blarg?

I hadn’t really had a chance to do a side-by-side comparison of the unboxing experience of Macs and PCs until just recently, but listen, PC manufacturers: what the hell? Have you ever taken a good hard look at the thing you’re shipping these days?

It’s really hard to tell if it’s Vista that’s shitting on my user experience or just the fact that this laptop comes encrusted with tons of crap I didn’t ask for and don’t want. And when I have to compare that to the Mac unboxing process, it just infuriates me.

A boxed Mac is easy and elegant to open, nice and clean, everything comes out of the box easily and smoothly. It all fits together very elegantly, and when you’re done, the first thing you see is a very pretty “Welcome” animation, it asks you a few questions and that’s it. The attention to detail is astonishing, and when you’re done you have a clean install of the OS and you’re off. It verges on the ceremonial, especially when you compare it to the competition.

Open up a new PC, fight past a container that has obviously been optimized for cheapness, plug it in (making sure you didn’t get those mouse and keyboard PS/2 ports mixed up, if it’s a desktop!) and fire it up. The very first thing you get is threatened. Install an antivirus! Your machine is outdated! And insecure! Firewall! Symantec Norton McTrendGate! Make backup CDs yourself, they’re super-important but not so important that we can’t cheap out and make you work instead of just shipping media! USE AOL, PLEEEEZE.

Even ignoring the crappy packaging, this is still one of the main reasons that if I have any say in the matter, the first thing any PC does is boot into a clean install of an OS, whatever OS it’s going to be. What a waste of time, but the alternative is so much worse; God help you if you want to uninstall only <i>some</i> of the crap that came with it. You’re looking at literally hours of tedious not-fun just to get a machine that’s not quite as much of a sewer. Because you don’t have an original copy of the OS media, no. You’ve got “recovery” or “restore” CDs, that just put all that pain right back where it was.

It’s awful.

So far, my experiences with Vista (Professional edition) have been… bad. I didn’t intend to buy an interactive billboard pimping dozens of goods and services at me, thanks, I just wanted a computer. But unless I buy a computer from Apple, it’s guaranteed that whoever I buy it from is not only willing but totally enthusiastic about fucking my user experience right up in exchange a couple of bucks per unit shipped. The OEM preinstalled-garbage problem has gotten way worse in the last few years, not better, and I’m convinced that it’s one of the reasons that Apple’s market share has been steadily rising all that time. Not because their stuff is so great , but because all the alternatives are so bad.

I have two particular bits of home-ownership advice for you that aren’t exactly “hard-won”, but that at least weren’t obvious to me when we moved in and have helped us out quite a bit.

The first is, in hindsight, very obvious. Now that we own a new place, we’ve been slowly putting in furniture as needs have arisen and nice pieces have been sought out or just stumbled across. The problem was that for the first three or four months of that we’d periodically see something nice that might fit in that space, but might not, and maybe we should measure it, and how big is that space anyway, and what about the window sill… you know, just a bunch of stupid going back and forth. So I bought an art notebook, and spent two hours making some reasonably accurate line drawings of all of our wall and floor layouts, wrote all the measurements down and clipped the paint chips we’ve used for our walls into the front. Then I bought a cheap tape measure and I leave it with the book, in the car.  And now the question of will it fit in that space, match that color, whatever, it’s just a non-problem.

Might be obvious to you, but I’ve never heard of it before, so here you are. It sure has saved us the trouble of bringing home things that won’t fit in that corner or up the stairs more than once.

Ok, number two: let’s say you’ve got a place in the Toronto area and you’re thinking about repainting it, you know, to liven it up or make it your own or whatever. You just moved in, just bought a place, you’re tired of the old color or you’ve been watching too much learning-channel reno porn, whatever. If you’re thinking about repainting your place and you’re unsure about colors, materials, tools, whatever, here’s what you do: on the corner of Queen and Carlaw there is a paint store housing a fellow named “Ed”, his merry band of employees and their collection of color chips and paint brushes.

Go to that store, and explain your situation to Ed. Maybe show him a picture of the thing you’re painting.

Then do exactly what he tells you. Do not deviate from his instructions in the least measure. Couldn’t be simpler!

Over the course of our first year of home ownership here we have routinely had conversations, maybe a dozen of them, with Paint Guy (for months, until we found out he was Ed, he was only Paint Guy) that went very much like this:

“So, we need to repaint the (whatever), and we’re thinking of (whatever).”

