Near Earth Archive

A backup of Near Earth Object by Paul Fidalgo

Month: October, 2011

Mac as Enigma

This is a now-fourteen-year-old machine, and to hear Jony Ive describe it, I think I want one.

And just listen to the way he puts it. Only these guys could describe a desktop computer as…

…a whole new product type–one that doesn’t have answers to all the questions it asks.

Wow, I think my mind just imploded.


Why, Oh Why Must I Have Mitt Romney’s Back?

"I'm delightful now!"

I still hate Mitt Romney, but it continues to get under my skin when he gets knocked for presentational hangups he had four years ago, but has now largely gotten over. As much as I adore Rachel Maddow, for example, her hammering of Romney night after night for his rich-guy persona is beginning to border on the kind of mockery one gets from snooty girls in high school. Not that I know anything about that.

As I’ve stated before, Romney is a thousand times the candidate he was last time around, and as a student of politics, I’m amazed and fascinated by it. And yes, as a victim of bullying and stereotyping, I’m really bothered when Romney is attacked over and over again for stupid crap like a goofy picture of himself from a million years ago. I guess I feel for him. Lord knows he doesn’t need my sympathy, the rich Republican bastard, but there it is.

The New York Times today does a service by acknowledging and explaining Romney’s astounding improvement as a campaigner, which, in essence, boils down to what has likewise made Al Gore, for example, a much more appealing media figure: he’s started to just be himself.

But even here, I feel like Romney doesn’t get a fair shake. Witness this take on his sense of humor:

. . . the awkward jokes are not completely missing. At a stop in Milford, N.H., recently, Ms. Romney said she was eager to show voters “the other side of Mitt.”

He suddenly turned around to show his backside, prompting laughter from the crowd and from his wife, “Oh, dear.”

Awkward? Are you kidding me? That shit’s gold. And it takes balls to make a goofball, totally unexpected joke like that, particularly when you’re running for president and you’re Mitt-frickin’-Romney.

Oh, jeebus, listen to me. I need to take a shower.

Harold Ford’s Qualifications for Being a Political Analyst


Harold Ford is on TV a lot. He’s on Meet the Press and Morning Joe more often than the hosts themselves. I’m fairly certain he has a cot under David Gregory’s desk. And once he rises from that cot, rubs the sleepiness from his eyes, and grabs a quick bite from the NBC commissary, he can be relied upon to predict the failure of Barack Obama’s presidency unless the commander-in-chief follows Ford’s pro-big business, illiberal advice. (Stop dis-incentivizing wealthy corporations, Mr. President! You’re hurting their feelings!)

But given that his political analysis is so highly sought-after by these major, respected outlets, I thought it might be helpful to recount the things Harold Ford is most known for:

  1. Losing a senate race
  2. Bowing out of another senate race in another state, which he would have lost
  3. Presiding over the “centrist” Democratic Leadership Council as it ran out of money and collapsed.

Let’s recap Ford’s sterling qualifications: He lost, gave up, and failed.

So let’s make sure we all keep checking in with Harold to see what the president ought to be doing on any given day.

Blood and Teeth: Why Elizabeth Warren Should Be President

And it’s not the “no one gets rich on their own” monologue. It’s this (emphasis mine):

During the passage of Dodd-Frank, [former senator Chris] Dodd, who is now chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America, was seen as one of Warren’s more influential opponents. Among Wall Street’s staunchest allies—to the tune, in his last election, of almost $4 million in campaign donations for a race he did not even complete—he had sponsored the reform bill in the Senate but had several times appeared to yield to bank opposition, entertaining a number of proposals that would have either killed the C.F.P.B. outright or severely restricted its independence. Warren fought back, not only by calling in support from the White House, but also by speaking out in public. In March 2010 she lashed out in the Huffington Post: “My first choice is a strong consumer agency,” she said. “My second choice is no agency at all and plenty of blood and teeth left on the floor.”

Incidentally, this article reveals to me something of particular interest about Warren: She doesn’t begin her journey as some Euro-socialist liberal, but as a firm believer in free markets as an engine of prosperity and of democracy itself. She’s come to her current position as liberal darling with that as her foundation. I think that makes her all the more formidable during these specific times.

