Saturday, January 25, 2014

Mac and Me

If you've been anywhere near any tech media the last week or so, you are quite aware that it is the 30th anniversary of the introduction of the Macintosh computer. You may or may not know that I'm a "Mac guy." Pretty much all my websites, blogs, videos, songs, etc., that I've posted over the last couple of decades have been created on Macs.

My earliest computer experiences were actually on a Commodore 64 that belonged to my friend (and for a time, roommate) Dave. It was fun, easy to use, and we even managed to do some very basic programming without having to learn much (I remember creating a rudimentary Madlibs-type game). But it wasn't a machine that anybody would use for any serious work.

My first desktop computer experience in a work setting was probably about 1987, when I was working at an ad agency in Hollywood. We had a couple of Compaq Deskpros in the office (looking pretty much like these photos), and if memory serves, the software I mostly used was WordStar (writing) and Lotus123 (spreadsheet).

There was no graphical user interface, only text line commands, and a tiny, fuzzy screen that sucked the ability to see the color green right out of your eyes. But it was still considered pretty cool, and you could easily update documents and print them out so you could put them on the fax machine and magically share them with people outside the office.

Then I changed jobs and went to a music video production company down the street, and we had one of those funny looking all-in-one box thingies I'd heard people talking about, called "Macintosh" (it was about 1988, and it may have been the Mac SE, but I can't be sure).

The monitor was still pretty small, and black and white - but so much easier on the eyes than that horrid green glow of the Deskpro. And when you typed a document, it looked pretty much the same as it would when you printed it. It was still pretty basic, but light years ahead of what I'd just been using.

Then I returned to school (1989), and I needed to bring better technology with me than just a basic typewriter. But a Mac was still too costly for me, so I bought a Smith Corona "Personal Word Processor" (pretty much like this photo).

It had a screen that displayed about 12 lines of text, and a slot for a disk that could store about 25 pages of text. No images or fancy formatting (the print wheel was still just a basic typewriter), but I could write my papers, correct them, print them, and get through UC Santa Cruz for my BA in Politics.

When I went on to grad school at CSU Sacramento in 1991 (Master of Public Policy & Administration), the Smith Corona was just not cutting it anymore. It was time (finally) for my own real computer. The Macintosh LC III filled that bill with an 80 Mb hard drive, which - at the time - seemed like I would never be able to fill.

That machine got me through grad school, and also opened up entire new worlds. It was on the LC III that I first connected to the internet, first through Delphi, then AmericaOnline, then finally a local ISP called Quiknet. It was through Quiknet (1994) that I had my own webspace and started to learn html.

After the LC III I owned one other desktop Mac, a Power Mac (I think the 7300?), then I switched to laptops, first an iBook, then a MacBook, and now a MacBook Pro, for a total of five Macintosh machines over 22 or 23 years.

The upgrades were never because of hardware failures, but mostly to have access to faster/better software that wasn't supported on the older platforms. I've never had a loss of data that wasn't my own darn fault, and the only repairs I've ever needed were handled quickly, easily, and free at my local Apple stores.

I've also owned two PCs in that time.

First I got a Dell laptop as a premium gift with credit card points. Even as a "free" computer, it was over-priced. The Dell never worked well (or at all, really), was frustrating as hell, and did nothing to break my Mac loyalty.

Later, I purchased an HP Mini, to have something smaller and lighter than the MacBook when traveling (and something I wouldn't be too upset over losing). This was actually much better than the Dell, and I got some good use out of it. Until the day certain letters on the keyboard stopped working. Including letters that I needed for my password to log-in. End of HP story.

And, of course, I've used a variety of PCs in various office settings over the years, and never found one that I enjoyed using nearly as much as any of my Macs.

My other Apple devices over the years:
* First generation iPod Shuffle
* iPod Touch (1st or 2nd generation)
* iPhone 3GS
* iPhone 4S

No iPad yet, but if (or when) I decide to get another lightweight machine for travel (to replace the HP Mini), it will probably be an iPad.

