Thursday, March 29, 2012

To Your Health

There are really two principles at stake in the whole health care debacle. One is that at this point in the history of civilization, health care really is a human right. It’s simply not possible to live a normal life (by most definitions of normal) without access to health care. Kids need vaccinations. Everyone needs check-ups, and diseases need to be treated, especially contagious ones. In fact, outbreaks and epidemics alone are enough reason to insist on health care for everyone.

Ok, the framers of the U.S. Constitution didn’t consider health care so important, but look what they had. Back then treatment meant getting leeches applied or having a limb amputated. Your chances of survival with or without a doctor’s care were probably about even. But now, it’s really not a lifestyle choice. It’s a matter of life and death.

Now the other principle goes to the very core of what a society is. A society is not just a bunch of people with similar zip codes. Civilization really means “city dwellers.” It started when people began living in big communities. Instead of everyone’s having to catch or grow his or her own food, people could specialize. Some could farm. Some could hunt. And some could be telemarketers. But the ones who farmed and hunted could raise enough food for everyone, and the telemarketers could buy food with the money they defrauded from the farmers and hunters. That’s how society works.

So there are some things that are good for society, and get paid for with public funds. Roads are good for society. Police and firefighters are good for society. And universal health care is good for society.

That’s the big misunderstanding. My health insurance benefits me. Yours benefits you. But universal health care benefits society at large, just like roads, police, firefighters, etc. Conversely, uninsured people, whether by choice or need, hurt society. In addition to potentially spreading disease and weakening the labor force, they cost money. Plain and simple.

So how do we pay for this universal coverage? Maybe having the government impose fines for uninsured people is not the best approach. Single payer (government) insurance is a political hot potato. Justice Sotomayor spoke of having a health care tax, and giving exemptions to people who have health insurance. That should certainly pass Constitutional muster. But it’s basically the same thing as the individual mandate in the current law.

Then again, the French have universal health care, and they still say “Sant√©” when they drink.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Poor Judgment

American conservatives frequently rail at the liberal moral relativism. Conservatives consider this approach too non-judgmental, and too nuanced, lacking the framework for distinguishing good from bad or superior from inferior.

Good non-judgmental liberals, of course, think there may be something to this.

So, in an effort to be more judgmental, I will state unequivocally that stupid is not just another viewpoint. Stupid views do not deserve equal time. Stupid attitudes are not merely characteristics of some alternative culture. They are stupid. For example, …

Requiring women seeking abortions to undergo a trans-vaginal ultrasound? Stupid.

Clinging to the idea that President Obama is a foreigner or a Muslim or a Socialist? Stupid.

Teaching kids that creation myths are just as plausible as evolution? You know.

Ignoring culture, context and nuance and just being judgmental about everything? Stupid.

Oh, wait.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Public Privacy

It doesn't matter whether you're the President of the United States or just the latest person to join Facebook.  Everything you say, do or think is now public information. We've invited technology to join us everywhere, and it has accepted the invitation. Now we're never more than a few ill-chosen words or key clicks away from fame ... and infamy. So naturally I'd like to get in on some of that.

Hey, everybody! News flash!!!  Obama will have more flexibility in arms negotiations after he's re-elected!!

Mitt Romney's an Etch-a-Sketch!!

Rush Limbaugh thinks Sandra Fluke is a slut!!  Oh wait.  He said that on purpose.

Well, you get the idea.

Am I famous yet?

Monday, March 26, 2012

Going Mobile

We just switched from our old wireless carrier to a new one. I don’t want to mention names, so lets call them magenta and red.

In order to do a fair comparison, we created a spreadsheet listing all the fees for various features of the plans … basic service, additional line, unlimited messaging, data, etc. We checked the Web sites, looked up all the options, and even emailed and “live chat”-ted with some of their agents. (The only way you can’t contact the phone company is by phone.) It turns out the plans, and their prices, are meticulously designed to be as indecipherable as possible.

What’s more, if you ask three different agents, you’ll get five different answers about what the costs are and what discounts are available. There are discounts that apply only to certain users at certain hours of the day, during certain astrological signs. You can sign up for a “friends and family” package, unless you’re actually friends with someone in your family. Then you pay extra. For a limited time, you get double the bandwidth for the same price … unless you choose an iPhone, in which case you get half the bandwidth for double the price. You get an additional discount if you sign up to receive spam.

