Dasio Fountain Pen – Mildly Relevant Reviews

From the archives I bring forth a video that was recorded over a year ago and not Continue reading

Book Review – From Earth to the Moon (By: Jules Verne)

I didn’t have the experience of many kids in the US of reading Jules Verne when I was growing up. Indeed this is the first novel of his I’ve read, despite knowing the plot of a few rather well. I was afraid that since From Earth to the Moon was written in the 1860’s that it would be a clunky read like many other older pieces of literature and was very pleasantly surprised when it was not. Then I remembered that Verne was French, and that any of his works in English are translated. This slightly changed my view on what I was reading. I became aware that I wasn’t necessarily reading Verne’s work, but someone’s (particularly whoever translated the 19XX Scholastic printing’s) retelling of Verne’s work. That shouldn’t impact my reading too much (if the translating is better than the German that guy in Crime and Punishment wrote {I think I’m remembering that right}) but it is a necessary note as I examine the text, though one I can’t follow up on since I don’t read French. In any case, how well does it work?

There’s my standard “rare”, hard-to-find-a-good-image-of-reliably cover.

From Earth to the Moon follows the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club of artillerists in their journey from inception to firing of a humongous cannon that will send a projectile to the planet’s satellite (or from earth to the moon as it were). Despite seeming sci-fi-esque from the cover, and my knowledge of other Verne works (like Journey to the Center of the Earth or 20,000 Leagues under the Sea) it is surprisingly grounded and does indeed really only have to do with the firing of a cannon at the moon, and not travel back and forth or some other potential absurdity for the time. The basic plot is a bunch of Americans who made better and better cannons are bored after the Civil War ends and they don’t get to make cannons anymore, so they decide to make a cannon that can fire to the moon and “establish contact”. Everyone is surprisingly on board and people from all around the world (but mostly the USA) donate a lot of money. The rest of the book details the construction of the cannon and the actions of those who do not want it built along with a larger-than-expected amount of more-accurate-than-expected numbers and math about velocities, gravity, friction, metal weight, costs, casting procedures, etc. Though that makes it sound a lot more boring than it was. Because while very little happens in the technical sense, and there are a surprising number of numbers, it is all conveyed with a motion that keeps the reader advancing and interested the creation of such a fantastic device and the characters behind it.

And the characters are really the soul of the book. Mostly the Gun Club’s President Barbicane, who is the one with the idea for the cannon and apparently has it all figured out to the point that I’m not sure why the other members are involved. As Barbicane’s personality becomes boring, the book adds opposition in the form of Captain Nicholl and a more wild-card character in the form of a Frenchman (of course), Michel Ardan, who is a “(thorough ‘Frenchman’ {and worse) a ‘Parisian’(} to the last moment)”. These core men, with a smattering of other characters are all well drawn up with unique and interesting aspects, aspirations, and flaws, though it does sometimes fall back on “Barbicane is great at everything, Nicholl is a sourpuss, and Ardan is very wordy”. And I found the resolution of the conflict between them a bit flimsy (mainly from Nicholl’s end).

The overall form is very solid and understandable, including the dialog, which, while it wouldn’t be spoken today, is readable and far from something no one would ever say. There are a few moments where the words get tangled up like “…they did to others that which they would not they would do to them” and my favorite thing I still can’t understand: “hook fixed in the coving of the poop…”. I’m sure those were understandable at some point in the process, and even perhaps now but it could have used some tidying up. There are also just a few things that a man living in France in the 1860s might get wrong… like when he calls southerners “Yankees” (though only vaguely, he could be referring to the Gun Club members, who certainly are) and everyone sings Yankee Doodle when the gun is about to be fired, which I get is a patriotic song, but it’s not like it’s the national anthem, I wouldn’t suspect they’d sing it a lot when at a momentous occasion. And a few little details like the “polygon at Washington” What? I don’t understand. In any case, those are only my nitpicks as an American with the advantage of internet-based communication, and the writing is easily good enough to blaze over these minor details and get one enamored with the overall story of getting to (annexing too maybe?) the moon.

