In Hoffman’s domestic or sex life there is no undiscovered riddle – the man was a drug addict and, thanks to our drug laws, his death inevitable.
In Hoffman’s domestic or sex life there is no undiscovered riddle – the man was a drug addict and, thanks to our drug laws, his death inevitable.
Remember that, for reasons passing understanding, the NFL is an untaxed nonprofit. Yes, this is bullshit.
If that’s not enough, consider that they stuck New Jersey with effectively all the costs associated with hosting the Superb Owl, and then also more or less prevented NJ from picking up any additional revenue for having done so.
Fuck. The. NFL.
This finale rundown is pretty spot on, but the real hilarity comes from the top comment:
THERE IS STILL A LIVE HUMAN CHILD IN THE ATTIC BEING CARED FOR BY A DOLL-HOARDING GHOST.
Best unresolved thread EVER.
This review is really, really spot-on. In particular:
I’m no more privy to what went on behind the scenes in The Goldfinch’s journey from draft to publication than I am aware of the ins and outs of similar processes for Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot or Michael Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue. But I know that all three of these novels (and there are many other examples) read as though their editor had been afraid to touch them, and had left early, baggy drafts unchanged.
Telegraph Avenue is one of the few books I’ve simply given up on, which was really sad at the time given how much I’d loved Chabon’s other work.
This excellent and exhaustive MeFi post includes a wealth of links to some old National Lampoon recorded comedy bits, including the (to my mind unequalled) Mister Rogers spoof (with Christopher Guest!) that sent us all into hysterics when we listened clandestinely at Boy Scout camp 35 years ago.
Considering the era, this stuff was immensely transgressive comedy; take a while and sample. It’s fucking hilarious.
This is what we get without network neutrality.
We knew the full-body scanners didn’t work before they were even installed. Not long after the Underwear Bomber incident, all TSA officers at O’Hare were informed that training for the Rapiscan Systems full-body scanners would soon begin. The machines cost about $150,000 a pop.
Our instructor was a balding middle-aged man who shrugged his shoulders after everything he said, as though in apology. At the conclusion of our crash course, one of the officers in our class asked him to tell us, off the record, what he really thought about the machines.
“They’re shit,” he said, shrugging. He said we wouldn’t be able to distinguish plastic explosives from body fat and that guns were practically invisible if they were turned sideways in a pocket.
We quickly found out the trainer was not kidding: Officers discovered that the machines were good at detecting just about everything besides cleverly hidden explosives and guns. The only thing more absurd than how poorly the full-body scanners performed was the incredible amount of time the machines wasted for everyone.
On the upside, the monitoring parties DO get to see you naked, so there’s that.
Seriously, don’t miss this. The author is the guy behind the Taking Sense Away “inside the TSA” blog from a few months back.
Some of you have met our cat, Wiggins. Wiggins is one of those cats with no unvoiced thoughts. She has lots to say, but it really hasn’t been clear what it was. Until now.
Using cutting-edge linguistic techniques, we have isolated her primary messages:
Despite the breakthrough nature of this discovery, it’s not at all clear what actions we’ll take as a result.
Except, I guess, occasionally changing rooms.
Arthur Rankin, Jr. passed away at the end of January. He was 89.
With partner Jules Bass, Mr Rankin formed one of the most influential animation studios of his era; you know their work even if you don’t know their names. It was Rankin/Bass that gave us Rudolph, for example (the special will celebrate its 50th anniversary, by the way, this coming Christmas).
There’s a MeFi post worth your time, if you’re interested.
Back in the boom, we tried to use online meeting tools, which inevitably led to shit-tons of time wasted at the head end of every meeting trying to get LiveMeeting to work.
It never really did.
In the years since, other companies have entered this space, and some of them are basically flawless. Trouble is, the good ones cost money, and most of our customer IT orgs are (a) cheap and (b) too paranoid to let their people use GoToMeeting, so we get forced into trying to connect with the execrable “Lync” — i.e., rebranding LiveMeeting bullshit — across the Internet.
