To SLR, or Not to SLR

The New York Times reports that Nikon is rolling out a new ad campaign to boost its SLR sales among Generation iPhone. The thinking is that although point-and-shoot cameras will soon be irrelevant, the image quality of SLRs is still far better than that of a smartphone camera, effectively insulating the higher end of the market from extinction.

SLRs are different from standalone GPS units or point-and-shoot cameras is that there is an actual, physical, difference in the product: SLR lenses require certain distances between the layers of glass contained inside, meaning that there are actual, optical reasons that smartphones won’t (yet) rival a Nikon D3000 in image quality. But, for many people, does that difference matter?

Smartphone makers no longer compete over “speeds and feeds.” I haven’t seen references to megahertz or gigabytes in a smartphone ad in quite a while. This is because, for most intents and purposes, smartphones are good enough for what you need them to do, and so the differentiation becomes more about the design and usage of a given phone – metal or plastic, iOS 8 or Android Lollypop – than it is about whose phone has more horsepower than someone else’s.

The same thing goes for pictures. As long as your iPhone is good enough to print a 4×6 – or even, as my uncle did, screen-printed onto a 24×12 – the usefulness of an SLR is suspect. As a longtime photography enthusiast and SLR user, I often find myself leaving my Sony A65 at home, if only out of convenience. My iPhone 5’s camera is good enough for 70% of what I need: tweeting pictures (where the upload size is limited to 3MB anyway), or uploading them to Facebook or Flickr.

Another big barrier in my SLR/iPhone choice is the sharing aspect. Even if I do take my SLR with me on a trip, there is no fast, effective way for me to share or archive my pictures without using my laptop. I could use an EyeFi SD Card, but the idea of paying $80 seems a bit steep. And I’m yet to find a Lightning-SD card reader that would allow me to quickly upload hi-res snaps to Flickr. Some SLRs do have wi-fi built in, but not enough to signal a change in the industry.

To my mind, one of the more interesting developments in SLR-iPhone field are portable lenses like the Sony QX-100, which connect via bluetooth to a smartphone, offering you SLR-quality stills while maintaining some portability. But these porta-lenses are finicky, expensive, and pretty much a niche a product.

I imagine that the next round of smartphones will obviously have better cameras, and that, as importantly, consumers will become more okay with a protruding camera lens. And although I doubt that a smartphone will, in the near future, rival an SLR in image quality, more and more consumers will be more okay with good enough pictures. But let’s hope, for Nikon’s sake, that I’m wrong.

Postal Conundrums

I’ve recently seen a lot of ads and billboards around New York City suggesting ways for New Yorkers to reduce their junk mail, and providing a simple online form that allows residents to opt-out.

Junk Mail

Interestingly, the USPS has come to rely on junk mail to make up lost revenue, as fewer and fewer people mail actual letters. It’s compelling to see local environmental programs throw a wrench into federal budgeting plans, and it will be more interesting to see how the Post Office reacts. We’ve seen advertising on mail trucks, and I think it may not be long before we see Katniss Everdeen on a Forever stamp.

One-Thousand Miles

On Friday, I crossed the one-thousand mile threshold for 2014. It’s pretty neat. I started running casually about four years ago, and seriously about two years ago. The introduction of running into my routine has been nothing short of transformational. Combined with diet modification, running helped me lose, and keep off, about 35 pounds since late-2012.

One-Thousand

I alternate between honing three factors: speed, distance, and consistency. On the first front, I’ve managed to squeeze my ten-mile runs to just under 80 minutes. And distance-wise, I’ve checked off my marathon box. And so, over the last two months, I’ve worked on a few different methods of upping my consistent weekly mileage:

1. I try to push myself to a consistent range of 30-35 miles per week, allowing me to bang out a consistent minimum of about 125 miles/month.

2. I’ve upped my workout frequency from 4-5 runs per week to 6-7, even if I only increase my total mileage by three or four miles, total. Even if my work schedule is hectic, I try to keep in mind that just about everyone has a spare 30-40 minutes in their day. It’s just a matter of prioritizing. Ron Friedman put it well in his Harvard Business Review article (emphasis mine), “Regular Exercise is Part of Your Job:”

What prevents us from exercising more often? For many of us, the answer is simple: We don’t have the time. In fairness, this is a legitimate explanation. There are weeks when work is overwhelming and deadlines outside our control need to be met.

But let’s be clear: What we really mean when we say we don’t have time for an activity is that we don’t consider it a priority given the time we have available.

