Morning Coffee

November 07, 2015

Hello there, welcome to another issue of Morning Coffee.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve continued to wonder about the best way to approach this weekly piece going forward. I still haven’t decided on any particular changes, but my intention has always been to make Morning Coffee a sustainable and relevant effort in the long-run. I want to keep things entertaining and engaging both for me to write, and for you to read. As ever, your comments or suggestions are most appreciated.

Now, let’s take a look at some of the week’s most interesting pieces of writing.

Issue #22: The arrogance of space, the National Geographic Photo Contest 2015, and what it’s like to not have a birthday

Among this week’s pieces we have a couple articles on the new Apple TV, and an app that can help you save money by getting you to be smarter about how you spend it. We also get to see an alternative world where all the action heroes are girls, and a piece on the reality of Internet abuse for female athletes. Then there’s this year’s editors’ picks for the amazing National Geographic Photo Contest and an article on what it means to be a brand, an ambassador, and an influencer as a photographer. Finally, we take a look at urban transport infrastructure in Barcelona, and we wonder what it would be like to live without a birthday.

Review: 4th-generation Apple TV promises revolution, delivers evolution | Stephen Hackett →

Stephen Hackett wrote a nice review of the new Apple TV. He’s far from impressed, but recognizes the device is a solid step in the right direction for Apple, even if there’s still plenty of work that needs to be done:

Sadly, as beautiful as it is, tvOS is punched full of holes.

There’s no iCloud Photo Library support on the Apple TV. The old-style Photo Stream support is there, but I guess no one revisited that after launched in April.

Like podcasts? The Apple TV’s got nothing for you right now.

Siri is limited in really weird ways. Want to search for an episode of Arrested Development? No problem. Want to use Siri to play an album from Apple Music?


That doesn’t sound like a very polished user experience to me.

Apple TV: Nice box, bad unboxing | Jason Snell →

Jason Snell also wrote about the new Apple TV this week, and he also has some constructive feedback for Apple regarding the initial setup:

Did you know the trackpad on the top of the new Apple TV remote is partially made of glass? It is. And that’s why I didn’t chuck it across the room at that moment.

Given the number of times I am asked to input my Apple ID password on my iPhone and iPad, it’s clear to me that Apple needs to do a better job of authorizing devices across all its services and then getting out of the way. But at least on my iPhone and iPad, I can type that password quickly.

On the Apple TV, there’s no recourse but to tap it out one character at a time. The device doesn’t support a Remote app to make it easier, nor does it support external Bluetooth keyboards! (Maybe the Siri Remote should have a password dictation mode so I can read my password out a character at a time.)

The savings app designed by a behavioral economist | Jenny Anderson →

Qapital is an interesting app created by Dan Ariely, a professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University:

Ariely says the app will force people to think about the opportunity cost of money, or what’s given up (saving for college) to get something immediately appealing (another bottle of rare gin). Users of the app can set a target—a $300 budget for groceries—and designate a savings goal that any extra money under that target will go towards. (Ariely himself is saving for a car.) Users can also pre-assign money to do the things they mean to do, but don’t. For instance, every $3 coffee purchase can automatically trigger a $1 donation to a charity (and perhaps start curbing expensive coffee habits).

What if all the action heroes were girls? | Goldie Blox →

Goldie Blox is a company founded by American engineer Debbie Sterling that creates awesome toys with the goal of getting more girls interested in traditionally male-dominated fields like science, technology, engineering, and math. Earlier this week they presented their latest character, the fearless Rails, Ruby Rails, on an amazing ad:

Of course, there’s more to the story than that:

Only 12% of protagonists in major Hollywood films are female. Even in the background, in crowded wide shots, women only make up about 17% of those shown in live action and animated movies. Among the highest grossing G-rated films of all time, female characters are outnumbered by male characters by three to one.

Move behind the camera and the numbers are sadly similar: in 2014, only 15% of films had female directors, 20% had female writers, and a mere 8% had female cinematographers.

50% of the population is female.

This is a problem.

It is, indeed.

This Is the Reality Female Athletes Face When They Speak Up Online | Jamilah King →

Jamilah King, writing for Mic:

But online, the harassment faced by women who dare to speak out about anything deemed remotely political is venomous. When WNBA superstar Brittney Griner came out as a lesbian shortly before being drafted in 2013, she was subjected to repeated online threats and charges that she “looked like a man.” The abuse was so bad in college that her coach pleaded for it to stop in the media. (It’s remained bad as Griner’s private life has become public; she was arrested earlier this year for domestic violence after an altercation with her then-fiancée Glory Johnson.) The abuse is just as bad for women journalists who cover sports, as Julie DiCaro wrote recently in Sports Illustrated, who described repeatedly being called a “whore” and “skank” by trolls.

