Saturday, January 31, 2009

Blog #73: Memorable Binds & Anniversaries

Let us extend a hand of sympathy for those poor House Republicans who were in a real bind this week. They hate the idea of spending taxpayer money except of course when its used to fund wars of their choosing, grease the palms of big business, or lower taxes on the exceedingly, embarrassingly rich. And so they were faced with a gut wrenching decision, should they take the hand of friendship proffered by the new president and vote to support the Democrats in their attempt to provide a stimulus to turn our nation’s economy around. Or should they continue to blindly oppose everything the Democrats offer in the way of economic fixes. And to make matters worse from their point of view, our newly elected president really did get an impressive majority of votes, an unprecedented 53% of the popular vote, and an overwhelming Electoral College victory, which scared the holy hell out of Republicans here, there and everywhere. And which in turn gives the new president the clear mandate that George W. always claimed, but never had. (His mandate only came from Dick Cheney.) So what should Republicans do when Obama comes calling to promote his stimulus programs? Listen politely, applaud enthusiastically, then go out and vote against them? Right? Right, for that’s exactly what they did.

But what if Obama’s stimulus program should actually work and begin to revive the economy? Would voting no leave Republicans stranded up Excrement Estuary with only tissue paper paddles? That is the $64 question of course. Who the hell knows whether or not President Obama’s economic fixes are going to work? It’s a little like believing in god, you either do or you don’t, there’s not a whole lot of middle ground. And for President Obama there is not much room for choice. Like Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930’s he must keep on experimenting with policies which may or may not work, in the hope of finding something, anything which might begin to revive our ailing economy. Nothing in this world is certain, but doing nothing only guarantees that the economy continues tanking.

Now Republicans can fight Obama every step of the way, which has been the Way of Life in Washington since those glorious Clinton years. Or they could try doing something different this time around, like voting as Americans rather than as partisan Republicans. Another name for that would be cooperation. Of course, they blew their chance this week. But this week’s vote needn’t necessarily be set in stone. It’s a free country, is it not? Of course Republicans can go right on in lock step voting no and hoping for the worst, in the theory that if Obama’s plans fail and the economy continues down the tubes perhaps the country will again turn to them for guidance. Sarah Palin for president in 2012 anyone?

What do you think the odds are that the country is going to turn to Republicans again if the economy continues tanking? After all, it was their eight years of the complete abandonment of all regulation and direction that started us barreling down this road to ruin? So of course, an intelligent public is going to rush right out and place its precious trust with those hard headed GOP ideologues once again? NOT!!! What would you do if you were a Republican? Vote Aye or Nay? And as a non partisan observer, which side will you bet on? Rush of the Mighty Mouth and Gravelly Voice who is shouting His Way or the Highway to any Republican who will listen? Could there be another way for Republicans to go? We would certainly hope so. They used to be a party of inclusion, but now they preface “clusion” with an ex. And given their history there is as yet not one scintilla of evidence that they are anywhere near rediscovering inclusion. Like rats on sinking ships of old, Republican members of Congress seem to be gathering on the deck of a Titanic of their own making, holding hands and singing “We Shall Overcome” to hoards of marauding fishes.

– • –

And now, as our friends at Monty Python used to say, for something completely different. Our next topic is age, as in living long and outliving your peers. Just between you and me there’s not a hell of a lot for me to recommend about this business of living a long life and growing old gracefully. It’s just that we don’t know a damned thing about the alternative. The first thing you find to your consternation is that the mirror is no longer your friend. When you look in the mirror that apparition which looks back at you looks like nothing you have ever seen before. And so from then on you avoid looking into a mirror like it harbors the plague.

Another thing, at advanced ages chemical imbalances abound and if you’re not careful it can mean serious consequences. An imbalance or two here or there can land you in the hospital. And so one day you wake up to find that your life is suddenly revolving around a bunch of pills. And what is worse, as Pete Seeger used to sing so prophetically, “Your get up and go just got up and went,” and all of a sudden daytime naps loom large in your life. However, the one and perhaps only advantage I have found while closing in on the big 8-3, is that I have gotten to witness first hand the arrival of a number of technological wonders.

I can’t begin to tell you how much change I have seen. In my childhood mornings used to begin with visits from the Iceman who cometh to deliver a 50 lb block of ice with which to keep our food fresh, followed shortly thereafter by the Milkman, who delivered fresh milk, cream, butter and eggs to our door. Both of these gentlemen traveled in horse-drawn wagons for gasoline powered vehicles were relatively rare in those days, and many a back yard boasted an automobile which had given up the ghost and had turned its attention to the full-time task of rusting in peace.

