Microsoft Opens Up

Remember the early days of Microsoft?  at war with Apple in the marketplace and in the courts – each one racing to dominate the personal computer universe – allegations that this one stole that but from the other one and so on.  Seems Microsoft won that early round by focusing on its Operating System and making it available to PC manufacturers all over the world.  Apple kept its OS proprietary and bundled it with its own hardware, relegating itself to boutique status.

But that’s 30 year old news.  When Steve Jobs came back to Apple he took the company in a dozen new directions, and changed everything. Not just Apple, not just business in general:  he changed the world.  We consume music today completely differently than we did at the end of the last century thanks to his Ipod and ITunes store.  The IPhone has replaced the camera as the most widely used image capture device.  The success of the IPad at least contributed to Microsoft’s decision to make its current operating system – which, by the way, is a bit of a disaster – touch capable.

After years at the bottom of the barrel, Apple is more profitable than Microsoft.  The two companies were in a dead heat in 2010.  But look at what’s happened since:

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(The steadily rising red bar is Google.  The lion’s share of its revenue comes from its websites, largely via advertising.)

Today, Apple’s core business is not the Mac.  That bit of bundled hardware/software is responsible for only 13% of its revenue.  The IPad is 18% and the IPhone is 55%.  Apple’s core business is now in your purse or pocket!

Now take a look at Microsoft and where its revenue comes from:

70% of what they bring in comes from licensing!  Licensing what?  Well, Windows of course, but there are other things as well, notably, Microsoft Office.   In fact, in the fiscal year ending June, 2013, $16 Billion of Microsoft’s nearly $27 Billion in Operating Profit were generated by the MS. Office dominated Business Division.

Microsoft has a new CEO.  Satya Nadella took over for Steve Ballmer a couple of months ago.  Ballmer was a wild man (the bald guy):

And, he was very protective of Office.  He led Microsoft through a time when it – like Apple – held tightly to its products and property.  It was this protectiveness that enabled Google to gain so much so quickly.  They popped on the scene making their products available for free and also available for anyone to use and develop!

All of which takes us to this week, when Satya Nadella holds his first press conference.  He is expected to announce that Office 365 will become available for use on the IPad.  According to Charles Cooper at CNet, “The decision to make Microsoft’s cash cow available on a product sold by one of its arch rivals not only breaks with a long Windows-centric history, it also sends a signal from the new boss that more big changes are in store.”

The lesson from these tech giants is that the game is always changing, the bullseye is always shifting, and the nature of the business evolves.  Extinction occurs when we stand still and cling to what once was.

The Best Single Cup Coffee Maker

I like coffee; but I only like a cup or two.  I live alone so making a pot of coffee makes so little sense that I actually fell into the pit of making instant last year.

A couple of months ago I realized that someday I will be dead and no longer able to enjoy coffee.  With limited time left, I decided I deserved to have the true brew.  I went on a quest for the best single cup coffee system.

The obvious solution might have been an espresso machine . . . except for one thing:  I’m not a big fan of bitter and even the best cup of espresso leans in that direction.  A French press might have been the answer, too, except they usually make a sludgy beverage better suited to rain chilled urbanopoli:  New York, Boston, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco.  This is San Diego.  The sun shines, the people smile and wear shorts.  This ain’t no place for a thick, dark brew.

I started looking on Amazon and various other websites for possibles and reviews.  There were many options, the most common being the K-cup machines.  But that’s more than just a single cup brewing system, it’s a lifestyle choice.  I mean:  you gotta have all of those cup thingys stored somewhere and there’s all that plastic to throw away, not to mention the cost!  A K-cup brew can cost $.50 – which is about 5 times what a regular cup costs.

My friend, Dusty, bought a Hamilton-Beach 4-cup self-contained unit that makes a passable cup if you’re willing to brew 4.  Smaller quantities are inconsistent, sometimes too strong, sometimes too weak.  I think this is due in part to a design flaw:  the machine uses  a flat basket which spreads the grounds out too thinly for optimum steepage.  It would be a better system if it used a conical basket.  Still, for $25, it’s not bad.