I liked the book, and I’ll probably read more Verne in the future because of it. It’s a quite upbeat and fast-moving novel of a technical marvel (with a few surprisingly melancholy moments toward the end) that presents good characters, interesting settings, and well-done research in a fun and compelling way. It isn’t quite up there in classic-ness and immersive level of interesting-ness as some more famous novels by Verne, but it does hold its own. I probably wouldn’t recommend it as an introduction to his writing, but it isn’t a bad first one either. I’d say that it’s a good starting point if you’ve read some of the more famous of his works in the US and are looking for more, or are interested in some of the earliest science-fiction out there (or if you’re looking for translated works of a proto-surrealist that have had any potentially strange bits pulled out).

(And one final side note: there is a part in the story after they decide to put people in the projectile {great idea?} and they test it out on earth by putting a man in it for more than a week with nothing to even read. That was the most unrealistic part of the story for me, even with food and air you’d go crazy spending a week alone inside that thing.)

Book Review – Queenie (By: Alice Munro)

Queenie is a short story published in book form written by the “greatest living short story writer” and Nobel laureate Alice Munro. It was first published in a magazine and then on its own as a mini-book for some reason. I picked it up because I’ve been looking into how short stories are published as stand-alone items, but reading it was fun, too, and it barely took any time at all.

I got a better version of the cover

As with many short stories, the basic plot is simple. The narrator goes to see her older stepsister “Queenie” in Toronto ostensibly because she is preparing to go there for university and is looking for a job, but more so that she can be a part of her sister’s life again. Her sister (actual name Lena) ran off with a much older man years previous and is both excited to see her, but emotionally distant. That’s about as far as I dare go, and if that beginning sounds mundane that’s because it is. The story has a few interesting turns but it’s mostly about the characters, their struggles and some interesting dynamics between them. To that point the story is effective: it makes it easy for you to become emotionally invested with the main character and brings you down a well-crafted path. The ending especially is superb and resonant to the point that I had to read something else to be able to get to sleep the night I finished it (I read the 1774 Declaration of Rights if anyone cares).

But the other characters are… “hard” to empathize with, or even understand. The title character in particular I find… a scumbag. Her methods for pursuing her desires are entirely foreign to me and there is almost no character arc: she learns nothing, our main character learns something, everyone else is surprisingly stoic about it. That isn’t to say the character doesn’t feel real, most of those in the story do, (save for a woman running the food counter in a drugstore. And the excursion that lead to meeting her seemed pointless) but (almost) everyone else in the story likes her, and that certainly didn’t mirror my feelings. It would seem that’s the way the story is supposed to be, she is liked because she is “likable” and no character has as complete a knowledge as the reader does, until you get to the end and feelings on it change slightly. Of course everything is wonderfully set up for that, the paragraphs are well crafted and everything (except the previously noted drugstore sequence) has a place in getting you to feel the emotion of the story, and going through the different phases.

Despite that seemingly glowing endorsement I merely enjoyed the story. It is a well crafted and emotionally resonating piece by a master of the art, about people just ever so slightly out of everyday life, but it’s not one I’d give as a recommendation to many people. It just isn’t “solid” enough to be “great” from my perspective, but maybe that’s the mundane topics it covers talking. To put it one way, I don’t thinks it’s the reason she won any of her awards. It is a good short story, and fairly inexpensive on its own. If your interest has been piqued, or if you’re a fan of Alice Munro and/or short stories in general it is likely worth looking into.

I always get the version where no good cover image is readily available

Review- Ritepoint Chromatic

Every once in a while I like to take a look at something vintage and see how well it stacks up. Plus I’ve got a soft-spot for slim, fine (line) writing pens. Now I’m not entirely sure as to the status of the Chromatic (or Ritepoint, or whoever) but it does seem these pens (and refills) are discontinued, but easy to find online. Is it worth it to snag one?

The pen body is very slim and stylish, reminiscent of the Cross Century. It’s a smooth cylinder, with a gold-banded break for the twist mechanism and tapers at the back and front. At the fron,t a third of the taper is in the form of a gold-colored metal cone, from which the point extends when the mechanism is engaged. The back taper terminates more abruptly and affixed to it is a fairly solid, basically flat clip that runs almost the length of the back section.

