Archive for March, 2011

Inbox Zero: hard-won, and short-lived

March 14th, 2011 at 1:08 am ET

In the biggest Inbox Zero victory of my short life, today in a seven-hour period (!) I processed* approximately 900 email threads dating back to the beginning of the year, over 600 of which were unread at the time of processing, and none of which were spam. To process email as efficiently as that, one has to be ruthless, and determined, shutting out distractions and focusing only on the task at hand. And I was successful…

…for about five minutes. Doh!

*”Processed” means: deleted without reading if trivial, spammish, or long out of date; or read and deleted; or read and dealt with and then archived, if “dealt with” can be completed in under 5 minutes; or read and archived, with action scheduled in my GTD-friendly to-do list, if required action will take longer. As noted above: ruthless and determined; that’s the only way this kind of a system can work.

Android phone vs. Star Trek communicator

March 13th, 2011 at 5:28 pm ET

Josh Roseman has made a detailed comparison between his HTC Evo phone (running Android) and a Star Trek communicator. And as always with these device-on-device smackdowns, it depends which features are most important to you. If “being beamed up to the Enterprise” is not at the top of your list, it looks like Android comes out ahead.

Starbucks is finding its way

March 13th, 2011 at 4:55 pm ET

Claire Cain Miller’s long profile of Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz is business journalism at its very best: engaging and readable, telling a story, packed with snippets of intelligence I hadn’t known despite my having kept an eye on the Starbucks story.

(My favorite bit of color from Miller’s story: apparently all the CEOs in America are friends. Schultz is pals with Michael Dell, and it was on a long bike ride with him in Hawaii that Schultz began developing the rebound plan. The CEO of J. Crew emailed Schultz with a store complaint, and Schultz answered personally.)

For all the things I don’t much like about Starbucks, they’ve brought a level of consistency (in the best sense) to both their coffee and their atmosphere that is easy for urbanites to sniff at, but extremely valuable in places where there wasn’t an indigenous coffee-oriented “third place” culture before Starbucks arrived. And that describes much of America.

I’m happy to see Schultz taking the company’s problems seriously. Although I rarely visit Starbucks for the coffee or food, I do buy my daily newspaper in one down the block, so I have occasion to watch the company’s transformation. I generally like the company’s recent improvements and innovations, starting with the vast improvement in food offerings (including both snack and mealtime options) that has swept the chain in the past two years. Time was (and not long ago) that most baked goods at Starbucks were nearly inedible, and overpriced at that. But in the recent revamp, quality, price, variety, and freshness have all improved. A year ago, I would have said that British chains like Caffè Nero and Costa Coffee offered consistently better baked goods and snacky foods than Starbucks, but Starbucks is catching up.

I don’t much like the over-roasted coffee or the mainstream drinks (sugary and artificial, they are). But they’re paying attention to this, too, and in most stores there’s a bean blend in one of their brewed-coffee urns that I can tolerate — and it’s always, always hot and fresh, even in their licensed locations in airport terminals. Given the swill that is often called coffee in America, even here in New York, that’s not nothing.

Technology as a scapegoat for bad business choices

March 13th, 2011 at 4:36 pm ET

From today’s NYT Real Estate section:

A few months ago, Michael Bolla gave up his independent brokerage, Luxury Lofts & Homes, to join Prudential Douglas Elliman because he was about to handle some large developments and was not willing to invest the money to upgrade the servers for his Web site to handle the increased volume in his listings.

“If you have a 120-unit development on a small guy’s Web site,” Mr. Bolla said, “it will crash.”

Um, excuse me? For $50 a month, Pair Networks (for instance) will give you 240 monthly gigabytes of transfer on a redundant network that I bet you is more reliable than whatever Prudential Douglas Elliman is using. You can sign up with Pair online right now, and it’ll be ready for you in an hour! And capacity and reliability in the marketplace scale up very quickly from there, much faster than cost.

If the brokerage you’re about to list your house with runs its own servers,you’ve picked the wrong broker — they’re spending money on in-house infrastructure they should be spending on marketing your house.

I’m not surprised to hear people blaming their business decisions on technology, but I am surprised to see the Times passing it along unevaluated, even in a vanity story about New York real estate.

It reminds me of this gem, which I see every time I log into AT&T’s website:

Excuse me? My “connection speed” has nothing to do with why I’m sitting here waiting for your (apparently) underdesigned, underpowered authentication infrastructure to log me in. Didn’t your granny teach you not to lie?

This week’s recipes: roast chicken dinner, hot cakes, no-knead bread

March 13th, 2011 at 4:15 pm ET

I’ve got some recipes queued up for this week:

  • Mark Bittman’s Braised and Roasted Chicken with Vegetables, a slightly more complex implementation of a standard roast chicken. Seems to me this vegetable mixture will be improved by some finely chopped bacon in the sauteeing phase, so I’m planning to add it.
  • Paul LeClerc’s Hot Cakes (adapted from Kathleen Claiborne) and No-Knead Bread (adapted from the Sullivan Street Bakery). I’m partial to hotcakes with cornmeal in the recipe, and I’m interested to see the effect of plumping it up with boiling water before whipping up the batter.

There’s also a low-sugar oatmeal cookie recipe I have lying around somewhere, and if I can find it, that’ll go into the mix. More to follow…

Grammar pet peeve watch: NYT surrenders on the antecedent to the counterfactual conditional

March 13th, 2011 at 4:04 pm ET

From today’s NYT:

Headlights in the distance from an approaching car and behind it another, and another, and another. A caravan of four luxury sedans fast approaching on a road rarely traveled at night.

Was it a large family? Bandits? Drug traffickers? Suddenly the officers faced a choice: Do we stop them and risk a shootout, or live with the mystery?

