Living In A Post-Steve World

Confession time.

I’ve never owned a computer. That is, I’ve only ever owned a Mac.

And… this is largely my mother’s fault.

You see, my mother was one of those tygers who, despite not being in computing science per se, spent countless nights at McGill in the early 1970s coding in Fortran IV, WATFOR, and WATFIV, entirely out of passion and interest, and entirely because she could. At that time, computers weren’t widely regarded as having any practical use whatsoever, but she thought they were the most fascinating and fun pieces of equipment in the world.i

Not that she didn’t find a practical use for her newly developed skills. She did just that with her summer job at a retail clothing chain when she persuaded her managers to let her implement the company’s first computer cataloguing system. They obliged the bright-eyed young girl, no more than 16-years-old at the time, and off she went to make her dream a reality. A few more sleepless nights at the University and her software was ready to be implemented. Putting it to the test, the retail store was impressed and the project was soon expanded to the rest of the company’s stores right across the country.ii

Then came the 1980’s and Apple Computer Inc. From day one, my mother was in love with Steve Jobs’ pure aesthetic and unparalleled GUI. Compared with the horrid beige Winbloze boxes of the time, the choice was obvious enough. As a result, we never had anything else in our house growing up. Our first computer was an Apple LCII and my mother had a Macintosh Portable for work trips to Russia. After that, our family upgraded to a Power Mac 6400, which I used until I bought my first personal computer: a 450 MHz Blue & White Power Mac G3. That baby lasted me until University and my first laptop: a 1 Ghz 12″ Powerbook G4.

So it was on a Mac that I learned to explore,iii build empires,iv battle for supremacy,v search Internet porn, edit movies,vi blog,vii send bitcoins, PGP-gram, IRC, and all kinds of other shit. For better or worse, a Mac has always been the definition of a computer to me.

Of course, a computer is something digital, programmable, and trustworthy, and it’s not at all clear to me that a Mac fits this definition anymore. There was arguably a time when a Mac was a cleaner spoon for stirring your coffee than Winbloze was, but since the switch to Intel chips started in 2005, since dropping “Computer” from the company’s name in 2007, and certainly since Steve’s death in 2011, it’s in no way clear to me that the beloved company of my youth produces anything we can reasonably call a “computer” anymore.viii

While my preference for and familiarity with Macs is perhaps my mother’s doing, my continued use of them is my own bed to lie in. So, of course, as digital security becomes more valuable to me, I’m interested in alternatives. While a Linux desktop computer is most certainly in the cards, having a variety of platforms seems to me an essential facet of surviving in Computer Times, so I’m not about to throw away my old Macs just yet.

Unlike Rachel of rachelbythebay over here, who seems so woebegone by her choice to use a Mac at any point in her unremarkable life that she penned this gem: I mortgaged my future with a Mac. So for your enlightenment and entertainment, let’s dig into it and see if using Mac really is the bell that tolls for thee:

Macs were always the computer I bought for other people. Someone who needed to get online and do the essentials of web browsing, e-mail, and (later on) instant messaging was better served with a cute little iMac way back in 2001. Windows was not an option because far too much tended to go wrong.

Sensible enough. Mac OS is prettier than Winbloze. If you want to give someone a gift, you want to wrap it in shiny paper covered with Christmas trees and reindeer, not in the still-warm carcass of highway roadkill. But why not Linux?

Linux also was off the table, since even though I could make it do anything I needed, the flip side of that was that I had to make it do everything I needed. Say what you want about one-button mice, but there is a time and a place for them. “Right click” isn’t obvious to everyone.

But why do people who lack a middle finger next to their index finger have any business on a computer? If their ring fingers are too far away to use the right-click, maybe we should just give them a newspaper to read. Goodness fucking gracious what sort of pathetic submission to the lowest common denominator is this. Get this: Rachel knew of a better solution to the problem at hand and chose the shinier, prettier, more slickly advertised option. Vomit.

Back then, I tended to avoid Macs for my own purposes. I had my Linux boxes, and as relatively unfriendly as they were, I could get things done with them.