The action of the pen is strange enough that I’m not sure it’s working properly. Turning the back half of the pen clockwise a quarter turn will extend the ballpoint and lock it into place. From there twisting will do nothing until enough force is applied counter-clockwise and the pen “clicks” at which point the tip will slowly retract completely. It’s an interesting compromise system and it works quite well. It’s just that everything feels a bit still and awkward. I can’t quite tell if it needs oil, is broken, or that’s just how it’s supposed to be.

As for the writing, it’s quite good. My pen has a blue “microtip” cartridge installed. The ink is smooth enough coming out that I can write in cursive, though the lines themselves have some start-up and shading problems (oddly reminiscent of fountain pens). The line width is equivalent to, or slightly thinner than, most “fine” points and the ink properties are fairly standard. The only other function; the clip is better than average but nothing to write home about.

It’s a decent little interesting piece of history, but I wouldn’t say it’s essential for any collectors. And the impracticality of having to hunt down new-old-stock or second-hand refills or fashion your own out of whatever might fit makes it not a good choice for the regular user. If it sounds interesting to you I’d say go for it, but it’s nothing to run out and hunt down.

Book Review – Politically Correct Bedtime Stories (By: James Finn Garner)

I’m slightly surprised that Politically Correct Bedtime Stories was published in 1994, but I guess the politically correct joke bit has been going around for quite some time. The book is a humorous re-imagining of 13 “fairy-tales” by James Garner, of whose other work I have no familiarity with, but he seems to be riding this one pretty well and perhaps for good reason. The joke, of course, being that he has rewritten these classic tales for a more “enlightened” modern audience with higher standards of… something. But is it successful?

The book is fairly short; 80 pages for 13 stories, including several blank pages. The average story is about 5 pages and Snow White takes up most of the rest. Going over the stories wouldn’t be very helpful because you and I probably already know them. And even ones like Rumplestiltskin and The Pied Piper that I’ve never actually read or watched have been absorbed through a kind of cultural osmosis. The cultural awareness of these stories also helps with the brevity of their retelling, which is a strength of the book. Garner has it down which parts of the stories to overrun with political correctness for maximum effect, but had he continued at the length of the original stories it would quickly have grown stale (Snow White was almost too long for me). And, of course, the humor comes from seeing these culturally-engrained stories changed by modern cultural preferences dialed up to the extreme. In some cases the moral is lost and in some it is retained; in some cases the plot is as predictable as the story we know, and in others it jumps off the tracks and heads spiraling down a cliff of ridiculousness, but in all cases they are recognizable.

The vast array of areas from which we get our folklore means that the only common thread between these stories is Garner’s extremely “politically correct” veneer and as such the book isn’t really a cohesive experience. Again its brevity helps here, making it easy to pick up and put down, reading a story at a time; or to make the massive changes in pace fly by. It knows what it wants to be, and that is an overblown parody of political correctness juxtaposed with stories never meant to fit that mold. And it is quite funny, not outrageously my-favorite-humor-book-ever funny, but more than funny enough to justify its reading time (and probably its price too). Exaggerated political correctness is just funny when applied well and not overdone. So is the idea that when using language that supposedly offends no one to tell a story, so many people will become “offended”. Most fairy tales are based on common sense (if perhaps containing outdated moral practices simplified for ease of retelling) and as one reads on they get the feeling that their common sense is being assaulted. And that, as so often it is, is funny. Still, I was consistently (and pleasantly) surprised by the directions the stories took (the 3 little pigs setting up a “porkinista” government after violently retaking their homeland is my favorite). It seems so easy to simply replace the language with “politically correct” alternatives, but continuous story variations keep one guessing and the book interesting.

I liked the book, and if you read the title and thought “that sounds funny”, you probably would, too. It’s well-written satire that is just offensive enough to both parties to be a bestseller while not alienating its audience. If the sequels are about as good I might have to pick them up as well, but until then, this one was a short, fun read that should appeal to anyone looking for its type of humor.

Interlude: WINTER EDC – EDC 2016-17 Part 2.5

As a quick little interlude here, I wanted to do a short list of stuff I carry/use in the winter as part of my daily-carry systems that are omitted from the rest of this list, which is essentially a summer list since I live in an area of the world where it doesn’t get cold very often (people in Alaska would probably say it never gets cold here). But, with it being winter (barely) now, they’re on my mind.

