Monthly Archives: February 2016

My Recent A-hed on James McGowan, the Globe-Trotting McDonald’s Obsessive

2016 02 20 ahedNP

Those of you who follow me on Twitter and/or subscribe to my email newsletter know that the week before last, my first A-hed* ran on the front page of The WSJ.

(In the image above, showing the paper, below the fold, it’s on the bottom right.)

The story — accessible to all online here — is about James McGowan, a guy in Bangkok whose passion is traveling the world, sampling and blogging about regional variations of McDonald’s items. It begins:

SINGAPORE—When James McGowan walked into a McDonald’s Corp. restaurant in downtown Singapore one recent evening, he wasn’t interested in a Big Mac. Instead, he placed an order for a limited-edition hamburger with caramelized onions and cheddar cheese, truffle-flavored french fries and a special red velvet McFlurry frozen drink.

On a scale of one to five, “I’ll probably give a 3 for the burger,” said Mr. McGowan, noting that it lacked sufficient onions. “The fries are better than I expected. They might be a 3.5 or 4.”

Mr. McGowan may well be the chain’s toughest customer. For the past four years, the 28-year-old has crisscrossed the globe to indulge his passion: Sampling and blogging about the various national iterations of McDonald’s dishes. Thus far, he says he has visited about 53 countries, penning 340 detailed reviews.

The story generated a lot of traffic on our site, which I expected. But I was not prepared, I must say, for McGowan to become a global sensation.

After our story ran, his quest was picked up by outlets as wide ranging as Business Insider, The Straits Times, the Toronto Sun, TODAY.com, and Slate in French.

Papers in the UK, especially, gobbled up the story: The Independent, The Mirror, and even The Daily Mail wrote about McGowan.

Other corporate and tech-focused stories I’ve written have been picked up far and wide before, but this was the first time a feature of this kind has received so much attention. Fun stuff, indeed.

*A-heds are WSJ the often humorous, off-beat stories that run at the bottom of our front pages. Here’s more on the history of A-heds; there’s even a book about them.

By Me and a Colleague Wed.: Uber to Launch Motorbike Service in Bangkok

The story begins:

BANGKOK—Uber Technologies Inc. is breaking into motorcycle bookings, taking its battle to win over users in Southeast Asia to the traffic-clogged streets of Bangkok.

Beginning Wednesday, users in select parts of the Thai capital will be able to open the firm’s app and summon a motorcycle driver, who will pick them up and ferry them to their destinations. The service, dubbed UberMOTO, allows riders to pay with cash or credit cards, with fares beginning at 10 Thai baht (28 U.S. cents).

Motorcycle taxis are popular in Thailand and other parts of Southeast Asia because of their low cost and their ability to cut between lanes of traffic, making it easier to navigate through gridlock.

Uber’s offering comes amid growing popularity of rivals’ motorbike-booking services in Southeast Asia. The company’s main competitor in the region, Singapore-based ride-hailing app Grab, in 2014 launched a motorbike service in nearby Vietnam. It is also available in Thailand, the Philippines in Indonesia. Grab doesn’t disclose its number of users but says its app has been downloaded more than 11 million times, up from 4.8 million in June.

Click through to read the rest.

By Me Last Week: Twitter Outshines Facebook — in Japan

The story begins:

Twitter Inc. is now bigger than its rival Facebook — in Japan, at least.

A week after quarterly earnings fueled investors’ concerns that Twitter’s user growth has stalled, the company for the first time Thursday broke out its user numbers for a country outside the U.S., saying it had 35 million monthly active users in the world’s third-largest economy as of the end of last year.

Facebook, a major competitor for advertising dollars, had 25 million monthly active users in Japan as of the end of 2015, a Facebook spokeswoman said Thursday.

Twitter’s user base has long been compared to Facebook’s, which is much larger globally. Twitter last week said 320 million users signed into the platform at least once a month in the fourth quarter, the same as in the previous three months. Facebook, by comparison, said it had 1.59 billion monthly active users as of the end of last year, up 3% from the previous three months.

It was the first time Twitter’s closely watched user growth flatlined from the previous three-month period. More troubling: the number of users in the U.S. fell to 65 million from 66 million.

Click through to read the rest.

Fun Friday, Enormous Rabbit Edition

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Atlas, pictured above, is a continental giant rabbit currently living with the Scottish SPCA in Glasgow.

He is only seven months old, and is in search of a home.

Prospective owners should be aware that Atlas may grow up to four feet in length and weigh nearly 50 pounds.

Of course, while Atlas is big, he is not yet Darius-big.

Is there anything better in the world than huge, juvenile rabbits?

In This Week’s Newsletter: Silly Vampires Mocumentary; Dogs’ Souls; a Master Imposter and More

The latest edition of my email newsletter has gone out to subscribers. It’s pasted in below.

To get these weekly dispatches delivered to your inbox, sign up here. It’s free, it’s fun, it’s brief — and few people unsubscribe!


Hi friends,

Happy Year of the Monkey! The Chinese New Year (also known as the Lunar New Year) is officially upon us here in Singapore.

