inessential: One Advantage of the App Store That's Gone

(inessential.com)

The best part of the App Store, years ago, from this developer's point of view, was that it was easy to charge money for an app. No need to set up a system — just choose the price, and Apple takes care of everything. So easy!

Great insight from Brent Simmons about the realities of Apple software development and making money in the App Store. Today you have to do in app purchase and subscription to be sustainable long term and those are a huge headache to implement.

White Elephant owners ending 74-year legacy in Spokane

(www.spokesman.com)

The history of the White Elephant stores mirrors the story of Spokane: A somewhat unconventional place that provides nearly everything that matters at an affordable price.

Outside the Division Street store, the mechanical elephant, which still only costs a dime, is about to offer its last ride.

The Conley family has decided to close its stores in Spokane and Spokane Valley, ending its patriarch’s legacy that started 74 years ago when John R. Conley Sr. started offering Army surplus before converting the business into a sporting goods and toy destination.

The White Elephant was THE toy store of my childhood. Its narrow aisles, crammed shelves, and grease-pencilled prices were the antithesis of a modern box store and only added to its appeal as I grew older. I bought countless Lego sets, tabletop games, model rocketry kits, Transformers, Playmobil sets, and a variety of general sporting goods there over the years. During the winter I still occasionally run in a garish wool stocking cap that I bought at the Spokane Valley store in the early 90s. The original Division street store is quite close to where I work so it's continued to be my go to store if I needed to pickup a fun game, toy or birthday present. My older kids are familiar with it and have shopped there a little bit over the years when they've had money saved up, but I'm bummed out that my youngest three won't really understand. This kind of thing is inevitable, but I'm truly sad to see such a treasured local institution finally close its doors.

Post Pandemic Podcast Economy

In the last couple days the impact of the post COVID-19 economy finally hit home in a way that took me by surprise, but probably shouldn't have: podcast advertising. Advertising spend is down everywhere, but it was kind of fascinating to have this week be the one where I finally connected the dots. Three shows that I listen to regularly were directly impacted in obvious ways.

First Ubuntu Podcast made a special announcement episode explaining that one of their longtime sponsors will no longer be providing editing support so they've created an Ubuntu Podcast Patreon solely for the purpose of funding a professional sound editor. None of the hosts have the time or inclination to do it themselves so this seems totally reasonable. Thankfully, as I hoped and expected the community quickly stepped up to the plate and it looks like they should be covered.

Relay.fm's Rocket podcast was the second one that caught my attention. Historically they've had a fair amount of advertising fluctuation, but two to three ads per episode was the tier they were operating at for most of last year. This week no ads. That said, as I look back over the year so far they've actually only been garnering a single ad per episode for most of 2020. So I'm curious if they will bounce back in June or if this is it for a while.

The really big sign to me was this week's Accidental Tech Podcast. ATP had been a solid three ad per episode podcast powerhouse for it's entire run of 7 plus years. This week a solitary Basecamp ad. And in fact looking back at their feed I see as of April they were only doing two a week- it just didn't cross the threshold of being noticeable to me at the time. So it's very clear why the membership rumblings have been happening in these circles for the last month or so. Podcasting ad spend is clearly drying up.

It's certainly depressing when the real world intrudes on yet another one of my favorite sources of entertainment. The good news is that all three of these podcasts have the backing of communities that are large enough to help keep them going even in the face of economic shifts like the one we're in, and they're unlikely to just go away. I am very curious to see what ATP is going to offer with their as yet unlaunched membership program because that's a completely new direction for them. Relay.fm has had a paid membership program for quite a while. I've yet to sign up, but I feel like what they're offering now (private community Discord, special episodes, member only podcasts) is way more compelling than when they first started out. Change is inevitable and it's not always good, but in this case I look forward to the opportunity to continue to support and learn from some of my favorite podcasts as they work through this challenge.

NASA will pay a staggering $146 million for each SLS rocket engine

(arstechnica.com)

It is true that the shuttle main engine, or RS-25, is the Ferrari of rocket engines. NASA designed these brilliant engines in the 1970s for the space shuttle program, during which they each flew multiple launches. A total of 46 engines were built for the shuttle at an estimated cost of $40 million per engine. But now these formerly reusable engines will be flown a single time on the SLS rocket and then dropped into the ocean.

There are four engines on a Space Launch System rocket. At this price, the engines for an SLS rocket alone will cost more than $580 million. This does not include the costs of fabricating the rocket's large core stage, towering solid-rocket boosters, an upper stage, or the costs of test, transportation, storage, and integration. With engine prices like these, it seems reasonable to assume that the cost of a single SLS launch will remain $2 billion in perpetuity.

I knew the SLS had some serious issues, but this is super troubling. And ten years out the Space Shuttle program continues to be an anchor around NASA's neck. If I was miraculously given authority over this boondoggle I would immediately cancel it and simply blame it on the post COVID-19 economy.

Here's what to expect as SpaceX launches its first human crew to space

(www.theverge.com)

On the afternoon of May 27th, SpaceX is slated to launch its very first passengers to space, potentially heralding a new era of human spaceflight for the United States. It’ll be the first time in nearly a decade that people have launched to orbit from American soil, and it’ll be the first time that a private vehicle takes them there.

It's been a long time coming, but I'm looking forward to seeing how this goes tomorrow. Still not sure how I feel about the Space-X sci-fi spacesuits that look like style was the number one priority.

Jerry Sloan, the Utah Jazz's Hall of Fame coach and beloved Beehive State icon, dies at 78

(www.sltrib.com)

Jerry Sloan was seemingly a man of contradictions. On the one hand, a legendary NBA coach known for his intense, no-nonsense demeanor and a fierce competitive streak, to say nothing of his frequent foul-mouthed rage toward referees; on the other, though, a simple, humble farmer with an affinity for antique stores, yard sales, and vintage tractors, decked out in overalls and a grimy John Deere ballcap, and secretly possessed of a sweet and tender side.

