Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Perspective, An Aside

For RB

One of my friends is dying.

I’m not referring to the daily grind we each experience, the condition Pink Floyd once assuredly described as being “one day closer to death.”

I’m talking about someone – a peer, an equal, a person who might as well be me – slowly winding her way towards no longer living.

It’s not only sad – she’s really a sweet, funny, happy, unique person – but it’s, of course, also a reminder to us all that life is truly and genuinely fleeting. While we consciously understand this concept, when it affects someone who at ~ 35 is far too young to experience this indirectly, let alone directly, it’s a tragic if not cliched reminder that we take much too much for granted and savor each day far too little.

Far be it from me to wonder – aloud, anyway – as to why The Big Man allows this to happen. Good people shouldn’t suffer, and they shouldn’t die far too young. They should live their lives not knowing or worrying -- or being forced to care – about the finite aspect of life – they should spend their days bearing smiles, not burden. And they should be among us – alive – to radiate their positive, upbeat energy. They shouldn’t spend their youth, or whatever one can re-badge Middle Age, confined to a hospital bed, requiring assistance to walk, before the inevitable occurs and they’re no longer here to validate our memories of them.

But they do.

I’m not sure if Billy Joel’s “Only The Good Die Young” got it right, nor am I certain that Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey don’t sometimes regret their teen anthem “My Generation” bearing the lyric “I hope I die before I get old.” But I do know that as consciously as I can bear it, it still baffles and saddens me knowing the world is losing someone far too good and far too young.

To quote Donna Summer, that's not the way it should be.

Not at all.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

RIP Steve Jobs 1955-2011

It was 1983. I arrived home to find two large, brown boxes awaiting my arrival on our porch. Both were from an entity known as “Computer Factory,” located somewhere in midtown on Lexington Avenue. For me, this and other stores like it would in turn become akin to what most children deem to be toy stores.

I ripped open both boxes, despite warnings from my father, to find an Apple II+, an amber-tinted CRT monitor and a C. Itoh dot-matrix printer. While one of his law partners advised him that it would take hours to assemble everything and that I should not even open the boxes without my father there, I ignored both his and my father’s warnings and had the entire system up and running in about 45 minutes.

The next foray into Apple’s vision was in 1984, a new type of computer called a Macintosh. It featured a weird, wavy box covered in taupe, a 9’ inch black-and-white screen, a floppy disk drive and 128k of internal RAM. And a mouse!

The next Mac visitor to the Boogie household was the 512k version of the Macintosh, known as the “Fat Mac” – and it was largely identical to its skinnier sibling, except this impressive bump in internal memory.

Next up was a Macintosh SE, courtesy of the CIRC/US store through GW, which forced me to leave DC for Bethesda, Maryland, to pick up my latest bounty. After enjoying a few months with the dual-floppy model, I endeavored to have a Rodime 45MB hard drive installed. It was 1988.

Once I outgrew this model, next up was a Macintosh IIci – a nice yet antiseptic box covered in toothpaste white and with no built-in monitor. That lasted several years, equipped with varieties of software that were first making their impact in non-professional computing: photo editing, desktop publishing, and the earliest versions of actual email.

After this model began showing its age, I found myself researching its replacement. Several models had already reached the market as potential replacements, but what troubled me – both as a Mac user and a Mac evangelist – was that Apple had released a machine similar to mine (called the IIcx) that was a marginal step-up from mine, and then only several months later released a machine – if memory serves me right – called the IIce, which was essentially the same thing as the IIcx except in a different shell and with a price tag $400 lower. People who had purchased the IIcx were furious that their machine was both instantly replaced and obsolete, especially given the lower price. In fact, some people had purchased the IIcx only a week or so before the IIce was released and felt cheated and disenchanted by Apple’s behavior. They demanded some sort of restitution – either allow them to trade in their newly-purchased, soon-to-be doorstops, or offer some sort of refund as a show of good faith.

Apple, after all, was known for being the un-IBM. IBM was the faceless, corporate juggernaut that eschewed the “personal” in the term personal computer. Whereas Apple not only put a face on their computers (literally, with the Macs) they were not faceless people hidden behind huge steel girders. They were the non-corporation.

This move, however, changed many peoples’ opinion of Apple – including mine.

