Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Apple Recipe

Bill Gates is no longer at Microsoft.  Google is run by a small team of unknown nerds.  Even after being the subject of a hit movie, Mark Zuckerberg is not the "face" of Facebook.

But Steve Jobs IS Apple.  It's hard to think of any individual executive so closely associated with his company's brand.  (Jim Perdue definitely lacks his father's strangely charismatic blandness.)  Even his alter-ego as Disney/Pixar Steve Jobs doesn't dilute his Apple appeal.

So when he's out on medical leave, people worry about the fate of Apple.  To help ease the anxiety, I think it makes sense to publish a guide to being Steve Jobs, so someone else can step up and fill the role.  To begin with, let's talk about the aspect of Steve Jobs that's probably most instrumental in Apple's success ... being a design-y guy.  Apple's success hinges more on its product design than anything else, so let's start by explaining how to design an Apple product.

1) It can't look like a computer.  Ideally, it should look like a piece of glass or a block of aluminum, but really, anything but a computer.  A block of aluminum with a piece of glass in it is ok.

2) No controls!  No buttons.  No keyboards.  No mouse.  No stylus.  Ok, if we absolutely have to have a keyboard or mouse, make it look like a piece of glass or aluminum.

3) No wires.  Bluetooth.  WiFi.  3G.  But no stinkin' wires.

4) No Flash.

5) Cute.  Must be cute.  Things on screen should swell with pride when you go near them, and literally jump up and down when you touch them.  UI is all done with colored jelly beans.

6) Did we mention no Flash?

7) No user serviceable parts.  Not even a battery change.

8) No sharp edges or corners.

9) Make it any color, as long as it's black, white or silver.

10) These are today's rules.  At some point, some other rules will be in.  Then discard everything here, and follow those rules without mercy.

With these rules, soon you too will be able to run ads like this ...

Monday, March 28, 2011

Decennial Song

(To the tune of "Annie's Song (You Fill Up My Senses)" by John Denver)

You fill out the census
Though you live in the forest.
List the folks in your household.
Use a blue or black pen.
Mention everyone's races
(Even those who are hybrid.)
Just fill out the census
Or we'll come here again.

Don't list people in prison
Or your nursing home family.
Don't list children in college
Or off serving in arms.
There is space for six folks here,
So list those living with you.
If you do it right this year
We won't see you for ten.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Yearly Cycle

With Spring weather comes the inevitable return of lawless gangs of bikers, choking our roadways and threatening our petroleum-based way of life.  These scofflaws and ne're-do-wells have been known to run STOP signs and ride between lanes of traffic, clearly endangering everything that is good in society.

Ordinary citizens, with no more protection than their two-ton SUVs, are at the mercy of these hooligans on their 30 pound aluminum and steel contraptions.  Motorists may suffer delays and even scratched paint by being forced to share the road with such garishly clad outlaws.  Even making a right turn or opening a car door can provoke an attack by a self-righteous cyclist.

What can we do about it?

Well, if you're inclined to avoid confrontation, you can try to find the most heavily pitted and pot-holed routes to take.  These tend to deter the species bicyclus Spandex.

But if, like me, you believe the best defense is an offense, there are a number of steps you can take.  Throwing bottles and lit cigarettes from a moving car window has been shown to be effective against cyclists.  Stopping short and opening car doors without warning are also good.  Another useful technique is to serpentine, veering from side to side as you drive.  In general, anything that keeps bicyclists from anticipating what you're going to do can be an effective defense.

I see people driving like this all the time, so clearly the word is getting out.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Education Thing

There's always a lot of arguing and hand-wringing on the subject of education in this country.  Are American kids dumber than kids in other countries?  Do we spend too much on education?  Or not enough?  Should we test kids more or less?  Pay teachers more or less?  And so on.

We know kids have innate learning abilities.  Eight year olds can memorize the names of 500 Pokemon, along with their powers and weaknesses, evolution, etc.  Yet they don't know the names and dates of a few dozen presidents.  They can master all the Latin spells from the two thousand pages of Harry Potter books, but not the differences among "there", "they're" and "their" (and, in some cases, "Thayer")  They can gather reams of data about human reproduction, and yet learn nothing of biology.

So how do we get kids to learn?  Simple.  Forbid it!

That's right. Make the school day all recess, and you'll find kids sneaking books onto the playground.  Lock up all the textbooks, and smugglers and dealers will emerge.  Use parental filters to block public television, and kids will crack the code.  Run news stories about how multiplication leads to the harder stuff, and everyone will want to experiment (and inhale!)

This is undoubtedly the thinking behind such moves as the Kansas Board of Education's attempts to block the teaching of evolution.  Clearly Kansas was trying to encourage students to study evolution on their own, perhaps through extra-curricular experiments.

