Giving up hope for Lost

The other day, on Twitter, I wrote: “I have officially given up hope that Lost’s final season will live up to my expectations.” I wrote this in reference to my reaction to the most recent episode: Ab Aeterno.

Some suggested that I should lower my expectations. Maybe I have set them too high. But this has been a special series and I believe high expectations are in order.

Several people wanted to know the basis of my negative reaction to an episode that they (and most other fans apparently) found to be one of the better ones of the season, if not of the whole series.

Okay. Here’s my answer.

First, a bit of clarification. I chose my words carefully in my tweet. I did not say that I thought it was a bad episode. In fact, I thought it was a good one overall and mostly enjoyed it (although I had a few quite specific objections, as I describe below in “The episode itself”). My overriding concern is what the episode appears to foretell about what is still to come. To me, if this is as good as it gets, I believe most large questions will never be answered. Perhaps it is unfair to burden this episode with so much weight. But that was my reaction when it was over.

Yes, this episode gave answers to a few lingering questions about the Lost mythology, especially as to the back story of Richard.

However, the answers too often seemed arbitrary and unsatisfying. In addition, too many related questions remain still unsolved. And, too often, what answers we got left new questions unanswered in their wake.

Perhaps the best example of this is the statue. We learn how the giant statue came to be broken (the Black Rock rammed into it). But we were also led to believe that the Black Rock was carried to the island by Jacob’s hand. If Jacob has the power to do this, shouldn’t he also have the power to make sure that the ship misses the statue (which is apparently his home)? Ultimately, I felt the producers/writers had no preconceived idea how the statue was destroyed. The Black Rock gave them an opportunity to invent an answer — even if it doesn’t make much sense and adds nothing to our overall understanding of the mythology.

Further, we still know almost nothing new about the statue itself. Why was it built in the first place? Who built it? Why have Jacob and MIB taken up residence there? What do all the hieroglyphics mean? Perhaps some of these answers will be forthcoming in future episodes. But I am increasingly doubtful.

Writers pulling a fast one?

I believe the writers have pulled a 3-card monte sleight of hand in this regard. While the current emphasis on Jacob and MIB is understandable (as it represents the end game of the story), this focus also affords the writers a chance cover up and ignore many significant mysteries — and hope you don’t notice.

To cite one huge example, I’d like to know more about the DHARMA Initiative. Was the arrival of the DHARMA group part of Jacob’s grand plan to bring people to the island? Or did they arrive independently? Why exactly did Ben and the Others find it necessary to kill virtually all the DHARMA people in the “purge”? What was the basis for the hostility between DHARMA and the “Others”? And who are the “Others” exactly? They must have all arrived on the island after the Black Rock incident. How did they continue as a group when all prior arrivals died (I am guessing Richard is the key here, but I’d like some confirming details). And what is the ultimate cause/purpose of the Other’s inability to have children?

For that matter, why is time travel (something discovered by the DHARMA people) a possibility on the island? How does that have anything to do what Jacob and MIB are up to? Who created the frozen donkey wheel in the first place? And why does it take you to Tunisia? Who exactly was continuing to drop DHARMA food on the island (long after the purge had taken place); how did these fliers appear to locate the island so easily as to come and go at will?

Why were the “Numbers” engraved on the Swan hatch? And most significantly: who ever thought that the whole idea of having to reset a counter every 108 minutes using an Apple II computer (or risk having the island, perhaps the entire world, destroyed) was anything but one of the stupidest ideas of all time? Why not invent a simpler more reliable method? Or just pull the fail-safe switch and be done with it? And the whole time that Desmond was entering the numbers on his own, Ben and the Others were roaming around on the island. Were they not aware of what might happen if Desmond happened to get sick and be unable to reset the counter? If not, why not? They seemed to have intimate knowledge of everything else DHARMA. If so, why did they not take any preventative action here?

Speaking of entering the numbers, we have learned that the reason that Flight 815 crashed is because Desmond experimented with not resetting the counter just as the plane was in the vicinity. We have also been led to believe that the people on the plane, especially the candidates, were brought to the island by Jacob. Are we to therefore assume that Jacob is somehow responsible for what Desmond did? If not, then was it just lucky for Jacob that Desmond did what he did? For that matter, how was it that all the latest candidates were on this same plane? Did Jacob manipulate this as well?

Speaking of the candidates, who is ultimately responsible for determining who they are? Jacob? Or some yet higher power? What are the criteria? Why is it necessary to have so many candidates to choose from? Can’t Jacob just figure out who the best choice will be? Was Jacob himself a former candidate and a replacement for someone else? Or is he the “first”?

