Archive for the 'opine' Category

Apple thoughts

-I never understood the notion that Apple products are overpriced toys for the gullible and the fashionable. This seems naive to me. A computing product is not merely the sum of its parts, but how well they work together (ask anyone that’s tried to enable wireless on a laptop running Linux). You cannot disassemble an iPhone, add up the cost of each chip, motherboard, sensor, etc, subtract from the wholesale price, and call that the profit margin. Engineering and software are not free, people.

-It’s still impressive to me that Apple is a company that makes billions of dollars by designing and selling physical objects, and not just ads (Google), software (Microsoft), or assorted paper bullshit (Goldman Sachs), but honest to god real tangible goods.

- To a lot of people, well designed software is just about making it pretty. Apple shows us good design is actually about how it works.

- Is steve jobs really that great of a salesman? I have watched many of his keynote speeches; he’s not that great of a speaker. I always thought 99% of his job as salesman is done before he even walks onto the stage. That is, he always makes sure he is selling killer products. And he lets the products basically sell themselves. When you go to an Apple store, did the pimpled-face “Genius” convince you to buy a MacBook or did you just turn the laptop over in your hands 2-3 times, play with it for 5 minutes, and say “I want this”?

-The hallmark of a well-designed product is that they are the products of saying “no”. Apple goods are full of No. Someone in some Apple office raised a question, someone made a suggestion, someone disagrees, someone stays up all night to argue with someone else, hopefully ending in shouting cursing and tears, and someone makes a goddamn decision. And that’s why I like them. I want my products borne of contentious, passionate, decision making.

Apple products generally do not punt issues and say Aw let’s just make it a setting in the preferences panel and go home. That’s chicken shit stuff. And that’s why most open source software can be absolute dreck, because some amorphous group of developers continuously compromise until you have the lowest common denominator software with an ass interface. No one fights for the best design idea and wins.

To me, that’s what you pay for: For someone to figure out a best way to put something together, the best way it should operate. I am not buying something so I can be a fucking middleware developer just to be able to play music on my computer and watch videos of puppies.

I mean, it takes a great deal of conviction to say “fuck you mobile Flash sucks, no way we are allowing it”. It takes courage to say No. The coward’s way is to throw in every feature, no matter if it is terrible, just so you can get some checkbox in some feature list in some comparison chart.

And that’s why I have bought Apple products.

Crab on Environmentism

The universe, or if you like, Nature, is generally ambivalent about the state of the environment. So long as the world continues to observe the laws of physics, it is ipso facto “natural”. e.g. greenhouse gases pumped into the air, human-caused or not, is still just natural old carbon dioxide, only more of it. The natural processes of Earth will react and adjust accordingly. A shift in a predominant quality, substance, species, will result in a reaction that eventually finds some balance. (You could argue that human-caused imbalances are happening at a rate faster than Nature can comfortably react, but that just makes for a more violent reaction. This is an argument in degree, not of kind.)

For Nature, there is no objective value of tigers or panda bears or the great barrier reef or the polar ice caps. Who cares if a particular animal dies or even an entire species goes extinct? In the long scale of Earth, these are blips of consequence. New species will arise, new chemical processes will dominate, new environmental cycles will be sustained.

What I mean to say is that, since nature really has no fixed objective value, the environmentalism cause is really about preserving a particular set of natural parameters that happen to be the parameters that sustain human life on Earth. This is the principle by which all “green” efforts should be weighed. (I don’t need to talk about the circle of life, do I? Every species and biological perpetuates what we need. Plants make sugar and oxygen from sunlight, we need those. Sugars and other vitamins concentrate in higher lifeforms that we eventually eat. Smaller lifeforms break down dead bits into spare parts. Etc etc. We need all of it.)

It also follows from this that because the natural processes on earth are incredibly complex and intertwined (see, the old yarn about butterflies and monsoons), and our understanding as to how to properly manipulate these forces remain so rudimentary and have many unforeseen consequences (e.g. DDT), our best bet is to maintain the status quo of the earth. AKA, conservation.

So this means preventing a species from going extinct is generally a good thing. That is, losing a given species is not bad because it is a beautiful creature full of grace and majesty, but because its extinction could disrupt the web of species we rely on. There’s also the strength of biodiversity, wherein an ecosystem is more resilient to change if it is ecologically diverse (and does not put all of its species in a single basket, like say a corn crop.)

