Sing it with me:

Incidentally, that strapping young black man is apparently Jaleel White, who would grow up to be both horribly typecast on Family Matters (which the kids starting college now probably don’t remember at all because they were 5) and ironically good-looking. He starred with Reginald VelJohnson, whose name is actually VelJohnson. My friend Amy would tell you that that’s nothing in terms of ridiculous names. But people don’t often get goofy with the surname.

Really I just wanted an excuse to post a picture of Reginald VelJohnson.

This post (I was trying to write something vaguely coherent?) has been brought to you by Charlie Brooker, who feels precisely the way I do about aging.  Of course he has it slightly worse: he’s old.

P.S. Though he’s totally right about old people and Lady Gaga.

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Microsoft blows hard

1 October 2009

My friend Amy sent me an article by the indefatigable Charlie Brooker today.  To be honest, I’m not sure what it is he does, other than that I’d rather like it, thanks.

The topic of his opprobrium this week were Apple users and their pathological, borderline sexual relationship with their computers, contrasted with the hateful battered-wife feeling anyone with Windows Vista (or XP or that giant chocolatey fudge dragon ME) knows all too well.  While bemoaning the constant evangelism of Apple users he does point out that, for better or worse, they do honestly believe.  Microsoft has been forced to resort to a series of propaganda videos in an attempt to promote their new OS, the cryptofascistically-named Windows 7.

(As an aside, maybe the problem is that Windows keeps trying all these crappy names.  I don’t know who would want anything called XP, much less 7.  I think they’re trying to subliminally appeal to Star Trek fans.)

Microsoft: resistance is futile

Microsoft: resistance is futile

Nerditry aside, upon reading Brooker I actually tried to watch the Windows 7 video he talked about. It depicts a group of people – a group Microsoft unsubtly suggests you should emulate – throwing a party.  But it’s not just any house party.  It’s a Windows 7 launch party.  In it, explained the bespectacled hipster, you and your friends who have the opportunity to get together and try out all the new features of the Windows 7 OS in a safe, fun and it’s implied consequence-free environment.  And they were here to help.

I got about a minute in.  It was insufferable.  It was awful.  If the Apple people are the kids who always got the Tamogatchi or Airwalks or Nintendo DS before you did, then this Microsoft ad featured your parents, six months later, ostentatiously showing off whatever bauble it was that vaguely tingles your memory as having been cool back before it was so downmarket even old people could have them.  But it was something else, too, somehow more sinister.  Like your bachelor uncle has the Tamogatchi, but he has no idea what it is, he’s just using it to get close to you even though your parents privately warn you to stay away from him for reasons that were never clear until now.

I shut off the video.  I think maybe I was sweating.  But then my long-suppressed Nixonian tendencies creeped in.  I’m no quitter, no matter how sadistic and reprobate the subject matter.  I have a college education.  I took a class in propaganda with a guy who kills people for the Shin Bet. I know who Derrida is.  I can handle this.

Gettin’ this party started (I’m comin’ out)

Pink?  Anybody?  No?  Okay.

I go first to Microsoft’s designated YouTube page, cleverly titled LaunchParties.  True to form, it has nearly 120 videos, all of them titled in that spastic mashed-together way thatadmitsabsolutelynospacesorpunctuationwhichhasbeenMicrosoft’sspecialtyforsomanyyears. I’m surprised they let us have capital letters to differentiate the titles.  This must be the kinder, gentler Microsoft.

HostingYourParty

The screen starts all blurry with the caption “Hosting Your Party” in big white letters, because all social interactions generally begin with both title card and a load time.  (Mine do, anyway.)  After a few seconds, it fades away, and we have a scene of four people in a kitchen.

H-ey!  Welcome to the party,” says a young blonde-haired woman holding a cutting board with what looks like cheese.  Right off the bat, I’m not sure about this.  Cheese Lady welcomes me kind of like you do when you’re expecting someone and you realize someone arrives but you’re turned around and you start to greet them as you’re turning to face them and only realize about halfway through that not only isn’t it who you expected but it’s also no one you’re happy to see.  I, the viewer, am a door-to-door insurance salesman who happened to stumble into this party.

But that won’t stop the kinder, gentler Microsoft from shoe-horning me in anyway.  Gee thanks.

