Saturday, February 6, 2010

Blog # 126: Here, There, and Everywhere

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Post Keynote Depression

From the Apple iPad Keynote

On Monday morning, as we try to wrap up our feelings on what was obviously the most meaningful technology product launch thus far this year, our thoughts return to a piece written by a certified geek, Jason McC. Smith, who is a self-described "software archeologist" who works at IBM's Watson Research Center in Hawthorne, N.Y. This post was republished by Nick Eaton’s P.I. Intellingser online’s Microsoft Blog, with Smith's permission.

Mr. McC. Smith attempted to explain Apple’s launch of its latest peek into the future of mobile devices, to all of his fellow geeks, many of whom pooh-poohed Job’s latest creations. After initially comparing the modern computer to an oversized SUV which few need but many want, he then says, “And not everyone needs a PC.

Think about it – the modern PC is a massively overpowered piece of kit for the average consumer. I don't mean the average geek, I mean the average consumer. Nearly everything we geeks love and adore about a general-purpose computer is a pain point for the average consumer.

* Browsable file system: They lose their files.

* Modularity and customizability: They have no clue where to start with the complexity.

* RAW POWAH: For what, typing in Word?

* Multitasking plus WIMP UI: They can't tell what app they're in.

Sure, some of them will adapt, but a lot won't. Think about how many times you've had a tech-support call from a relative, usually older, who is utterly lost.

The piece goes on to give Certified Geeks the most lucid reasons why whether they personally buy an iPad for themselves or not, they should thank the computing gods for Steve Job’s latest product launch. To read the full piece for yourself point your cursor and click here

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An Historic Conversion

If you’ve followed the Microsoft/Apple wars over the years and the more recent Microsoft/Google wars, you have to love this story. That is particularly true if you are skip-roping on Cupertino’s sunnier side of the street. A man by the name of Don Dodge, who spent five years traveling the country working as a paid Microsoft evangelizer telling businesses why they should use Microsoft products, was recently let go by the clever folks in Redmond.

Now, in less than three months, Dodge has gone from die-hard Microsoft evangelist to a Mac-using Google evangelist. You can read the complete article in which he describes his Microsoft to Apple transformation by pointing your cursor and clicking here! Because we found it an interesting read, to tempt you we would like to excerpt some of it.

For five years I was a Microsoft evangelist to the startup and venture capital community. That ended a couple months ago. I am now a Developer Advocate at Google and I love it. After years of defending Microsoft against the Apple fanatics I decided to go to the other side of the road to see for myself. The move from Microsoft was complete. From Windows to Mac, from Outlook to Gmail, from Explorer to Google Chrome browser, from Office to Google Apps, from Windows Mobile phone to Android, from Zune to iPod. But this post is all about the move to Mac.

Design matters – The most obvious distinction between Microsoft and Apple is design. Apple is quite simply the best hardware/software design company in the world. The video "Microsoft iPod" demonstrates in a very funny way the real differences in design attitude.

The Microsoft iPod

While funny, it is painfully true. My MacBook is sleek, elegant, fast, and efficient. The rounded edges are comfortable and smooth aluminum finish is beautiful. My Windows machine was a Lenovo X301 with Windows Vista. It was light and small for travel, but I don’t think anyone would classify it as beautiful. You see the design ethic in everything Apple does. The Mac, iPod, iTouch, iPhone and iPad are just beautiful, elegant, and imaginative designs that provide a delightful user experience. Design is probably the reason that high end buyers choose Mac.

End to end experience – One of the major advantages Apple has is controlling the end to end user experience. This means the hardware works perfectly with the software. Networks, printers, and other peripheral devices work out of the box without lots of setup, configuration, and preferences. For years this has been a major advantage for Apple. The downside was that Apple products cost more and you could only get software and peripheral devices from limited sources. Microsoft, in contrast, was the Swiss Army Knife of the tech world. It could do anything with any vendor of any hardware, software, of game maker. All these choices from different vendors caused lots of variation in design, installation, OS requirements, and overall user experience. The Apple experience was just easier and more elegant.

