Apple’s crazy iPod nano

The iPod nano could be Apple’s answer to “How would a product evolve over time if its designers had a multiple personality disorder?”

Yesterday, at their media event, Apple introduced the latest in the line of iPod nanos. I’m sure the new nano is a fine device, a worthy successor to the previous generation. But come on!

One year the nano is long and skinny. The next year it looks almost like an iPod shuffle. A couple of years later it’s back to long and skinny. As if that is not enough, in between these flip-flops there was briefly a third basic shape: squat and fat.

Then there’s video support. Now you see it, now you don’t. One year, the nano doesn’t play video, the next year it does. Then video is removed. And now it’s back again.

Apple has never offered a clear rationale behind these shifts. They occur for no apparent purpose other than change for change’s sake.

Yet somehow, with each iteration, Apple wants to convince us that the latest offering is the “best design ever.” This is getting to be a really hard sell. Following the shifts in the nano feels more like watching a pendulum swing than forward progress.

I half expect that Apple will someday introduce a new nano as “the second, perhaps the third, most amazing nano we have ever made. The best one was three years ago.”

Posted in Apple Inc, iOS, Technology | Comments Off

Dissecting Apple Link Bait

As the result of a mention on Daring Fireball, I wound up reading a column by Jon Friedman titled “Get that Apple iPhone 5 out of my face.” That was five wasted minutes I will never get back again. The article amounts to a worthless piece of link bait. Here’s why:

Mr. Friedman says: “I am proud to say that I won’t rush out to get an iPhone 5.”

First off, note the not-so-subtle subtlety here: Mr. Friedman doesn’t say he won’t buy a new iPhone eventually. It’s just that he won’t rush out to get one. Maybe he will buy one a few weeks after the announcement. But rather than clearly say that, he phrases it in a more “controversial” manner, designed to make it sound as if he’s fed up with Apple.

Regardless, I’m glad for him and his decision. But where is the news is in this proclamation? “Wait and see” is good general advice for all buyers of any technological device, not something to be linked to a gripe about Apple. Unless you absolutely need a new iPhone in a hurry, or know you want the latest from Apple regardless of what it is, you’re almost always better off waiting until the dust has settled and you can be reasonably certain you won’t regret your decision.

Further, I don’t see why this is a source of pride for Mr. Friedman. It takes no skill, talent or wisdom to not buy an iPhone. Anyone can do it.

Mr. Friedman says: “I don’t want to hear about the presumably superior way I’ll be able to take and store photos and all the rest.” Yet, in the next breath, he adds: “Apple makes useful, shiny products that are more crucial to my existence than clean air or water. No argument here.”

Huh? Give his obviously favorable history with Apple products, why would he not want to at least check out the new iPhone? This makes no sense. If he is unimpressed with the new device, he shouldn’t buy it. It’s not as if Apple forces anyone to sign a contract for an iPhone before they can touch one. And, on the chance that the new iPhone turns out to be a truly revolutionary product, what’s the advantage to sticking your fingers in your ears and failing to find out the news?

Mr. Friedman says: “Fool me once, shame on you — fool me twice, shame on me. I already feel like I got taken by this company. I’m talking about my unsatisfying experience with the much-hyped Apple 4S model.”

“Taken buy this company?” What in the world is Mr. Friedman talking about? He bought a perfectly good iPhone 4S to replace an apparently broken one. Why is that foolish? As far as the reader can tell, his iPhone 4S has worked as advertised. The only feature that Mr. Friedman mentions as at all “unsatisfying” is that Siri did not live up to his expectations. That’s it. That’s the entire basis for his tirade of a column.

Give me a break. Very few people have been completely satisfied with Siri. That’s true. It’s also not news. At the same time, many people have been charmed by Siri and use it regularly. In either case, problems with Siri don’t make you a fool for having bought an iPhone 4S. I have not met one person who would agree with this assessment.

Bottom Line

Mr. Friedman has decided not to rush out and buy an iPhone 5. Personally, I don’t really care one way or the other what Mr. Friedman chooses to buy — unless there’s an interesting story behind his decision. There isn’t. There is virtually no useful information to be gleaned from his column.