However living to this advanced age has given me the opportunity to witness the birth and blossoming of some amazing technologies in my day. Take milk, for instance. It no longer comes to us delivered daily in glass bottles, with its cream topping it off. Today’s milk is homogenized, meaning that the particles of cream have been indelibly bound with particles of milk. And today’s milk comes to us in plastic cartons. Some of the non-drinkable technologies I have witnessed include radio, black and white television, color television, 78 rpm records, 33 1/3 rpm longplay records, tape recorders, the compact disc, movies on VHS cassettes, then on DVD’s, all of this to culminate is digital downloads via bit torrent.

But for me the most compelling invention of all, and the one which keeps me occupied five to six hours a day, seven days a week, is the computer. I have a two year old, 17” iMac. In my view what makes this computer so unique is its ability to interact. It serves as not only a window to the world (thanks to the web) but also its keyboard holds the key to creativity. With radio and/or television, as with reading books and magazines, you are a passive participant. You assimilate other people’s creations. But with a computer for the first time you actually have a choice. You can choose to listen to other people’s music, watch their video, or read their works. Or, you can elect to make your own music, make your own video, or write your own stories. This is the quality which for me makes the computer a most formidable companion. There follows a short history of the computers I have owned.

I still have a warm spot in my heart for my first computer which was an Adam, an all-in-one combination word processor/computer complete with built-in printer and CRT screen. The idea of the Adam was ingenious, it would give students a machine with which they could do research and write their school papers, and then print them out for handing in to their teachers. And when the child finished his school work, he could load basic into the computer by way of a cassette tape, and build his own programs, or he could put in a cartridge or cassette tape and play various games. The Adam was manufactured by Coleco, the toy company also famous for the Cabbage Patch dolls. It was a wonderful concept, and a fun computer to learn on, but what I found out later was that because of collusion by the other computer companies the Adam was forced out of business scarcely a month after I bought mine. Sometime later I also bought a Commodore 64, a computer which was inexpensive enough for almost anyone to buy. But although each of those computers offered a good way to begin, I didn’t discover real ease of use in computers until December of 1990 when I bought my first Apple Macintosh. It was a Macintosh Classic, an all in one computer, with a black and white monitor built right into the computer and 125k of memory.

And speaking of Apple and its Macintosh computers, last week we passed an historic landmark. Just twenty five years ago, on January 24th, 1984, there was a truly world shaking product introduction. For the first time ever Apple Computer co-founder Steve Jobs introduced the Macintosh, a computer which had a graphic user interface, which means you could input and output data not only through keyboard entry, but also through copy and paste functions, all using a mouse with point and click ease of use, rather than having to use the command line to get things done, which all computers up to that time used.

The technology had been created and developed at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center, and included such innovations as laser printing, distributed computing and Ethernet, the graphical user interface (GUI), object-oriented programming, and ubiquitous computing. PARC computers were networked together, and it was there that email was invented. PARC was a wholly owned subsidiary of Xerox Corporation, and their engineers had developed all of these miraculous programs and devices, but evidently when the director of the Center realized that Xerox was not the least bit interested in bringing these innovations to the marketplace he did the world a favor and invited Apple co-founder Steve Jobs to visit, giving him a tour of the facility which showed him everything PARC had invented. Jobs was so impressed he requested a return visit a couple of weeks later at which time he was joined by some of Apple’s select engineering staff. And the rest is history.

And so on this, the first Saturday after January 24, 2009, we bring you words and video celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of that truly unique occasion when real GUI was presented to the computing world for the first time. Steve Jobs’ presentation of the introduction of the Macintosh proved for once and for all that Jobs’ showmanship was something that he had from the very beginning, and not something he had acquired along the way. After he introduced the Macintosh computer, he let the computer speak in its own voice. The wild applause at the end of the tape indicates the depth of Mr. Jobs’ showmanship. That product announcement also marked the first appearance of the phrase, “insanely great” as applied to Macintosh computers.

During the Super Bowl of 1984, which was the year that George Orwell had selected as the title of one of his most famous novels, Steve Jobs introduced the Macintosh computer with a commercial right out of the pages of Orwell’s novel. Under the direction of famed film director Ridley Scott, the commercial showed wave after wave of spiritless individuals filing into an auditorium while an image of big brother on a large screen droned on. An athletic young woman runs into the auditorium wielding a large sledge hammer, and as she nears the screen she lets her weapon fly. As it strikes the screen, the Big Brother’s image disappears and a voice announces the eminent coming of the Macintosh.”

