By Casey Liss
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Chris Harris, a popular automotive journalist in his own right, on how Top Gear’s evolution away from facts and toward entertainment paved the way for his show:

And I cannot say how thankful I am that it kind of became less about cars over time because in doing so it gave my little show the oxygen to survive. The only creative rule myself and Neil have ever consistently adhered to is to never try and be TG. Never try to be too funny. Don’t go on adventures. Don’t do anything that could usher you into direct comparison with TG because you will automatically look shit.

On the future of Top Gear:

What comes next? I have no idea. I’ve always struggled to understand how Jeremy could do his thing on a commercially-funded channel. I suppose therein lies the crazy paradox at the center of this whole episode. Jeremy and his pal Andy Wilman turned a car program into a mouthpiece for an entire tranche of middle England fed-up with the nanny state and in search of simple entertainment, but the only place it could flourish was within a quasi-state-funded broadcaster that didn’t have to answer to advertisers, but which is fundamentally left-leaning and against the type of personality Jeremy represents. It would be easy to conclude that they couldn’t live with each other, and that they won’t be able to live without each other.


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I joined Jessie Char, John Moltz, and Dan Moren on this week’s Clockwise. With Jason Snell gone in the UK, that gave us the opportunity to finally complete the coup we’ve been dreaming of.

We’re not very good opportunists, so instead of a coup, we did the usual. In my return to Clockwise, we discussed Apple TV, wearables and their potential health risks, and got nostalgic about old software and services.

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Today, the BBC has announced that they are not renewing Jeremy Clarkson's contract after he was involved with a “fracas” with a producer.

Tony Hall, BBC Director-General:

It is with great regret that I have told Jeremy Clarkson today that the BBC will not be renewing his contract. It is not a decision I have taken lightly.

Clarkson is one of three hosts of my favorite TV show, Top Gear. He and producer Andy Wilman are the majority of the creative force behind the show.

It is generally understood that Clarkson was furious that there wasn’t a hot meal waiting for him after a day of filming. He verbally, and then physically, assaulted a producer.

Regardless of his behavior before — which has been mired with issues — Clarkson absolutely deserves to be fired. He punched a coworker, and that is not acceptable.

I can’t help but feel sad devastated at what we’ve lost though.


When I wrote my eulogy to Final Gear — the site that facilitated me downloading Top Gear — late last year, little did I know that in just a few short months I’d be writing this post, eulogizing the show itself.

I wrote then:

Click/tap to enlarge. Photo courtesy Marco.

It’s become a staple in not only my life, but Erin’s as well. Our Sunday afternoons when the show is in season are scheduled around Top Gear. Moreover, when they were starting new seasons (in UK parlance, a “new series”) in the summertime, Erin and I threw a “Top Gear Party” every year. We would have all our friends over, grill hot dogs and hamburgers, and once the sun went down, watch the show projected onto the back of our house. Our summers were largely defined by when Top Gear was starting again.

It is impossible to overstate how much the show meant to me. In many ways, when Top Gear was airing new episodes, my life was scheduled around it. Crazy as that may be, it’s the truth. That’s how much enjoyment the show gave me. I wouldn’t say I lived for Top Gear, but you can absolutely say that in many ways my life was lived around Top Gear.

I’m devastated to see it go.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I’m teary-eyed as I write these words. Losing this silly show about three guys having fun with cars feels like losing a dear, dear friend.


There have been rumblings about a potential future for Clarkson, Hammond, and May. The Telegraph writes:

It is thought Clarkson may sign for American network Netflix, which is becoming increasingly popular with global TV audiences.

At a glance, that sounds amazing. Netflix has already provenmore than once — that they can facilitate great original programming. In the case of Top Gear, this may be even easier, as it’s possible that Clarkson holds some or all of the Top Gear intellectual property. (I’m skeptical, but time will tell.)[1]

I’m hopeful for the future. I’m hopeful I get to see similar work from Clarkson and crew, even if direct-to-video like before. I’m hopeful that whatever comes next may even be better than the Top Gear I know today.

I’m sad there will be no more Top Gear as I know it. But I’m glad that they’ve left behind such a tremendous back catalog that I can re-watch for years.

I know what I’ll be doing this evening.


