It’s just a computer, for fuck’s sake

According to Angry Steve, there are ten reasons (via doctorvee) why you should not buy a Mac.

I disagree quite strongly. And I say this as someone who is not a Mac fetishist. I was brought up on a variety of platforms and most of my adult life I have worked on Windows-equipped PCs. My home computer (where I read blogs, play music, muck about with Photoshop etc.) is a WinXP-equipped laptop, and my work computer (on which I write reports, do market research, email strangers etc.) is an iMac. By rights I should hate the Mac (evil, slavedriving job machine) and love the PC (hurrah, I’m home and enjoying myself). And yet I don’t. I don’t love it to bits either, but I’ve come to appreciate its advantages and my overall opinion is favourable.

So, as someone who doesn’t own a Mac yet has to use one 8 hours a day, I’m perhaps best placed to defend it without being accused of being a slavish fanboy. So here goes, with the more pertinent and objectionable points Steve makes:

2. It’s a fashion accessory, not a computer

Yes, this is definitely true. No matter where I go, I am always dragging my 17″ iMac around with me to look cool. It sits next to me when I am in the pub. I take it clubbing with me. Never fails to wow the birds.

3. They look like a Fisher Price toy

Actually they look nothing like. Apples look white, minimalist and sterile. Fisher Price toys are all manner of bright colours – red, green, blue, yellow. The best computing counterpart to their gaudiness and simplicity is in fact the Windows XP theme, a visually jarring insult to the adult mind.

5. They don’t crash – my arse.

My Mac rarely crashes. The exception to this is when it runs Microsoft Office, but even then the crash is only at the application level, never the OS. In over six months of working on a Mac, I have never once had to perform a hard reboot or go through a blue screen of death, and then wait for the inevitable drive scan at the start to make sure nothing’s cunted up.

8. You can get “blah” for the mac – guess what, you can get it, and more, for other platforms too!

Debatable – and of course this depends on what you are doing with it. Particular with video & audio software – when doing quick & dirty movie editing, I have not found anything nearly as easy or powerful to use as iMovie on a PC. IM-wise Adium is more powerful than Gaim (on which it’s based), while the Mac Flickr Uploadr shits all over the PC version. All the crappy software on my Mac (Office, and especially Windows Media Player, and Real) are ported versions of the PC versions rather than native.

To be fair, he is spot-on with a couple of points (“Have you ever tried replacing the HDD on one of those clamshell ibooks?” and “Intel Inside – hang on, wasn’t Power Inside the reason you should buy one a year or two ago, and Intel was crap?). But most of the anti-Mac rants are fallacies, and are less about that the technology than the people who use it. Especially this one (let us call it The Brooker Doctrine):

10. Mac owners are insufferable bores…

Calling someone else a bore is always a curiously funny insult. For example, there is a pub in London where the landlady is a self-professed “character”, and as part of that “character” there is a notice on one wall with some rules, one of them being “no bores”. And yet, in (brief) conversation I found her to be one of the most vacuous and uninteresting people in the world.

Inevitably, by setting yourself as someone who dislikes “bores” you are setting yourself up as the diametric opposite: An Interesting Person. Here’s a tip: don’t. It doesn’t make you sound interesting, it makes you sound like a wanker. You may not be a wanker (I’m sure Angry Steve is a lovely guy, and I am not just saying that because he is always angry), but it makes you sound like one.

Macs are an easy target; they are the choice of much of the creative industry and that sector inevitably has a larger than normal share of knobjockeys within it. But I also know lots of well-adjusted and likeable Mac owners, and conversely lots of dickheads who use PCs.

Mac-hating is just inverse snobbery – all it does is display the exact same prejudices you’re desperately trying to attack. In this case, the archetypal “insufferable bore” is being decried as someone who regards a computer as a “fashion accessory” or “aspirational ornament” rather than judging it on its capabilities when choosing it; however in setting up this strawman, one has fallen victim to the exact same deterministic mentality – “the brand maketh the man” – that the person they despise so much is displaying.

So, please, all you Mac-haters (and PC-haters) there, just stop it. There are much easier and principled ways of judging a technology’s capabilities than making a cheap pop at the people who own it (though of course there are no absolutes, and all technological judgements are to a degree socially shaped). And there are also much easier showing that someone is loathsome, insufferable or in your mind boring, without having to obsess over their choice of computer. It’s just a computer, for fuck’s sake.