Instead, we have an article lacking in logic that offers general and unsubstantiated condemnations of all Apple iPhones, the company’s marketing policies and anyone who is “foolish” enough to buy a new iPhone.

But offering useful information is not the goal of this article. Its main purpose is, via its provocative headline, to attract hits. This is a common practice these days. Given the high interest in Apple and its products, a controversial headline with Apple in its title is almost certain to attract more than the usual amount of attention. Unfortunately, if you follow all of the links to such articles, you’ll wind up reading a good deal of garbage.

That’s why I typically don’t write about such stuff. Why give these articles more attention than they deserve? Still, every once in a while, I feel it’s worth pointing out an especially blatant instance of this trend. That was my intent here. If anyone is being fooled, it’s not Mr. Friedman. It’s the people who mistakenly take the time to read his column.

Posted in Apple Inc, iPhone, Technology | 1 Comment

After the Supreme Court ruling on health care…

Here’s a collection of thoughts that have been running through my head these past couple of days, ever since the historic Supreme Court ruling that upheld the Affordable Healthcare Act.

Obamacare and baseball. The Republicans are like a baseball team that, having lost 3-0 in a nine-inning game, refuse to get off the field. Instead of shaking hands with their opponents and starting to prepare for the next game, the Republicans demand to play extra innings until they wind up with the lead and the win.

Baseball doesn’t work that way. And neither does America. In the battle over Obamacare (as even the Democrats now call it), the Republicans lost in the House, lost in the Senate, and lost in the Supreme Court. It’s time to move on. Perhaps, if Romney wins the presidency, there will be a chance for a rematch. But let’s cross that bridge if and when we come to it. In the meantime, there are more important things to worry about than games that have already been decided.

Justice Roberts and conscience. I never thought I’d be saying this today, but I have new-found respect for Chief Justice Roberts. No matter how he votes on cases in the future, and I am certain I will often disagree with his votes, I will feel much more confident that his decisions are based on conscience rather than partisanship. That’s all I can ask. My change of heart is not primarily derived from his critical vote, a vote that created the 5-4 majority in favor of upholding the Affordable Healthcare Act. That helped. But that’s not all. More significant were the words in his written opinion:

“It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices…We (the Supreme Court) do not consider whether the act embodies sound policies. That judgment is entrusted to the nation’s elected leaders.”

In other words, a justice’s vote should not derive from whether they believe a law is good or agrees with their political viewpoint, only whether it is constitutional. I agree 100%. If only all the other eight justices followed that principle.

How can you tell what’s inside the head of a Justice? One way is to try out hypothetical tests. Here’s one: If Romney were president back in 2008 and he had passed a version of Romneycare with the support of a Republican Congress (basing his support on the law’s success in Massachusetts and the fact that it was originally a Republican idea), and the Democrats had challenged it, and the law arrived at the Supreme Court, do you think the justices would have voted the same way as they did this week? If you answer no for any justice, then that justice is voting out of partisanship not conscience or law.

And my number one candidate for an obviously partisan judge is Antonin Scalia. Check out these two recent articles: “Antonin Scalia, ranting old man” and “Time for Scalia to seek his true vocation – politician.” They say it better than I ever could.

The minority. It is still hard for me to see how the minority of the Court on this decision would have not only struck down the individual mandate provision, but the entire law. Even if you think the other parts would not be viable without the mandate, that’s for Congress to determine. As long as the provisions are constitutional, they should remain. And they were.

Speaking of minority opinions, I still have trouble wrapping myself around the notion that having half the Court disagree with a decision is irrelevant. A 5-4 decision means the same as a 9-0 decision. But that’s the way our country works. I accept it.

Popularity. People keep citing the low popularity of Obamacare among the American public. It’s true. It’s also true that people very much like many of the provisions of the law. If the Democrats can ever manage to aggressively explain and defend the law (something they have shown no inclination to do up till now), I believe many minds could be changed. Also, as more of the provisions go into effect, and people see it working well, minds will be changed.