In Which I Take a Cheap Shot at Organized Religion

But I can’t resist.

Andrew Sullivan on the Church of Scientology’s strategy for character assassination of its critics (emphasis mine):

I’d be outraged if any organization set up investigative files on any social critics, plundering their trash, following their cars around, casing their offices, investigating their friends … in order to destroy their reputations. And then there are the digusting investigations into individuals because of their association with Matt and Trey [of South Park]. Anne Garefino and David Goodman, friends and Dishheads, are two of these – wonderful people targeted by this creepy organization. These are the kinds of things that criminal enterprises do – not churches.

Ready for the cheap shot? <drumroll>

And what is the difference between the two exactly?


Hey-ya! Sha-pow! Thank you!

Man vs. Terminal Services Session

Friend-of-the-blog Jason Guy (who readers first met here) was an early influence on my decision to switch over to the Apple ecosphere back in 2004. A recent email from him somehow perfectly illustrates the difference in corporations’ business ethics, their notions of efficiency and respect for the customer, and the overall usability of their products. I’ll just let Jason explain:

It’s (thankfully) quite rare that I get involved in administrating a PC at the part-time office, but I can think of no better tribute to Steve Jobs than the labyrinthine ‘dialogue’ to which I was subjected this morning. This is long, but I hope entertaining. As for the details, I had ample opportunity to take meticulous notes while on hold: I exaggerate nothing. Seriously, I couldn’t make this stuff up. I mean the error messages, alone – who writes this stuff?

Tech Support Email: According to our records, you are running an out-of-date desktop package. You must download the latest update (Vista Backup v1.3) by November 2, 2011. If you do not download the required software update by November 2, 2011, you will no longer be able to connect to the network. To do so, go to Start > Utilities > Software OnDemand > Vista Backup v1.3. [I did so.]

Error Popup: The program you’ve requested to run cannot be run because Configuration Manager is busy running other software. Please close all other windows and try running it at another time. For further assistance call your help desk. [There were no other windows open; repeated attempts to run the software resulted in the same error.]

Help Desk [in India]:

Me: Hello, I received an email this morning informing me that I had to install an update by November 2nd or be unable to connect to the network. When I tried to do so, an error message told me I couldn’t because Configuration Manager was busy; as there are no other windows open, it said I should call you.

Pradeep: Andthatisthereasonforyourcall?

Me: … Yes.

Pradeep: Andwhatistheerrormessageyou’vereceived?

Me: Uh … that the program I am trying to run cannot be run because Configuration Manager is busy …

Pradeep: So,you’retryingtoinstallnewsoftware?

Me: Yes.

Pradeep: Holdonaminute,please.

Announcer [the hold music is The QVC Shopping Network]: … that’s right, this is buttersoft, just buttersoft next to your skin! And these Bruce McCowsky bags are amazingly only $35 a month!

Bruce: That’s right, Ann, my bags normally retail for $200-$300, but – this is amazing – I mean, you’re giving them away for $35 a month. Frankly, I’m shocked –

HelloMrGuythankyouforwaitingonline,canyoutellmewhat systemyouarerunning?

Me: Vista. I’d tell you the version number, but I’m stuck in this error dialogue; should I click ‘Okay’ and find out the version?

Preadeep: No, MrGuy,thatisalright,VistaiswhatIneededtoknow,pleaseholdonamoment,isthatokay?MrGuy, isthatokay toaskyoutostayonthelineamomentlonger?

Me: Oh, yes … sure.

Pradeep: ThankyouverymuchforyourpatienceMrGuy,itwillbejustamomentlonger.

Me: Okay.

Pradeep: ThankyouagainMrGuy,justamoment,please.

Bruce: … and check this out, this is our latest in a color we’re calling ‘Indigo Blue’ – it’s not blue, but it’s not quite black – and it’s just so rich, I mean look at that saturation!

Ann: You’re right, and the leather, it’s just … you know, it puddles, it actually puddles.