This is an opportune time to recall the first line of Rachel’s blog: she bought Macs for “other people” not her “friends.” Based on her treatment of these other people, we can only conclude that they were her sworn enemies, though I suppose they could’ve been her half-retarded friends whom she has less than zero respect for and is only seen in public with so that strangers will think she’s a good person. Both are entirely possible.

I was given a Macbook in 2006 when I started work out here in Silly Valley, and it started growing on me. Initially, it was basically my way to stay online while at work but not actually at my desk, like in a meeting.

Then Rachel discovered the wonderful world of Mac for herself! No wait, she just discovered wtf a laptop is and what it’s for. This is a non-trivial distinction, but one that Rachel doesn’t bother to tease apart because hating Apple is so cool and trendy and shit.

In 2007, I bought an iPhone primarily due to the maps interface, and naturally needed a place to sync it. I decided to just use my work laptop for that purpose, and it worked fine. I wound up loading all of my music on there from the original CDs to get it onto my phone, and all was well.

Yup, iPhones and their variously indistinguishable copycats are handy little things. Maps, notes, calendars, contacts, emails, pictures, music, weather, dictionaries, tickets, alarms, yellow pages, reading logs, you pretty much name it and these devices can do it on the fly. For many folks, both their work and leisure activities benefit quite markedly from the use of closed sandbox mobile computers like the iPhone.

Not that these things are to be trusted further than you can spit. Biometrics are still a terrible idea, having a GPS dot on your person at all times is a dubious practise, and any personal information stored thereon should be considered compromised. Bastions of digital security they’re most certainly not, but they still have their uses, even if it’s only as a hammer.

Soon, I found myself sitting on the couch at home chatting with people from the laptop instead of sitting at my desk where the “real” computer (Linux box) was. It slowly wormed its way into my life, and before long, I was using it to browse my usual haunts like reddit.

Ha! “I only use Linux desktops for surfing reddit because nothing catalyses my productivity like reading thousands of pages of derpage!” My sides…

I realized that using the company machine for all of this personal stuff was probably a bad idea, so in 2009 I finally decided to start over. I went to Valley Fair and bought my own Macbook and then moved all of my stuff across to it.

Using a personal Mac is soooo much more professional than using an office Mac product. She’s an upstanding lass, this Rachel.

I had basically given in to Apple. I had decided to hitch my wagon to their horses, and let myself be pulled wherever they wanted to go. At the time, this was fine, since they were going in the same direction I would have taken anyway.

Wow! What are the chances that Steve and Rachel were soulmates charting the same path through the endless heavens above? No very fucking good, I’d say. This notion that one selects the products of other minds because “I was going to do that anyway but it was easier to just use the thing that someone else did” is quite broken. One can no more attribute their own abilities for finding the path of least resistance than they can reasonably eat at a Michelin starred restaurant and, after the meal, compliment the chef for having made it exactly how they would’ve had they been in the kitchen.

Back then, this all made sense. I’d come home from work at night and would find myself unable to care about creating anything useful.

So Rachel has a few years of laziness and apathy, probably because her work and personal relationships weren’t going as well as she’d like and she was a bit distracted. This isn’t uncommon, but blaming it on Steve Jobs’ certainly is. That’s some fundamentally erroneous attribution right there.

So, I just sat there and lived the passive life of a consumer at home. I clicked around the web and read stuff. I talked to people online. I listened to my music and watched the latest cat videos. I watched a lot of TV. But I didn’t write any code. Oh no.

Did Steve produce the cat video at Pixar? Did he hold a gun to your head and force you to watch it? Ok then…

Obviously, this didn’t last. On May 18, 2011, I walked out the door for the last time. The next morning, I found myself chock full of energy and ideas. All of this stuff which I had forced myself to not consider or develop started springing up. It wanted to get out of my head, down through my fingers, and into the computer. I needed a development box again. My Mac wasn’t cutting it, and so my Linux box was returned to active duty.

Rachel walked out the door for the LAST time? But which door? The Mac door? The door to her “Silly Valley” apartment? Be specific!

Either way, a consumer-grade laptop is not a dedicated desktop work machine… it’s a consumer-grade laptop. Apple’s laptops in particular are geared towards entertainment in all its colours rather than multi-day coding sprees, much less digital security.ix Really, it should come as no surprise that going for a long walk in the river valley is more inspiring than playing Counterstrike in your mom’s basement. Productivity does not equal fucking around.