“They would have been able to shoot quicker,” Officer Lorenzo López said later, after letting the caravan pass. “By the time we would have realized it, we would have already been flying to heaven as little angels.”

It seems likely from the context that Officer López was speaking in Spanish, which was translated into English by either the reporter or the Times. And in doing so, the Times used one of my most unfavorite grammatical constructions: the modal auxiliary (“by the time we would have realized“) rather than the past perfect subjunctive (“by the time we had realized”) as the antecedent of a counterfactual conditional. By educated speakers of English this construction is either unacceptable or strongly idiomatically disfavored (warning: more detail at that link than you probably wanted), depending on your point of view, and in any case I detest it and I find it jarring to see it in the Times. In colloquial speech, yeah; in the mouths of Snooki and the Situation, sure; maybe even in informal blogging, sure. But to see it in print is a horror.

In ten or twenty years, the yobs will have won, and by then I’ll be a “get off my lawn!” old man anyway, but for now, we absolutely must fight the spread of this indignity. Who’s with me??

Sean Lennon not interested in your opinion, will dress as he damn well pleases

March 12th, 2011 at 8:20 pm ET

You’ve got to hand it to Sean Lennon. When he was mocked by a New York magazine blog and its commenters, he took it for a few days, then fired back in no uncertain terms, under his own name, in the very same blog’s comments section:

In what way am I to dress exactly that would please you? Has it occurred to any of you insightful people that I was in fact hired specifically because, and in order to dress in a rock and roll fashion? It was my bloody job to dress crazy that day, and frankly I enjoyed it! It doesn’t mean I’m a bad person, it’s just more fun than wearing flannel.

And it certainly doesn’t make any of you better than me that you choose to read so negatively into my outer appearance. You are just bigots disguised as moralists.

I feel no need to apologize for dressing in a manner that you deem unacceptable for someone so despicable as myself. One need not apply for a license or be a professional couturier to have permission to dress as they please. One need not be the most successful, or the most loved, or the most suave or the most handsome, just to wear a pink bow-tie, a bowler, and an old coat. This is not Prussia, or Victorian England.

I am sorry that you are all so vacuous as to think you understand me simply because you dislike my clothes, that you think I have committed some criminal offense in having had a wealthy and successful father.

I will continue to make music and dress as I please, and none of you have any right to tell me I cannot or should not. You of course have a right to hate me for it, but then again, it’s you who have to live with yourselves for being such judgmental idiots.

I wish you all luck in pursuing what must clearly be elevated and enlightened lifestyles. I yawn in awe at your ‘moral supremacy.’


Sean Ono Lennon

It doesn’t get much more honest, or true, than that. I literally never gave two sh*ts for Sean Lennon before in my entire life, but I have a newfound respect for the man for being able to put words together so sensibly. Sounds like a smart guy who doesn’t take himself too seriously, unlike a million other children-of-the-famous who can’t manage to get it together.

Sympathy for Bernie Madoff?

March 12th, 2011 at 8:06 pm ET

I didn’t think this was possible, but the recent New York magazine profile of Bernie Madoff and family, based on a series of prison interviews, has left me feeling a little sorry for the guy, who apparently got in over his head and couldn’t believe nobody caught him for years. Secrets are difficult to keep, especially from one’s family, and I don’t envy him.

He also made the point that one of the outcomes of the situation is that many of his friends who invested early became exceptionally wealthy, thanks to him — he says that their gains in the early years were all legitimately earned, but it doesn’t matter, his point stands either way. Now these various influential families from Long Island and New York City won’t have anything to do with him or his family, but as he accurately points out, none of them are living out of Dumpsters.

Read the whole thing for yourself…

Jonathan Miller’s Recovering Politician launches April 1

March 12th, 2011 at 7:34 pm ET

Now this is interesting: my old friend Jonathan Miller, former Kentucky State Treasurer and author of The Compassionate Community, is leaving state government and entering the blogosphere, with The Recovering Politician set to launch on April 1.

If the content is as expected (and if it can compete with the visuals on the website, which are already striking), this will become a daily read. Jonathan’s a smart guy, thoughtful and articulate about policy, and committed to the public welfare deep in his bones. So sign up, subscribe, and read…

Homage to an enduring brand: Ak-mak

March 12th, 2011 at 7:24 pm ET

photo.JPGIf you’re from California, you’ve certainly seen Ak-mak, the original Armenian cracker bread, still baked by the same family-owned company near Fresno. In fact, Ak-Mak has had national distribution for a long time (it’s widely available here in New York), but when I was a child, it was perceived as, and probably still was, something regional.

Whole-grain before that was trendy (actually, I guess it was after it was first trendy, then stopped being trendy, but before it was trendy again), made of 7 ingredients — the most obscure of which is sesame seeds — Ak-mak looks, tastes, and is the same as it was in 1972 when my grandmother used to buy it by the caseload at the Bargain Circus on La Brea Avenue. (Sidebar: images of La Brea then and now.)

Among the aspects of Ak-mak that haven’t changed are its packaging, which looks materially identical to what it looked like a generation ago. The logo and typeface haven’t changed, and the cover sports a product photo in a style I think of as “High Maxwell House Hagaddah.” I wouldn’t be surprised if the pictured Ak-mak crackers were baked in 1963.

The box I’m holding has a 1995 copyright date, but I doubt anything changed at that time beyond the new Nutrition Facts box and the Food Pyramid graphic.

But why change? Everyone knows what the product is; the packaging is instantly recognizable at 50 paces; you know what’s inside, and you know you love it. Besides, the world needs more sunshine yellow and bright teal blue, doesn’t it?