Goodbye to 2008 and bring on 2009.
Monthly Archives: December 2008
The 100th Conversation
It is established, at least to my mind, that a person can only have a hundred meaningful conversations in the course of a relationship, and it is folly to run through them in the first several years of said relationship. In postponing these conversations, you maintain some semblance of mystery and self-hood. The process of having one of these results one of the participants being spiritually absorbed, to the one-hundredth part, by the hungrier party. This is usually the woman who is the devourer. It is never a bright thing to allow oneself to be spiritually phagocytized.
I was recently eating lunch with my son G at Gateway Market, our local version of Whole Foods, and I saw this couple in earnest conversation. What could he be saying that left the young lady in such a serious pose? I could imagine this:
Marty: “You know, you were the best of the lot.”
Rose: “What do you mean.”
Marty: “I figured I had these criteria when I was single and looking around. Looks, money, intelligence, personality, and cooking ability.”
Rose: “Oh. What are you saying, I was a compromise.”
Marty: “No, you are the complete package, sweetums.”
And that would be it. Marty has no where to go but down. This picture was taken probably about ninety minutes after the start of the conversation.
Rose: “So you mean there were prettier girls?”
Marty: “In one sense, sure, but that’s when you break down looks by face, boobs, legs, and ass. Any one woman may predominate in one category, but might be completely zero in other more important categories.”
Rose: “So you made a conscious choice? You had a spreadsheet!”
Marty: “No honey, when I saw you, I knew you were the one…”
As G and I smacked away at our food, the Titanic was sinking right before us. Here was the human condition at a yuppy café in Des Moines.
Rose: “What kind person are you! Do I know you! How can you reduce a woman down to parts like a chicken -drumstick, thigh, breast and wing? How dare you sum me up by personability and money and the ability to make a soufflé!”
Marty: “Snookums, I was just making conversation.”
This is why the couples that last 50-75 years together sit in resplendent silence. Our life spans are far beyond what nature had intended. Nature had intended that we be run down by hyenas at the ripe old age of 20. My advice: shut up!
What honey? I’m talking to the people in the computer again. About nothing…
The Crossdressing Mac
My Macbook Pro 15 inch (Santa Rosa Core-2 Duo Processor, LED backlit screen, 4Gb RAM, 160GB HD) which I purchased a year ago, is a dream to work on. It lets me stay productive for 3-5 hours at a stretch on a single battery -with the two extras I have, I can go a full 12 hours straight before I have to plug in. It does everything the Mac OS X operating system promises very well. Most PC laptops are pretty much obsolete after a year. Not so my Mac. It is likely to be three or four years before I even consider upgrading. My last three laptops have been Sony Vaio’s and they were a miserable lot -pretty to look at but expensive to purchase, they failed at many of the basic things that my Macbook does so well. Even with a Sony Digital Camcorder, none of the Sony Vaio Laptop’s could handle moviemaking, something my Macbook does with polish. I maintain a professional work-related blog with the built-in iWeb software, and all the basic things that I do are just easy and stress free.
On occasion, I do need to go back into Windows. This is where the Macbook really shines. It is not well known by the average user, but the Intel chipped based Macs all run Windows very well -enough so that PC Magazine rated the Macbook Pro 17inch the fastest PC Laptop in 2007. You can run Windows in two different ways.
First, you can run Boot Camp -software that comes with the Mac, that lets you boot up (start the machine) directly into Windows. It reportedly gives you a 2-5% speed boost compared to running it the way that I do which is using virtualization software. Virtualization software lets you run Windows and Mac (and Linux, another operating system) side by side. I use Parallels 4.0, but there is also VMWare Fusion which does the same thing and is currently on sale. Of course, whether you run Boot Camp or virtualization software, you need a separate Windows license. I purchased a Windows XP Pro DVD last year, when you could still buy them, and loaded it onto my Mac, and I can access Windows-only software at work with no fuss. The image at top is the Mac running Windows in full screen mode -I’m updating to XP service pack 3 in the picture.
