On decision, perfection, and better translations

Daniel Benneworth-Gray, writing about the classic Voltaire quote The perfect is the enemy of the good” and how his own decision process relates to it:

This is how I spend my days, in a state of constant indecision. The debilitating belief that all options but one are incorrect could generously be called perfectionism, but a more accurate term would be option paralysis — the tendency, when given unlimited choices, to make none. An interminable mull over whatever trivial options lay before me, every action bogged down by a fear of choosing unwisely — what to write, what to wear, what to watch, what to eat (my sincere apologies to anyone who has ever sat with me at a sushi conveyor belt), what to anything.

Despite hearing it a lot at work, I believe it is the first time that I encounter this quote attributed to Voltaire in English. I became rather intrigued by the translation as the French sentence would translate as The best is the enemy of the good,” but I personally always understood it as something more in the likes of The better is the enemy of the good.”

In French the two words le mieux” indeed translates as the best.” The translators were absolutely correct obviously, but I cannot help but think that my wrong assumption, where the use of the single word mieux” — the one that would translate as only better” and not best” — is closer to the reality of it all, as better” clearly implies an unfinished process of improvement, whereas best” sounds like the project or product is already finished, which in my mind1 kind of goes against the meaning of the aphorism.2

Browsing on Wikipedia, I found another quote on this topic from Robert Watson-Watt, which I absolutely love:

Give them the third best to go on with; the second best comes too late, the best never comes.

  1. If I understand well, the best” in this quote doesn’t apply to the end result, but to the goal of the process itself, which indeed is a, well, better way of thinking about it. My mind more easily thinks about the end result, hence my preference to the better” — albeit wrong — translation.

  2. I learned this expensive word earlier today, so I might as well use it now: An aphorism is a concise, terse, laconic, or memorable expression of a general truth or principle.”

List of 68 unsolicited tips to improve your life

Last week, writer and Wired co-founder Kevin Kelly turned 68 years old, and listed 68 unsolicited pieces of advice. Usually, I am not a big fan of such life-guidance lists, but I’ve read the whole thing twice already, it is that good. I suspect the word unsolicited” featured in the title of the post helped a lot with my level of appreciation.

My favourite bits:

Being enthusiastic is worth 25 IQ points.

Don’t be the best. Be the only.

Learn how to take a 20-minute power nap without embarrassment.

Over the long term, the future is decided by optimists. To be an optimist you don’t have to ignore all the many problems we create; you just have to imagine improving our capacity to solve problems.

Seriously, go read the whole thing, you won’t regret it.

Beautifully written story about the closure of a famous New York restaurant

Moving, beautiful, sad, wonderful piece of writing by Gabrielle Hamilton — chef and owner of New York restaurant Pruce — on the New York Times magazine, about what the lockdown means for her and her restaurant, but really what it means for everybody in New York and big gentrifying cities, and what it means for everyone working in the food industry. An incredible piece of writing that really deserves all the buzz it is getting. My favourite bit:

Prune is in the East Village because I’ve lived in the East Village for more than 30 years. I moved here because it was where you could get an apartment for $450 a month. In 1999, when I opened Prune, I still woke each morning to roosters crowing from the rooftop of the tenement building down the block, which is now a steel-and-glass tower. A less-than-500-square-foot studio apartment rents for $3,810 a month.

The girl who called about brunch the first day we were closed probably lives there. She is used to having an Uber driver pick her up exactly where she stands at any hour of the day, a gel mani-pedi every two weeks and award-winning Thai food delivered to her door by a guy who braved the sleet, having attached oven mitts to his bicycle handlebars to keep his hands warm. But I know she would be outraged if charged $28 for a Bloody Mary.

And this one:

And God, the brunch, the brunch. The phone hauled out for every single pancake and every single Bloody Mary to be photographed and Instagrammed. That guy who strolls in and won’t remove his sunglasses as he holds up two fingers at my hostess without saying a word: He wants a table for two. The purebred lap dogs now passed off as service animals to calm the anxieties that might arise from eating eggs Benedict on a Sunday afternoon. I want the girl who called the first day of our mandated shut down to call back, in however many months when restaurants are allowed to reopen, so I can tell her with delight and sincerity: No. We are not open for brunch. There is no more brunch.

Read of the week, hands down. I am sure many people already told Hamilton the same thing, but I believe there is enough talent here that we can expect a second successful career in writing if indeed the restaurant remains sadly closed after all this.

MacBook Air 2020: Thoughts from an average user

I’ve received my 2020 MacBook Air a few weeks ago already, and I thought it would be a good time to write down my first thoughts about it. For reference, from early 2015 to earlier this month, my main computer was an 11-inch MacBook Air: obviously the new one is getting compared to it a lot.

