the candler blog

The Smartwatch through History: Great Idea, Mediocre Product

Link, Technology

In anticipation of Apple’s big announcement today,1 I wrote a history of the smartwatch for GOOD Magazine:

These major milestones in the history of the smartwatch are a brief tour through the last 50 years of wristwear styles, and a menagerie of both clever and half-clever ideas. With these precedents, can Apple finally get us to strap computers on our wrists?

The Fossil WRIST PDA is probably the craziest smartwatch that actually shipped. (A PalmPilot for your wrist!) Whatever Apple ships, their historical competition isn’t really that stiff.

  1. At the time of publishing this blog post, I still have no clue what Apple is announcing.

30

Announcements

Today I turn 30.

When I was a kid, 30 seemed impossibly old. Everything did. The future was, seemingly, far away. But now it’s here.

As this birthday approached, in my mind I started putting far more weight on it that it deserves. Am I where I expected to be? Did I accomplish everything I wanted to by my thirtieth birthday? And other stupid questions.

This past year has been one of great change for me. Things have not turned out the way I thought they would, but that’s actually a wonderful thing. I have achieved things I never set out to achieve. I live in a place I never expected to live, and I love it. I’ve got the support of family and friends and a lot to be thankful for. Things are good.

Look. Time is a construct, “a big ball of wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff.” We get older every day and once a year make a big hoo hah over it; once a decade we make an even bigger one. If you asked me five years ago what it meant to be in my twenties I wouldn’t have known what to say. Because who cares?

One thing I’m conscious of as I get older is my own cynicism. I’m not the most cynical person I know by any means, but I know that I sometimes come off as someone who only sees the bad side of things.1 That’s something I’d like to work to correct over the next year, the next decade, and beyond. The world is too big and too full of wonder for me to only see the negative.

I’m excited for 30. I’m ready for the next challenge. But thank goodness 40 is a long way off.

  1. Some might call this “being a dick.”

Joan Rivers

Movies, News

I’ll miss Joan Rivers, who passed away yesterday. I can’t really accept, yet, that she’s gone. The thing that really gets me is this: Rivers would have garnered some incredible material from her own death.1 The sadness of losing a legend is compounded by that fact that only her wit could make us laugh about it.

In 2010 I had the great pleasure of attending a roundtable question-and-answer session with her as part of the press blitz for the documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work.2 It immediately became clear that she was “on,” performing for us in the small hotel conference room on the Upper East Side. She clarified that point, as I noted in my resulting piece for Heeb Magazine:

“I’m a performer. A girlfriend of mine just told me she spent three weeks in Venice taking cooking classes. I thought, ‘I’d fucking kill myself.’ I’d rather go and perform.”

That was Rivers. A comedian to the end. Another choice quote from the film:

“When a young comedienne comes up to me and says, ‘You paved the way for me’… Paved? Paved?!’ You want to say, ‘Go fuck yourself, I’m still paving it.’”

There are so many great Joan moments that others have posted, but one of my personal favorites is still this clip from the documentary, where she takes the viewer into her card catalog of jokes.

There are funnier and more groundbreaking clips, for sure, but what always impressed me was Rivers’ tenacity. Joke-telling is hard work and she became a master not through magic but through sheer grit. She worked incredibly hard to make us laugh for decades. I, like most, had hoped to get a decade more.

That picture up top, by the way, is of my father’s band with Joan in 1991. My dad is on the right. They served as the backup band for two nights for the Jewish Federation in Philadelphia. He has nothing but good things to say about the experience, which he still remembers like it was yesterday. This has been a common refrain in eulogies, obituaries and remembrances. No matter how poisonous her tongue may have been while performing, off stage she was nothing but charming. There’s a lesson there, I’m sure.

  1. Imagine, if you will, what she would have done with the incredible correction in her aforelinked New York Times obituary: “An earlier version of a label that appeared with this obituary on the home page of NYTimes.com misstated the year of Ms. Rivers’s death. It was 2014, of course, not 1914.”

  2. As part of my coverage of the film, I also recorded a podcast with the filmmakers Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg discussing Joan Rivers.

