janko, “the oldest surviving European book.”

The discovery of any ancient papyrus in Greece would be a matter for celebration. Due to the hot, humid weather, these documents have not survived into modern times. In this case, a mere accident led to the preservation of the Derveni papyrus—the intention must have been to destroy it in the funeral pyre. The papyrus had probably been placed in the hands of the deceased before cremation, but instead of burning, much of it had been preserved by the resulting carbonization.

Mere happenstance, it seems, allowed the survival of a document literally consigned to the flames. And what was in this astonishing work, a text so important that its owner wanted to carry it with him to the afterlife?

Strange to say, it was a book of music criticism.

But this charred papyrus contained a very unusual type of musicology. To start, it analyzed a song by a composer who didn’t exist, or so we’re told. Even by the standards of reclusive star musicians of our own time, that’s quite a disappearing act.

To add to the mystery, the expert analyzing the song, the author of our Derveni text, was also anonymous, but clearly was a sage consulted for his deep theoretical and practical knowledge—expertise that gave the possessor a quasi-magical power—of hymns by Orpheus, the composer of the song in question. But most unusual of all were the claims made about this music—which, as we shall see, go far beyond the usual boundaries of song analysis and interpretation.

Adding to the mystery, excavators also found in Derveni some of the oldest pharmaceuticals and medical tools ever identified in the Western world. Trying to put together the details is challenging—or even bizarre. What we seem to have here is the resting spot of rare individuals who were warriors and priests and healers—empowered by special songs with their own esoteric musicology.

If this was, in fact, the birth of music criticism, it’s unlike any kind practiced today. Lester Bangs at Cream or the gnarliest punk ‘zines seem conventional by comparison.

Yet, in some ways, all this was fitting. Orpheus was, without question, the most famous musician of antiquity, although also the most peculiar. He too was an adventurer and a healer and a musician. His songs were so remarkable that they charmed not only people, but also animals and trees, and even Hades, ruler of the Underworld, who rewarded Orpheus by allowing him to bring his dead wife Eurydice back to the realm of the living.

You’ve probably heard that story at some point. It’s one of the most famous tales in history. Orpheus literally knew music to raise the dead.

But this beguiling myth, still widely told today, could hardly be an actual historical event. You can’t really visit the Underworld, can you? Songs can’t really raise the dead, can they? That’s obvious, no? Maybe to us, it is—but 2,500 years ago, Orpheus was considered every bit as real as Homer, Hesiod, and other respected authorities of antiquity.

I’ve been researching the myth of Orpheus for almost 25 years now, and I’m not so sure he is merely a myth. Certainly the author of the Derveni papyrus was absolutely convinced of his reality. As far as I can tell, everybody back then believed that both Orpheus and his music were incontestably real, and capable of doing things that, today, would fall under the domain of medicine, or science, or philosophy, or even magic.

We would love to hear music of that sort, wouldn’t we? And the Derveni papyrus actually shares parts of a hymn, praised not for its beauty or artistic merits, but because of its extraordinary powers. In other words, the Derveni author was offering to teach the secrets of a kind of music much like that famous Orphic song that had brought a dead soul back to life. You can now understand why someone would want to bring this music to the next life—it was simply too good, too powerful to leave behind.

But let me emphasize, here at the outset of our journey, that . . .

Continue reading.

Then read Part 2.

Written by Leisureguy

17 September 2022 at 5:34 pm

Posted in Books, Music, Religion

New distance

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I’ve continued to walk, each day making a walk my main priority, and after reading an NPR report, I also go out after a meal for just a short walk.

I take my “real” walk after lunch (which I usually have around 1:00-1:30pm), and at the right you can see today’s after-lunch walk. (Click image to enlarge.)

This is my first 2-mile walk as I regain fitness after the layoff, so I thought it was worth a mention. Speed is still not yet up to 3.5mph, but that will come if I stick with a daily walk.

I’ll stick to the 2-mile distance for a couple of weeks before pushing it farther — that is, if I do go for more distance. 

It’s good to start to feel fitter for the walks. The daily walk is the key.

