Last year I bit….

I got a Mac.

The iPod wasn’t the gateway drug for me. I was buying a new computer and wanted a high end laptop to run big nasty software I need for my research on the go. A friend suggested I get a 17″ MacBook Pro. I’d been rather hesitant about Apple for a while due to things they’d been doing back in the Steve Jobs interregnum, but my friend—who knows and cares a lot more about such things than I do—was persuasive, so I figured I’d spent grant money as he said. Costing it out it wasn’t a bad deal. Apples may be expensive, but feature for feature they are competitive on price. The difference is that Apple simply doesn’t sell the low end (under $1000), but I wasn’t looking for anything like that.

I’ve long disliked Windows and I’m sure I’m not alone. Does anyone really like Windows? There are some nice things about it, but its countless irritation factors rapidly overwhelm what good feelings one might have had. However, I am stuck needing Windows because there is a lot of software I need that exists only on Windows, kind of an inverse of what kept the Mac platform alive during the 1990s, when multimedia people needed to run things like Video Toaster and the only really good platform for it was Mac. In my case this is scientific and statistical analysis software. Numerical integration, nonlinear optimization, 3D graphics, big data files, etc., all really like a powerful machine, for exactly the same reasons multimedia machines do: Floating point calculation and big data files. Unlike multimedia, most of these programs are written for Windows. Now that the market is trending towards Apple having a much larger share than “pathetic,” particularly at the medium to high end where the miserable failure of Vista has left a gap, the software vendors are starting to trend back too, but it will be a while before I get to run everything I need.

I’m not a classic stereotypical Mac user. Profession aside (hardly diagnostic, believe me), I’m not a Whole Foods shopping, latte-sipping hipster. I listen to music that—while often off the beaten path—is generally twenty or thirty years old. I dislike nouveaux cuisine, have middlebrow taste in movies and TV (favorites: police procedurals, detective shows, historical dramas and nonfiction) and reading (mostly nonfiction or historical novels). In short, I’m pretty skeptical of things bobo. I am, sadly, spiteful enough to be able to understand anti-Obama votes that come from the same basic motive (as opposed to genuine motives, whatever those are), a defiant desire to crank some good old fashioned headbanger rock rather than hear the pathetic wailings of the new wretched indie rocker that none of your friends have heard of quite yet, or a desire to avoid Apple products because of the jackoff Apple-is-my-life advocates on the intarweb.

So what is that I like about the new Apples? The ideal OS to me is very much unlike the Mac-as-lifestyle marketing: In a nutshell, the less I have to acknowledge its existence the happier I am with it. OS/X comes as close as I’ve found in two decades of heavy computer use in which I spent a lot of time on DOS, Windows 3.X, OS/2, Windows NT/2000/XP, and Unix of various flavors, as well as Mac back in the old days, which was obnoxious. Linux isn’t really an option for me—I have to do too much sysadmining, which means I have to know stuff about the OS, ergo be aware of its existence; it also doesn’t easily run the apps I need. For me, Linux is only free if I don’t value my time.

OS/X is not perfect: It has a few annoying quirks and I don’t like Mac keyboard layouts, but otherwise it meets my ideal because, 99% of the time I do absolutely nothing with it but run the apps I want. I may be fighting with them (this means you, Office 2008), but that’s not Apple’s fault. Mostly I don’t think about the OS at all, with the occasional exception when Apple Software Update wants me to type in my admin password or I need to change some setting or another, a task which is similarly refreshingly easy. Unlike Windows Update, Apple Software Update is very much a piece of the rest. It does its thing—after asking permission—and goes away. It’s not an “adventure” and it doesn’t leave its crap on the hard drive like a bunch of sloppy workmen who abandon their take-out wrappers and track mud on your carpet after fixing the bathroom. The Intel Macs were a brilliant idea and are what pushed me over the edge. People like me who have a fair number of Windows-only applications to run can do that with minimal fuss with Parallels or VMWare—and, since Windows in that case is just another program, when virtual Windows blue screens, it just gets killed like any other hung application. Sweet.