The Mac is like a smart, well educated person who can speak several languages at once. The image on the right shows three windows -the top left is Windows XP updating to SP3, the right green window is Suse Linux booting up, and the bottom window is Safari on this blog page I am writing. The computer is running with no lag, no delay, and couldn’t care less. Try that on a Vista laptop.
Why do I run Suse Linux? It’s because I’m at heart an incredible geek. It’s a very stable operating system which runs quickly on older hardware. If you have an older Windows laptop that is getting long in the tooth, you can download OpenSuse Linux for free, burn a bootable DVD and freshen your older hardware -it run quickly, quicker than Windows, is more stable, and lets you keep your laptop running a while longer. There is free office suite called OpenOffice that comes with the OpenSuse distribution. There are also other free Linux distributions available. I have OpenSuse in order to play with databases -another get rich quick scheme!
Nintendo DS versus iPod Touch/iPhone 3G
The struggle for the space between the hands is shaping up to be between the established Nintendo DS and the upstart iPod Touch/iPhone. What are the differences and what are the implications of the recently posted numbers for the iTunes App store -10,000 apps and games with 300,000,000 downloads? Where is Sony and the vaunted PSP? What is Microsoft not up to?
The DS is a marvel of thoughtful design, and in its current manifestation as the DS Lite, it has wonderful hand-feel, two sharp screens, and a battery system designed for children -it’s supposed to go 15-20 hours between charges and is rated for 500 charges. We got G one through Amazon for 125. The cost of entry is modest, but it is the content that they get you with. The games cost on average 35 dollars for the new releases. You can get used games on-line and through local dealers like FYE for a modest discount. The games from Nintendo proper tend to revolve around their established universes of Pokémon and Mario. Other publishers publish in Nintendo, but it’s a mixed bag. Some are slapdash ports of their console games or PC games which don’t project well. Some are fossils of PC games made in the 1990’s with all the blocky graphics moved over to the DS -very lazy way to make easy money with a shiny cover with a 35 dollar price tag. You have to read the reviews, but not all the games get reviewed. The well thought out games are standouts with pretty and appealing graphics, compelling story, and engaging gameplay. The greatness of Nintendo is that it does allow for use of legacy cartridges from the Gameboy Advanced, but not from prior generations. The Gameboy Advanced SP is now available online for around 40-50 bucks -I got ours new two years ago for 75 dollars, and will take Gameboy cartridges going all the way back to Tetris from 1988.
This is an old and established model of game consoles going all the way back to Atari -make modest profit on a discounted console and make coin on licensing of the games, and Nintendo certifies and manufactures all the cartridges. Cartridges allow for a deeper level of play than minigames -which is the new word for arcade games. The problem is unless you’re a kid on vacation -who has 20-40 hours to complete Pokémon Diamond or Call of Duty (on order -am on vacation). The minigames -the arcade style games, still cost 25-40 dollars, but are the most sociable -Mario Party (on order) is supposed to allow you to play with up to 8 players from a single cartridge -and this is the neat thing about the DS -it does allow for you to have one cartridge and share among several players -which promotes the purchase of more Gameboy’s in multi-sibling families. We got our second one through a generous friend who sent G this handsome blue one.
iPod Touch/iPhone/App Store
I believe that the combination of iPod Touch and App Store is the future of gaming and all portable entertainment. When you get an iPhone or iPod Touch, you have instant connection to the App Store which now features over 10,000 games. Apple vets these -very controversial in the geek-o-sphere, and the result is that the Apps pretty much work as advertised on the iPod Touch or iPhone. Because Apple limits the exchange of data between programs -allowing only one program to run at a time, it makes the system “locked down,” safe, and stable. The Apps are inventive, useful, and above all FUN. They are also much cheaper than buying cartridges. Many games are FREE, and most are 0.99 to 10.00, and you get very accurate reviews from actual users in the App Store. There is no need to drive to a store. My home has WiFi, as does my place of work, and this ubiquity of data-pipes means the iTunes store is ubiquitous as well.