Then there’s Charles Widmore. How did he know that a “war was coming” back in Season 4? For that matter, the entire season 4 was spent with the people on Widmore’s freighter trying to capture Ben. Ben no longer seems to be a goal for Widmore, as he now claims to want MIB/Locke. If so, what happened to shift Widmore’s attention? Also, given that the island disappeared at the end of Season 4, how has Widmore able to find it again? If it was this easy for him to refind, what was the point of moving the island in the first place?

Ben and Widmore in some ways appear to be mimicking Jacob and MIB. Both pairs are opposed to each other. Both pairs seem to be governed by “rules” that say they can’t kill each other. What exactly is this all about? And who set these rules in motion?

Similarly, what exactly determines the limits of Jacob’s and MIB’s powers? Why is it within Jacob’s power to grant immortality but not bring Isabella back to life? Why could MIB not kill Jacob, but Ben could?

Again, all of this seems so arbitrary. It reminds me of what I call the “Harry Potter cop-out.” As much as I liked the Harry Potter books, I more than once was irritated by plot twists that turned on the appearance of a new spell, one that could do exactly what was needed to save the day at that moment and yet had never before been mentioned in any of the books. How convenient to be able to invent a new spell whenever your heros are caught in a tight spot. As a literary device, I felt this was not playing fair with readers.

I feel the same way about the arbitrary solutions in Lost. How convenient that Jacob can grant immortality but not raise spirits from the dead. Convenient, but otherwise without any rhyme or reason.

Another part of my problem here is that the answers are drifting too much in a spiritual direction for my taste. I guess I am more a “man of science” than a “man of faith.” I am mostly okay with science fiction aspects of the show, such as time travel. But when it starts pointing towards concepts of heaven, hell and God as the ultimate answers, I get more than a bit queasy.

The episode itself

Beyond all that I have just written, I have some quite specific criticisms of the episode itself.

First up is Richard’s back story. It was too trite and corny. The whole business of a dying wife, Richard going to an insensitive doctor who rejects pleas of help, an “accidental” murder.” Been there, done that. I could see it all coming a mile away.

The worst of the story was the lovers’ reunion at the end. This is almost a direct rip-off of the movie Ghost, with Richard, Isabella and Hurley playing the roles of Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore and Whoopie Goldberg. Come on!

Actually, let’s pause at this business of Hurley talking to dead people. What is with this exactly? Does everyone in the afterlife have a direct line to Hurley? Are we really supposed to accept the idea that a woman who has been dead for about 150 years can somehow contact Hurley at just the appropriate critical moment? Are we, at a minimum, supposed to believe that such an afterlife is even a reality within the Lost universe? [Actually, I hold out some hope that this was not Isabella at all, but was in fact Jacob; we'll see.]

Once again, answered questions too often raised even more new questions.

Jacob claims he keeps bringing new people to the island to prove to MIB that people are not bad by nature, that people are able to be redeemed. Why is it so important to Jacob that he prove this point to MIB, apparently at the cost of the lives of most of his “contestants”? Why should Jacob care what MIB believes on this matter? Will it change anything if he convinces MIB on this point?

If the Black Rock is an example of Jacob’s attempts to prove his point, why does Smokey almost immediately kill all but one of the survivors? How can people’s nature be established if they are dead? Was there some advance agreement between Jacob and MIB that Richard was to be the lone survivor in this latest move of their chess game?

Given how long Jacob and MIB have been at this game, why does Jacob appear surprised that MIB is attempting to kill him in this latest episode? Can this really be the first time MIB has tried this move?

Why does Jacob need to make Richard his “intermediary”? Couldn’t Jacob intervene directly if he chose? Or is this just another example of a hollow arbitrary explanation for how Richard came to have his role on the island?

This is hardly an exhaustive list, but enough to give you the idea.

Wrapping up

I have held on to hope that there is an overarching explanation for everything that has taken place on the island — a framework for the big puzzle that the individual pieces would eventually fit into. This hope is fading. I expect we will learn much more about Jacob and MIB in the weeks to come. And there will be some resolving perhaps even satisfying climax in the end. But that’s about it. This latest episode was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me in terms of hoping for much else. Perhaps I am wrong (I will happily admit my error if I am). But I doubt it.

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Apple’s so-called “ban” on protective films

Numerous Web sites are reporting that Apple is removing protective screen film products from its Apple Stores. An initial posting from iLounge states: “Apple has banned protective screen film from its retail and online stores, a policy that will affect both cases and individual film packages beginning in May.”