The transformation from Disneyland (OS/9) to libertarian paternalism (OS/X) is an amazing shift of philosophy. XP was bad enough but Vista from what I hear has become downright Disneyland totalitarian. That was a bullet that Apple dodged ten years ago when the original design for OS/X, which sounds downright Vista-ish, died under its own weight and Steve Jobs returning as CEO brought OPENSTEP in as a replacement.

A few random points to conclude:

The Apple Stores look like absolute chaos inside, but I will give them this: They are efficient. They may hire body-pierced twentysomethings, but don’t seem to put up with much BS from them.

Oh, in case you’ve not seen it, here’s an updated version of the classic “if your OS was an airline.”

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ObFascismTag: With OS/X I am living in New Hampshire rather than Mussolini’s Italy. ๐Ÿ˜›

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This article is the second in a 52 part weekly series on the United States of America. It’s a chance to celebrate the diversity of our nation, and to educate ourselves about the members of our union, both the States and the Territories. We encourage you to comment and share you thoughts on the States, and hope you learn something new about each of the valuable members of our wonderful Union.
– The Staff of The 12 Angry Men


Last time, we covered Indiana, a state that does just about everything right, but doesn’t quite clean up enough for a fancy party. This week my cross hairs are lined up on Florida a state that does just about everything wrong that is imaginable, but the weather.

Quick Facts about Florida
NameFlorida
Admission to UnionMar 3rd, 1845
Population18,089,888(4th)
Population Density309/sq mi (8th)
Area65,795 sq mi (22nd)
Gross State Product$713 billion (4th)
Tax Burden+0.02




Florida, a nice place to visit, but like so many nice places to visit, you wouldn’t want to live there. First visited by the Spanish in 1513 who, in a well thought out plan, decided it would be just peachy to build some settlements in the path of every major hurricane. Florida was ceded to the United States by the Spanish in 1819 for $5 million dollars, and the promise that the US would renounce all claims to Texas (yeah… like that was going to happen). Unfortunately we accepted, and from that day forward Florida was known as “America’s Wang”.

Throughout most of its history (until the middle of the 1900’s), Florida was the least populous state in The South. Following the advent of air conditioning, Florida experienced a massive population boom, peaking in the 60’s with growth rates of nearly 80%. Now you would certainly think that such massive population growth, and the influx of all of the tourist dollars would result in a healthy sustainable economy. Yep, you would certainly think that, but no, you’d be dead wrong. Despite having a GDP on par with Australia’s, Florida manages the horrible sin of being a tax burden on the rest of the country (for every $1.00 Floridians pay in taxes, the Government hands them back their whole dollar, and then chips in an extra $0.02 of the rest of our money). Hey Florida, maybe you should start collecting an income tax, before you start asking the rest of us for handouts!

What Florida does right: Well… um… they have nice weather! Except when Hurricanes are obliterating their major cities, that is. Well they do have Disney World, and everybody likes going to Disney World! Yeah, sadly, that’s all I’ve got. Florida has a decent education system, but it’s nothing to write home about. They don’t have an income tax, which is nice if you’re greedy and want the rest of us to foot the bill (and if you don’t mind the fact that the state rolls your estate for money when you die). You would think, as one of the most populous state they’d have more going for them than just being “The Pretty One”, but as we’re about to see, this “Pretty One” has been riding the short bus for a long, long time…

What Florida does wrong: Just about everything. Let’s face it. The state has it’s own Fark tag. For those of you who don’t know, Fark.com is a website which lists various interesting, amusing, and downright stupid news stories everyday. They have tags like “Interesting”, “Cool”, and “Hero” for stories which are impressive and good. For those which outline human stupidity they have tags like “Asinine”, “Stupid”, and “Dumbass”. The site founder, however, noticed that most of the really and truly bizarre news, usually involving people acting dumber than bricks, came from Florida. Thus, there is also a tag on Fark called “Florida”. That’s right, Florida is the only state which is so dumb, that news stories about it need special labeling.