My favorite games include Field Runners (reviewed earlier), and Flick Bowling. Apple’s Texas Hold ‘Em game is a good time sink. The great thing is that G and J both like the iPod Touch games and find them easy to learn and play, engaging, and easy to put down. The games take up a few megabytes at most and this means you can have hundreds of games on your iPhone without slowing it down -unlike the programs for Windows Mobile. Apple has pulled off a Trifecta -it owns the game box, the store, the TV (I watch most of my movies and TV via the iPhone), and the critical mass needed to move the market. It has created an ecosystem for capitalizing the exchange of content by making it easier to get this content for the average user -it takes a great deal of geekwork to get pirated free content, and a lot less effort for grabbing fun at $0.99 at a time legally.
Did I mention that with iPod Touch, you can load Fring -it lets you make telephone calls over a Wifi connection via Skype. How cool is that?
Bye Bye Sony and Windows
Sony has failed repeatedly in its history by trying to create a stranglehold on media standards -the Betamax, the MD Disc, the Memory Stick, Universal Media Disk (UMD), and Blu-Ray. I include Blu-Ray because high speed internet has rendered Blu-Ray obsolete. Apple is beginning to offer more of its content in HD, and the storage is now cheap enough that you can have a library of HD content in your living room. The iPhone’s display is gorgeous and basically is the same as watching a 50 inch screen at 15 feet -try it for yourself -when you walk away from a large screen TV to normal viewing distances, it’s basically the same as holding an iPhone at arm’s length. The problem for Sony is that it perseverates on making overpriced, overly complicated items that few deep pocket geeks enjoy. The Playstation Portable is a jewel -beautiful to hold and see -and it’s completely impossible to watch movies and TV shows on it without serious geek effort. Playstation -fuhgeddaboudit for now -it’s a compelling buy in about two years when they go bust, if you want to invest weeks learning how to play their games. The games cost 30-60 dollars!
Windows and Microsoft have failed with their Windows Mobile platform when at every moment until about three years ago, they had their feet on Apple’s neck. The WinMo phones are a bust -they crash and run very slow. It’s takes a computer science degree to buy third party programs for it and load it on without gumming up the phone with installers and other detritus. They make simple things difficult and annoying. X Box 360, which I don’t have, appears to shine compared to the usual Microsoft offerings, but is caught in Microsoft’s web of mutually intersecting interests and complications. The games also cost a lot compared to free or $0.99.
Apple -the last person on the island
The first year of Survivor was the most compelling -afterwords, it became unwatchable. The weird guy who was the final survivor made some brilliant moves to be the last one left. This is what has happened with Apple and will be Steve Jobs’ legacy. It realized that people respond to things that are easy to use and fun to play. The iPhone has only one big button and two smaller ones. The content is ubiquitously available through the web. For most students, iPod Touch also allows for true web access previously available only on laptops. The iPhone can be turned into a serious scientific calculator, a golf yardage machine, a GPS device for the car, a musical wind instrument (Ocarina), a level, a beat box, a game machine, and an infinite number of other things that for me represents the culmination of all the future stuff I used to see on sci-fi movies growing up. It’s also managing to sell a lot of laptops during a major recession.
The deep games -the ones requiring gigabytes of memory, are Nintendo DS’s strength. The iPhone has some content like Zork and other adventure games from the ’80’s and 90’s. What Nintendo must do is realize that WiFi is ubiquitous and unlock the DS’s capabilities. You should be able to get a widget you can plug in to download and play content and games from the web on your DS. Put Outlook on the DS along with Facebook with a keyboard for an adult version. It’s only a matter of time before Apple puts out a larger screen version of the Touch with more solid state memory and a 24 hour battery life.
