If you notice someone trip while walking down the sidewalk, or slip on a frozen puddle, or lose his footing on the treadmill at the gym, one of the least helpful things you can possibly say is: "Careful!"
I know you might think it makes you look concerned and thoughtful for the well-being of your fellow man; but what he hears is: My, you're lacking in basic motor skills! The reason why you just almost fell down must be that you forgot to be careful when walking! Good thing I was here to remind you, huh?
When said person is regaining his balance and righting himself, he's already well aware of his error and has taken appropriate steps to prevent it happening again. The last thing he wants to hear is a clucking, henlike voice from behind his shoulder admonishing him that he needs to be careful. Such a thing might only serve to encourage him to act more lackadaisical than he had been previously, just to spite the eyes seemingly watching his every move.
I'm just sayin', is all.
11:35 - A cheese... or an anvil. Which are two of the finest things in life.
You know how you can live in an area for years, and never go to some of the places that get written up in magazines and where tourists always want to go first, and assume you've been there hundreds of times? And you never go yourself unless you take it upon yourself to act like a tourist, just to shake things up a little?
That's why I went by Fleur de Cocoa this morning: a little patisserie in downtown Los Gatos, a town I always knew as vaguely upscale, nestled as it is up against the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains, but into whose downtown proper I'd never been—even though I live not five miles from it.
Well, one too many random published testimonials got the better of me, and I set off for Fleur de Cocoa on the way to work in search of the hot chocolate, the specialty de la maison, that the reviews and an old college buddy I encountered in Boston had all raved about.
On the way into town I realized just how much I'd been missing by skirting the downtown area almost every day for four years and never going in. It's what must be some of the most highly concentrated wealth in Silicon Valley, outside of Hillsborough, with what seemed like every other storefront being a candy shop, an Italian eatery, or an artsy home-furnishings place. There's even a Lamborghini dealer (well, among many other things, but Lambos were what were flashing their doors inside) right on the main drag. And jammed in a corner, right next to the art movie theater that's big enough for Juno and not much else, Fleur de Cocoa is hidden where you could miss it if you're staring right at it (as, in fact, I did).
"Hot chocolate", to me, means instant cocoa powder in a mug of hot water with a marshmallow. Thin, dull, and interesting only in that it's painful if you drink it too fast. I don't know what I was expecting when they served me my little six-ounce (if that) cup for which I had to wait for them to whip up fresh cream in the kitchen to top it properly. But I can certainly say that whatever those expectations were didn't last past the first sip.
The initial whiff you get is something that vaguely reminds you of the expected Hershey's dreariness—you think, Oh, okay, whatever; $3.50 for this? —but then it starts to fill up your mouth, and you realize this is something else entirely. Rich, nutty, complex—the website says they use Cacao Barry (the chef was once a high-up employee with the company), a chocolate I'm not familiar with flavor-wise, but if it's anything like this stuff, it's damn good. Above all, it's thick, coating the mouth like melting Lindt 70%. I took it to go, and on the drive to work I kept approaching the cup like a hot tub on a cold night—sitting on the edge as long as I can stand it, then dipping into it to coat my tongue again and again with just enough of the stuff to feel immersed in it for another minute or two while it slowly fades away.
Talking to the ladies behind the counter, one gets a sense of what weekday life for the idle rich must be like: the store was full of well-off-looking couples peering at the tarts and cakes and addressing them like old friends, asking the employees for help deciding between one and another, and animatedly discussing the relative merits of each. I mentioned having lived in the area for years and never having had occasion to drop in; other patrons beamed indulgently at me: "It's all over for you now!"
And it's true, I couldn't resist: I got a Marion tart, a dome of blackberry mousse whose composition I'll find out more about later tonight. Blackberries, or anything that looks like them, have the power to wear down any defenses I might have, and now they know this. Blast it all.
I guess people with weekday time on their hands are able to create a market for places like this. It's a world with which I'm largely unfamiliar, encountering the world of retail and service business mostly in the context of quick lunch places near the office and service contractors one must wrangle as part of the game of home ownership. Weekends, I venture outside for supplies, groceries, movies—the necessities. Quaint shopping districts or downtown areas were never of any interest to me when my basic human needs could be fulfilled in a mall or a box store. But now, just in recent months, that I've started seeing businesses that simply had been invisible to me before—clothing stores, for example—it's like every town is suddenly twice as big and twice as dense with possibilities, all of them aimed at people, after all—and am I not a people?