  1. As pointed out by several people on Twitter, including Hannes Hauer, the rights were actually sold to the BBC in 2012. At the time, they signed 3-year contracts; the same ones that are expiring this year.


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Over the years, Square has become one of my favorite companies to watch. They started a couple years ago with a Sandwich video, and a free card reader. The reader worked with your mobile phone to allow for you to physically swipe a credit card and take payments for anything. It was revolutionary. I carried my reader with me for years, despite only taking payments a handful of times.

Today, Square announced $Cashtags. Cringe-inducing name aside, this is extremely clever.

As all of us — myself included — try to figure out how to "monetize our brands", we’re all seeking new and different revenue streams. The most popular approach, for individuals, seems to be Patreon. The usual idea is, you ask for people to commit to giving a small amount of money for each thing you create — blog post, song, video, etc.

I like the idea of Patreon quite a lot, but what if you want something that isn’t recurring, or perhaps, a little more casual?

Enter $Cashtags.

GIVE ME MONEY

By downloading the Square Cash app, you can claim your own $Cashtag. Once the $Cashtag is set up, you don’t need to touch the app again. By using that $Cashtag, anyone can donate to you, or pay you for goods, or services rendered. All you both need is a debit card. Those paying you don’t need the app; they can do so via the web.

I’ve claimed $liss. Feel free to send me all your money. Daddy needs an Apple Watch, right?

I find $Cashtags so interesting because they remove nearly all barriers from getting paid. As I’ve been fantasizing a lot about ways to parlay podcasting and this website into a job, this fascinates me. Could I make a sustainable business out of $liss? My inclination is "absolutely not", but who knows? With a little work, anything is possible.

Anyone want to take guesses on how long it will take for me to add a DONATE link to the site header?


Regarding German Things

I was flipping through August of 2014’s Car and Driver and noticed a couple interesting passages, both about things German.

In a M4 vs. 911 comparison test, regarding the M4:

Throttle progression, steering weight, and shift speed can be set to one of three modes, as in the outgoing car. For the steering, sport-plus is unnaturally stiff, comfort is unnervingly light, and sport mode is just right. It takes us 20 miles to configure the system with our preferred settings, and that’s long enough to grow even fonder of the 911, which ships with the proper calibration as the one and only setting.

The paradox of choice, it seems. I do admire Porsche’s dedication to there being only one truly right answer.


Additionally, regarding driving on the Autobahn:

There’s plenty of traffic, but it’s moving quickly and with the relentless lane discipline we’ll soon grow used to. Unlike in America, where drivers disperse all over the road according to the laws of molecular diffusion, German cars stay to the right whenever they aren’t passing. Germany thus seems to move more volume swiftly on a four-lane road than America can with ten lanes.

140 MPH on the Autobahn.
Marco doing 140 MPH on the Autobahn.
Click/tap to enlarge.

Having been on the Autobahn in 2013, being chauffeured around Germany in a brand-new BMW M5, I got to experience the Autobahn first-hand as a passenger. The thing that struck me the most was not the speed — which was astounding — but was the unwavering dedication to responsible and courteous driving. German drivers have to be seen to be believed; it is clear that driving is treated as a privilege in Germany.

Quite the contrast from America, where driving is also a privilege, but is treated like it is a right.


One Year

What a difference a year makes.

The ultrasound below was actually taken a year ago today, even though it didn’t make its public debut until May. The picture was taken this morning, just after Declan woke up. Exactly one year later.

Life is crazy, but also so very beautiful.


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DuckDuckGo Logo

I’ve switched from using Google as my main search engine to using DuckDuckGo. I made the switch when iOS 8 came out.

Yes, sometimes that has problems.

No, the search results aren’t always as good.

Yes, I sometimes fall back to Google.

Yes, I still think it’s worth it.

DuckDuckGo has improved tremendously over the last couple years. I had previously tried it when it was mentioned on Daring Fireball in early 2012. At that time, I felt like the search results left quite a lot to be desired. I gave up on it quickly.

When Apple added it as a “blessed” search provider last year, I tried it again. I haven’t looked back since.


DuckDuckGo promises up front to be "The search engine that doesn’t track you". This, in and of itself, is reason enough to give it a shot[1]. However, the feature that sold me on DuckDuckGo was its !bang operators.