The Lying Chimp
It is a known fact that chimps, like people, lie. Featured in a New York Times Science article (link), the propensity to lie is proportionate to the amount of neocortex, brain matter. Then it is no surprise that we tell lies with with leisurely ease. On the most simple level, a lie is a method for obtaining a tangible goal -usually food. A two year old will learn that telling his mommy, “I’m hungry” can cause the large primate to be at his beck and call. The texture and complexities of the lies increase exponentially, so by the time the child is five, the lies are sublime in their manifest self awareness and contextual rigor.
But our beliefs are riddled with fables and legends, unprovable tests of faith. Isn’t this the most evolved feature of humanity -the great ability to lie to ourselves?
The Good Mike versus the Bad Mike
When Lehman Brothers was about to tank, the Treasury bandied about a scheme to divide the bank into a good bank with all the profitable assets and a bad bank with all the bad debt. The plan was to allow the free market then take care of the good and bad bank. Turned out, the whole bank was pretty bad, but it made me think. What if we could divide into our good and bad selves?
The good Mike would be basically indistinguishable from the present whole Mike, I suppose. But let’s stretch our imaginations and reflect a bit on this. The image on the left is actually an enhanced picture with all the blemishes kindly removed -all the bumps and moles. Looking deeper, the good Mike would be more humble and less profane. He would think and talk less about himself and work harder for the greater good. The good Mike would use coasters and keep everything tidy. The good Mike would obsess less about his own petty needs and be more generous with his time and attention. The good Mike would be patient and kind with people’s faults and foibles. The good Mike would exercise more and eat less. The good Mike would flush.
The bad Mike refuses to submit to an interview but instead asks that all questions be referred to his office in Dubai.
Vibrissa non grata
Vibrissae (Wikipedia link) are a feature of all mammals. They are much longer and thicker in nocturnal animals like cats or aquatic mammals like walruses and hippopatomi. They perform an important sensory function in these animals. Ours are tucked away, unused and vestigial. They are very sensitive, and probably are as sensitive as a cat’s or walruses. I bet if you that if I let these bad boys grow to, oh, about three inches -I could detect textures, quantity, and moisture with my eyes shut.
The image (from Natural History Museum of London) is of the sensory homunculus -a graphical representation of the proportion of the brain taken up by sensation from the various body parts. The brain is plastic -meaning malleable and I am willing to bet that with effort, time, and growth, my vibrissae could be as acutely sensitive as the palm of my hand.
But here’s the problem -I have very little control over my facial hair. Any mention of growing a mustache or a soul patch brings threats. My better half is always clipping away my proud and long eyebrow hairs while I sleep -I even have a long blond one growing off my right eyebrow patch that grows long enough to tickle my cheek of which I am particularly proud and it has gone missing last week! My vibrissae become a topic of conversation whenever they grow long enough to do any sensory detection.
I think I’ll have to gel them back in the mornings to keep them hidden until they grow long enough. I might be able to take the shortcut of gluing on extensions and then tucking them back into my nasal passages when I’m not training my vibrissae.
Will keep you posted.
Dinner at the Club
Our favorite people in town are M and V, and to celebrate our friendship, we invited them last night to Wakonda for dinner. Wakonda was decked out in her full glory, and we enjoyed a very hearty meal. M is a golfist, and referred me to Golf in the Kingdom, one of the venerated texts of golfist mysticism. Out of the corner of my eye, over my wife J’s shoulder, I could see the first tee blanketed in snow. It was snowing and the shimmery Christmas lights added a cheerful glow to the evening’s pleasures. Dinner was a medium rare Chateaubriand filet mignon served with young vegetables and a grilled floret of seasoned potatoes, chased with a very balanced pinot noir (Cambria).