As the commercial seemed to target IBM, whose name was synonymous with computing power at the time, the Apple board initially refused to run it. Apple’s co-founder Steve Wozniak, was so impressed with the commercial that he suggested that he and Jobs finance broadcasting it themselves, at which point the board relented and agreed to allow the commercial to air. It aired one time. It has since been declared the greatest Super Bowl commercial of all time, and a mashup of it was reprised during the presidential campaign of 2008 with Hillary Clinton appearing as the apparition on the big screen.

And further, here’s what Tina Brown’s The Daily Beast said about the commercial:

There are Super Bowl commercials and then there is Apple’s “1984” ad, which introduced the Macintosh—in 1984. Directed by Ridley Scott and produced by Chiat/Day, this Orwellian mini-masterpiece told the story of an unnamed heroine in a white tank top (The Macintosh) who saves the world from conformity by throwing a sledgehammer through a large screen featuring Big Brother (IBM). Though the commercial is widely considered the Citizen Kane of ads, like its Wellesian predecessor, it was not well-received at first. When Steve Jobs and then-Apple president John Sculley screened the commercial to the Apple board in December 1983, they hated it and tried sell back their ad time. Jobs prevailed and the 1984 ad marked the birth of the modern Super Bowl commercial. It won every major advertising award that year and was named by Advertising Age as the commercial of the decade. Adding to its legend, it has never been rebroadcast.

– • –

Mac vs. pc is all the rage these days. Apple’s commercials have signified Apple’s long standing quest for a presence in the computer wars. A student at a college with access to sophisticated equipment brought the Mac/pc wars to a head, as the laptops in his video turn into little robots before our eyes and go on the attack. Video recommendation thanks to Joel Badeaux.

– • –

We here at Little Eddy’s Blog have a self-imposed rule that we cannot mention Apple without giving unequal time to Microsoft. David Pogue, wittingly or unwittingly, gave away the secret of Microsoft’s method of operation as he summed up Windows 7 in his review of the new operating system from Microsoft, as published in the N.Y. Times:

Now, plenty of people online are reacting to Windows 7 by muttering: “Oh, great. So I’m supposed to pay another $150 to get a version of Windows that actually works? How about you pay me for spending three years as your Vista beta-tester?”

That’s fine, but being bitter won’t get you a better PC. Windows 7, on the other hand, probably will. For decades, Microsoft’s primary strategy has been to put out something mediocre, and then refine, refine, refine, no matter how long and no matter what it costs, until it succeeds. That’s what’s exciting about the prospect of Windows 7. It’s Windows Vista — with a whole heck of a lot of refinement.

And the technology website GIZMODO Friday ran an article suggesting that Microsoft should either give Windows 7 away free to Vista users as a service pack, or at the very least charge a minimum amount like $50 for it. All who can see Microsoft doing that please raise your hands.

– • –

And David Pogue isn’t the only one who can give a critique of Microsoft. Here is Steve Jobs unblushingly adding his take on the modus operendi of the behemoth from Redmond.

And before we leave the eternal mac vs. pc controversy here is a look at it through the prism of South Park.

– • –

As regards the Super Bowl and its advertising commercials, there was the Apple Macintosh commercial, and then there were all of the rest. And if the Google God of Embeds is smiling upon us, here are some of the Daily Beast’s compilation of the best of Super Bowl ads. And here’s what the Beast said in their introduction:

“Like red carpet outfits, Super Bowl ads are subjected to a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking. But these few have stood the test of time. E*Trade’s irreverent 1999 ad featuring a clapping chimpanzee ended with the classic tag line: “Well, we just wasted 2 million bucks. What are you doing with your money?” In 1993, Michael Jordan and Larry Bird played a friendly game of H-O-R-S-E for a McDonald’s lunch, shooting basketballs against buildings and declaring “nothing but net.” Six years later, goofed on job hunting with a charming ad featuring children proclaiming career dreams such as, “when I grow up I want to be a brown-noser.” Meanwhile, Cindy Crawford helped two boys live the dream in her 1997 Pepsi ad, and in 2000, EDS celebrated the proud but often unheralded cat herders. And last year, Charlie Brown won a Coke and viewer’s hearts in a Thanksgiving Day Balloon showdown, But perhaps no commercial captured the passion of Super Bowl Sunday better than 2003’s Reebok ad featuring Terry Tate: Office Linebacker—“Break was over 15 minutes ago, Mitch!”

– • –

And bringing up the rear is Penthouse Magazine’s publisher, Bob Guccione, Jr. discussing something he should know a little about, the future of porn. He thinks it’s not very erotic, bor-ing, and he thinks it will get more artistic in the future.


And with that we wind up this morning’s presentation. We hope you’ll come again next week. Meantime, have a good week.

The Real Little Eddy

No comments: