Political Civility

Apple/Intel, The Blue App, Graydon Carter, Famous Birthday, Life on Mars

Hello again from 36k feet. This time, I’m flying back to San Francisco after my quick trip to thunderstormy New York City. One thing I’d like to call out is the nice email I got from reader Matthew Bates, who had some gentle pushback on the Boris Johnson link in the last newsletter. He made fair points as to why Johnson should not be grouped in with Trump — I’m actually not sure anyone should? — and did so in a very civil manner, versus what you might see in, say, internet comments. I appreciate that, and definitely find it one of the better things about this particular medium.


Why Apple Had to Buy Intel’s Modem Business

I thought this was a smart, informed take by Mark Sullivan:

One well-placed source told me that one of the reasons Apple engaged with Intel in the first place was to eventually co-develop a modem that could be integrated with an Apple system-on-a-chip (SOC). Regardless, with the purchase of the Intel modem business, Apple will have the intellectual property and people it needs to pursue that ambition on its own.

And Apple, in one way or another, was always going to need to develop its own modem. The company has designed its own processors for the iPhone and iPad from the start, allowing it to optimize them for its own devices and reaping a performance edge over Android devices, which most often use Qualcomm chips.

Everyone has been focused on “Tim Cook’s Law” — in short: don’t be beholden to anyone for anything with regard to your products, if at all possible — but to me, this goes far beyond iPhones. Yes, there will be cost and efficiency gains for that device, but making your own modem seems vital for future devices, all of which will be built with the expectation of always-on connectivity.

Think: future Apple Watches. But also: future AirPods. AR Glasses? Etc.

And yes, this is also a huge point of leverage over Qualcomm. At the very least, Apple will now be able to negotiate better deals with their currently most-hated rival. Whereas Apple had to settle because Intel couldn’t get its shit together, they will no longer have to settle. And will have patents galore…


Facebook Secret Research Warned of ‘Tipping Point’ Threat to Core App

Alex Heath with a look into an internal report/assessment Facebook did last fall:

At the time, Facebook noticed that users of the app—known internally as the “blue app” because of the color of its icon—were increasingly sharing on Instagram and WhatsApp, which are also owned by Facebook. In confidential research Mr. Cunningham prepared for Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, parts of which were obtained by The Information, he warned that if enough users started posting on Instagram or WhatsApp instead of Facebook, the blue app could enter a self-sustaining decline in usage that would be difficult to undo. Although such “tipping points” are difficult to predict, he wrote, they should be Facebook’s biggest concern.

I’ve long been on the record saying that I felt like Instagram would one day surpass Facebook itself in terms of usage — something which seemed crazy a few years ago, but seems almost inevitable now. What’s surprises me is just how much Facebook is fighting against this, internally.

I mean, on one hand, you get it. Facebook — the Blue App — remains the cash cow. You don’t slaughter the cash cow, you optimize for milking it as much as possible. But all cows die eventually, and Facebook happened to realize that not only do people prefer goat’s milk right now — they also happen to own the goat farm! So let those cows go out to pasture, no?

(How far can I take this analogy?)

Well, but you see, the cows grew up on Facebook’s farm. The goats were bought and brought in later. So… screw the goats, seems to be Facebook’s mantra. The people shall have cow’s milk and they will enjoy cow’s milk. Moooo.

Meanwhile, the folks that raised the goats, unsurprisingly, seem increasingly unhappy on the farm. And they leave. I think Facebook has pretty badly screwed up this part of farm management — which is so jarring because they were so good at it to begin with. Sure, they have the livestock they wanted, and neutralized the threat that goat’s milk would overtake cow’s milk and someone else would be the supplier to the masses. But the problem now is trying to buy the next big thing in milk. Now they’re the milk meddlers. The annoying farmhands with major milk opinions.

(Though all that may be mooooot now in the current environment as there’s certainly no way they’re going to be allowed to buy the next animal that produces milk — certainly not without a looooonnnnnggg fight.)


“There’s Always Another Room”

David Marchese sat down with former Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter, who just launched his new publication — a paid newsletter! — to talk about, among other things, the way magazine reporting used to work:

…the thing that piqued my interest was that you had a researcher there with you at lunch who was taking notes for you. Was that common?

Yeah, somebody would be handling it for me. Time in those days was luxurious. They brought dinner trolleys around the office on Thursdays and on Friday nights with china and wine. There was a bar set up at the end of every corridor. They sent you home in a car service. A bunch of us rented houses out in Sag Harbor, and at 2 o’clock on a Saturday morning you would see all these yellow Checker cabs going over the hills heading towards Sag Harbor or Sagaponack. I remember there was one writer who was going up to the Berkshires. The cab driver said: “Look, it’s going to take us forever to get there. Do you like flying?” So they go out to a private airport on Long Island and the driver’s got a little Cessna, and they get in the Cessna and he turns it over and the battery’s dead. So he wheels the Checker cab up and uses it to boost the Cessna. The expenses were just incredible.

Those were the days.

Indeed. I also enjoyed this bit:

I read about this speech you used to give people about the seven rooms of status in New York. What are the seven rooms exactly?

I don’t know because I’m probably only at room three. But a version of that is how at some parties there’s a roped-off area where the better people are — when you think you’ve made it, there’s always something else. At Spy, I thought we knew everything. But by the end of Spy, I realized I didn’t. There’s always another room.

Actually a pretty hardball interview too with Marchese not holding back on the Jeffrey Epstein questions (the stories that Carter spiked reporting that would have uncovered Epstein’s alleged behavior and criminal activity far earlier).


A Wikipedia for Generation Z

Taylor Lorenz looks at the site Famous Birthdays:

Charles Porch, the head of global creative partnerships at Instagram, says that Famous Birthdays is like the younger generation’s Tiger Beat. “You might know about Famous Birthdays if you’re a parent,” Porch says. “But you definitely know about it if you’re a kid, and you definitely know about it if you’re a creator. Is it adult mainstream yet? No, but that doesn’t matter.” The site has 20 million unique visitors a month—more than a million more than Entertainment Weekly, and four times as many as Teen Vogue.

I vividly remember going to convenient stores and seeing Teen Beat and Tiger Beat all over the newsstands. (I was shopping for Mad Magazine, for the record — well, trying to get my parents to buy it for me, or at the very least, Cracked.) It only makes sense that this need still needs to be filled in our largely post-magazine world. And maybe even more so now given just how big some of these teen/child stars have become on YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitch, and the like. The birthday angle is just a smart entry point to a whole new world.


What If Life Did Not Originate on Earth?

Isaac Chotiner sat down with biologist and genetics professor Gary Ruvkun:

I think viewing life as having started here is a little bit presumptuous. It seems we’re very, very, very special and it all happened here. I find the idea aesthetically appealing that life as we know it is universal across the Milky Way. It just seems like, once it evolves, it spreads. And one way to argue this is running the clock forward instead of running it in reverse. If we’re really talking about colonizing Mars, step one is to send bacteria to Mars to generate an atmosphere. So if you run the clock forward a million years, presumably, we will be sending bacteria to planets a million light years from us.

The whole thing is pretty thought-provoking.