I have a serious post on Twitter to come in future, but as its Friday, here’s something in incredibly poor taste. Inspired by doctorvee‘s tireless Grand Prix commentary late last night, I got thinking – what would Twitter’s coverage of important world events look like? I imagine something like…

herbertmorrison here it comes, ladies and gentlemen about 2 hours ago from web
herbertmorrison coming out of the sky, towrdas mooring mast about 2 hours ago from web
herbertmorrison man, those diesel engines *rock* about 2 hours ago from web
herbertmorrison i wonder if anyone reads these posts… about 2 hours ago from web
herbertmorrison right, lots of people on the ground rushing about about 2 hours ago from web
herbertmorrison btw this is what i’m looking at about 2 hours ago from web
herbertmorrison wow just discovered that tinyurl thing. twitter rules about 2 hours ago from web
herbertmorrison lots of important people on board about 2 hours ago from web
herbertmorrison :( it’s starting to rain about 2 hours ago from web
herbertmorrison back motors are holding it about 2 hours ago from web
herbertmorrison WTF? about 2 hours ago from web
herbertmorrison OMG about 2 hours ago from web
herbertmorrison @charlie get this! it’s on fire and it’s crashing! about 2 hours ago from web
herbertmorrison this is the worst of the worst catastrophes in the world about 2 hours ago from web
herbertmorrison oh the humanity about 2 hours ago from web
herbertmorrison gonna have to stop twittering here for a sec :( about 2 hours ago from web
herbertmorrison right, off to get a coffee and go shopping about 2 hours ago from web
herbertmorrison does anyone know where i can pick up a cheap USB hub?
about 2 hours ago from web

Based in part on the actual transcript, here. Oh, and if you like it then feel free to add me as a friend – my Twitter is here.

Why LOST now sucks

Like a great deal of people who read this blog, I have been quite a big fan of ABC/Channel 4/Sky One’s LOST since the first episode many many moons ago (well, July 2005 but it seems longer). But the third series has been an enormous disappointment.

I’ll stop here for a second, as it goes without saying that the rest of this blog post contains spoilers for anyone who hasn’t seen every episode up to and including last week’s “Enter 77“. If you don’t want to know, then shoo. I have a guestblog post over at division6 to read instead…

Right. LOST’s basic problem is that with although the writers have got the pieces suitably assembled, they never thought about the midgame. There’s only so much you can go by introducing the mysterious elements – the Monster, the polar bears, the Numbers, the magnetic anomalies, the Others/DHARMA Initiative, the whispers, the Hatch before you’re forced to start revealing things. And what’s been revealed is… crap.

The Others, far from being the sophisticated psychotics who at the start of series two could stealthily kidnap and kill random plane crash victims at a stroke, are now revealed to be a ragtag bunch of moody middle-class people who spend a lot of time squabbling; they are also proving to now be surprisingly easy to track, chase and kill. Juliet, the character introduced to spice things up within the Others’ camp, is actually a pretty uninspiring character; the resulting soap opera is a waste of the excellent setup with Benjamin Linus and Tom Friendly. In short, the mystery of the Others has been taken away, and behind the facade lies very little of interest.

The Hatch, and the station that lay beneath it, was introduced in one of the best-executed plot twists of all time at the start of series two; the ambiguity over whether it was of the utmost importance or a Skinner box an engrossing subplot, until they decide to stop pressing the numbers and whoomph! It just disappears. An entire series setting it up, and they get rid of it in one big electromagnetic flash. Why? Presumably the writers didn’t know where they could go with it, so they destroyed it. Same with The Flame, the communications station discovered in the last episode; a good new element to the plot, but the writers decide to blow it up at the end to save the bother of it featuring in future. Which leads to the question: Why bother with it at all then?

As for the Monster; well it barely featured at all the second series despite being one of the brilliant mysteries of the first, and now only pops up occasionally in strange disjointed episodes – it appeared to have a bit of a thing for Mr. Eko before promptly killing him and then buggering off.

Ah, speaking of which, it hasn’t helped that the show has killed off two of the more interesting characters, the aforementioned warlord-turned-priest, as well as the psychiatrist, former mental patient and chubby-chaser Libby. In their place appear to be two pieces of eye candy in Paolo and Nikki, who do nothing but moan they don’t get involved. Oh, and Desmond, who started out an awesome character but is now apparently capable of time-travel and clairvoyance, which even by LOST’s standards, is pretty whacked out desperate stuff. And of the existing characters, the tension of the Kate-Sawyer-Jack love triangle has been broken, and Jack himself is now lost without Sawyer and John Locke as his foils.

Perhaps the signs were there already; the LOST Alternative Reality Game had a terrible “Luke, I am your father” ending and the explanation of the numbers via the Valenzetti equation was deeply unsatisfactory. Good science fiction is absolutely dependent on a coherent internal universe and it’s clear that LOST doesn’t have that; promising and intriguing plot elements are painstakingly set up then discarded like they never mattered, mere red herrings. The resulting experience is quite disjointed and unsatisfactory, and makes you question the amount of time you put into watching the series.

There is the odd glimmer of hope; “Enter 77” had one good twist, in breaking the previous assumption that the Others and the DHARMA Initiative are one and same. I still hold out hope that the twist with the Portuguese guys in the Antarctic at the end of season two factors into the plot in a cogent way. But it could just be another red herring. As it is, there’s still too much chaff getting in the way of the wheat. Give us back the Monster, drop the soap opera elements, make the Others badass again and get the story arc going somewhere again.

Saving face(book)

Several weeks ago, and to my mild regret, I surrendered and joined Facebook. That said of course, my mild disdain for it was outweighed by the anxiety that I would appear to be Nobby No-Mates so I did create a semi-decent profile, added a photo and sent out friend requests to all my friends currently on it. That is, friends as in people I consider friends in real life; people who I would keep in (semi-)regular contact with, be happy to meet up with, and to some degree feel comfortable about confiding personal things to.