Bruce: You are so right, Ann, and look at this. You see these here on the bottom, I’ve added pleats to make the bag more feminine –

HelloMrJasonGuy,thankyouforyourwaiting,it’sapleasuretohaveyouontheline,canyoutellmeplease, isitcorrectthatyou’retryingtodownloadsoftwareandcannot?

Me: … yes.


Me: No.But I’ll gladly do that if it might help.I’ll restart.

ThankyouMrGuy,whileit’srestarting,I’lljustberesearchingmyconfirmation. [That’s right – ‘researching my confirmation’. I go to Start > Restart.]

Ann: … Nutmeg, Slate, Seafoam, Ochre, Black, Stone, and Pewter –

Bruce: And we’re calling this one ‘Cabernet’ –

Ann: Oh, I know, it’s hard to keep anything in stock that’s Cabernet! And this one here is Thyme, that’s t-h-y-m-e, like the spice –

Pradeep: HelloMrGuy? Thankyouforwaiting, whatistheerroryouarenowgetting? [My computer had restarted, and I had clicked Start > Utilities > Software OnDemand …, only now where there previously was a list of updates including my much-sought-after Vista Backup v1.3, there was simply a line of text: “There are no updates available during a Terminal Services Session.”]

Me: … Uh.Well, I can’t even attempt to run my requested software, as the list of updates is now blank; it says … “no updates available during a Terminal Services Session.” I’m not familiar with that term. Am I in a Terminal Services Session?


Me: So, I don’t know, I can’t get to the error because I can’t run the software that generates the error telling me it can’t run … what’s a Terminal Services Session?

Pradeep: I’msorryMrGuy,youarehavingtroubleinstallingnewsoftware,whatistheerroryouarereceiving?

Me: Well … [I closed the window, clicked Start > Utilities > Software OnDemand, ‘… no updates available …’] Uh, yeah, now the list of things I could run is – uh, absent. It still says …”Terminal Services Session” where there used to be a list.

Pradeep: HoldonMrGuy,doyoumindifIputyouonholdjustonemoretime,we’realmostdone.

Me: No, that’s fi-

Bruce: … and I’m telling you nobody knows fashion better than me, and everything now is about the animal look – I just love hers, look at that, the animal piping!?

Ann: That’s right, Bruce. And I love it, too. You know, when a woman wears all neutral tones, and then there’s that one pop of color –

Pradeep: HelloMrGuy,thankyouforholdingonsopatiently,Ithinksomeoneneedstoactuallybethereatthecomputer, soIamgoingtogenerateaticketnumber,andsendthisdowntothelocalguys,holdonplease,justonemoment.

Bruce: And look at the hardware!

Ann: So, if you want to go with something that’s traditional but trendy, then you go with the black-multi … oh, wait, which one’s gone? Oh, it’s the cabernet, and what’s low now? Ah, the thyme, that’s t-h-y-m-e, as in the herb … that’s now low –

SorryMrGuytoplaceyouintheholdinglineagain, butIhavehereontheline, a Concern Resolve Expert, hello,goaheadplease …

Concern Resolve Expert:
HelloMrGuy, Iunderstandyou’rehavingtroubleinstallingnewsoftware?

Me: Yes … I received an email informing me that I had to install an update by November 2nd or be unable to connect to the network. When I tried to, an error message told me I couldn’t because Configuration Manager was busy. Now, when I go to the Software OnDemand menu, I can’t select an update because it says I’m in a Terminal Services Session.

Concern Resolve Expert:
ThankyouMrGuy, canyoupleasejustdescribetheerroryou’rereceivingwhenyoutrytoinstallthesoftware.

Me: Sure … uh, let me back up … so my email told me to click Start > Utilities > Software OnDemand > Vista Backup v1.3 … oh, there it is … oh, and now it’s working. ‘Running Software Update: Vista Backup v1.3’ … oh, good. … ‘The vacuum cleaner, when demonstrated for the repairman, will function perfectly’ …

Concern Resolve Expert: I’msorry … ?

Me: No, nothing. We’re all good. Oh, yes … it’s working. Thank you very much. I’m a happy camper.