MSFT makes their products so that they’re effectively free, but never bother solving for corner cases — like, say, a cross-site meeting that’s not all on the same network or active directory domain. Worse, Lync has no end of weird foibles and fuckups. For example, if you end up on 2013 instead of 2010 (which will happen if you upgrade Office), it’s no longer possible to join a meeting without having corporate credentials on the hosting party’s network.
That’s fine, though, because obviously nobody ever wants to meet with people outside their company, right?
CHRIST. It’s enough to make you want to strangle someone.
This man is brilliant.
The itinerary for the ticket was found to have been changed more than 300 times within a year, and the owner of the ticket used it to enjoy the facilities at the airport’s VIP lounge in Xi’an in Shaanxi, China.
The rare case was discovered by a China Eastern Airlines staff member, who then decided to investigate.
When the ticket’s validity was almost up, the passenger cancelled it for a refund.
From Almost Famous:
The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.
In which a young Irish man has a bit of fun with his dad over his driving test:
Most decidedly not safe for work.
Last night we got a (delicious) smackdown of a SuperBowl. Heathen Central didn’t have a normal dog in the fight, but ended up rooting for Seattle for two reasons:
Add in a little bit of underdog-ism — Seattle’s never won the Super Bowl, but playing in one and winning is old hat to Peyton and the Broncos — and it’s good enough for us. (And enough to overcome a distaste for Pete Carroll.)
Turns out, a more smashmouth, old-school style of football — dare we call it “SEC”? — still works in the NFL, and that was nice to see. As they say, defense wins championships.
However, it made me wonder about the SuperBowl and margins of victory. I thought I remembered a time when the big game was almost always a blowout, but over time there’s no real clear trend. Most of the Super Bowls have been fairly close — 56% of them were won by two touchdowns or less. Increase the margin to three touchdowns, and you’re over 77%.
Actual blowouts — which we’ll define as four touchdowns or more — have actually been pretty rare: only 6, or about 13%. Yesterday’s was the first such victory in 20 years. They were (SB record in bold):
It’s clear where my sense of “blowouts are the norm” comes from, considering that 5 of the 6 blowouts happened when I was in high school and college and was paying attention as a quasi-adult for the first time. Overall, the game is usually close(ish), as the data shows.
Anyway, because I’m a dork, here’s a graph:
Note: There are two 27-point victories since 1993: XXXV (Ravens 34, Giants 7) and XXXVII (Bucs 48, Raiders 21), which almost count — but even the most recent of those is 11 years ago. Since 2003, the margin of victory has only been as high as 14 once, and is only over 10 three times.
I came across this trailer a few minutes ago, for a rom-com (otherwise forgettable, I suspect) starting Fran Kranz (Dollhouse, Cabin in the Woods, Much Ado About Nothing) and Dichen Lachman (Dollhouse).
The trailer includes Felicia Day plus a good chunk of the cast of Dollhouse, so I went over to IMDB, expecting to see that it was written or directed or produced by the guy who usually drives this particular company… and yet, no.
So, here’s one for you.
Imagine suddenly “coming to,” standing in a train station — in India! — with no idea who you are, where you’re going, or why you’re there. You don’t know your name, where you’re from, who your parents or friends are, or even what your job is or why you’re in India.
I dunno about you, gentle Heathen folk, but that would freak me right the hell out. It’s horrifying and scary, but it’s the situation in which Fulbright scholar David MacLean found himself back in October of 2002. Local authorities initially took him for a shattered junkie, but the actual culprit turned out to be a then-commonly-prescribed antimalarial drug called Lariam.
