Cold Takes

Cold & Rainy Takes

(Originally published on Cold Takes, my newsletter — more about it here.)

Good morning from rainy San Francisco. I believe this is the first time it has rained in months. Today’s links may be a bit quote-heavy as the team at Revue was nice enough to add a new quote element to these newsletters and I’m eager to try it out.

In other news, I’ve now lived with both the iPhone 7 (Black) and iPhone 7 Plus (Jet Black) for about a week. If you’ll recall, I ended up buying both because I was slow on the trigger with the 7 Plus and had to wait a few weeks to get it — though I was still apparently lucky as some people still have to wait months for the shiny Jet Black model. I’m only going to keep one, of course. (Megan has graciously agreed to take the other off my hands, since I’m now beyond the two-week window for the 7.)

But which one will it be?…

Anyway, it has been interesting (using this word only to obfuscated how I really feel) to primarily use a 4.7-inch iPhone after a couple years with the bigger (5.5-inch) model. Extended thoughts on this soon.


End of the Ninth

“Don’t be sad that it’s over. Smile because it happened.”

The New York Times printed the transcript of Vin Scully calling his final inning after 67 years. Fittingly, it was a Dodgers/Giants game, and it was a very meaningful game — a Giants win, which they got, would put them in the playoffs (alongside the Dodgers, who clinched last week in Scully’s final home game called).

His final sign off:

No runs, one hit for the Dodgers, who managed to leave four men on base because they were the only four they got on base. The Giants in the Western division are 45–31, the Dodgers are 43–33, so inside the division, they certainly were the better team.
That was awfully nice. The umpire just stood up and said goodbye, as I am saying goodbye. Seven runs, 16 hits for the winning Giants, 1–4–1 for the Dodgers. The winner, Matt Moore, the loser, Kenta Maeda. I have said enough for a lifetime, and for the last time, I wish you all a very pleasant good afternoon.

As my friend Daniel Jacobson quipped on Twitter, Scully may be “the only American public figure with a 100 percent approval rating.” What a voice. What a career.

Farewell.

5ish Links

Ebook Sales Cratering, Audiobooks Surging

Alexandra Alter:

Sales of adult books fell by 10.3 percent in the first three months of 2016, and children’s books dropped by 2.1 percent. E-book sales fell by 21.8 percent, and hardcover sales were down 8.5 percent. The strongest categories were digital audiobooks, which rose by 35.3 percent, and paperback sales, which were up by 6.1 percent.

The most striking thing here (beyond the massive surge in audiobooks) is the continued decline of ebook sales. And the decline appears to be quickening. Last year, ebook sales had fallen 10% over roughly the same period. So why is this?

As Alter continues:

But perhaps the biggest factor affecting publishers’ revenue, and one that is not likely to go away soon, is the decline in e-book sales, Mr. Cader said. While publishers once fretted that digital book sales were eroding more profitable categories like hardcover, they now are finding that e-books — which cost next to nothing to produce and zero to ship and which can’t be returned as unsold merchandise by retailers — are critical profit engines. But e-book sales have fallen precipitously for months, in part because many publishers have raised their prices after negotiating with Amazon and gaining the ability to set their own prices.

After all the handwringing about ebook prices — not to mention price-fixing lawsuits — the publishers end up being their own worst enemies in the end.

One other fun tidbit from the article: adult coloring book sales are also plummeting. Thus likely ending one of the weirdest fads in recent memory.

“Ballmer wasn’t buying it.”

Cade Metz with a solid profile on Microsoft’s long-gestating effort to build their own custom chips. One humorous tidbit from a few years back:

But before Burger could even get to the part about the chips, Ballmer looked up from his laptop. When he visited Microsoft Research, Ballmer said, he expected updates on R&D, not a strategy briefing. “He just started grilling me,” Burger says. Microsoft had spent 40 years building PC software like Windows, Word, and Excel. It was only just finding its feet on the Internet. And it certainly didn’t have the tools and the engineers needed to program computer chips — a task that’s difficult, time consuming, expensive, and kind of weird. Microsoft programming computer chips was like Coca Cola making shark fin soup.
Burger — trim, only slightly bald, and calmly analytical, like so many good engineers — pushed back. He told Ballmer that companies like Google and Amazon were already moving in this direction. He said the world’s hardware makers wouldn’t provide what Microsoft needed to run its online services. He said that Microsoft would fall behind if it didn’t build its own hardware. Ballmer wasn’t buying it.

But luckily (for Microsoft’s sake), Qi Lu — who sadly had to step away from Microsoft for health reasons recently — then the head of Bing, was buying it. And he stuck with it. A gutsy move at the time that may pay a lot of dividends in the end.

Lee says that Project Catapult will allow Microsoft to continue expanding the powers of its global supercomputer until the year 2030. After that, he says, the company can move toward quantum computing.

Modest goals.

The future Ballmer almost killed.

How Uber Plans To Conquer The Suburbs

Priya Anand on the city of Summit, New Jersey striking a deal with Uber to transport riders to their train station:

The benefit is clear for Summit, which now can forgo massive capital expenditures on a new parking lot it would otherwise need to build and maintain. Instead, it can pay a fraction of that amount to shuttle people to and from the train using Uber. Rogers told BuzzFeed News that he expects the deal will cost Summit only about $167,000 annually, a far cry from the likely $10 million it would cost to build a parking lot — plus, Summit doesn’t have enough idle land downtown, anyway.

I suspect will start to see a lot more of these types of deals. It’s not just the ridiculous amount of space that parking lots and structures take up, it’s the cost associated with building them. This just makes too much sense.

The next question: at what point does it make sense to subsidize Uber in smaller towns and cities versus building out a public transportation network at all? Controversial, no doubt. But a debate we’re going to have.

(Disclosure: GV, where I’m a partner, is a large shareholder in Uber, of course.)

Bill Belichick Reviews the Microsoft Surface

Pretty similar to my original review, actually.


(Originally published on Cold Takes, my newsletter.)