[Katie] Hnida, who is now a public speaker and advocate who speaks out about violence against women, knows all too well how bad the abuse can get. “From what I can see from females who work in sports media, there’s definitely a specific kind of harassment,” she told Mic. “I do think that it’s a special brand of troll who targets women in sports and is uncomfortable with women being in sports and takes it out in really terrible ways.”

The National Geographic Photo Contest 2015 | NG Editors →

All of these pictures are absolutely incredible. Best of all, there’s also a Wallpapers gallery where you can download many of the images. Fantastic stuff.

Being a brand, an ambassador, and an influencer | Anastasia Petukhova →

This piece by Anastasia Petuhkova shines some light on the way brands use Internet-famous people in order to exploit their fame for their own benefit. Depending on the role they play and the degree to which Internet celebrities are able to influence their audiences, there are several different types of commercial relationship that can be established between the two parties:

The level of expectations is different with each company. It all depends on a lot of things and is always case by case. Sometimes you need to be prepared to give your images for free, to write about the products, to showcase them being used by you, and so on. When you do this genuinely because you like the products, it shows. This is not about free stuff. It’s not like winning a lottery. Being an ambassador is a pretty big title and responsibility. I hear from some people when I mention Sony that “Oh, you just have to use their stuff.” It was my choice to go with Sony before I became a Sony Artisan. I’m 100% behind Sony. I’m the biggest fan of what they make. I’m extremely proud of where the company is going. I am extremely proud with the level of trust put in me. I genuinely think I’m getting to a whole another level with the new gear.

These relationships are inevitable. With the increased reach and influence photographers and models have found online, brands were always going to try and profit from it. In that sense, I don’t have a problem with influencers, or brand ambassadors, although I do not entirely agree with Anastasia’s enthusiastic take on it.

Being an ambassador is not something I would describe as “a pretty big title and responsibility”. Anastasia seems to think that Sony — to cite her own example — is bestowing upon her this beautiful thing, as if it’s something she should be grateful for. My take, however, is admittedly more cynical: yes, she’s getting something out of the relationship, but in my eyes Sony is clearly getting the better part of the deal.

Never say never, but for the time being, I don’t see myself operating as an ambassador for any brand. I value my independence and freedom to use, review, praise or criticize whatever products I want, and I’m not about to give that up so easily. The irony is, by the time brands start approaching you to be their ambassador, you no longer need them.

I see cameras, lenses and other electronic devices as tools to get the job done. To the extent they help me achieve that, I’m happy to pay for them. That’s a well-defined, clean relationship I’m entirely satisfied with, and I see no compelling reason to pursue a more complicated one instead.

Arrogance of space: Barcelona | Mikael Colville-Andersen →

Mikael Colville-Andersen, on the ways Barcelona could improve upon their existing urban transport infrastructure by adopting well-known best practices:

The city defends these wacky designs by claiming that they avoid conflicts with bus stop, trash trucks and that they improve safety at intersections. They only made this stuff up recently, so I doubt there is much comparable data - compared to Best Practice infrastructure. Bus stops? Do they seriously think that there are no busses in other cities like Copenhagen? The 5A bus here is the busiest bus line in Northern Europe, with 60,000 passengers a day. There are solutions in place for bus stops and bicycle infrastructure. Copy/paste. Save money. Get the best results.

The city is also planning to make stuff up at a large roundabout. Nevermind the fact the Dutch have figured out best practice for roundabouts ages ago - let people make stuff up. It’s only human lives you’re playing around with.

That has a simple explanation: Spain, as a nation, has a long, sad history of refusing to acknowledge that other countries may be better than us at any particular thing. Instead of gladly taking advantage of existing best practices, saving tons of money and using our comparatively limited R&D resources to maybe contribute some improvements of our own, we have always favored the much nobler approach of reinventing the wheel. Every. Single. Time. Because, clearly, we always know better.

0/0/1969 | Sally Adee →

Fascinating story by Sally Adee:

I know a guy who doesn’t have a birthday. Andy* was born in the Moroccan desert. His parents were nomads. There were no smartphones in the 1960s and a nomadic tribe didn’t have much use for the Gregorian calendar. And when it came to recalling the exact day and month of Andy’s birth, there were higher priorities.