What follows is MacLean’s harrowing and fascinating road to something like recovery. He doesn’t shirk the hard questions, either; much of our identity and sense of self is tied up with what we’ve done, and how we remember what we’ve done — but MacLean was robbed of this. On his trip home to Ohio to recuperate, he met his girlfriend, who was of course a stranger to him. He develops the ability to fake recollection, but all the while he’s really completely adrift and unconnected; he knows no one, and is vaguely threatened and alarmed that all these people seem to know him.
I’ve spoken to MacLean here in Houston, at a reading a few years ago. At that time, he had recovered much of his memory — but not all of it. He had no memory of his sister’s wedding, for example. But regaining what he did regain was a long road, and it begs the question of whether or not post-Lariam MacLean is the same person as pre-Lariam MacLean, and of what that sort of person-hood means. There’s no easy answer here.
It’s a fascinating read; I devoured it in a couple days, and would’ve read faster if I hadn’t been so busy with other things. You oughta read this book, for sure.
By the way, despite a series of these episodes, including suicides among US Special Forces, the drug is still widely available. However, the US military kept giving it to SF troops until last September. Worse, the military used mega-doses of it on all incoming detainees at Gitmo in an attempt to trigger psychological distress. (That’s not on the Wiki page, but it’s documented in MacLean’s book.)
Remember this drug, and make sure you don’t ever take it. The trade name (from Roche) is Lariam, but it’s also available as a generic under the name mefloquine. DANGER DANGER DANGER.
Bois tried to simulate a Super Bowl, but with a total beatdown. The stated goal was a 1,000 to nothing, and he set about creating teams that would allow it.
It’s fair to say that Madden didn’t adapt well to this chicanery, but it’s still funny as hell.
They’re released new footage of Felix Baumgartner’s record-setting freefall. Go and watch, but (as IO9 points out) be aware it gets pretty intense early on, during his spin.
It’s also interesting to watch the stats; he goes very, very fast initially, but loses speed almost as quickly as the air thickens up around him.
It’s springtime in Houston, and that means we’re all spooling up for another MS150.
Last year, I thought I’d be one-and-done with this, just proving to myself that I could do it. Well, I did it — and rode the century on day one, even — but I had so much fun that repeating with the Karbach Team was never in doubt. We’ve already started the training rides again.
Last year, you, my friends, helped make me the number one fundraiser for the Karbach team. I don’t mean to take anything away from that, but I don’t think it’s possible for me to repeat: someone is already out in front by a long, long margin (check it out). That said, though, I’d love to make my mark once again. And it’s up to y’all to help me out. Can I count on you?
Thanks, all of you, for the tremendous support you gave me last year. It was remarkably motivating, and you helped make a real difference for the NMSS. Let’s do it again.
Born in 1937. Parents were a rhinoceros, a Sherman oak, a wheelbarrow full of graphite, a ray of light that shone through the clouds, a fulfilled prophecy, a buried time capsule full of set-and-baited mouse traps, and a real big ol’ dude.
Was encouraged to play football at age 10, when he chanced upon a mannequin at the clothing store wearing a shirt with the words “FOOTBALL GAME” and a drawing of a football on the front. He talked to it for hours, and it never told him he was too round for this world or that he shouldn’t eat the plastic bologna rings.
Played college football at DeVry, where he studied poetry. He finished with a GPA of reddish-gray.
Dislikes taking the subway, not because of any particular phobia, but because whenever the car stops and nobody gets off, he feels terrible for the train operator.
Refers to liquids in plural, i.e., a glass of milk is “a glass of some milks.”
Someone has made a regexp crossword puzzle.
A judge has ruled the No-Fly list procedures unconstitutional.
Seriously, check out this bullshit.
I mean, seriously, don’t you kinda want to reward behavior like this?
Just go watch.
It remains amazing to me that the Wal-Marts and McDonald’s of the world get away with opposing minimum wage hikes when their own employees require public assistance to make ends meet. In effect, every taxpayer is subsidizing their subpar wages. And very few folks are calling them on it.
Schlosser has a short piece up at the New Yorker about the book that’s also worth your time.