  • Overcoat (London Fog) (Pretty generic beige color. Keeps me warm with the liner, and keeps the snow/rain off of me with or without it.)
  • Fleece(y) Headband(s) (I don’t know the brand of these but they come from Wal-Mart {probably} and my ears love them.)
  • Driving Gloves (A nice pair of warm leather gloves that used to belong to my father and whose only identifying markings say “made in Hong Kong”.)
  • Other (Touchscreen) Gloves (Champion) (Basically, Target brand gloves that aren’t as warm but are much more useful if I want to use my fingers, grip, or manipulate a touch screen {phone probably}.)
  • Silk Handkerchief (An essential item for wearing layers. I wear it over my neck under my shirt to prevent 4 layers of clothing from chafing it into oblivion.)
  • Scarf (Cashmere)
  • Hand Warmers (Mostly Grabber) (Isn’t it obvious why?)

And that’s basically it. I don’t go overboard for winter since there isn’t much of it here (where I live), but I just thought I should include a little bit about how I prepare for it since it does affect what I can carry.

Mini Review – TxDOT Highlighter

This review is going to be a bit different than my normal ones (hopefully quicker). I found this highlighter for almost nothing in a charity shop where it seems someone donated whatever they didn’t give away. It’s got no branding save a message not to drink and drive (fine advice) and such a strange shape that I wanted to take a look.

The body is a very large cylinder that bubbles out in the front and has 3 flattened areas that are ribbed for grip. It’s mostly smooth, save for a coarse area in the back where messages can be printed, so obviously it’s from some bulk-online company and the only logos are the ones that are being advertised. At the back, there is a giant, super-satisfying click mechanism and a surprisingly robust clip. The mechanism is a standard one (that you can see through the translucent body) that should perform all right and keep the tip from drying out immediately. The ink is a very pale, lackluster orange that doesn’t have a good smudge-resistance but does what one would expect.

I just think it’s a nice, chunky, fascinating thing. It isn’t very practical but it gets the job done and it shouldn’t be possible to lose. And it’s made of a sturdy (and thick) enough plastic that if the refill is any good it should last for years. And hey, if you managed to get one, it was probably free! (Also it comes in one of those terrible plastic bags that I think is supposed to prevent it from drying out and which I can’t imagine working.)

Book Review – Every Writer Has a Thousand Faces (By: David Biespiel)

Every Writer Has a Thousand Faces is another one of those short essay-style books based on a lecture given by the author, David Biespiel, (a name I shall never spell right the first time) in 2009. The book, published in 2010, outlines and reiterates for various forms Biespiel’s personal process of creating things that require creativity (in his case poetry). In short it is “fail” again and again (ostensibly to learn) and put off doing a “first draft” until you fail into one where you can revise. And he does a much better job (albeit in many more words) explaining that in his book than I just did. But is his method clear and really “different” or just a case of semantics and psychology?

The structure of the book is a rising set of anecdotes of Biespiel’s early(er) writing career that lead to the creation of his current writing “system” and a set of falling anecdotes about other creative people Biespiel has met who share similar creative “procedures”, sandwiched with an introduction/thesis, solidification of the theory, and a conclusion. All of this done in a rather brief amount of text but with ample explanation of the various parts of this “theory” of creating that is one of those things that is simple to understand but difficult to put into words.

Before getting quite into the explanation of the “theory” for creating presented in the book, I must reveal my bias. I’m not a poetry person. I don’t like it; I don’t get it. Biespiel is a poet, and while he does take time to showcase (with other creative persons) his system’s ability to be adapted to other creative mediums, he never quite captures it. Just like I never quite “get” the poems presented during examples of his method. I have tired many times in various ways to “get” poetry and I am just unable to. But I will try my best to examine the system in the book in the way it was intended to be used: for all creative endeavors, and not let my bias against the main examples given affect my overall reading too much, as Biespiel does when he demonstrates the similarities of his system and those used by a sculptor, a sketcher, and a novelist.

