Apple Stores

A bushel of words

Apple sneers at the term “flagship store.” It prefers the word “landmark,” and with good reason: The designs of many of the Apple Stores are arguably more impressive than the design of Apple’s computers, consumer electronics, Web and software products.

Apple is building a new landmark store to replace the original “flagship” store on University Avenue in Palo Alto, just a couple of blocks from where I live. It is expected to open late this year. As with other Apple landmark stores, the new Palo Alto store is designed to make its interior almost completely visible to the street and sky. It is expected to resemble the new Apple Store on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, which looks like this:

APPLE’S UPPER WEST SIDE STORE. STEVE WOULD HAVE HATED THE BICYCLE TETHERED OUT FRONT.

James Russell, writing in The Architect’s Newspaper, described the Upper West Side store thusly:

The mullion-free glass walls ascend 40 feet high to meet the gently vaulted all-glass roof with an almost invisible joint. . . . The all-glass roof is an exercise in bravura minimalism, engineered by James O’Callaghan, of London-based Eckersley O’Callaghan. He mounted fritted, insulating- glass panels on thin metal purlins that incorporate lighting, and (invisibly) sprinklers and security systems.

MULLIONS, TRANSOMS: AS CLEAR AS GLASS.

mullion is a vertical structural element which divides adjacent window units. It is not to be confused with a transom, which is the horizontal crosspiece. (A horizontal window over a door is also called a transom, through which unsolicited manuscripts arrive at an agent’s or editor’s office.) Notice how the glass panels of the Apple Store walls come together almost seamlessly? Less-fastidious designers would have called for mullions and transoms.

Fritted insulating glass panels are panels that are silk-screened with a ceramic paints to reduce solar heat gain on warm days or insulate against heat loss on cold days. The ceramic frit paint can be applied in a pattern or design. The glass is also laminated to provide extra strength. (By the way, pigeon poop and urban grime are removed from the glass roof by human window washers, not robots.) Purlins are the long, horizontal supports that rest atop the beams, or rafters, which are anchored in the store’s stone walls. The glass panels of the roof are supported by the purlins. In the Apple Store, the overhead lighting is integrated into the purlins. They look like this:

PURLINS OVERHEAD CARRY LIGHTING, SPRINKLERS AND SECURITY CAMERAS.

The ultimate effect of all this is to remove barriers between the customer and the merchandise. Apple strips away all extraneous structures and impediments until what is left is the pure retail experience. It is one large room, creating the impression of an outdoor market, with natural light illuminating the simple, blonde, blocky tables on which the products are displayed like art museum artifacts. Even the checkout counters are minimized. Sales are conducted by T-shirted employees carrying modified iPods. (Is that a cash register in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?) The ratio of employees to shoppers is probably unprecedented except in high-end jewelry stores and Maserati dealerships.

No wonder Apple ranks No. 1 in retail sales per square foot among the top 160 or so North American-based retail chains, according to the retail analysis firm RetailSails. Apple’s $5,626 a foot is nearly double the return of its next-closest competitor, Tiffany & Co.

Quote: “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” — Michelangelo

Quote: “We have always succeeded by first doing the right thing. The profits have followed.” — Ron Johnson, former senior VP of retail sales at Apple.

Identifying Cops

Res Ipsa Loquitur

The Bay Citizen reported this week on the personal bankruptcy of Lt. John A. Pike III, the campus policeman who gainedworldwide notoriety recently for pepper-spraying a line of protesters at the University of California, Davis.

I was one of the editors at The Bay Citizen who approved and edited the story. It didn’t take long for critics to question the journalistic propriety of reporting details about Lt. Pike’s personal life. One critic, Shawn King, the host of “Your Mac Life,” a radio show broadcast on the Internet, wrote on Twitter: “So this is what we’re doing – reporting on cop’s private life? Isn’t that as despicable as what he did?”

“Uh, no,” I responded via Twitter.

Mr. King replied, “You have 140 characters – you’re allowed to use them all …”

What followed was a demonstration of how inadequate Twitter is for conducting a thoughtful debate.

In a volley of 140-character-or-less tweets, I said that no, reporting on the cop’s private life was not as despicable as methodical assault on nonviolent protesters by shooting them in the face at point-blank range with pepper spray.

Mr. King answered that the cop’s personal life was not relevant to the incident.

MORALLY BANKRUPT?

If words came out in a concentrated spray of oleoresin capsicum liquid, he got me right in the face. Was it really in the public’s right to know details of Lt. Pike’s personal finances? After all, he has not been charged with any wrongdoing, except in the court of public opinion. He was following orders from the chancellor of the university, Dr. Linda Katehi, to use force if necessary to remove protesters who were blocking a public walkway. He warned them several times to move, and warned them that if they did not move, he and the other police would remove them by force. They did not, and he did.

Mr. King and other critics felt that we did not uphold the standards of responsible journalism. Some said we violated Lt. Pike’s right to privacy. Others said we were no better than the tabloid journals that feed on the private details of people’s lives.

This is one of those times when a blog is more useful than Twitter for hashing out ideas. Here goes my argument:

Lt. Pike’s personal bankruptcy — in which creditors seized his house, pickup truck, collection of handguns, barbecue grill, wedding ring, and even some clothes — is relevant to the context of the protest.