I wrote more variety in terms of code in that first month after quitting than I had probably done in the year before that. This is not to say that I had been slacking at work, either, because I hadn’t been. I’m saying that even compared to that, I still blew that out of the water. I was unchained at last and ready to rock.

Ah, perhaps it was Rachel’s work that she left for the last time. Now we know! We also now know that it was Rachel’s work schedule had been eating up her personal project time, so when she quit, she finally had time to code whatever she wanted to code.x And this is Apple’s fault how?

Trouble is, as this was happening, Apple was starting its final “post Steve” jitters. Things started going off the rails. The guiding hand was clearly missing from more and more projects. You could tell that some things that never would have flown before were escaping into the outside world and torturing users. I mean, the entire time Lion existed, its VM sucked worse than ancient versions of Linux did back before they really had swap and OOM killing figured out. Think about that!

I won’t disagree that the post-Steve world is a different, and largely worse, one. Without his vision, Apple’s transformation into America’s own LVMH is well underway.xi

Now I find myself realizing that my next machine probably won’t be a Mac. They’re going down a road where I don’t want to follow. I’ve been dismissing the prompts to upgrade to iTunes 11, and I’m still running iOS 5 on my phone. I don’t intend to use whatever comes after Mountain Lion — not that they even talk about OS X any more.

Fair enough, Apple is now a company of shiny turds that forces broken upgrades of its broken software onto its broken users, but that hardly means that its devices have no conceivable use much less a sensible replacement. Let’s think a bit harder before we dismiss it all out of hand.

But, I’m stuck. All of my music is in iTunes, having been re-imported from the original CDs over a period of time. I can just re-rip all of it on my Linux box, but that’s going to suck. Or, I can try to grovel around in their grungy database and try to make sense of it and “export” things, but I’m sure that will be even worse.

This is patent laziness piled on top of a shedload of stupidity. Exporting music from iTunes is a matter of dragging and dropping your iTunes Media folder onto a USB drive and lugging it over to your new machine. It’s an .mp3 file, which, last time I checked, was the universal standard for music players. It’s not like iTunes stores your music in phonograph cylinders.

Rachel’s next paragraph shows similar ineptitude:

Another problem is going to be iPhoto. I’ve cropped, rotated, geotagged, sharpened, level-adjusted, and done countless other things to my thousands of pictures. They all also live in some database which is effectively opaque. While there’s probably some way to get it out, it will be far from trivial.

Actually, exporting from iPhoto is entirely trivial. Command-Shift-E for fuck’s sake. It couldn’t possibly be more intuitive.

However, I will concede that the iPhone issue is perhaps slightly more complicated:

Then there’s my phone. How do you use one of these things without a computer upon which to sync your data and backups? I don’t believe they can realistically behave properly while completely untethered. That means relying on iCloud, and you’d have to be crazy to do that.

Without iTunes, using an iPhone would be tricky, but hardly impossible. Email yourself photos and notes, set up your calendars to sync wirelessly, etc. It’s hardly soul-crushing stuff and wouldn’t take more than a few minutes here and there. If you want the convenience of an iPhone, just make it work.

Maybe I’ll wind up with a relatively dumb phone again, and then I’ll start carrying my point-and-shoot camera around once more. If I need a map, I’ll look before I leave the house and write a quick note with the pertinent details, just like I did for years pre-iPhone. That will cover phone calls, pictures, and even short videos.

Swapping your “smartphone” for a throw-away flip phone isn’t a terrible idea at all. Worst case scenario, you try it and it’s more inconvenience than you’re willing to put up with. Best case scenario, you’re free from bondage. So, go fucking try it already.

But Rachel doesn’t stop blaming Steve and Apple there:

As you can see, I mortgaged my future. Instead of staying with my wonky-but-free ways of doing things, I shifted all of my stuff over to the Mac. It gladly embraced all of it and jealously took it in, never to give it back. Now when I want to get back out, I have to do all of the work I thought I had managed to avoid by using a Mac in the first place.