Recently, a joint in my hood — long plagued by spotty food, bad service, a crappy wine list, and a host of related issues — decided that “hey, I’ll ask a TV show for advice!” was the right plan.
Mrs Heathen and I decided to try them out last night, to see if the plan worked.
First, their key problems, as I see it:
After the visit, I can report that the interior is much nicer, and the previously unknown to me waiter did seem to have done this before. Further, the menu is much shorter and more focussed, which is great.
We waited about half an hour for a burger and a salad when there were only 2 other active tables in the restaurant. The wine list is unchanged and terrible, which will be even more damning when the always-excellent Max’s opens on the next block. The execution of the food we got was iffy at best; a beet salad should have more than a couple beets in it, I’m sure you’d agree, for example. Worse, they appear to have deliberately sourced burger buns and patties that are wildly different in size, which is unfortunate, because it gives the impression of a very small burger — and leaves you with a bunch of extra bread when you’re done. Of the fries, the less said, the better — “leathery” is not a texture I look for in side dishes unless we’re under siege and dining on filet of Allen Edmunds.
I really, really want this place to work. They’re reasonably priced, and literally two blocks away. But they seem to have a really, really hard time with the basics. Reality TV isn’t going to fix that. Given what they changed and what they left the same, I have the distinct impression that the owners and I disagree about what’s keeping Gratifi from being a great local restaurant.
So, gentle Heathen, gather round, and let me give you a decades-delayed case of the nightmarish heebie jeebies.
My sense is that most of you are cold war kids, like Mrs Heathen and I. Our impressionable teen years coincided with a period of time when nuclear war was taken as almost a given; we were all fucked, but we just tried not to think about it.
Or, rather, we sort of WANTED to think about it, but then regretted doing so, which is the only way to explain the existence of such destructo porn as Threads and The Day After. Even lighter fare during the 80s, like Wargames, hinged on the obviously-imminent thread of nuclear armageddon. The sky is blue. Ice is cold. We’re all going to die. Inshallah.
Somehow, it didn’t happen. We’d like to tell ourselves a fairy tale at this late date that it never could’ve happened, or that the Russians were too afraid, and our leaders too wise, to ever let it happen, and that the collapse of the USSR was foretold and inevitable and all we had to do was wait out the clock, but none of those dogs will hunt. We stared oblivion in the face for the very best part of 40 years, and somehow lived to tell the tale.
And here’s the kicker, gentle heathen: we only made it out by the skin of our goddamn teeth, and with a heaping ton of good luck. If you thought nukes were scary when you were 16 and knew little about them, well, you got another thing coming: once you know how they work, how poorly they were secured and made safe, and how political tomfoolery kept them that way, they get a shitton more frightening.
Read on, if you dare.
Eric Schlosser‘s exhaustively researched new book Command and Control explores some hugely significant but generally neglected aspects of the nuclear weapons age: the fundamental safety (or lack thereof) of the American nuclear arsenal, and the development of nuclear strategy during that same period of time. The book tells these two stories interspersed with the actual story of a massive accident around a Titan II missile in Damascus, Arkansas in 1980.
What he finds — all of which is more or less indisputable, as it’s mostly matters of public record — is horrifying.
Start with this: There were hundreds and hundreds of accidents, big and small, involving live nuclear bombs. They were dropped on runways, set afire, accidentally blown up (but not detonated), and thrown into the sky by exploding missile fuel. Crashing bombers disgorged their world-ending payloads over American farms and Spanish villages. Entire missile systems were considered unreliable and downright dangerous by experts, but kept in service as bargaining chips with the Soviets. The Titan II, which was to carry our most destructive payload (the 9 megaton W-53 warhead, i.e. 400 times the yield of the Nagasaki bomb), was plagued by maintenance issues and a criminally dangerous propellant mix, but was kept in service for years even after an accident that could have easily obliterated Arkansas.