The students were peacefully protesting tuition and fee increases at UC Davis that many students can no longer afford. The Davis protesters expressed sympathy with Occupy Wall Street protesters and allied protests at Berkeley and Oakland, where a main grievance is the growing income gap between the richest 1 percent of Americans and the “other 99 percent.” A prominent focal point of the OWS protests is the collapse of the housing market in which banks and other financial companies got rich by peddling toxic mortgages while millions of Americans lost their homes or were forced into bankruptcy. It turns out that Lt. Pike was one of those who foolishly borrowed heavily against the artificially inflated value of his house, and lost it all when housing prices collapsed.

From a journalism standpoint, it is a case of weighing the policeman’s right to privacy (even though all documents were in the public record) against the “public interest” in knowing more about the central character in a news event that had captured widespread local, national and global attention. The “pepper spray cop,” as Lt. Pike now and probably forevermore will be known, has more in common with the 99 percent than with the 1 percent, despite his $117,000 annual government salary. (By the way, these days it takes an annual income of about $350,000 to qualify for the 1 percent. UC Davis chancellor Linda Katehi, who ordered the forceful removal of protesters, is a 1-percenter.)

“Self-evident, obvious,” Mr. King tweeted in response. “Reporting personal details” of the policeman’s off-campus life was “move vengeful than ‘public interest.’ ”

In other words, he’s not buying it. Neither is “Mission Rosalind,” a Bay Citizen reader who posted the following on the Comments section:

How does this story add to our understanding of what happened at UC Davis?
=>It doesn’t.

How does revealing financial information about Pike shed light on his motivations and reasoning behind pepper spraying the protesters?
=>It doesn’t.

How does publishing information about Pike’s family affect readers’ ability to judge whether UC Davis handled the protest appropriately?
=>It doesn’t.

The Bay Citizen has now officially moved to TABLOID status. Articles like this one make the Bay Citizen no better than the National Enquirer. Perhaps Rebekah Brooks should be asked to join the Bay Citizen’s Board of Directors.

I disagree. What do you think? I look forward to your comments, which don’t have to be limited to 140 characters.

THE CHOICE OF PROFESSIONALS

In the meantime, I think Lt. Pike might be able to augment his income by signing an endorsement deal for “Defense Technology’s 56895 MK-9 Stream, 1.3% Red Band/1.3% Blue Band Pepper Spray.” He’s certainly done more than any traditional marketing campaign to raise the profile of professional-grade pepper spray.

Imagine how successful your Black Friday shopping at Wal-Mart would be if you packed a canister of Mike-9.

It’s available on Amazon.com, of course. Here’s the product description:

“The world’s most widely used pepper spray in law enforcement and corrections, First Defense® has just gotten better. With our complete line of aerosols, we are able to offer an OC level of intensity ranging from .2% Major Capsaicinoids to 1.3% MC. The variations in the MC % means that you can now select the level of intensity of OC for the environment required. We use independent laboratory testing to ensure consistent quality of each product. Formulation Weight: 12 oz.; Delivery System: Stream.”

The Singularity

The Singularity

SAMUEL BUTLER (1835-1902)

“Think of and look at your work as though it were done by your enemy. If you look at it to admire it, you are lost.” – Samuel Butler

Butler is best known for two works, “Erewhon” and “The Way of All Flesh.” “Erewhon” was published anonymously — it was a scathing social satire of Victorian Britain and religion — but once it became successful Butler acknowledged authorship.

By the way, “Erewhon” is an anagram of “Nowhere,” and the author left instructions for it to be pronounced in three syllables: E-re-whon. I just learned this. All my life — or to be specific, the two or three times it has come up in conversation since college — I pronounced it “AIR-one.”

Butler comes up now because a) I’m halfway through National Novel Writing Month, and b) I’m going back to work as a news editor. Both endeavors require a critical eye.

Is my writing any good? Sometimes I think yes, but then again, I’m fond of the writer. Using Butler’s sage advice to imagine the writer as the enemy, it’s easier for me to identify precious and soporific passages in my novel that I overlooked when I was dazzled by the author’s staggering genius.

Is my editing of other peoples’ writing any good? It had better be, because I’m fond of the reader. As a newspaper editor my goal is to serve the reader. So let this serve as a warning to reporters: I’m embracing Butler’s advice to view you as the enemy. If I begin reading your copy with the idea that you are the enemy of solid reporting, clear thinking, and graceful writing, I’m more likely to demand those things in your stories. And the reader will be better off for it.

One last thing about Samuel Butler: He is the Father of the Technological Singularity. (And you probably thought it was the science fiction writer Vernor Vinge!) Butler read Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species” when it came out in 1859, and Butler, who witnessed the impact of the Industrial Revolution on rural England, quickly extrapolated that machines were evolving just as humans and other species were. Some day, Butler said, machines would become smarter than humans.

In the satirical utopian nation of E-re-whon, machines are outlawed for that very reason.

A lot of really smart people think the day when machines get smarter than humans — they call it the Singularity — will arrive before the end of this century. Some, including Vernor Vinge, expect a super-human intelligence to be created by the year 2030. The super-intelligent machines will then begin designing even more intelligent machines. At that point, Vinge and other Singularity disciples say, the human era on Earth will begin to wane.

On the bright side, maybe the machines will be able to help me figure out Social Security, my pension, Medicare, and my television remote control.