Apple’s Impact on CES

20120110-102839.jpg

It seems CES is all about reacting to Apple -Ultrabooks that are indistinguishable from MacBook Airs, smartphones that try to beat iPhone on features, cloud services that plagiarize Steve Jobs presentation slides, TV’s you talk to that try to preempt a Siri hosted Apple TV. The best stuff is when they try to be themselves, like Windows Mobile which is not very Microsoft in that it is stylish and easy to use, again like Apple.

When irony is so obvious, it no longer is ironic. It’s just sad. It’s just a bunch of small fish in a small pond. A tall hobbit contest.

Iowa, Nice

qLZZ6JD0g9Y

This video has gone viral and is a reaction to all the negative coverage about Iowa. I have always said that Iowa plays a critical role as America’s great filter. I believe this because Iowa has the highest percentage of educated and reasonable people in the US. In fact, it is Iowa’s number one export.

When I was in New York and we had to have any kind of group interaction, the ability of the group to function predicated on a minimal number of stable, reasonable people. The reasonable persons index is basically the number of reasonable people divided by all the people in the group. A midtown modification of this is all the reasonable people and their entourage divided by the people in the room and their intended audience, but I digress.

The minimal index for a group to function in my experience is 0.20, meaning one in five of any group has to be a reasonable individual. The average New York City subway car has an index of 0.05. The average city council meeting, 0.15. The average fully loaded cab headed to three different stops on a rainy day, 0.00, my apartment, 0.50. What I noticed in various committee meetings that was part of my job back in New York was that the reasonable people were either Jamaican or from the Midwest, and of those from the Midwest, the least insane were from Iowa.

When I moved to Iowa, for obvious reasons, I realized the impact of the high reasonability index when I visited the motor vehicle department for my Iowa Driver’s license. It was packed, and there was a sign asking me to please take a number and wait for it to be called. My wife was pushing my son, then a toddler, in a stroller, and was immediately offered a seat by several reasonable Iowans, including some who needed the chair far more than my wife. As we sat, the numbers were called and the people moved up to the desk with a beautiful dignity –none of the expected sighing, looking up to the sky, and loudly complaining into the cell phone that would have been expected behavior back in New York. When our turn came, the clerk noticed I hadn’t filled out a section properly and patiently waited while I filled out the missing parts. My wife who is the typical non-patient type A New Yorker was smiling Mona Lisa-like through the whole experience –a surreal, psychedelic ethereal moment of serendipity.

The average Iowa is college educated and well read. I have a patient who is a farmer. He holds a dual masters in agricultural sciences and business. While he sits in his air-conditioned combine feeding the planet, he is trading commodity futures on his Blackberry. We had a nice discussion about the writing program at University of Iowa where his sister, a budding novelist attends. He’s skeptical of climate change, but only so far as he is skeptical of anything on the Huffington Post, but has noticed the wetter summers and is adjusting his farming accordingly. He has an investment strategy based on climate projections and economic growth data –in a name Brazil, and he has prospered. He has never visited Manhattan and sees no need to, being very comfortable in his maxed out Ford F-150 which has all the appointments of the coziest leather chair in a quiet corner of an exclusive midtown club. He doesn’t see what the fuss is about gay marriage, but is very upset about our wars abroad. He wishes the Republicans would field a more reasonable candidate, basically an Iowan like him, and is on the fence.

When candidates crash and burn on the Iowa Caucus stage, it’s usually because the Iowan reasonableness burns through the spin. Howard Dean, fun guy, would have been a terrible president and scared Iowans to death with his primal scream. And people focus on the GOP caucus which is the one place where the reasonability index falls below 0.50. You should look at the people Iowa rejected and understand what is going on. Howard Dean, John Edwards, Hilary Clinton (narrowly), Gingrich, Bachmann, Paul, Perry, Mitt Romney ‘08 and I would argue ‘12. The more I listen to Governor Huckabee, who won in ‘08, the more I respect him for his reasonableness on many issues, even though I disagree with him on some very important ones –and that is why he won in Iowa.

The caucuses are Iowa’s Exposition of American Democracy. If you show up, you vote physically by moving around the room and gathering (caucusing) for your favorite candidate. That candidate may even show up or prior to that, at your favorite lunch counter, bistro, or living room. In the hyperconnected, hypercaffeinated media world, the Iowa Caucuses are a time warp to the 19th century of mustachioed men orating on soap boxes. Given the audience that the candidates face, it is no wonder that the least reasonable just wilt. It wasn’t the internet spawned image of Bachmann fellating a corn dog at the Iowa State Fair that lost her. She lost by failing to convince Iowan’s that she deserves to lead the country. Got that? Not money, though it helps, but on fitness to lead. Isn’t that the whole point?