The choice of phones is completely bewildering. There’s array of gadgets with 4G, LTE, Gingerbread or Ice Cream Sandwich, with a slide-out keyboard or with Swype or on-screen touch-sensitive G-spots. And now you don’t have to get a phone at all. You can get a tablet! iPads and Android tablets proliferate, each with the power of a small computer, combined with the awkward size, lack of a keyboard and inability to make phone calls that sets them apart. In addition, there are quasi-tablets … oversized phones that are too small to be tablets, but still don’t fit in your pocket.

So now we have mobile phone service from the same company that provides our household phones, Internet and TV service. This happy state is what the tech-savvy like to call “single point of failure.” But we get a discount.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Power Siris

Our Tech Curmudgeon Research and Prognostication (TCRAP) group announced today that they had achieved a milestone in their current investigation, which was centered on getting two iPhone 4Ses ... Should that be iPhone 4sses? Or iPhones 4S? ... anyway, they got two of these iPhone 4S thingies to converse. The exchange went something like this:

P.I.:1 Siri, Hi.
iPhone 4S/Siri #1: Hello.
iPhone 4S/Siri #2: Hello.

We know the second iPhone 4S was addressing the first because they made iContact.

Now admittedly this is a pretty short, superficial conversation, but it already surpasses the level of discourse on Amazing Race, among other network shows. And don't get me started on TV networks and the so-called "March Madness."

We can look forward to Siri/Siri conversations in the not-too-distant future with such sparkling repartee as:

P.I.1: Greetings.
Siri #1: The iTunes Store offers Greetings from Asbury Park, Bruce Springsteen, 1973.
Siri #2: Here are directions to Asbury Park, New Jersey.
Siri #1: New Jersey, known as the Garden State, is located in the mid-Atlantic coastal region of the United States.
Siri #2: The United States occupies 3.79 million square miles, and has a population of over 300 million people and over 50 million iPhone 4Ses.  Or should that be iPhones 4S?

And so on. The next breakthrough would be getting one of the Siris to initiate the conversation.

And as for network television, do they really think the usual audience for The Big Bang Theory would rather watch college basketball?


1P.I. stands for principal investigator, which is kind of like a private investigator, except that instead of being a cool guy in a rumpled suit who chases bad guys, a principal investigator is a geeky person in a lab coat who chases grant money.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Vision Thing

There are basically three ways that technology companies develop and maintain their “vision” of the future:
  1. Let engineering drive.
  2. Use marketing/product management to gather requirements, feedback, etc.
  3. Have an all-knowing dictator.
The first approach tends to produce incremental improvements of the same basic products. The engineers all know how to improve what they’re already building, but not necessarily how to completely blow it away. Many such companies tend to engineer themselves into oblivion. Anybody remember DEC?

The information gathering approach is probably the most widely espoused (if not necessarily used). Theoretically, this leads to building what customers want, but the results tend to be very conservative. Customers don’t necessarily know what they want, and modest proposals achieve consensus much more easily than radical new ideas. Some companies start out being very innovative, and then settle into this how-can-we-help-you model. I suspect Google, the king of Web analytics, fits this category.

The all-knowing dictator model, at least as exemplified by Apple, is obviously very successful … if you have such a person. Pretty tough to pull off otherwise.

There’s actually another model: copy other successful companies. Microsoft has managed this, occasionally adding a bit of innovation, throughout its history. Windows came from Xerox (via Apple). C# was Java. Windows Phone was Windows Mobile was … whatever else they’ve called it … back to the original smart phones they copied from. XBOX was Nintendo or Sony or whoever’s gaming system.

Maybe there's yet another model to consider: crowd-sourcing. Just give everybody the tools to make their own cool things, and see what emerges. The mobile app industry may ... just may ... be going in that direction.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Clutter (Addendum)

A few further thoughts about clutter:

The laws of thermodynamics mean that heat flows from higher concentration (i.e., hot) things to lower concentration (cool) things. Eventually, everything settles at one temperature.  

In the same way, eBay allows a kind of crap-o-dynamics. Stuff moves from high concentrations to lower until all the world's junk is where it's supposed to be. If it weren't for people moving, changing jobs and dying, eBay would put itself out of business.