Twenty years later, planning to move to Switzerland, he needed a national ID. Thanks to some artifact of Moroccan bureaucracy, he found himself with a state-issued birth certificate that listed only a date – 1969, his best guess at the year of his birth.

When he arrived in Switzerland, he needed a driver’s license. Because of the mismatch between required fields and available data, the compromise was an ID with the birthdate 0/0/1969.

Our birthday is so ingrained in our notion of the self that I really can’t imagine what it must be like to not have one.

Afterword (SPECTRE Spoiler Alert)

It’s Saturday morning as I type this, and last night I went to see Spectre, the latest installment in the James Bond franchise, starring Daniel Craig as 007 and Christoph Waltz as Bond’s legendary nemesis, Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

Now, I’m going to try to keep things spoiler-free as much as I can. I certainly won’t reveal any important plot points or ruin any significant scenes for you, but if you still haven’t seen Spectre and prefer to go into the theater with zero knowledge of the film, it may be a good idea to stop reading now. Consider yourself warned.

I’ll be brutally honest: I didn’t like Spectre nearly as much as I was hoping to.

It’s not a bad film, mind you. The cinematography is spectacular, and the production values are incredible, as expected. Even the plot was passable, certainly not one of the most inventive and original movies ever, but there have been plenty of worse films in the Bond franchise before. Moreover, Christoph Waltz’s Blofeld will probably go down as one of the most interesting and downright terrifying villains in the entire series. If Bond movies are only as good as their villains, then Spectre should have been a colossal success. All the ingredients were certainly there.

And yet, there’s something absolutely essential that is conspicuously absent from the film.

I can’t quite put my finger on why, but Spectre just didn’t feel like a Bond movie to me, much like the previous Skyfall. A great action movie? Sure. A Bond movie? Not so much.

I suppose it all comes down to how you portray Bond. In Craig’s tenure as 007, the character is more of a blunt instrument with an imposing physique than a suave, sophisticated spy. And therein lies the rub. As much as they tried to evoke the classic S.P.E.C.T.R.E. organization from the Connery era, this movie lacks espionage as we’ve come to understand it, favoring instead a more direct and, frankly, boring approach.

I miss the days when Bond used to infiltrate his enemy’s lair by being smart and daring, not just by being reckless. Daniel Craig’s Bond has about as much subtlety to him in this movie as Dave Bautista in his role as Blofeld’s most brutal henchman — which is to say, not much at all.

But it’s not just Bond’s lack of suaveness that bothers me about the film, it’s his multiple inexcusable mistakes all throughout the movie. Whatever your idea of how Bond should behave, his competence should never come into question. He’s supposed to be the best 00 agent in the service, period. What we see in Spectre, however, is not a man in control. It’s a guy in a tight suit that jumps into a freaking helicopter to try and kill a man, but one hour later doesn’t bother to check whether the bad guy is dead or merely unconscious. We’re talking rookie mistakes here, not advanced spy stuff. Had Bond behaved like this his entire career, it would have been a much shorter one. In fact, Dryden would have probably killed him in the opening scene of Casino Royale, because there’s no way Spectre’s Bond would have been smart enough to know where he keeps his gun.

In fact, that is what I find most irritating about this movie. Daniel Craig’s Bond had found a near perfect balance between cool spy and tough action hero in Casino Royale. They had it. It was a rougher, tougher Bond, but it was Bond. This latest incarnation has pumped up the style, but it has definitely lost its substance. Daniel Craig seems fated to uphold the unfortunate rule that most actor’s best portrayal of Bond is in their first movie.

I could go on, but there’s really no point. At the end of the day, Spectre is an entertaining action movie with impeccable execution. A great James Bond film, however, it is not.

And like that, we’ve reached the end of this week’s issue. My train is arriving in Plasencia, where I’m going to spend the long weekend — Monday is a holiday in Madrid. My father underwent cataract-corrective surgery this morning, and we came here to help in any way we can. As I type this, he’s been out of surgery for two hours, and everything seems to have gone smoothly. I just spoke to him and he’s already out having a glass of wine in his favorite bar with my brother and my sister in law, so I’m inclined to take him at his word.

Hey, if Bond can shrug off a plane crash and a brutal fight in a matter of minutes, why can’t my dad do the same with a simple operation? Take note, 007.

Thanks for reading, and have a fantastic weekend.