That year, I opted for a Toshiba Satellite notebook running Windows for Workgroups 3.31. Thereafter, I purchased a Dell Opti-Posi-Tronic Something-Or-Other running Windows 95, and have since not looked back at Apple in my rear view mirror, excepting those instances where Apple has taken similar, corporate stances in the face of these types of conflicts. Apple went from a two-man traveling show – Steve Jobs and Steve Wosniak – to a corporate entity much akin to IBM, except for the relaxed dress code and the much-preferred campus-style office complex.

However, Apple’s vision of providing an alternative to IBM’s cold, hard dominance wasn’t so much akin to following a yellow brick road to a small man behind a curtain but moreso akin to Who’s Next – “meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”

Steve Jobs was a singular genius – his products and the manner in which he took Apple’s reins upon his return to the company are legendary and, without question, impressive. However, while Apple’s designs are wonderful – the iPhone and the iPad alone are two of the most omnipresent items of the 21st Century, without a doubt – my problem with Apple has and will likely always be their need for control and exclusion.

Some time ago, I found a story online about how Apple has instituted a unique power connector for internal hard drives in its notebooks. In order to function, a hard drive needs to be connected to the system with both a conduit/cable for data and power. By controlling the way power is shared with the hard drive by the system, Apple – de facto – controlled who could make hard drives for Apple computers and who could install them. I assumed there was some sort of explanation for this: perhaps efficiency or reduction of heat or something similar. But no – this was simply a way for Apple to control who and how used and manipulated its products.

This type of controlling behavior is typical of a company like Apple – underdog mentality that knows its products are good but far outnumbered. It’s the hallmark move of a company that needs to be a bit underhanded – in plain sight.

The antenna-gate issue – which marred an otherwise typical cult-like devouring of the iPhone 4 – is another typical example of how Apple does its thing. Denial and control of a situation is the way a small upstart facing insurmountable odds manages to go from small and beatable to a multi-billion dollar cult-driven empire.

None of this denigrates or takes away from Steve Jobs or his legacy. The iPhone – regardless of the fact I’ll never own one – is a solid, respectable product that has shaped the current and future interaction between people and mobile communications. It’s also likely the sole reason why Blackberry (RIM) will be out of business within 36 months. Between that and the iPod, one can’t and shouldn’t criticize Steve Jobs.

Further, it should be noted that Jobs has changed the way we perceive computers – not simply as a result of the iPad, but how he has – coupled with digital cameras and their integration into cell phones – managed to change why we need or even want to use computers. His contribution can’t be minimized to one or two simple products or their impact on our culture. His contribution can, rightfully, be categorized as incredibly significant and as much so, if not moreso, than Bill Gates’ or the integration of Google into our on- and offline lexicon.

My only issues with him, which I would have happily addressed with him directly had I had the opportunity before his untimely passing yesterday, was why he was so quick to take Windows to task for copying the Apple OS when his company lifted the entirety of the idea of using a mouse from Xerox. The second, and more crucial, of these issues was why Apple took advantage of its legions of supporters so readily. To the first, it’s clear that fomenting a sense of “David versus Goliath” was key to Apple’s success. Claiming their good ideas were lifted was and continues to be paramount to Apple’s daily mantra. To wit, they have pushed back against every major company – IBM, Google, Samsung, Motorola, RIM, et al – that they deem to be their competition. Inasmuch as their behavior is more litigious than Tom Cruise attending a cross-dressing costume gala, one can only suspect their predilection to point fingers at their competition is a result of their interest in controlling and profiting from the market rather than advance technology for “the rest of us,” which makes far better ad copy than admitting their ulterior goal – which is to make as much damn money from the consumer as possible.

The second – whether it’s a hard drive power cable, a faulty antenna, injunctions and copyrights or simply rolling out new models to the detriment of its customers –no longer surprises me. I used to be one of the believers – that Apple was different, that their products were different, that their goal was different. I used to believe they were a company designed to advance the technology, that their products were better, and that their goal was to be better, not simply turn as much profit as possible. Those assumptions and beliefs were, in fact, wrong. Apple believers usually tell me that Macs are the best-built, highest-quality machines available on the market. When I advise them that Lenovo’s customer service ratings suggest otherwise, they balk. Facts trump belief.

When Mac users tell me their main reason for buying a Mac was the nearly universal absence of virus and malware designed to attack Macs, I mention that I’ve been using a PC without aftermarket virus/malware protection for six years and haven’t had virus or malware problems simply because I am careful with my online behavior. I also mention to them that I know a dozen Mac users who, in the past year, have had their google, yahoo, AOL and/or hotmail accounts compromised. I also remind them that the future of computing is not in user-installed software but interactive online applications, which are – largely speaking – ignorant of platform.