As the night went on, I could swear there was a small dark figure on the first tee. He was bent over, and his eyes shined as brightly as the Christmas lights bedecking the halls. He was wearing a bear coat, clearly a bear because of the bear head that was fashioned into a hood draped across his forehead. He had a gnarled oaken branch that he was using as a staff -it was capped with a golden monkey’s head. He dropped a fiery red globe on the ground, flipped his oaken staff over and took his stance. He waggled his primitive club, and made a mighty blow at the fiery globe, the golden monkey head pierced the fire orb, resulting in an explosion of light. Then darkness.
I turned back to the conversation, which was alternatingly about J and V’s tennis obsession, M’s day trading obsession, and my golf obsession. The retinal flash of that burst of light persisted, and I finished up my pinot with savor and not a little shiver of dread. Dessert was crepes with caramelized pear served with a dollop of fresh cream and a spearmint leaf. As I sipped my coffee and pondered the possibility of ordering a nice port to cap the night, the night golfer appeared in the window behind M, his bony finger pointed at me.
Clearly, it was my turn to tee it up. I gestured at my watch, and pointed at my friends and family around me. No time for golf with the scary bear spirit at the moment. Scary bear spirit shrugged, and floated off into the snow storm. From the red glow in the distance, he had hooked it into the woods between #1 and #4.
Some day, my friend. Some day.
All men need fluffing. It is a fact. You wander into work with a headache that the coffee has yet to work on. You face a day of processing. All it takes is one positive comment, a “hello, you look nice today,” from a female and the day looks better. The workday is now a chance to facilitate miracles. A cute, perky personal assistant taking notes and making phone calls would do fine -think Sarah Palin in her twenties with those glasses and beeeeeeeeee-hive! If I could, I would also have someone to attend entirely to my mood while providing physical labor -crack jokes, carry my laptop bag, make espresso, make lunch, and beat up people. Someone to be a caddy, a butler, a driver, a chef, and a batman (colonial English officers would have a loyal non-com assigned for life, called his batman). Some six foot tall Australian, ex-Special Air Services, with barista and Cordon Bleu training would be great -I think Tiger Woods has one of these. Some days, I wish I had a three women chorus in pink chiffon walking behind me alternately singing my praises and repeating what I say in three part harmony -Stefani, Aguilera, and Knowles would do just fine. I wish I could have my own trailer parked outside wherever I work so I could wander over and take in naps in the afternoon, enjoy a sauna, and a Swedish massage. At the end of my day, I would be deposited at home by this crew completely refreshed and able to help G with his homework, fix something, and listen well.
The Grabulous One
The evolution of the 21st century man occurs everyday. This one has a keen sense of what is likely to set a parent off. He doesn’t hide my keys, for example, but merely puts it on his mother’s night stand, in plain sight, knowing full well there are parts of the house where I am blind.
He comes up to me within earshot of his mother, and declaims loudly in his small voice, “Do you know how to speak woman?” I turn to him, pleading with my bloodshot eyes, “Don’t do it, man!” All I could manage was a whispered, “Nooooooo.” He grinned broadly, “You say the opposite of what you mean! Hahahahahahaha…” I turn to look at his mother and shrug with the deflated denial of a man found with women’s underwear in his coat pocket. She let me hang for a while, and let me off by saying, “He saw it on TV.”
Grabulosity is the incessant need to get the attention of the self absorbed parent. For me, I had more of its opposite, confabulosity, which was the self-absorption in response to overly attentive parents. As an only child, I can understand these intersecting emotional forces. It is the incubator of complexity and wisdom. Just ask my sister.
In medical school, our anatomy professor was very grabulous. There is a lot of hissing in the Ivy League. There, hissing, which is done by making a sharp Ssssss sound, like air coming out of a tire, is done to express displeasure, disagreement, and dyspepsia. To our anatomy prof, a lecture without hissing must have been an empty day indeed. He loved goading angry, over-educated women into fits of livid rage by attaching whatever body part we were being lectured on to a slide of a naked and inevitably hot woman. Foot anatomy? Naked chick with foot. Head and neck -always with a bit of breast. It was grabulosity at its finest and it was an epic display of one man raging against a changing world.