It’s not hard to see why either. Despite having been given one of the largest government installations (Kennedy Space Center), theme parks out the wazoo, and the lion’s share of the citrus industry, it still manages to draw more coins out of the Federal purse than it puts in. Are you seriously telling me that with the fourth largest population in the Union, and the fourth largest economy in the Union, you still need the rest of us to help you pay the bills?!?! BAD FLORIDA!, no cookie for you! The people of Florida need to go sit in the corner, in timeout, and think about how the rest of the top five states manage to pay their bills. Florida gets a D for economy, and that’s being generous! You guys are lucky that I’m saving the F for Arkansas and Mississippi!

Look Florida, you need to realize that you didn’t mature as fast as your population boom would seem to indicate. You’ve got the population, and the income, but like a teenager with her first credit card, you’re living beyond your means, and not properly investing in your future. It’s time to grow up, get a better education, and stop living in our basement.

-Angry Midwesterner


I heard the news today….Oh Boy!

I built a bookcase for a local primary school. It was a roll-around cart and employed brightly colored laminates of red, blue and yellow. I imagine it’s still there in the library, cheering up the children. What I should have constructed was a cart in shades of grey.

As I was going to work this past Christmas season, I listened to a local news story about a ‘managed care facility’ in town. [ I would call it an old folk’s home, but you know—not PC]. They were decorating the place for Christmas and had placed a traditional Christmas tree in the commons space. When they began adorning the branches with angels, and other iconic representations relevant to the birth of Jesus Christ, the management stepped in and decreed that all such symbols be removed. Globes and candy canes — ok. Crosses and nativities — verbotten. This would give offense to other religions.

Now keep in mind that this is not a public venue, where misinterpretations of the separation of church and state give rise to moral outrage at the display of the Ten Commandments in a courthouse routunda. [The noise you hear are the founding fathers spinning in their graves.] No, this is a private dwelling, much like an apartment complex, but with cooks and housekeepers. Given the demographics of the County, and the age of the residents, it is fair to say that the majority of them are Christian, with perhaps a smattering of Jews. The intrusion of such politics doesn’t generate anger in the residents as much as confusion.

In their time, the Catholic boys in New York would operate the elevators for the observent Jews on Saturday. Jewish employees would mind the stores while Christians went to church on Christmas. And as much as anything, each of them would at least respect the other’s religion, with at most a “Well, they’re a little strange, those Jews [Baptists, Methodists, Amish, ‘other’]”.

How can people celebrate ‘diversity’ when they seem intent to eliminate every cultural and religious aspect that makes diverse cultures interesting and reduce people’s existence to the least common and least interesting denominator — a shade of grey. What we should be doing is respecting other celebrations and rejoycing in watching others rejoyce in whatever inspires them. I am not Catholic, but my favorite piece of music is a 1610 Vespers, and when performed in a church resplendent with stained glass and liturgical symbology, one cannot help but be awed by the human effort to the spiritual .

Grey’s my favorite color. I felt so symbolic yesterday.

Counting Crows, Mr. Jones

During this past season I wanted to listen to Claudio Monteverdi at St. Johns, watch them light the candles on the menorah over Chanukkah, watch the feast of Idul Fitri in Jakarta, and in general participate in all of the wonderful things that make cultures and traditions unique — and not be symbolically grey.

Giving offense to no one offends all.

On January 22nd, 1973, the Supreme Court of the United States handed down their decision in the case of Roe vs. Wade. Thirty-five years later, we’re down to about 1.2 million abortions in the US per year (down from 1.5 million at the high point) and abortion is legal in all 50 states for almost any reason. This leaves me with but one conclusion: the pro-life movement has been a complete and utter failure.

After 35 years of voting for “pro-life” candidates (a code word often meaning “Republican”), the political arm of the pro-life movement has little to show for their efforts beside parental notification laws in 34 states and a partial birth abortion ban that Justice Kennedy practically begged someone to challenge. All, in all, the pro-life movement has had marginally more success than American Medical Marijuana Association despite the “support” over the years of many prominent politicians. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me for 35 years running, and I’m a pro-life activist.