When I revise my response and clarify that I’d rather know how to use a computer safely in an otherwise unsafe Internet community, I rarely – if ever – receive a response that demonstrates any understanding – or interest – in knowing rather than putting one’s faith in the dearth of Mac-centric malware. Essentially, faith in Apple is better than knowledge.

I don’t bother discussing the differences in hardware performance and the disparity in the vast choices and options between the PC and Mac platforms because most Mac users seem content having less choices and fewer options in what’s available to them. To their credit, they have typically suggested that they would prefer quality over quantity. To that I agree – however, invariably, when asked how he or she would accomplish a task, the typical response is “I’d probably have someone with a PC do that for me.”

As his legacy, I don’t discount Steve Jobs’ contribution to personal computing or his significance going forward as to what we can accomplish with and without computers. I only hope that in the future, the one to which his legacy contributed greatly, is that we don’t eschew knowledge for ease nor do we misunderstand capability for efficiency. And finally, I hope the least of his accomplishments is the fact he took a two-man company and built an empire; rather, I hope the most lauded of his accomplishments is the fact he took his visions and, nearly single-handedly, changed the world.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

The Aftermath

Now that 36 hours have passed since the US assassinated Osama bin Laden and the shock has worn off, there are a variety of factors which have been going through my head and my heart since we first heard the news. Interestingly, Kaia and I were together – we had been watching a film and Kaia’s friend called to discuss something with her but first told her to turn on the news.

So now that the shockwaves have passed and the reality has sunk in, what do we – as a nation – know – and what do we – as a government – know?

Well, the public has been informed that the mission was performed by the Navy Seals (it was disclosed that it was indeed the highly-respected members of Team Six, aka SpecWar DevGru, that carried out this particular mission). The specifics are a bit sketchy, but the brief version is the US tracked a courier that had been associated with several al Qaeda operatives to a large compound situated behind 18-foot-high walls on one acre in the military garrison town in Pakistan known as Abbottabad. Two of the more curious factors which piqued their curiosity was that the courier and his brother were living elsewhere in a million-dollar home yet had no discernible income. And further, the house they had tracked the courier to in Abbottabad was huge in comparison to its neighbors, yet had no internet or phone service of any kind. And finally, while every other house in the neighborhood routinely left its refuse out for collection, the compound’s trash was never left for collection; it was routinely burned.

When the US established a possible sighting of a large man who perhaps fit bin Laden’s description – sometime between September and December of 2010 – they put in place a possible mission which began with Seal Team Six, aka Red Cell.

The Seals, much like the British SAS (Special Air Service), are the anonymous rock and rollers of anti-terrorist, special operations groups. They operate in largely foul conditions, almost always get their hands dirty, and always succeed. Failure for these groups isn’t an option. Essentially, when there is a terrorist or hostage rescue situation that can be handled on the ground in lieu of an air strike or something similarly catastrophic, these are the groups that receive the first call. After receiving the call in connection with the mission to kill or capture bin Laden, they built a replica of the Abbottabad compound and began training for every contingency.

Team Six is the SEAL elite unit which carried out Sunday’s breach of the compound in Abbottabad. Details are scarce – at least accurate ones – but it appears it was two choppers that were sent into Pakistan. The choppers were specially-outfitted MH-60’s that were almost certainly noise-suppressed to avoid detection. The SEALs had entered Pakistan’s Ghazi Air Base from Pakistan, and they brought, among other goodies, “tactical signals, intelligence collectors, and navigators using highly classified hyperspectral imagers.” In plain English, that means they brought materials to signal success to their delivery men (eg their pilots) as well as personnel to insure any computer/data could be safely brought back to the US for review and research. The last part – “navigators with highly classified hyperspectral imagers” – refers to thermal detection equipment so they could locate all the people within the compound prior to going in. It helps to know what’s around the corner waiting to kill you before actually turning the corner.

One of the choppers experienced significant mechanical failure, so much so that the SEALs abandoned it after setting it down and (after the mission was complete) destroyed it to make sure no one would be able to loot and research the technology aboard the downed aircraft.

