Why Do I Do These Things To Myself?

Last year it was Wicked.

Someone says, “Oh, you have to read The Bridges of Madison County, it’s the best book!” (That line, by the way, was a Janeane Garofalo bit from back when she was amusing.) Plus, I have a mother who likes to buy the books she’s heard of versus the more obscure stuff on my reading list.

And so it came to pass that I began reading The Road. How could it go wrong? I mean, post-apocalyptic! That’s the home field right there! It’s also a pretty sparse book, couple hundred pages with a fair amount of white space. How bad could it be?

As it turns out… Well, let’s just say I “misplaced” this book several times.

Look, maybe it’s just a matter of taste. You might like a book that’s 200+ pages of a father and son walking and starving. ‘cause that’s what this: Walking and starving. Much like Wicked, I kept wondering when the book was, you know, gonna start.

I’m not a general enemy of walking and starving. There was a lot of walking and starving in, for example, Lord of the Rings. And maybe this is, like, avant-garde, having an entire book about walking and starving. I dunno.

The ending wasn’t as bleak as it might have been. You know from the get-go that at least one of the characters is giong to die. The tension, I guess, comes from wondering whether the other one is going to die, too.

I wasn’t entirely sold on the writing. The dialogue is presented without quotes and also apostrophes. That seems sorta gimmicky. But Cormac McCarthy is, I guess, an artist, so here we have a post-apocalyptic story with no mutants, no women, almost no one except for the two main characters, no hope, and precious little action.

OK, some technical books next.

Microsoft Is Dooooooomed!

Actually, despite the seeming sarcasm, I do believe this. Microsoft is “doomed” (for some value of “doomed”).

I’ve seen it coming for a while. I was in the trenches during the O/S wars (both in the ‘80s and the ’90s) and one thing was apparent: Microsoft’s power came from marketing–their monopoly (or near monopoly)–and not from technology.

People talk like Vista is a novelty, but Microsoft has a long history of releasing products that are so bad, that if a company without a monopoly had released them, they’d go out of business. In fact, most of Microsoft’s competitors were killed by mis-steps much smaller than Vista.

Consider how many tries at Word, Excel, Access, Internet Explorer, DOS, OS/2 and Windows were needed to gain any kind of traction in the marketplace. Consider that OS/2 needed to be removed from their hands before it could take off, and they were so scared of it–a product competing on actual technical merit!–that they hired people to go on the web and lie about it. Consider that the Xbox is doing okay as long as “doing okay” doesn’t need to include ever making a profit.

Consider how much trouble Microsoft created to interfere with their competitors–at the expense of their putative customers.

For that matter, consider who is responsible for unleashing upon the ‘net an OS that could be so easily enslaved–and was by default, easily enslavable–that now millions of zombie machines churn away sending spam, orchestrating denial-of-service attacks, and generally marring the greatest innovation of the computer era (the Internet).

And why? Because it’s way easier to collect the money for a monopoly than it is to support the people you force to pay you. Microsoft wanted the cash from all those people wanting to e-mail photographs and buy stuff from Amazon, but they sure as heck didn’t want the responsibility.

Which is interesting, in its own way, because if they had–if they had taken it upon themselves, they’d have a nigh-indestructible brand. An entire generation of customers would love them to their graves.

When you have a monopoly, all you have to do is out-wait your competitors. And when you’re in the magical position of your competitors being your customers, well, you can drive up their costs in all kinds of creative ways, like promoting standards and forcing them to invest in them, and then later dropping them. You can be a “partner” and then steal their code. If you can’t steal their code, you can take their employees. Ideally you can do both.

You can drop your prices because you don’t need to make money on any given product. In fact, in preserving the monopoly, you don’t have to charge for anything if it secures that monopoly. (That’s certainly the motivation behind the Xbox.) Once the competition is out of the way, you can stop putting money in to that product.

And life is good–as long as you can maintain the monopoly.

In tech, though, you can’t. You can suppress new technologies for quite some time. But not forever. And if your strategy involves destroying other businesses by depriving them of money, you’re in trouble if products arise to compete with yours from business models that aren’t dependent on revenue from products.

And here we are. Why should anyone pay for an operating system when perfectly good ones are available for free? Why should anyone pay for office software, when perfectly good ones are available for free, and give you more freedom?

IBM was in a similar position 25 years ago, except their competition came from hardware getting cheaper. And ultimately their hard-earned monopoly–way harder earned than MS’s, which started with IBM giving them barrels of money–crumbled and they had to reposition themselves as consultants.

Make no mistake, the monopoly money will keep pouring in. These difficult economic times, however, are going to have people looking sooner rather than later at “the Microsoft tax”, and increasingly low-end hardware like netbooks are going to make the “free” in “free software” more appealing.

Eventually, MS is going to have to retreat to the niches it once assigned its “partners”.

Test Driven Government?

I was looking at Perri Nelson’s site, in particular this article on how the Declaration of Independence and Constitution are the requirements and specification for the USA.

That works pretty well. You can check out his thought processes in that article. (I read it and felt a little like Paul Simon listening to “Sail Away” and thinking, “I should’ve written that.)

Now, logically, I know that any system fails when the vigilance of the people it governs fails and their integrity is compromised. Even Communism could work, after a fashion, if people were truly pure of heart.