“Well, in an older house like yours, you might try (this colour) with (that colour) as an accent. It’s a very (adjective) combination, but I think it will look great. You’ll need (item), (item) and if you don’t have (chemical) you might want a quart of that, too.”

Now, that looks like some sort of pedestrian, suburbanite mad-lib thing, I know! But every time we’ve tried deviating from the do-exactly-what-he-says plan, we’ve ended up not really liking the result, going back and doing it again. Which can be pretty onerous. But I swear to you, he’s some sort of colour-psychic chromatic-savant, and our results have been uniformly great.

It’s actually kind of eerie. We’ve just finished repainting our staircase after waffling back and forth for a few weeks about colors, materials, all sorts of stuff. And when we went to see him today, he said maybe three sentences about what color to use and how to do it. So we did that. And now we’re staring at the results, on the verge of pissed off about how easy he makes it look. It’s exactly the right color. What the hell? He’s never even set foot in this house! How is it that he can see this stuff just like that, in five seconds, but we waffle about it for weeks and get nowhere?

An actual conversation, provided without comment:

A – “I can show you the new compost bin I got.”

M – “You’re so cute when you say that. It’s like “My pokemons, let me show you them.

A – “My what? My pokemons? Is that a euphemism for something rude?”

M – “No, and it hurts me that you would think that.”

A – “Oh, I thought you were talking about showing me your testicles or something.”

M – “You thought ‘pokemons’ was a euphemism for ‘testicles’?”

A – “You’re not going to blog this, are you?”

Oh student politics. How I love to watch you flop about, so very noisy but so very, very ineffectual. I have so loved watching you grow up into the modern left wing of politics, dealing with issues that are profoundly important and failing spectacularly to accomplish anything whatsoever. It is so much more important that all voices be heard and understood and validated than it is to, say, get a good strong grip on economic policy or the consequences of international trade. I just want to take that beret off your head and ruffle your hair. Stay precious, you little scamp!

The Torontoist reports on a protest turned not so much “ugly” as, the video would indicate, “noisily petulant”. The money quote, I think (are parent-funded, university marxists allowed money quotes? I suppose that they are, provided every letter gets a share) from the website of the group “AlwaysQuestion” who ostensibly organized whatever it was describes the police “assault” on their peaceful demonstration:

“One student was dragged across the floor against his will, while another was pushed and pulled to the point where his shirt almost ripped in two.”

Can you believe it? His shirt was almost ripped in two. It’s hard to imagine police being more thuggish and oppressive than that!

God, you people are so useless, and so self-important. And, one notes, so very very privileged. It’s like watching a peacock puff itself full of air to make itself look larger. It’s hard to believe that  people who’ve focused on dollar returns and getting results rather than feel-good consensus have been getting so much more traction out of the electorate lately than the current generation of self-aggrandizing fops. Who could have predicted that?

Rolling Stone writer Matt Tabibi wrote an eloquent bit about this a while back:

“Anyone who’s ever been to a lefty political meeting knows the deal – the problem is the “spirit of inclusiveness” stretched to the limits of absurdity. The post-sixties dogma that everyone’s viewpoint is legitimate, everyone‘s choice about anything (lifestyle, gender, ethnicity, even class) is valid, that’s now so totally ingrained that at every single meeting, every time some yutz gets up and starts rambling about anything, no matter how ridiculous, no one ever tells him to shut the fuck up. Next thing you know, you’ve got guys on stilts wearing mime makeup and Cat-in-the-Hat striped top-hats leading a half-million people at an anti-war rally. Why is that guy there? Because no one told him that war is a matter of life and death and that he should leave his fucking stilts at home.”

One of the reasons Obama’s speech from the other day was so inspiring to me was it presented me the chance, the slim hope, that there might be somebody out there in the political arena who holds progressive, left-leaning views on the critically important public policy issues of our time without also being a patronizing, cripplingly smug and completely ineffectual ninny.

I have a dream.

As you might see below, I now take pictures of stuff. I’m going on a trip in a few weeks, so I decided that now is as good a time as any to gear up and buy a decent camera and after I did a little research, got what has proven to be extremely good advice from Kev, I found a good camera store in my area and picked a moment they were having a decent sale. Cameras, like a lot of things now, are at a point where the stuff that’s a generation back and very reasonably sale-priced can still be pretty shockingly awesome. As a result I’m very happily set up right now, as follows:

  • One Nikon D40 camera body,
  • The standard 18-55mm autofocus-and-kind-of-zoomy lens. The documentation, for reasons I am not privy to, doesn’t describe it as standard-issue autofocus-and-kind-of-zoomy, but documentation has always been a weak spot for the technically inclined.
  • An extremely entertaining 1.8f 50mm fixed lens, and
  • One Nikon P5100.