Concern Resolve Expert: AndsoamI,MrGuy. ThankyouforcallingSupportServices,isthereanythingelseIcandoforyoutoday?

Me: No thank you. Have a great day.

Concern Resolve Expert: You,too,MrGuy. Itisapleasuretoserviceyourcall.

And I hung up. The screen said: “Time Until Complete: 1 hour 50 minutes 0 seconds.” Fifteen minutes later it still said that, but then snapped to attention with a new dialogue box: “Update Complete! You have been updated to Vista Backup v1.3. Your computer will restart automatically.” Upon restart a dialogue box said, “Please wait while your network state is detected,” and a progress bar reported, “Time Until Done: Approximately 15 Minutes.” Thirty seconds later I was staring at my desktop, everything seemingly in order.

Total time top to bottom, just under 45 minutes, during which I typed each chapter, knocked out several other little tasks, and billed each and every moment. Conversely, for the thousands of hours I’ve spent in front of my Mac doing none of the above, thank you Steve Jobs.

Love, /J.

Thank you, indeed.

Notice the absurdity isn’t the fault of Pradeep and his colleagues, even though we frustrated Americans can tend to blame our foreign messengers, as it were. The fault rests in the process into which they have been enveloped, the system, devised by probably well-meaning mortals, that suffers from such a lack of cohesion, that every person, every point in the system, is baffled by it.

So, You Think Romney Gets What a Big Deal Christie’s Endorsement Is?

Yeah, I think so.

It’s Not Your Job to Know What You Want: A Jobsian Lesson for Government?

Matt Bai of the New York Times wishes Washington could learn some lessons from Steve Jobs.

In his obituary of Mr. Jobs on The Times’s Web site, John Markoff quoted him as explaining his aversion to market research this way: “It’s not the consumers’ job to know what they want.” In other words, while Mr. Jobs tried to understand the problems that technology could solve for his buyer, he wasn’t going to rely on the buyer to demand specific solutions, just so he could avoid ever having to take a risk. This is what’s commonly known as leading.

Bai goes on to lament that modern politics are too inflexible to adapt to change in the way Jobs forced technology to adapt. But I want to take Bai’s analogy far further than he probably intends.

Let’s say we really want politics and government to learn from Apple and Steve Jobs. Let’s then take the above quote and amend it slightly to, “It’s not the voters’ job to know what they want.”

Apple is often chided by many of the more hack-prone members of the technorati for having a “closed” system; there’s no upgrading the hardware or tweaking the software of an iPhone, for example. It’s exactly as Apple intended it. Indeed, Apple’s whole point is to say to the consumer, ‘You are in no way expected to understand how this works. Just use it and enjoy it.’

Is there an analogy here for politics? Let me take this all the way down the line for the sake of bloggy brevity: Should government be more of a closed system? Should not voters simply elect the representatives and leaders who reflect their values and who they trust to manage the almost-unmanageable machinery of government, and leave all the comprehension to those office holders? Might then government and politics be more flexible, more adaptable, and more efficient if every iota of its machinations were not broadcast and dissected for the under-informed electorate to (mis)evaluate?

I am not endorsing this approach, but it’s a worthy thought experiment. Could we still have an accountable and uncorrupt government and political system if the electorate is mainly in the dark — as a favor to them? Is there something simply leaning in this direction that does make sense and is less reminiscent of, well, 1984?

After all, if Apple’s approach is distasteful, the market will take care of them right quick, and folks can choose another option. Not so easy with government, I suppose, but as long as the principles of republican representative democracy remain in tact, cannot this radical idea be beholden to similar “market-based” (read: electoral) forces?

I’m not sure. Indeed, there may be nothing to this. But I’m going to keep thinking on it.

Grieving an Ethos, Ctd.

Following up from my post on Steve Jobs, I decided soon after posting that I needed to make one addendum.

Lots of folks have been throwing Jobs’ name into lists including Henry Ford and Thomas Edison, among others, and I think those particular two men raise an interesting point: they were both, reportedly, pretty abysmal human beings. Edison was apparently rabidly litigious and brazen in his filching of credit for others’ ideas. Ford was, of course, a virulent anti-Semite. But both men changed the world in ways that have proved to far outshine their uglier sides.