It’s a public holiday and everything’s shut down; offices and schools are closed today and tomorrow. All around our neighborhood in central Singapore, red and gold decorations are hung from buildings, and the occasional sounds of lion dances can be heard.

On to the update.

What I wrote at Newley.com:

The 10 Must-Have Apps I Install on Every New Mac — The item begins:

Following my recent post about what’s on my iPhone home screen at the beginning of 2016, I decided to do the same for my must-have Mac apps.

I consider these apps requirements when setting up any new machine — essentially, I feel that I need them to use the computer effectively.

Hopefully this will give others who are looking for new or useful apps some ideas.

What am I missing here? Let me know via email (n@newley.com) or Twitter (@newley).

Five items that are worth your time this week:

1. Remember the story not long ago about Amazon’s first-ever physical book shop in Seattle? It looks like the online retailing titan might be planning to open as many as 400 in the U.S.

2. “What We Do in the Shadows” is a very silly mockumentary about vampires.

3. Here are some portraits of dogs and cats purporting to show a little bit of their souls. I’m not a big believer in souls (period), but these images do seem to suggest there’s something going on in the minds of dogs. Cats? Maybe not so much. Here’s more about the images, by photographer Robert Bahou.

4. This amazing website allows you to enter a search term and find screencaps using subtitles from “Simpsons” episodes.

5. Quote of the week, from a fascinating New York Times story on “professional imposter” Jeremy Wilson:

“He has portrayed himself as a Scottish-born D.J., a Cambridge-trained thespian, a Special Forces officer and a professor at M.I.T. He has posed as executives from Microsoft, British Airways and Apple, always with a military background. He pretended to be a soldier seeking asylum in Canada to escape anti-Semitic attacks in the United States. He once maintained an Irish accent so well and for so long that his cellmate in an Indiana jail was convinced that he was an Irish mobster.”

Thanks for reading Newley’s Notes, a weekly newsletter where I share my WSJ stories, posts from my blog, and various interesting links.

* Administrative note: I mistakenly labeled last week’s dispatch number 44, when it should have been 43. So this is one is rightly called number 44.

Have a great week!

@Newley

P.S. If someone forwarded you this email, you can subscribe here. And here’s the archive of past dispatches.

The 10 Must-Have Apps I Install on Every New Mac

Following my recent post about what’s on my iPhone home screen at the beginning of 2016, I decided to do the same for my must-have Mac apps.

I consider these apps requirements when setting up any new machine — essentially, I feel that I need them to use the computer effectively.

Hopefully this will give others who are looking for new or useful apps some ideas.

1. 1Password

2016-02-07_1pass

1Password — my password manager of choice for many years. (This one’s also on my iPhone home screen, you’ll recall.)

Strong passwords, of course, are key to protecting yourself online. You should use a different, complex password for every important account. This can be hard, though, if you’re trying to store all this info on your head.

With a password manager like 1Password, you can remember just one strong password, which you use to open the app. Then you can automatically generate ridiculously strong passwords for every account you have within the app, and access those on the fly, no matter which device you’re using.

2. Dropbox

2016-02-07dropbox

Dropbox — Confession time: I once ruined a one-month-old MacBook Air by spilling a full bottle of Stella Artois beer directly on the keyboard.

It’s a long story. But, BUT! I had saved all of my important documents, images and other files in Dropbox, so I lost nothing — except money and my pride, that is.

Dropbox lets you stores your files in the cloud, so that they’re accessible on various devices.

For example, I’ve long kept many of my basic lists in plain text files, and use Dropbox to keep them synced across my Mac, my iPhone, and my work machine.

3. Chrome

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Chrome for Mac — I was a loyal users of Apple’s browser, Safari, for many years. But a while back I switched over to Chrome, which, in my experience, is faster and more reliable, even though Safari looks prettier and is obviously built for the Mac.

One caveat: Some say Chrome is more resource-intensive than Safari, meaning it will drain your battery faster.

4. TextExpander

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TextExpander — this app, which I’ve been using for many years, lets you use abbreviations for frequently used bits of text.

For example, if I type “eemail,” the app will instantly insert my personal email address. If I type “eeemail,” it will insert my work email. If I type “ddate,” it will insert “February 8, 2016,” etc.

I also have so-called snippets set up for my home and office addresses, various email signatures, and much more. It’s the kind of tool that is totally indespensible.

5. PDFpen

2016-02-08PDFP

PDFpen — let’s get this out of the way: at $74.95, this is not a cheap app. But the ability to manipulate PDFs by typing and writing on, and signing them, is nearly magical, and makes the app well worth the price.

I’ve used PDFPen, which is made by the same folks behind TextExpander, to fill out and send back any number of forms, applications and the like.

Forget about printing out and manipulating physical documents — you can do it all digitally with PDF Pen.

6. Evernote

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Evernote — Somewhat sadly, I hardly ever use what had been my go-to writing app since 2007: Scrivener.