The screen on the MacBook is gorgeous. Bright and clear. Smooth edges. Just perfect. You can get beautiful screens on a PC too, but you usually have to upgrade significantly and pay extra.

The battery life is significantly better on the Mac. The Mac also starts up and shuts down faster than the PC. My guess is that because Apple designed the hardware and software they are better able to control all the variables that effect battery life, startup and shut down, and make it much more efficient. The magnetic power cord attachment is pretty cool too. It only takes one time where someone trips on your power cord and sends your PC crashing to the floor to appreciate this feature.

Do operating systems matter anymore? You may have noticed that most of the differences I mentioned are hardware design oriented. But what about the differences in the operating systems? Perhaps the best attribute of an operating system is that it operates silently in the background organizing everything automatically without end user involvement. Ten or twenty years ago users had to deal with the operating system to do anything on a PC. Today most people spend their time in the browser. From my perspective the underlying OS doesn’t matter much. All my applications run in the browser. Web browsing, email, documents, spreadsheets, music, photos … everything is in the browser.

He goes on from there listing the features he really appreciated about his MacBook Pro, including the track-pad and back-lit keyboard. He ended his post summing up this way. “My mother who doesn’t use computers, and doesn’t really understand them, asked me how the transition was going. I said “Imagine you learned to drive in the USA and had been driving a Ford Mustang for 20 years. Now imagine you moved to the United Kingdom and started driving a Jaguar on the left side of the road. The Jaguar is an elegant car, and wonderful to drive, but it takes a while to get used to the other side of the road.”§

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Ex-Microsoft Tells Almost All

And finally, the N.Y. Times ran an OpEd piece written by an ex-Microsoft employee named Dick Brass, who just happened to lead the team which attempted to bring Microsoft’s Tablet to market ten years ago. It says, in part:

Microsoft has become a clumsy, uncompetitive innovator. Its products are lampooned, often unfairly but sometimes with good reason. Its image has never recovered from the antitrust prosecution of the 1990s. Its marketing has been inept for years; remember the 2008 ad in which Bill Gates was somehow persuaded to literally wiggle his behind at the camera?

While Apple continues to gain market share in many products, Microsoft has lost share in Web browsers, high-end laptops and smartphones. Despite billions in investment, its Xbox line is still at best an equal contender in the game console business. It first ignored and then stumbled in personal music players until that business was locked up by Apple.

The article goes on to present an honest look back at the struggle to bring new products to light at the Redmond giant, and it is one of the more fascinating reads we’ve seen on Microsoft lately. It may be read in it’s entirety here

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Keynote Envy

We’re sure that all of you who are interested have already discovered the Apple Keynote which introduced the iPad and is featured on Apple’s website, and have watched it by now. If, however, if you are interested and haven’t as yet, we hereby offer you a link. To watch the complete Keynote click here! This brings you the entire event, so plan your time accordingly.

Don’t have the time to watch the original? The website boils down the original to 3 minutes, bringing you only the superlatives. Clicking the arrow below will hurtle you through it.§

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Presidential Masochism?

President Obama is certainly between a rock and a hard place with the nay saying Republicans, who now attempt to rule the Senate with their 41 person minority, with which they can filibuster each and every administration proposal. He did the unthinkable, he stepped in the lions’ den last week when he addressed the Republican Senate Caucus. No president had ever subjected himself to such an experience before, but Obama realized that nothing short of such an extreme event might stand a chance of breaking the total gridlock our political driven government is experiencing. And fortunately he was able to convince the Republicans to let the event be televised so that the country might witness it in real time.

The President answered every Republican question honestly, acceding that whereas there might be a second side for some of their objections, he ran on various platforms, was elected unanimously, as were the Democratic Houses of Congress, but he pointed at many instances whereby the House and Senate incorporated Republican suggestions into various bills, only to see each and every House and Senate Republican stolidly refusing to cast an aye vote.