Junk Netflix Reporting at Variety

Journalism, Technology, Television

This morning Todd Spangler, Variety’s New York Digital Editor, published a piece with the juicy headline, “Netflix Originals ‘House of Cards,’ ‘Orange Is the New Black’ Watched by Fewer Than Half of Subs, Study Finds.” Two things jump out at me: Netflix does not release viewership and half of all subscribers is a whole lot of people. Oh, and also “Study Finds” feels like a big red flag.

But I’ll bite. What’ve you got, Spangler?

Despite high awareness, fewer than half of Netflix users have ever watched one of the company’s two big originals, according to a new study from research and consulting firm Centris Marketing Science. Centris found that 44% of Netflix members have ever watched “OITNB,” while 31% said the same for “House of Cards.” Among Netflix subs, 94% have heard of “OITNB” and 89% have heard of “HoC” (while 72% of non-subscribers said they were aware of either series). For the study, Centris polled 562 U.S. households from July 17-20.

That’s a small sample and a short time period. Good on Spangler for at least publishing as much. It’s strange though, that there is no link provided to this “new study,” or even to Centris’ site.

So I put in some elbow grease and found that the “study” is actually just an infographic Centris made. Every so often I get form emails from junk marketing companies asking me to publish an infographic that the candler blog’s readers might be interested in. This Centris infographic smacks of that desperation.

Let’s dispense with this right now: the Centris numbers are meaningless. The time period is too small to tell us anything meaningful. It’s an embarrassment that Variety even published them.

What’s more annoying, though, is that Spangler doesn’t even take his bunk conceit and run it against readily available numbers from Netflix. The company puts out detailed and highly readable quarterly reports on their investor relations page, the most recent of which came out on July 21st (PDF), a date that lines up almost perfectly with the Centris “study.”

Netflix reports 36.52 million domestic streaming subscribers. Centris claims 44% of Netflix subscribers have viewed Orange is the New Black and 31% have viewed House of Cards. That would mean Orange is the New Black has been seen by over 16 million subscribers; House of Cards by over 11 million. Here’s Spangler again:

Both “HoC” and “OITNB” recently launched second seasons. By comparison, season two of “Game of Thrones” had an average gross audience of 11.6 million viewers across linear TV, DVR, on-demand and HBO Go. That would represent in the neighborhood of 41% of HBO’s total subscriber base, meaning Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black” may actually be outperforming “GoT” relatively speaking.

This is a nonsense comparison. Streaming has expanded a great deal in the two years since the second season of Game of Thrones premiered. For example, Netflix only (only) had 22.02 million streaming subscribers (PDF) back then. Spangler at least admits that Orange is the New Black might actually be a hit. What I don’t get is why the Netflix subscriber numbers aren’t brought up.

Also, why is the headline and the tone of the whole article so negative? If you’re going to make the foolhardy decision to believe the Centris numbers, I don’t see how they point to anything other than great news for Netflix. 16+ million viewers, even if it’s only for part of a single episode, is astonishing.

I think I know what happened here. Centris’ silly infographic paints the viewership numbers as a bland net negative: “Despite high awareness, fewer than half of Netflix subscribers have watched each show.” Wait a second, doesn’t that sound exactly like a sentence in Spangler’s piece? “Despite high awareness, fewer than half of Netflix users have ever watched one of the company’s two big originals…“

Basically Variety published the opinion of a market research firm, copying the lede word for word. Boffo journalism, folks.

Bruce Schneier on NYT Russian Hacker Story

Journalism, Link

Security expert Bruce Schneier isn’t convinced this New York Times piece about Russian hackers collecting 1.2 billion passwords tells the whole story. In a piece published this morning, Schneier points to a Forbes article1 that suggests the Times piece is part of a publicity push on the part Hold Security, the firm that discovered the breach.

More interesting, though, is Schneier’s affirmation that the secure web as we know it is actually working (emphasis mine):

We’re not seeing massive fraud or theft. We’re not seeing massive account hijacking. A gang of Russian hackers has 1.2 billion passwords – they’ve probably had most of them for a year or more – and everything is still working normally. This sort of thing is pretty much universally true. You probably have a credit card in your wallet right now whose number has been stolen. There are zero-day vulnerabilities being discovered right now that can be used to hack your computer. Security is terrible everywhere, and it it’s all okay. [sic] This is a weird paradox that we’re used to by now.