  • I wanted the Silver colour for this laptop, and received the Space Gray. When I opened the box I immediately thought Oh shit, they made a mistake” and started thinking if I should send it back and wait longer, or just accept the Space Gray that was delivered to me and enjoy my new computer right away. Turns out I ordered the Space Gray instead of the Silver, like an idiot.
  • I find the new Retina design (2018 and 2020 basically share the same design) to be a bit bulkier than before: Maybe it is because I owned a 11-inch model before, but I don’t find it that thin, and the thin parts all around don’t really trick me to think it is an ultra thin” laptop. Again, maybe it is unfair to compare it with the 11-inch from 2015, but I also find it heavy, not just heavier. Weird to think that Air” doesn’t imply thinnest, lightest laptop of the lineup, even if it probably is now, since the 12-inch MacBook has been discontinued.1
  • The black bezels around the screen seem to pick up more dust and fingerprints than I would like, but the display is very nice: sharp Retina details obviously, extremely good colours and contrast, nothing unexpected from an Apple laptop really, but still a nice upgrade from the 11-inch. The lid opens and closes by using only one finger, and the bottom of the laptop doesn’t move, a big little detail that I truly love about MacBooks.I would have liked to have more brightness available from time to time, but it is more than fine as it is. Also, it is my first Retina display Mac, and there is no going back. When I look at what is now my wife’s computer (which is now the 11-inch Air2), it feels way older than a five-year-old laptop.
  • The keyboard is very close to the standalone Magic Keyboard — which means excellent — but slightly better: the keys are more stable and the sound is more satisfying: more of a hoomf” than a teeck.” The backlight is also very good: the light almost doesn’t leek outside the keys which feels very premium — something I ended up disliking about the 11-inch keyboard. No regret on the keyboard so far, only great satisfaction. Having Touch ID ready at any time is for me the best feature and works wonders with 1Password for instance.
  • I was surprised to find that the trackpad is moving when clicked. I am pretty sure that the latest MacBook Pros and standalone Magic TrackPad seem to simulate the actual movement with haptic feedback, but this one definitely moves. There is a haptic feedback, but I can see it moving up and down when clicked, even if it is very subtle, unless it is pressed all the way down. I wonder what is the story behind this: maybe the MacBook Air are not as premium as the MacBook Pro. Regardless, the big trackpad is a joy to use, and I like that I can click on it everywhere and have the same clicky feeling. On my 11-inch MacBook Air, the trackpad was only diving down on the side facing me, which made clicking on the upper-side of the trackpad — the side facing the screen — difficult and not efficient. Nothing like this on the 2020 model.
  • As you already know, I have very few apps installed on my machine, so I cannot really judge yet its level of performance: for what I do with it, my 11-inch was already good enough so I can only think that this one will last me for six or seven years, which makes this MacBook Air an extremely good deal. I also know the shitty white rubber material of the non-magnetic charging cable will not last me more than a year or two, and I find it a little too hard to unplug. Apple can and must do better with these cables.
  • Did I mention how I just wish it was Silver like my iPhone 11, my previous 11-inch MacBook Air, my Magic Keyboard, my first 2007 iMac, my first iPhone 5 and basically all my Apple products ever, and not Space Gray? New era, I guess.

In the end, I am extremely satisfied with this machine. I wondered if I made the right call by picking another MacBook instead of going full iPad, especially with this new Magic Keyboard accessory. Price-wise, this MacBook Air costs around the same as an iPad Pro with the Magic Keyboard, so it was not a question of money for me, but rather a question of how I use my main computer. In the end of day, for me, MacOS wins versus iPadOS, and the perfect laptop wins versus a perfect tablet able to turn into an OK laptop.

  1. Well, at least for now.

  2. My wife mostly uses her iPad Air and barely needs a laptop, so we thought it would be a good afterlife for the 11-inch to become her laptop.

Logos, memory, accuracy: pick two

In an already-seen-before exercice, 100 different people from the UK were asked to draw motoring logos purely from memory:

We analysed over 1,000 drawings, that took over 60 hours to draw, noting everything from the colours used, to the shapes remembered, the styling of the font and the impact of the smaller details. Our research revealed many memory mishaps, but also demonstrated which motoring legacies are seemingly engrained in our memories forever.

The results are either hilarious, impressive, or just plain weird: my favourites are the eye” for Peugeot, and the Olympics sign for Audi. Interesting how the BMW and Ford blue and white colour patterns were well memorised by people, while the Citroën logo appeared for both Peugeot and Renault. As a car geek, I think I would have done very well, except obviously for Vauxhall, which is the brand under which Opel cars are sold in the UK, and only in the UK.