The D40 is a fantastic camera. Especially at night; everything comes out looking like HDR photos even though I’ve barely figured out how to turn off the flash. Light just seems to fall into the lens. The only problem I’m having is that my hands aren’t steady enough to take decent night shots so I usually end up propping the camera on whatever’s around for long exposures; a tripod might be the next order of business.

The 50mm lens is a bit tricky, but much less so than I thought it would be – it’s manual focus, but the camera’s smart enough to know when the images is in focus even if it can’t control it and tells you with a little indicator. This is the lens that gives you that very short depth-of-field that has one thing in focus and softy-blurred backgrounds, very artistic. Hard to work with if you’ll be shooting anything that moves, but since once you’ve got the gear photography is basically free now, the cost of screwing up a few hundred pictures figuring things out is pretty much exactly zero. Add to that the fact that a two-gig SD card is within a couple of dollars of also being free and happily holds more than six hundred pictures, and all I really need to worry about is making sure that the good ones are filtered out every couple of days.

The p5100 has excelled in its role as being as small camera to take pictures fast, and it hangs off the side of whatever bag I’m carrying now. It’s got great rubberized grips and a very solid feel, and like its big brother seems to pull in light that´s only barely there. doing a terrific job as a quick-draw, point-and-shoot workhorse. Not small enough to be pocketable, but totally serviceable nonetheless. It feels very nice in my fat hands, and like its big brother the automatic modes are way smarter than I am, smart enough that almost everything comes out looking at least competent.

Sadly, this little shopping spree has pretty much blown the doors off my widget-parity agreement with my wife, so no more toys for me for the foreseeable future. If these did not make me so happy, that would definitely make me sad.

I don’t know what elementary school is like these days, but my memories of it are mostly of protracted bouts of boredom interspersed with occasional bouts of what adults always referred to as getting in trouble, which I usually referred to as “fun”. Adults never seemed to be getting into much trouble or having much fun; it’s a connection that’s hard to overlook at that age and, it turns out, this one. But another thing I remember (and that I hope for the sake of our future citizenry this part of the student experience remains) is that occasionally when the teacher either had to pad a lesson schedule or sweat out a hangover or something, the old 16mm projector and some beat-up cold-war-era film spools would come out and they would show you something just so damn weird that you instinctively knew that you weren’t quite geared up to fully appreciate it.

I am here today to share one of those things with you.

The first time I saw this, I was somewhere between grades one and three. I didn’t remember it all that well and didn’t really care to remember it at all until a site linked off of Mirsky’s Worst Of The Web in the earliest days of the internet featured a plea to help a man find a movie about a Happy Pancake Witch who made magic pancakes that solved some sort of chronic regional strife via magic polkadots. Later on the animation in the World-of-Warcraft-related OK, Stop Dots bit jogged that memory, and recently when my wife mentioned that her love of both polkadots and pancakes might be well-served by polkadotted pancakes, those memories rushed back with the smooth pressure a hydraulic ram. So it was time to get to searching.

It turns out that the guy who made the linked-from-Mirsky’s site all those years ago has written up a long reminiscence of his quest, culminating in his discovery of the real title: “Winter Of The Witch”. In an oddly abortive turn, with the unspoken hinting at the unspeakable, he seems to have been unwilling to take that last find-and-watch-it step; in my mind I imagine him very still in a long moment, his finger poised over the mouse, its pointer poised in turn over a play button. Seconds leech slowly past and his eyes lose focus considering the moment of watching, of being changed by what cannot be unseen, of a stranger’s unblinking stare wearing his own face. He closes the browser and his eyes, breathes deep and turns away from the abyss he barely glimpsed, hoping that he was only barely glimpsed in turn.

Or, alternatively, it just hadn’t been uploaded yet. Lucky for us, it is now available for your viewing pleasure courtesy of Google Video. The title of this post is taken verbatim from the dialogue: “Oh, they’re not just pancakes; they’re the final solution to the unhappiness problem.”

Listen, kids: don’t do drugs. Stay in school.

Without further ado, ladies and gentlemen: “The Winter Of The Witch.”.

Don’t say I never loved you, internets.