Five things that are worth your time: January 10

Five things that are worth your time: January 10

Thanks for joining me for another five things! A few long reads this week, featuring Apple, Star Wars, and the the future of work, so if you want to save them for the weekend, I can’t blame you.

Has Apple Lost Its Design Mojo?

By Rick Tetzeli, Fortune

Couple thoughts on this “state of the union” article about Apple design. One, yes, Apple has always been at the forefront of technology design. But, Apple rarely gets it right right out of the gate. The article mentions the original iPod, with its barely functional click wheel, and the original iPhone, without 3G or apps. Apple iterates over time; it always has. Which brings me to my second point: Apple used to be a lot smaller. They could take all the time they wanted, and their customers would be patient. But now, Apple is everywhere, and every other company wants to be like Apple, and people just don’t have the patience for that anymore. So I would argue: Apple is still doing great design work on its products, just as it always has, but the world around it has changed. And I don’t think Apple should change, because then the design actually will suffer. (Besides, the real question here shouldn’t be about poor Apple design; it should be about their shitty software development efforts in recent years.)

A quote: “This creative process is Apple’s secret sauce. Its goal—innovating and improving simultaneously, delivering both annual updates and the occasional brand-new product—is commonplace. But few companies have done it as well as Apple, at mass scale over a long period of dramatic technological change. Chochinov cites Nike and the New York Times as two that have, but many of the sources I interviewed for this story couldn’t think of any comparable peers.”

This is Not Going to go the Way You think: The Last Jedi is subversive AF, and I am here for it

By Melissa Hillman, Bittergertrude.com

Melissa Hillman breaks down some of the ways that Star Wars: The Last Jedi is subversive and feminist, and I love this kind of take on the film—and, I suspect, deep down many of these themes are why some of the more traditional Star Wars fans are so angry about The Last Jedi. This isn’t a film that’s made with them—the white male (or heroic white male, as they see themselves)—front and centre. This is a film for everyone. I’m not entirely sure the filmmakers intentionally focused on some of the things Hillman brings up, but, good filmmaking allows different people to interpret things in different ways, and I would guess that The Last Jedi does that more than any other Star Wars film to date.

A quote: “The Resistance is impressive in its casual diversity. Women and people of color are valued for their expertise as a matter of course; nowhere does the film congratulate itself on its diversity by making a huge point of highlighting it, demonstrating white male benevolence by the generous inclusion of women and people of color, positing a white male audience nodding along, agreeing that we are so wonderful for allowing our White Male World to donate a very small corner for the Less Fortunate. The Resistance is naturally diverse, and no one even seems to notice. ‘”

The Imminent Death—and Amazing Life—of the Funny Highlight Guy

By Brian Curtis, The Ringer

Reading Brian Curtis on sports media is always a good bet. I enjoyed this look back at the era of “Funny Highlight Guy” sports anchors, in part because this whole phenomenon of sports highlight shows that masqueraded as comedy bits mostly passed Canada by. We got Gino Reda and Michael Landsberg while the U.S. had Dan, Kieth and Kilborn; by the time we got Jay Onrait and Dan O’Toole the era was pretty much over. But in a way, that’s probably a good thing—check out the quote below to see why. (Also: Go and watch Sports Night; you won’t be disappointed.)

A quote: “One night in the ESPN newsroom, Beil recalled, “Gus had seen that the movie Jumanji was coming out. So he’s walking around the newsroom and trying to sell ‘Jumanji!’ as a catchphrase.
“He’s literally walking down three rows of computers. I was there. Karl Ravech was there. Brett Haber was there. Gus is just running into ‘No,’ ‘No,’ ‘No,’ ‘That’s stupid,’ ‘Get outta here,’ ‘Get away from me.’
“He gets to Kilborn. He says, ‘Jumanji!’ And Kilborn goes, ‘Yes.’ We’re all looking at him like, Are you serious? Sure enough, we do the show that night, and he did it in his tone of voice: ‘Ju … manji.’ The next day, nobody would stop saying ‘Jumanji.’””

Donald Trump Goes Full Fredo

By David Frum, The Atlantic

Trump is an easy target to aim for and hit, especially when he sets himself up for it so well (and so regularly). After his unhinged tweets about his own genius, I and many others noted how much he sounded like Fredo in The Godfather Part II (“I’m smart! Not like everyone says, like dumb!”). David Frum managed to put it into a great column. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rg8jODlrka0 To Frum’s point… where is America’s Michael? After Fredo allowed the Don to be shot on his watch, Michael stepped up. Who is going to step up and put everything right in America?

A quote: “From the start, Donald Trump was a man of many secrets, but no mysteries. Inscribed indelibly on the public record were the reasons for responsible people to do everything in their power to bar him from the presidency. Instead, since he announced his candidacy in mid-2015, Donald Trump has been enabled and protected. The enabling and protecting not only continues. It accelerates.”

The Real Future of Work

By Danny Vinik, Politico

This look at trends in labour is U.S.-focused but you can certainly see the same trends in Canada. More and more businesses are hiring contractors instead of employees; there is more and more competition among contractors, which is driving rates down, which means contractors are making less than they did as employees, and corporations are getting richer. And there are no protections in place to prevent it. It’s more than a little scary, especially for someone like me who is mulling a potential future os a contractor. Things are great right now, but if everyone is a contractor in 5 years, what are my professional options?