That’s all oddly comforting to me. Anyway…time to change your passwords.2

  1. Schneier quotes but doesn’t link to the article. Forbes has turned into a pretty awful outlet/content farm. They are not above publishing complete bullshit for clicks. That Schneier’s perspective comes from a Forbes piece gives me pause, but I respect his opinion enough to listen up.

  2. It’s times like these I really love 1Password. I use it on Mac and iOS every day. (Affiliate links: I thank you in advance.)

Most of the Potato Salad Numbers

Technology

Fred Benenson and David Gallagher of Kickstarter breaking down some numbers on the infamous Potato Salad project:

The potato salad project ended Saturday with $55,492 in pledges from 6,911 backers. Here’s a look at how it got there.

For a brief while I spent day and night obsessing over the Potato Salad project on Twitter. Interesting to learn that Potato Salad was the fourth most viewed project in the site’s history.

One item that goes unaddressed is the strange fluctuations in pledge amounts that went on during the first week of the campaign. At one point I spied about a $30,000 dip in pledges. The charts over at Kicktraq confirm as much.

I’d love to hear what caused these ups and downs. Bunk transactions that get through before being rejected? Folks making large pledges and then retracting them? Is this common on less publicized campaigns? Maybe Kickstarter will tell us someday.

(via Andy Baio.)

Nebraska in Color

Link, Movies

Alexander Payne’s Nebraska, my favorite film of 2013, is a gorgeous black and white film. Apparently there’s a color version in existence for international distribution, yet Epix has decided to air it in the US this weekend.

Matt Singer over at at The Dissolve has a great writeup. The black and white version is Payne’s canonical vision, but the color version is something I absolutely want to check out.

As Payne told Coming Soon, Nebraska “was shot digitally so it exists in color” at the flick of a switch. Even though it was “designed” and “lit” for black-and-white, Payne himself even called the color version of the movie “really beautiful.”

How The New York Times Handles Israeli Censorship

Journalism, Link

Jodi Rudoren, Jerusalem bureau chief for The New York Times, on the appearance of a military censor disclaimer in one of her recent stories:

Any censorship is a huge compromise. In these cases, though, the actual cost to readers’ understanding was limited.

The short of it: The Times withheld the relationship of Second Lt. Hadar Goldin, initially thought kidnapped, to defense minister Moshe Ya’alon. This sounds less like censorship and more like an abundance of caution for the safety of a prisoner of war.1

But it is still censorship. Good on Rudoren for being transparent about the process.

  1. One day after word of his abduction ground a 72-hour cease fire attempt to a halt, the Israeli military announced that Lieutenant Goldin had been killed in action.

A Flat-Out Sensational Lie

Journalism

Almost three years ago, while taking another writer to task for an unprovoked swipe at Heeb (where I used to serve as Arts Editor), I referred to Tablet Magazine as “The New Yorker of the Jewish publishing world.” In the ensuing years, though, this description hasn’t really held up. The outlet has turned into a home for linkbait and short, traffic-jacking posts. Does Tablet publish any good content anymore? Yes. Does it excuse their offenses (which I find to be more numerous)? Of course not.

I feel compelled to call out Tablet for a cowardly, false and unconscionable article published August 1st.1 Titled “New York Times Slams Its Own Pulitzer-Prize Winning Photographer In Gaza, [subhead:] Says Legendary Photojournalist Tyler Hicks is Bad at His Job,” the piece was published unsigned, using only the tag “Staff Notes” to mark any form of authorship. The headline is a sensational lie that doesn’t even match the article’s own broken logic.

The baseless headline comes from the following statement given to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency by Eileen Murphy, the Times’ head of communications,2 when asked why there are so few photos of Hamas militants in the Times:

Our photo editor went through all of our pictures recently and out of many hundreds, she found 2 very distant poor quality images that were captioned Hamas fighters by our photographer on the ground. It is very difficult to identify Hamas because they don’t have uniforms or any visible insignia; our photographer hasn’t even seen anyone carrying a gun.