A few quick reactions to this news:

• It’s not a “ban”

Apple is choosing to remove these products from its Stores. This is not a ban any more than if Apple decided it no longer wanted to carry Canon printers in its Stores. In such a case, you wouldn’t say that Canon had been “banned” from the Apple Store (at least I wouldn’t).

Apple is entitled to select what products it wishes to offer, especially in the limited space of its retail stores. As the “mother ship” of all Apple-related products, one could argue that there should be a moral obligation for Apple to be appear “fair and reasonable” to third-parties in its decisions. But ultimately it is for Apple to decide.

• There may be a good reason for Apple’s decision

These products are notoriously difficult to “install.” Frequently, you wind up with air bubbles or dust specks under the film. This, in turn, could lead to numerous dissatisfied customers who return the product, causing unwanted and unneeded headaches for Apple.

Added to this is that the “oleophobic” coating on Apple’s latest products make such films less needed (although not entirely without value). It’s a toss-up. Personally, I no longer use these films. But I know others who swear by them.

• There may be a bad reason for Apple’s decision

These are among the most popular of iPhone and iPod accessories. Many people coming to Apple Stores will want to buy these products. Apple is losing sales here. Even if they don’t want to encourage people to use them, this doesn’t mean Apple needs to stop offering the products altogether.

There is speculation that this decision somehow relates to the iPad and Apple wanting to actively discourage the use of such films on the new device. Perhaps. Regardless, as is now becoming far-too-typical, Apple is taking a heavy-handed approach where perhaps a lighter touch would have worked better.

• Either way, it’s not comparable to Apple’s App Store policies

In prior entries here at Slanted Viewpoint (and elsewhere), I have strongly argued against Apple’s decisions regarding removing or “banning” certain apps from the App Store. On the surface, it may seem that this latest move regarding protective films falls into the same category. It doesn’t.

Although the Apple Store may be a significant source of revenue for these products, manufacturers are free to offer the products elsewhere — which they will certainly do. You’ll be able to get them at Target, Best Buy, whatever — as well as at Amazon and an assortment of other online sites.

The same is not true for the App Store. If your app is not permitted in the App Store, there is no other place to go. That is why I continue to assert that special rules should apply to the App Store (or at least to how apps may be installed on iPhone OS devices) and why my reactions to Apple’s decisions regarding the App Store are much harsher than in this case of protective films.

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Apple Stumbles over Wi-Fi Stumbler iPhone Apps

Yet another small controversy is brewing in the iPhone’s App Store. This time it has nothing to do with sex. Rather, Apple has removed all Wi-Fi scanning “stumbler” apps — such as WiFi-Where, WiFiFoFum and yFy Network Finder. These apps allow you to locate free Wi-Fi networks that are in your local area, and have been in the App Store for months (in some cases, years).

Why were they removed? The developer of WiFi-Where posted that, according to Apple, his app was removed because “…There are no published APIs that provide the ability to manipulate the wireless connection or the show level of information regarding the wireless connection as demonstrated in the application….” Or, as stated elsewhere, he was using a “private framework.”

Why is Apple doing this? It remains unclear. The License Agreement that all iPhone app developers must sign does prohibit use of private frameworks. But either there aren’t any private frameworks in use here (despite Apple’s vague contention to the contrary) or Apple has been making a long-standing exception for this category of software. So why change the game now? There may be a good reason (an article in The Register suggests it may be do to changes coming in the iPad). But, if so, Apple is not saying. Beyond its letter to affected developers, Apple’s only comment has been “No comment.”

I tweeted about this the other day, suggesting that I have had “enough” of Apple’s heavy-handed App Store tactics. A couple of people replied (paraphrasing here): “The developers knew that their apps were breaking the rules. They shouldn’t complain.”

I have seen this type of response many times before. I believe it is misguided, especially in this instance but also in general. Here’s why:

• Apple refuses to have a clearly spelled out policy. If Apple wanted to allow Wi-Fi stumbler apps in the App Store despite a general ban on “private frameworks,” and later wanted to reverse its decision, that is its prerogative. But it should at least explain what guidelines it was using in each case. Otherwise, how is a developer to know what to do? As the developer of WiFiWhere noted:

“This is very frustrating. WifiTrak and WiFiFoFum have been on the App Store since its very early days, and for the longest time no other apps appeared. It took months of trying and re-trying before WiFi-Where was approved. Starting in November 2009, we started seeing these new apps appear. We took this as an indication that maybe Apple had decided to allow WiFi apps, and began re-submitting WiFi-Where until it was approved in January 2010.”