I used Scrivener to write my graduate school thesis, composed hundreds of stories on it, and even used it to tackle Nanowrimo many moons ago.

The problem: While it’s great if you only ever use on computer, it’s not so great if you want to be able to work on the same documents across machines or devices. (The company behind the product has been saying for some time that they’re working on an iOS version.)

So I’ve increasingly been using Evernote — it’s designed not as a word processor, but as a catch-all for tons of different digital material, from text and images to audio and more. But you can certainly use it for writing.

7. TweetDeck

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Tweetdeck — the best way to access Twitter on your Mac. I have several columns set up so that I can access my various Twitter lists — accounts I don’t want to miss, fellow WSJ folks, notifications when people respond to or like my tweets or stories, and more.

Note that Twitter recently released a new version of its Mac app, but I’m sticking with Tweetdeck for now.

8. Spotify

2016-02-08_spotify

Rdio was my streaming music choice for several years, but when it shut down last year, I switched to Spotify.

I like it a lot — especially the excellent Discover Weekly feature, in which the service automatically generates a playlist of new music for you based on your listening habits.

I mostly use Spotify on my iPhone, but the app also works well on the Mac.

9. Caffeine

2016-02-08caffeine

Caffeine — this tiny little app does one thing and does it well: it keeps your Mac from going to sleep.

The app lives in your menu bar, and you can simply click it to keep your machine awake if you’ll be away from it from an extended amount of time, or don’t wait it to dim or go to sleep when you’re watching a movie, for example.

  • Cost: free
  • For more and #Protips: that’s all you need to know — it simply keeps your Mac awake!

10. Noizio

2016-02-08_noizio

Noizio — like Caffeine, this is a small app that lives in your menu bar and has a singular task: to provide background noise.

If I’m being distracted by various sounds when I’m working on my Mac, I simply throw my headphones on and choose one of Noizio’s ambient sounds — I especially like “Paris Cafe” — and work away.

  • Cost: Free.
  • For more and #Protips: that’s all you need to know — it simply provides background noise!

 

Fun Friday Link: Video of ‘Zebra’ Escape in Tokyo

Embedded above and on YouTube here: Workers at a zoo in Tokyo this week held a biannual drill to prepare for a potential zebra escape.

Playing the part of the escapee: a zookeeper in a zebra costume. My favorite part is when the creature is “shot,” presumably by a tranquilizer gun, and falls slowly to the ground.

Newley’s Notes 44: GrabTaxi —> Grab; Your Purpose in Life; ‘Gilmore Girls’; Taco Literacy

The latest edition of my email newsletter has gone out to subscribers. It’s pasted in below.

 

To get these weekly dispatches delivered to your inbox, sign up here. It’s free, it’s fun, it’s brief — and few people ever unsubscribe!

 

————

 

Hi friends, 

 

It’s earnings season, and various tech companies have been releasing their quarterly results in recent days. 

 

Google parent company Alphabet had a huge quarter, with the stock popping, pushing the firm past Apple as the world’s most valuable public company, at least for now. 

 

Amazon, meanwhile, posted its biggest quarterly profit yet — but the stock fell, with sales falling short of expectations

 

Stat of the week: messaging app WhatsApp now has one billion users. That means one in every seven people on the face of the planet uses the platform. Astounding when you consider something like half of the globe is still not connected to the web. 

 

On to the update. 

 

What I wrote in The Wall Street Journal:

 

Why Southeast Asia’s GrabTaxi Is Removing ‘Taxi’ From Its Name. Uber’s main rival in the region wants to communicate that it offers services like private car rides, not just taxi booking.  

 

What I wrote at Newley.com:

 

5 Questions That Will Help You Figure Out Your Purpose in Life — A look at an interesting YouTube video, and a book recommendation. 

 

Five items that are worth your time this week:

 

1. If you are lucky enough to be a student at the University of Kentucky, you can now take a class called “Taco Literacy: Public Advocacy and Mexican Food in the US South.” 

 

Per the syllabus, required reading includes “Planet Taco: A Global History of Mexican Food,” “Tacopedia,” and “Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America.” Here’s an interview with the professor, Steven Alvarez.  

 

2. How did monkeys get across the Atlantic, way back when, from Africa to South America

 

3. Huge news for fans — ahem, Anasuya — of “Gilmore Girls.” The series is officially returning — to Neflix, no less — with the original stars and creator. 

 

4. The new Apple TV is excellent for many reasons, chiefly among them the integration of Siri, which allows you to search for shows or movies by voice, rather than by typing. But there are also some cool apps; here are a few

 

5. Former Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola, perhaps the world’s best manager, is leaving Bayern Munich for Manchester City. Man City have big money, big ambitions, and now a seriously big time, big name coach. Are they a dynasty in the making

 

Thanks for reading Newley’s Notes, a weekly newsletter where I share my WSJ stories, posts from my blog, and various interesting links. 

 

Have a great week!

— @Newley

  

P.S. If someone forwarded you this email, you can subscribe here. And here’s the archive of past dispatches

  

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