5ish Links

Making My Way Back To Cleveland

(First published on 6/7/17 on 5ish Links, my newsletter)

Hello from 35,000 feet once again. Today, I find myself en route to Cleveland, Ohio to watch Game 3 of Warriors v. Cavs III. I grew up in Cleveland but have lived the past decade in the Bay Area, so I’m conflicted, to say the least. But I love this rivalry, and I’d love to see it actually be an interesting series, so regardless, I’d definitely be rooting for the Cavs tonight. And when my dad called with tickets, it was basically impossible to turn down a quick 24-hour trip.

As you’ll notice below, no WWDC-related links just yet. I’m still trying to go through those. There’s way too much noise immediately following the event. So I’m trying to filter through to the best stories about what Apple launched. I also, of course, posted my own quick thoughts (in so far as 2,000+ words can be “quick”) based on my notes while watching the event.

More to come. Go Cavs (tonight, at least — come on, we all want this to be another epic series)!


5ish Links

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Inside ESPN’s plan to reinvent SportsCenter

eDaniel Roberts sat down with ESPN SVP Rob King (the guy in charge of SportsCenter):

King has a memory that speaks volumes about what ESPN likes about Smith and Hill. He recalls a Monday Night Football game (it was on Oct. 21, 2013) between the New York Giants and Minnesota Vikings that was ugly, but engaging. King checked his Twitter data panel and found that ESPN was trending very well; more than 1 million people concurrently were talking about the game and ESPN on social. But three times as many were talking about a VH1 documentary airing at the same time: “CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story.”
King says he thought to himself, “Holy crap, we’re the only NFL game on, and 3x people are talking about TLC. And then it occurred to me, ‘You know what, you could watch SportsCenter for the next three days, and we’re not going to mention TLC.’” Indeed, according to the data, there was “almost no overlap,” King says, between the people tweeting about the NFL and those tweeting about TLC. Noticing things like the VH1 special, King says, doesn’t necessarily lead SportsCenter producers to tell anchors to mention them, but he adds, “One of the things that’s interesting about Michael and Jemele is: they don’t miss topics like that.”
Exactly right. Had Smith and Hill been hosting SportsCenter back then, they almost certainly would have mentioned the VH1 special; they like pop culture. But as King says, there was almost no overlap in the audiences. So it’s worth asking: do the people watching SportsCenter want SportsCenter anchors to talk about TLC?

A SportsCenter centered around talking about a VH1 documentary about TLC? I don’t know about you, but to me, that sounds fucking awful. I get changing demographics and all that, but come on. It’s SPORTSCenter.

For the record, I like what they’re trying to do with the Scott Van Pelt midnight SportsCenter. Make it a little more like the late night programs it’s up against. But I wouldn’t fuck with prime time. And I certainly wouldn’t veer into this pandering to pop culture nonsense. But maybe that’s just me. I also don’t watch VH1 TLC specials.


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Ballmer explains how he’ll make the Clippers as loved as the Lakers

Los Angeles Clippers owner (and, of course, longtime Microsoft CEO) Steve Ballmer talking to Julie Bort:

“So look. I’ll say two things. №1, we’ve been kicking the Lakers’ a — the last several years. Let’s just face it. We don’t have the championships that the Lakers do. We don’t have any of that. But in the world of sports it’s, ‘What did you do this season?’ And all we can control is how we do this season, next game, next game, and I’m proud of what we’re doing.
“Ok, yeah, we didn’t have a championship 15 years ago but we’re doing well.

First of all, as Bort notes, the Lakers actually last won the title seven years ago, not fifteen years ago. (The Clippers, of course, have never won the title.) Second, this is such a Ballmer thing to say.

In a way, it’s a refreshingly honest look inside someone’s head. On the other, how much do we want to bet this statement comes back to bite him in the ass? Generally, I like what he’s trying to do with Clippers — modernize operations, but just as importantly, provide them with anything they need resource-wise. On the other hand, this is the person who scoffed at the iPhone…

“Let’s see how the competition goes…”


“Execution matters. There is no innovation without execution.”