I got a couple of years of not worrying about it (much), but it came at the cost of having a colossal mess which now needs to be maintained in order to carry my basic level of service forward on another platform. All of that carefree couch surfing is coming back to bite me.

As economists are fond of saying “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” The same is true for computing as it is for health care as it is for monetary policy.

Rachel most definitely mortgaged her future, but not in the way she constructs. Apple had nothing to do with it. Rachel procrastinated, took the easy way out, and is now choosing to scapegoat instead of accepting responsibility. She might as well have blamed the Jooz or Lizard Hitler for all the difference it makes.

The problem is inside of her, just as it’s inside of you or me if we intentionally choose compromised solutions where none are absolutely needed. It’s our own fucking laziness and ineptitude that serves us on a silver platter to our enemies. That’s what mortgages our future: our actions. Not some inherent quality in our toys.

I’m not looking forward to the next couple of years in tech.

Shame Rachel doesn’t hang out in #bitcoin-assets more. She might not feel like she was spinning ’round and ’round in a whirlpool of digital destruction. She might see that there’s hope and light and goodness in this world.

I can’t wait for the next couple of years in tech. There will be pwnage, there will be blood, and the best minds will rise to challenge of surviving in a digital landscape.

Just don’t expect anything good to come from Silicon Valley.

How could it? Steve’s dead.

___ ___ ___

  1. Funny how this sounds like Bitcoin circa nunc. “What’s the point of it?” the populace ponders. []
  2. My mother eventually flipped a career path coin, which came up tails. So instead of following Nicholas Negroponte to MIT’s Architecture Machine Group, at a pivotal time in computing science history, she stayed in Canada to pursue the more tangible path of commercial building architecture. What could have been? []
  3. Spelunx. Monochrome, naturally. []
  4. Age of Empires. []
  5. Starcraft. []
  6. This was my first business, as a matter of fact. []
  7. On what would’ve been its 6th anniversary, my first blog, an automotive news and review site, passed away this week. Cause of death: expired hosting. While it was nowhere near as revolutionary as Satoshi’s coincidental baby, I was handed the keys to over 50 new press cars and was flown to LA, New Hampshire, and Quebec City for a series of special events. It was a fuckton of fun while it lasted and it helped to inform future web projects, Contravex included. []
  8. Let’s take a recent experience. I recently tried installing the latest version of iMovie on a friend’s Powerbook running OS X 10.9.x. She wanted to edit a little movie from a vacation but wasn’t sure where to start. I offered to help and started by opening the App Store, clicking “download,” and almost punching the screen in the throat when it requested that I first download OS X 10.10.x. As motherfucking if. Not that I’d take 10.9.x to the grave, but I trust every new iteration of Apple’s little sandbox operating systems a little bit less than the previous, particularly since upgrades became free – and hence mandatory. Long story short, we didn’t upgrade her computer because we found another computer with iMovie already installed. []
  9. Any pretenses of security that Apple may have once accurately claimed were on account of both a small user base and the incomparable idiocy of Winbloze. Ironically, Winbloze was the low-hanging hacker fruit. But no longer. In the past few years, Apple, in striving for optimal stock, has become ripe for the picking. []
  10. Which, based on her GitHub… []
  11. Much in the way that Louis Vuitton merged with Moët Hennessy in 1987, following the 1971 merger between Moët & Chandon and Hennessy, Apple recently picked up the Beats headphone line for a cool $3 bn. []

17 thoughts on “Living In A Post-Steve World

  1. steve jobs loved enemas says:

    Except “day one”, Apple was releasing beige boxes.

    > Mac OS is prettier than Winbloze.

    It’s tacky. Rounded courners and thick shadows everywhere. Everything is shiny.
    Like their modern machines, shiny with a logo that actually glows, it is designed for teenage girls.

    Windows allows you to change its appearance, so how bad it is by default doesn’t really matter. Mac OS does not. You can’t even disable the GUI animations.

    • It’s tacky.

      De gustibus et coloribus non est disputandum. No one gives a shit what colour you paint your mom’s bathroom.

      Windows allows you to change its appearance, so how bad it is by default doesn’t really matter.

      It’s not just about the appearance either. Windows sucks six ways to Sunday. It’s a submarine with a screendoor. But you already know that.

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