From Tiger Bread to Giraffe Bread: Oh My!

Giraffe BreadAs promised before, Jurgan brought my attention to a charming pair of letters. But let me tell you the whole story, because it is pretty great from beginning to end.

Sainsbury’s is a very big grocery store chain in the United Kingdom. And for years, they’ve sold the bread we know as Dutch Crunch under the brand name Tiger Bread. You can see why. Some tigers do have that kind of fur coloring. Obviously that isn’t typical. Tigers tend to have stripes. Maybe it’s more like a Liger. But three and a half year old Lily Robinson had other ideas. On 31 May 2011, she wrote to Sainbury’s asking why they called their Dutch Crunch “Tiger Bread” when it clearly looked more like a giraffe and thus should be called Giraffe Bread.

Just two weeks later, 27 and a third year old customer manager Chris King wrote back. He said that he thought it was a brilliant idea to rename the bread. He also noted that the original baker who first named it was perhaps being a bit silly. (Note: “silly” is a great word.) Here are the two letters. You won’t be able to read the response at this resolution. Just click on it to see it at full resolution:

Sainsbury's Tiger Bread Letters

The letters went viral on Twitter but then died down. Twitter, of course, has the attention span of a gnat with ADHD. But then, as always seems to happen, it went viral again for no particular reason other than the madness of crowds. So in January of 2012, Sainsbury’s released a statement:

In response to overwhelming customer feedback that our tiger bread has more resemblance to a giraffe, from today we will be changing our tiger bread to giraffe bread and seeing how that goes.

As far as I know, the grocery store is still selling it under the name Giraffe Bread. As a nice postscript to the story, Chris King quit his job at Sainbury’s to go back to college to become a primary school teacher. I think he has the perfect temperament for it.

Afterword

I do not like Dutch Crunch under any name at all. The crust is nice enough. But inside is a doughy tasteless white bread. I’m surprised that it is as popular as it is. There are so many better breads around. According to that BBC article I linked to above, “Rice paste is brushed on to the surface before baking, forming the pattern as it dries and cracks while it bakes.” That means you could put that crust on an actually good bread. But as you can see in the image above, Giraffe Bread only costs £0.75 — making it a very cheap bread. But it seems to me it is much more expensive here in the states.

The Low Expectations of High Tech Innovation

Flying CarFrequent commenter Jurgan posted a charming couple of letters that rocked the bread world a few years back. (I’ll write about it later today.) But it is all on Tumblr, and as you know, I don’t much understand new technologies. This is odd given that I’m paid to write about technology. But I guess it isn’t exactly true that I don’t know what it is. It’s a blogging platform. I just don’t understand why it is considered an innovation. I spend much of my life in awe of the fact that people get money for things that are not new. Like Facebook: how was that new? For those who don’t know (and this apparently includes the vast majority of Facebook users), it is an image sharing application. Really: that’s all it is. And those were around for years before Facebook.

None of this should be taken as a slight against people who use Facebook or Tumblr. They are fine tools. What’s annoying is that the press and investors treat these things as revolutionary when they aren’t. In particular, Facebook is useful because a lot of people use it. That appears to be the case with Tumblr as well, which hosts 271.5 million blogs with 126.6 billion posts. (Note: that’s an average of 466 posts per blog, which is pretty good given my experience with blogs is that a dozen is about average.)

In 1999, in an example of the kind of thinking that has shaped the internet for the last two decades, eXcite turned down an offer to buy Google for $750,000.

The thing about Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and many other of these social networking sites is that they are closed systems. To me, this is a great step backwards for the internet. Everyone should be on an equal footing. There are obvious advantages to having a closed system, but they are mostly advantages for the company. And you can see the problem on sites like Booman Tribune or Lawyers, Guns & Money. These sites require that you have an account to comment. They are big enough that they still host lively discussions, but they clearly limit discussion as well. (They probably do this because they haven’t realized that there is now software that filters out virtually all spam.)

It leads me back to the old Peter Thiel quote, “We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters.” Now personally, I never wanted a flying car. This is because I’m still reasonably attached to living and you can just imagine if we have a quarter billion cars flying around with their drivers drinking hot coffee and texting photos of the thousands of car crashes they see each day. But there is a reason that we got 140 characters: because there is very little actual innovation that goes on in the realm of high tech.

