The Star Spangled Banana

There’s been talk lately about changing the national anthem because the song’s lyricist was a slaveholder. Good enough, but, honestly, it should be replaced on its own lack of merit.

First, the song has four verses, though almost nobody knows verses 2-4, and many of those who only know verse 1 don’t even know it that well.

Second, the first verse says nothing about the country, its values, or anything else, really. In fact, all it is is a long-winded rhetorical question:

Can you see the flag this morning? You know, the one we saw last night at sunset. Yeah, the one with the stripes and stars that we cheered about last night. That’s right, the same one we saw lit up by the rockets and bombs all night: is it still waving this morning?

How inspiring: a vision test! My patriotic heart is all a-flutter.

And then there’s the music, which is an almost un-singable (the melody spans an octave and a half) recycled British club song: “The Anacreontic Song” written by  John Stafford Smith for an 18th-century amateur musician’s club. What says “America” more than a song celebrating a private men’s club?

It took until the early 1930s before it became the anthem. At that time, Prohibition was in effect, so maybe the national ability to make sound judgments was at a low level because of all the bathtub gin people were drinking, but, in any event, it has only been the anthem for less than a century! Ditching it for something with better content and an easier-to-sing melody is hardly a slap at the Founders of this nation, who had all been long-dead before the song was made the anthem in the first place.

Replace the anthem! Your ears and your vocal cords will thank you!

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A Glimpse of Rivendell on My Wrist

I recently replaced my original model Apple Watch (sometimes referred to as a “Series 0” model) with a Series 4. I really liked my old watch, but Apple stopped issuing system updates for that model so I knew its days on my wrist were numbered. When I finished a couple of particularly big projects recently, I decided that my reward would be a new Apple Watch.

The new Series 4 is a worthy replacement. Everything (except, of course, the time) runs much faster on it. It has a much better speaker. It does ECGs. It has great battery life. It can spit water!

But my favorite feature is its slightly larger display, and its ability to run the Kaleidoscope watch face full-screen on it.

On my old watch I had created a Kaleidoscope watch face based on a photo I had taken of some jacaranda tree blossoms. The result was a watch face I nicknamed “Rivendell.”

Rivendell looked lovely on my old watch, and it continues to look lovely on my new one. But when I made a full-screen version of it for my new Apple Watch, it became mesmerizing. In fact, it’s so mesmerizing that I consume much of my new Apple Watch’s extra battery power by keeping my portal into Rivendell running on my wrist for minutes at a time while I gaze at it. It’s very calming—much more so than the Breathe app.

Rivendell Face Full-Screen

A still image cannot convey the stately Elvish grace of this slowly animating watch face.

Now, I don’t know for a fact that jacarandas grew in Rivendell, but Elrond, who ran the place, knew Gandalf, and he knew the Valar queen Yavanna Kementári (the Giver of Fruits)  back in the old country, and she is the one who basically planted all the original foliage on Middle-Earth, so if Elrond had wanted one of those purple-blossomed lovelies in his valley estate, he could probably pull a few strings.…

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Great Moments in Discoverability: Away in Slack

My colleagues at TidBITS and I use the Slack app so we can discuss article ideas and production. Ordinarily, I have Slack open on my Mac when I’m working and, ordinarily, I have my state set to “Active” (the default when Slack is running) so people know they can reach me.

However, sometimes I want to set my state to “Away” while still keeping the app open on my Mac. I do that so rarely, though, that I can never remember how to change my state, and it takes me a minute or so of poking around until I can find the command again. Slack doesn’t make finding it easy.

For starters, there’s no menu command to set the state. In fact, the menus on the Slack menubar don’t offer much at all.

Second, there are a bunch of unlabeled icons atop the Slack window’s content area, each of which might issue the state-setting command, but to find out what each icon does, I have to bring the Slack window to the front and then mouse over each icon, only to find out that none of them offer what I want.

Third, what Slack itself means by Status is not whether you are online or not. In Slack, your Status is a message associated with your username in the current workspace. Slack has no name for your state of being active or away.

Fourth, how Slack indicates your current state doesn’t leap out at you: it’s merely a tiny circle preceding your name at the top of the left sidebar—if it’s green, your state is Active.

That tiny indicator is the key to changing your state: click it and you get a popover with all sorts of settings. Slack, perversely, makes you read down to the fifth item in the list of settings to get to the one that actually displays and allows you to set your state; e.g., “Away Set yourself to active.”

Note that all the users shown in the Direct Messages list in the Slack window’s sidebar have such state indicators, but clicking those indicators does nothing, so one can be excused for assuming wrongly that clicking the indicator by your own name might be fruitless as well.

Sure, one can claim that Slack’s state toggle is discoverable. But such a commonly used toggle should not require three ships and a royal charter to be discovered.

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The Day I Didn’t Take the Pledge

I saw this story about a boy who was arrested for refusing to say the Pledge of Allegiance, and it reminded me of a similar transgression from my youth.