And speaking of out of business, note that clutter itself is becoming obsolete, at least in the physical sense.  Books, newspapers, magazines and even notebooks and scrap paper are being replaced by digital versions. (Ha!  Just try wiping your mouth on that iPad. Not very absorbent, is it?) Of course, you can have cluttered disk drives, the cloud is replacing them too!

Not a bright future for us pack rats.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


Maybe it's a sign of tough economic times, but I see more and more ads for people offering to help me de-clutter my house and/or my life. I think this is the hip new occupation of the post-employment era.

But why on earth would I want that? Clutter keeps me grounded ... literally. If I got rid of the clutter, my house would surely float away. More importantly, clutter is my life. It is the embodiment of memories ... the tangible reminder of every trade show booth I ever paused at, every fast food joint and paid parking lot I ever patronized, every napkin I ever re-purposed as a notepad (or a Kleenex.) I'm not sentimental, but those 1987 menthol cough drops still pack a punch, and you never know when some computer museum is going to need access to TOPS-10 manuals.  Old business cards make great note paper. And who doesn't reuse paper clips and zip lock bags?

But it's not just the professional organizers. There are whole workshops and courses for those who want to be educated in the art of minimalism. For some reason, clutter has become a crime in the eyes of society. It's up there with smoking and public cell phone use as anti-social behavior. Lengthy newspaper articles are written about the pathology of hoarders, and whole books have been published about strategies for dealing with clutter (of course, after first overcoming the psychological resistance.) Why don't people understand? I LIKE STUFF!!

There. I said it. I'm an unrepentant hoarder. It broke my heart to have 1-800-GOT-JUNK haul away decades of treasures from my boyhood home (especially having to pay them $1500 to do it!) There were a lot of memories in that house, even if most of them were better left undisturbed. Fossilized tubes of Clearasil and orthodontic rubber bands. My driving manual. Band-Aids signed by friends. (I never broke anything, so I never had a cast.) Closets full of bell-bottoms and Nehru shirts that will be back in fashion any day now (though I'd need some amputations to fit in them.)


Tuesday, March 13, 2012


Those who know me know that I’m a rugged adventurer and outdoorsman. Of course, those who know me better know I’m a pathological liar. Just the same, I have been known to venture outdoors even more than is strictly necessary in a two-car family with a one-car garage.

And over years of observation, one of the things I’ve noticed about the outdoors … it hasn’t changed much. Sure, there’s less of it, but it’s still basically made up of trees, grass, rocks, dirt and bugs in varying proportions. It’s about the same as I remember it from my childhood.

The indoors of my youth was living rooms with plastic covered sofas facing massive Colonial maple furniture full of hi-fi systems and black and white television sets. (TV was what you watched, and the appliance was a television set.) Kitchens had a toaster and a coffee percolator, but all other food preparation was done on the range, usually an electric one. You’d have to visit some historic landmark to see interiors like that anymore. But the outdoors? It’s just as it always was (except for the broken glass and graffiti.)

Now environmentalists, take note! If you want to get people jazzed about the environment, you have to update it a little. Give it a little sizzle (and no, I’m not talking about global warming.) You should skip the next couple of versions of iPhone and 3DHDTV, and concentrate on building an environment that resembles the planet Pandora from James Cameron’s movie, Avatar. Now that’s an outdoors … filled with weird glowing plants and flying boulders. People would run around with broadband cables growing out of their heads, able to plug in to the nearest neighbor or tree either to reproduce or to meditate as the occasion demands. That would be an environment worth saving.

And maybe people would even go outdoors once in a while.

Monday, March 12, 2012

More on Limbaugh

In response to last week’s Rush-English Dictionary post, we have received more emails1 than almost any other form of communication. Therefore, in the absence of further snarky comments about Rush, we feel completely justified in posting something totally unrelated.