Despite what you may have been told, every single one of these accidents, in fact, could have resulted in what the experts refer to as a “criticality event.” Nuclear weapons hinge on a primary explosion that compresses a nuclear core. They’re packed with conventional explosives that must be triggered in a precise manner to produce the desired nuclear or thermonuclear explosion. However, exploding part of the conventional payload COULD very well set of a partial reaction.
Since most modern weapons have absurdly high yields, even less-than-optimum nuclear detonations would far exceed the power of any conventional weapon, and would come with the added extra bonus of lethal radioactive fallout — and, given our paranoia for most of the nuclear period, a very real chance that the accident would be interpreted as a strike or launch by one side or the other. Boom.
The complexity of the weapons themselves, and the limits of the command and control infrastructure, created a system where an accidental detonation of a thermonuclear device was not just possible but entirely likely. As analyst, Joint Chiefs advisor, and Stanford professor Scott Sagan put it, the fact that we never had an accidental detonation of a nuke is explained less by “good design than good fortune.”
Let that sink in.
Here’s the other punch line: because organizations like the Strategic Air Command were routinely flying around with live bombs (no, really; for a huge chunk of the pre-missile era, the SAC kept armed bombers in the air ready to go, carrying live nukes, just in case), and because live missiles were armed at all times during the Cold War, instances of heightened alert were actually MORE likely to produce an accident than more placid periods. It is profoundly easy to envision a world where the 30 days of tension during the Cuban Missile Crisis included an accidental detonation somewhere, or an accidental launch of forward-deployed tactical missiles from Turkey, and then where would we be?
Sagan again: “Nuclear weapons may well have made deliberate war less likely, but the complex and tightly coupled nuclear arsenal we have constructed has simultaneously made accidental war more likely.”
Yeah. It’s like that. Freaking out yet?
And, in fact, it’s even worse. Safety problems were routinely hidden from civilian officials, or even from top brass, by commanders in charge of weapon systems to avoid difficult questions, and to protect jobs and commands.
The policies and practices, especially in the early days of the arms race, were built on a freakish and naive faith in giant, monolithic control systems, and assumed many such systems would mesh with each other flawlessly. But it’s also inevitably true that such monolithic systems could not possibly survive what theorists referred to as a decapitation attack; we more or less assumed that the Soviets, in a surprise launch, could probably kill the President, most of the Cabinet, and most of the top military leadership. Where’s the central control then?
The Soviets, for their part, actually had an answer to this: they built a “doomsday” system, designed to fire their missiles automatically and without human intervention if it detected a nuclear detonation on Soviet soil. But they didn’t tell anyone about it, which sort of defeats the purpose.
The gamesmanship of nuclear strategy is also a huge part of the book, and it’s fascinating. Nuclear parity between the superpowers was “healthier” for everyone than an imbalance. If you think the other guy can wipe you off the map and leave you with nothing, you also think there’s nothing to stop him from doing so, so the idea of a sneak attack to even things up becomes more appealing. On the other hand, if you’re sure you could still wipe him out even if he hit you first, everybody is thought to be more polite.
This is a horrifying sort of mental calculus, but it was a huge part of our strategic thinking for more or less the entire missile age. Especially during the nontrivial portions of the arms race when we had a giant advantage, and both sides knew it.
(That’s another thing: the arms race was, for most of its run, a giant money and power grab by the military-industrial complex. There was no “bomber gap” in the 1960s, and the Soviets were NEVER really able to keep up with us in the missile age. They had a brief moment of public superiority with Sputnik, but after that it was all Yanks, all the time. Of course, when both sides have enough to kill everyone, keeping up is sort of pointless, and despite a missile gap in our favor the Soviets would have been able to turn most of Europe to glass in any exchange.)
But that’s all in the past now, right? WE don’t need to worry anymore, and we can sleep well again. Whew.