So as we move our attention to New Hampshire (state reasonability index of 0.02, both of them from Iowa), and South Carolina (-0.35, negative when person so unreasonable that they negate the positive of those around them, like some in-laws), I think we should all celebrate and be grateful for Iowa, America’s pith.

Inside of MacBook Air Looks as Good as the Outside

I ran out of hard drive space on my 2010 MacBook Air, and so I decided to upgrade the SSD. The OtherWorld Computing SSD kit and instructions are very straightforward. Opening th MBA reveals shockingly clean lines that are frankly beautiful and fits with the Jobsian aesthetic of being beautiful in the totality of the device. I felt like I was looking at an alien artifact. The fan which you didn’t realize was there has silent gears and fits in organically. It was like operating, changing out the SSD.

image

One percent of the 1%

20111223-095744.jpg

From Evernote:

One percent of the 1%

The recent focus on Kim Jong Il’s lifestyle brought gasps of astonishment -he sent his sushi chef on a private jet to Japan to shop for rice cakes while his country was starving. Fact is, among the wealthy, there are the über wealthy, and among the über wealthy are the super duper wealthy whose daily budget would feed maybe a thousand families. While we do not begrudge anyone success -as this is the cornerstone of America, even the most callous person has to admit there is some injustice in North Korean society. It does not come from a lack of guns -the noncoms always outnumber the officers, and the fact that people can bribe border guards to escape means that some independent thinking occurs. The fact is that a religion, a cult of personality, sustains the vast inequality of North Korean society. Religions demand faith over logic. Directing the resources of a nation to the sustenance of a few humans at the top defies logic. It is a religious-type faith and fear of retribution, fear of apostasy and heresy, and fear of change that causes this gangrene to linger. What are the idols that drive injustice here at home? It is the belief that success comes from being favored by God and that lack of success comes from sin. It is the belief in absolutes that define religion. This idea afflicts our politics as much as the cult of personality afflicts North Korea.

The subordination of logic to dogma and its use in organizing societies is a old tradition. It gets people across desserts, oceans, and helps individuals process grief and the unfathomable concept of infinity. It is a human trait as ingrained as circling three times before bedding in a dog. Yet this kind of thinking is also used to demonize the poor, write off the sick, and rationalize the unemployed. It is extended into contempt for anything for the public good that comes from taxes -clean water, safe roads, national rail, public health, education and safety. It sanctifies success defined as wealth and therefore denigrates anything that might take away from that wealth.

In our still free society, one’s success is the result of not only hard work, but favorable circumstances, good health, and the support of people who were midwives to the success -the family and community that nurtured the individual and the society that provided the fertile ground for success. It’s the good plumbing that provided fresh water for excellent development. It’s the public safety provided community police and fire departments. It is the critical mass of excellent citizens that allow for success and justice. I think that is the message of the OWS protesters, that the people who get tasty morsels flown in for them not get protections at the cost of the people making it possible.

I wish for the new year the restoration of reason and clear thinking guided not by desire for retribution or a return to a past that never really was. I want an America where everyone has available all the opportunities while being good citizens and supporting the community, state, and country that allowed that to happen.

Jangjorim- Comfort Food that makes me think of my mom

With the winter upon us, I seek comfort food and nothing says comfort like jangjorim which my mom used to make by boiling beef and seasoning late into the night. I found that Maangchi’s recipe was almost as good and took under two hours. Link (http://www.maangchi.com/recipe/jangjorim).

20111219-185137.jpg

12 Used Things to Get For Your Favorite Surgeon

One of the most popular posts on this blog is a gift suggestion list I put together last year. Surprisingly, every item remains fresh –even the iPad and Macbook Air. Because of the terrible economy, I thought that “gently used” and “pre-owned” items deserved their time in the sun. Add to the list last year’s model which technically isn’t used, but still a great bargain. Here it goes.

1. Gently used Porsche –these were in fact easier to get in 2009 after the crash, but the lots are full especially in tony but transient locales like the Hamptons, Aspen, and Lake Taho. My particular favorites are the 911 turbos from the 80’s and 90’s. They have go cart like handling and are plenty fast without costing more than a new Hyundai.

2. Sony NEX-5, last year’s model. The lenses for the new one fit. The cameras have been updated, but there is no need to buy the latest and greatest here. Why even bother getting a SLR quality camera when your smartphone takes nice snaps? I agree, there is no reason to buy a point and shoot camera when the iPhone and others take excellent snapshots, but to take great macro shots in the OR or beautiful portraits and landscapes, a great camera and lens still wins. Ansel Adams could not have produced his masterworks with an iPhone.