I believe that, for many Republicans, the rush to overturn Obamacare stems not from their belief that it is a bad law but from fear that it will ultimately turn out to be a good law, one that wins popular support. This would mean a huge political loss for the right.

The extremes. I continue to be surprised by the level of vitriol in this country right now. It’s one thing to believe that Obamacare is bad law. That’s a legitimate debate. I happen to believe the law is a move in the right direction, even though it is far from perfect. But I understand others disagree. Heck, there are people on both the left and the right that believe it is a bad law, but for very different reasons. Regardless, the survival of this law does not mean the end of this country, or freedom, or the world. Some of the comments I see posted on the web are simply beyond belief. Here are two examples:

A reader commenting on the Supreme Court decision wrote: “The fire in the belly of the right had better be ignited immediately or the country will fall totally into Marxism and become a flaming dictatorship.”

Give me a break.

And a Michigan attorney who has held positions in the state Republican Party wrote: “If government can mandate that I pay for something I don’t want, then what is beyond its power? …Has the Republic all but ceased to exist? If so, then is armed rebellion today justified? God willing, this oppression will be lifted and America free again before the first shot is fired.”

O…M…G!

Krugman. As if often the case, I agree with Paul Krugman. I’ll let him have the last word on this week’s ruling:

“In short, unless you belong to that tiny class of wealthy Americans who are insulated and isolated from the realities of most people’s lives, the winners from that Supreme Court decision are your friends, your relatives, the people you work with — and, very likely, you. For almost all of us stand to benefit from making America a kinder and more decent society.”

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Let the Conservatives Win

“…since 2010 we’ve been witnessing a quiet, slow-motion coup d’etat whose purpose is to repeal every bit of progressive legislation since the New Deal and entrench the privileged positions of the wealthy and powerful – who haven’t been as wealthy or as powerful since the Gilded Age of the late 19th century.” How? “The plan is to inundate America with a few big lies, told over and over: The debt is Obama’s fault, and it’s out of control; corporations and the very rich are the ‘job creators’ that must get tax cuts to generate more jobs; government spending is wasteful unless it’s on the military; regulations are strangling the private sector; unionized workers are being paid too much; and so on…” Robert Reich

C-3PO: “I see your point, sir. I suggest a new strategy, R2. Let the Wookee win.”

If you find yourself anywhere on the left side of the political spectrum, you’re probably dismayed by the continuing rightward tilt of this country. Surprisingly, according to surveys, the United States is the most politically conservative, strongly religious, gun-toting country in the Western world. And preventing further rightward erosion seems to be more and more of an uphill battle with each passing week. We have a Democratic President and the Democrats are in control of the Senate; yet it seems like the Republicans are running the country.

What is one to do in such circumstances? Fight harder? Perhaps. Or maybe…just maybe…we could try a new strategy. Let the conservatives win. Allow conservatives free rein to do what they want…without no restraints or opposition. If the left has been wrong all this time, the country will wind up a better place. If not, things may get so ugly that the middle of the country, the part that is not strongly committed to either side, will at last wake up and realize what is at stake.

Yes, it’s a risky strategy. And probably a misguided one. We had eight years of George W. Bush and there was no collective waking up. Thanks largely to Wall Street run amok, we had the financial meltdown of 2008; yet the drive for smaller government and less regulation has only gotten stronger. These are not promising precedents. And even if the the strategy ultimately succeeds, it may be too late to undo the damage.

Yes, it’s a risky strategy. But I’m getting desperate. I’m not sure what else there is left to try. Still, let’s be a bit cautious before actually going “all in.” Let’s begin with a “thought experiment.” Let’s imagine the conservatives have already won. What would our legal, social, and political landscape look like?

Sex

In this new national landscape, if a women is seeking an abortion, she can forget it. There will be absolutely no abortions, not even in the case of rape, incest or to protect her life.

And, in case you were hoping to avoid the need for abortions by allowing ready access to birth control, you can pretty much forget that as well. The sale of birth control pills will be strictly prohibited. In addition, there will be no way to get health insurance to pay for any sort of birth control.

If you’re gay, don’t expect to be getting married — ever. Marriage among same sex couples will be outlawed — thanks to a constitutional amendment.