When I was in high school, we had to say the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of the first class we had each day. It was the end of the turbulent 1960s, the Viet Nam war was raging, protest was in the air, and I thought the school was ludicrous to ask students to renew their pledge of loyalty to a piece of cloth every day, as though the pledge wore off sometime overnight and had to be reapplied. So one day I decided not to.

At the time, my first class of the day was German, and my German teacher and I had an interesting relationship. On the one hand, she sincerely seemed to like me, but on the other my inability not to open my mouth and crack wise at the slightest opportunity infuriated her sensibilities. Almost every day she tried (and failed) to put me in my place, usually literally with a hollered “Setzen Sie sich!”, and so she saw this refusal of mine to stand up and recite the Pledge as a particularly valuable opportunity for place-putting.

She ordered me to report to the Principal’s office to explain myself. This order wasn’t because she disagreed with my anti-Pledge stance—she was something of an anti-war liberal herself and, I think, secretly approved of my protest. Rather, it was a double-bird-with-a-single-stone opportunity for her: she could get my disruptive ass out of her class for one day, and could bedevil the school Principal, whose few fans among the faculty did not include her, with my smug adolescent attitude and anti-war sentiments.

So I marched off to the Principal’s office, which, by the way, I (and my parents) had already come to know well at this point in my academic career. As I impassively stood before his desk, he fixed me with an obsidian gaze asked me why I was there. I told him that I had refused to say the Pledge that day and that Frau Vorster had ordered me to see him about it.

“I see,” he said, and then launched into a lecture about liberty and freedom and all the flag stood for and about all the brave men who had given their lives for it over the years. He wrapped up by asking me if I would say the Pledge out of respect for them.

I told him, “No.”

Non-plussed, he asked me sternly, “Is it because you hate America?”

With feigned outrage, I replied, “No.”

“So, then, why won’t you say it?”

Finally, the jackpot question, the one that my teacher likely assumed I would answer with some anti-war sentiment or other, delivered with all the self-assured righteousness and disdain of which she knew I was capable. I told him, “I didn’t say the Pledge because we don’t have a proper flag to say it to.”

His eyes widened. “What do you mean? Of course your classroom has a flag.”

“Yes, but it’s not an American flag.”

“What?!”

“The flag in our classroom has only 48 stars,” I smugly let him know.

And it was true. I had noticed early on that the flag in my German classroom had but 48 stars—although Hawaii and Alaska had become states around ten years earlier, the school had not yet got around to replacing all the old 48-star flags in its classrooms with the current 50-star edition. “I refuse to pledge allegiance to a flag that isn’t our country’s flag!” I said proudly.

He blinked and summoned the head custodian, who said he would check, and left. We sat and waited in silence. A few minutes later he stuck his head back in the office and said, “Kid’s right. I’ll change it.”

The Principal and I stared at each other for a few more seconds, then he lowered his eyes and gruffly ordered me back to class.

My teacher nodded at me as I came back and smiled to herself, no doubt thinking that I had either kowtowed to the Principal or had been dismissed from his presence out of sheer annoyance. What she thought later that day when the custodian brought in a new flag and swapped out the old one I never bothered to ask her.

Posted in Humor, Politics, Reminiscence | 1 Comment

My New Low-Impact Drinking Game

Because I hate myself, I have begun to dip into the seemingly endless parade of made-for-TV Christmas movies currently running on the Hallmark channels. Furthermore, because the stories are so contrived and because the acting and direction are so pedestrian and because I seldom am exposed to so much concentrated blondness, I devised a drinking game. It’s a perfect drinking game for me because I seldom drink.

The rules are simple: take a sip if you see a person of color in the background of a scene; take a heavy slug every time a person of color has speaking lines in a scene; polish off a bottle if the movie’s leads are people of color.

Happy Holidays!

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I need a flux capacitor to fix this…

I recently wrote an article for TidBITS about the app’s resurrected text-box-linking feature. A reader responded with complaints about Pages 7:

Whatever, it is still the most ignorant word processing software. I can open a document in Word I made in 2007 with office 2016- with Pages no way. I have to update to a more recent version. That’s not just cloudy it’s ridiculous and nobody I know who uses a Mac uses Pages. If they would have made it backwards compatible then it would be a viable software. But as we know Apple only does things (basic word) to their convenience on many levels.

I responded to the “backwards compatible” complaint:

I just dug up an old Word .doc file of mine that was last modified in 2004 and had no problem opening it with Pages 7. I can also open files made with Pages 4 in Pages 7. The rumors of Pages’ lack of backward compatibility may be exaggerated.

Turns out, this reader had a…unique…interpretation of what backward compatibility entailed:

Pages 3.0.3 will not open documents created with later Pages. That’s a problem.

Pages 3.0.3 was released 10 years ago. I suppose I could climb into my Delorean, travel to Apple in 2007, and deliver the Pages 7 file format specs to the Pages 3 development team, but that almost certainly would split the timeline and cause serious instability in the multiverse. So I probably won’t.

I guess the disgruntled reader wins this round.