3. iPad2 in a few months –they are plenty fast and because I have never used Siri, I don’t miss it yet. The iPad2 does everything that the original iPad does about 20-30% faster. The device is definitely thinner. Facetime is GREAT and brings the promise of videophone to life. The Android manufacturers don’t realize that not only are they competing with the to-be-announced Retina display, Siri equipped iPad 3 in April, they will be competing with the millions of iPad2’s that will be sold on eBay when current owners upgrade. The wonderful thing about Apple is that Apple updates the operating system unlike 95% of Android manufacturers, and that devices going back more than a year are supported in these upgrades, which means many years of usefulness for iPad2 and last year’s iPad.

4. Tiny Laptops –When released, tiny, pocketable laptops like the Sony Vaio P series were very pricy toys but now they are available used for a significant price reduction. I recommend getting a late generation model with the SSD hard drive. These fin in the coat pocket and will allow most physicians get onto their hospital information systems –something cumbersome to do on a tablet. The Windows 7 devices will also let you run iTunes letting it be a very nice media player. The only downside is the short battery life which can be augmented with an extra battery or one of those combo USB/laptop batteries –I use the Eveready branded ones as they allow you to simultaneously charge a smartphone, a laptop, and itself.

5. Old school iPods –the iPod 5th generation, also known as the video iPod, is readily available used on eBay cheap and come in 30 and 60gB sizes –usually more than enough for most music libraries. The only trouble with them is that the batteries are often run down –that’s usually not a problem as it costs about 20 dollars and fifteen minutes to swap one out. The older iPods work well with most automobile maker’s iPod docks which for some unfathomable reason are several years behind at the time of release. The original Bose Sound Docks and the Apple branded iPod speakers (very hard to find) are wonderful loudspeakers and work great with these older iPods. The older iPods are durable and won’t break the bank if you leave it behind in the OR, unlike an iPad or an iPod Touch. I recently acquired an iPod Mini from my dad who never really used it, and I not only changed the battery on it, but I swapped out the 4gB compact flash hard drive for a 32gB solid state hard drive –instructions are widely available on line.

6. High end automatic espresso machines. My recently acquired Saeco Incanto Sirius espresso machine will grind and brew perfect espresso and lattes. When purchased new, they are well over a thousand dollars, but you can find them used for a couple of hundred. The great thing about these is that there are resellers of these machines on line, and finding spare parts and repairing them yourself is pretty straight forward. Once you try coffee from these machines, you will never go back to Starbucks, or even remotely enjoy the swill from a Keurig.

7. Used Kindle 2 –Kindle 2’s, the black and white ones with the keyboard are trickling on to the market as the newest array of Kindles come onto market. If you can find one for under $50, you should snap it up because the secret about the Kindle 2 is this: the always on 3G connection and the “experimental” web browser. You never have to pay a subscription fee, and for reading text and email from the web, expecially if you set up a web news reader account well, you will be surfing away anywhere in over a hundred countries without paying wireless fees. Plus, you can read your books. In the sun. I was initially against ereaders, but being able to download and read hardcover books for 10 bucks or less, and carry several hundred around at a time trumps any antediluvian “I love how an old book smells” sentiment. That old book smell, by the way, is likely a potentially deadly mold.

8. Used Aquariums –The one thing about people moving around a lot is that aquariums don’t move well. People once excited by Nemo suddenly find the cost and time involved in taking care of fish to be a burden. The key is avoiding salt water set ups and focusing on self sustaining easily breeding fish like guppies that don’t need to be harvested from the tropics. The maintenance is minimal in fact if you go for a natural museum presentation with algae and freswater plants as well. The water from these tanks should never be thrown out –they are incredibly fertile natural plant food for the garden and potted plants. Best found on Craigslist and local barter sites, the sweet spot is 10 gallons and up.

9. Used Big Televisions –while flat screen televisions are cheap, the 60 inchers are considered the high end and still command a premium price. The increasingly obsolete DLP (digital light projection) televisions can be found used for sale and have excellent pictures particularly in the darkened home theater setting where being flat isn’t critical. The important thing is making sure the connectors are up to date –HDMI is a must. The other bonus is that these televisions are incredibly light –they’re mostly air.

