Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Apple, Steve Jobs and Criticism.

'By the way, what have you done that is so great? Do you create anything or just criticize others work and belittle their motivations?'

Dear Steve

Sorry to disappoint you, but I am an educator, philosopher, technologist and erm Dad. Consequently I don’t really get to create much; though I still feel I have the right to criticise. Adults use criticism in debate, frequently (though not always) without resorting to stuff like the above. I’m sure Ryan Tate is a big boy and doesn’t need my help, nevertheless I do worry about Apple CEO’s who respond to criticism in this way.

Dude, you run a company that sells expensive toys that are long on promise but short on results.

A few weeks ago a small incremental difference between OS versions on the iPod touch caused my team to sh*tcan a major assessment round and go back to pen and paper. A few weeks before that, the loss of an ITunes password caused a data access problem and the associated panic on those same touches; the tales continue. I let the guys work up a solution on Apple products in the belief that stuff like this wouldn’t happen. My team got sold on these ideas by an educator who can’t tell the difference between selling Apple products and promoting good ideas. Sound familiar Steve ? You can’t seem to tell the difference between Apple and freedom. Perhaps you guys need to set up a self help group.

Over the years I have been told;

You can’t be creative – you don’t own a Mac

You’re not a serious educator – you don’t own a Mac

You gotta be a music pirate because you don’t own an iPod (WTF !)

I wait with interest for the day someone calls me a pervert because I don’t use an Apple branded product and live in the Job’s endorsed, walled garden.

Freedom has a good deal less to do with products, porn access, battery life, or product choices than it does with engagement, opportunity and sharing. I don’t believe that any one group or organisation can or will ever be able to exercise the kind of vision needed to determine what requires censorship and what does not; What requires proprietary control or not; What requires platform control or not; What requires special licensing or DRM - on this last point I especially don’t trust major shareholders in Disney.

I am growing to resent a market approach by Apple which still trades on the cool, credibility and value of creative industries without having been a significant stakeholder for some time. I despise Apple’s involvement in education, placing it in the same category as Microsoft and McDonalds.

Don’t like porn ? Go live in Australia; I understand they have filter systems to help people like you.

Sometimes I get to shape things, occasionally I get to change things. Very occasionally I get to change lives for the better, for real. I do this without the help of Apple or your good self.

You want to talk about freedom and creativity ? Go and take another look at what Apache has done for the web and your business.

You are right about one thing though – Flash is a pain in the ass. But I really didn’t need to be told this by an arrogant puritan who mistakes freedom for revenue.

Belittle you ? Why should I ? I can’t wait for the next brainfart from channel hubris on planet Jobs.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Timex Watches no longer take a licking and keep on ticking

In my early life watches and Timex in particular are associated with freedom. My mother taught me to tell the time, bought me a watch and the only restriction to my wide ranging travels was “be back before five”. The watch itself was a small mechanical, hand-wound piece made by Timex. White face, black numbers, good value, it reflected a vision of putting cheap reliable time-pieces on everyone’s wrist. I never managed to break or drown that watch in seven young years. It was the sort of watch that probably underpinned the famous “takes a licking but keeps on ticking” line. These experiences are I suspect what created in me at least, significant faith in the brand; a faith that was rewarded when I bought my first Timex Ironman sports-watch some twenty years later. I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that those simple plastic watches seemed little short of indestructible too. I got bored with mine and wanted more features, so I gave my first Ironman watch away after getting something more flash. I now recognise this as my first mistake. Since buying that first Timex Ironman it appears that those running Timex have changed from people who wanted to make watches and a good living, to people who plainly just want to make money. How do I surmise this ? Six years, five watches, around $2000NZD later and I have a drawer full of broken or dysfunctional Timex Ironman branded watches. Welcome to my hall of shame.