This is also the motivation for banning books.  What could increase a book's appeal more than making it taboo?  A quick glance at a list of banned books shows that they're almost all classics!

And what about the straight-arrows who always follow all the rules?  It may sound harsh, but there are some people you just can't reach.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Literary Life

I know some of you envy me.  You think "What could be more rewarding than the life of a blogger, with a loyal readership numbering in the several?  The whirlwind travel!  The glamorous social life!"  I know, I know.  But after a while even Google Earth and Facebook lose their luster.

So I, insufferable attention-seeker that I am, have ambitions that are even more ... uh, ambitious.  I'm going to write books!  No, wait.  I'm going to write bestsellers, which are like books only popular.  Of course, I know the traditional cardboard sandwich books are fast becoming obsolete, but I'm prepared for that.  I'm prepared to write bestselling e-books.  In fact, I already have some titles picked out.

My first bestseller will be called Book Publishers Are The Greatest People On Earth.  The actual book has nothing to do with publishing, but I figured that would get me out of the slush pile of unsolicited manuscripts.  Publishers have millions of these.  If you visit a publisher's office, you'll see that the interior walls are made of stacks of manuscripts.  (The subtitle is:  And Book Sellers Aren't Far Behind.)

Of course, once I've gotten approval from publishers and booksellers, I need to get people to buy my book. lists no fewer than six different books with the title Soon To Be A Major Motion Picture so that's obviously out.  So what else might induce someone to buy a book?

Remember, these are e-books, so it's possible to actually customize a book for each individual reader.  Maybe the Web site can identify whoever's looking for the book, and make the title irresistible for that person?  Wouldn't you buy a book called How You, Your Name Here, Can Get Rich!  (or Famous, or Laid, or whatever you want, but that takes a bigger database.)  By the way, I assume your name isn't actually Your Name Here.  I just don't have the details all worked out yet.  (But if your name is Your Name Here, I'll bet you can get great deals on t-shirts, hats and birthday cakes.)

So you see, the new technology actually opens up all kinds of marketing possibilities for new bestsellers.  Now all I have to do is fill the pages.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Big Questions

I think it's time to address the big questions.  I don't mean Windows vs. Mac, or 401(k) vs. Roth IRA.  I mean the really big questions.

And the first really big question is ... what are the really big questions?

Here are my candidates, in no particular order:

1) Is there a god (or are there gods?)
2) If not, what's the point? (Or, if so, what the point?)
3) Are people, in general, stupid? (If so, why is the Web all about crowd-sourcing?)
4) Is life fair? (Why can't you buy a box of vanillas?)
5) Are things getting worse? (And if not, why does it always seem that way?)
6) Why do I keep using parentheses?  (Why not?)

So these are the kinds of probing, philosophical topics I'll be taking up in future posts when I'm really stuck for an idea.

Don't say I didn't warn you.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Bother! Changed the Paradigm

Once I wrote a program,
Made it run,
Made it race against time.
It was a DOS program.
Now it's done,
Since they changed the paradigm.

Once I build a Web site,
Loads of fun:
JavaScript, Flash, QuickTime.
iPads don't display right:
Flash won't run
Since they changed the paradigm.

Once we were employed and feeling quite smug,
Full of that corporate diddley-dum.
Half a million lines of code to debug.
I was the kid at the scrum.

Say, don't you remember?
They called my code.
Servers ran all the time,
Till the site went viral.
Brother, can you spare a dime?

Monday, March 14, 2011

iPad My Dues

About a year ago, I scoffed at the iPad when it was first released.  Of course, much has changed since then, and now Apple has rolled out version 2 ... thinner, lighter, faster, and with front and back cameras.  So much has changed that I decided to give it a serious look.

It is, indeed, thinner, lighter, faster, etc.  It features an Apple proprietary thermal chip whose only purpose is to make it seem really cool.  And it still has the famous multi-touch interface that's annoyingly different from the Apple "Magic" Trackpad.    With the built-in accelerometers and gyroscope, the iPad 2 can tell where it is and what you're doing to it.  You can poke it, prod it, tilt it and shake it.  All of this makes possible such ground-breaking applications as these:
  • You poke the screen and little fish swim over to check out your finger.
  • You draw with your finger on the glass, and on the screen appears a drawing that looks like it was done with an old sneaker dipped in paint.
  • You bring up the on-screen keyboard and type "When in the course of human events", and it gets automatically translated, right before your eyes, into "w#Hewmi8m   5rhe c 9oiu4sxze oldf uhjhinmANM  E$$VBEWMNFTRS"
  • You read electronic books, almost as easily as with a cheap ebook reader.
  • You start the Safari browser, and go to GHo9pohglke3.,vco9jnm

The dramatic addition of cameras means you can run applications that make you look like a 1960's psychedelic poster, or like you're seeing a fun house mirror, or like you've been poked, prodded, tilted and shaken.  Then you can switch to the back (front?) camera, which has all the resolution of a 2003 cell phone.  You can video chat with friends, as long as they also have an iPad 2, iPhone or iPod Touch, and don't mind looking like a submerged cadaver.