Biespiel’s method, created after years of using the more “standard” “draft-and-revise” method, is one of continuous “failure” where a creator has goals less along the lines of “create something that is good or that can at least can be fixed to be good” and more like “continue creating and exploring until something is arrived at that satisfies you (and then maybe can be fixed into something publishable)”. How this actually differs from our more standard terms of “practice” and “imagination” is more psychological than actual. Biespiel’s real goal seems more to be semantically twisting the definition of failure in such a way that it can be justified to the brain. Failure is no longer something to dread or fix-away as you move from a first draft, but a tool of learning and examining that allows one to grow in their endeavor (again: practice). I don’t know if it’s because Biespiel is mainly a writer, a form of creativity often linked to revision instead of simply throwing the “practice” out, or just that the linking of terms never occurred to him before (as I suppose it doesn’t in most people), but I can’t help but think when reading “isn’t that just what everyone does?” I mean, it’s ridiculous to expect and an artist with ink to create something store-worthy every time they lay it down. So they practice, and create tens to hundreds (maybe even thousands) of drawings that will never see the light of day in order to get good enough to create something “releasable” (or sell-able). In Biespiel’s language “they fail many times to learn more about themselves and their medium”.

As I read I couldn’t quite put my finger on why I wasn’t on board with the book. My recurring thought was essentially “doesn’t everyone already do this? At least, those serious about their creative endeavor?” I draw and write every day, and most of it doesn’t see the light of the outside world, but I need the “exercise”. It’s almost like the book is “art-ifying” the creation of art. That is, creating a layer of “complication” on top that must be “understood” in order to “get” it. You need to trick your brain in order to understand it. In reality Biespiel isn’t nearly so pretentious (in this book; I haven’t read his other work) but always seems to be teetering on the cusp, waiting to take the plunge into the vocabulary and processes that expel the outsider. I grasped what he was trying to say but it never felt solid, it almost seemed like he was making it too simple for me (someone one the outside).

That’s a bit of a trait with many books outlining a process or some from of “self-help” (as well as not getting to a real “point”) and I tried not to harp on it too much (fat lot of good that did me). But once I made the connection in my head it became impossible to ignore and consumed my thoughts about the book. The system presented is different than simply practice, but not enough that I feel it warrants the vocabulary change.

Still, with that taken into account, does the book succeed in doing what it set out to do? provide a system for the creation of works of “art” that can be applied to many different mediums and has been successful for the author (and hopefully you)? Yes, quite well, and it gets better toward the end. It is an understandable and viable method of creating that has been implemented by its creator and can be implemented fairly easily by others. The explanation of using the system and variations on it are enlightening and probably do more to actually explain what the author means better than his straight explanations. From Biespiel’s “word-pallets” to Jun Kaneko’s dangos, or Phil Sylvester’s many sketches (from which the book derives its name) you get a good sense of what is going on and how the different ideas presented can be applied differently to different media. It’s all conveyed rather smartly with some repetition to drill it into your head (which I don’t care for but I admit is necessary in many process books).

So would I recommend it? Yes, to creative people. But it isn’t essential reading. I’m personally a bit ho-hum about it. I’m glad I read it for its interesting perspective and it was quite brief. But I don’t think it adds enough to or solidifies the argument well enough to be of too much note. It isn’t a book for everyone, in fact it’s quite targeted and even to that target audience I won’t go around handing out copies. If you’re already interested in it or are a fan of the author’s other works I’d say go for it, otherwise I’d only get it second-hand.

Book Review – Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary (By: David Sedaris)

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk is a collection of “comedy” “short stories” by David Sedaris, a writer most known for his humorous essays on various “life” topics. Sedaris was recommended to me by a couple of gentlemen on the street who were purchasing some of my books (I mention this because it’s a sentence I really wanted to say) and as it turned out I already had one of his books, though it is a departure from his usual style (from what I understand, at least). So it might not be the most representative of his works, but is it a good one?