Exhibit A:

My first Timex Speed-Distance watch - second generation with the nice little Navman GPS unit. I even bought the data recorder. Bought in 2005 the unit was not used on a day to day basis so I was little surprised when moisture condensed on the inside of the facia on a cold morning. Look closely and you can see a drop of water beneath the watch glass on the left. Later the watch had the misfortune of being dropped on the garage floor which resulted in a cracked bezel with a large chunk missing (on the right). The moisture problem has persisted after a few battery changes and the backlight now is so poor it is useless. Can’t swim in it or use the watch in the dark. I still use it on the bike at the moment though. I don’t mind so much about the backlight, that’s old age. The moisture problem annoys me most, largely because it happened before the bezel cracked, which you might describe as accidental damage. But heck the thing fell less than a metre. Nb. The GPS unit, heart rate strap and data unit have performed faultlessly, which leaves me to wonder if Timex had anything at all to do with their manufacture.

Exhibit B:

This one was bought in 2007/8 as a replacement for the above. It is currently not in use as I cannot afford to replace the battery every 2/3 months. The watch is just plain too expensive to run and I suspect its battery problems are some form of fault.

Exhibit C:

This wonder of our disposable age was purchased as a day to day watch. After 18 months the rubber (?) cover on the buttons disintegrated (see arrows). Then just on two years the strap disintegrated in spectacular fashion. This went from a useful tool to a piece of s**t in next to no time. Purchased in Feb 2007 it lasted until Dec 2008. This disaster forced the hurried purchase of exhibit E. Preoccupied with Ironman training I missed the warranty window for this one.

Exhibit D:

Yeah well there’s no fool like an old fool – during the lifetime of exhibit C I bought this one for my wife at an auction. Guess what ? the frikkin strap broke after 6 months. Two watches break in the same way on different people in less than a year starts to sound like a design fault rather than user problems.

Exhibit E:

I am gonna get this one fixed under warranty if I can. It drowned during an open water session in less than 5m of water I didn’t even touch a button. The facia says WR100M do you figure that means water resistant or water retaining up to 100m ? The damn thing lasted 14 months, a new record for shoddy Timex manufacture.

For the longest time I kept buying these watches because they had killer features that I really wanted and I just could not believe that they could be so consistently awful that no-one had noticed.

GMB Services, the New Zealand service centre and distributors are decent people. They sent two strap loops to my wife for free after a conversation at IMNZ in Taupo – to fix the current Ironman Flix unit that I (probably unwisely) bought her for her birthday last year. They must find it quite tough fronting up to this kind of workmanship. You have got to imagine this though; I get woken at 2am (or thereabouts) in arbitrary nights as my wife tries to shake the backlight of her watch on. Someone in the design shop at Timex has a real sense of humour.

I note that Timex no longer uses the phrase “takes a licking but keeps on ticking” on their website – probably just as well. I just wish now, that they were not allowed to use the Ironman brand either. Not that I am in love with IM branded stuff, but you would think that something branded so would be fit for purpose. I have raced and completed four ironman races and several half Ironman races. One might think that an Ironman branded watch would be suited to my needs - this is clearly not the case, features great, durability not so good.

This leads me to a minor, but nonetheless important point; Timex have just started marketing what they describe as expedition watches. Given my knowledge of mountaineering and Ironman branded stuff I won’t be buying one. Indeed someone had better hope that expedition watches are up to scratch – shoddy gear gets people killed in tough conditions.

By all means add your own Timex experiences below.

Monday, July 13, 2009

This is no trick

The Sunday Star Times came out with this: Olympian pimps bid with fundraising trick. Logan Campbell an Olympic hopeful in 2008 is trying to fund his bid for 2012 by opening what he describes as a "high class escort agency". It isn’t a trick - this is called making a living and I hope that the publicity helps the business.

In terms of being “traditional” or “old fashioned” Taekwondo is nothing short of prehistoric, at least it is in New Zealand. In going public over his new business venture I suspect Logan will have done a little bit more than surprise people. He will have upset some and deeply offended others; I would be truly interested in what his instructor has to say - especially now the story has gone global. I hope the tale sparks a wider debate about the role of minor sports, small nations and what professional funding means in modern Olympism, but I’m not holding my breath.

It is not for me to defend the legitimacy of running an escort agency or even to argue that Logan’s case is a special one amongst the athletes who compete in sports that are regarded as minor in terms of national importance. The only thing I really take issue with is that anyone has the right to call his actions disreputable or inappropriate. The Logan Campbell I know is a nice guy, dedicated, bright, articulate and generally well meaning.