The raid took approximately 20 minutes, which included killing or capturing approximately 22 individuals located within the compound walls. Both bin Laden and his son were killed in the actual conflict – eg the firefight – as were several other terrorists and a woman who may or may not have been providing material assistance to bin Laden and his people. The public has been advised the woman was being used as a human shield and her death was a casualty of a fierce firefight, but this may not be accurate. It’s possible she was firing on the SEALs and, despite the political ramifications of her death, when people fire at SEALs – especially when they’re in combat mode – they respond accordingly.

At the conclusion of the firefight, the SEALs took custody of between 10-12 captives in addition to bin Laden’s body, which was flown back to their US handlers for examination and DNA confirmation. More importantly, every hard drive in every computer in the compound was removed and taken as well. Finally, because the compound’s trash was burned, the SEALs collected any papers they thought may be relevant and retrieved those along with anything else that might be used for identification and/or research.

All in all, after photographing all the bodies and the configuration of the compound, the members of SEAL Team Six returned to the chopper and were extricated from Abbottabad back to the Pakistani Air Base and were subsequently brought home.

I’ve received conflicting details about whether any members of Team Six were injured; according to public reports, none of the breach team was injured. Others have suggested several minor injuries, resulting from bin Laden’s people using Teflon-coated ammunition, did occur. Regardless, the battle scars these guys endured on Sunday are medals I am certain they will wear with pride – silently – for the rest of their lives.

While this mission was one of the most public and crucial of America’s SpecWar operations ever – at least in the modern era – I can’t help but be impressed not only with the efficiency the SEALs do their job but also the fact that these missions are run with such regular frequency and rewarded with so little public kudos and thanks. Whether these guys do what they do because of their love for America, for the knowledge that they must do it because no one else can or will, or simply because they are good – great – at what they do, it’s pretty clear that the few times we hear – publicly or otherwise – about their successes we should take the time to appreciate their efforts.

So for the members of Team Six and all the SEAL members who participated in the raid this past Sunday, as well as to all those who have expended blood and sweat in protecting America’s interests and security every- and anywhere, know your efforts are appreciated, even if the appreciation is given indirectly; keep on doing what you do.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Looking Back and Looking Forward

There are varying degrees of significance to Osama bin Laden's death, but invariably they come down to perception and relevance. First and foremost, it was important that the US finally track him down and terminate him with extreme prejudice, and that significance cannot be overlooked. It may mean Obama's re-election is a certainty -- barring completely outrageous failures in other fronts -- and it may also mean that al Qaeda will slowly, eventually, disintegrate.

However, more likely it will mean that that group will temporarily be invigorated and many of the drones who have sworn allegiance to that group will intensify their efforts and planning. This past week, a major plot in Germany was discovered and prevented because some of these very morons who have pledged their allegiance to bin Laden and his group were mindless shitheads. How many of their more intelligent colleagues will join and strengthen their fight can only be anticipated, but I believe it's fair to say the next few weeks will be of significance one way or the other.

In addition to the PR bump Obama and the US military received -- rightfully -- it can't be overlooked that the entire operation sourced in ground intelligence work. See a huge house in the middle of a nondescript suburb in Pakistan. See that no phone or internet service is feeding that large compound, a house/estate large enough to accommodate 20 or more overnight guests at one time. See that they burn their garbage rather than leaving it on the street like their neighbors.

See a known terrorist/courier making regular visits to the house.

See a large man -- approximately 6'4 and very thin -- moving about the property's grounds.

See Seal Team Six kill everyone in the house, including a "non-combatant" female who the terrorists tried using during a 40-minute breach of the compound by Seal Team Six.

See America celebrate.

Don't misunderstand my intentions or feelings here; I'm glad bin Laden is now only a memory. I'm glad he's gone. It's not lost on me that on the day he was killed, people around the world celebrated Holocaust Remembrance Day, and on this day, in 1945, Allied forces in Germany discovered the corpse of Adolph Hitler, another piece of shit of epic proportions.

Let's be clear here: bin Laden was not the monster that Adolph Hitler was. He was a terrible, disgusting human being and deserved a most unsatisfying death and even moreso the most repulsive post-mortem treatment, in direct revulsion to those who respect his beliefs and his lifetime achievements. But he didn't murder 6,000,000 people specifically; he murdered, at most, 5,000 indiscriminately, because he was a disgusting human being.

I'm glad he's dead, but I still rank him below Adolph Hitler and many of his SS leadership for the above-mentioned reasons.

And more importantly, now that the US has locked onto the courier -- the one who led US intelligence personnel to the house in the first place -- and his associates, we may now get a much clearer picture as to what of al Qaeda remains. And that, hopefully, will clarify for us exactly how to eliminate what's left and leave only remains.