The iPhone SE, the irregular iPhone

John Gruber, on Daring Fireball, on why the special edition” explanation makes a lot of sense for the SE letters of the newest, second-generation iPhone SE:

What makes special edition” apt for the two iPhones bearing the SE name is the way they differ, strategically, from regular edition iPhones.

Regular edition iPhones are numbered. Yes, that’s not quite true of the primordial models. The 2007 original iPhone was just iPhone”, and the 3G in the second and third models stood for the cellular networking technology. But starting with the iPhone 4, regular edition iPhones have all been numbered. Higher-numbered iPhones both look new on the outside and offer improved technology on the inside.

The iPhone SEs are special editions because they fall outside this continuum.

On the same article, he also mentions something about the first-generation iPhone:

I didn’t go with the SE as my personal carry in 2016, but I was tempted, and enamored as soon as I got my hands on my review unit. No camera bump! It stood up!

I opened my review of the 2016 SE with this quote:

Not as clumsy or random as a blaster. An elegant weapon, for a more civilized age.” —Obi-Wan Kenobi

In 2017, I had to finally say goodbye to my iPhone 5 from 2012 and I seriously considered the iPhone SE. The no camera bump” part was indeed very interesting to me: I think the iPhone 5 design — reused for the 5S and for the SE — was in 2017 not only the best iPhone design, but also the best smartphone design. I would have bought the iPhone SE in 2017, if the 16 GB entry level had not eventually pushed me to buy a similarly-priced Huawei P9, which had an amazing black and white camera, and a lot more storage.

iPhone SE: great for buyers, even better for Apple

Today, Apple announced the long awaited new iPhone SE. I won’t get into the details — the manufacturer’s website does a fantastic job at that — but I wanted to share Carolina Milanesi’s take on Tech.pinions:

[The iPhone SE is] a product that serves the purpose of getting the most pragmatic users to upgrade after holding on to their phones for years. These users might be coming from a hand-me-down or a secondhand iPhone or even be Android users looking for their first iPhone. […] For Apple, upgrades are not only driving hardware sales nowadays, but they also assure that as many users as possible can take advantage of Apple’s new services, such as Apple TV+, which comes free for a year with the new iPhone SE.

Exactly. I believe the iPhone SE is here to convince a large group of people to buy their first iPhone, or their relatives to buy it for them. If Apple’s website clearly has teenagers in minds, I noticed quite a lot of people on Twitter saying this is the iPhone for a parent or their partner: usually a person that is seemingly not into tech enough to spend $700 for a new phone like the iPhone 11, and won’t mind the outdated design or the lack of a ultra-wide angle lens.

What this means for Apple is the possibility to sell services and accessories to a group of people who would never have bought an iPhone before. AirPods, Apple Watches, silicon and leather cases, apps, Apple Pay, Apple Music, Apple News, Apple Arcade, Apple TV+, Apple Care, the list is indeed very long. The iPhone SE extends Apple accessories and services market by reaching a new population. For Apple, the iPhone SE could eventually mean a remarkable services and wearables growth: SE for services” or secure the customer base”?

For the buyers, the iPhone SE means all the goodies about the Apple ecosystem: Apple Messages, FaceTime, better-than-competition privacy, great security, excellent already-included apps such as Notes, Reminders, iCloud Drive, even the fully featured Garage Band or iMovie, and on top of it all, the App Store. Along with a great if not the best software experience out there, people also get a good and reliable camera, and the usual iPhone overall delightful experience: for first-time Apple buyers, this is a very important point.

Apple uses the A13 chip on the iPhone SE, the same as the expensive iPhone 11 Pro, which should allow the device to stay up to date with the latest iOS release for years to come, maybe up to five years, which is far from common in the Android world, even for flagship devices or premium brands.

If iPhone SE buyers don’t break the phone, Apple would have successfully removed a huge chunk of the sub-$500 market from the claws of its competitors, and will probably keep it for itself for years, especially if these buyers end up as Apple Watch or AirPods owners too.

Selling great and long-lasting devices is a good way to have loyal customers, customers that will eventually love your products and your brand.

Selling exclusive services, desirable iPhone-only accessories like the AirPods is an even better way — the Apple way — preventing the customers to even consider the competition. Like Ben Bajarin said on Twitter:

It is fascinating how Apple keeps enticing its competition into battlegrounds where they can not compete.

The iPhone SE is using the same recipe as the regular” annual new iPhone, but this time aiming for a segment of the market where you usually find last years’ iPhone models only in the hands of users. For them, the SE is a great upgrade. For Apple, it is a way to build a new, more loyal, customer base.

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