I guess there comes a time in the course of human events when defining oneself as a rebel and an outsider ceases to have measurable reward.
UPDATE: The lady serving me my hot chocolate had to wait for the master chef in back to whip up the fresh batch of cream because as a lowly server, she was not allowed to take part in the ingredient-preparation process, even though she was clearly capable of taking on small tasks like, well, whipping cream. It's a strict, classic chain of command back there, and something you don't often get to see from the storefront side, unless you're watching Top Chef or Ratatouille or something...
Tim Bajarin at PC Magazine thinks the MacBook Air will "be a big success". His reasoning goes like this:
It seems, however, that almost everybody has missed the real significance of the MacBook Air. Sure, it's a very thin laptop that a lot of serious road warriors will buy, but its greatest importance lies in the fact that it will attract hundreds of thousands of new customers. All of these folks are going to flock to the Apple stores to see it first hand and while they're there...
In fact, this is an underlying strategy for all of Apple's "cool" products. First, design a sleek, incredibly well-designed product. Second, create TV and print ads that are super-slick and show off the product's "wow" factor. This, of course, leads to lust: people want to see it and touch it. Third and perhaps most important, entice people to come to the Apple store to check out the product in person.
Of course, once you're there, Apple's people dazzle you with all of the other cool-looking Macs, iPods, iPhones, and so on. Then you watch the demos of iMovie, iPhoto, GarageBand, etc. Suddenly you're thinking, "Should I switch?" Well, that's Apple's plan anyway.
In other words, it's a halo product. It's Apple's Corvette. Not intended to move a lot of copies in its own right, but with the primary purpose of building out the brand, of creating mindshare—not market share—in a world slowly but increasingly cognizant of the fact that market share is not, in fact, the most important thing evar. Profitability is. Profitability comes from a powerful brand more easily than it comes from a ubiquitous platform, as Microsoft is beginning to learn.
The trouble is, I don't know how that equates to the MacBook Air itself being a "success". I mean, certainly the Corvette is a success; Chevrolet sells enough of those, to well-heeled and die-hard enthusiasts, that it's been an immovable fixture of the American landscape for more than half a century. But will Apple be able to make that metaphor stick in the world of computers?
Laptops are pretty commoditized items, probably more so than desktop computers. There's a finite number of features one can reasonably expect to stick in one. You don't get to wow customers anymore with your own company's zany insightful inclusion of a port-replicating dock or an integrated webcam or a fingerprint scanner or a magnetic power cord. You can try making a business case based on these things, and certainly all the laptop makers do their best to differentiate themselves based on whatever patents they can claw out of the landscape. But they rarely make the difference in a buying decision. I'm not that well-seasoned of a laptop customer, so I could be completely off-base on this; but my feeling is that people buy laptops based on the price/performance/size calculus more than anything else, with brand loyalty running a close second (or a distant first in the case of Mac people). When you buy a laptop, that laptop's value proposition has to make sense.
Apple might be thinking that the only way to break out of that treadmill is to shake things up with a laptop that patently doesn't make sense. Something that costs a boatload, that doesn't have a footprint advantage, that's missing a lot of major features, and whose only claim to competitiveness is that it makes people's eyes bug out when they look at it. It's the iPod shuffle all over again: slash away features that previously had been considered indispensable (e.g. the screen), play up the lack of features as a feature in itself, make sure it photographs well, and sit back and let the media sell it for him.
If they aren't actually expecting to sell any, and just hope it'll get people thinking "Hey, Apple's the company that makes the coolest stuff", then it'd be a departure from their history of only making products where there was at least a semblance of a sensible business case to be made, one you could believe as long as Steve was standing up there on the stage. But if it can get those Apple Stores even more jam-packed than they already are every time I pass by the one at the mall, and buying high-margin products that may or may not have anything to do with laptops that fit in manila envelopes, well, score.