10. High end stereo equipment from the 80’s and 90’s. Those ten thousand dollar stereos from twenty years ago are now considered junk because of iPods and iPod speakers have largely obsoleted CD players and standalone stereos. That said, the sound coming out of high end used speakers and a quality amplifier like the NAD amps which will accept the audio out from an iPod via RCA jacks is both loud, amazing, and cheap. Most kids don’t have the experience of listening to Pink Floyd at full volume through six foot tall speakers.

11. Used Golf Clubs –There is really no need to pay top dollar for the latest clubs, but most amateurs start and play with clubs that hurt their scores from overwhelming age or cheapness. There are certain clubs that will improve play which were amazing when they came out and still play better than the entry level kits from Walmart or Costco. Vintage Ping Irons –the Ping Eye2’s, are forgiving, durable, and very easy to find in your size. Perimeter weighted Maruma’s and Honma’s –basically hand carved Japanese irons that were several thousand dollars when new, can be found for a few hundred or less on eBay. Best person to ask –any long term golfer –ask them what were their dream clubs in the 1990’s. Most of these irons can be regrooved with tools from the internet –while illegal for tournament play, for the average golfer, these rejuvenate older clubs for use. All they need are new grips.

12. Projectors –8mm Projector and slide projectors –if you have old cans of 8mm movies or boxes of slides, you can have them digitized for a fee, but its much more fun to watch them through original equipment. The missing link is usually the projection equipment which was often fragile with now hard to replace parts. Fact is, these can be found functioning and make for incredible family activities around Thanksgiving or the holidays. Imagine screening wedding footage from the 60’s or 70’s or vacation slides from your parents childhood. The 8mm film and 35mm slide are the least accessible of the popular consumer medial technologies of their times, and being able to show these films and slides with the clickety clack of the projectors, the shuffle of the carousels, with live narration of the subjects (while they are still around) is worthy of filming with your smartphone.

Merry Christmas to all.

20111218-180718.jpg

20120102-092001.jpg

Social Animal Network

image

We’re inherently social. It is imprinted in our nature to bond, communicated, and organize as packs. This trait, the instinct to gather, seek out each other’s company, to seek approval, to argue, I would argue, is as much a distinguishing species characteristic as spots on a Dalmatian, and is one of the reasons for the explosive growth of Facebook. We, each of us, need to be part of a tribe, and when the tribes were destroyed by the onset of modernity, they awaited a mechanism to be reunited. Think about it –up to the 2000’s, people had to rely on the usual methods of connecting with their old tribe –telephone, email, actual contact which relied on deliberately remembering to keep in touch which none of us were really good at. The casual intimacy of living in a village with a commons, of having a favorite popular coffee shop, a dorm common room, when you move on the people you said hello to moved on as well. Now they follow you forever in Facebook.

It may or may not be a good thing, because if you have a village, even a virtual one, there will be a village idiot or two (I may be the village idiot). I have become reintroduced to my best friend from kindergarten and there are eerily similar things that we are passionate for –coffee, scatological extraversion, and Apple worship, that brings daily a smile. The shy quiet girl who sat in the back corner of high school English class turns out to be a world class smarty pants –a nicely maturing red wine with a kick in the middle and a lingering finish. I’ve even made new dear friends among friends of friends. They occupy my particular village, some I speak to every day, some every once in a while. It’s the tribe I’ve accumulated over the decades.

It also has implications beyond the sharing of holiday pictures and links to funny cat videos. It returns us to a kind of social organization that was only possible when people physically lived in villages and neighborhoods. The outside world is invited in by the denizens of these villages, but the human tendency is to be insular within the family, the tribe, the village. It may not seem like a big deal to us living in a constitutional republic, but when Facebook is available to those living in places less free, their time amongst their friends must be as important as air and water. Facebook has created a virtual planet for us to inhabit, a brave new world.

The Agony and the Ecstasy

The Agony and the Ecstasy was my favorite dish at a stylish Japanese restaurant on the Upper West Side during the ‘90’s and has stayed with me since that time as a short hand description for living. As a dish, it was tarted up with wasabi and overpriced Tokyo style curry poured onto rice, but as a metaphor, is aptly descriptive of my life as a constant outsider. What curry and wasabi agony that was offered by the dish was paired well with the moderately ecstatic Asian sweet potato humming nicely with some carrots, interposed by the mediating beef, its fat and broth filling out the dish. It was a particularly nasty looking green which gave it the look of Star Trek food, the kind that would give Scotty and McCoy fits when offered by alien dignitaries.

One of the habits that I have is that if I like a particular dish at a restaurant, I get stuck on it and will only order that same dish over and over again. The corollary to this rule is that after about two years, I stop going. Two years is about when I get tired of it. As I had mentioned in prior posts, the half life of human desire is about six months. In two years, whatever passion I had for the dish drops by four half lives or over 90%. Without a meaningful change in the dish, the natural refractoriness of my dopamine receptors kicks in –refractoriness refers to a nerves inability to give off the same intensity of signals if used again and again. The dish, once ambrosia becomes sawdust.