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I am not David Redux

[Author’s Note: A couple of decades ago, I wrote the following essay after I was called, yet again, “David” instead of “Michael” during a meeting. It lived on a site of mine for a while until the site, and the service that hosted it, went where all evanescent internet sites go. However, today I saw a cartoon by Chris Hallbeck that made me realize that Michael-David-derangement-syndrome was a real thing. So here’s the essay, brought back from the misty archives.]

I Am Not David

It doesn’t happen every day, but 2 or 3 times a year someone will call me “David.” It might be in a business meeting, it might be at a party. Almost always it is someone who has been introduced to me within the last 10 or 20 minutes.

Perhaps it is a failure of short term memory. I’m sure that’s part of it, and, as far as it goes, it is a failure with which I can completely sympathize. Lord knows, I’m terrible with names myself, and always have to take great pains whenever I’m introduced to anyone new to remember the names I hear so I won’t make a complete fool of myself. But it’s not the inability of other people to recall my name that bothers me. No, it’s that they almost invariably think that they know what my name is – and somehow, they always think that it’s David.

I have nothing against the name as such. It’s a good, traditional, easy-to-spell, eminently pronounceable, honest, work-a-day, dependable name. It’s just that a) it isn’t my name, and b) there’s no reason I can see that would make people think that it is. Some names, when you hear them, tend to conjure up a stereotypical image or two: Mortimer. Quincy. Bubba. But what quality is it that inheres in “Davidity”? I just don’t see it.

I know several genuine Davids. One of my best friends is David the neurologist. Another is my cousin David, the lawyer-turned-restauranteur. There’s also David the musician, David the Shakespearian scholar, and David the multimedia producer. No one could mistake any one of them for any of the others. Other than the fact that they are all adult males, there isn’t much that links them together other than the fact that they are named David and that I know them. They are not each other, I am not they, they are not I.

A friend of mine once suggested that calling me David was a form of crypto-anti-semitism: after all, David is a Jewish name, and I am Jewish. Calling me David is, according to this theory, an attempt to deny my individuality and pigeon-hole me in an ethnic category. Although I do love conspiracy theories, this one doesn’t work for me. I know of a lot of non-Jewish Davids: David Copperfield, David Letterman, David Rockefeller, David Nelson (son of Ozzie and Harriet), Dafyyd Ap Gwilym. Not only am I Jewish and they are not, I don’t know Micawber, have never been to Indianapolis, haven’t entered politics, don’t have show-biz parents, and don’t write Welsh poetry.

So why do people consistently call me David? My theory is that everyone has a Platonic name, a name that is really theirs despite what birth certificates, driver’s licenses, social security cards, dossiers, permanent records, wills, stock certificates, and mailings from Publisher’s Clearinghouse may say. This is the True Name, the name by which the universe is uniquely configured to identify you. It has nothing to do with what the name represents, where it comes from, what qualities it evokes, or who else has it. It is simply the True Name, the Platonic Ideal of your name. Mine is, apparently, David.

But don’t call me David. I probably won’t answer.

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R.I.P. Harlan Ellison

I learned from several tweets on Twitter today that Harlan Ellison has died. I didn’t know the man, though I had read a number of his works, but I do have one tale to tell of him.

It was many years ago at the Writer’s Guild theatre in Beverly Hills. I had gone with a Guild member friend to a screening. I don’t recall the film we saw, but I have a vague recollection, likely unreliable, that it was a new (at the time) James Bond film. In any case, after the film a few of the filmmakers responsible held a question-answer with the audience, at which point the diminutive Harlan stood up (looking scarcely taller standing than seated) and made some sort of snarky comment. In response, a number of the audience members groaned and several shouted, “Sit down, Harlan!”

My friend later told me that this was not the first time the Writer’s Guild theatre had hosted such a display of authorial camaraderie.

Harlan Ellison may be gone, but, if there is any sort of after-life, I suspect that he is not resting peacefully in it. It would be wholly out of character.

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Time Lapse Synchronicity

I have one of those novelty cat clocks that has moving eyes and a wagging tail. I thought it might be fun to shoot about 20 minutes of time-lapse video of it so it would look like the cat was manic, with rapidly twitching eyes and tail.

Turned out that the frame-rate of my iPhone’s time-lapse feature is an even multiple of the eye-moving, tail-wagging period. As a result, the clock seems to look quite normal in the video if you don’t notice that its hands are moving rather rapidly (expand the video below to full-screen to see the hands more clearly).

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Ozymandias at Mar-a-Lago

I met a traveller from a strife-torn land
Who said: “An orange and empty head of stone
Screamed at the people . . . Near it, in the grandstands,
Half drunk, a bitter correspondent, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and trembling hand,
Tell that its owner knew his hopes were dead,
Could not survive, insulted by this orange thing,
The crowd that mocked him, as his poor heart bled:
But in his notebook these words appear:
‘His name is Donald J. Trump, ranter of things:
Pay heed to his word salad, and despair!’
No one with brains remains. Past the fairway
On that benighted course, boundless and bare
The greens and empty sand traps wait, unplayed.”

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