Schools and Science

The teaching of evolution in biology classes in K-12 schools will be banned. Instead, in both public and private schools, students will be required to learn about intelligent design and creationism. This will be the case, despite repeated court rulings declaring that such practice amounts to the teaching of religion. The reach of creationism will spread beyond the schools; expect to see Museums of Natural History dioramas showing humans side-by-side with dinosaurs.

More generally, regarding education, parents will be given vouchers to spend on whatever school they wish, public or private. Tax support for public schools will be largely eliminated. The result will be that private schools flourish while public schools vanish from the landscape. With virtually no government oversight of the quality of private schools, don’t expect the average competence of our graduates to increase.

With public schools in decline, teachers unions will be greatly weakened. Whatever small amount of power they retain will be gutted by laws that ban any collective bargaining and eliminate any sort of job security.

At the university level, schools will have to demonstrate that their faculty do not have a “liberal bias.” If any such bias is detected, they will be required to hire conservative professors until a balance is achieved.

Human-caused global warming will be officially declared a myth. All efforts to create a greener environment will be scrapped. It will be the end of solar power initiatives and of the push for more fuel efficient cars.

As for obtaining oil, the mantra of the day will be “Drill, baby, drill.”

Unions

The situation with teachers unions is just the beginning. Eventually, all unions will be entirely dismantled. The only place left where people will be able to learn about unions will be in history books, assuming that the topic is not banned from them.

Immigration

With a nationwide expansion of Alabama’s “self-deportation” law, undocumented immigrants will be forced out of the country. For good measure, there will be no form of “amnesty” for any immigrants, no matter how long they have been in this country or what their standing in the community might be.

Racial profiling by police will be condoned. If anyone seems suspicious, even if it’s just due to their ethnic appearance, it will be okay to stop their cars and check them out.

Gun control

“Shoot first and ask questions later” will be the accepted norm for all citizens. From those on a neighborhood watch to those in a local pub, but there will be no limit to one’s “right to bear arms.” Gun control laws will be gutted to the point that assault rifles and grenade launchers will be available at Walmart. With a legal right to carry a concealed weapon anywhere, incidents of gun violence will go up — even beyond their already too-high levels. At the same time, due to laws protecting those who can make even a half-baked claim of self-defense, arrests and convictions will decline.

Health care

Regardless of what the Supreme Court may rule later this month, any remnant of “Obamacare” will be gone. We’ll return to the prior insurance-company-controlled system. As a result, health care costs will continue to spiral out-of-control. People will lose coverage when they get laid off from a job and will be unable to get coverage at all if they have a “pre-existing condition.” Somehow, this will be explained as fairer and more financially sane than any sort of universal health care.

Taxes and financial regulations

The wealth of richest 1% of the country will continue its upward spiral while the incomes and net worths of the rest of the country continues its decline. We will accelerate the deregulation of banks, corporations and any other institutions with sufficient money to successfully lobby Congress — allowing them to take completely unsound risks without almost no fear of any consequences if they lose.

Political contributions from corporations and their wealthy top executives will continue to buy election outcomes because, thanks to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling and the resulting Super-PACs, these entities will be able to outspend the collective contributions of the entire rest of the country.

We will continue to cut taxes to the point that almost no local government services can be adequately supported. We will witness the decline of police departments, fire departments, social services, public transportation and other public institutions. At the national level, programs like Social Security will be privatized.

Government

The ability of the minority party to obstruct any legislation from passing will continue — at least when the Republicans are in the minority. The filibuster and similar measures will ensure that Congress remains dysfunctional.

The Supreme Court will continue its own deterioration from a neutral protector of Constitutional law into a partisan conservative institution.

Bottom Line

If you are cheering at the prospect of all of these developments, then you are hoping for a country very different from the one I would like to see. If, on the other hand, you are dismayed that this could be the future of the U.S., then you have a choice. Do nothing and let this thought experiment become reality — as it is already well on its way to doing. Or decide that “let the conservatives win” may not be the best strategy after all — and stand up and try to do something to prevent it.

Posted in Politics | 1 Comment