After what looks like a moment’s hesitation Cheese Lady decides what-the-Hell-he’s-here-anyway and the camera pans out to show Cheese Lady’s friends: Old Lady, Hipster and Colorful-Polo-Wearing-Therefore-Both-Hip-and-Respectable-Black-Guy.  For short I’ll call him Kanye.

My new friends

My new friends

Now instantly I’m put at ease by Kanye.  These people have black friends, and as someone who has black friends himself this is crucial to me.  I don’t want to be involved with some racist operating system.  I really don’t want to be involved in an operating system that isn’t cool.  So Kanye serves two crucial purposes.  His is a comforting presence.

Cheese Lady tells me all about how they’re launching Windows 7 with house parties and how you can actually use Windows 7 to organize it.  Metaphysically I have a problem with this, as I thought the purpose of a launch party was that you didn’t have something before and now you do.  I think Ocean’s Thirteen dealt with this issue.  Anyway I can organize it with some special software, upload pictures – “That’s his favorite,” she says, placing a suggestive hand on the Hipster’s arm.  He kind of mumbles “That’s my favorite” and they all laugh at him, even the Old Lady, whose relationship to this group of “friends” is not yet clear.

“In a lot of ways, you’re just throwing a party with Windows 7 as an honored guest,” Kanye says.  “Sounds easy – and it is!”  But I thought this was supposed to tell me how to throw the party, Kanye.  If it were so easy, I’d know how to throw a party without Windows 7.  And I don’t.  That’s why you’re here.  Kanye’s getting on my nerves.

He redeems himself a moment later, though: maybe I want to know “how some hosts want their party to flow.”  Oooh!  Flow.  That’s a cool word that’s generationally-appropriate.  I’ve seen it on TV!

The camera is panning back and forth and zooming wildly at this point and I start to feel an epileptic seizure coming on.  It’s not helped when Hipster says, “Now the first thing you want to do is install Windows 7,” prompting a series of ‘D’uhs’ from the other guests.  Man, they really don’t like him.  He’s so put down by this that he had to go back and redub his next couple lines afterwords to edit out the sobbing.  Other guests appear unaffected.

Old Lady says we should choose the activities that are the most fun.  You’d know, Grandma.  She starts going on about some “host notes” that have bonus activities on them.  “Right?” says Cheese Lady enthusiastically-sarcastically.  You know?  I didn’t know.  I feel a little stupid.  In fact I feel bad for Hipster now.  I totally know how he feels.

Hipster’s party started out “like any good party,” with drinks and mingling.  And Sir Harold Pinter showed up.  I love his plays.  I’ve never seen any of them, but I like the idea of his plays.  I can’t believe Hipster got him to show up.  “And you know what was great?” Cheese Lady says, plowing nervously through my digression about Sir Harold.  “It was totally informal, like, everyone just kind of crowded around the computer in the kitchen.”  Wow!  Just like us now!  I’m a part of something.

But Cheese Lady still seems to have had an excessively authoritarian style to her party.  When she says she led everyone in an activity immediately after producing the computer (which she stole?  How she got it isn’t clear), Old Lady is taken aback.  “Oh well I let everyone fool around with a Snap for a little while.”  “Me too!” Kanye shouts.  What’s Snap?  Is that a thing?  This is getting tense and I feel stupid again.  I’m getting the sneaking feeling these people aren’t going to buy any insurance.

Now there’s a cockfight over how many activities we did.  “I did three!” Hipster shouts pompously.  No wonder they don’t like you.  “When you’re close to the end -” Cheese Lady begins, only for Grandma to but-in with “Wanting everybody to leave,” provoking general laughter and shushing now that she’s got drunk on her Long Island Iced Tea and telling our secrets.  When you’re close to the end,” Cheese Lady grits her teeth, we should go to Help. It’s a great way to tie everything together.  So is a call to the emergency services, which I am placing now.

“Make something you’re doing personal to someone at the Party,” Kanye enjoins me.  “Like the way I made Chip’s files get transferred by Windows Easy Transfer.”  Ooo there, Kanye.  Too personal.  Way over the line. “I also found it really helped to name the first person to be first with the hands-on activity, and have them pick the next person.”  Oh, like you did with poor Chip?  So we can all join in on the torture, and dip our hands in the blood?  You’re sick.  You’re a sick fuck.

