Archive for October, 2011

Death and Candy

Friday, October 28th, 2011

As I write this, my fingernails are painted black. That pretty much can only mean one thing, Halloween is just around the corner.

I have nothing against painting my nails, but it’s both more bother than I’m normally willing to go to for my looks, and more ostentatious than I’m normally willing to be. And again, I have nothing inherently against ostentation, but I do have something against calling attention to myself. It goes back mostly, I think, to having been bullied as a young boy.

God says I’m rambling again and should get back to the point. So back to Halloween. Within three miles of my apartment I know of three major Halloween stores. When I was a young man I would go to a theatrical supply store to get makeup for my costumes, and for the rest of it, to various craft and department stores. Now it’s one stop shopping and I’ve got everything I need, and more than a few things that I just plain want.

I imagine the bad economy has actually been pretty good for the Halloween outlets, there’s lots of vacant retail space for them to get on the cheap. But the wealth of costume and prop shops is not just due to floor space bargains, God tells me that it’s also a sign of our country doing a little growing up. We don’t hide from death quite as much as we used to. And we’re a little more willing to revel in the things that our religions tell us are bad. We get to play with it a little on our own and come to our own conclusions, instead of just accepting what the preacher tells us.

Now we haven’t gotten full on into having a Day of the Dead, like some other cultures do. We like a little more variety than that. So sure we’ve got skeletons and zombies, but we also have werewolves, and princesses, and all manner of fetishes. And with the dropping costs and increasing realism of our seasonal latex grotesqueries, I can hardly wait until one of these years I see some some neighborhood kids out on the streets on November first playing a game of soccer with a rubber zombie head instead of a ball. Now that’d be a pickup game worth watching for a few minutes.

Street Pitchers

Friday, October 21st, 2011

God asked me today if I think that panhandlers get together and discuss “best practices.” Have they done experiments to determine the right amount of aggression or the optimal level of pathetic that they should be presenting to maximize return on investment? Have they figured out just how loud to pitch their pleas?

Going about my daily business in downtown San Francisco there’s a gauntlet of these folks that I have to run past anywhere from two to four times a day, depending on what I do for lunch. Well not literally run, I walk. The block south of Market from the BART station that I use, has six fairly regular “donation seekers” with three or four of them there at a time most days. They don’t cluster together but have sort of established stations along the block. There’s one free agent who tries different spots on different days, but the rest seem to each have their spot and if they’re around that’s where they’ll be.

I’m never quite sure of the best way to refer to these people. I could go with beggar, since they’re begging for money, but really they’re more asking than begging. I could go with bum, but that seems to presume more about them then I actually know. I can’t go with homeless, since some of them pretty clearly do have a home that they go to at night. Panhandler seems the best choice, it’s relatively neutral, describes what I do know about them and doesn’t say anything about what I don’t know about them.

But back to God’s question… I really can’t say. At first blush it seems that they don’t, since they aren’t all following the same pitch. Some present a cheery greeting while holding out a cup to encourage us to give what we will or what we can. Some make the pitch that they need money for food. Some little more than mumble leaving not much more than the word “change” loud enough to hear. But then I thought, different people have different natural abilities that they have to work with, so the most effective pitch would be different for one panhandler than another. Some people are naturally intimidating, some are pitiable, so they each have to find what works for them. Even more than that though, by having different pitches up and down they block they’re probably maximizing the overall take. Some of us respond better to one type of pitch than another, so for each of us that walks along that block, there should be somebody there making the best kind of pitch to get us to give.

So do they discuss “best practices?” I don’t know, but they may have figured them out all the same.

Counting Down

Friday, October 14th, 2011

So who’s the third? That’s what I asked God this week. There’s been a long standing superstition that the deaths of the famous come in threes and that’s what was behind my question.

Last week the world in general, and the computer world, in the somewhat more specific, mourned the passing of Steve Jobs. While he was only fifty-six, it still wasn’t a surprise, wasn’t a shock; the five year survival rate for the form of cancer that he fought was dismally low, so it was almost certainly a question not of would it be soon, but of just how soon. Probably more than anyone else, Steve is responsible for the look and feel of modern computing. But when you get past the surface and instead get to what all those computer programs look like on the inside? Well, that owes an awful lot to Dennis Ritchie, and this week it was Dennis Ritchie that passed away.

He was seventy. So, like Steve, it’s not a big shock. Still, in the world where I make my living he was a giant, and when giants pass, you notice.

With Steve’s passing I can take solace in knowing his legacy lives on. Today the new iPhone goes on sale. I’ll hold it in my hand and know that its look, its feel, and its interface owe an incredible debt to Steve Jobs. Unlike most of the millions who’ll get one in the coming weeks, though, I’ll look at mine and know that it’s Unix inside, that it’s Unix that is part of its elegance, part of its power, and that that side of it owes an incredible debt to Dennis Ritchie.

Rest in Peace, Dennis, you made the world a better place.

A Bite Out of the Apple

Friday, October 7th, 2011

My iPad keeps me from going crazy on my daily commute by train. iTunes allows me to slice and dice my extensive music collection in a way that a wall full of CDs never did. Every post to Unscriptured has been written on an Apple device that had gone through the gauntlet to receive a stamp of approval from Steve Jobs.

And now he’s gone.

The real impact of that can never be known. Apple doubtless has products in the pipeline upon which Steve had direct impact. After those are released? Well, it’s a question of how well he picked his lieutenants, how well he trained them, and whether or not what he had is even possible to pass on to other people. If future Apple products suck, well, maybe they would have even with Jobs at the helm. After all, look at the Apple TV. But if they don’t suck? Well, that will be at least in part because of Steve.

Rest in Peace.