The book consists of 16 stories (Fables? Tales? Skits? Scenes? I’m having trouble coming up with the right word…) that are quite short, most being under seven pages with illustrations and the longest being only 20 pages. Every story has at least one illustration, usually at the beginning or end, though some have more (I assume where more story progression potential was presented by the images). These illustrations, by Ian Falconer, are very skillfully done, and in a very interesting style. I would say I am an overall fan of the aesthetic, but there are certainly points in this book where I think the artwork goes too far (though that is, of course, partly the fault of the story). It is very strange to see artwork that appeals to me present such repulsive images. But I do think that the “kids-book” style juxtaposed with the at-times grotesque content works well as part of the overall atmosphere the creators were going for, and Falconer, being mainly a children’s book author/illustrator (mostly the Olivia books, which I haven’t read but have knowledge of), is well suited to create that look (though I do have a fear of this book being mixed in with children’s books accidentally in second-hand shops and the like).

The stories (fables, whatever) themselves feature animals (simply named “rabbit” or “squirrel”) that are anthropomorphized, though less than in most fables, modern or traditional. The animals have the ability to understand all of the other animals (and humans, it seems) in plain English, but they can’t communicate with humans or perform many actions based on the flow of the story. When it is convenient for a rabbit to be able to heft a big stick, or a parrot wear a costume, they can, but cows and bears still prefer to walk on 4 legs, and most animals can’t escape farms, laboratories, and zoos. I have trouble nailing down what exactly these stories are (as should be obvious), Sedaris’ writing is dry, short, and distinctly modern, and most of the stories’ “morals” are not driven home or they are dunked in woe. Still, they most resemble fables with their talking animals and “morals”. While this isn’t a problem (and perhaps the world needs more works that don’t fit any one genre) it does lead to a problem I have, not necessarily with the book, but with the description of the book. From the back cover, to the genre it’s categorized under, to most of the reviews, this book is called “comedy” or “humor”, a point with which I will have to disagree. Separated from whether or not I liked the writing, all but the first few stories certainly aren’t “funny” (well, they might be in the odd sense) and while they have the “logical-illogical twist” that creates most (perhaps all) humor, this twist is not humorous, but macabre. I’m not one to say that “black humor” doesn’t have a place, or isn’t funny, or even good, but here I just don’t get the “joke” because as far as I can tell there isn’t one. I certainly wasn’t laughing, or even chuckling to myself, while reading.

That isn’t intended to say I disliked the book. While I’m not usually a fan of things in this “area”, I wasn’t having a bad time when reading this book. It was a very interesting modern (and cynical?) look at the fable formula. The morals are blunt and real, with the subjects being harsh and at times violent. Really it’s not unlike the fables of old before they were watered down in their modern retellings. And that makes for a fascinating idea and read. It’s a refreshing look at the idea and a good implementation of the elements of the fable. Most of the stories convey heavy and complex messages in very simple, down-to-earth language that sounds very real; the vernacular (or language of the common fable⸮ {irony mark}) if you will. And while the writing is simple and dry it isn’t boring. It compels the reader to continue while still providing ample logical stopping points at the end of each brief story.

It didn’t take me long to finish the book, which for something this “odd?” is a good thing. Sedaris knows when to stop, and how to correctly pace a story or book. Whether or not that quick read demands the cover price is up to the reader and whether they want a well-crafted piece of entertainment or a bang-for-their-buck piece of longer entertainment. Though if one does go in blind and ends up not liking the book at least it is relatively brief. It packs less of a punch time-wise than most books of its size but more than some graphic novels of its size, and Sedaris and Falconer are both masters of their craft in full control of exactly where they want it to go.

I have a hard time summing this one up. I’m glad I read it, I had a fairly good time reading it, and I would say it’s a good, but not great book. But I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone without extensive knowledge of what they have enjoyed previously, and even then it’s unlikely since the tone isn’t reflected in much other writing. It isn’t a work that makes the world, either whole or in part, better for its existence. It’s strange, visceral, cynical, and at times unpleasant to read. If its own strangeness, or the “challenge” it presents to the beliefs or thoughts floating around in your head warrant its existence in your mind then it is a book that should be out there. But even with that and the undeniable skill of its creators I wouldn’t be handing it off, or giving it as a recommendation or present to anyone. Indeed I’d struggle to find where its audience is.

