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When I was on Twitter one of my favorite follows was Alexis Madrigal, who writes about tech and society. He’s writing for the Atlantic now and I was catching up on his posts. You can click on this link to scroll through all his writings. I found his take on Uber insightful:

More important, however, VCs liked the service themselves. In 2016, Hayes recalled his first encounter with Uber: “What I saw was a product that I would use all the time, even though I never use black cars. My friends didn’t use black cars, but this was a product they were going to use all the time,” he said. He and his firm would rely on their instinct instead of putting a number on the company’s value the standard way—by looking at the market Uber was targeting and figuring out how much market share it could win.

Even investor and media super-villain Peter Thiel has made fun of Silicon Valley power players’ tendency to invest in what they themselves like. “VCs often have a blind spot for things,” he said in 2014. “They overvalue things they use. They undervalue things they don’t use. Uber is overvalued because investors like riding in Town Cars.” (Thiel, for his part, invested in Uber’s rival, Lyft.)

And SV power players really, really don’t like public transit. That’s why they spend so much time and money and marketing effort on moving individuals around, rather than groups of people. Eeuuww, traveling with “random strangers,” who would want to do that?


Tablets, which were supposed to be the new, better, laptop, continue to level off and/or decline in terms of consumer sales (they’re still very popular in a range of business and professional settings). I’m a little bit surprised by this, because tablets are excellent for consumption, which is what most people use electronic items for. But it turns out that giant phones are even better:

So, what happened?

Well, big smartphones for one thing. There are dozens of smartphones now touting displays of 6 inches and bigger. These include market leaders like Apple’s 6.5-inch iPhone XS MaxGoogle’s 5.3-inch Pixel 3 XL and Samsung’s 6.4-inch Galaxy S10 Plus. With smartphones this big, who needs tablets?

And when people do want to work, they want the full screen/keyboard/OS combination. This makes sense to me; most people don’t have the luxury of having multiple electronics, and so you will either go with just a phone (if you can’t afford a computer, you will get a phone that does as much as possible to overlap functions), or a phone and laptop. Apple is finally making iOS more functional for work requirements, but it’s taken a long time.


When I was deep in the #onebag internet rabbithole, I came across this amazing post by a woman who traveled for three weeks across the USA with one shoulder bag. I am in awe. I could never do this, but I used some of her techniques, especially the multi-use fabric and layering tips:

Nothing I packed went unused, and as mentioned in the beginning of this article, I didn’t feel like I needed anything else to have a good trip- including a laptop! When the weather was cold (like when it was in the 40s F in Chicago and windy), I layered all my merino items together and covered my ears with my Buff. When the weather was warm (like in Portland when it got up to the 80s F unexpectedly), I wore my light tunic with the Anatomie pants and Tieks.

The key is layers for any minimalist packing list to work. For mine, having several layers of merino was essential. Without being able to layer my light pieces of merino together for a warmer concoction, I would have been caught out in chilly Chicago. If not packing all the merino, a fleece jacket, or something more sufficient, would have been needed.

I would still need a jacket in windy and 40sF Chicago, I think. But an ultralight down jacket from Uniqlo is warm, inexpensive and extremely packable. I took my ultralight vest to Wales because it scrunched down to about the size of a regulation softball.

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Readerlinks are back!

This article on McDonald’s as a community space resonated with me because I see these kinds of groupings in small towns when we drive cross-country. It’s the only time we eat in McD’s, and we don’t always go inside. But when we do, whether it’s small-town Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Nevada, or Wyoming, we’ll often see tables of old people, moms with kids, or some other community group having a meal together.

For America’s graying cohort, often sectioned off by age at places like senior centers, the dining room of a fast-food restaurant is a godsend. It’s a ready-made community center for intergenerational mingling. The cost of admission is low—the prices beckon those on fixed incomes—and crucially, the distance from home is often short. And that’s just one demographic.

In spite of the plastic seats, the harsh lighting, and in many cities, the semi-enforced time limits for diners, people of all sorts can sit and stay and stay and stay—at birthday parties, first dates, father-daughter breakfasts, Bible-study groups, teen hangs, and Shabbat dinners. Or at supervised visitations and meet-ups for recovering addicts. For those who crave the solace of a place to call home that is not home, a fast-food dining room offers it, with a side of fries.