3. Pushing my daily mileage from 5 miles to 7 miles, when possible. When time allows, I try to squeeze out an extra two miles. The extra sixteen minutes yields a huge benefit, in the long run.

4. Getting out of the house and running first thing in the morning. Everyone has different schedules and circadian rhythms. But as both a morning person and a procrastinator, I find that hitting the pavement by 7am is a great way to start my day, and avoid the distractions of emails and meetings later on.

A lot of the above goals are self-reinforcing. I’ll often find that running, say 31 miles in one week will spur me to do not less than that in the following week. I also obsessively track my runs in MapMyRun, so I have an accurate means of motivating myself. I’ve also recently noticed that Nike Running basically just tweets validating things right back at its followers, so 140 characters of inspiration are never far away.

Nike Running

The Necessity of Liberal Arts

I’ve always been fascinated by the intersection of business, especially technology, with liberal arts such as literature and philosophy. Despite the emergence – and necessity – of STEM studies, it is clear that the study of liberal arts informs everything from product design to supply chain management to marketing.

Steve Jobs phrased the dynamic particularly well at the 2011 iPad 2 Introduction:

There have been a few more recent articles championing the importance of literature and philosophy in the realms of leadership, business, and technology. In August, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks wrote about the primacy of literature and reading in the lives of British political leaders like Disraeli, Gladstone, and Winston Churchill, who also, The Economist notes, dabbled in painting. Rabbi Sacks succinctly offers that:

Leaders learn. They read. They study. They take time to familiarise themselves with the world of ideas. Only thus do they gain the perspective to be able to see further and clearer than others.

In a similar vein, The Economist’s October 4 Schumpeter column argues that “business leaders would benefit from studying great writers,” and that:

You will learn far more about leadership from reading Thucydides’s hymn to Pericles than you will from a thousand leadership experts. You will learn far more about doing business in China from reading Confucius than by listening to “culture consultants”. Peter Drucker remained top dog among management gurus for 50 years not because he attended more conferences but because he marinated his mind in great books: for example, he wrote about business alliances with reference to marriage alliances in Jane Austen.

Lastly, Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s new CEO, is characterized by Vanity Fair as being equal parts technology and liberal arts. The article notes:

He [Nadella] quotes Nietzsche and other philosophers, but his real love is poetry, because “poets can take perhaps any philosophical point or any point of life and can compress it into a few lines,” he says. T. S. Eliot and Keats are among his favorite poets, and he also enjoys Urdu poetry. “Growing up in India, once you started engineering school you really don’t have any liberal-arts education,” he says. “Somehow I got hooked onto saying, Look, the one good way to renew yourself is to read good literature and good poetry . . .

It’s refreshing to see the emergence of a balance between the importance of STEM and the relevance of literature, even in a startup. For instance, Warby Parker’s clever name is an amalgam of two Kerouac characters. And so before one goes looking for a round of VC funding, or buys into a stock, or lays out a marketing plan, it might be worth checking out the Literature section. Paradise Lost just might describe the stock market this month.

 

 

Ritual

Coffee
The requisite Apple product + coffee overhead picture.

Today is International Coffee Day, so I decided I’d take a minute to break down the details behind my coffee addiction habit.

1. I use a Hario hand mill, a two-cup burr grinder that allows you to adjust the coarseness of the grind.

Pros: You can really tell the difference between a burr grinder and a blade grinder. I also own a respectable Krups blade grinder, but there is a very discernible difference between the consistency of the grind produced by burrs and those chopped by a blade.

Cons: It takes 3-4 minutes of concerted effort to grind enough beans for one cup of coffee. This doesn’t seem like much, but it adds up. I often turn on the radio and start boiling water in an electric kettle, so as to maximize my time while I grind.

2. I don’t own a coffee maker, or at least not in the usual sense. My coffee-making apparatus of choice is a $5 Melitta pourover cone. It can handle about three cups at a given time, and I’ve owned this particular one for about three years. It’s easy to clean, and simple to travel with. The filters are pretty cheap, too. I’ve tried reusable gold filters in the past, but found that they let through a bit too much of the grinds, creating a sort of silty Turkish coffee.

3. This might make me sound like a caffeinated plebeian, but I often get my beans from Costco. Their Starbucks roast is well-priced, and above all, delicious, with a bold flavor that isn’t too acidic.

4. Since the above beans come only in 2 lb. bags, I store my weekly allotment in a vacuum seal jar that originally came in a jar of olives from Costco, and the larger reserves in the freezer in a Ziploc bag.