Written by Leisureguy

17 September 2022 at 3:47 pm

What Prohibition was really about

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Mark Lawrence Schrad, professor of political science and director of Russian area studies at Villanova University in Pennsylvania and author of Smashing the Liquor Machine: A Global History of Prohibition (2021), writes in Aeon:

I have only the highest respect for the documentarian Ken Burns. He’s America’s storyteller: an unrivalled filmmaker whose creativity, passion and style shine through every history he portrays. My intent is not to dunk on anyone, but rather to start a conversation about how Americans as a society grapple with our own contentious history. Our identities are shaped by the collective experiences of our past, and how we see ourselves in relation to them. Together, we constantly reframe and revise the past to make it make sense to us in the present.

It just so happens that the best place to start that conversation is with Burns and Lynn Novick’s five-and-a-half-hour TV miniseries Prohibition (2011), which covers that most misunderstood chapter in US history, from the 1919 ratification of the 18th Amendment – prohibiting ‘the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors’ – until its repeal by the 21st Amendment in 1933. Prohibition deserves our attention because it reflects what we think we know about history, rather than the actual history itself. It is what the comedian Stephen Colbert called ‘truthiness’ in truth’s stead. The problems start within the first five seconds of the film. The filmmakers set the narrative tone for the entire series with an epigraph – stark white letters centred against a black background:

Nothing so needs reforming as other people’s habits.

Fanatics will never learn that, though it be written in letters of gold across the sky.

It is the prohibition that makes anything precious.

– Mark Twain

Direct. Eloquent. Authoritative. Damning. The framing is clear: temperance activists are the bad guys, ‘fanatics’ hellbent on changing other people’s habits who are dumb enough to ‘never learn’ the most obvious lessons staring them right in the face. The problem is that Twain never really said that. Instead, it is a mosaic of unconnected quotes, spanning different works of fiction and nonfiction over the years.

‘Nothing so needs reforming as other people’s habits’ comes from Pudd’nhead Wilson (1894): Twain’s serialised novel about race, slavery and small-town religion. ‘Fanatics will never learn that …’ was scrawled in Twain’s travel notebook while in London in November 1896 as he extolled the virtues of ‘temperate temperance’. And ‘it is the prohibition that makes anything precious’ came 11 months earlier while in India, as Twain ruminated about Adam, Eve and forbidden fruit during his visit to Allahabad.

When stitched together, they make for a compelling framework for what we feel to be true about temperance and prohibitionism. In the 11 years since the release of the TV series, nobody seems to have noticed this. Still, the epigraph sets the stage for what’s to come. Burns and Novick are gifted storytellers, and every story needs conflict – heroes versus villains, good guys versus bad guys. They’ve cast prohibitionists as the bad guys, as they so often are when prohibition is remembered: hard-headed fanatics intent on dictating ‘other people’s habits’ in a manner most undemocratic and un-American.

The key to really understanding temperance and prohibition history can be boiled down to one word: traffic. Generations of social reformers and activists – both in the United States and around the world – focused not on the alcohol in the bottle, nor on ‘other people’s habits’, but on what they called ‘the liquor traffic’: unscrupulous sellers who got people hopelessly addicted to liquor for their own profit. The difference between opposing liquor and the liquor traffic is subtle, but hugely important. Liquor is just the stuff in the bottle, but trafficking is about profit and predation; like human trafficking, diamond trafficking or the traffic in narcotics and opioids.

The ‘traffic’ gets mentioned only three times in the Prohibition series. In the first minutes, the 19th-century Presbyterian minister Lyman Beecher – who inspired the modern temperance movement with his series of sermons condemning alcohol in 1826 – declares that ‘like slavery, the traffic in ardent spirits must come to be regarded as sinful.’ After that, the traffic – the thing prohibition was all about – all but disappears from the Prohibition documentary.