The quote by John Schofield of Taekwondo "Selection takes into account not just performance but also the athlete's ability to serve as an example to the youth of the country.", typifies what has been a difficult relationship between Campbell and the sport he loves. Perhaps what Schofield should have said, is something along the lines of - ”whilst we don’t necessarily approve of these actions it does highlight the difficulties surrounding the finances for all aspiring New Zealand Olympians in minor sports”. Given that performance funding for all but a restricted number of sports in NZ is largely discretionary and unpredictable, it was perhaps wise not to rock the boat. The NZOC and SPARC’s National academy are far from perfect organisations, but I strongly believe that the root of this problem rests with a genuine lack of will on the part of successive governments to actually promote sport rather than winning. What politicians want is medals and trophies, the approach to sport funding continues to reflect this.

High performance sport funding in New Zealand is broken; spending increasing amounts of cash on a diminishing pool of athletes in order to “punch above our weight on the international stage” is a strategy that is doomed to failure in the long term. There will come a point when there will not be enough quality performers and nothing like enough money to pull this off. It may well be the case that the whole notion of performance sport funding needs to be debated in terms of viability and usefulness. As long as high performance sport funding remains a populist cash cow then no one has the right to judge those with the dedication and industry to seek independent means whatever the method.

Some things you may not know about Logan Campbell: He

Has been in Taekwondo from a young age.
Narrowly missed out on going to the Athens Olympics at age 19.
Is a drug-free athlete.
Is dyslexic.
Was training twice a day most days in the 9 months preceding the Beijing Olympics.
Put off his last year of study at university in order to prepare for the Olympics.
Sold his car to fund a training trip to Europe.
Left New Zealand for Beijing with one sponsor (I think).
Attended at least three schools making presentations before leaving for Beijing while many other athletes were already at camps, this he did out of love for his sport.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Fuck who ?

One baby boy, one wife and a modestly happy life, but you gotta wonder though, haven’t you…..

To the best of my knowledge, my first gay admirer was the late John Balance or as he was known to me, Geoff Rushton. His enthusiasm for Throbbing Gristle pins and such was lost on me, but his kindness and respect for me is not forgotten. Now I understand the confused and slightly pained look on his face. I think at the time I was rather too absorbed in my own struggles to really grasp what was going on.

Time passes:

I became chaperone to the first (and probably only) lesbian pool team to play in a male dominated league in the UK. We made the local rag and I made some good friends. Ali, Fran and Angie were heroes in their own right being long standing protestors at Greenham Common. I learned a lot from them all, not least about the lottery created by not knowing who the nasty homophobes were. Looking back, one of my mother’s finer achievements was running a pub with an ambiance and attitude that allowed everyone to feel comfortable having a drink.

Meanwhile more admirers made themselves known to me. Poor old Peter used to call me Hero, he never laid a hand on me but in a moment of exasperation he all but begged me to undress for him. Later he apologised to me, it was a struggle to explain that I was flattered, not offended, but still not really up for it.

The bravest of the lot I think, was Ray who followed me home after an evening in the Pub. I remember the footsteps behind me on a deserted street in Oxford; I sped up the feet behind me sped up, I slowed down the feet behind me slowed down. I thought I was going to get mugged. Beneath a streetlight I turned quickly to confront my assailant and there was Ray with his hands in front of his face expecting to be punched. He stood his ground and blurted “are you gay ? andodyouwanttogoforadrink ?“ pause…. I laughed out loud and said I wasn’t gay, he looked so disappointed that I agreed to go for a drink with him anyway – just for a giggle. I’m not sure if that was the smartest thing that I have ever done, and it was a poor reward for what I feel was quite a courageous act. After all, I was a fit and quite capable of beating the shit out of him.

And the list goes on…

Gareth expanded beyond measure, my understanding of non-contact sport, he also loaned me some really useful books.

The guy on the train who had such a broad Yorkshire accent he shouted his proposal at me three times across a train before I got it.

The two guys who so openly flirted with me while they were on the checkouts at my local supermarket…….in front of my then fiancĂ©e.