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I found this article in Wired really interesting, not least because I’ve been working on “unquantifying” my life (the quantified life is one in which you track your behavior, health, etc. to try and improve outcomes). I hadn’t heard of the “nocebo effect” before but it makes sense:

“The body’s response can be triggered by negative expectations,” says Luana Colloca, a University of Maryland neuroscientist and physician who studies placebo and nocebo effects. “It’s a mechanism of self-defense. From an evolutionary point of view, we’ve developed mechanisms to prevent dangerous situations.”

For Golden, a 38-year-old patient advocate who began with an Excel spreadsheet and later used specialized apps, tracking initially helped her provide better information to her doctor. But she became focused on every possible factor that could make her headache worse. “I’ve seen people become very obsessed with it. I was at one point,” she says. “What did I do at lunch? What did I do at dinner? It can be all-consuming.”

The symptom tracker doesn’t just reveal your highs and lows. It produces a state of anxiety—and possibly more pain.

As always, I’d like to see more studies and the underlying data, but it’s an interesting finding.


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Andy Miller, who runs the Booklisted podcast among other things, writes a funny piece about being shamed, or at least mildly chastised, for the number of books he’s read. The fact that this happened at a book festival adds a special valence to the experience.

Now. Making an audience at a literary festival boo you for reading books is clearly some kind of shit achievement. And in one respect, I was not entirely telling the truth. In the year in question, I had not read ‘something like’ [XXX] books; I knew it was precisely [XXX] books. Why did I equivocate? Perhaps I sensed at that moment that the crowd was turning against me and it was necessary to self-deprecate as a matter of urgency. But that ‘something like’ was nothing like enough. What I should have said was ‘I don’t know exactly how many! A lot! I don’t get out much haha! Hahaha!’ And the audience, sniffing the air, would have turned its slavering attention to Lionel Shriver or someone and lumbered off in pursuit of where she gets her ideas from.

It’s true that if you cut down your time online and fill your discretionary time with reading, you can get through a lot of books. I certainly read more now than I did when I was more active on Twitter and Dear Author. But there is a performative aspect to telling people how much you read that is very much part of the online age (after all, this started because of Miller’s tweets). We don’t just read, we tell people we read, and not just what it is and what we thought of it, but where it fits in our total reading experience. I’m not sure where to draw the line between interaction and performance, but they aren’t the same thing.


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Here’s an interesting article which focuses on the rise of marketing to niche audiences in music, but is applicable to books and other cultural products. Since Game of Thrones just ended we all have to invoke it in our writing, so here’s mine: GoT stands out as a widely appealing product in a time of niche hits, and I’ve seen a number of articles pointing out that its Sunday audience exceeded Big Bang Theory’s finale numbers. But if you compare live audiences, then BBT beat GoT handily, 13.5 million to 18 million. Live broadcast TV is not quite dead. And where do they compare to series finales of the past? Neither would break the Top 10, which would require an audience of at least 35 million viewers.

But back to the point about niche markets:

Fandom is fragmenting. Streaming personalization and falling radio audiences are combining to rewrite the music marketing rulebook, ushering in a whole new marketing paradigm. Hits used to be cultural moments; artist brands built by traditional mass media. However, this fire-hydrant approach to marketing lacked both accountability and effective targeting. Now, hyper targeting, both in marketing campaigns and streaming recommendations, is creating a new type of hit and a new type of artist. Global fanbases are being built via the accumulation of local niches, while a few big hits for everyone are being replaced by many, smaller hits for individuals. Niche is the new mainstream.

We can see this in commercial fiction. Romance Twitter, as is frequently observed, doesn’t reflect the overall reading trends of the universe of romance readers (compare the waitlists for Mary Balogh at US libraries with the amount of discussion of her works on Romance Twitter, for example). But that doesn’t mean that Romance Twitter darlings don’t sell, and sell well. They just sell across different markets. They may not be Balogh level sales, but they’re healthy and can sustain careers while they’re popular.

The upside is that a lot more authors can break through. The downside is that the cultural space is fragmented and so is the discourse. Being a romance reader doesn’t mean you have the same books and authors in common anymore, at least not with as many people.


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