But keeping species on life support has its limits. If a species is no longer contributing to the ecosystem (e.g. It only exists in zoos or in labs), then we should let it be extinguished. we need to remind ourselves that species can naturally go extinct (just like how a gazelle can naturally get killed and eaten). I also think certain species are a goddamn waste of taxpayer money and time (i am looking at you, giant panda).

This is starting to feel repetitive so I will conclude here (perhaps if I think of more re-imagined green ideas I will update). So, traditionally, environmental activists are seen as do-gooding, virtuous people. But why? As i tried to clarify, environmentalism is actually an entirely selfish cause, species-wise. I think any environmental cause is doomed to fail until it acknowledges it is self-serving, and their appeals are restructured accordingly. Honestly, I think the bulk of this scribble scrabble is self evident, especially with the coming of massive climate change, that makes it apparent how our biological processes are threatened, but maybe it wasn’t clear to you. I hope it is now.

Crab dump

I have concluded, after some consultation with an actuary table, that I am likely to perish soon in an automobile accident. Which is a shame because I am an untapped treasure of wild and wonky opinions. As such, I have resolved to perform a brain dump, starting forthwith.

iPad thoughts

Because my opinion is more considered than yours:

  • Let’s first set aside the name jokes. Yes, it’s bad. Part of me wonders how the name is greeted internationally; Americans have a tendency to narrowly use words in specific contexts. Maybe “pad” plays differently elsewhere.
  • The underwhelmed reaction to the iPad is a testament to two things: 1) the stilting nature of hype (more on that later); and 2) the degree to which the iPhone is a device at least three years ahead of its time. People are dismissing the iPad as “merely” a giant iPhone. What kind of insult is that? “Why, this new product is just like that other product that overnight transformed expectations of mobile devices and mobile computing, except this one has a much nicer screen, runs much faster, and has more software. Meh.” Imagine for a second if the iPhone was never released. How amazing is the iPad as a brand new PC? Multitouch gestures. Incredibly slick software, app ecosystem, and engineering. Does anything on the market come close? The fact that the iPhone came FIRST seems almost backwards. It’s like the iPad, the best tablet computer ever made to this date, but fits in your pocket and it makes phone calls!
  • Feel free to calculate the size of the entire netbook market, and add it to the Apple’s next quarterly revenue. Who the fuck would now buy a shitty laptop with this product priced so aggressively? The $499 starter price is transcendental.
  • God, I hate “hype”. Yes, Let me build up a product with incessant chatter fueled by nothing more than my own speculation and curiousity, and then cynically dismiss the product as “overhyped” when it finally is released, and decry and blame the product itself for failing to meet expectations generated without encouragment from the product maker. The same fate befell the Segway, which people still dismiss as an overhyped bust. Dean Kamen never said a single word to generate the anticipation it had; and when it was finally released: thud. (even tho it remains a brilliant invention for individuals of limited mobility).

This product release destroyed my afternoon productivity so excuse me if I am feeling a bit loquacious. I probably have more to say. Anyone want to chime in with other conventional thoughts that I can rebut?

Update (2010 Jan 28) more thoughts:

