The empty promises of Marie Kondo and the craze for minimalism – The Guardian

Apple devices have gradually simplified in appearance over time under designer Jony Ive, who joined the company in 1992, which is why they are so synonymous with minimalism. By 2002, the Apple desktop computer had evolved into a thin, flat screen mounted on an arm connected to a rounded base. Then, into the 2010s, the screen flattened even more and the base vanished until all that was left were two intersecting lines, one with a right angle for the base and another, straight, for the screen. It sometimes seems, as our machines become infinitely thinner and wider, that we will eventually control them by thought alone, because touch would be too dirty, too analogue.

The Guardian publishes an excerpt from a forthcoming book about minimalism; not the music, but the lifestyle. This excerpt covers two topics: Marie Kondo’s decluttering cult, and Apple’s design philosophy.

For the former, whose method is uncreatively called KonMarie, I like to say that you can’t spell KonMarie without “con.” For our minimal Marie has ventured into the sale of Goop-worthy useless objects, such as, for $75, a tuning fork a quartz crystal. “Marie uses a tuning fork in her everyday life to help her to reset – and she’s never without a crystal. Striking the fork against a crystal creates pure tones that are believed to help restore a sense of balance.”

As for Apple, yes, their products are minimalist, but I think that the approach that the millennial writer takes shows a bit of ignorance of the history of the design of computing devices, and of other electronic devices. Much of the minimalism in Apple devices is a result of miniaturization. We have thin devices because we can; because displays don’t need to be the massive, bulbous CRTs of yore. We have fewer buttons and knobs because we don’t need them. And, Jony Ive, at Apple, was following in the footsteps of his great influence Dieter Rams, whose ten principles for good design were Ive’s guide. Discussing Apple design without looking backward to the history of design, especially of electronic devices post-war, is useless.

The transistor radio I had when I was in my early teens was minimalist compared to radios that preceded it; the Walkman I had in 1980 was minimalist compared to boom boxes. The car I drive is minimalist compared to the fin-adorned Chevys of the 1950s. Minimalism in design is a long trend. What is different is that the word is used now to market devices (though I don’t ever recall hearing anyone at Apple utter that word), and perhaps that is just a recognition that the term has become mainstream.

Source: The empty promises of Marie Kondo and the craze for minimalism | Life and style | The Guardian

The Zen of Everything Podcast, Episode 14: What Is the Sound of One Kōan Clapping?

You’ve probably heard about kōans, those inscrutable zen dialogs that make no sense. Jundo and Kirk discuss the origin and history of kōans, what they mean, how they work, and what the sound of one hand clapping really is.

Find out more at the Zen of Everything website.

Amazon and Wasteful Packaging

I stick of lip balm; that’s all I got in this box from Amazon today:

Lip balm

This was part of another order, whose items came in other packaging, and I had expected that, at a minimum, if it couldn’t go into the same box, it would go into one of those cardboard envelopes they use.

This isn’t new; I’m sure everyone who orders things from Amazon regularly has had similar experiences. But still, this is probably the most egregious example of waste I have seen.

Amazon says:

Amazon has developed a software program that determines the “right-sized” box for any given item to be shipped to a customer, based on that item’s dimensions and weight. As a result, the number of packages delivered in a wrong-sized box has decreased dramatically, significantly reducing packaging waste and transportation costs.

In 2009, Amazon launched its Packaging Feedback program, which allows customers to provide direct feedback on the packaging of their Amazon.co.uk order and to upload images of their Amazon.co.uk packages. Their feedback is used to improve product and Amazon packaging. Learn more at http://www.amazon.co.uk/packaging.

Alas, they have removed the ability to upload photos of wasteful packaging.

I ordered this from Amazon because it was about £1.30 less than from my supermarket. But I won’t order any small items from Amazon again. This is simply disgraceful.

Google’s Go computer ‘cannot be beaten’ so South Korean master Lee Se-Dol has quit playing the Chinese strategy game | South China Morning Post

“Google’s Go computer ‘cannot be beaten’ so South Korean master Lee Se-Dol has quit playing the Chinese strategy game”

This is ridiculous. Lee Se-Dol is one of the greats in this game, and if he really is giving up because he can’t beat a machine, he’s quite childish. He would still be playing other humans.

This said, he’s been playing for a long time, and went pro very young, and at the age of 36, it’s not easy to maintain the same level in competition. So he’s probably just burnt out, but he sounds egotistical here.

I’ve been playing go off and on for about 40 years, so this triumph of AI over go players really interests me. It’s quite surprising what the AlphaGo team did, and they have changed the game. In part because what were considered good moves or sequences in the past, because humans felt they led to good results, have turned out to be less optimal than other moves or sequences.

Source: Google’s Go computer ‘cannot be beaten’ so South Korean master Lee Se-Dol has quit playing the Chinese strategy game | South China Morning Post

How our home delivery habit reshaped the world – The Guardian

How the pressures of home delivery reorder the world can be understood best through the “last mile” – which is not strictly a mile but the final leg that a parcel travels from, say, Magna Park 3 to a bedsit in Birmingham. The last mile obsesses the delivery industry. No one in the day-to-day hustle of e-commerce talks very seriously about the kind of trial-balloon gimmicks that claim to revolutionise the last mile: deliveries by drones and parachutes and autonomous vehicles, zeppelin warehouses, robots on sidewalks. Instead, the most pressing last-mile problems feel basic, low-concept, old-school. How best to pack a box. How to beat traffic. What to do when a delivery driver rings the doorbell and no one is home. What to do with the forests of used cardboard. In home delivery, the last mile has become the most expensive and difficult mile of all.