The American Experiment is particularly interesting because it seems to have worked the best for the longest time of any recent government, and it’s interesting to see how it fails. With the scrutiny given it, it’s also interesting to debate whether certain things were/are failures, too. (Ultimately, of course, the fault lies in the people which, one presumes, must be where the solution comes from.)

But from an engineering standpoint, I was intrigued by the mention of test-driven programming, and began to wonder how that might be applied to a Constitution. The Bill of Rights is great, but of course, over time, the state (and a non-vigilant people) have allowed it to be compromised through "interpretation” (i.e., “changing what the words mean so that we don’t have the bothersome process of actually changing the law.”)

A test-driven Bill of Rights would be really cool, though. What you would have is a series of questions that would have to be answered with regard to any law in order for it to be Constitutional. These questions would add precision to what is meant by a particular item and could be used as litmus tests.

Consider these potential questions:

  • Does this law allow the government to control political speech in any way?
  • Does this law compromise the effectiveness of any citizen to protect the state?
  • Does this law allow quartering of troops in the homes of citizens?

Now, you need a lot more precision. Is all speech truly free? You would need to codify some base rules, say infringement on life, liberty or property, which could be made part of every test.

It’s an interesting exercise.

Ultimately, of course, it doesn’t matter too much, even if you were building a new Republic: You’re still stuck with human nature and success apparently breeds failure, as strange as that seems.

Did actor Steve Valentine play Heathcliff in Masterpiece Theater?

I don’t know, but the fact that this search returns my blog on Yahoo, I think they have some work to do. (Well, okay, now it would be understandable. Now Yahoo seems prescient and Google behind the times! Take that!) Though it does return a page with all those words, I’ll give it that.

This blog also turns up for “Vicky Titus Blogs”, apparently.

So, it’s got that going for it.

Inaugural Blues

Talkin’ ‘bout my generation
People try to put us down
But they weren’t people, just our parents
Now they’re old or not around

Bill and Hill are our first couple
Student prez, homecoming queen
Tipper’s cute, Albert’s handsome
The in-crowd is the winning team

The baby boomers are the bosses
Rock and roll is here to stay
Fleetwood Mac got back together
In separate limos on reunion day

We got Elvis and the Beatles
Protested war, now we’ve won
Bill’s gone gray, Al’s slightly balding
But we are forever young

It’s not quite a coronation
Feels more like a senior prom
In D.C., bells ring, there are fireworks
On TV, we see Baghdad bombed

Points of light and talk of angels
It’s rhetoric, it must be told
I’m talking about my generation
Hope we grow up before we’re old
Hope we grow up before we’re old, yeah

–Loudon Wainwright III

Not Necessarily The News

In-between the various celebrity gushings over Obama (“I think he’s going to make change because he’s hopeful…and a communist.”) we have the usual non-celebrity news plus this trifle from IMDB:

Harry Potter star Emma Watson had never heard of screen legends Dame Maggie Smith and Gary Oldman before working with them on the blockbuster movie franchise.

Unlike many actors (including her co-stars) Ms. Watson is not only not older than the character she’s portraying, she was possibly even a bit younger, filming the first movie either as a ten- or newly-minted eleven-year-old.

How many of her peers would know who Maggie Smith or Gary Oldman were? And how? Repeated viewings of Tea with Mussolini or Sid and Nancy? Maybe Gary Oldman from The Fifth Element but really, how many current 10-11 year olds would know Maggie Smith if not for the Harry Potter movies?

Although kid/family movies are often looked down upon by serious actors and critics, that’s really the genre that survives over time. There were better and more famous actors than appear in Wizard of Oz, but those that did appear are immortal for their roles, no matter what they did afterwards.

Stalkers vs. Groupies

It’s not something that is likely to be an issue for me, or for most people, but looked at this video at Althouse and thought it was kind of creepy.

I mean, it’s obviously in fun, and the Obama girl is cute and all that. It would probably be fun if it didn’t remind me so much of a psychotic spoiled child. That is, I’ve sat through eight years of utterly divisive partisanship from Dems, with talk of stolen elections–eight years of temper tantrums–and now everything’s supposed to be lovey-lovey because the baby got his bottle?

No good, because I know the good times last only as long as the tantrumers get their way.

I’m sure I’ll see plenty of bad behavior from the Reps now, too, but they’ll have to work hard to match it.

I think what I found creepy is the overt sexuality towards a celebrity figure. I know it’s a common (if jokey) custom for couples to have “exception lists”. You know, if you happen to have an opportunity with Angelina Jolie/Brad Pitt, your spouse gives you a “bye”.

But what if you’re on the Pitt/Jolie side? (This is why I said it’s not an issue for most people.) If you’re a celebrity, would you be attracted to someone who had this sort of almost stalker-esque relationship with you?

I mean, what’s the difference between a stalker and a groupie, other than one is wanted?

That’s a simplification, obviously, but there’s a gradient there from admirer to groupie to stalker. It’s not really the degree of admiration, so much, as the insular nature of it. I mean, you’re a guy and a gal in an office, and you see each other, and you talk casually, and you like each other, but you’re building a mutual thing there.

The more one-sided that is, the creepier it is. And in the case of groupies, it’s hugely one-sided: A huge investment to a non-existent one. For stalkers, it’s even moreso, as their huge investment is up against a negative one.

Which makes you wonder why anyone–particularly a highly desirable person–would actually engage with them?

(Probably for the sex.)