Beecher’s Six Sermons on Intemperance (1827) are often credited with kick-starting temperance, though not because they were ‘eloquent’, as Prohibition suggests. Rhetorically, they were pretty unremarkable. Instead, they began an entire social movement by providing a blueprint for action: a boycott to undermine the profit-driven traffic. ‘Let the consumer do his duty,’ Beecher suggested to his temperance followers, ‘and the capitalist, finding his employment unproductive, will quickly discover other channels of useful enterprise.’ Rather than invoking Biblical tales of drunken sinners, Beecher’s Sermons repeatedly cite one verse in particular: Habakkuk 2:9-16: ‘Woe unto him that giveth his neighbour drink, that puttest thy bottle to him, and makest him drunk also.’ From its very inception, then, temperance was a movement for economic justice and community betterment, rather than a gaggle of religious cranks as they’re more conventionally portrayed.

Prohibition articulates the conventional narrative, as the voiceover by Peter Coyote proclaims that America’s prohibition experience ‘would raise questions about the proper role of government’ and ‘who is – and who is not – a real American’. The framework is clear: the ‘drys’ are the bad guys, and the ‘wets’ are the true patriots, fully exercising their freedom to drink.

In building their case about the ubiquity of booze in early America, Burns and Novick then line up some of the greatest leaders in US history. Yet painting them as pro-liquor patriots requires a very selective reading of the historical record. ‘For most of the nation’s history, alcohol was at least as American as apple pie,’ Prohibition’s narrator explains:

At Valley Forge, George Washington did his best to make sure his men had half a cup of rum every day, and a half a cup of whiskey when the rum ran out … Thomas Jefferson collected fine French wines and dreamed of a day when American vineyards could match them … Young Abraham Lincoln sold whiskey by the barrel from his grocery store in New Salem, Illinois. ‘Intoxicating liquor,’ he later remembered, was ‘used by everybody, repudiated by nobody.’ A young Maryland slave named Frederick Douglass said whiskey made him feel ‘like a president’, self-assured ‘and independent’.

In reality, each of these men – Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Douglass and scores more – could rightly be listed among America’s great prohibitionists. But how is that possible? Simple: by again recognising that prohibition was not about the stuff in the bottle, but against the predatory capitalism of the liquor traffic.

Did General George Washington ensure that his men had liquor at Valley Forge? Sure. But he also understood that the Quaker colony of Pennsylvania had – at the request of local Native American tribes – a strict prohibition against trafficking the ‘white man’s wicked water’ dating back to William Penn’s Great Law of 1682. That the early colonial Pennsylvania was arguably spared the bloody Indian Wars that plagued the other colonies is credited to the justice and fair play between colonisers and natives embodied in the Quaker prohibition.

When ragtag militias from across the colonies arrived in Valley Forge in 1777, they often supplemented their meagre provisions by trading their liquor with local tribes in defiance of the Quakers’ prohibition. The backlash was so great that General Washington ordered his own prohibition against liquor trafficking, commanding:

All Persons whatever are forbid selling liquor to the Indians. If any Sutler or soldier shall presume to act contrary to this Prohibition, the former will be dismissed from Camp, and the latter receive severe Corporal Punishment.

Washington also required prohibition to maintain discipline in the ranks. Eleven soldiers in each brigade were charged ‘to seize the liquors they may find in the unlicensed tippling-houses’ and ‘notify the inhabitants or persons living in the vicinity of camp that an unconditional seizure will be made of all liquors they shall presume to sell in the future.’ During the Continental Army’s military campaigns, any . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

17 September 2022 at 2:00 pm

This is your brain on piano

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See also this post.

Written by Leisureguy

17 September 2022 at 12:25 pm

A horsehair brush and the excellence of Valobra’s shave stick and Yaqi’s DOC

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Valobra’s shave stick is extremely good and highly recommended. Like the Palmolive shave stick, you will find no brand identification once the stick is unwrapped and in use, something that pains me in the marketing director area, but the look is distinctive and the performance is first rate. I did use Grooming Dept Moisturizing Pre-Shave again — now that I know how to use it with a shave stick, there’s no reason to forego the pleasure and efficacy it brings to the shave.

Yaqi really has a winner with their double-open-comb razors (comb guard and comb cap). It’s comfortable as well as efficient, and the result after three passes is a totally smooth (and undamaged) face.

A splash of Hâttric with a couple of squirts of Grooming Dept Hydrating Gel finished the shave and started the weekend on a good note.