2016 The Year of Oops… Redux

Back in the dark ages at the end of 2013 I wrote an article about how that year, mostly in tech but also in other aspects of life, was full of enough flubs that it should probably be forgotten. I lamented that the tech industry specifically and the mountain of humans in charge of things in general had lost touch with reality and were making decisions seemingly based on what they thought was a good idea without doing any testing. I made a few predictions for the future that these tone-deaf companies would roll back what they did and use the “frog in hot water” method to bring them back. I was slightly more accurate than I expected, but I still held out hope that the people in charge would take the hint from their customers (probably in the form of declining sales) and change their tune. Three years later and I couldn’t have been more wrong. So I’m back again to take a look as some of the “facepalm” (I guess) worthy instances of the last year.

Starting off strong where I left off: Yahoo! (a company I’m already not a fan of for reasons that could be a post on their own) disclosed that it got hacked (“hacked” always being a relative term) years ago and that a huge number of accounts’ information and passwords were stolen. As anyone who uses the system knows, they now advise you to change your password and personal information. Thank you for telling everyone a few years too late. Your security is so good that I, the “owner of the account” can’t log in, but some other random person who stole millions of accounts data can and I appreciate that. At least it’s good news for Verizon who could negotiate to pay a capitol “B” Billion dollars less in their acquisition that now seems even more questionable than that time they bought AOL. So with Verizon in a slap-fight with Sprint while cutting off customers’ unlimited data plans and Yahoo! (who I’m pretty sure still runs AT&T’s email) bleeding money like it’s done for the last decade it seems like Tumblr is still the most sane member of the family.

My segues didn’t get any better in the intervening years so I’m just going to move on to Apple, who seem to be determined to destroy everything I once liked about them. The Apple watch isn’t doing so hot, even with its second generation. I don’t know why they thought it would work well. I, and others, made fun of Samsung for doing it back in 2013. I guess they probably still made boatloads of cash, so success is relative. Their Macbook Pros finally followed their desktop brothers and restricted users to a single port-type, to which I respond “I get it, I get it, the future is coming, but could you please not shove it down my throat?”. But I guess I’m an outlier. I’m still kinda mad they got rid of optical drives. It seems like their innovation has become more desperate to put out a new model of at least 2 devices each year. Their last iPad had me bored, their touchbar had me snoring, and Bluetooth headphones had me enraged. At least the iPhone 7, while being bigger than a datapad from Star Trek and having the worst audio playback quality of any phone in recent memory, has enough internal storage now to replace my iPod classic that lets me have all the music I want anywhere I want it; thank you very much for not coming up with a suitable replacement. People might just say I’m behind the times with my clunky old devices, but as Apple’s OS’ bugs increase, their product lines diversify in the weirdest, most confusing possible way, and they start to become more locked down. I get the impression that Apple thinks I’m an idiot, and an idiot who can be counted on to buy their chained-down PC’s time and time again without question. They’ll still probably get one more generation of devices out of me, and hey, they’re one of the richest companies in the world, but I’m seeing a downward trend I hope they can pull up from.

But while Apple might be specifically annoying to me (and making some general duds) the whole message coming out of the tech industry this year is one to make them not be trusted. While there hasn’t been too much negative press at the announcements themselves, things like Uber’s new “fleet” of self-driving cars and Amazon’s grocery store show that the ideal future in the minds of emerging companies is one without you (and anti-trust laws). And this latest attempt to begin the demolition of these two huge employment sectors in the US comes after years of union gutting, tax evasion, and price slashing that competitors can’t keep up with, while offering no compensation and spitting in the face of one of the core tenets supposed to keep capitalism in check “if the people working for you don’t earn enough to buy the products, your sales will diminish”. Amazon has gone the pacification route by also introducing a way to donate to charities without changing much of your shopping routine (maybe someone’ll create a charity for helping Amazon’s warehouse workers in poor conditions) while Uber and Lyft decided to stamp their foot down and declare “We don’t need you, you need us!” and pulling out of Austin (and other cities) when a clunky but reasonable local law made it necessary to fingerprint their drivers. Their leaving sends the interesting message that the law, their customers, and their contractors can all go to hell, they’re playing for some imaginary future where they win. The future isn’t quite here yet: Teslas are smashing into trucks they think are the sky, Samsung’s phones are literally exploding (because seriously, maybe they should test their products a little better; they don’t have to release a new pocket-dinosaur every year), and a private company landing a rocket is still something to be impressed at, but as the most recent job-destroyers gain footholds on the coasts, it’s only a matter of time before they start moving inland.