But Facebook has two devilish features; first, there is no sliding scale – you can’t differentiate between people you may be acquaintances of, those who you knew a bit at school or university but have never spoken too since, or people you can’t go more than a day without feeling like you’ve lost touch. Second is a quality that is best called stalkiness – the fact you see nearly everything your friends do on the network by default, and they can see what you do too (of course, these are adjustable but who does that?)

As a result, my friends’ Facebook friends – in many cases, just mere acquaintances – saw that I was now a member. In the spirit of niceness they added me as a friend, and in the spirit of friendliness I reciprocated by approving the request. The end result is that some people I have named as friends are just acquaintances from university and nothing more. That may sound rather, er, unfriendly, especially if one of you is reading this now…. but I would like to stress that I find them all totally agreeable and lovely people, we got on well at university and if I bumped into them in the pub one night I would gladly buy them a drink and have a good chat to catch up. But, because we never really bonded at a higher level, I don’t see them now on a regular basis and I have not been in touch for some years, I can’t really call them a friend in the conventional old-fashioned sense of the word. Hope that distinction is clear.

Still, although the word “friend” has become devalued into something approaching “acquaintance” online these days, it’s just semantics. Another word will come along to replace it in time, and I have little doubt that a social network that exclusively caters for for the kind of highly-bonded, close relationships that I regard as friendship will spring up in time, for people like me who are still a bit uneasy about the whole thing. So it’s not a bad thing, in itself.

Or so I thought. Until yesterday, when the inevitable happened – someone I could never, ever consider as a friend sent me a friend request. It was someone from school, who I never ever got on with at the time; we had very little in common and truth be told, at the time I thought he was a prick. It’s been nine years since we left school, and we have not exchanged a word in that time. He may have changed since then, but judging from his Facebook profile and his rather dull blog, I don’t think I’d find him that agreeable now either. There is no way I could consider him a friend in even the watered-down Facebook sense of the word, and yet, I felt really guilty about refusing his request. It just felt, well, rude.

After much agonising (and discussion with some old actual friends from school), I decided that honesty was the best policy: he was never my friend, probably never will be and it would be deceitful to pretend otherwise, even in the name of civility. So I declined the request. And while I don’t feel particularly troubled about that decision (it was the right thing to do) it left me feeling – the word friendship really is a lot hollower to a lot of people. Do they ever think about it? In a world where anyone can be your friend, where does that leave you as an individual? Establishing links with people becomes pretty worthless if you can’t also cut yourselves off from them.

The only solution I think is an antisocial functionality as part of a social network. And I don’t mean antisocial as in Isolatr, which is strictly speaking asocial, but an actually mean-spirited, rude and nasty capability; the means to tag that you dislike someone and make it clear you would not prefer to be in their company for whatever reason (“Owes me money”, “Cheated on me with someone else”, “Paid for peerages with cash”). A bit of healthy cynicism is what’s needed to stop this giant love-in, or else it will inevitably implode.

NB That said, I only have 60 friends on my profile at the moment, so please add me if you haven’t already, ‘cos I’m feeling a bit inadequate.

Yes, we have no Sengas

Currently arousing my geek tendencies is the General Register Office for Scotland‘s list of every baby name registered (PDF, other formats available at the bottom of this page) in 2006.

Fiddling with the Excel version produce some interesting stats. For example, although slightly more boys were born in Scotland than girls (26,544 as opposed to 25,336) they only use two-thirds as many different names (2,586 boys names v. 3,506 girls’). The trend for double, treble or even quadruple-barrelled forenames is evident; there are total of 110 boys names which use more than one name in combination (including the remarkably long Henri-Jay-Karl-Alexander) but there are 316 girls multiple-barrelled names (including a staggering 15 called Demi-Leigh, which at first made me suspect a clerical error, but a quick Google reveals it is also the name of a young road accident victim, which may have raised its profile).

There are of course the curious spellings (Danyael, Jaxson, Makenzi and my personal favourite, Maksymilian), celebrity-influenced ones (Brooklyn, Zidane, Sean-Paul), the totally uninspired (Junior), and the downright peculiar (Denim, B-Jay, Bo-Breeze, Coast). There are 60 Georges and 7 Tonys, but no Osamas or Saddams, and thankfully there are none called Aryan Justice.

But most importantly, there are no babies recorded with the name Senga. Senga is “Agnes” backward, and according to various urban legends I heard during my time in Edinburgh, was the name given to several babies borne by women whose grandmothers were called Agnes, with the reversal given to make it more hip ‘n modern. Certain class assumptions about the mothers’ demographics mean the word is now a synonym for “ned” or “chav”. But the total absence of Sengas from the 2006 register perhaps suggests it’s a myth. Unless you know different.

NB: More baby name zen: The Baby Names Forum and its counterpart, the Bad Baby Names forum. The NYT reports on the growing number of babies called Nevaeh while one Baby gets named after an Everquest character. Finally, enjoy the unintentionally hilarious random baby name generator – on my first go I got “Roten”.