Let me share with you a personal story. A couple of years back, I was working with Mikhail, a brilliant young hardware designer, on an amazing technology. I’m prevented by contract to explain it to you, but it had to do with extreme sports. It combined a number of advanced technologies to do something that frankly I didn’t think was possible before we started. But we couldn’t get money for it. At the same time, we knew a couple of guys who got a half million dollars to produce a wired toy submarine that had a camera in it. Wired. Almost a decade ago, Mikhail and I were streaming video from RC helicopters in our spare time, and these guys had money dumped on them for a toy that would have been only marginally cool in 1980.

The truth of the matter is that capitalism is not a good system for creating innovation. And capitalists know this. This is why the big pharmaceutical companies depend upon the government to do the research on anything actually innovative. Otherwise, they just stick to the tried and true: yet another erectile dysfunction drug, yet another benzodiazepine, yet another Vicodin knockoff. And in the area of high tech, who wants to invest in something that is actually new, when they can just market a photo sharing site as if it were a major innovation? Or yet another blogging platform like Tumblr, which sold for over a billion dollars less than three years ago? We don’t have innovation because we don’t value innovation; we value profit.

Afterword

Oh, you know what was revolutionary? The Google algorithm. And they had a hell of a time getting money. In 1999, in an example of the kind of thinking that has shaped the internet for the last two decades, eXcite turned down an offer to buy Google for $750,000. (That’s just over a million in today’s currency.) In America, what passes for innovation is Mitt Romney investing in Staples with the brilliant idea that business supplies could be sold through a chain that gets lots of government funding to put small business supply stores out of business.

Morning Music: Where the Sidewalk Ends

Where the Sidewalk EndsShel Silverstein has a devilish wit. I think that’s why he is a children’s writer at the same time that he isn’t. He has a child’s sensibility with an adult’s knowledge and experiences. I believe I share this with him, without being on the same creative plane of existence. It is this kind of stuff that parents normally complain about regarding me. It is the parents’ job, after all, to socialize children. I see it as my job to remind them that they can be both good and devilish.

Where the Sidewalk Ends is filled with devilish stuff. There is also a version with a CD, which I used to have. There is something extra that we get when Silverstein reads his own poems. They always sound so much sharper than they do in my head. Poems like “For Sale” are horrible in their way, even as they are too extreme to be taken seriously. It’s the literary equivalent of Tom and Jerry. But I’m going to highlight another poem from that collection, “Crocodile’s Toothache,” even though I actually love dentists. As the animator, Aida Alemy, says, “No crocodile or dentist were harmed during the making of this animation.”

Anniversary Post: Unix Time

Unix TimeOn this day in 1970, Unix Time began. Well, not exactly. It was just a convenient point to set as an epoch. And all Unix Time provides is the number of seconds since that time. It is coming up on 1.5 billion seconds. It also provides fractions of a second. In its first implementation, it subdivided seconds into 60 parts. But when I was first cutting my Unix teeth on a couple of Sun workstations in the late 1980s, Unix Time was divided into millionths of a second.

All computer systems have their own epochs. MS-DOS had its epoch exactly a decade after Unix on 1 January 1980. COBOL has an epoch of 1 January 1601. Microsoft C++ 7.0 had an epoch of 31 December 1899. VMS had an epoch on 17 November 1858. And MATLAB’s epoch is on 1 BCE. In other words: epochs are totally arbitrary. And that’s great. I’m surprised that some smart–aleck computer geek hasn’t set an epoch thousands of years in the future just so we could have negative time stamps.

But given all this epoch madness, why did we have the great Y2K scare of 16 years ago? Now I know the main issues. There were computer shortcuts taken to reduce memory usage. And there was lots of binary-coded decimal, which I’ve never understood. I mean, really: do everything in binary and then convert to decimal when humans have to look at it. It makes no sense to represent numbers in this way on the hardware level. And I know that binary-coded decimal was especially used for time and date functions.

But I do think that Y2K was vastly overblown. Yes, I think that mission critical computers should have been thoroughly checked out. Any chance of a computer firing a missile is unacceptable. But it was mostly just something for reporters to talk about. But Unix Time is cool. At least I can remember when it is. I will have forgotten all about VMS time by the time you read this.