My thanks and praise to the members of Team Six (presumably) or whatever SEAL unit(s) that erased this group from the Earth. I am sure it was as dangerous, difficult and intense as anything they will ever see or experience in their lifetimes, and I hope -- for a change -- they receive the proper honor and respect and thanks from their nation and their government for accomplishing something that should have happened long ago. Even if today's news is more PR than significant, I hope it is clear to all that today is of monumental importance and one day we will discuss, like the generation before ours about the assassination of President Kennedy, where we were on this day, and our feelings on the subject.

While the answer to the former will vary greatly, I am sure, I have no doubt the universal response to the latter will be of relief, restrained happiness, and the satisfaction of knowing justice, on some level, has been served.

We Will Never Forget.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Non-Existent Exile

The last time I visited these pages, I was expressing my thanks to those near and dear to my family and I. Despite the delay in my follow-up, I'm here to do much the same.

First and foremost, so much has happened since November that it's almost unfair for me to expect to recount all of it in a palatable, clear manner. So rather than make a half-hearted attempt, I'll sum it up in a few words: I headed out to California, had a blast, and realized Kaia and I will be together forever.

Those certainly sound like monumental, heady, heavy words, and while in one sense they are, they aren't really, since there's really nothing new that hasn't already transpired or that we didn't already know. However, what's inevitable in the near and not-so-near future and what's as clear as yesterday, today and tomorrow aren't always one and the same. Put another way, things became much clearer and much more in focus for, I believe, us both, and I think that essentially clarified where we were, where we are and where we'll be in 30 years' time, god willing.

The non-fanfare version of the above is we finally figured out how to make a 3,000 mile distance disappear, and Kaia is now an official NYC resident. We're not yet engaged, but all that stuff is up and coming. The bottom line is we're enjoying being near each other without having to check our schedules and calendars for the next return trip or must-do item before one of us has to pack up our life and put our proximity on hold. It's very surreal to be living so close to one another, and the fact we can spend time together without having to watch the clock or feel an urgency to cram a week or two or three of life into several days is a nice luxury that doesn't quite feel permanent yet. Her place came together very quickly -- everything is now moved in, unpacked, organized, dusted off and -- like her -- perfect. There are some things missing or out-of-place -- we still haven't worked out all the details with a couple pieces of furniture and her artwork is still not completely arranged and organized -- not for lack of trying but for the sheer quantity of artwork -- but once her walls are appropriately adorned with art and various pictures of her family and her life and the two of us, she'll feel like an actual NYC resident and I'll stop wondering subconsciously about her return ticket, which I know -- consciously -- doesn't exist.

It's a very odd feeling, because we've both grown so accustomed to a momentary burst of life being interrupted by a month or two of telephones, emails, IM's and text messages. However, speaking for us both, the best part about it is that now that we're on a permanent burst of life, so to speak, everything is the same except we can actually exhale and focus on enjoying being close to one another and not on our schedules, the return trip, good times for future visits, or anything else.

The one thing which was difficult for us both was her being far from her family, but that too is being addressed. We've gotten her parents a webcam -- her sister already has one -- and they both will be able to Skype video-conference with her once she's settled in and her place is all set. We've been sending pictures of the periodic progress of her apartment to her parents so they are part of the process, but until they actually get a chance to see her and know she's happy, I think they feel a bit detached.

Unfortunately, I know the feeling.

In either case, being that this coming evening (Monday, April 18) is our first official holiday (Passover) as an NYC couple, we're going to head up to Connecticut to spend time with my family. My grandmother will also be there, and we've whipped up a bunch of converted home movies so we can (and she can) see first-hand where I came from and what I looked like as a wee lad. In other words, we're going to do the things we'd normally do as two people who would rather spend time with each other than anyone else in the world. We're just doing it in far closer proximity than we had.

So the odd, strange feeling of wondering about the next return trip, or the schedules, or the calendar being our enemy, is no longer. Now it's just a question of wondering how we'll manage to fit a lifetime together into our remaining lifetime.

In comparison to where we've been, I think we're both beyond confident that it won't be tough to figure it out.

Despite all the urgencies we've faced together while apart and together, now the only urgency is to enjoy the lack of urgency.

And that's just fine by me.

For those of you who celebrate Passover, hope your holiday is as special and wonderful as we hope ours will be.