To the credit of the pro-life movement, more and more people are realizing that doing the same thing over and over again will not yield different results. Germain Grisez admitted as much a few years back, but he never had the audience to make enough of a difference. On January 20th, in a move guaranteed to generate a firestorm of letters from irate EWTN fans, Fr. Benedict Groeschel invited a man to his show by the name of Msgr. Phillip Reilly, who was willing to speak the truth and unmask the pro-life movement’s work for what it is: a failure. Msgr. Reilly realized this a few years back and decided to try a radically different approach: no more shouting and yelling, no more making young mothers feel like they were evil incarnate because they were contemplating abortion. Msgr. Reilly founded the Helpers of God’s Precious Infants. The weapons he chose were not sound bites, placards or the ballot box, but rather prayer and love… for the baby, the doctor and most especially, the mother, regardless of what choice she made inside the clinic. The approach is not particularly new — prayer & sidewalk counseling has been around for a long time — but his willingness propose it as a model opposed to the traditional shout and vote approach was quite impressive.

Whether folks will listen to Msgr. Reilly or not is anyone’s guess. But perhaps come January 22nd, next year, there will be be a little less failure… and a little more hope thanks to Msgr. Reilly. There are a lot of moms out there who could use it.

The current restaurant trend is tapas. For those of you who don’t dine out much at “nice” places, American-style tapas involves a bunch of small dishes of mostly quasi-Mediterranean “fusion” food ordered a la carte, which are sampled by everyone at the table “family style.”

Pah.

I don’t pay good money to have to pass a bunch of stupid little dishes filled with pretentious food I don’t understand around a table. Tapas can return to whatever culinary fad hole it crawled out of as far as I am concerned.

This rant is inspired by two recent events, my reading of this Dec. 5, New York Times article and my going to a Japanese “japas” restaurant with some relatives on roughly the same day. (I name no names to protect the innocent and guilty both.) I’d been to the restaurant a few years ago and liked it quite a bit, but the menu had changed from being more traditional Japanese restaurant, which always had a fair bit of a la carte on the sushi menu, of course, to “japas.” There were no entrees at all, just a long list of small dishes mostly priced between $3 and $8, with a few over that. No clue as to what they were, no clue as to what goes with what, how big anything is, and so on. The waiter was a useless ‘tard (both kinds). Now I’m not especially fond of Japanese food but can usually find something decent on the menu, for instance one of the Japanese adaptations to please the Western palate, shrimp tempura. There was a shrimp dish (“sweet shrimp”) which I ordered hoping that it was shrimp tempura… when the plate showed up with small shrimp in the shell with heads still on I realized the answer was a resounding no. Sure they were breaded and fried but definitely not shrimp tempura and definitely not satisfying either. I ended up ordering something else which was OK… but of course added to the bill, which added to my dissatisfaction. More on that below.

Basically, the whole phenomenon is just an upscale reinvention of an old American classic: the buffet. The big difference is that at a buffet, all your choices (as incoherent they may be) are laid out in front of you and are usually pretty simple stuff like mac ‘n’ cheese, steamed vegetables, overcooked roast beef, etc. With tapas, you’re sitting down at your table facing a menu with a blizzard of dishes. Some are straightforward, such as mixed olives or bread and olive oil, but most suffer with vague, pretentious fusion cuisine titles like:

  • “Roasted beets with goat cheese vinaigrette”
  • “Hazelnut-crusted wilted arugula with maple goat cheese vinaigrette”
  • “Rabbit with wilted arugula, goat cheese and nuts”
  • “Watermelon goat cheese salad with citrus vinagrette”
  • “Wild bighorn sheep sausage with blueberry mustard goat cheese vinaigrette.”

Goat cheese and vinagrette for EVERYONE! The standard tapas menu is the culinary equivalent of “feature vomit.” Given the questionable edibility of most fusion cuisine, it’s none too far from being the actual, honest-to-goodness kind, too, especially after one’s third Grey Goose appletini in two hours, coupled with those cigarettes “smoked only on weekends.” Unsurprisingly, the Spanish—inventors of tapas—practice it more sensibly. Basically, it’s bar food, something Americans aren’t exactly ignorant of. That’s right, tapas is just the Spanish version of buffalo wings, peanuts, fries, etc., except it’s olives, bread with toppings, etc., which restaurateurs in the US have convinced the public should cost a bundle. And who ever thought bar food was a good deal? ๐Ÿ˜‰