I would add that we would not withhold photos of Hamas militants. We eagerly pursue photographs from both sides of the conflict, but we are limited by what our photographers have access to.

In no way does Murphy even come close to suggesting Hicks is “bad at his job.” Regardless of your opinion as to whether or not the statement is accurate or representative, calling it a “slam” is a flat-out lie.

And that says nothing of the piece itself which asserts right up front, pseudo-couched in the falsehood that a New York Times spokesperson said as much, “Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Tyler Hicks really sucks at his job.”

Tyler Hicks, who photographed the Syrian uprisings before carrying the body of his colleague Anthony Shadid out of Syria, really sucks at his job. Tyler Hicks, who ran into Westgate mall in Nairobi when he heard shots fired and captured the horror and panic of a terrorist attack in progress, really sucks at his job. Tyler Hicks, who, while covering the overthrow of Qaddafi in Libya, was held prisoner and told by his captor, “You have a beautiful head. I’m going to remove it and put it on mine. I’m going to cut it off,” really sucks at his job.

Hicks’ many plaudits and experiences do not shield him from criticism. But perhaps they should give one pause before lobbing baseless ad hominem attacks because his work does not fit your narrative.

Tablet’s unnamed author hooks on to the word “access” in Eileen Murphy’s statement.

How does being dependent on Hamas for your daily access–not to mention your life–potentially impact coverage? Well, the fact that the Times has only two distant, grainy, unusable images of Hamas gunmen from Tyler Hicks tells you all you need to know, doesn’t it.[sic]

I’m not sure what the author sees as the alternative, here. Hicks’ access isn’t limited in the way an entertainment journalist’s access is limited, i.e. the interview is over if you bring up the starlet’s ex-husband. “Access” in a war zone means life or death. A photojournalist cannot work if s/he is dead. The top priority, always, should be getting home with the story in tow.3

Today, in an interview with James Estrin on the Times’ Lens Blog, Hicks roundly answers critics of his work, like Tablet:

This is a war fought largely behind the scenes. Hamas fighters are not able to expose themselves. If they were to even step a foot on the street they would be spotted by an Israeli drone and immediately blown up. We don’t see those fighters. They are operating out of buildings and homes and at night. They are moving around very carefully. You don’t see any signs of authority on the streets. If you can imagine every police officer, every person of authority in America gone, this is what that would look like.

If we had access to them, we would be photographing them. I never saw a single device for launching the rockets to Israel. It’s as if they don’t exist.

Sometimes people assume that you can have access to everything, that you can see everything. But the fighters are virtually invisible to us. What we do as photographers is document what we can to show that side of the war. There are funerals, there are people being rushed to the hospital, but you can’t differentiate the fighters from the civilians. They are not wearing uniforms. If there is someone coming into the hospital injured, you can’t tell if that’s just a shopkeeper or if this is someone who just fired a rocket towards Israel. It’s impossible to know who’s who. We tried to cover this as objectively as possible.

Perhaps this won’t satisfy critics of either Hicks or the New York Times, but I think it offers fascinating insight into the conflict on the whole. Critics of Israel will often point to the lopsided casualty count (a gruesome metric, indeed) on the Israeli and Palestinian sides, while supporters will say the Israeli Defense Forces have no choice but to operate as they do because the rockets are launched from civilian areas. This is exactly in line with Hicks’ statement. He can’t photograph what he can’t see. And if the Israeli military itself has trouble locating and neutralizing rockets, how could a photojournalist fare any better?

In the end, though, Tablet’s article was false when they published it and has now been dismantled. It’s shameful to see anyone put this drivel out into the world, and all the more shocking and sad that it should come from an outlet that once showed so much promise. A retraction or at the very least an editorial comment is in order, but I doubt we’ll see one. One can’t expect much from a writer who doesn’t even sign his or her own work.

  1. Journalism professor Jay Rosen was kinder and called the piece “unwise.”

  2. Murphy is listed as “Vice President, Corporate Communications” on LinkedIn and is often quoted as a “spokeswoman for The Times.” I have chosen to use the job title on her Twitter bio, head of communications.

  3. It’s worth noting that on the same day as Tablet’s Hicks article, the Times itself was informed that a published story would become subject to military censorship by Israel.