Unmistakable Marks

Warranted Genuine Snarks

Defense of the Union

Upon reflection, the most interesting thing about the ol’ State of the Union speech is how embattled it sounded. This wasn’t the sort of speech that confidently looks ahead and makes bold new proposals, it was the sort of speech that’s cowering in a corner and swinging a baseball bat wildly to fend off attackers.

On Iraq, Bush was full of justifications and excuses, desperately trying to convince us that his grand adventure wasn’t a mistake; on The War on Terra, he resorted to pleading/threatening for the renewal of the PATRIOT Act; on the economy, he tried feebly transparent denial, claiming that it’s all good, baby; on the budget, he just lied in an utterly unconvincing fashion; and on gay marriage, he equivocated in a calculated way that probably alienated people on all sides of the non-issue.

The overt message of the speech could be, “I haven’t been a complete fuck up the last few years.” Which, of course, means that the covert message is that, boy, he really has been a fuck-up, hasn’t he?

Comments | January 21, 2004

Silver Linings

After the horrible, terrible disaster of today, it’s important to try to look for bright spots in the midst of tragedy.

So far, the best I can come up with is that Rush Limbaugh looks like even more of an idiot than usual. I’ll take it.

Comments | January 11, 2004

Apple, and Blown Opportunities

A number of people are puzzled, irritated, or just plain dismissive about my assessment of Apple’s strategic direction re producers vs. consumers. To clarify a little bit:

Yes, I know that people — even real people — create stuff with their computer. But I stand firm by my baseless, unsupported assertion that digital media creation is inevitably going to be a much, much smaller market than digital media consumption. Camcorders may sell well, but DVD players sell better. To the extent that Apple’s serving a real, albeit small, market, focusing on content creation is fine; to the extent that Apple’s breaking out of their niche to huge mainstream success, not so much.

And the thing is: I think they could have. What makes me so frustrated with Apple these days is that it really looked like they’d glimpsed the future, seen what needed to be created, and set about to create it. The integration of the computer with digital media devices — cameras, TVs, stereos, iPods, cell phones, PDAs — is going to be the most interesting area of the computing industry over the next few years. (I said back in November that 2004 was going to be the year of convergence, and product introductions at CES are already making me think I nailed that call.)

Apple knew this was coming. In 2001, they announced their vision of the PC as “digital hub”, and I gaped: Yes, exactly, that was it. This integration and convergence was the next great challenge facing the industry, and if Apple focused on it, they could create the future. They could make TiVo like it should have been (wirelessly networked, seamlessly integrated with computers), they could make applications that would make viewing your digital photos and listening to your digital music simple on any networked device in your house. And they could do it all with the polish and integration that Apple is renowned for.

But they didn’t. They got sidetracked with their vision of content creation, which is fine for those who are going to use those apps, but leaves the rest of us waiting for the future to arrive. And, as a side effect, cuts Apple out of the picture when the future does get here. None of those devices that are being introduced at CES have Apple logos. Many of them won’t even work with a Mac. Meanwhile, Microsoft is rapidly developing and expanding its Media Center software (currently at its second version; and we know what that folklorically means for the next version), and working with oodles of consumer electronic manufacturers to release devices that work well with their software.

When it comes to the Next Big Thing, Apple had a head start and perfect position, but they’re now playing catch-up. That’s the opportunity they blew, and that’s why I want to slap Steve Jobs.

Comments | January 10, 2004

iMac is a Wonderland

I’ve remarked before that Apple seems determinedly intent on fucking itself over. With today’s MacWorld keynote, I can’t help but admire my perspicacity.

Back a few years ago, Apple hit on something that was obvious but brilliant: Digital media were going to be huge, and if they focused on that, they could be huge, too. So, iTunes, iPhoto, the iPod. All were wildly successful, because they hit a real need. People really did suddenly have bunches of digital music and digital photos, and they needed programs to organize and use them.

Note the words “organize” and “consume” there. They’re key words, because they’re what regular people do with digital media, and software that helps people organize and consume their media is software that will get heavily used. Apple apparently missed that nuance, though, because they proceeded to enhance their newly-dubbed iLife suite with things like iMovie (a consumer-level film-editing program), iDVD (a consumer-level DVD-mastering tool), and now GarageBand (a consumer-level multi-track mixer and MIDI sequencer, apparently).

Which is all well and cool, if real people were as hip and creative and cool as the people in Apple commercials (or even if they could reach the low bar of creativity and coolth set by their on-stage demo guy, John Mayer), but they’re not. Real people never create anything; they take advantage of specialization of labor to let the really good creators — the Peter Jacksons, the Steven Spielbergs, the Beatleses, the Vanilla Ices — make all the movies and music necessary, which they then purchase/steal and need help organizing and using.

I’ve never edited a movie in my life, never mastered a video DVD, and never even considered making a multi-track music recording. Neither have you, if I might be permitted to play the odds here. By aiming its media tools at creators instead of consumers, Apple is either confusing Jobs’ Pixar coworkers and celebrity friends for normal people, or deciding that its long-time 5% market-share is too big.

Comments | January 6, 2004

Obsessive Lack of Updates

Blogging has obviously been very light lately. I’d blame the holidays (particularly the week in Wisconsin that kept me Internet-less for a whole week — and to think people used to go entire months without accessing the Internet!), but that wouldn’t be entirely accurate.

The truth is, I’ve been caught up in a frenzy of product research, investigating the hell out of digital photography. Every now and then, I do this sort of thing. I get intrigued by something (in this case, a little blurb about Canon’s Digital Rebel, the first sub-$1000 SLR digital camera), read up on it a little bit, realize I don’t have the background to understand what I’m reading, and set about acquiring that background. So, I now know what an f-stop is, the relation of aperture to depth of field, what the Unsharp Mask does, how to read an MTF chart to evaluate lens quality, and a whole lot more.

Which is, in the end, pretty cool. (Also cool: That Digital Rebel, which I ended up purchasing after what has to be described as incredibly thorough research.) The downside, though, is that staying up until 4:00 AM night after night in the pursuit of esoteric digital photography knowledge doesn’t leave me with any time for blogging — or, more importantly, enough spare give-a-damn to get interested in any other subject on which to blog.

I’ll get better, I’m sure, but in the meantime, you may want to look at my booklog, which is up-to-date with all my holiday reading, including that punching bag of the comics blogosphere, Craig Thompson’s Blankets.

Comments | January 5, 2004

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