When searching in DuckDuckGo, you can prefix a search with one of many bang operators. If you do so, DuckDuckGo will then punt your search to that site. For example, if you want to search Amazon for my P311 headphones, you would enter:

!a p311

You can try it out here. Notice that you’re sent to DuckDuckGo, but then immediately punted to Amazon. Pretty convenient.

There are a bunch of bang operators that I use constantly:

The list goes on and on. But perhaps most importantly, if I ever need to fall back to Google:

If I’m doing a search in DuckDuckGo and I’m not satisfied with the results, I just prefix !g to the search query, and I get the Google results I’m used to.

As an added benefit, DuckDuckGo does as much as possible to prevent your data from leaking to advertisers via Google. Instead of sending you to www.google.com, you’re sent to encrypted.google.com. This has several benefits, most notably, preventing advertisers (and destination sites) from seeing what you’ve searched for.

That being said, I don’t have to fall back to Google that terribly often. You’d be surprised how great DuckDuckGo’s results are these days.


DuckDuckGo also supports my most frequently used query modifier: site:. This allows me to limit a search to just one site, such as this one. There are plenty of other modifiers to use, too.

DuckDuckGo may or may not be for you, but I really like it, and I’m using it on all my devices. In the rare moments I’m using Chrome, or if I’m on someone else’s computer, I feel completely crippled now. Without my !bang operators, I’m completely useless.


  1. Yes, I use Google Apps for my domain for e-mail. Yes, I see the hypocrisy here. No, I don’t care.

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Magic Bands

Wired has an excellent write-up about the process and thinking behind creating Disney’s Magic Band. Eschewing credit-card style admission passes and room keys, MagicBands are bracelets that double as RFID tags. They’re used to open your hotel room, enter the park, buy food, get Fast Passes, and more.

It’s amazing what Disney can do when they know precisely where you are in the park. Using the example of a family walking up to a restaurant, where they had pre-ordered their meals:

Their MagicBands […] feature a long-range radio that can transmit more than 40 feet in every direction. The hostess, on her modified iPhone, received a signal when the family was just a few paces away. Tanner family inbound! The kitchen also queued up: Two French onion soups, two roast beef sandwiches! When they sat down, a radio receiver in the table picked up the signals from their MagicBands and triangulated their location using another receiver in the ceiling. The server […] knew what they ordered before they even approached the restaurant and knew where they were sitting.

Furthermore, this makes a tremendous difference in your Disney experience:

The redesigned Disney World experience constrains choices by dispersing them, beginning long before the trip is under way. “There are missions in a vacation,” [Disney COO] Tom Staggs says. In other words, Disney knows that parents arrive to its parks thinking: We have to have tea with Cinderella, and where the hell is that Buzz Lightyear thing, anyway? In that way, the park isn’t a playground so much as a videogame, with bosses to be conquered at every level.

Erin and I got to experience the MagicBands when we went in August of 2013. At that time, it was just a trial, but you could already tell it was going to change the way you interacted with Disney World. They really did remove friction — the only thing we needed during the day was the band. No wallet. No keys. No cash. No Fast Passes. No worries.


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Sarah Kogod writes about what you shouldn’t say to someone who is suffering through infertility, as Erin and I did. She also mentions what you should say:

What can I do?

The fertility process can make everyone feel helpless — from the couple going through it to the friends who don’t know what to say. This one question empowers both of you. It allows the couple to tell you what they need, and lets them know it’s okay if those needs change as things get harder. And it lets you feel like you’ve said the right thing, when everything else sounds wrong.

(Link via Rick Gore)


Are You Getting It?
Steve Jobs debuts the iPhone
Are You Getting It?

On Monday, Apple had their Apple Watch Special Event. While we had seen some information about the Apple Watch last fall, many questions were left unanswered. Most frequently discussed: cost.

There was a lot of discussion about the cost of these new gadgets, most predominantly with regard to the Apple Watch Edition. Everyone could feel, in their gut, that it would be expensive. But no one really knew how expensive it would be.

Monday, those questions were answered. Unsurprisingly, the internet is upset.

There’s been a lot of chatter regarding the Apple Watch Edition in particular. Many are begrudging Apple’s supposed choice to focus on fashion rather than functionality. A typical example:

Other lamentation is about the price tag. Michael Saji writes in his piece that is passive-aggressively titled Vulgar:

Apple has taken a turn, as MG Siegler says, towards luxury. But I would rather see Apple charge a fair price and make a fair profit.