Fantastic look back on the build up, internally at Microsoft, towards the release of Windows Vista by Terry Crowley:

Vista was planned for and built for hardware that did not exist. This was bad for desktops, worse for laptops and disastrous for mobile.

And later:

Vista was shipping into an environment where the shift to mobility was gaining more and more speed. Revenue totals for laptops passed desktops in 2003; by 2005 laptops also passed desktops in total units sold. Because Vista ran so poorly on newer cheap laptops (“netbooks”), Microsoft was forced to let OEMs continue selling Windows XP for those lower end machines.

Sometimes, it’s a simple as that (in hindsight, at least). But a few more fun anecdotes:

As the core team came off the security effort and the 64-bit Windows product, they re-evaluated the status of the overall Longhorn project. The teams had written a massive amount of code. Unfortunately, when you are building a complex system and running without clear constraints and delivery deadlines, the right mental image for a team that is generating lots of code is not one that is building a railroad and is now 90% across the country. A better image is one where you have dug an incredibly deep hole that you now have to figure out how to climb out of and fill back in.

Ouch.

As iOS was opened up to third-party applications, the striking thing was just how carefully the OS controlled application behavior in order to preserve overall device performance. From the standards and review process enforced through the curated Apple store, to careful application sandboxing, to the initial limitation to a single task and no background processing, to tight constraints on application responsiveness, to low-power hardware-assisted audio and video processing as well as a host of other behaviors all focused on managing precious power use, many iOS innovations were fundamentally focused on the core OS function of managing and carefully exposing hardware resources to applications.
The contrast with the Windows team perspective as the Vista project started could not be more stark. The role of hardware innovation was to enable new software innovation rather than the role of software being to expose hardware innovation.

Remember how much grief Apple got at the launch of iOS (then iPhone OS) for how tightly controlled it was? As it turns out, huge strength that allowed it to flourish in those early days.

As for what happened with Internet Explorer (IE):

Also catastrophically, the bet on Avalon had been paired with a major disinvestment in IE. The IE team was gutted to staff Avalon and IE was left on life support struggling to address the torrent of security issues cascading in. The vision was that HTML would be a legacy technology and the kinds of applications our competitors were targeting for the browser and HTML would be built on top of the new Avalon infrastructure.
This was a huge strategic mistake and opened up a gap for the rise of Firefox and then the Chrome browser from Google. Whether continued investment in IE would have prevented that is impossible to tell, but it certainly did not help. It also hamstrung the IE team and left them unprepared and unstaffed to address the continuing rapid evolution of web technologies which degraded IE’s reputation with web developers. The fact that it was a mistake was apparent across the company immediately; there was no need for twenty-twenty hindsight. Office and other parts of the company had large investments in the web and HTML. There was no plausible path where those investments would move over to Avalon, much less expecting the entire industry to move. In fact there was never even an attempt by the Avalon team to describe a plausible path — something magical would happen and suddenly everyone would be building Avalon apps instead of on HTML. It was absurd as well as being unconscionable. Immediately after we “won” the browser wars and saw Netscape absorbed by AOL, we radically cut further development in these open standard technologies. It was not until Windows 7 that we re-staffed the IE team and restarted aggressive investment in IE and standard web technologies.

As someone who was a web developer at the time, the fact that Microsoft just decided to basically stop all progress on IE after IE 6 was beyond dumbfounding. So yes, they only have themselves to blame for the rise of first Firefox and then Chrome (and Safari).

Love this bit about tablet computers:

We do not see this only in desktop (including laptop) computing. The tablet probably blasted to form factor sufficiency faster than any broad consumer computing device we have ever seen. Actually, a broader perspective would say that is untrue. We were struggling with weight, battery life, processing capability, input modes and overall responsiveness in different incarnations of the tablet for decades. But when the iPad arrived on the scene with its combination of screen size, weight, battery life, touch input, processing power and instant-on we had turned through an inflection point of sufficiency. Changes since then have been merely incremental — which drives crazy the engineers working on these things and expending great energy and creativity to have it described this way. The engineers at Maytag working on the next iteration of the washing machine probably feel the same way.