I try not to be too much of an ass about my affinity for Apple products, but I've been accused of "being rude to PC fans." To me, Macs just work better. They're more intuitive (to the way my brain works), they don't crash/freeze/die with nearly the same frequency (in my experience). Yes, they cost more initially, but I have found them to be worth the price differential in the long run.

If you disagree, that's swell, enjoy your PC. But, for me, I salute the Mac on its 30th anniversary, and I look forward to the next 30.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Let Them Ride Ferries!

As the legend goes, at a time when France was in the midst of a famine, Queen Marie Antoinette continued to spend lavishly on her extravagant lifestyle. When somebody pointed out that she was doing this while the peasants had no bread, she deadpanned, "No bread? Let them eat cake!" ("Qu'ils mangent de la brioche!")

While Old Marie A likely never really said those words, the phrase has come to represent pompous, pampered, out-of-touch aristocracy, who have no concern for the poor, not so much out of evil, but out of willful ignorance. An aristocracy that is so isolated from the problems of the average person that they imagine what they'd do if they ran out of plain bread; simply switch to brioche.

Let's jump forward a couple hundred years and change the location to the San Francisco Bay Area. Specifically, Highway 101 between San Francisco and Mountain View, where a little kingdom called "Google" has its headquarters.

For years now, Google, along with other tech giants like Apple, etc., have provided their employees (or "Googlers," yes, really) with luxury coach buses that pick them up from various locations and bring them to work without having to deal with traffic, etc.

Quite a nice perk, and one that could be said to be an environmentally sound policy of getting private cars off the road (without making their employees use, iiiiccck!, public transportation). I'm fine with that. Personally, I prefer to be cut off by one or two massive gray buses than have to deal with fifty separate Tesla's darting in and out of traffic.

The problem that many of us have had is not with the buses themselves, but what they have come to represent.

That the Valley of Heart's Delight has been re-christened Silicon Valley brought many advantages and great wealth to this region. But it has not been all-inclusive, and those left-behind have fallen further below the economic divide. We have a greater division of wealth here than in most other regions, and are divided into the privileged tech few, and the invisible poor who serve them.

And it's the invisibility of the poor that the buses represent.

The tech crew moves from their home enclaves to private buses where their commute is protected from sharing a seat with "ordinary" people. The buses deposit them at massive campuses where their meals are provided in wonderfully equipped and staffed cafes. Then they are brought home again in the private buses.

Meanwhile, poverty in Silicon Valley is very real, and very hidden.

It's not all Google's fault! Really. I like Google. I use gmail. I use YouTube. This blog is hosted by Google's Blogspot But over-all, the major tech companies have been unable to successfully address whether or not they have any responsibility as corporate citizens to do anything about the poverty their employees get to ignore.

In the last few weeks, however, the media has finally taken notice of this. Not because the media finally cares about the homeless sleeping along the banks of the Guadalupe River in San Jose. No. Because middle-class, non-tech yuppies in San Francisco got tired of rising rents and decided to protest.

The SF group noticed that the tech buses were picking up their passengers at public bus stops, where if anybody else were to stop, they'd get a ticket. This became the focus of the protests. Long-story-short, the city reached a deal with the companies to pay for their use of public bus stops.

This "solution" is supposed to result in a truce. It doesn't do anything about gentrification in San Francisco, or homelessness all along the Peninsula, or income disparity, or anything else really, but it brings in some civic revenue, so everybody's happy. Right? ... Right?

And now, Google has done one better. Completely missing the original point of the recent SF protests, or the years of resentment building around their Mountain View Googleplex, Google has announced they will provide free ferry service to their employees, saying in a statement to the press, "We certainly don't want to cause any inconvenience to SF residents and we're trying alternative ways to get Googlers to work."

For years advocates for the poor have talked about the buses being a symbol for the isolation and divide between the tech community and the rest of the Valley around them. So now, they are further removing and isolating their "Googlers" by letting them commute on the Bay, where they don't even have to notice an older model Chevrolet breaking down by the side of the road.

In Silicon Valley, Google was told that the peasants have no bread. And Google's answer was to move the brioche onto a ferry.

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