A quote: “Businesses prefer these arrangements, too, because they can shed expensive benefit packages and are not responsible for following federal labor laws. But that also gives them an incentive to “misclassify” their workers, overseeing them as if they were employees but officially classifying them as independent contractors to cut costs.”
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That’s all for this week! Come back next Wednesday for another five things.

Why I’m not watching football right now

This past Sunday, my wife asked me, “does football season start this weekend?” Her only barometer for when the season starts is when I start watching; since she hadn’t seen me watching she didn’t know the season was already a month old.

It’s true: Week 5 just ended and I haven’t watched a single down of the 2017 NFL season.

Naturally my wife asked me why I wasn’t watching. I struggled to put it into words, because there are a number of reasons; it isn’t a simple answer.

I used to be a diehard NFL fan, watching football for about 12 hours every Sunday and three more on Mondays. The number started to decrease three years ago when we cancelled our cable subscription, mainly because I didn’t have easy access to the games (only getting two per week over the air, and the NFL steaming package was ridiculously expensive1). But truthfully I was OK with that decrease because—and this will sound familiar if you read my post on Facebook—watching the NFL has made me increasingly uncomfortable. And I think over the summer I just hit the breaking point… and certainly nothing that’s happened this season has made me regret it.

(Sure, I’m missed some great moments—like the Packers’ comeback against the Cowboys yesterday—but I’m happy reading about it on Deadspin for now.)

What’s making me uncomfortable? Here’s a sampling:

Concussions. This is the big one: The league’s stance on the impact of repeated head trauma and concussions, and the long-term consequences… the way the dragged their feet on admitting the dangers, refused to pay for health care, continued to promote “big hits”, refused to make changes to make the game safer… I could go on. Read more here and here.

The way the league arbitrarily disciplines its players. From Ray Rice to the Saints to Tom Brady to Ezekiel Elliot, there are sooo many problems with the way the league handles this I don’t even know where to begin. Except to say this: In no universe does it make sense for someone with no background in either football or law to serve as the sole judge and jury in these cases. Except that’s what the league has done in inexplicably appointing its commissioner as its arbiter of justice. And he (unsurprisingly) always gets it wrong. And yet the league is fine with this continuing as-is. Read more here and here.

The “domestic violence problem”. First of all, I think it’s important to point out that the league doesn’t actually have a domestic violence problem; hand-wringing columnists will tell you it does, but statistics show that NFL players are no more or less likely to commit crimes than any other group (and are far below the national average for their gender and age group). It’s just that they’re famous, so they’re in the news. (And that they’re almost always black, and those hand-wringing columnists are almost always white. Isn’t that curious?) Which makes it a PR problem for the league. Their response? The league decides it needs to become “a leader in the domestic violence space” (their words). Of course, since issuing that asinine statement, the NFL has managed only to issue one tone-deaf and inadequate response after another while making scapegoats of shitty players and excuses a’plenty for those that can still play. And I can only shake my head in dismay. More here, and for the love of God, watch Katie Nolan:

Their joke of a “breast cancer awareness” program. Read about it here; it’s nothing more than pandering to an audience (women) that they want to make more money from. Not convinced? Read this one. And then go back and think about the “domestic violence space”, and tell me if you think that’s really about making a difference in the community or teaching players to value and respect women, or if it’s just another part of the “pander to women and turn them into paying customers” playbook.

Colin Kaepernick and the “anthem protests”. I could write 10,000 words on this, but I don’t think I need to say anything here, do I? That the NFL has not unequivocally taken a stance behind its players and supported their first-amendment-protected rights is disgraceful enough. That they then tried to turn the whole thing into an ad campaign about “unity,” thus completely missing the point? I mean, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised but… come on.

I guess the other thing that really got me going about all this is just how many fans don’t support the players. People booed! Their own team! How can you boo players who simply don’t want to see any more innocent people get killed? Who have taken a peaceful, silent protest to draw attention to this issue? That they are 100 percent within their rights to do? If that’s really how ignorant football fans are, well then… it makes me uncomfortable to be associated with them.

Oh, and this past weekend’s publicity stunt by Vice-President Pence was the icing on the cake.

Those are five huge issues and I’m sure there are more I’m forgetting. It’s all just had a cumulative effect of, “I’m tired of this, it isn’t worth it, I don’t want to engage with it any more.”

At least right now. I’m not saying this is how I’ll feel forever. My mind might change. I might start to miss it. Maybe the league will change! Anything is possible. But for right now, I just can’t support it the same way. I’ll be satisfied checking the scores and reading the updates online.

1I can’t find the exact numbers but I believe it was USD$280 in 2014; That’s for 256 games, and they’re only on three days a week. (In comparison, the NBA is USD$160, for 1256 games, on almost every day.) Curiously, this year, the NFL has a new streaming partner in Canada, DAZN, which promises every NFL game for $20/month. For five months you’re looking at only $100 – Canadian – so that’s a great deal! It’s almost a shame I don’t wanna watch any more… but the fact that the service has been terrible and unwatchable doesn’t make me feel too bad.

Zach Lowe channels The Wonder Years

Zach Lowe, on the Indiana Pacers’ new jerseys:

The softer blue-on-yellow version, which includes no white or highlighting, reminds of those all-gray uniforms Kevin Arnold and Paul Pfeiffer wore to gym class.

Zach’s the best NBA writer around. His ability to combine hilarious and obscure references with legit basketball insight (almost always  backed up by video examples) is why.

Check out his annual League Pass rankings for more of the former, and read him throughout the season for more of the latter.