Wednesday, February 16, 2011

More Apple Stuff...and Why "Social Networking" is Trendy Shlock

Paparazzi jackals have invaded Steve Jobs' privacy and published photos of him looking upsettingly frail. The stock price dipped in after hours trading, and may come down further tomorrow.

As I noted
here, Steve Jobs health, even in a worst case scenario, would not impact Apple's profitability for at least a couple of years. So while I still think selling at $375 - 400 is the smart thing to do, wise guy short term traders (I'm not one) ought to buy tomorrow, and then sell when it pops back up.

A factor I failed to discuss last time is Apple's $60 billion + war chest, which could cushion them in the event of any of the potential negatives I cited
. In other words, if bubbles burst or markets crash, Apple has better survival odds than most companies. But that's no reason to hold the stock at this level (I'd buy, however, if it ever plunged below $200 again).

looking like Apple's next move will be in the realm of social networking. I believe this will be deadly for them. First, it's not their strength. The new "Ping" social networking feature in iTunes is a miserable graft-on, almost completely ignored by users. And I'm not sure even a smart play on conventional social networking makes much sense.

Here's why: People don't want to do lots of stuff with their friends on the web. They just happen to like Facebook, which happens to be about doing stuff with their friends on the web. Facebook amply satisfies this urge for most people. Yet its success makes every tech company accept as gospel that to remain current, they've got to incorporate a "social aspect". It's sort of like how after The Matrix, Hollywood decided we want science fiction movies, when, in fact, we just wanted
that science fiction movie. Businessman often have trouble distinguishing between genre and iteration.

So Apple is being reactive to a trend, instead of starting one. Mistake. Again, it's getting towards time to sell.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Get Ready to Sell Apple

If you bought Apple stock in January 2010 at $192/share when I predicted that Apple's iPad (which wasn't released until April) would "better accommodate much of what we currently do, uncomfortably, on our computers",

...or if you bought Apple stock when it hit $300 last October, and I
wrote "while that price bakes in an obscene level of positive expectation, I think Apple will beat it",

...or when I,
urged you a few weeks ago, to pick up a bargain when Apple's stock dipped on news of Steve Jobs' medical leave - and it fell from $348 to $326, well, congratulations. Today it's about $360. And it's getting to be time to sell.

I'd suggest $375 if you're the nervous type, or $400 if you're the brave type. Understanding of iPad's huge, paradigm-shifting nature has mostly sunk in, even though sales are still steeply accelerating. And while Apple surely has other surprises up its sleeve (and I'm not sweating Jobs' medical leave at all), the previously underestimated potential is now built into the stock price, so, barring another flat-out home run this year (which I don't expect), there's nowhere to go but down.

Plus the market is due for a downturn. Plus yet another tech bubble has been building to a ripe point (not directly involving Apple, but it may be collateral damage in a burst). Plus zillions of unknowable factors. Sometimes you have to acknowledge that the party's over.

Unless you're contrarian by nature, I realize that it's hard to sell when something's shooting up and everyone's exuberant. Just as it might have been hard to buy Apple at $115 a few years ago, as I did, when it was in a listless lull. But non-contrarians shouldn't be actively investing.

Why Egypt Will Turn Out OK (More or Less)

What we in the West don't realize is that the emerging generation in the Middle East is hipper than we are. They're dialed into Internet culture, and they're smart, worldly, and savvy. They're sick of the stubborn intransigence of their forebears, and are geared toward tolerance and accomplishment rather than reaction. I reported on an incredible group of creative, progress-minded Middle East kids here. I'd urge you to give it a quick read and to view some of their creative output. It's really inspiring (here's their "About Us" page).

Of course it's fatuous to paint any group as vast as "youth in the Middle East" with one brush. But there is a critical mass fitting this description. And it's essential to note that the median age in Egypt is only 24.

So that's why Egypt will be more or less ok. The new generation is far too sophisticated to be easily manipulated. And the Egyptian mainstream wants nothing less than to turn into an Iran. And the military seems to be doing the right thing, promising to turn over control to the result of a democratic election.