21st Century Republicans, unlike either party in the past when the opposition was in charge, has evidently decided that the quickest way to get themselves back in power would be to loudly oppose everything President Obama proposes. What that means is although in theory all Republican Senators and House members were elected to serve the American people, when they refuse as a block to vote even on legislation needed to fund the military, it is obvious that they are working for their party’s ambitions, not for the American people.

They are confident that the American people are with them in this. However Newt Gingrich in an earlier Republican showdown with Bill Clinton tried to shut down the American government. Bill Clinton held his ground, and Gingrich was the first to blink. It will be interesting to see whether, after the Republicans continual attempt to block everything Obama tries to do to aid the country, whether or not the public will reward, or punish them. 2010 promises to be a most interesting political year. We pray that come November the American voter has a long memory.

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Sen. Collins Unblinkingly Aids Terrorists

The Republican leadership (we use that term loosely) has evidently turned over to Senator Susan M. Collins, Rep. of Maine, the task of trashing the administration’s security program. Ms Collins who seems to be the closest they can come to a regular human being, presented her (to our ears) rather air-headed reasons for opposing President Obama’s tactic of treating terrorist captives in the criminal justice system, rather than in military courts. Following in the jack-booted footsteps of former vice-president Dick Cheney, she implies that the policy of reading terror suspects their Miranda rights makes the country less safe.

On the other, rational side of the coin, are those who of us who believe that giving terrorists the same legal rights as our homegrown criminals is far less likely to give your overseas terrorist recruiter recruiting ammunition than if we continued treating our prisoners to water-boarding and other Geneva Conventions torture violations. True they are attempting to murder our citizens and disrupt our way of life, but whether or not we have to get on their level to resist them is a matter of dispute.

In their excessive zeal to question and demean every move President Obama makes, they won’t admit it but these Republican Red Necks are holding a loaded gun at the heads of all Americans. Why? Because such an attitude is just what terrorists want to hear, it encourages the hell out of them, and I along with the heads of our Intelligence Agencies are sure they are planning one or more attacks at this very minute.

During World War II “loose lips sunk ships” and it was a treasonable offense to leak information, or for that matter, to expose any part of the nation’s spy program. These days the Bush administration exposed an active CIA agent in order to try and demean her husband, and even though it is against the law to expose a CIA agent, no one really got punished for it. Meanwhile in the marble halls of Congress, it seems to be not “one for all and all for one” but “now is the time to come to the aid of one party by trashing the other party.

Are people going to buy into this tactic? It’s hard to say. Certainly Boston came down hard electing a Republican and former Cosmo centerfold to the Senate seat replacing Ted Kennedy. That comes as close to heresy as we can imagine, an obscene repayment to Kennedy’s memory after his many years of public service. However more recent elections in Illinois have failed to show obvious signs of voters punishing present office holders. Much will depend on the memories the American voter will bring to the 2010 elections. The image of GOP Senate Leader Mitch McConnell’s benevolent smirk as he spearheads his party’s jabs haunts my memory and will sure as hell shape my vote. What I wonder is “am I still in a majority?§

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Why in the World Combine Summer Camp

Memories Along with Political Rants?

I’m sure some who stumble upon this blog must wonder at the strange juxtaposition of political rants along with a sprinkling of Apple skewered technology news combined with memories of working in children’s camps. Aside from the reason that those camp memories vividly light up these so-called “golden” years of mine, I think many of the stories shine a light on situations that I feel are important to note in these somewhat twisted times.

In many respects today’s so-called “civilized” society is unbelievably sick. Middle and High School students taking automatic weapons to school and offing their fellow students along with a teacher or two, that occasional NRA fanatic who takes the cream of his collection of automatic weaponry and blows away 14 to 16 MacDonald patrons, not to mention those unspeakable assholes who kidnap little boys and girls and leave their lifeless bodies for the police to later find.