The pair in Sheffield who had me biting a pillow with laughter one Sunday morning – the floors are thin around here too y’know.

My admirers at the pool; “are you gay ?”, “no”, “do you want to be ?” left me speechless as did “I’m married, but I’d give it up for you”.

I remain flattered.

To the couple who have befriended and cared for my Mother in the UK, I am truly grateful.

Right now I’m looking forwards to the birth of a work colleague’s baby – she and her partner are lovely and I am damn proud that they have chosen to confide in me.

This is not just some self aggrandising way of screaming “I’m down with teh gayz”. The bigger point is this. I have never felt the urge to harm anyone in the course of these encounters. It may be argued for various reasons that I should be deeply homophobic. I’m not and when shit like this happens I get very upset indeed. Which I guess is why when stuff like this comes out I am almost crying with mischief and happiness.

All together now….”Fuck you, Fuck you very very muuuuch”……

Monday, June 29, 2009

Damien Hirst, Ambivalence and Me.

Damien Hirst and I were born within a few days of each other, which would in most senses be a tenuous link. I've never met the guy and probably have little in common with him. Except that his art seems to work right in the middle of my aesthetic bandwidth. When for the love of god appeared, all I could say was - wow. It wasn't the money or the sheer audacity of it, just wow I never saw that until I saw it. I've always been like that with Hirst's work; pharmacies, sharks, you name it, the connection is immediate and needs no translation. I have often wondered if the connection is some kind of cohort effect - that is to say Hirst is an artist of my time and age, his immediacy and importance may well be lost to other generations. In particular he and I are part an early media generation; full of television and adverts, when in Britain at least, it was all new. No surprises then that I picked up on his work relatively early, following closely over the years, travelling to London regularly. When Hirst first published I Want To Spend The Rest Of My Life Everywhere, With Everyone... in 1997, I got really excited.

My sister who worked for a major bookseller got me a copy for my birthday, possibly the best present I have ever received. The book has never been opened, still in the shrink wrap, I'm not sure if it has a signature inside (probably not). A few days ago my wife asked me what was in a box covered in shrink wrap, wrapped in bubble wrap and clearly undisturbed. I told her and explained a little. She asked me if I was going to sell it, I recoiled and said absolutely no, "Then why don't you open it ?" she asked quite reasonably, I said no - "Then what's it for ?" erm..uhhhh.. what is it for ? Maybe someone will open it when I die. Did you get that one Damien ? Then there is the question of which of us will die first.

Friday, June 05, 2009

David Carradine

With the recent death of David Carradine I found one of the few reasons to have a television (there isn't one in the house). Ahhhh grasshopper, the steps of Kwai Chang Caine across the rice paper and the lifting of the coals; these moments set the template for me starting martial arts and probably my re-habilitation as a person. The bit that makes me smile is that this would not have been possible without Carridine in my front room on a Saturday evening. No surprises that I was watching Hell Ride and Kung Fu Killer last weekend (on DVD). Gonna miss the old fella he was always worth watching.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Storming the Bridge

I guess the civil mischief that was the mass crossing of the Harbour Bridge can be seen in
several ways: Cultural Rebellion, clash of Car Kiwi vs. Sustainable Kiwi, a battle for minority rights perhaps. For me it is one of those Easter Island moments. I have in mind the occasions that must surely have emerged in the past, where two views of the future met and conflicted in a high stakes game of legitimacy. Or: "dude if we keep doing what we have always done it could all end very badly" vs. "but this is what we have always done and it works for most of us,...where's my f*****g axe".

A rather large number of people decided that they viewed the future differently, for whatever reason. What was most telling was the response of NZTA regional director Wayne McDonald: Mr. McDonald says there are plans to provide access for bikes and foot traffic, but it will be 30 years before it is complete (from the NZ Herald online, 24- 05-2009). I strongly suspect that Mr. McDonald and I will be dead by then, either as a consequence of old age or global stupidity. I maintain high hopes that my little bloke will see the day though. I guess a 30-year planning term with a suggestion that this is non-negotiable is one way of saying 'f**k off annoying little people who aren't busy driving somewhere important in a car on a Sunday'.