And well… I mentioned politics last time so… Trump, am I right? or more the fact that he created a social-media campaign strategy that no one seems to really understand, even the facilitators like Facebook and Twitter. Presumably afraid that any human interference would be labeled as bias and hurt their image (which did happen) Facebook got rid of human news “editors” and replaced them with an algorithm that gave everyone a healthy dose of fake. I’m still not sure if I’d prefer a biased human serving me up news or a robot feeding me wrong information, because given two bad answers, why choose? (-Apparently Everyone in 2016). Twitter (or Reddit, or really anywhere,) didn’t fare much better, as every attempt at policing they did was interpreted as an infringement on peoples’ rights (which it might be?) and only served to bolster the things they were attempting to be rid of. But public confidence in their ability to be arbiters was only destroyed once they were all that was left after most of the “regular” media came out as crazy biased, as in “blatantly endorsing a political candidate when you’re supposed to be a neutral arbiter of truth” biased. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not happy with the fact that there was an election between, and I don’t have the exact numbers here, about 176,000 people all of whom I hated, but someone had to win, and if anyone stating an obvious political opinion when their job is supposedly based on facts and not opinion, is obviously shooting themselves in the foot. Even sites like Wikileaks that don’t really even have stories, just documents, appear to be extremely biased with the specific documents they release (but who was trusting information from potential traitors anyway?)

Without a segue, but with a bad taste in my mouth, I’ll just move back to less political industry topics. Time-Warner Cable was going to merge with Comcast in a deal that was shady enough they were going to give a significant chunk of their subscribers to Charter Communications and create a new company with other divested subscribers that would be controlled by both of them. But even still, it apparently wouldn’t make it through anti-trust regulations so they had to give up and Time-Warner merged with Charter instead creating the second-largest telecommunications company. Now they’re trying to re-brand, meaning people will get the same terrible service with a new uninteresting name: “Spectrum”. They’re even shooting themselves in the foot a bit by continually saying “Time-Warner Cable is now Spectrum”… way to get your name off of it. But at least they’re addressing their criticism, albeit by running away from it, unlike the Youtube/Google/Alphabet (who cares?) machine that long ago figured out it didn’t have to answer to anyone, especially customers. Even as Youtube sparks large controversies that alienate creators (3 in the last year if my (minimal) count is correct) there is no danger of any competitor catching up and thus a negligible number of creators will leave. Google (and Alphabet) like to keep their big mouths shut about how they can control your online lives for the most part (smart tactic I suppose), and Youtube mostly does as well, but its actions affect so many people that they are pretty uninterested in how to run the business so it benefits the creators and the consumers more than it does at the moment. And they’re big enough that they don’t have to answer to anyone, and even though they’re guilty of many of the things I’ve already talked about here nothing sticks. They just put their heads down and barrel forward with only their own internal monologue to hear.

So I guess the moral of the story is that everything is terrible and you shouldn’t trust anyone? I don’t want that to be the case, and while one should be watchful of that potential outcome we aren’t quite there yet. But as these newer companies get larger, they grow increasingly out of touch with regular people. In many cases they’re just sort of forgetting that people exist, and it seems like more often than not they’re being forgiven (or maybe just forgotten) for it. Hopefully, there are greater potential repercussions for these companies than just me and a few other people talking into the internet void, and hopefully that means more of a dialogue between the parties that will lead to more awesome things in the future. But now my internal pessimism disguised as realism begins to show through. I would feel equally confident in a prediction that the increasing complexity of electronic systems will lead to companies focusing even less on the end user and more on simply creating a product that they can put out, and still crashes, bugs, glitches, and hacks will become more prevalent and more disastrous. And even if things get better, I’ll probably be back in 3 years to talk about some other perplexing failure. But hopefully not sooner.

Man, I left the 2013 article on so much less of a downer… Maybe pessimism is just the curse of a thinking people… No that’s not funny! Um… At least we won’t hear “Do it for the Vine” anymore? Maybe… Samsung and Apple should be less conspicuous with their Hitman™ exploding phones… Sure, good enough.

 

Post-Script: Here is a link to a Verge article that, while not being the inspiration for this article, helped guide the direction it went.