Archive for January, 2012

Learning Good

Friday, January 27th, 2012

What goes around comes around. Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Fang’s Law: Those who do not learn from science fiction are doomed to repeat it. Those who do not know Unix will reinvent it — badly.

There’s a reason these cliches exist. Like most cliches they’re basically true. God points out that reducing these truths to pithy aphorisms doesn’t make them any more or less true but does increase their value. She says that a picture may be worth a thousand words but a witty truism is worth more than that.

But why are we talking about this now? Well, God and I have spent a little time looking at Apple’s latest initiative, their new revision of the iTunes U concept, with their interactive retake on textbooks. She reminded me that I worked on a primitive version of the concept way back in the 1970s. I went to a school that used Control Data Corporation’s PLATO system. That system allowed you to go through course work on computer terminals and included the ability to take tests along the way to make sure you were picking up the gist of what you were reading. It seemed like a big advance in education but never really seemed to catch on.

Now instead of having to head on down to the school’s computer lab and sit down at a hulking CRT that only knew the color amber, I can pull out my tablet computer anywhere I’m at and bring up full color interactive lessons manipulated by touch instead of keyboard. So sure, history repeats itself, but sometimes the great thing about it is that it’s like a writer penning a second draft, it’s better than it was the first time.

The New White

Friday, January 20th, 2012

In my last post I was talking about how Apple, while not taking the crown in actual number of PCs produced and sold, has become something of a mindshare leader. There’s another aspect to that that God and I talked about and it has to do with the simplisticness of sophistication.

As I’ve looked around at fashion through the years, one of the things that has endured is the attitude that simply going black can be the ultimate in sophistication. From the classic “little black dress” to Steve Jobs trademark turtlenecks, to the usually wrong declarations that “X is the new black,” it seems like you can never go wrong with just going black. It even worked for Spinal Tap, when they wanted an album cover that could go to eleven.

But Apple bucked this trend. They were advertising that people should “Think Different” and in a form subtly reinforcing that message, instead of black, they went to the other extreme. The iPod stated it’s minimalistic elegance all in white, right down to the wires on the ear phones. For a few months, or maybe even a year or two, after the iPod took off and became the “it” girl of consumer products, there appeared periodic columns warning people that the simple white lines of those wires made them a target. They let snatch-and-grab thieves know that you had something valuable, something worth stealing.

And the copycats at company after company looked at those white wires appearing all over the place and said to themselves, “White! That’s why they’re selling! They’re white.” So they made their cheap knockoffs and flooded the market.

Those knockoffs may not have improved the audio quality of the average lossy-encoding listener, they may not have gained any of the brand reputation of the coattails they were trying to ride on, they may not have done anything other than sell a few more units than they otherwise might have, but they did do something, something of value. They made it so that those iconic lines of white, dangling from our ears to our pockets, no longer made us targets for muggers.

Or at least they got lazy journalists to stop writing articles telling us that they did.

Apple Juice?

Friday, January 13th, 2012

The other day God told me that Apple is the Dr. Pepper of the personal computer industry.

When I was young Dr. Pepper ran the “Be a Pepper” advertising campaign. When the campaign started it implored people to “be original” playing on Dr. Pepper’s underdog status to the colas that were the big kids on the soft drink block. The commercial’s were very successful both in that they were popular enough to become a pop-culture touchstone and in that they got a lot of people to either renew or begin a love affair (or sorts) with the product. In fact, they were so successful that the lyrics morphed from being about being original to be about joining the crowd. They had always showcased that lot’s of different people drinking the soda, but the lyrics added “there seems to be a Dr. Pepper craze,” and it was more than just Madison Ave. hyperbole.

Much like how Dr. Pepper beat Coca-Cola to market, Apple was selling “personal” computers (and their attendant operating systems) before IBM (and Microsoft). But like with the “Be a Pepper” ads, Apple’s “Think Different” ads played on their underdog status. Today, much like Dr. Pepper versus Coke and Pepsi, Apple is not the leading PC maker but seems to have all the momentum and mindshare.

So if you look around these days, and seem to feel an iPad craze, well maybe you’d like to join me in raising a glass of Dr. Pepper, toasting Apple’s success, and taking a moment to “Drink Different.”

Elections? Again?

Friday, January 6th, 2012

Well, here it is. Another year. 2012. And just like every other year it seems, it’s an election year here in the U.S.

Of course just because the election happens this year doesn’t mean that we haven’t already been in the throes of electioneering; we’ve had plenty of run up as one Republican hopeful after another has tried to push Mitt Romney out of the race.

God doesn’t like me to spend too much time worrying about, or talking about, our elections. After all, he points out, with the de facto two party system that our system unofficially forces it’s not like there’s much to choose between. The choices currently are bad and worse.

Speaking of “worse,” when I’m able to detach myself enough from the reality of it, it’s actually kind of fun to watch the Republican nominating race. The Republicans currently have a system of fielding two kinds of candidates: The insane. And those not actually insane but who know that they can’t get the nomination without somehow appealing to the significant faction of Republican voters that are. Yeah, the inmates may not be running the Republican Party, but the people that are running it know that they do so only by the suffrage of the inmates.