Diners are, as the New York Times article linked above, supposed to like this because of Americans’ desire for more choice, whether we need it or not. As far as I’m concerned, tapas is just another way to fleece me out of my hard-earned money while making me agonize over picking a meal, but I’m one of those seemingly relatively rare people who hates shopping, and tapas brings all the joy of accessorizing to the dinner table. Behavioral economics tells us that, from the standpoint of the retailer, tapas makes sense: Many small transactions are more easily overlooked than larger ones and it’s easier to get diners to spend more thereby. Of course my discontent is also understandable—too many choices and too many transactions can be disconcerting. If you want a nice short introduction, look at Swarthmore psychologist Barry Schwartz‘s little book The Paradox of Choice, which explains quite nicely why more choice isn’t always better for our own well-being. (Read this review for a short course.) In a nutshell, each choice we have to make involves cognitive effort on our part, and a comparison with all the other choices we could have made but ended up rejecting. All this comparison is tiring and opportunity cost is a stone-cold bee-otch, if you’re aware of it. Schwartz characterizes two basic ideal-type cognitive styles: maximizers and satisficers. Maximizers carefully compare their options. Satisficers, by constrast, are willing to settle for “good enough” and move on. Evidently I am a “maximizer” when it comes to meals at good restaurants… and, at least according to Schwartz, maximizers are unlikely to be happy about what they get because they spend more time comparing their options, paying attention to opportunity costs, and so on. Tapas is, therefore, pretty much guaranteed to piss me off. (I’m better at satisficing in other choices, fortunately.) I admit a lot of this is my descent to fogey-ism. I don’t like the “mix tape on steroids” that is the modern Ipod playlist and I never play albums on shuffle either. I hate surprise parties. I have a decidedly unfashionable desire for a coherent whole, be it an album or a meal, and tapas (of whatever variety) doesn’t deliver it for me. The fact that it’s a way to run up the tab just nails it.

The only good tapas experience I’ve ever had was a few years back in Minneapolis. The restaurant was not my choice, but I was with friends…. The waitress had the sense to suggest that we “course” the meal and let the kitchen take over. She asked us for a basic list of our preferences and went back to the kitchen. So “choice”—if you want to have a good experience, anyway—is an illusion, too.

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Aside: You may notice the “fascism” tag. I have decided—out of deference to Angry Midwesterner—to tag all my rants with “fascism” from here on out. I give it a fig leaf of justification with Spain’s experience under the dictator Generalissimo Francisco Franco, the man about whom Adolf Hitler said “I would rather spend two hours in the dentistโ€™s chair than have another meeting with him.” Franco would have enjoyed tapas. So there. ๐Ÿ˜›

Once upon a time, news trickled out into newspapers or magazines. Then radio brought news bulletins out on a twice or three-times daily schedule. Television merged the fast pace of radio with the graphic content of photographs but didn’t really accelerate things further. Over many years we doubled or tripled our daily dose, but that was about it.

Until cable. With the advent of CNN and Headline News, and all their successors we now had news on an hourly basis. Naturally the Internet would only take that further, with news now literally “on demand.”

So it was only a matter of time until some clever news agency merged various technologies to give us this: a fully embedded, Google map-based, interactive display of currently known hash houses in Florida:

http://www.miaminewtimes.com/php/specialreports/index.php?report_id=791046

Can a full merge of all this with Google Earth be far behind? Will we soon have “breaking news” layers for Google Earth allowing us to zoom in as events unfold? Will Google eventually stream live satellite coverage to allow us to watch police chases and shootouts in real time?

Is there even any downside? (Well apart from the unfortunate inevitability that some poor sap will have his house displayed for national scorn due to a mistyped address…)

Pretty soon will this scenario be not clever fantasy but simply the way it is?

If so, is that good or bad?

Discuss!