Well, not so much. Despite all our best efforts, nuclear nonproliferation is a dead letter. It turns out tech is easy to export, which is how countries in the emerging world have joined the nuclear club. What’s not easy to export, though, is an organizational culture that includes deep engineering know-how and safety controls.
The arms race between the US and the Soviets was, in nationalistic terms, largely abstract. I didn’t meet a Russian until after the Wall fell. I had no personal, familial, tribal, or regional beef with Russia; they were just the Other. This kept rhetoric and emotionalism largely out of the picture during our long period of detent. This isn’t the case, though, for at least one pair of new nuclear adversaries: India and Pakistan. The South Asian states have their missiles aimed at each other over Kashmir, and both are poster children for the “plenty of tech, but no engineering safety culture” problem I mentioned above.
Here we go again. Plus, I’m not even a month in, and I’m behind on the blogging.
I actually blame this book for the blogging part of that, because it was disheartening to start the year with something so disappointing and I kept putting off writing this entry as a consequence. Tregillis has taken a whole bunch of ideas and mixed them up here, and the result just doesn’t work. He’s got a Chandleresque narrator (for no discernable purpose, and boy HOWDY does that ever get tired) in a noir-ish mystery tale set among the angels in a near-future world where massive yet unexplored ecological changes have happened (but never mind those, because neither those changes nor the near-future setting matter at all to the plot).
Our other narrator — there are two — is more clear, and blessedly free of schtick, but she’s also so clearly the author/reader proxy that she struggles to be anything else. Her persona also tends to collapse under the weight of the info-dumps Tregillis imposes on her chapters, so as to bring us up to speed.
Tregillis is a bit too in love with his voice, I think. This can work for a writer and reader when the voice is consistent and confident; entire careers can be sustained by voice. (Some would say this describes Scalzi, but there’s more to his work by my lights, and being a voice-y writer isn’t a bad thing regardaless.) But Tregillis doesn’t have one of those voices; he comes off like a geek trying to impress with phrases and jokes that fall kind of flat. Sure, he gets some good bits in there — the phrase “like the offspring of an octopus and a Klein bottle” is nice, for example, but even it presupposes a level of geekery that will drive off readers outside the tribe. (Seriously, how many Heathen even know what a Klein bottle is?)
He also does that thing that prose writers do when they’re working in the truly fantastic (or what they think of as the truly fantastic) where they avoid direct physical descriptions because it’s all too far beyond human comprehension or whatever, and instead drop hints designed to shake you up without actually giving you anything substantive, like implying an angel has a variety of liplike things with which he could play a trumpet. It’s lazy writing, really, and annoys more than entertains. (Last year’s The Incrementalists was also guilty of this.)
Don’t miss either his Wikipedia bio or the exhaustive Times obit linked above. Remember, this is a man who told the House Un-American Activities Committee that
I feel that in my whole life I have never done anything of any conspiratorial nature.” He also stated: “I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this.
They tried to imprison him for that. That’s an American hero, right there.
Five years ago this month, Mrs Heathen and I stood in the cold and wet in Washington at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial for the Obama Inaugural Concert. Among our favorite memories of that day is seeing Pete Seeger perform live, leading us in all the verses of “This Land Is Your Land.”
We were part of a very very large, yet very very happy sea of humanity, so my only shot of Seeger is actually a long shot of a jumbotron, but I’ll take it.
Fortunately, YouTube has decent footage of his performance. Take a moment for Mr Seeger (his grandson is part of this ensemble, by the way).
Pete Seeger was married for almost 70 years to Toshi Seeger, an accomplished figure in her own right. Mrs Seeger passed away last July, at the age of 91.
God, I’m lazy.
Two short pix sets from before the holiday:
In which my mother-in-law runs the Marine Corps Marathon AGAIN; and
In which we are Thankful in Mississippi.
More to come.
Did you know that David Bowie once recorded a cover of “Love Will Tear Us Apart”?
Well, it’s only sort of a cover. The musicians are Sumner and Hook, et. al.