I 100% agree with this. It’s weird to say, and yet true: the iPad got “too good, too fast”. This killed any hope of an iPhone-like upgrade cycle.

Lastly, this lesson learned from the Vista debacle is just a great thought for all parts of life:

The second is one that I took greatly to heart in my subsequent career. If you want to do broad ambitious things, you need to be accountable to articulate why it is the right thing to do. You need to be able to write down your basic thesis and the evidence behind it and then defend it. In fact, the more power you hold, the more accountable you need to be to open yourself to honest challenge on either facts or logic.

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‘Pirates 5’ Clears $78M in U.S.; ‘Baywatch’ Capsizes With $23M

Pamela McClintock on the domestic box office a couple weeks back:

Overall, Memorial Day weekend revenue at the domestic box office fell to its lowest level in 18 years, or $176 million, according to preliminary estimates from comScore. Baywatch is certainly a contributing factor, combined with several other 2017 summer titles that have underperformed so far, including Alien: Covenant and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. Plus, Pirates 5 wasn’t able to clear the $100 million mark. The big exception is Guardians 2, which has grossed $338.5 million to date in North America, besting the $338 million earned domestically by Guardians of the Galaxy in 2014.

18 years! Obviously, some of that is the continued sequel backlash happening — can’t wait to see how Hollywood reacts to this — but obviously Guardians is still doing great. The real key — shocker — seems to be making good movies. Pirates 5 is clearly bad. Baywatch clearly sucks. While Guardians was pretty good.


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Curtain call: Netflix still gets booed at Cannes

The Economist on the controversey surrounding Netflix at Cannes Film Festival:

The controversy turns, appropriately enough for the French, on an existential question: if a film is never shown in cinemas, is it still a film? Netflix’s run at Cannes this year suggests that the majority of film types, at least, answer with a resounding “yes”. Independent film financiers, producers, directors and actors, including local ones, regard Mr Sarandos as, in effect, a Hollywood studio chief — but one who stakes big money on independent film.
Therein lies the rub. In this age of Marvel superhero sequels and Harry Potter spin-offs, indie films struggle for customers. The median return on a low-budget film at the American box office is 45 cents on the dollar. With 100m subscribers globally, Netflix uses different maths to justify investments, including whether a film works for a specific segment of customers. And it has a lot of cash. Netflix will spend more than $7bn on content this year.

45 cents on the dollar is an awful return, of course. So it’s great that Netflix (and Amazon, etc) are around to pick up these films where, while the bottom line still matters, the economics are just different. The French can boo all they want, the reality is that many of these films would simply not exist in today’s market without these newer players.

Also, how fucking ridiculous is it that France requires a three year delay between when a film is shown in a theater and when it can appear on a streaming/download service. THREE YEARS!


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“The image in the mind’s eye changes.”

Since we’re on the topic of film, here’s Martin Scorsese on the art form:

Every time I get back into the editing room, I feel the wonder of it. One image is joined with another image, and a third phantom event happens in the mind’s eye — perhaps an image, perhaps a thought, perhaps a sensation. Something occurs, something absolutely unique to this particular combination or collision of moving images. And if you take a frame away from one or add a couple of frames to the other, the image in the mind’s eye changes. It’s a wonder to me, and I’m far from alone.

Amen. And excellent header image choice. (via MediaREDEF)


Quickish Hits

Americans Don’t Need Washington to Meet our Paris Commitment

Great thoughts (and leadership) by Mike Bloomberg on how individual states and cities can make the U.S. exit from the Paris Agreement basically a non-issue.

Skype Totally Hip Too: Adds Stories

This is getting farcical at this point. Does anyone really believe people are going to use Skype in this way? To quote Dr. Ian Malcolm (as one must is such situations): “Yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

500ish Words

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The Falling Apple, Revisited

Some thoughts on the state of Apple ahead of WWDC 2017…

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