Later in his piece, he continues:

Luxury is the outgrowth of our desire for fantasy and our discontent with our present, and feeding our materialism will not bring us the contentment we crave, nor will it make the world a better place. I realize now I once thought Apple could do better.

When one says "Apple could do better", I hear “Apple is doing something that’s not for me, and that makes me uncomfortable.”

Focus

No one outside Apple knows how many balls Apple has in the air. Certainly adding a new product category like the Watch will spread that focus more thinly than it has been in the past. Focus has to be spread more thinly when existing staff, like Jony Ive’s design team, is doing the work on something new.

However, none of us know how much bandwidth Apple really has. It seems to me that everyone complaining about Apple’s focus being shifted is doing so on the assumption that Apple was already running out of focus. While that absolutely could be true, it is not necessarily true.

Curiously, no one seems to be complaining about the “regular” Watches — the ones that are clearly made for them. Only the Edition seems to be the target of so much ire. Apple’s foray into fashion, specifically with the Edition, seems to have left many fans upset.

So many people seem to think that because Apple has started to care about fashion, it’s an indisputable inevitability that one day they will only care about fashion.

This was discussed really well on this week’s episode of Topical (Overcast link). Russell spent a moment lamenting:

It could just be a sign of a slow, steady progression to a company that makes products … that I no longer care about.

It’s certainly possible. Jelly succinctly makes my point for me immediately after:

The other possibility here is that it’s not necessarily going to take away from the current direction of Apple but kind of feed back into it.

I wonder if Apple learning more about fashion will positively influence anything that is carried or worn. Discoveries made in the process of making the Apple Watch, and gleaned from Beats employees’ expertise, could lead to great changes in iPhones.

Stagnation

Ostrich with its head in the sand.

An Apple that stands still will rot. Trying new things is necessary for their survival.

BlackBerry, née Research in Motion, is the canonical example of what happens if Apple stands still and sticks its head in the sand. BlackBerry mobile phones were the mobile phone to get. Business loved them, and thanks to BlackBerry Messenger, lots of kids did too. I’ve heard many times that BlackBerry phones were HUGELY popular amongst teenagers, particularly in Europe.

BlackBerry had dominated the market. There was, it seemed, little to worry about. They just had to sit back and collect money. Things were going really well for them… until 2007, when the iPhone was released:

Apple does not want to follow in BlackBerry’s footsteps. That’s why they are branching out into other industries. Including not only fashion but also, possibly, automobiles.

This is good and healthy.

Apple would much rather be IBM — which started as a company that built scales — than BlackBerry or even Microsoft. BlackBerry is assumed to be circling the drain, and Microsoft is undergoing massive changes in order to avoid the same fate.

Same as it Ever Was

Apple has always specialized in luxury. The difference between Apple of the past and the Apple that produces the Watch Edition is that this luxury is quite a bit less affordable to the average consumer than it once was.

Coming from a position as purveyors of affordable luxury, there are only two places to go. Apple could either move downmarket, and go toe-to-toe with Samsung and LG. Or, they could move upmarket, and start making more expensive aspirational products. I reckon most Apple fans would prefer the latter. I know I do.

Furthermore, this isn’t the first time that Apple was fashionable. How quickly we all forget these images:

iPod advertisement

Apple was hugely fashionable then. Just because Apple is now making a product that is unabashedly about fashion doesn’t mean they didn’t consider fashion before.

In discussing this post with my friend Myke, he pointed out to me there are many examples of this in Apple’s history:

  • Colored plastic
  • White plastic
  • Aluminum
  • Glass

These were all major trends that Apple heralded. Today, it’s the same as it ever was.

It Will be Okay

No one outside of Cupertino can really know where Apple is headed. I am, like everyone else, just prognosticating. What I fear is that too many people are making judgements about the Apple of tomorrow based on their understanding of the Apple of today.

Ben Thompson sums this up well:

Thus, in order to estimate just how important the Apple Watch might be, it’s essential to step back from the world as it is and consider the world as it might be, and, having done that, consider just how significant a role Apple’s offering might play.

As with all things, only time will tell. My money is on a brighter and shinier Apple than we’ve ever seen before.