It’s only AFTER his revelations that the court nominally in charge of secret eavesdropping even bothered to examine the legality of the program.
This is happening ONLY because Snowden shined a light on this. Sunlight is the ultimate disinfectant, and our “intelligence” services are operating in a sunlight-free zone.
Somehow, the fancy new computer ordered by a core developer on the Tor project was accidentally “misrouted” from the manufacturer in California to an area just outside Washingon, DC, before finally making to her in Seattle.
The Tor Project, in the event you are unaware, provides hard-encrypted online anonymity. Compromising Tor is a stated goal of the NSA and other eavesdropping organizations, because a brute force attack is impossible with current computing techniques.
Thirty years ago, on January 22, 1984, computing changed forever. The ad was a teaser; remember, it ran only once, but during the Super Bowl (Raiders 38, Redskins 9), so it’s safe to say lots of people saw it.
Jobs’ demonstration of the actual machine two days later made it clear that Apple was playing the game at a higher level than anybody else. Remember, at the time, the IBM PC was state of the art for personal computing: huge, bulky, unfriendly, and based on a command line interface. There was no sound beyond beeps and boops. Graphics were a joke on the PC, and required an add-on card. The GUI Jobs demonstrates here is, by comparison, from another planet. The technical information he outlines is similarly cutting edge, especially for a mass-market computer. To say this was an exciting development is to understate things by a couple orders of magnitude. The Mac changed personal computing in enormous and profound ways. Jobs’ examples of IBM missing the boat may seem grandiose, but he’s fundamentally right.
(Something else to keep in mind: in this video, Steve Jobs is twenty-nine years old.)
I didn’t join the Mac faithful right away — in ’84, I was in junior high. I made it through high school with a TRS-80, a cartridge-based word processor, and a cassette tape drive as my mass storage. (Bonus: without the cartridge in, the CoCo booted straight to BASIC.)
I went to college in 1988, but since my campus was more PC than Mac, I bought an AT clone that turned out to be the fastest machine in my whole dorm. That was kind of fun. It also turned out that computers made sense to me in ways that other people didn’t get, and so I stayed in the Windows world for a long time but for some very rewarding side trips largely because people were paying me to do so.
But I got there eventually, mostly because of how awful Windows became, especially on a laptop. In late 1999, I was traveling a lot, living out of a laptop, and writing lots of Office docs. Windows 98 on a laptop was a dumpster fire in terms of reliability — crashes were frequent, and the idea of putting your laptop to sleep was just a joke. Windows couldn’t handle it, so you were forever shutting down and rebooting. Then a friend of mine showed me his new G3 Powerbook. In the days before OS X, Macs were only a little less crashy than Windows, but it was enough to catch my eye. The functional sleep/wake cycle, a big beautiful screen, and a generally more sane operating environment closed the deal, and I made the switch in early 2000 to a 500Mhz G3 Powerbook.
What’s interesting now to me in retrospect is that I realized I’ve been on the Mac side for nearly half its life. I’ve used Macs way longer than I used PCs (1988 to 1999). I see no future in which I switch back. Had Apple not switched to a Unix-based OS, I’d probably have gone to Linux for professional reasons — and, honestly, desktop Linux would probably be a much better place. (Having a commercially supported Unix with professional-grade software written for it, running on premium hardware meant fewer people worked to make Linux on the desktop viable for normal humans.) Instead, Apple built OSX, and changed everything again.
Original Macs were sometimes derided by so-called “serious” computing people as good for design and graphics and whatnot, but not for “real” work; by shifting to the BSD-based OSX, Apple gave the Mac the kind of hardcore underpinnings that Windows could only dream out (and, really, still doesn’t have). The designers and creatives stayed, and a whole extra swath of web-native software people joined them as the Mac (and especially the Mac laptop) became the machine of choice for an entire generation of developers. That shift has been permanent; if you’re writing web code in Python or Ruby or PHP, you’re far more likely to be doing so on a Mac than on Windows simply because the Mac has so much more in common with your production servers than Windows does.