I don't want to debate whether the protest will get walkways and cycle ways any sooner, according to NZTA it won't. What I want to question is the appropriateness of the response from NZTA. Let's face it, this is a civil servant or a group of civil servants insisting that transport policy and the use of the Auckland Harbour Bridge will not change in my lifetime or theirs: 'F**k democracy and elected office - we run New Zealand roads' would seem to be the case here. You have got to admire the honesty of the response, at least it's not 'oh we'll look into it and send you a report', which I am led to understand has been the response for the last 50 years. I might add this was the line delivered by Northcote MP Jonathan Coleman.

I am worried though, because these people and I'm not just talking about NZTA, but
those who put them to work, appear to me to be the last axe men on Easter Island. I suspect this is one agency that Rodney Hide does support and indulge. The message is simple; there are no plans for change despite compelling reasons to do so and a growing community to support them. One public day on the bridge was all that was requested - for the first time in 50 years. The response rendered was an excuse masquerading as safety. The clip-on's canna handle it captain! Well, assuming that such a density of individuals walking in time across the bridge (unlikely) could cause the clip-on's to sway - why not let people cross in a trickle and keep them moving when the accumulate at the apex. That is of course, instead of deliberately directing them on to the middle lanes to make the problem look intractable and those doing it a menace. Coning one lane of the clip-on's in half and keeping everyone in line would have mitigated most of these (alleged) risks. When nice middle-class folk choose to criminalise themselves, then you have cause to worry about how society is operating. I believe that good laws are those not made to defend the stupidity or pet hates of politicians and civil servants.

Some points of note:
The only endorsed crossing is one you have to pay for as part of the Auckland Marathon/Half Marathon which does make the opportunity a little exclusive. It also proves that it can be done. Cyclists should righteously be p**sed off , they don't even get the opportunities afforded to runners as above. Oh, and try putting a bike on a bus around here. Funnily enough, I do know of some cyclists who used to ride out to the Coromandel and return to the North Shore by the (now withdrawn ?) ferry service. To all those motorists who suffered delay on Sunday: allow me to apologise on behalf of NZTA who it appears preferred a confrontation to a well managed celebration of alternative transport. Message: any delay could have been avoided had NZTA done their jobs properly and facilitated rather than obstructed the actions of well reasoned individuals. To the guy who abused cyclists, walkers, parents and children as they obstructed his Sunday drive: See the above comment, but above all stop and think what message you sent - Because I drive I have the right to swear at everyone. Now tell me who looks menacing and inconsiderate, for you are undoubtedly a one amongst many bigots who abuse Auckland roads and respond to the NZ Herald reader's views section.

For what it is worth I don't think that a cycle/walkway across the harbour would be that well used. But I agree with David Slack that it could be part of a fantastic tourist attraction. Above all it would represent the intention to do things differently and hopefully a little better, the consequences of which might finally precipitate a much needed culture shift. The question remains - How do facilitate rather than exclude those who prefer transport that doesn't involve internal combustion engines. Because constructively institutionalising car use in particular is no longer acceptable. Big ups to the first bunch of cyclists across who I believe got things going. You are the real spirit of forward thinking New Zealand - I will be seeing you shortly ;-) And the storm the bridge award goes to.................(to the sound of 'be careful with that Axe Eugene' by Pink Floyd of course)


Stood in a corridor I looked towards the end door. There I saw a shoe, hanging from a foot attached to a slim leg, dressed in a foot loop stocking, all bathed in just the right light. I could see it all, in black and white, a gorgeous picture in a brief moment. Could I capture it ? Sadly no camera, but above all how do you capture such a moment without feeling like a pervert or worse being treated like one ? I really don’t know, but on reflection I have acquired a deeper admiration for those photographers who save such images in their mind and then present the vision and imagination to re-create such images in a more controlled context. Seeing it is one thing, giving it to the world is another altogether. I wonder what will happen when we can all manage to capture the beauty we see everyday, when our eyes are cameras in themselves. Will a truly shared aesthetic emerge ? or something more radical and disturbing.