These plus the polarized political attitudes which today are doing their damndest to bring our federal government to a standstill, who can blame me then for turning my mind back to the sixties when life was simpler, and when I could counsel some of the cream of tomorrow’s citizenry, and also learn from the very campers I was hired to lead.

I was never one of those people who lived by slogans like “my way or the highway!” Some people live to lead others, whenever possible I liked to give campers a loose framework and see what they would come up with on their own.

In most children’s camps, as in the school system, most campers go to their assigned activities with their group. However if you have a tight enough structure, you could break this rule. At Blueberry Cove, a rather small camp with around 50 campers ranging in age from 7 to 11, the average group consisting of four campers, the entire camp came together every morning for a counsel whereupon both campers and counselors could partake of the morning activity of their own choosing.

Sure normal activities like horseback riding, art, and shop dominated. But fishing was a popular morning activity and seasonal activities like berry hunting walks were also popular at those times when the berries were ripe. And the campers who attended the more traditional activities, did so because of their own choice, not because their group was arbitrarily assigned to it. As you might well imagine, this produced, a wider variety of activities, as well as more interested participants.

I learned a lot working with children. One of the most valuable lessons I learned was that in order to give children the most freedom of choice, it must be handed to them from a stable framework. As free as the morning activities were at BBC, the rule was you must be back in time for lunch. It was important for the children to be fed at a consistent time.

Pierra with Sketchpad at Mr. Dennison’s Farm

One of my favorite photographs from my first year at Blueberry Cove was of a nine-year-old camper named Pierra walking up a field with some very Maine-ish looking twisted, weather-marked trees in the background. It was taken in the field at Mr. Dennison’s farm, the place from which the camp got many of its animals.

Pierra was holding a large drawing tablet, as she was returning from a field where she had been sketching the horses. She had been on a morning trip to Mr. Dennison’s along with a small group, some of whom had been sketching, others riding horses, and still others playing with small farm animals. It was an excellent example of the type of activity a small camp group could engage in on a short trip. And it was the type of activity which could only have been dreamed up at a morning counsel where children and staff alike choose the morning’s activities.

This is not to imply that this was the only way to structure activities. There are many paths to nirvana, and no one is favored over another. But in today’s overcrowded schools children are more often than not required to subvert their individuality to the group, by wearing a required uniform and being encouraged to quietly follow rather than develop their leadership skills. Camps, on the other hand, are excellent places in which to draw out each camper’s individuality. It is exciting, and it produces well grounded future adults in the long run.§

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And so as we make a rather desperate attempt to justify the joining together of the disparate parts of our blog, we have come to its inevitable end. Although we collapse into electronic nothingness at this point every week, we do spend the next week putting together yet another blog.

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As we fade away we take brief note of the so-called Tea Party phenomenon. Many splinter groups boycotted the Nashville convention because of it’s high price tag ($499 per attendee?), necessary we guess to pay Sarah Palin’s speaking fee.

Tea Party clowns got their share of attention on America’s news channels, and Republican’s understandably attempted to align themselves with them, although the T.P.‘s have about the same opinion of the GOP for running up America’s big debt in the first place, as they do with Democrats. A pox on both their houses.

Their policies might sound good to people without much sophistication and little imagination, but in the real world, their governing would undoubtedly complete our nation’s decay. However, Democrats everywhere are undoubtedly wishing them well in the election cycle of 2010, as they will undoubtedly pull from the Republican side, giving the donkey party a fighting chance at re-election in certain key areas.

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We would remind you that we would like to open up the camp memories section of our blog to all with meaningful memories of their own camp experiences. Perhaps if we get any takers we can grow that part of the blog, perhaps turning it into a blog of its own. Think about it, all camp memories, no lame political rants or third hand technology news. At any rate, to share your memories email them to:

We upload each week’s edition on Saturday mornings, usually at around 8 am CST. We hope you find your way back anytime next week to see what we’re going to be up to. It may be something quite different from what we wrote about this week, or then again it may not be. In any case, the only way to find out is to surf your way back. Meantime, bye now.§

The Real Little Eddy §

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