  • One of the more common questions I hear is, “What the hell is this for?” or “What does this do that I can’t do with my laptop or my iPhone?”1   Okay, at least about once a month, before I became an asshole, I used to receive an e-mail from some friend asking for a laptop recommendation.  My first question, besides budget, would be: “What are your needs?  What are you going to do with it?”  The answer was almost always:  ”Oh, you know.  Nothing crazy.  Just need something with which to check my e-mail, surf the web, and listen to music.”  In many ways, there’s your iPad market.  I’m fairly convinced there’s no more pleasant way to surf the web than holding a tablet in your hands, but I won’t know for sure until March.
  • Corollary to above:  do you know who recently told me,  ”just need something with which to check my e-mail, surf the web”?  My parents.  I would buy my parents an iPad in a second.  I know you are all myopic millennials who don’t pay attention to other people, but have you ever seen a person older than 50 use a computer?  It’s painful.  When they want to scroll, they gently move the mouse down to the scroll bar– almost… almost… too far… where is it… oh yes. ah.  Click.  They maximize the window they’re using, even when it looks absurd on a 22″ widescreen flat panel.   When they log into websites, they squint to make sure the cursor is in the box, then they stare down at the keyboard to type their login/password, not realizing it when they are accidentally type in the wrong box. They sure as hell as are not firing up Adobe Photoshop.  The simplicity and size and handling of the iPad fits them.  It inherits the renowned accessibility features of the iPhone. (Also, I sure as hell won’t have to obliterate the OS every 6 months because of some malware they’ve picked up.)  I’m telling you, the baby-boomer birthdays/anniversaries/Xmas will be GANGBUSTER for the iPad.2
  • As disappointed as some are in the iPad, I am disappointed in their disappointment.  The general geek criticism sounds like this (feel free to read in a droll, gum-smacking voice): “no multitasking, no flash, no video camera OMG not even a regular camera, big ugly bezel [???], no HDMI out, PASS.”  I would have thought after the infamous “No wireless. Less space than a nomad. Lame.“, people would stop criticizing new products this way.  Guess not.  My own criticism is that the device isn’t radical enough.  I could care less about feature checklists.  I want more crazy multi-touch gestures, more connectivity.  I want a special on-screen keyboard that I can use to type one-handed while I hold the iPad with the other hand (no really).  I just want something from the future.  Does Jobs really think this device is more magical than the iPhone?  Maybe only in the way in that this product a new category of products that Apple is dedicated to making and supporting for the long haul.  It indicates how computers may operate in the future: filesystem completely abstracted away from users; computer linked to a spending account, wireless connectivity from anywhere.
  1. The lack of immediately clear market indicates to me that Apple may bust open a completely untapped market. (If you said, “Oh, right, this product is an X,” chances are there is already a competitor sitting there.) []
  2. Just as, according to my pet theory, the iPod was massively successful because it was the PERFECT graduation gift for parents and relatives to give to high school seniors.  Cool enough, expensive enough, and you knew they would love it. []

Ponderous ponderment #2

Any girl that derides any other girl as being a “total slut” is probably rubbish in bed.

Ponderous ponderment #1

Who the fuck wants to be a kid in a candy store anymore? As an adult, candy is still just as awesome, and now you can buy the whole fucking store.

how to: neutralize paparazzi

I am surprised that celebrities do not try harder to foil the efforts of those insistent hooligans: the paparazzi.  Nonetheless, hand extensions are popular.  So are downward-casting eyes.  Mr. Kanye West recently demonstrated that the classic grab-camera-and-smash-on-floor move is not only an inefficient deterrent to photography, but also, a felony.

So, to those that suffer at the hands of group of strange men documenting one’s every trip to Duane Reade, all flip-flops afoot and ironic t-shirt donned, all Just Like Us, to them, I humbly offer two innovative solutions:

  1. Mist with a spritz water bottle.  Face it, camera lenses are very sensitive to schmutz.  Any water droplets, fog, hair, sand, or granuelle on the front of the camera lens will ruin a photograph.  So, arm the bodyguards with spritz/spray bottles filled with distilled water, and a shot of mist should disrupt any in-your-face paparazzi for a significant amount of time.    The lens cannot be quickly wiped, for fear of scratching.  The light water does not damage the camera, eventually evaporating without leaving a smidgen of residue.  Also: this item reportedly works on cats.
  2. Dump the market.  Paparazzi only hound celebrities because the financial upside is huge: they  unload photos to the tabloids for amount as high as $1,000 per juicy photo [citation needed, okay maybe I just made it up].  The solution then is to remove the financial incentive for paparazzis to bother following a given celebrity.  We can do that by dumping on the price for celebrity photos by flooding the market with cheap photos of that celebrity.
    Here’s an example:  Assume Owen Wilson.  Owen Wilson hires a photographer Phil, on an exclusive contract, to take pictures of Owen Wilson as he goes about his day.  Owen Wilson may even tip off the exclusive photographer on his occasional location so as to capture candids.   The exclusive photographer Phil, under contract, then turns around and sells these photos to the tabloids but at a huge discount, let’s say, for mere dollars.  Presumably, the tabloids will realize they don’t have to pay $1,000/photo for photos of Owen Wilson from all the other paparazzi;  why bother when they can just buy them from Phil on the cheap?   The market value of Owen Wilson photos plummets.  The paparazzi say, “WTF? I’m not going to follow around Owen Wilson  all day.  It’s not worth the time.  Where’s Christian Bale at?”   And there you have it.  Economic warfare.

Thoughts, audience?  Will the spritz defense result in lawsuits anyway or merely usher in the era of the telephoto?  Is dumping-the-market unviable in the aggregate?

Colin

Sometimes when a guy breaks up with his girlfriend, you can infer what he thought of her shortcomings by the traits and qualities of his next girl. There are elements of over compensation at work. In other words, the subsequent slag makes a nun of her predecessor.

