Friday, July 24, 2009

Macs are really cool, PCs are Lame

Two and a half years ago I bought my first Mac. I can, in retrospect, say that I bought it because of the brilliant marketing campaign that Apple has used to capture 10% of the computer market share in the last five years. If asked at the time of purchase why I was choosing a Mac over a PC—considering I had used PCs quite happily for the ten previous years—I would have told you about how Mac has surpassed PC in usability, features, power, and efficiency. I really believed those things and that is how I justified spending $1200 on a laptop Mac when a laptop PC with the exact same specs would have cost between $600-$800. Unfortunately, after 2.5 years of using this MacBook, I am here to report that it is not more usable, does not provide any more features that I find useful, is not more powerful, and is CERTAINLY and absolutely not more efficient. In fact, that last claim, the efficiency claim, is the reason that I sit here today wishing I had not been influenced by marketing campaigns or misinformed consumers.

If would be hard to sit here and argue that a PC is superior to a Mac, though in several categories I believe it is. In all honesty, after pretty significant stints with both PCs and Macs, they're pretty similar. Far more similar than the now-insufferable Justin Long Mac commercials would have you believe. Other than the operating system, they pretty much do the same things, except for Macs frustrating and often illogical incompatibility issues, which is something I took into consideration before buying. Also, admittedly, I moved away from PC in January 2007, right about the time Microsoft Vista appeared, and while I can't speak from anything personally, I understand Vista was a disaster, so my OS experience may be a little incomplete. But the Mac OS definitely has its advantages, and it definitely has its disadvantages. Some things, like switching between programs, customization, and perhaps aesthetics are superior to Windows. But on the other side, organization, speed, and—in my experiences—ease of use are inferior to Windows. But, honestly, after 2.5 years, none of these things really matter. You take what you're given and use it.

My big issue with Mac is the price. This laptop cost 1200 dollars, kind of. The computer came with a one-year warranty. My previous Laptop, a Compaq bought in 2003 came with a 2 year warranty and it cost be 120 dollars to extend that warranty (with the store, not Compaq) to three years. This machine, according to Apple, was guaranteed to run for one year, and the Apple Care extended plan cost me 300 dollars. Also, let the record show, that AppleCare SUCKS, and when my power supply has broken (twice), they could not have been less helpful and more perturbed with my issue. So now, my brand new laptop cost me 1500 dollars. Then I bring it home and try to write my first school paper. Hell, I bought the computer for school so let's start to use it. Well, it took me a week to realize that this thing doesn't come with Microsoft Office. Now, I know not all computers come with MS Office, but those computers generally cost 450 dollars. So I had to go and buy a student version of MS Office for 225 dollars. Furthermore, I learned that the latest version of Office available for Macs, was MS Office 2004, despite being 2007. So I spent 225 more dollars on a piece of software that was essentially three years old. So my 1200 dollar laptop was now 1775 dollars. A full thousand dollars more than a PC with the EXACT same specs as a Mac.

So why did I do it? Why do many young people continue to insist on Macs superiority despite little-to-no evidence that they are anything but the same machines. Several reasons.

1. Macs look cooler. There is NO denying that. Have you ever seen a PC and said "Man, that computer looks awesome." No you haven't. And also, let the record show, I feel that this is a completely valid reason to buy one computer over another. We do it with cars, we do it with clothes, I find no lack of virtue in choosing form over function. However, it should be noted that when you bring that computer home, and the shell breaks (as 100% of Mac laptops do), remember why you bought this thing.

2. We used Apples in elementary school. Our generation was subjected to years of IIGS and Mac from the time we were young enough to use a computer. And this was a time when Apples were completely INFERIOR to PCs, but we were forced to use them at school anyways. So when we grew up and Apple updated their products to be on par with PC, many of us felt more comfortable with the Mac OS, we felt more comfortable with the branding, and we felt scared to move into the far less streamlined world of PC.

3. Somewhere, between 2000 and 2002 some young film-maker decided he had a better time cutting film together with a Mac than with a PC. This began a belief that Macs were simply better for the creative set than PC. Despite almost all of the music you currently listen to being recorded, edited, and mastered on PC; despite almost all of the feature films you see being cut together on PC; the younger creative set decided that it would be Macs that would be the branding behind their opus. As recording and editing moved into the digital world, somehow a prevailing belief in Mac's superiority over PC captured the imaginations of the younger crowd. Perhaps it was a combination of all of the other reasons I'm mentioning now, but having cut music on both PC and Mac, they're the same thing. I assure you of this. One is not superior.