Steve Jobs, according to most reporting, was not the easiest guy to work for, accused by many of getting what he wanted by being abusive or a bully. I can’t speak to any of this, of course, and it’s unsettling to think of it. To be fair, he is also widely reported to be a great dad, a great friend, and a genuine lover of humanity. The point is that he was, like everyone, not perfect, and he probably caused a lot of unnecessary grief in his time. As the New Yorker‘s Ken Auletta wrote yesterday:

You know, one of the things that’s interesting about Jobs is that in many ways he was not a nice man. And yet he was a brilliant man. He was not particularly kind to people. Ultimately, we won’t remember the personal cruelty; we’ll remember the great products. Ideally what you want to have is a greater balance between being nice and being effective than he achieved. But one of the questions is whether he could have achieved what he achieved if he were nice.

I’ll take that further. It’s okay to acknowledge his failings, his coulda-beens, and still feel a deep, painful sense of loss and despondency at his passing.

As someone who may not have been “a nice man,” he was certainly one of the crazy ones, in the best sense. No diss to Richard Dreyfus, but Steve’s was always the voice that belonged in this bit of transcendent ad copy.

And boy, did he.

Grieving an Ethos: Thoughts on the Loss of Steve Jobs

Most of the people I work with are, naturally, having very strong feelings about the death of Steve Jobs. But not all, and that’s fine. My wife is also not what I would call crushed by his passing, but she is extremely sympathetic and supportive; she understands how I revered the man and what he built. But I do tend to get hung up on the contrarians: why should I mourn — why should I feel so deeply sad — over this super-rich guy who I’ve never met?

It is a deep sadness. There’s no getting around it; my heart has been very heavy, as though its soaked in thick liquid. The idea of his absence is creating a physiological distortion that my mind can’t entirely process.

But I am also that guy who tends to roll his eyes at the gushing over dead celebrities. I didn’t understand the writhing over Princess Diana, she really did seem to me to be just a lucky rich person, who was probably very nice, and died tragically. But that happens all the time to good people who don’t happen to be really rich. I’m even worse with public fingers who at least in part bring it on themselves through excessively damaging choices. I am the eye-roller over public gnashing of teeth over the expiration over the otherwise super-fortunate.

My feelings about the loss of Steve Jobs is different, though, but it took me some thinking to figure out how.

Steve Jobs was not tapped by fortune, he was not swept into history by forces outside his control. He built everything he had bit by bit. He suffered for his sins, took his punishments, and climbed back out of the ditch to become even stronger than he or anyone else could have imagined. He did it with his own talents, his own mine, his own nearly-insane work ethic. His own love of the work.

And what he built is, of course, more than a company. Just like the Beatles did more than just record some albums. Like the Beatles, Steve Jobs affected the culture. He crafted an ethos, he championed a way of thinking, he embodied a particular spirit. Not all aspects of what he created were of his devising, and his successes were not due to him exclusively.

But he is responsible for putting this ethos into practice so that it served as the framework for Apple’s products, for the company itself, and for all those who sought to learn and grow by that ethos. It is not so much the stuff he made for all of us to buy. It is the culture he spawned, something that now lives on in countless thousands of people who have opened their minds and hearts to it, this philosophy, this ethic, this credo.

I grieve for Steve Jobs much like I grieved for Carl Sagan, like many who grieved for John Lennon, before I was old enough to know who he was. These are people who not only added to the catalogue of human-borne discoveries, ideas, and products, but they changed — and in their way created — the best aspects of what we consider human culture.

I did not lose a friend or family member, but my species lost an important source for its culture. If my tears fall, they fall for the great hole left in our civilization by the loss of Steve Jobs. It’s hard to believe he could die at all. But he’s gone, and all we can do is work to fill that chasm with our own emanations, our own representations of that ethos.

It won’t be the same, but it might be enough. But to fill that hole, we’ll have to be crazy enough to think we can.