Jonny Appleseed

I work out east on the south fork of Long Island. It’s about an hour commute, door-to-door. My wife, to make sure I eat something during the day, will put together a lunch for me that will include a piece of fruit. Otherwise, if I ate anything during the day, it would be something like cookies or a brownie, because I have absolutely no will to eat well. And I would never pack or eat a piece of fruit of my own volition, because, again, no will to eat well.

That it is autumn, I’ve been getting apples in my lunch pack. Apples are fine covered in caramel and maybe possibly in hot apple pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. But I hadn’t eaten a whole, unadulterated apple in some time until my wife started sending me off with one. And the only reason I started to eat them was because I had nothing to eat on the long ride back, and an apple was slightly better than nothing.

After a few days of eating apples on the ride home, I’ve actually started to like them. There are hundreds of varieties, and getting to know the different qualities of each has been deliciously educational. And throwing out the apple cores has been fun. There’s a lot of wooded areas I drive through during my commute, and instead of holding on to the apple core for the remainder of my trip, I fling the core out into one of the wooded areas. I guess, technically, I’m littering, but I’ve thought of it as providing the start of a grove of wild apples for future generations all throughout the east end. I’m the Jonny Appleseed of Sag Harbor.

But I probably deserved it when I went to throw an apple core out and opened the wrong window, causing the apple to smash into the closed front passenger window and create a mess of apple fragments on the passenger seat. I am very lucky to have not broken the window, now streaked with dried apple juice. Maybe I missed an errant seed during clean up and will soon start a grove of apple trees in my Toyota.

Where being rational fails

I feel compassion for those who voted against equal rights in North Carolina. I know their vote was wrong and based on prejudice and faulty logic, but I still have compassion for them, because they rationally believed that they were doing the right thing. To many of us in metropolitan areas or with homosexual friends or who are just compassionate people, the vote is astounding. Clearly, rationally, no one should be punished for who they fall in love with. Two rational adults making a decision to merge their lives together should be celebrated, because relationships produce more offspring than just children. Whole families merge and the extended human panoply gets one bit smaller, closer than before; cultures mix and friends are made. What does gender have to do with this? But there are those who believe gender is the overriding factor in relationships as surely as I do not.

And here there are no winners. Obviously, people fighting for civil rights have lost, but North Carolina made a law that was already in effect just a little bit stronger, possibly strong enough to punish heterosexual couples who are not married. Far from protecting the sanctity of marriage, the law codifies it and prevents churches from having their own definitions. Those who strongly support the law see it as a bulwark against sin and modernity, but who declares a wall a victory? They know there is a rising tide against them. They know that history will render the law moot and this battle an aberration. The wall will crumble, but the state will survive.

Why hate these people, then? Why fill ourselves with anger at this loss? The frustration of knowing we are on the right side and that those that would vote against civil rights are doing it for ancient, mistaken beliefs is great, but the frustration on the other side is just as great, because they believe they are on the right side and that those that would allow homosexual marriage are chipping away at the foundations of society.

But wait, I am not getting postmodern here. I do not believe that what is right and what is wrong depends on point of view. I know that granting civil rights, including the ability to enter into a marriage with another consenting adult, is the inevitable progression of any forward society. Once a society grants equal rights to women, something we’re oddly still fighting about, there is no chance to turn the clock back—hinder the clock, yes—but it can never be turned back. Justice and equality will eventually be granted to all people, because when more people have it, compassion for those that do not grows exponentially. Which is why I will endeavor to remain compassionate for those that rail against the future. If I remain compassionate to those I disagree with, I will rationally choose a more inclusive society, instead of futilely attempting to keep people out.

Value Added

The discovery of a possible diamond planet got me thinking. What is more valuable, a planet made of diamond or a planet full of wood? A planet made of gold or a planet made of molybdenum? A planet filled with jewels or a planet where we could grow rice?

The answers, I think, are obvious. So why do we think that gold and diamonds and jewels are intrinsically valuable here? Gold and diamonds do have industrial applications, so there is some small amount of practical worth, maybe on the same level as copper and graphite, but they’re both artificially kept scarce making us believe that they have value in and of themselves. And really, if a huge hunk of gold rock was found in space, would it be worth anything to go and get it?

Minds are made for changing

A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I were watching Bones and the main character, a scientist, said something that stunned me. I have to paraphrase, but the gist, “I’m a scientist, I can’t just change my mind.”

I cried out, when I heard it. Listen, scientists are people, too, and can be as stubborn as anyone, but the phrase was such that any scientist who said it would have immediately backed away from the totality of the statement. Scientists have to be able to change their minds. Anyone who has a sense of curiosity, who relishes discovery, is going to be able to change his or her mind.

