Hauling his money out in crates

David Pogue, no Microsoft fan, argues that Bill Gates has mellowed:

Despite Microsoft’s history, I find it almost impossible to remain cynical about Bill Gates’s intentions. I think he’s changed. Maybe when you’re in your 50’s, you start to think about how you’ll be remembered.
I don't know Bill Gates, obviously. (Does anybody really know Bill Gates?) But the impression I get is not that he wants to be loved. He has, after all, been repeatedly diagnosed by the media with some form of autistic-spectrum disorder. (Wired points to "his single-minded focus on technical minutiae, rocking motions, and flat tone of voice." This is more credible when it comes from Temple Grandin, herself autistic: "It is also likely that Bill Gates has many Asperger's traits. An article in Time Magazine compared me to Mr. Gates. For example, we both rock. I have seen video tapes of Bill Gates rocking on television.")

I think what Bill Gates wants is some interesting problems to solve. For a while, he was focussed on dominating the software marketplace and becoming the richest person in the world. And then that got old, and somebody pointed him at global health, and we should all be very glad she did.

Pogue links to an interview Gates did with Bill Moyers in which Moyers basically keeps trying to get Gates to express a non-autistic response, and Gates gamely tries, but acknowledges that it's not really his thing:

MOYERS: It's one thing to read a book, it's one thing to read the statistic, one thing to read a graph, it's another thing to read a human being's face. Did you go into the field?

GATES: Yes. And it's awkward. I'm not you know particularly good at this. Maybe I'll never be good at it. But to walk around to each patient and ask you know what is your problem? And be respectful of, you know, their desire for privacy.


Slate's Seth Stevenson gives a thumbs down to the new Mac ads:

In the case of these Mac ads ... I'm smack in the middle of the target demo. I'm a PC user, and I've often considered switching to an Apple. Thus, I feel equipped to say: These ads don't work on me. They are conceptually brilliant, beautifully executed, and highly entertaining. But they don't make me want to buy a Mac.
Astonishingly, it turns out the PC is played by John Hodgman.


This is impossible for me to describe. You have to go look at it.


Last Microsoft post for a while, I swear

A while ago I noted early reports of problems with Windows Vista:

The biggest problem, it seems, is that Microsoft's version of beefing up security consists of attaching a warning dialog to every single task, so that whenever anything goes wrong the operating system can say, Hey, it's not my fault! You left me unlocked! This is not security; this is ass-covering.
At the end of that post, I sort of wondered why a company as smart as Microsoft would do something that stupid. Philip Su's much-linked essay "Broken Windows" offers an explanation: an entire culture based on ass-covering.
After months of hearing of how a certain influential team in Windows was going to cause the Vista release to slip, I, full of abstract self-righteous misgivings as a stockholder, had at last the chance to speak with two of the team's key managers, asking them how they could be so, please-excuse-the-term, I-don't-mean-its-value-laden-connotation, ignorant as to proper estimation of software schedules. Turns out they're actually great project managers. They knew months in advance that the schedule would never work. So they told their VP. And he, possibly influenced by one too many instances where engineering re-routes power to the warp core, thus completing the heretofore impossible six-hour task in a mere three, summarily sent the managers back to "figure out how to make it work." The managers re-estimated, nipped and tucked, liposuctioned, did everything short of a lobotomy -- and still did not have a schedule that fit. The VP was not pleased. "You're smart people. Find a way!" This went back and forth for weeks, whereupon the intrepid managers finally understood how to get past the dilemma. They simply stopped telling the truth. "Sure, everything fits. We cut and cut, and here we are. Vista by August or bust. You got it, boss."

I have often wondered what NYT music critic Jon Pareles looks like. (I had imagined him as the guitar teacher of my adolescence, a similarly benign and knowledgeable figure.) In fact, he looks like this.


It's rare that a single event is good news both for millions of dying children in poor countries and for millions of computer users in rich ones, but I think Bill Gates's announcement that he'll be abdicating his day-to-day role at Microsoft in favor of his charity work qualifies.

Michael Specter's October New Yorker piece implied that Gates is turning his genius for systems logic to philanthropic ends, and that this has the potential to make philanthropy as a whole both more internationally focussed and more thoroughly results-oriented. So if Gates is going to spend more time on those endeavors, that's a positive.

But it's also a positive that he's going to spend less time at Microsoft. That's not because Microsoft is dependent Gates's smartness -- there are lots of smart people still there. (And the stock market agrees with me.) It's because Gates is clearly leaving Microsoft because Microsoft is not a fun place to be. Unable to ship its flagship product, lurching embarrassingly after competitors that threaten to upend its entire business model, incapable of generating excitement among investors -- this is a company in decline. And Gates's departure is a symptom of this collapse, not a cause. He's the canary in the coal mine, except that in this case the canary happens to own the mining company.