Developers should not have to guess as to what Apple is thinking here. And, if Apple does accept your app, it should generally be taken as tacit evidence that Apple thinks what you are doing is okay — especially if your app is similar in function to numerous other accepted apps that have been in the Store for a long time.

To place the entire onus of responsibility for this situation on developers is wrong. It lets Apple off the hook far too easily.

• The larger issue for me has to do, not with developers, but the iPhone owners. Just because Apple has a clause in its license agreement, and even if the clause is legal (which has been questioned in certain instances), does not make it a “good” rule. Developers may have to abide by the rule, but that does not mean users (and even developers) are not justified to complain about this.

There may be good reasons for Apple to generally restrict the use of “private frameworks.” But that doesn’t mean it is always wise to do so. I am especially concerned when doing so means that worthwhile apps are kept from the Store — apps that over a million users appear to want.

As the developer of yFy Network Finder noted: “Every application that could scan for WiFi has been banned by Apple, after the fact, including applications that have been on the store a long time and have nearly 1 million users. Apple doesn’t want their platform to have this functionality.”

What is the harm in letting people have these apps, rule or no rule? In my view, Apple has not made a defensible case here. If enforcing a rule is preventing helpful apps from making it into the Store, then maybe it is time to change the rule.

As an analogy, I could have a rule that says: “Before you can post a comment to any articles on this site, you must demonstrate that you can speak Finnish.” I could enforce this rule. I could attempt to ban anyone who doesn’t speak Finnish from posting. If a comment from a non-Finnish speaker somehow slipped by me, I could later remove it. I could do all these things.

But that does not mean it would be wise for me to do so. It doesn’t mean it is good policy. It doesn’t mean that people coming to this site, even just to read the articles, should not complain about the rule.

The situation with the App Store is even worse than with my analogy. If you objected to my site rule, you could easily decide to stop visiting this site, without any real consequence. If you have an iPhone, you can’t choose to stop visiting the App Store. If you are developer who wants to make an app for the iPhone, you can’t bypass the App Store. There are no alternatives.

Jailbreaking is a possibility, but not a great one — especially as Apple continues its efforts to blockade jailbreaking with every iPhone OS upgrade or new iPhone model.

Buying a Google Android phone (or other competitor) instead of an iPhone is a possibility — but not a great one either. I prefer the iPhone. I just want it to be better. There are people who say: “If you don’t like what Apple is doing with the iPhone, don’t buy one. Otherwise, shut up.” My reply is that this is like saying “America. Love it or leave it.”

This isn’t an either-or situation. I can “love” my iPhone and still complain about Apple’s policies. From Day 1, I have been uncomfortable with the fact that the only way to get apps on my iPhone is through the App Store. I don’t believe this is good policy. I have always been a champion of a more open system. As I watch these recent developments, my conviction on this matter only grows stronger.

P.S. I remain well aware that opinions are varied and sharply divided on this debate. For yet another example of just how varied, check out the reader comments to this CrunchGear article. Whatever your opinion on the matter may be, I’m sure you’ll find at least one posting here that agrees with you! For the record, I agree with those who say Apple should be able to decide what it allows in its App Store — even if I object to its decisions. I don’t agree that Apple should be allowed to completely determine what I put on my iPhone.

Posted in Apple Inc, iPhone, Technology | 2 Comments

New Find My iPhone from an iPhone Saves Day

Last week, Apple added a new feature for MobileMe and iPhone users: When accessing MobileMe on an iPhone, it now shows “a link to use Find My iPhone from a friend’s iPhone/iPod touch if you need to locate your lost iPhone/iPod on a map, display a message, play a sound, or remotely lock or wipe it.” Previously, you could only access these Find My iPhone options via a Mac or PC.

This new addition came just in the nick of time for my wife (Naomi). Yesterday, we went to see a movie. When we got up to leave, Naomi discovered that her iPhone was missing from her purse. We had been to several places that evening. Her iPhone could have been at any one of them.

Did we need to retrace our steps, possibly taking an hour or more, in a search for her iPhone? Nope. All we needed to do was whip out my iPhone and use the new Find My iPhone option. We did. And we discovered, with relief, that her iPhone had somehow been left back at our house.

Postscript: When we returned home, we still could not locate the phone. Because Naomi had turned off her iPhone’s sound, we could not call her phone to help find it. So we used another Find My iPhone feature: “Play a sound on your iPhone, even if it is in silent mode.” That did it. iPhone found. Story over. Happy ending.

Thanks Apple, for helping save our day!

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