But the main thing that's changed is the world.  The iPad, one of the fastest selling devices in history, has created its own market.  Before it, nobody needed a jumbo iPod Touch that didn't fit in your pocket.  Now rival companies are tripping over themselves to match the iPad's elegance, features and price.  And that, of course, means mutually assured obsolescence.

Maybe next year.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Hire the Needy

In the current economy, many people are out of work, and may be out of work for a long time.  Those recently unemployed can expect to spend months or years looking for a new job.  In many cases, that new job will never come.

That's why I'm sure we all want to help actor Charlie Sheen, recently fired from CBS TV show "Two And a Half Men."  Luckily Sheen, born Carlos Estevez, has a long resume and EEO minority status in his favor.

One possibility would be for him to take over as conductor and music director for the Boston Symphony Orchestra.  Current director James Levine is stepping down for health reasons, and Sheen did play a composer on "Two And a Half Men."

Perhaps President Obama could nominate Sheen to the Federal Reserve Board, instead of Republican-blocked nominee Peter Diamond.  Sheen certainly has the depth in monetary policy, and Republicans are sure to embrace his family values.

But I think a better fit for him might be as Libyan strongman, replacing Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, who currently holds that job.  Sheen has certainly displayed the kind of tough talk for which Qaddafi is famous. It remains to be seen, however, whether he would be friendly towards the U.S. or, for that matter, towards anyone.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Less Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

Let's face it.  Things suck.

Unless you're Bill Gates or Warren Buffet or one of that ilk, you're probably worried about job security, saving for retirement, putting kids through college or buying an iPad 2.  (If you are one of that ilk, please email me.  I have a proposition.)

And then there's infrastructure.  Our roads and bridges are falling apart.  Public education stinks.  Even sixth graders are not smarter than a fifth grader.  And let's not forget long lines to renew our driver's licenses.  And all the crap on TV.  And the Internet's too slow.  And the ice caps are melting.

In such gloomy times, it's difficult to be blithely optimistic.  All the age-old advice to "put on a happy face" and "always look on the bright side of life" (ok, those are more show tunes than advice) seems hollow and superficial.  You wonder what kind of simpleton could  believe in this, and why you still use words like "simpleton."

And yet, I find that at such trying times, the best way to look at life is ... to look at life.  Really.  Just stop and look.

If you're reading this (as I suspect you are), you're probably using a computer.  There's a vast source of entertainment and information literally at your fingertips.

You probably also own a car.  Think about that.  You can climb into this little box, and go from place to place.  Even if you're stuck in traffic, you can sit and listen to the radio and pick your nose while you wait. And all for just twenty to sixty thousand dollars or so, plus fuel and maintenance.

If you can get to a wooded place, you can lean against a tree and watch squirrels and birds.  Oh, and bugs.  You can contemplate the beauty and timelessness of nature.  What a great way to relax!  (But watch out for the bugs.)

Personally, I derive happiness from accomplishment.  I tend to be happy when I or a loved one has accomplished something.  Finished a big project at work?  Achieved a personal goal?  If you're a parent, remember your child's first potty success?  Euphoria!

So when you're feeling overwhelmed by the pressures of today's life, remember to stop, drop and roll.  No wait.  That's fire safety.  I mean stop, look and listen.  Or, in the immortal words of Qui-Gon Jinn, "Concentrate on the moment."

There.  That's done.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

June Is Bustin' Out All Over

(To the tune of ... well, June Is Bustin' Out All Over, from Carousel, by Rogers and Hammerstein)

June is bustin' out all over,
All over the continents and seas.
From the tropics to the poles
All those ozone layer holes
Are ensuring that there's no place left to freeze.

June is bustin' out all over.
The climate is nothin' like before.
Ev'ry storm that once was silent's
Now a hurricane that's violent,
And the permafrost ain't perma anymore.

Because it's June!
June! June! June!
Just because it's June, June, June!

Don't be surprised the weather's strange.
They've been predictin' climate change.

June is bustin' out all over,
And soon there'll be no place left to hide.
All our vehicles and tools
Have been consuming fossil fuels
'Til the atmosphere's just carbon dioxide.

June is bustin' out all over.
Farewell to the flowers and the trees.
All the weather's more outrageous
Than it's been since the ice ages
And our cities soon will lie beneath the seas.

On account o' it's June!
June! June! June!
Just because it's June, June, June!