So it is with great interest that I watched Colin Powell’s endorsement of Senator Obama. If you ever wondered what General Powell thought of President Bush, consider his praise of Obama

I watched [Senator Obama] during [the economic crisis]. And he displayed a steadiness, an intellectual curiosity, a depth of knowledge and an approach to looking at problems like this and picking a vice president that, I think, is ready to be president on day one. And also, in not just jumping in and changing every day, but showing intellectual vigor. I think that he has a, a definitive way of doing business that would serve us well. (emphasis added.)

The intellectual curiousity remark corroborates well with Ron Suskind’s 2004 thesis about Bush’s unwavering certainty. In any case, the entire 7-minute clip on Meet the Press is worth watching. Everything this man says is reasonable. For example, he nails the Obama-is-a-secret-muslim issue:

I’m also troubled by … what members of the [Republican] party say…. such things as, “Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim.” Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he’s a Christian. He’s always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer’s no, that’s not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president? Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, “He’s a Muslim and he might be associated terrorists.” This is not the way we should be doing it in America. (emphasis added.)

Additional reading:

new world madness befuddles monocle-donning company

NY Times: Online Scrabble Craze Leaves Game Sellers at Loss for Words. Wow, two Indian programmers are raking in $25,000/month in advertising from Scrabbulous. I need to launch my facebook app as soon as possible. Zampire Tile Game v2.0 here we come.

This is a classic story of a small entity finding an easy-to-use, convenient outlet for someone else’s content (see also Napster, YouTube). Scrabbulous was simply presented, and fit well within the Facebook system. It tracked game stats, and allowed you to challenge your existing friends. It really is amazing to me how many people who wouldn’t touch a wooden Scrabble board with a ten foot nerd pole have 17 games of Scrabbulous going at once in Facebook.

As for the legal issues, there are two separate legal rights Hasbro could claim: trademark and copyright. Hasbro could probably nail them under trademark law for naming themselves “Scrabbulous”, which is likely to confuse the average consumer blah blah blah. Copyright infringement of the game rules and the board’s look and feel is a whole other question, not to be touched here because I got a B in that class.

Big picture-wise, is this actually harming Hasbro’s market for wooden board games? Absolutely not. The enriching experience of in-person board games is completely separate from the online meandering of those darn Millenials. (Although you could argue that this harmed Hasbro’s right to exclusively license their online Scrabble rights to a software company, like, here, Real Networks, which has an astounding history of creating beloved, well-designed, user-friendly malware.) If anything, this just made Hasbro more relevant to a new generation. They’ll just have to tolerate the occasional snotwad saying something like: “Oooh! This is game is just like Scrabbulous but in-person and with wooden pieces.”

how to survive first year of law school

Here are the bullet points I rattle off unsolicited advice to law school-bound acquaintances. Part 1 of something ? Who knows, this is mostly scattershot wisdom at its finest.

Read the rest of this entry »

class day comments

The hubbub over Senator McCain’s graduation speeches is fairly silly. How polarized and politically intolerant have we become that a fairly moderate Republican senior Senator can’t give a boring ol’ graduation speech without people complaining?

Columbians won’t pass up a chance to protest (oi, especially not this year), so gatherings and flyer distribution prepared for morning of Class Day. Don’t miss the nicely-designed website: mccainatcolumbia.com (was .org taken?) or the stunning discourse of its discussion board.

If you’re looking for other people to protest on Class Day, you can check the full list of Columbia graduation speakers. Highlights:

  • Law: Governor Pataki
  • Journalism: Jim Amoss, editor of The Times-Picayune, New Orleans (multiple Pulitzers this year, Hurricane Katrina etc etc)
  • P & S: Atul A Gawande, Harvard School of Public Health, The New Yorker contributor, author of Complications (highly recommend)
  • SIPA: Karim Aga Khan (wikipedia)

People tell me good writers constantly rely on their old writing, so: last year’s graduation ceremony tips.

Update: well, his speech was less turning-point and more I-am-practicing-for-2008. Everything I have to say, Irina said already.

golf: a review

So, as a male, I am obligated to bother with sports, but the iconoclast in me must question everything. As a result, one of my favorite pastimes is evaluating a sport on a set of arbitrary values. For example, consider golf.

Golf requires a good mix of athleticism (driving,) finesse (putting), and judgment. The handicap system apparently is a nice skill equalizer. And then there’s that clich about how useful it is for your career.