The tea this morning is Murchie’s Queen Victoria: “First blended in honour of Queen Victoria, this is one of Murchie’s oldest blends: rich Darjeeling and Ceylon, smoky Lapsang Souchong, and sweet Jasmine.”

And in closing I’ll point out that I have a new article posted on Medium.

Written by Leisureguy

17 September 2022 at 10:18 am

Posted in Caffeine, Shaving

Has any government — local, regional, national — figured out how to deal effectively with mental illness?

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If any municipal, county, state/provincial, or national government has a working plan for a humane and reasonably effective program for protecting both society (the public) and the mentally ill, then the program could be replicated. So far as I can tell, no government has worked out a solution.

Michael Wilson, in the NY Times, describes one example (gift link, no paywall) of how there has been no effective way to deal with a single issue:

“New York City 911,” the emergency dispatcher answered. “Do you need police, fire or medical?”

“I need police — 312 Riverside Drive,” the caller said in a hushed voice. “The lady in Room 340 on the third floor is cutting herself. She’s mentally ill. She’s buck naked and she’s mentally ill and she’s cutting herself with a razor.”

The dispatcher asked follow-up questions and assured the man: “Help is on the way.”

That call, just past midnight on Dec. 16, was the first of five that day reporting dire emergencies at that same address. Fights, stabbings, sexual assaults, shots fired — all at 312 Riverside Drive. It was the location of thousands of 911 calls going back more than two years — without question, the most dangerous address in all of New York City by this measure.

Again and again, police officers had raced to the tree-lined block of the Upper West Side, between West 103rd and 104th Streets. Firefighters and paramedics met them there.

But the responses all ended the same way: The emergency vehicles turned and left, their sirens off. The police, over time, stopped responding to the calls at all.

Because there is no 312 Riverside Drive.

The calls had been treated like emergencies; now they were a mystery. Who was making them? Why? Was it a coordinated attempt to disrupt the police, or an epic, yearslong prank?

Detectives eventually traced the calls to a single cellphone in a building on West 43rd Street that had once been the Hotel Times Square, but for years has offered affordable housing and counseling to vulnerable men and women in the city.

The police found the phone on the 14th floor, and with it, the man behind every call.

And so the mystery became a puzzle — one that has confounded an entire team of lawyers, caregivers and social workers. His remarkable case is an extreme example of a familiar dynamic. It is one that plays out all over New York when the city’s law enforcement apparatus is confronted with people whose behavior is erratic or delusional, but who do not seem to pose any real danger to others.

This tension feels immediate in New York City, where people returning to their offices after months at home are facing reminders of some of the most visible ways mental illness manifests itself on subway platforms or street corners. A vein of behavior outside the norms runs through the streets, not easily addressed by handcuffs or medication.

One man with a cellphone has created enough havoc to be hauled over and over into court, but not enough to warrant a prison cell. He knows it’s wrong, and he apologizes to the judge, but he won’t stop.

Help is always on the way, but it never quite reaches him.

Vickie Mwitanti walked into her office building near the criminal courthouse on Lower Manhattan’s Centre Street in June and entered the elevator, pushing the button for the 20th floor. She was a lawyer with the New York County Defender Services, a churning and grinding job that can make idealistic young people cynical and exhausted. But three years in, she felt invigorated by the work. She had just been assigned a new client with an unusual case.

Before the elevator doors shut, a tall, older man, 70 and wearing thick eyeglasses, darted inside. He smiled.

“We bonded over the weather, but it was not small talk,” Ms. Mwitanti said later. “He complimented my dress, and we had this engaging back and forth.”

When the elevator arrived at 20, both of them got out. She heard the man approach the front desk of her office, and she realized that he was her new client.

He was not what she had expected. “He was just so warm and kind and sweet,” she recalled later.

His name was Walter Reed.

Mr. Reed had arrived in New York City in the late 1990s, well into his 40s, and trouble followed.

He was arrested and charged with

Continue reading. (gift link, no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

17 September 2022 at 8:30 am

New story up on Medium

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I just published “Letters to Myself of Another Time” in Age of Awareness on Medium.

Written by Leisureguy

17 September 2022 at 5:43 am

Posted in Daily life

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