I am ecstatic when reveling in the new. I like the new car smell on the latest gadgets as they come out of their box, and figuring out the essence of a new surgical procedure has that same allure. New people, new surroundings, new foods –this is what gets me going. Of course, life wouldn’t be what it is without the agonies, and I engage these with the conviction that no matter how overwhelming the circumstances, brain chemistry dictates that the intensity of feelings on the agony side of things will wane too. All bleeding stops eventually, we say in the OR. So it is that life change takes about two years to settle into a steady state. A new job, a new relationship, fresh grief – any life change takes about 2 years to reach a digestible state. It took Tiger Woods two years to win again after all.

Which makes you think about marriages and how they survive romantic love. The old coffee machine that we got on our wedding day lived with us for the past 17 years. It was a Krups combination drip brew and cappuccino maker. My wife, Jennifer, says it was a metaphor for our marriage. At the start, we kept a variety of beans to grind fresh for every pot, occasionally making espresso and cappuccino, but eventually, we settled on cans of Melita Classic, which we found to be a superior ready to brew grind. At about year 7, I broke the pot, but Jen found a replacement. Two years ago, the heating element broke, but Jen managed to find a source for spare parts and she performed the necessary surgery on it to repair it. It was this year she realized that our coffee was not as good as it used to be after she tried the coffee that came out of our friends very expensive European coffee maker, and it was it some sadness we are saying goodbye to the old machine –the new one arrived from Amazon. It’s letting go of the past, accepting change, and anticipating the new that is both agonizing yet full of hope. Marriages, by definition, are rife with moments of agony and ecstasy, but when faced together with your partner, they become surmountable.

If I am to escape the fate of the old coffee maker, I have to actively engage, fearlessly renew, and aggressively freshen. Sophomore slumps are the result of passivity and laziness of the mind. Looking back on seventeen years of marriage, I can see that at some point, I was a drip coffee maker, once shiny and new, but now I am a fully automatic, self cleaning espresso machine, slightly used, but perfectly serviceable. Ciao.

20111213-204151.jpg

The Unconnected

20111108-123638.jpg

I recently saw advertisement for a 16gB flash drive for $8 and I smiled as I thought about how cheap memory had gotten compared to twelve years ago when I bought a 32mB flash drive for $200. It is a nice benefit of Moore’s law, but it also brought a slight shudder as I thought about its provenance. Several years ago, there was a rash of malware transmitted from flash memory embedded in digital picture frames. It was a ham-handed attempt at infecting computers world wide, but it made me concerned that most of our technology comes from China. It also gave me the idea of maintaining an unconnected computer, one that requires no internet connection and would serve as a repository of important information and private thoughts.

The Chinese understand this issue as a national security one, and recently announced the creation of its first homegrown supercomputer. Less noticed was the fact that all the processors were custom silicon using custom instruction sets -without knowledge of these instructions, it would be devilishly hard to create programs to enter, monitor, and transmit information. It is the ultimate in unconnected computer and its appearance should be as dismaying as finding a black monolith pulsating with data in the Serengeti. With custom silicon and architecture and an unknown operating system -likely a custom written and compiled Unix, this computer stands apart.

My son’s favorite show is Star Wars Clone Wars. The loyal and brave clones in this series are doomed because ultimately, they are designed to betray their Jedi masters when they are most vulnerable. The Sith Lord enacts Order 66, which causes the Clones to turn on their Jedi leaders. It makes me wonder, how much of the processing power in government and military hardware is sourced from China, and if our insistence on transparency, openness, and interconnectedness is an exposed Achilles heel. Is my iPhone really mine, or does it serve several competing masters? Will our next Pearl Harbor or 9/11 be all the electricity and cell service turning off with planes and satellites crashing and my Facebook telling me to go quickly to the place where the planes and satellites will be crashing?

The only way to really know your computer is secure is to make your own computer using chips and circuitry of known provenance. For example, if you created a parallel array of G4 processors made in California with graphics processors made in California, and running an OS that you can inspect line by line and compile yourself, you might be safe. Going further, you can go completely off the grid and eschew technology and society, keeping your own counsel and recording your thoughts in Moleskine notebooks with pencils stolen from golf courses.

Plausible? Of course not. What China has done is create the equivalent structure of a walled city in its completely home-brewed computer. It sends a message and how you interpret it is up to you.