Everybody thinks this is all sunshine and raindrops, though.  “On a more serious note,” Grandma says with a mock frown – this Edward Albee horror show apparently not being serious enough – “Decide what activities you want to do a day or two in advance.  Some activities require -”

She stumbles for a word here.  Is she lying to me?  What does she want?  “Modest set-up.”  Phew.  Thought it was serious.  “Like you need two computers to do the webchat,” says Kanye.  Hahahaha say all.  Obvi.  “None of the set-up is too hard.”

“It helped me to remember that I’m not a salesman,” Kanye chips in.  But I am a salesman.  Northwestern Mutual Li – “And part of the fun of a launch party is seeing what you already know.”  I know how to use Vista.  I knew how to use XP.  Why are you replacing them, again?  For that matter why is no one answering my questions?

“Can you believe that they put the launch of Microsoft 7 in our hands?” Kanye asks.  “They must be crazy!”

“Crazy to let you be involved, maybe,” Hipster shoots back.  He gives an all-in-good-fun smile.  But they’re totally gonna have it out in the parking lot afterwards.

“Well it does make sense,” Cheese Lady intervenes, trying to save her shitty party from the indignity of violence.  “Windows 7 is all about the computer user!”  I think they used to call us people.

“It ought to be a party!  Have fun out there!”  They’re letting me leave?  Oh my God.  I rush to grab my bag and brochures and bolt out the house as Hipster makes some trendy devil-symbol at me with his hands.  Or maybe it’s “call me”.  Does he want insurance after all?  Was he hitting on me?

Win7AcceleratorAndSlices

All right, fine.  Let’s see how your parties actually went.  Here Hipster is hosting in a party in his dingy little apartment with his hipster friends.  All the men are in open-necked collared shirts; all the women are minorities.  So far, so good.

He wants to show me something new about Internet Explorer 8.  He turns to “Frank” – “Hi-iii,” he crows.  He’s probably related to Cheese Lady.  Or maybe he just wants the Cheetos coming around the room, which have been seized by the interracial girlfriend perched on his lap.  This is called web slices.  Now I can keep in touch of websites on my favorites all day long.

“Oh yeah,” Frank says like LL Cool J.  I think the guy sitting in the chair backwards has a mustache.  How passé.

Frank shops for t-shirts on “auction sites” a lot.  Do they mean Ebay?  It’s the only one I know.  And then we cut to the screen – I’m sorry, I move over to see the screen better at the house party – and it has Ebay on it.  Frank wants a Van Halen 1984 t-shirt.  Wow.  Van Halen.  Maybe time to move on, man.

Frank decides not to buy it and delete the page from his “slice,” which looks exactly like a favorites page.  (An AC/DC poster won out – a dubious choice, but whatever.)  Now Hipster takes me to show me the “Accelerator,” which clicks directly from an address that doesn’t include a map to a mapping system, shaving literally seconds off of my web time and conveniently avoiding the use of certain heretical websites which I could have just put in my “slices” anyway.  Phew.

“I want the rest of you to pick a word or phrase and accelerate it, leaving a new page for the next guest.”  You can do the stupid map thing here, too, apparently.  I’m nervously fingering the life insurance brochures in my pocket.  This doesn’t feel right.  The guy sitting behind Hipster just gasped with amazement at his electronic version of telephone.  “Is that a hamster?” he asks.  I’m outta here.

MyMicrosoftWindows7HouseParty

I try to watch a couple more but – oh, what the hay, I’m so excited to have my own house party I can’t stand it.  Let’s go!

(doorbell rings)

Me: Oh h-ey, welcome to my Microsoft Windows 7 launch party!

Doritos Girl: Thanks!  I brought Doritos!

Me: Awesome!  Everybody’s just inside!

We enter a room with Old Man from Bus Stop, My Mom, and Environmentally-Conscious Co-Workers and Drinking Buddies.

Me: Everybody, this is *voice trails off*

All: Oh hi!

Me: I’m super-excited to introduce Windows 7 to you.  This is, like, totally a killer app.

All: Yeah!  All right!

Drinking buddies high five.

Me: And what’s best about it is it’s designed for us computer users!

Co-Workers: It’s almost like we’re people again!

Me: That’s right.

(looks around)

Me: There’s something wrong.

My Mom: What, honey?

Me: There’s, uh… there’s no black people here.

My Mom: Well I didn’t know you knew any –

Me: That’s not the point, Mom!  God, nobody wants to use some racist operating system.

Co-Workers: That’s right!  Yeah!

Me: Look, I’ll just go online and e-mail some.

Old Man: Don’t use that!

Me: Why not?