Another aspect of that is accepting that some belief, long held, is incorrect. I argue my position, but if I’m given new information that changes my opinion, I’m much more fulfilled. I’m stubborn and seem intransigent, but learning something new is how I grow.

Over the holidays, Jennifer, my sister-in-law, said that The Beatles sing “Frere Jacques” in the song “Paperback Writer.” I disagreed, and we played the song. I’ve listened to it at least 30 times in the past 10 years. I’ve known “Paperback Writer” all my life. No way would that have escaped my notice. Sure enough, George and John are harmonizing “Frere Jacques” (clearer on one channel of the stereo). I was thrilled beyond belief. I was happy to be wrong.

There’s part of the human condition that prevents us to admit that we’re wrong. It’s a problem, though. Sometimes, we have the truth in front of us, and we still deny it. I hope I never lose the joy of discovering truths and changing my mind.

It’s Alphabetic

Huh. I was going to post that I wanted to get two of ABC’s albums with “The Look of Love,” “How to Be a Millionare,” and “Poison Arrow.” I think these are on two different albums if I remember my 80s vinyl correctly. But not only are those albums not available on CD, but the songs themselves are only available as best-of collections as MP3s.

Now, ABC wasn’t known for their album-oriented rock, so I really shouldn’t have a problem buying a best-of and that’s that, but, boy, is that going to be the toughest thing to give up in our post-album world. It’s not the loss of the artwork or liner notes, which enterprising distributors are bringing back. It’s not the loss of cohesion within a group of songs, since it looks like a lot of artists are still grouping songs to release at once.

No, it’s hitting me hardest that I can’t remain smug when I, as a real fan, purchase albums and scoff at the fair-weather fans who purchase best-ofs and think they know anything about the band or the music they’re listening to. I want my high-horse back!

Don’t make me Chrysler

On the teevee, there’s been a couple of Chrysler commercials that have really, really annoyed me. The first one is subtly annoying, because I had to pay attention to it before I realized how awful it was. There’s a young waifish boy who is leaving school. We hear, but don’t see, a boy say “Hey, Billy, I’ll race you home.” And you see the waif look alarmed. He runs, and then we see three larger shadowy boys chase after him. He escapes into his mom’s Chrysler minivan.

Clearly, the boy is being chased by bullies, but this probably played poorly with some sort of focus group. Reasonably, who the hell wants to associate the safety of her car with her poor, picked-on child? But it drives me crazy that the fix for this horrible commercial was to have the dumb voice-over in the beginning implying that the child was racing the other kids home. The kid looks horrified, and the other kids chasing him are clearly disappointed they didn’t get to hand him a beat down when he barely escapes. Who thought that was a good idea? And now, the edited commercial is nonsensical and cringe inducing.

The other Chrysler commercial I didn’t even have to pay attention to for it to make my brain matter seep out. It’s another minivan commercial–does Chrysler only make minivans now?–and after talking about all the amazing thing this minivan does, the voice-over says, “Oh, yeah, and it literally gave birth to every other minivan.”

Unless this is about another Michael Bay movie that I’m never going to see, this is literally the worst use of “literally” that I’ve ever heard. Most people may not realize this, but advertising agencies usually have smarter people involved in ad-campaigns. If the ad was literally put together by a 13 year-old, I could understand the usage, but anyone who has a high-school education knows what “literally” means. That ad had to pass through at least 2 dozen people. Not one of them pointed out how wrong that was?

At any rate, I put the kibosh on purchasing any Chrysler products in my household. I’m sure that’ll be the final nail in that company’s coffin.

A catastrophic long tail

A few years ago, I wrote about a minor long-term effect of the Chernobyl radiation leak. It took almost twenty years for a specific type of radioactive isotope to make landfall and destroy Norway’s reindeer-meat exports. Obviously, with all the other lives and ecologies and industries that Chernobyl affected, the small market in reindeer meat isn’t a big deal, but it reminds me that disasters can have far reaching consequences that no scientific model can ever compute. It’s the long-tail effect applied to catastrophes.

I think about this when I read about the BP pipe rupture. The above image is of the Gulf Stream, specifically showing the heat transfer from the Gulf of Mexico to the rest of the North Atlantic. How long, I wonder, will it take for the suspended oil droplets to surface and where will it happen? I fear that my friends in the Tampa area of Florida are going to experience a depressed environment for years to come.

But look at that map again. Imagine in 20 years what is left of east coast fisheries. Imagine how the oil and dispersants will affect cod hatcheries in Iceland and England. Imagine what effects oil and chemicals added in the millions of gallons into dozens of unique and crucial ecosystems will have on all of us. Can you? I know I can’t. I would never have expected an isolated nuclear disaster to have affected something thousands of miles away and dozens of years later. We make a mistake in thinking that radioactive isotopes are more dangerous or last longer than crude oil and chemical dispersants. The major difference is that it will take longer for the BP oil disaster to affect more people, but affect us it will. It’s only a matter of when. The long-tail of this catastrophe will be measured in decades.