Unfortunately, this sport is a massive waste of resources. All this effort is expended to maintain giant well-watered, well-manicured plots of grass that only a handful of people can play on at any moment. I mean, basketball only takes tar and a hoop; soccer plays on any surface, with anything as goal markers.

Also, the sport oozes exclusitivity: dress codes, bag porters, private courses. And technology matters too much.

Thusly, I have rationalized not learning to play. Thusly, I reject golf.

Anyone care to defend this resource sink of a sport?

a post for a quiet weekend

I love immigrants. I do. I love these people that would leave all they know and travel to a foreign place, subjecting themselves to danger and racism and a furious unknown. All this for the possibility of a better life? Of a better future for unborn children?

The flip side of any immigrant story is its coda. Every child of an Asian immigrant that I know seems to deal with this issue. What to make of a life made better on the backs of those who love us? Do we flitter around seeking happiness? Roll up our sleeves and continue to forge life as it was for us?

I’m growing suspicious of life made too easy. Everyone should have to struggle. Everyone should be denied their desires at least once, denied a toy for Christmas, rejected at school, or spat upon as unpopular. Struggle must be the soil for character and drive.

I think I need a purpose of life that is external to myself.

…I don’t know where this post was supposed to go; but I had to get it out of my system. Everytime I sit down to write my personal statements, I squeeze out turgid little gems like this. It’s an awful affliction. The admissions process favors storytellers, people who can crystalize their life’s inflection points and personality into rollicking anecdotes. Not me; I just prattle on about introspective nonsense and expound generality upon generality.

On Intelligent Design

Saying intelligent design is an alternative scientific theory to evolution is akin to saying the ontological argument for God is a religion. In fact, intelligent design seem to leave a person with the same suspicious aftertaste as ontological arguments do. The “it just can’t be….” or “it doesn’t seem right that…” talk must be to blame.

I suppose it wouldn’t be that bad if they taught intelligent design in schools. How long would it take, ten minutes? There’s no content! The corpus of work is two sentences; it fits on a 3″ by 5″ index card. It reads:

  1. Evolution is wrong because organisms on Earth are too complex to have arisen from only random mutations and selective pressures.
  2. Someone omnipotent somehow designed and created the organisms.

Where do you go from here? There’s no body of evidence, no further conclusions, no applied knowledge. What’s to teach? Am I missing something here?

Accountability

Since working at the University, I’ve developed a slight theory of accountability. Pockets of ineptitude (such as disorganized welcome desks, no napkins at a dinner, typos on a chart, um… one disastrous hurricane?) usually points to those lower level people directly in charge. When you have an organization that can’t get their shit together over the course of five years or more is when you blame the top.

I know Michael Brown is everyone’s favorite villian right now (especially with questions of cronyism and his resumé), but I’m not fully convinced we need to publicly eviscerate him . Didn’t Florida have an absurd hurricane season in 2004? Was FEMA not involved in every incident over there?

Review: Batman Begins

What an amazing cinematic realization of the Batman world. Not only, by far, the best Batman movie, but also, one of the best superhero movies of all time.

They nailed the dirty chaos of Gotham City (Bladerunner-inspired or not). A dream cast, led by a youthful-looking yet believably tormented Christian Bale. And I was genuinely scared by the Scarecrow scenes.

i must say though, the story of Batman’s first years seems to be a story more easily told as compared to the other Batman plots. The story line is more clearly laid-out; the character growth needed, more evident.

Abandoned

I was going to post about how I thought the Spec was being irresponsible by publishing the name of this year’s Bachannal Concert performer, but then I stopped giving a shit.

boob tube

Been mulling over the whole Janet Jackson incident. To me, this is an interesting case study for journalism. What is a controversy? Who is responsible for making it so? Are journalists able to make self-fulfilling declarations?

These questions arise because this entire incident seems completely overblown to me. And I am sure it feels that way for many people. So what? There was a stunt and her breast was exposed for a split second. (Many people probably did not witness the flash live; but only in news-room replay.) CBS received some phone calls. FCC chairman Mike Powell was pissed off (yeah, as if the Superbowl is a classy event to begin with… american football has got to be on the crudest and unrefined sports in existence.) Are journalists justified in declaring this a controversy of such magnitude?

I don’t think they are. Personally, it ticks me off that journalists have the power to manipulate the general topics and levels of discussions of the popular culture. It’s unfortunate that when you broadcast the news, you also make the news.