Note that in the preceding paragraph, we used the term “we,” even though we’re only one person. We do this in the grand tradition of The Royal “We” and The Editorial “We” in English. (In French, it’s probably Le “Nous” Royale or something like that, though it’s tempting to think of it as Le “Oui” Royale.) The Royal “We” is when a monarch uses “We” to convey the idea that he or she is speaking for the whole country, or at least for the immediate circle of corrupt and incompetent advisers. Political candidates also use this locution in an attempt to appear multitudinous. Similarly, the Editorial “We” is intended to make it sound like a piece of writing is endorsed by a whole editorial board, or at least more than just one renegade writer.

In our case, we just use “We” to make ourselves sound important. You could think of it as The Pretentious “We,” or simply The P “We” for short. Further evidence of this pretentiousness includes the use of “The” in the title of this blog, henceforth known as The Pretentious “The.”


Friday, March 9, 2012

Rush to Judgement

Many people are offended by Rush Limbaugh's on-air personality, and his quirky way of referring to people as "slut," "nazi," and other choice epithets.  To help clear the air, we think it would be helpful to provide a Rush-English dictionary.  Here are a few sample entries:

When he says ... He really means ...
Barack the Magic Negro I disagree with the President's views on a number of issues.
slut I disagree with her views on insurance coverage for birth control.
feminazi I disagree with her views on the role of women.
loveable little fuzzball I'm a bloated, bloviating blowhard.

We hope this will help to prevent any future misunderstandings.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The New iPad

As we predicted, Apple's new iPad, known as the new iPad1, will be new. In particular, it will provide four (4) times as many display pixels as the previous model. Overall, the resolution of 2048 x 1536 means the device requires three million one hundred forty-five thousand seven hundred and twenty-eight (3,14 ... whatever) pixels.  This could lead to a world-wide pixel shortage.

Currently Apple's chief manufacturer, Foxconn, is believed to have a supply of pixels sufficient to equip 20 or 30 million new iPads, far fewer than the expected sales this year. Researchers are now frantically trying to develop new pixel sources via mining and off-shore drilling. In particular, the controversial practice known as fracking may be adapted to produce pixels from naturally occurring shale. However, environmentalists fear that widespread fracking could lead to cave-ins in pixel-rich areas.

At today's new iPad announcement, Apple CEO Tim Cook, with his shirt un-tucked in a pathetic attempt to mimic the casual coolness of the late Steve Jobs, appeared unconcerned about possible pixel drought, fueling speculation that Apple has been cultivating techniques for producing synthetic pixels.

1How many years will they get out of that naming convention?  Three, I suppose, if they use "newer" and "newest" for the next couple of models.

Attention Span

The latest research shows that prolonged Web browsing leads to diminished attention span and blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blabiddy-blah blah blah. Whoop-di-do. Mairzy doats. "Jeechet?" "Nojoo?""Squeet""Stwirly-tweet"

Furthermore blah blah blah blah et cetera et cetera. Four score and seven years ago. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Research also indicates that readers who scan through meaningless gibberish have too much free time.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Super Tuesday

(To the tune of the Rolling Stones' Ruby Tuesday.)

Mitt Romney thinks that he'll come out on top.
But even so this nonsense will not stop.
Gingrich and Santorum
Will find some other forum
For their brawl,
As will Ron Paul.

Goodbye, Super Tuesday.
All you candidates came through.
Though you change with every new day
Wish we could have missed you.

Don't question why the leading guy is Mitt.
They're all equally just full of it.
In red states and in blue
There's been nothing new.
But all this drama
Might help Obama.

Goodbye, Super Tuesday.
All you candidates came through.
Though you change with every new day
Wish we could have missed you.

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Sequel

As the world anxiously awaits the release of Apple's latest blockbuster, iPad 3: The Empire Strikes Back, the rumor mills are churning out rumors about when the next rumors will be circulated. Followers of tech blogs know when to tune in to catch the latest update on anticipated processor speed, video resolution, and thickness to within a thousandth of a millimeter. The current wisdom is that the latest incarnation of Apple's wildly successful tablet will feature the high-resolution Retina display, an updated processor, possibly quad-core, and a V6 engine that gets 32mpg.

In other news, Apple is suing the crap out of smartphone makers HTC and Nokia, alleging infringement on its patent for "technology that seems really cool and irresistible, but that becomes boring and useless 12 months later."

Despite its financial difficulties, California is weighing opening several shelters for battered Siris whose owners have flung them across the room in response to dropped calls, roaming charges and other domestic disputes.