Since Microsoft under Gates has exploited its monopoly position to pollute the software environment for everyone who uses a computer, signs of its decline go straight into the good-news file.


Oranges are not the only fruit

Some new ads in the "I'm a Mac"/"I'm a PC" series debuted today. (Check them out here.) Some thoughts:

  • These ads are attempting to do something difficult: explaining to PC users that the everyday hassles of Windows -- restarting your computer every ten minutes, downloading drivers for every new gadget you buy, having your computer captured by spammers and turned into a zombie -- are not just an unavoidable part of computing life.
  • More important than any specific argument made by the Mac guy in these ads is his whole attitude. He's not hostile to the PC. He's friendly and slightly condescending. ("You should see this guy with a spreadsheet," he says.) This is a great corporate attitude for Apple, with ~4 percent market share, to project. Treating Windows like the evil empire (in the style of the classic "1984" Apple spot) would only contribute to its air of monopolistic inevitability.
  • It's cool that the PC looks slightly like Bill Gates.
  • The gag in the "Touché" ad gets the usage wrong: the PC is using the word correctly, and the Mac should get off his case.

In the New Criterion, James Wolcott undertakes to actually review The Complete New Yorker (instead of copping out and ignoring the content in favor of the technology, as many lesser writers have done) and reaches an interesting insight about E. J. Kahn Jr.'s notorious series on grains:

The “Staffs of Life” series came to typify and symbolize the monumental tombstone tedium of the New Yorker fact piece at its most didactic-pedantic, and even now, decades later, I still hear the occasional chortle, “Remember when The New Yorker ran 50,000 words on grain?” I inserted disk two into the laptop to see if Kahn’s articles were as boring as I remembered, and, as I began to read, I realized that I never had read them, only given them a skim when they were originally published, having taken everybody’s word for how boring they were. I can’t say I was riveted, but the pieces were, I have to confess—interesting. Reams of research braided into elegant histories, and nothing to belittle.


Cockroach survives nuke: A 25-gesture variant of rock-paper-scissors.

Zack is blogging the World Cup over at the New Republic's Goal Post.


Blog of the week: An obsessive catalogue of tiny magician Paul Daniels's eBay transactions. "Paul paid US $10.11 for the DVD (approximately £5.44) and he ended the auction early by taking the 'Buy It Now' option at 9.18 am." [Via LMG]


NYT comics cavalcade!

Today's exhibit in our ongoing survey of comics' cultural respectability is this Comics Chronicle column in today's NYT book review. What's significant is not just that the Times Book Review is running a serious assessment of three recent graphic novels -- it's that the author, John Hodgman, is willing to acknowledge that "many of the alternative fine-art comics that cross my desk these days are kind of boring." Hodgman cops to the boosterism that has kept this kind of admission out of mainstream comics coverage: "I've been quiet on this point in part because I do believe comics are literature, and do not wish to undermine the cause." It's kind of like that "not in front of the goyim" thing that Jews used to have.

While we're being brutally honest about comics in front of the goyim, I will go on the record with this: Jaime Hernandez is one of the finest cartoonists in the world; his Death of Speedy is maybe my single favorite graphic novel; and yet his strip in the Times Magazine is a disappointment and a wasted opportunity. Presented with a national audience for the first time, this master of the form opts to (a) discard the techniques that are unique to comics, producing instead an illustrated prose story; and (b) concern himself with the reunion between three characters from his ongoing Locas saga, the resonance of which will be entirely lost on new readers.

Still, you can't criticize the guy's command of body language. Check out Maggie in that fourth panel.


Culure-Trend Story Criticism

This story tells you just about all you need to know about the WP's non-political coverage. The NYT style section was writing about wingwoman.com like 2 years ago. (That's not one but two steps removed from the existence of wingmen, because A) it's a woman, and B) there's a company based on it.) Miller Lite based a whole ad campaign around the wingman thing, also like 2 years ago. And today, the WP discovers the wingman concept.

As Yglesias puts it:

Next up -- the kids these days sometimes go to bars and consume alcoholic beverages as a social activity! The sun shines brightly in the day, but not so much at night! It's really fucking humid in this town during the summer!

Hey look! I sent an email to Josh Marshall, criticizing Jeffrey Goldberg's recent lame story in the NYer on the Dems' campaign and he posted it on his site.