David Pogue on the new Blackberry

Put yourself in the shoes of a technology product reviewer. You’ve got to praise or savage or critique the features of a product that, in all likelihood, your readers have never seen or held. Bad reviewers stay at 10,000 feet, describing a product in abstract terms, raving about its “elegant design” or slamming its “counter-intuitive interface.” Good reviewers, like Pogue, make the review concrete, giving the reader a vicarious sense of what it’s like to use the product.

Here’s an example from Pogue, who, in the course of eviscerating the new Blackberry Storm, makes its flaws painfully concrete:

It’s no help that the Storm shows you two different keyboards, depending on how you’re holding it (it has a tilt sensor like the iPhone’s).

When you hold it horizontally, you get the full, familiar Qwerty keyboard layout. But when you turn it upright, you get the less accurate SureType keyboard, where two letters appear on each “key,” and the software tries to figure out which word you’re typing.

For example, to type “get,” you press the GH, ER and TY keys. Unfortunately, that’s also “hey.” You can see the problem. And trying to enter Web addresses or unusual last names is utterly hopeless.

It’s such effective writing that you experience vicarious frustration…

If Starbucks marketed like a church…

John Moore at Brand Autopsy highlights this satirical video, created by a church marketing expert to inspire churches to find ways that “we can remove the speed-bumps we have unknowingly created for visitors.”

My favorite part: The barrista waits on a couple that is clearly new to Starbucks — they’re a bit overwhelmed and end up asking sheepishly for “a coffee.” Then, the barrista grabs a mike and, in front of everyone in the store, announces, “If this is your first time visiting with us, will you go ahead and raise your hands — we would love to welcome you.” The mortified pair raise their hands.

Someone in the background shouts “Java-lujah!”

A headline that sticks

I could not resist clicking on this headline.

Airwaves Battle Pits Dolly Parton Against Google

My compliments to the headline writer.

The collapse of AIG in 10 min

You can learn what “credit default swaps” are, and how they brought down AIG, in 10 minutes, thanks to Marketplace Senior Editor Paddy Hirsch. What’s particularly clever is the car insurance analogy, which buys us some quick intuition into a complex topic.

In the book, we discuss the simple trade models that teachers use in Econ 101 — e.g., “You grow apples and I grow oranges. Both of us would rather have some of both. How do we trade?” That’s exactly what Hirsch does … he builds up our intuition via a simple, two-party transaction, and then zooms out to show us how that behavior can explain a catastrophe like the fall of AIG. Really well done.

(Thanks to John H for the tip.)

A trillion in Iraq

As reported by Duncan Mansfield, a Knoxvillian named Rob Simpson was indignant when he heard that the cost of war in Iraq had hit $1 trillion. So he spent a year of his life putting that cost in perspective in a book called What We Could Have Done With the Money: 50 Ways To Spend the Trillion Dollars We’ve Spent on Iraq.

From the Mansfield piece: “He calculates $1 trillion could pave the entire U.S. interstate highway system with gold – 23.5-karat gold leaf. It could buy every person on the planet an iPod. It could give every high school student in America a free college education. It could pay off every American’s credit card. It could buy a Buick for every senior citizen still driving in America.”

The author’s web site also has had a nifty “shopping spree” tool where you can could buy things like Lear Jets, the New York Yankees, Picasso paintings, etc, in a vain attempt to reach $1T.