Further notes from a commuter

12/2 10:23 pm

— I have a button on my messenger-bag that says “I read banned comics.” It’s a fairly old button, and I got it because it the late 80s and early 90s there were a few comics that were being banned. I don’t think I actually read any of them, but I supported the people who did. It wasn’t so much a rebelious thing as an act of solidarity. But those days are gone. I don’t really read new comic books, and I couldn’t tell anyone what’s being banned, if anything is.

I Read Banned Comics button

Outside of my necklace, the most-commented part of my apparel is that button. Most of the folks I work with are 25 years-old or younger. Someone at work will see that button and ask me, “You read banned comics? What comics are banned?” Truthfully, I answer that I don’t know.

I’m sure in some small communities there are people who are trying to ban works of fiction, but today there just isn’t the nationwide push to ban supposedly dangerous comic books like there had been starting from the 50s. I’m pretty sure this is because of the Interweb. Not only does it make attempting to ban something pointless, but it’s changed the distribution model, too. If some young Turk wants to put out something so edgy that no publishing house will touch it, the artist can skip the publisher all together and get it to an audience online. He won’t make any money, but that’s not what edgy, dangerous art is about anyway. Rarely does a boundary-pusher live comfortably.

— That Marley-covering busker was back in Penn Station. He did this medley of “Stir It Up” and “The Tide Is High” by Blondie. It lasted like 10 minutes. I purchased his CD.

12/5 10:09 am

— Having a regular schedule is soothing. I’m sitting on the same seat on the train coming in to the City and going home. I’m getting the same parking space in the morning at the train station. It’s oddly relaxing to have these things be consistent from day to day. I’ve never understood why humans desire this, but now I certainly appreciate the mindless joy of it. I’m guessing that this has something to do with the primitive part of the brain, the animal instinct. And I’d also guess that it’s the same part of the brain that believes the past is more comforting than the future. It’s the conservative mindset. I wonder if having a rigid schedule makes one less likely to accept radical ideas and change. I wonder if they go hand-in-hand.

12/16 10:23 pm

— An unfortunate combination: a loud, grating voice and my train ride home. Oh, well, gives me a reason to listen to some tunes. Oddly, I don’t often listen to music on the train. But I will tonight. Thanks, woman who is just blabbity-blab-blabbing two seats in front of me.

— My poor phone. Today, before I left work, I put the phone on a chair when I had to do something with two hands. There’s a setup here. The chair is in a stairwell against a wall facing out, on a landing, one flight up. The stairwell almost, but not quite, butts up against the wall, leaving a one-inch gap between the stairwell-landing floor and the wall. The chair is plastic and slightly slopped towards rear of the chair, and the chair back is open and does not meet the seat of the chair. See this setup? I put the phone on the chair, where it slides towards the rear of the chair and out the space between the back and the seat. The phone falls perfectly into the gap between the landing floor and the wall and falls one story to the concrete floor below.

It falls so quickly that all I have time to do is laugh, because I can’t believe that the phone would fall so perfectly into that tiny gap, but, of course it does! There wouldn’t be anything funny or interesting about this anecdote if it didn’t fall through that gap.

I run down the stairway to the first floor hoping I didn’t bean anyone with it, and it’s face down on the floor–and intact.

I should mention that I have an Agent 18 case, which is plastic like the seat is, explaining why my phone was so slippery on its surface. But the Agent 18 case extends over the phone a bit. This gap prevented the glass surface of my phone from shattering into a spiderweb of misery.

I’m surprised as anyone that my phone continues to function as it had before the fall, but as soon as it happened, I thought it was not only something that I could write about, but also a great story to tell customers at work when they ask me about cases for their phones.

— Last night in Penn Station, a guitar-playing busker sang “Babylon Sisters,” by Steely Dan. Never–not in a dozen score years–did I expect to hear “Babylon Sisters” covered by anyone. It’s a fairly complex song, musically, and he did it pretty well. It’s really ambitious to play it solo, for sure. He said afterwards that he thinks it was written about women from Babylon, a town on Long Island, a busy stop on the LIRR. I think he was serious, unfortunately.

More notes from a commuter

11/18 1:21 am

— The old LIRR trains with the blue and red seats were just not made for typing on a portable computer. They have outlets, but there is no way to get comfortable while typing.

