Sunday, August 25, 2013

Krugman on Microsoft and Apple

Paul Krugman is mostly correct:

Back in the 80s, Microsoft and Apple both had operating systems to sell; Apple’s was clearly better. But Apple misunderstood the nature of the market

He argues that Microsoft "won" in the 90s thanks to network effects it exploited when Apple's superior product was not opened to more hardware vendors. Similarly, the iPhone had an early technical lead that is sustained through network effects due to its large base of developers. Steve Jobs' controlling nature resulted in products that do some things very well and reliably, but quickly become difficult or cumbersome when you stray from whatever he thought was good for you.

My take: Complexity breeds sluggishness when promoting anything new. Apple misses plenty of niche markets they might have colonized with a more flexible approach, but they maintain agility to add new things to the existing platform -- and see them adopted. Whether this is a sustaining advantage depends much on their ability to continue picking market winners. During the 90s they lost their sense of which products were worth pursuing, under-investing in things like Quicktake digital cameras, for example, while over investing on existing products like Mac hardware (Powerbook) or OS features (OpenDoc) that proved to be less important.

By the way, I disagree with Daring Fireball on one point: although technically the Mac did ultimately succeed, that was the halo effect of iPod, etc. If Apple had focused just on the Mac, it would have remained a tiny niche.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Homemade sauerkraut

As already noted, I’ve become interested in the role of microbes in our bodies, including the value of fermented foods.  First yogurt (which I still make regularly), then cheese. Now I’ve decided to try sauerkraut.

This was a bit more complicated and time-consuming, though still pretty easy. Like most processes, if you do it a few times it becomes second nature and takes under an hour, total, to prepare.  You can find recipes all over the internet, but I followed the directions from famous fermentation expert Sandor Katz, whose book Wild Fermentation I highly recommend.  The excellent web store Cultures for Health has great information too, including a series of free ebooks with hundreds of detailed pages about everything you need to know. Their Lacto-Fermentation ebook is particularly good for sauerkraut.

Basically, you just chop up some cabbage, add lots of salt, and place it tightly in a covered container for a few weeks.  I did it using an old, heavy ceramic pot we have around the house, but if you don’t mind spending $150, you’d probably do best by ordering a Harsch Gairtopf Fermenting Crock Pot, which is specially designed for this.

I left mine sit for about 4 weeks and here’s what it looks like.  Seems pretty good, huh?


Actually, that’s after I carefully scraped away a ton of mold that had accumulated on the top.  See that whitish-gray stuff below?   Supposedly it’s technically a layer of kahm yeast, which is different from mold and apparently harmless.


Peel it off and you get this:


To be honest, whether it’s harmful or not, the layer on top was gross enough that it has me wondering if it’s okay to eat. All the books and websites assure me that it’s okay as long as it smells and looks like sauerkraut, which it sort of does. It’s not super-tangy or especially sweet-smelling.  I try a spoonful and it tastes very salty.

My Lithuanian farmer grandmother used to make and serve sauerkraut all the time, so I assume I’m just following the family tradition.  Should I eat the rest?