Finally, I came across what I was sure was the finest name in brewed coffee:  Bunn.  You know Bunn.  Almost every restaurant, from Dennys to The Ritz uses a Bunn coffee system.  The company’s reputation for consistent quality is unsurpassed, so when I saw a single-cup Bunn system, I ordered it.  Ok.  I hesitated a bit because I am cheap as chips and the unit was about $150.  Most others were under $50 .  But this was a BUNN for bean’s sake!  It had to be worth it!

My first unit arrived damaged.  The rubber gasket that seals the basket to the drip unit was improperly installed and on first use hot water spewed everywhere, shorting out my printer (which was on a shelf underneath) and wrinkling a ream of paper.  It was shipped back the same day.

My next unit arrived and was inspected carefully.  Perfect!  I was so excited to make my first cup . . . which was dreadful.  That’s ok:  I was prepared for a little trial-and-error to figure it out.  Seven cups later the beverage was still un-drinkable.  The only word that comes to mind is ‘Harsh’ . . . almost take-your-breath-away Harsh.  I boxed my Bunn and shipped it back to Amazon, gave it an ugly review and returned to instant coffee purgatory.

But then I came across something really different.  The Aeropress  coffee maker is a new approach to making a great cup of joe.  A little like a French press, it uses a paper filter to keep the grounds from sludgifying your drink.  The filter also traps some of the more bitter oils making the taste smooothe and delightful.  As an added bonus, clean-up is ridiculously easy.  Really:  it’s a no mess 10 second ritual.

Here’s the video that convinced me to buy this system.  Bear in mind, these women are in some rainy place and they use three times the coffee I do (and only 2/3 the water)!  It seems their goal is to make a cup of coffee so strong you cannot see through it!  But I think their assessment is pretty true.  (This reminds me a little of a Saturday Night Live Delicious Dish segment)

Zombie Apocalypse and the Gilded Age of Television

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True confession: I have now watched maybe six whole episodes of ‘Walking Dead’ (at the vehement insistence of friends) – and find it B O R I N G. What’s the big deal? Zombies, Survival, Warring Tribes (yawn).

I’ve just been reading that we are in the midst of some kind of cultural Renaissance driven by excellence in television.  Seems the venue for passive consumption of high quality artistic expression has moved from the Cineplex to the flat screen.  You have big Hollywood types – David Fincher (oooooo) and Oliver Stone (oooooo) and Kevin Spacey (ooooo) and So On (ooooo) – moving over from the big screen to bring the highest quality, best acted, written and directed stories to us.

Stories.  Unreal, escapist, often stupid Stories.  Come on:  the High School Chemistry teacher who shifts over to making the highest quality Meth in the world after learning he has limited time to live?  Oh, I hate it when that happens.  Come on:  The suburban mom who, having lost her income stream and means of support shifts over to merrily selling pot to her friends and neighbors (what is this obsession we have with the oh so romantic illicit drug culture?).  And don’t get me started on The Walking Dead and The Game of Thrones.

The only thing more unreal, more stupifying is the big screen’s fascination with comic book heroes. Do we really need another Batman, Spiderman, Captain America, Iron Man, Avengers movie?  Thor?  Are we so devoid of creative energy that we have to rip off Norse mythology for our celluloid jollies?  How many of the people paying $12 to see Thor have any notion of where the story originates, of what the real cultural significance is?

(Even today’s great movies often leave me cold.  ‘Gravity?’  It’s a comic book.  ‘Philomena?’  I cried; I got angry.  But it’s a Lifetime Channel made-for-tv movie.)

Rant rant rant rant rant!  Rave Rave Rave!  Quack quack quack quack quack!

(My metaphor for the burgeoning excellence of television is Bob Dylan making a television commercial for Chrysler.)

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TV has always been a territorial war for control of the real estate located between your ears. From Donna Reed to House of Cards, it’s the same war; the playbook has just become more sophisticated.

Read Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (or passively watch the excellent movie).  The population is kept numb and unquestioning largely through the programming pumped onto their giant wall screens.  The hero makes his break only by first breaking the pull of the tube.  Great science fiction has always been predictive and,  I’m sorry:  I think we are there.  Now.

It is entirely possible that the Zombie Apocalypse is upon us . . . but it won’t be the one that comes on TV every Sunday night.  In this story, it’s not the un-dead and the survivors; it’s those under the sway of ‘The Gilded Age of Television’ and those who aren’t.  Your task is to discern which ones are the Zombies.