— Today at {computer company that shall not be named} there was a graduate student who was working on her end of semester paper when her computer crashed and wouldn’t come back on. When she tried, a very specific indicator that her hard drive was ruined would appear on her screen. She came in, hoping against all that was reasonable, that somehow we could help retreive her school work. There was nothing I could do, and she was in tears, having potentially lost a semester of work. It was the most heartbreaking moment I’ve had at work. I’m so empathetic, though, that she apologized for getting me upset. I assured her that I was fine, and I offered information about some data recovery companies.

My point though is to keep a backup of your data. Seriously people. You’re going to kill me if you don’t. On that subject, my iMac’s hard drive is clicking and occassionally will not mount. I will have to bring it in for service, and the hard drive will have to be replaced. I will lose what ever is on that hard drive. Am I concerned? No, my friends, for I have seen the light and am true to the way. I have a backup of my data. All hail the external hard drive!

Photos! Email! School work! Music! LOL Cats! Whatever it is on your computer, why would you risk losing it all to a micrometer sized bit of ferro-aluminum oxide flipping from north to south? Back up your data!

— I tend to rant a bit at night.

11/21 11:07 pm

— Okay. There was a hockey game again tonight, and the hoochie ladies were out in full force again. There was a group of them with totally inappropriate footware getting pictures taken with NYPD officers. At one point they shouted “Islanders suck!” which promted mixed reactions from the sea of Islander-jersey wearing male fans who were gawking at them anyway.

— I don’t know when the eighties fashions came back, but I want to hurt the designers and shops that are pushing them. Those women by the cops were straight out of a Whitesnake video, with only slightly smaller, slightly less teased, hairdos.

— John Hodgman didn’t say hi to the Genius Bar when he made a speaking appearance tonight at {computer company that shall not be named}. I’m a bit disappointed. I was probably one of the few who knew him from the “Ask a former literary agent” days, and not just as the PC guy. The folks I was helping at the store asked if “the Mac guy” was there too. To which I should have replied, “We’re all the Mac guys here,” but didn’t. I’m a bit disappointed in that too.

— It’s good to have a steady gig in this economy. I’m suspicious of my current good fortune.

Thanksgiving Update — computer is back from repair with new hard drive. My system is restored from my backup. No muss, no fuss.

Apple Computers

It’s no secret that I’m an Apple fanatic. I’ve used Macintosh computers since 1986. I’ve taken apart the Mac 128K to see the developers’ signatures inside the case. There has never been a point where I thought I would have to abandon my favorite platform. During the dark-days of the late 90s, I still knew that using a Mac beat using a Windows machine, no matter the gigahertz difference. Even though Apple’s switch to Intel processors seemed like a slight to us partisans, it was more like the fall of a wall between two former enemies. The time was right.

Back in the 90s, the tech press all but wrote off Apple. Well, actually, a lot was writen about Apple, but it all entailed how Apple should sell off their properties and close shop. When the iMac came out, starting the annoying and inexplicably continuing trend to name everything “iWhatever,” the press began to turn, ever so slightly in Apple’s favor. But old habits die hard, and now that Apple is really on top of their game, the old tech-heads can’t admit defeat. They’re still warning Apple to sell off the hardware business, to merge with Google (nee Sony), to license their software. It’s crazy.

Mostly, they do this for the hits. Apple partisans are a vocal group. We learned how to use the internet shortly after the DEC users, but long before everyone else was on it exchanging Windows viruses via email. We read articles about Apple voraciously, positive or negative, so anything that discusses Apple is going to get a magnitude more hits than not. The best way to get hits is to call Apple users “fanboys.” Also, call anyone who points out illogic arguments and mistakes in your article an “irrational fanboy.”

But bad press or no, Apple is doing pretty well for itself. Before the iPhone came out (grrr… iPhone), the tech press was insistent that Apple better produce one or the company would go down in flames. Now that the iPhone is out, and successful, the tech press is thrilled to warn Apple of its impending doom.

When the rumors about the iPhone surfaced (three years before the actual release date), I wasn’t confident in Apple’s ability to pull it off. In fairness, I am never sure that whatever Apple does is the right thing. I second-guess that company more than the tech press. “iPod?” I said in 2001. “The world really needs another MP3 player?” Anyway, when Apple released the details of the iPhone (6 months before the introduction), I thought that maybe it would be a decent phone. Surfing the web on it, though? Why bother?

Finally, the iPhone was released, and I’m apathetic about it. I’ll wait for the first revision, I said. But when my Nokia died, I rushed out to get one, because I am an Apple fanatic. The experience of the phone is far better than I could have imagined. I’ve used this phone more in two months than I’ve used any other phone. Mostly, that’s because I don’t like to talk to people on the phone, but the iPhone has a camera and web access. Huh. Guess putting a browser on it was a good idea after all.

Anyway, here’s a photo of a place I drove by in Brookhaven town, taken, of course, with my iPhone.

Phoenix Gallery, Brookhaven, NY