4. Apple has used one of the most recognizable and retrospectively snobbish marketing campaigns of all time. And, oh yeah, it might be the most successful. They have convinced young America that their computers, despite being wholly similar to PC and significantly more expensive and less reliable, are the cool products of the young creative class. They have convinced us that purchase of a Mac, and most importantly public use, is participation in authentic creative youth culture and that is reason enough to spend the dollars. I am not a creative person, I don't pretend to be, I don't yearn to be, but I feel as though I am a participant—authentic or feigned—in creative culture by using this thing—particularly in public. They have convinced us Macs are simpler (they're not), Macs are more durable (they're not), Macs are more relevant (they are), and that Macs are the icon of a new generation of creative computer users. Justin Long's juxtaposition alongside the older guy in the suit reminds us that PC users are uptight, old, traditional, conservative sheep while Mac users are younger, freer, laid-back, creative sorts. And they've done this successfully.

If you own a Mac, you do because of one or more of the reasons above. You can tell yourself its for the superior OS or the "ease of use", but when it comes down to it, almost everyone using a Mac, yes you too, is doing so because of a combination of those reasons. Personally, I can admit now that it was a combination of 1 and 4 that drove me to buy this, and I cannot wait to buy a new PC. This thing has brought me nothing but a lighter wallet, and a little stress over trying to get it fixed.

I hate when people are constantly polarizing things and choosing one side or another. Leno or Letterman, vanilla or chocolate – they're all the same. But when one costs 100% more than the other, my side picking is easy.

These things are stupid.

Note: this blog post was written and posted on a MacBook.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Vick Post

This Michael Vick thing is just strange. OK, fine, this column is about 18 months late, and it's already been said. Still, I felt, given his release from federal custody today, it needed to be said again.

Michael Vick, the pro-bowl quarterback broke the law. His crimes were perhaps vicious and immoral, and he deserved to be punished. But the gravity of his penance, as well as an extremely vitriolic somewhat baffling public outcry against Vick are disproportionate to the crime, as well as uncharacteristically unforgiving and that needs to be mentioned.

There are several issues at play here, and while most of them have already been mentioned, refuted, and argued over and again, I will bring up several that I feel most relevant.

The issue of race is implicit and obvious. Many commentators have argued that Vick's actions, independent of the color of his skin, were gruesome and ugly, and any punishment or response dumped upon Vick are both valid and deserved. This argument may or may not be true, but it simply doesn't entirely remove the issue of race from the events and response. For one, you have hundreds of white, southern sympathizers, protesting on the stairs to the court in the capital of the confederacy. Grandchildren of anti-segregationist Virginians hanging a highly visible black American in effigy. I'm sorry to those of you who feel we live in a colorless society, but these images are racial.

Furthermore, you have his punishment. I am not a legal expert, and I have little-to-no background in the coverage of the law, but I get the feeling that a middle-class white American of a similar age to Vick (e.g. ME) would not have been given twenty-three months in a federal penitentiary for the unlawful treatment of animals. Again, this is BY NO MEANS, a justification or defense for what he did, nor do I have a problem with the NFL's handling of the issue, but it simply unfathomable that a middle-class white male would be treated the same as a rich black man in the South.

Another less discussed issue, but perhaps more temporally relevant, is the archetypal criminality embedded in the perception of young, black athletes in the last fifteen-to-twenty years. This is not an overall defense of the Pacman Jones's, Ron Artests, or Vicks at all. It would be incredibly hard to defend the actions of some of sports' most visible knuckleheads, but there is something to be said about the vast criminalization and vilifying perception of several athletes simply because laws were broken. People break laws, they pay their punishment and they get on with their lives. We all have friends or relatives with DUIs, we have friends with illegitimate children, friends who have gotten into fights, gotten to drunk to stand, got busted with marijuana. Sure, these actions are illegal and deserve the attention of the judicial system, but an athlete, and in particular a young black athlete, commits these crimes, and they are immediately cast as part of a much bigger problem.

It is a case of high-profile paternalism in which society's biggest detriments are the incredibly small slice of the adult community that is, at one, young, black, and unworldly gifted at either running, catching, or throwing. As if Vick's actions, vile as they were, are a microcosm for the decay of the moral fabric as a result of handing over large chunks of money to people who don't know how to make choices. Athletes, as opposed to all of our friends mentioned above, are guilty of "biting the hand that feeds them," and, perhaps this crime is what they are truly paying for.

Much has been made about Vick's inhumane treatment of animals. Last time I checked, soon-to-be-ex Governor Palin shoots dogs from a helicopter and former Vice President Cheney shoots people in the face with shotguns. The game of football itself, arguably the nation's most popular sport, is an weekly inhumane display of masculinity and violence that has resulted in paralyzed athletes, and most likely has contributed to the early death of many players. The point not being a defense of Vick, but how interesting the perspective changes when an athlete and the law become entangled.

I don't see Vick returning to the league successfully, and I don't blame any team for having anxiety over signing him. He is a villain, a criminal, and, in the eyes of far too many Americans, part of a bigger problem. But the crime Vick is most guilty of committing, is perhaps his status as a highly visible, young black athlete who had a run-in with the law. That…is the bigger problem.