Old Man: That’s the search engine whose name must not be spoken!

Me: Oh, right.  I’ll use accelerator – what the fuck is that?

My Mom: Honey, language.

Me: My computer’s shaking.

Co-workers: Why, that’s Aero Shake, the feature that let’s you clear away all your clutter!

Drinking buddies: YEAH!

Me: You mean like minimizing?

(they frown)

Co-workers: No.

Me: Well why won’t it stop?

Old man: Charlies!  In the trees!

Me: That’s irrelevant.  Stop it old man, or you won’t get your $20.

My Mom: Honey, respect your elders!

Me: The computer’s on fire!

My Mom: Why that’s Windows 7’s new Burn feature.  It’s designed to detect awkward social situations and start a distraction!

Me: Somebody call the fire department!

Doritos Girl: My hair’s on fire!

Drinking buddies: YEAHHHHHH!!!!

(they urinate on the rapidly-advancing flames)

My Mom: Oh, I’ll get some paper towels.

Co-workers: You know, this is really irresponsible.  Fires like this contribute to the greenhouse effect, which is killing our Earth.

Doritos Girl: AAAAAAAAAAAAIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE AAAAAAAAAAAAGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHH!

(she runs away, chased by Drinking Buddies and my Mom with a paper towel)

Me: But – my launch party!

Drinking buddies (outside): The roof!  The roof!  The roof is on fire!

Me: You guys better stay here.  I’ll get help.

Two hours later.

Me: Whelp… Windows 7 burned my house down.

My Mom: Oh honey, I’m sorry.

Me: Too bad about my co-workers.

My Mom: Oh you’ll make new ones.

Me: Yeah. But so will Microsoft.

The ethics of belief

23 August 2009

The Guardian‘s comment is free section has a series of essays going.  They’re works put together on some of the seminal works in philosophy by what appear to be the top scholars on them and the subject of all of them is belief.  (Specifically, how to believe, what justifies belief, etc.)  Heidegger, Hobbes, Hume, Nietzsche and the Acts of the Apostles are all finished, with the Dialogues of Plato up next. 

Hats to Erfani for putting it up there.

Peer-to-peer lending?

19 August 2009

Suffice it to say this article in the Guardian caught my attention.

Apparently schemes rather like microfinance and powered via nonprofit social networking are starting to crop up here and there, offering people with spare cash the opportunity to lend it out to those with a business idea, in need of cash, etc.  The lending is in small parcels – so if I have $500 to spare, I won’t lend it all to one person – and because the system involved is all person-to-person both overheads and interest rates are very low.  (Though the website itself runs “extensive” background checks on potential debtors.)

From what the article suggests their default rate is something like one-half of one percent, which is on par with microfinance institutions and far below the industry standard for banking, though this particular website has only organized 10,000 loans, so it could just be bold and saavy early adopters.  The innovators admit it would be ill-suited to some sectors of the lending market, especially long-term investments, but if this model proves robust it could be a massive boon to the market, as lower rates of interest (or, to whit, higher trust, if you consider that interest rates are reflective of overhead and the cost of those loans that fail, both of which are necessitated by information asymmetry between lender and borrower) could potentially free up billions in capital for investment.

Worth a look.

Inglourious Directurds

9 August 2009

The Guardian today has this pretty brutal write-up both of Tarantino’s latest film, Inglourious Basterds, and his notoriously-fragile state of mind.  I’m not a big fan of his but even I can’t help wincing for the poor guy.

It’s definitely worth a read whatever your sentiments, so check it out.

Already?

30 July 2009

Though they’re not yet over – we still have one American premier season left, at least – the Guardian is already compiling a clusterfuck Best TV Show of the After-Nineties-But-Before-Teens online instapoll.  For my money I don’t trust it unless it involves Jack Cafferty and an introductory segment that alerts me as to the proper way to vote.

Swine flunk

21 July 2009

Am I missing something?  In the US there’s nary a peep about swine flu anymore.  In the UK it’s all over the news (including suggestions that autumn sessions of school be cancelled and word that a Labour candidate for Parliament is struck two days before the election).  I’m not used to The Guardian being more hysterical than CNN.

Does anyone know what’s up – is this actually serious and we’re missing it, the British are just hysterical or has it for some reason failed to take hold here?  (That is are we actually doing something right in terms of prevention and mitigation?)

Comments highly encouraged.  Not least a more recent graph if you’ve got one.