A joke too serious to be funny

The title of this piece at Stratechery — “If Steve Ballmer Ran Apple” — makes it sound like a one-liner, but it isn’t. It’s a very thoughtful analysis, and has a great closing paragraph:

“Ballmer did exactly what our capitalist system dictate he do: he maximized profits to the benefit of Microsoft’s shareholders. The implications of suggesting he was a failure are far more profound than most of his many critics likely realize.”

Lexicon: “The shovel broke.”

NOTE: I originally wrote this in 2010. But Ulrika and I just watched Snowpiercer, and I realized it should be resurrected.

So tonight we were watching Glee S1:D3 from Netflix, and I made an observation about how unlikely this was from choral standards — but, hey, what do I know? I only sang in grade school, high school, and college choirs for 12 years.

And Ulrika said, “I wonder when the shovel will break?”

We both realized there was a lexicon entry — because she got that phrase from me.

*^*^*

There I am living in Harwood Court, a dorm on the Pomona College campus.

I’m talking to Doug Shepherd, class of ’84, and some other folks, and I forget just how this came up, but he says, “Night of the Comet is so bad, the shovel breaks before the opening titles.”

“Oh?” I say. “What do you mean by that, Doug?”

“Well… All fiction is basically the art of throwing shit in your general direction. When you’re in the hands of a master — Tolstoy, say, or Hitchcock — they shovel the shit out of the way so quickly and so cleanly you don’t ever really notice it. Their shovels are made out of a mix of titanium and carbon fiber. But let’s face it — not everyone is that good. So, sooner or later, the shit is just so heavy their shovel breaks. Then the shit the story depends on starts piling up. I mean, it becomes a big pile. Then it starts stinking. You just can’t pay any attention to the story, because this steaming pile of shit is between the story and you, and it keeps growing, because their shovel has broken, and they just can’t get it out of the way.”

Night of the Comet starts with this text prologue on the screen. And this text is so lame, and so ridiculous… I’m telling you, the shovel breaks before the titles show up.”

“So it becomes something of a measure of quality, y’know? Just when does the shovel break in a story?”

*^*^*

This was the thing Doug told me I remember best, and have found most useful in the passage of time. And now I pass it on to you.

*^*^*

EDITED TO ADD: I was wrong. It’s not a crawl of text. Such is the world in which we live I was able to download the movie to look, check, and verify. It opens with John Carpenter-ish synth riffs, and deep, dark narration by Michael Hanks. It was tough to punctuate the following, because many times you’d think a sentence was over, and then it would go on.

Since before recorded time it had swung through the universe in an elliptical orbit so large that its very existence remained a secret of time and space. But now, in the last few years of the twentieth century, the visitor was returning.

Animated comet goes whooshing by.
Title: NIGHT OF THE COMET

The citizens of Earth would get an extra Christmas present this year, as their planet orbited through the tail of the comet. Scientists predicted a light show of stellar proportions – something not seen on Earth for 65 million years. Indeed, not since the time that the dinosaurs disappeared virtually overnight.

There were a few who saw this as more than just a coincidence. But, most didn’t.

Apple Is Watching You

In a discussion to a post over at Dave Winer’s:

*^*^*^*^*^*^*

“Why wear a watch when you have the time thrown at you all over the place?”

Because a watch isn’t just a timepiece. It’s also a sensor on your wrist.

This piece on Medium is one I think makes two great points about where the Apple Watch could evolve to:

* A controller for home devices, in the “Internet of Things” model.
* Specifically, a controller for your TV.

Say what you will about the UI shown in Minority Report, it clearly had an impact. I suggest that a sensor actually on your wrist will be much more efficient than anything movie-sensor-like on the server box itself.

*^*^*

Oh, and this: “iWatch will never be in the same league.”

What was the quote from the head of Blackberry? Oh, yeah, here:

“We’ve learned and struggled for a few years here figuring out how to make a decent phone,” he said. “PC guys are not going to just figure this out. They’re not going to just walk in.”

So, PC guys are not going to just walk in and do fashion? Hm. Ever hear Jobs’ quote about how Microsoft has no taste? I’d argue that what Apple’s product has always been isn’t tech, but tastefulness. Buy their stuff, and be considered tasteful. If that isn’t the basic product fashion sells, what is?

Profit? Cash is king!

Well, unless you don’t have that, either. From this article in Inc.:

“As Griffin explains, “Bezos sees a competitor’s love of margins and other financial ‘ratios’ as an opportunity for Amazon since the competitor will cling to them while he focuses on absolute dollar free cash flow and slices through them like a hot knife through butter. Bezos spelled out his focus on absolute dollar free cash flow in his 2004 letter to shareholders…””

Sounds great, except for one thing.  Not only are Amazon’s profit margins terrible, its cash flow is fairly dire as well. From their financials:

3 months ending 2014-03-31: -$3,584.00 (in millions, so a drop of almost $3.6 billion).

12 months ending 2013-12-31: $574.00   

9 months ending 2013-09-30: $-4,212.00

6 months ending 2013-06-30: $-4,380.00

3 months ending 2013-03-31: $-3,603.00

2004 Bezos probably does a facepalm whenever he thinks about 2014 Bezos. 

Sumo and Argumentation

A while back, I learned something new: The main way sumo bouts end is not by one opponent pinning the other, as in Greco-Roman wrestling, but by pushing them out of the ring.

It was with a moment’s thought that I realized here was a metaphor for much in the way arguments are presented these days — particularly political arguments.

What I mean by that is, in many instances political arguments aren’t really trying to persuade the listeners to the rightness of what’s being said. Rather, they’re trying to portray opponents as being so bad, or evil, or ignorant, they shouldn’t be listened to in the first place.

They’re trying to throw each other out of the ring.

One example of this — though it pains me to say it — is the current use of Godwin’s Law. Originally intended as a restorative of netiquette to the problem of glib comparisons to Hitler and the Nazis, it has come to be used by many not aware of its origins to shut down discussions even when the comparisons are appropriate.

A different example would be the McCain campaign of 2008. In the waning days of the campaign, with defeat looming, Mr. McCain started calling Mr. Obama a socialist. While the analysis at that link shows how if Mr. McCain was being consistent, he himself is a socialist as well, that wasn’t the point. The point was, since the days of the Red Scare in the 1920’s, crying “socialism!” had been a fairly good sumo move, tossing one’s opponent out of the ring. The Congressional election between Richard Nixon and Jerry Voorhis also comes to mind. Still, in Mr. McCain’s case it didn’t work, and Republican stalwarts, bewildered by the incantation’s loss of magical power, have been reciting it ever since.

But that’s the real tip-off a sumo argument is being attempted: A complete disregard for substantiation, and the fervent hope that a single word or short phrase will so discredit one’s opponent, no “serious person” will listen.

And, yes, the irony of my putting this down so I can link to it when I refer to something as “a sumo move” does not escape me. But as Molly Crabapple was recently quoted, “Essays are just l’esprit d’escalier.”