This article is the first in a 52 part weekly series on the United States of America. It’s a chance to celebrate the diversity of our nation, and to educate ourselves about the members of our union, both the States and the Territories. We encourage you to comment and share you thoughts on the States, and hope you learn something new about each of the valuable members of our wonderful Union.
– The Staff of The 12 Angry Men


I’ve been planning this series of articles for a while now, and have been trying to decide which state to lead it off with. I could have gone alphabetically, but I thought it would be better to choose an order than meant something to me. I’ve chosen to lead with Indiana, as of all states in the Union, Indiana is the one which seems the most like home to me, even though I’ve never actually lived there. I’ve got a lot of family in Indiana, and spent a good deal of my summers in the state. Even though, in many ways, Indiana is the oddball of the Midwest, it’s still some place I always feel welcomed, and a place I think of fondly. As such, it seemed a natural state to introduce first.

Quick Facts about Indiana
NameIndiana
Admission to UnionDec 11th, 1816
Population6,313,520(15th)
Population Density169.5/sq mi (16th)
Area36,418 sq mi (38th)
Gross State Product$248 billion (16th)
Tax Burden-$0.03




Indiana was the 19th state admitted to the Union, and is solidly in the Midwest, which of course makes it one of my favorites. It resembles the other core Midwestern states culturally, and economically, having a population which is based in a few large cities, surrounded by little sprawl or suburban regions, and vast nearly flat country side. Due to the extremely fertile soil, almost every inch of the state is farmed. Like most of the Midwest, it industrialized early, and throughout most of the 20th century relied on manufacturing and other industrial jobs.

While many short sighted individuals have used the term “Rust Belt” to refer to parts of the North which suffered economically after the loss of American industry, the term really doesn’t apply to Indiana. As one of the few states to carry a tax burden (for every $1.00 paid in taxes in Indiana, only $0.97 are returned by the Federal Government), Indianans help the other states in this category to carry the slack from most of the USA. Their high Gross State Product puts them on par with such nations as South Africa, and Denmark, and actually higher than Argentina, Iran, or Ireland. Not bad for a bunch of rednecks, huh?

What Indiana does right: Quite a lot actually. Between a diversified economy which leads the nation in biofuels, and comes in second in pharmaceuticals, and a stellar education program which leads the nation in foreign applicants, Indiana is doing a lot to ensure their future success. They get an A+ for economy both for their booming economic sectors, their commitment to education, and more importantly because they don’t shoulder the rest of the Union with any economic burden. They’ve also managed to strike a nice balance between progress and the environment. The beaches at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore rival those of the Mediterranean, with azure blue waters, and soft white sand. Parks and natural areas are spread in healthy measure across the state, and even in a city as big as Indianapolis it is easy to find a park in which the city itself seems to disappear. On the other hand, the state is home to Indianapolis, one of the largest and most dynamic cities in America, which features a rich cultural scene, museums, and a breathtaking canal district which features fountains, gondola rides, and numerous hanging gardens.

What Indiana does wrong: Let’s face it. People from Indiana are Hill Billies . That’s right, I said it, Hoosiers (a term which folks from Indiana don’t even understand) are good old fashioned, rednecked Hicks. In fact, given the absence of hills, they’re not even hill billies. Better just call them Hick Billies and be done with it. When it really comes down to brass tacks, no matter how well they compare to the rest of America, in the Midwest they’re the red headed stepchild. They’re low on population, and despite their great education program (maybe they’re lacking enough iodine…) they’re a little low in other categories as well. Out of all the Midwestern states they are the single solitary one to speak with an accent. Thick, twangy, drawling accents, all of them. We love you Indiana, we really do, but you need to learn that there isn’t a single “R” in Washington, that “think” and “thank” do not sound the same, and that stream running through your back yard is a creek, not a crick. When it comes down to it, no matter how successful you are as a state, you just don’t clean up well. That’s why your neighbors Illinois, Michigan, and Ohio will never invite you to any fancy parties, so you always get stuck drinking whiskey with Kentucky, while you shoot cans off the broken down car you’ve got jacked up on cinder blocks in your front lawn.

Seriously Indiana, you’re so close to being a really high class state. You’ve got everything, education, beautiful vacation spots, a roaring economy, and one of the nicest, cleanest cities in the world. Just do us one favor. Leave the overalls at home?

-Angry Midwesterner