One might be leery of their pledge, but the kids in Egypt seem to love their military (in spite of the fact that they brought Mubarak to power in the first place). I don't know enough about Egypt's internal dynamics to fully understand why, but either 1. the kids know something I don't, or 2. they've done a truly brilliant thing in embracing the military unilaterally and preemptively in order to make them an ally to their democratic intentions. Either way, it seems to be working so far.

And, sure, some new autocrat may emerge from all this, but as one Egyptian protester noted to some journalist last week, "If it goes wrong again, at least now we know how to fix things". So, all in all, I'm not very worried about the nightmare scenarios.

What worries me is democracy. Egypt now is like the Soviet Union just after its collapse - a vast land with vast resources, in a state of free fall, with phalanxes of nasty-assed former intelligence thugs poised to grab whatever they can. New democracies can't seem to ever avoid oligarchy (we had our own robber barons), and Egyptian oligarchs will make the Russian ones seem tame.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Future of Moving: Update

My Future of Moving post (asking how the barbaric process of packing and moving one's possessions might be improved by future technology) drew lots of email, plus a few comments. No one had much speculation to offer. But, upon further thought, the answer probably involves two staples of science fiction: robots and matter assembly.

Robots everyone knows about. Matter assembly, which no one expects any time soon, would involve a process of analyzing an object, vaporizing it, and sending the data to another location to reassemble the same object.

Next weighty question...?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Do We Have Ahmadinejad All Wrong?

The revelations about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the Wikileaks dump didn't make much splash. Yet they're huge. Check out this Atlantic article by Reza Aslan (who is as dialed-in about Iran as anyone in this country).

Donald: The Book About Rumsfeld Being Kidnapped and Heavily Interrogated

"Donald, a novel by Eric Martin and Stephen Elliott, comes out today (the same day real-life Rumsfeld's memoir is released) . I'm ordering it just from the blurb...though I could just as easily wait for the inevitable film adaptation:
As America’s most infamous former Secretary of Defense lies poised to unleash his wistful recollections and rewriting of the war on terror, authors Eric Martin and Stephen Elliott humbly submit their take to the historical record: Donald.

What would happen if Donald Rumsfeld, former defense secretary and architect of the war on terror, was abducted at night from his Maryland home, held without charges in his own prison system, denied a trial, and kept in a place where no one could find him, beyond the reach of the law? Donald is a high-wire allegory that answers this question, in equal parts breakneck thriller and gradual descent into madness. But it is also a novel rooted in the harrowing stories of real people caught in America’s military campaigns. And while there are those who would try to convince us that war is full of uncertainty—of knowns and unknowns—Donald reminds us that there remain things we know to be wrong.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Nuts, Chips, Heineken...and Cancer

We assume our food is reasonably healthful. Yes, we know the dangers of sugar and salt and saturated fats, we fear artificial flavorings, and periodic scares demonize some food or other. Plus, every once in a great while there's a salmonella issue and a swift, diligent recall. But, as a whole, we assume our food supply is, to at least some baseline, fresh and non-toxic.

Yet anyone who pays attention notices that 75% of grocery products containing nuts are plainly rancid. I've never had a box of Trader Joe's or Kashi nutty cereals that didn't have a detectably rancid odor. Ditto for the oil in many fried snacks.

Why isn't there an uproar over this? Because American consumers are so accustomed to rancidity that it no longer repulses us - an alarming development, given that rancid fats increase rates of heart disease and atherosclerosis and are carcinogenic.

Consider that drinkers of Heineken beer (sold in green bottles which allow light to interact with hops to create an off, "skunky" flavor) are so accustomed to their product's "off" flavor that, thanks to human perceptual adaptability, they expect their beer to taste that way. The "great imported taste" is, in fact, the flavor of icky spoiled hop enzymes.