And yet, those who knew him best say there was never really any contradiction at all, that with Sloan, you always knew what you were going to get.

Jerry Sloan, who guided the Utah Jazz for 23 seasons and became the fourth-winningest coach in NBA history in the process, died early Friday.

🏀 The old-school basketball coaching legend1 and we really saw just how good he was after Stockton and Malone retired.


  1. Even Popovich considered him someone to emulate.

Running in the Age of Coronavirus

(www.si.com)

More than 40 years ago, pioneering author Jim Fixx’s best-selling book brought jogging to the masses, espousing its physical and emotional benefits. Now, those themes resonate more than ever with a homebound society.

To read his book now, as I did recently, is to see how much Fixx foresaw. Certainly, parts are dated. But much of it reads as visionary. Cut out white flour and sugar? Practice self-care? Find a flow state? Exercise regularly, even for short amounts of time, to live better and longer? It’s like reading 20 years of modern studies 40 years before the fact. Fixx wrote about the barefoot-running Tarahumara decades before Born to Run. His contrived mileage counter was basically an early Fitbit. He was right on the big points too. A Stanford study found jogging is effective in increasing lifespan and mitigating the effects of aging. Running can help ward off all manner of diseases—including lowering the risk of lung, prostate and colon cancer. And, in a study the Times covered in April, “among a generally healthy but sedentary group of adults in their 20s, 30s and 40s, working out lowers levels of depression, hostility and other negative feelings.”

🏃‍♂ I'm almost positive that my dad had a copy of Fixx's, The Complete Book of Running at one point because I absolutely recognize the cover, but I don't recall seeing it when going through his various sports related books in the years after he died. That's one book that I'd really like to have a copy of now.

Inside the Flour Company Supplying America’s Sudden Baking Obsession

(marker.medium.com)

Ely and the other half-dozen or so hotline experts share an open office with the employees who take call-in orders from customers, and they, too, were getting a flood of odd calls. Namely, countless people were calling in to order as many as 10 of the company’s five-pound bags of flour at once. Who would need that much flour in their homes? “That was another data point that told us this wasn’t just the holiday build-up,” recalls Ely.

Ely and her colleagues didn’t know it, but across Carbohydrate Camelot — the name that employees gave the 14-acre headquarters campus in Norwich, Vermont, that contains a restored farmhouse and a handful of small buildings — co-CEO Karen Colberg was staring in shock at the recent daily sales figures that had just popped up on her screen. “I fired off a text to the sales team to check their figures,” says Colberg. “It was obviously some sort of mistake.”

No mistake, came the reply. The figures had already been double-checked. They showed a 600% increase in grocery-store sales almost literally overnight.

Within hours, a simple truth became clear. Flour was flying off grocery-store shelves, propelled by a sudden and seemingly insatiable demand that was carrying into King Arthur’s much smaller online business, too. It was as if half of America had decided all at once that they needed to bake. A lot.

Fascinating look at how the pandemic has impacted flour demand (we saw this firsthand locally as Mary struggled to find her usual baking staples) and how King Arthur Flour has responded. Mary has always baked a lot, but my oldest daughter has started baking a ton of interesting new stuff in the last month or so too. High carb comfort food may not be the healthiest thing if it dominates your diet, but I can think of a lot worse things for people to be turning to to find a little happiness given the upheaval we've been experiencing.

The six words of trash talk that made 'The Last Dance' possible

(www.espn.com)

MICHAEL JORDAN MISSED. With 35.8 seconds left in Game 1 of the 1997 NBA Finals between the Chicago Bulls and the Utah Jazz, the greatest player in NBA history actually just bricked what should have been the winning free throw. And now, for roughly 26 seconds, the basketball world is in chaos: Jordan is, for the time being, Err Jordan, a lowercase goat, and the voters who had narrowly selected Utah forward Karl Malone over Michael (986-957) for league MVP seem to have gotten it right. Meanwhile, the Jazz are poised to steal Game 1 along with home-court advantage, and Chicago's fifth title and eventual second three-peat are suddenly in jeopardy.

And then, to the rescue steps Scottie Pippen.

🏀 This is a pretty great oral history of an unlikely and under appreciated moment that completely shifted the dynamic of the 1997 NBA Finals. Fitting that it involves Pippen, the all-time great forever overshadowed by Jordan.

Not Dithering

I heard that John Gruber and Ben Thompson were collaborating on a new podcast called Dithering, but I couldn't find it in Overcast. Then I did a little more digging and learned that it's a paid 15 minute podcast that drops three times a week for $5 a month or $50 a year. It sounds like they've already got 20 episodes in the feed and around 5,000 subscribers out of the gate- which doesn't surprise me given their online following and the quality of their tech analysis and commentary. With advertising budgets at risk because of the pandemic it makes sense that podcasters like Gruber would explore new revenue streams, and in fact I've noticed that Relay.fm is starting to promote their paid membership program more actively as well.

I have no problem with these efforts because I think quality podcasters should be able to make a living doing what they do. I also feel less motivated to go out of my way to support the podcasts that I listen to when they have sizable followings. I enjoy the podcasts that Gruber and Thompson have done together in the past, but they're both already quite successful and more short conversations for a monthly fee doesn't appeal to me at all. I've got to say that Relay centering their $5 a month membership around a Discord community, a couple member only podcasts, specials, and other perks is a lot more interesting to me now than it was when it first debuted. All things considered I'm a lot more selective about what I'm doing with discretionary spending right now and it's hard for me to get excited about spending money on what has always been a free diversion for me up until this point.