Interesting article about online shopping and delivery. There are a lot of issues, notably those that affect the environment. And these issues vary according to where people live.

For me, living about three miles from a town of about 30,000 people, which is very poorly served by roads in and out of the town, it would be a drive of at least thirty minutes – fifteen minutes each way – to buy anything. Even going to the supermarket is about ten minutes each way; we are fortunate to have a supermarket on the edge of the town, on the side where we live. (And we shop there several times a week, and almost never order groceries online. Though we do buy cat food from Amazon, because we can get it in bulk, much cheaper than from the supermarket.)

So if I needed some small item – such as something I bought recently to hang some pictures in my office – that’s a minimum of thirty minutes drive time, plus the time it would take to find the item. So let’s say one hour to buy anything.

On the flip side, there is the packaging that comes from Amazon or other merchants. It all goes into the recycling bin, and I assume that the local authorities do recycle it rather than burn it or dump it in landfills.

So it’s hard to say that getting deliveries is worse for the environment in my context than going to local stores. In addition, we don’t have that many local stores. For example, we only have one book store, with limited choice, and for the small computer hardware I regularly need for my work, there’s just one consumer-oriented store that doesn’t have many of the things I need (and when they do, they are substantially more expensive than from online dealers).

To sum up, there is certainly a lot to say about our new commercial infrastructure. In some cases it’s not good for the environment, and in others it actually is better than individual shopping trips.

Source: How our home delivery habit reshaped the world | Technology | The Guardian

Some Thoughts on Apple TV+

I find it interesting to see how many websites that cover Apple’s products – computers, phones, etc. – now also present TV series criticism. Don’t get me wrong; I have many colleagues who skillfully review books, movies, and TV series in addition to writing about technology. But the fact that Apple has now launched its streaming service means that many websites will spend a lot of time writing about these new series; at least when there’s no other news to cover.

I’m not going to do that. While I do review culture on this site – books, music, theater, etc. – I’m not going to write about Apple’s TV series just because they are coming from Apple. I will, however, give some first impressions of Apple TV+ as a service.

Of the half dozen series available at launch, there are only two that interest me: The Morning Show and For All Mankind, both of which are available with three episodes at launch. The former is a mish-mash of of Aaron Sorkinisms and A Star is Born, and I find it interesting to see a mixture of rave reviews and take-downs (five stars from The Guardian; two stars from the BBC), which is generally quite rare with a TV series. It makes one wonder if the journalists writing about these series have some sort of agenda that goes beyond television. For example, the BBC’s Will Gompertz takes nearly 300 words of his 1,500-word review to discuss Apple and its failures in his review of the series, and says things such as:

The opening episode is as bad as anything I’ve seen since we entered this golden age of telly, which, arguably, started in 1994 with Friends (still the most popular show on Netflix).

The other series that I’ve watched is For All Mankind, an interesting alternate history about the space program. In both cases, I won’t give my opinion, because better critics than I will be writing about these series, but it’s the latter that I will follow as new episodes become available.

However, I would like to opine a bit on the Apple TV+ service itself. With a free one-year subscription, because of my recent purchase of a new iPhone, I’m willing to check out some of these offerings, but is this service worth $5 a month to anyone? With no back catalog, and only a limited number of offerings – and, so far, only TV series; no movies – it seems absurd to pay that price. Yes, I know, it’s the same as a cup of coffee, yadda yadda, but with the increased subscription fatigue, and too much to watch already (and with my partner and I both being people who greatly prefer books to TV and movies), there’s little incentive to want to pay for such an offer. Even by the end of the year, how many series can there be, and how much can one expect to see on Apple TV+? Unless Apple licenses some big swathe of back catalog content, Apple TV+ will never rival Netflix, Hulu, or even Amazon (whose Prime Video is available as a part of their broader Prime subscription, which I pay for anyway to get next-day delivery to my rural home). Apple TV+ will not be a destination if you are just looking for something to watch; it will only be there if you want to try out a specific new series or are already following one or more series.

Apple could be playing the long game, investing in prestigious actors and directors to create content that they might be able to monetize later, through rentals and sales in the iTunes Store, or even DVD/Blu-Ray releases. But at $15 million an episode for The Morning Show – with two seasons planned – they’ve put $300 million into a vanity project. All told, it seems that Apple has earmarked $6 billion for content for this service, though it’s not clear how many years this budget will cover, so the company is clearly betting big on this content.

Like any streaming service that produces original content, there will be a few series that stand out, a lot of duds, and some that float a bit above the tide of mediocrity. Perhaps Apple has attracted enough creators to do better than average; or perhaps many of the creators will just be blinded by bigger budgets and end up making a mess of their series. It’s a crap shoot in this business.

Apple is clearly hoping to expand further into content creation as part of their push to increase the company’s services revenue, which was $12.5 billion in the company’s latest reported quarter. Apple is remaking itself, to not depend so much on one or two products, and services are now 20% of the company’s income.

But the risk is that in throwing money at TV series – and potentially movies as well – that their content is no better than that of any other service, without any clear differentiation between Apple TV+ and any premium cable channel. Will they succeed? Who knows; I certainly don’t. And don’t listen to anyone who thinks they can predict how all this is going to turn out.

The Zen of Everything Podcast, Episode 11: The Dokusan Room is Kinda Baloney

Jundo and Kirk discuss the Dokusan room, the place where the teacher tests students and students test the teacher. What goes on can be romanticized and overemphasized, misused and misunderstood (especially by modern westerners), yet greatness sometimes happens too.

Find out more at the Zen of Everything website