What to do? Buy beer in brown bottles (not green or clear), and keep it out of the light (when purchasing, grab bottles from the darker back of the cooler). And learn to smell rancidity in snacks and nutty products. You already know the smell; you've just been taught to find it acceptable in small and medium concentrations. And avoid cereals and other consumer products - including all but the freshest and most conscientious granolas - with nuts. (Interestingly, nuts themselves, for processing/packaging reasons I don't understand, are much less frequently rancid than products containing nuts).

Of course, the really big problem is that rancidity, for all its insidiousness, is actually one of the most easily detected food safety issues. Lots more problems are undetectable. The best route is to buy simple, well-vetted ingredients rather than processed food products. Chicken, not chicken nuggets. Rice, not Rice-A-Roni.

But at least be leery of nuts, chips, and Heineken. And, hey, enjoy your Superbowl party! :)

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Things You Hear a Million Times

As my postman trudged hesitantly up my unshoveled walkway yesterday, I refrained from yelling out a cheery "Neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet, nor dark of night" remark. I think he appreciated that restraint. I'd bet that 50% of his customers say this under such circumstances, and 100% of them consider it terribly clever.

Whichever profession you're in, you have The Things You Hear a Million Times. The repetition can be boring, but what's soul-crushing is how clever people think they're being, each and every time.

The weird thing is that even those
paid to Say Clever Things tend to flock. Chowhound's had tons of press over the years, and about 1/3 of it included some version of the same construction (the following are just a few examples):

CHICAGO TRIBUNE: "The best kasha varnishka, the tastiest lomo de res tacos or the hottest vindaloo curry."

TIME MAGAZINE: "The best gooseneck barnacles. The worst crab-stuffed filet mignon. Well-traveled eaters size up everything from nachos to foie gras."

MONEY: "From White Castle to white tablecloth."

SAVEUR: "From knishes to cassoulet."

NEWSWEEK: "From which Queens street cart sells the best Indian dosas to how to get a reservation at Napa Valley's The French Laundry."

PEOPLE MAGAZINE: "Manhattan's top tacos stand, Texas' most transcendent Thai or Tokyo's best shot at deep-dish pizza."

WALL STREET JOURNAL ONLINE: "Heirloom tomatoes, obscure food cravings, or surviving a meal at a chain restaurant."

ASSOCIATED PRESS: "Spirited conversations about tortillas in Mexico, an Iranian spice called khah shir, the merits of various Korean dumplings."

FORBES: "Top picks for high-end restaurants in Kansas City? Where to get the best coffee at LAX?"

TRAVEL AND LEISURE: "Argue over the best catfish po'boy in D.C., debate the relative merits of different New York egg creams, and trade tips for ordering in Korean restaurants."

TIME OUT: "The city's best lentil soup, veggie franks, eggs Benedict, lox, sangria and more."

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Meteorological Optimism

They're predicting an inch of ice today where I am. On top of the three feet or so of snow already on the ground.

On the bright side: The pollen forecast is a microscopic ".1" (out of 12). And the UV warning is what's got to be a record "1" (on a scale from 1 to 16).

So while I lie prone on my driveway, writhing in agony from my broken neck, I'll enjoy virtually zero risk of skin cancer or sniffles!

"Ask FloFab"??

Am I the only one who failed to notice that the NY Times' Florence Fabricant is getting all hip-hop, calling her Q/A column "Ask FloFab"?

"Yo, FloFab, what's the 4-1-1 on, like, bouncing dose buggin chestnut skins? Keep it veal, sistuh..."

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Keep Safe While Grieving

I've had sad occasion to send messages akin to the following many times to grieving friends over the years - including, alas, this morning. And it occurs to me that I ought to share it here, on the chance it might help keep a Slog reader safe one day while mourning a close friend or relative. Pass it on, please:
"Be real careful in the next couple weeks. A few days after my dad died, I felt that I was doing better, and figured I could drive. Before starting my car, I picked up my cell phone to make a quick call and found that my hand was trembling way too hard to dial the number. Of course, I got out of the car (and didn't drive for another week).

One reality of shock and grief is the absolute impossibility of self-gauging. So please give yourself way more recovery time than you may think necessary. Even be careful crossing intersections, etc."

Blog Archive