The end result is that the Mac platform is in better shape today, at 30 years old, than it’s ever been.
I tallied it up the other day. I’ve had five Macs as my personal machine, counting the G3 I bought back in ’99. I’ve bought two others for my household — a 2009 Mini that serves as my media server, and a 2012 11″ Macbook Air I bought Mrs Heathen last Christmas. Somewhat hilariously, in doing this tally, I realized that (a) I never owned an “iconic” square Mac like the one in the video above; and (b) four of my five Mac laptops have looked almost exactly the same: the 2003 Titanium Powerbook G4 (1Ghz, 512MB of RAM, and a 60GB hard drive — a very high end configuration at the time!) was one of the first of the “sleek silver metal” Mac laptops, and that style was carried over to the upgrade I bought in 2005, though by then they were made of Aluminum. In 2007, I made the jump to the Intel-based Macbook Pros; the bump in power was pretty huge, but the chassis was substantially the same.
My 2010 update didn’t look much different, and the only significant visual difference between the 2010 model and the one I bought last fall is that my new one doesn’t have an optical drive and is therefore slimmer.
Eleven years is a long time for a product to look pretty much the same, especially in computing, but I’ve yet to see anyone complain that the MacBook Pro looks dated. That’s what paying attention to design gets you. I suspect that, eventually, the Pro will get a more Air-like profile, but right now the power consumption and temperature issues mandate the more traditional shape.
Anyway, Apple has a minisite up about the anniversary. It’s fun. Visit.
…I won’t be the one to stop the angry mobs from grabbing these two:
This oral history of Swingers is pretty damn fantastic. They made it themselves, for almost no money (in film terms, anyway), as a labor of love, and somehow it turned into a cultural phenomenon.
Oh, and launched or boosted the careers of several folks, as it happens. I hadn’t realized, for example, that the director Doug Limon, went on to do the Bourne films, largely on the strength of Swingers.
Herein, Jobs says
Like, when you make a movie, you burn a DVD and you take it to your DVD player. Someday that could happen over AirPort, so you don’t have to burn a DVD — you can just watch it right off your computer on your television set.
Someday, maybe, sure.
Well, not really, anyway. From The Smithsonian:
Off the coast of England there is a ship. Well, there are probably many ships, but this ship in particular is interesting because it has no people on it. It’s a ghost ship — a 1,400 ton ocean liner of a ghost ship. If you believe the headlines, it’s full of cannibal rats, and it’s heading for England. Neither of those things are true.
The Lyobov Orlova disappeared on Febrauary 4th of last year while it was being towed from Newfoundland to the Dominican Republic. How and why the ship was cut loose is still a mystery, and for months, no one knew where it was.
According to some sources, the ship is infested with “cannibal rats.” But this is more theory than fact, as no one has been on the ship in a year. The cannibal rat theory comes from Pim De Rhoodes, a Belgian salvage hunter, who told tabloid The Sun, “There will be a lot of rats and they eat each other. If I get aboard I’ll have to lace everywhere with poison.” De Rhoodes has no actual information about whether there are rats on the boat, or whether they’re diseased, cannibalistic or perfectly civilized.
According to the BBC, the ship has yet to be sighted off English waters. The Irish Coast Guard isn’t worried, nor is the U.K. Maritime and Coastguard Agency. For more Orlova sightings, the blog Where is Lyubov Orlova tracks sightings and theories about the ship. You can see map of sightings, as well as the ship’s deck plan, and there are shirts and mugs on offer for the most intrepid Orlova hunters.
Disappointing, I know.
This is not of course to say that ghost ships like these aren’t a thing.
Speaker of the House Boehner was on Leno last night, and was shockingly frank about his personal ambitions, the ups and downs of his job, and Congress in general.