April 12th, 2007

Computers

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Short Shrift for the Mac

In January, Apple Computer, Inc. announced it was changing its name to Apple, Inc. –no “Computer” — and got into the cell-phone business when Steve Jobs demonstrated the iPhone.

The iPhone may look like a scaled-down version of the Macintosh, but Apple says we will not be allowed to write programs or install third-party software on the iPhone. Customers will also be unable to select their cellular carrier — iPhone buyers are locked into a two-year contract with Cingular.

Today, Apple delayed the promised spring release of the next version of Mac OS X until October because of iPhone:

Apple on Thursday released a statement noting that Mac OS X v10.5 “Leopard” won’t be released until October. The cause of the delay? The iPhone.

“iPhone has already passed several of its required certification tests and is on schedule to ship in late June as planned. We can’t wait until customers get their hands (and fingers) on it and experience what a revolutionary and magical product it is,” reads a statement published by the company.

Getting the iPhone ready for its June launch has had an unintended consequence, however: QA and “some key software engineering” resources allocated to Mac OS X needed to be diverted from their work to finish the iPhone. As a result, Apple won’t release Leopard at its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in June, as it had first planned.

Shades of Microsoft’s oft-delayed “Longhorn,” now finally shipping as Windows Vista.

I’m guessing that as October approaches, Leopard will be delayed until 2008.

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The Gospel from Outer Space

Atrios has another excerpt from Slaughterhouse-Five:

The flaw in the Christ stories, said the visitor from outer space, was that Christ, who didn’t look like much, was actually the Son of the Most Powerful Being in the Universe. Readers understood that, so, when they came to the crucifixion, they naturally thought, and Rosewater read out loud again:

Oh boy – they sure picked the wrong guy to lynch that time!

And that thought had a brother: “There are right people to lynch.” Who? People not well connected. So it goes.

The visitor from outer space made a gift to Earth of a new Gospel. In it, Jesus really was a nobody, and a pain in the neck to a lot of people with better connections than he had. He still got to say all the lovely and puzzling things he said in the other Gospels.

So the people amused themselves one day by nailing him to a cross and planting the cross in the ground. There couldn’t possibly be any repercussions, the lynchers thought. The reader would have to think that, too, since the new Gospel hammered home again and again what a nobody Jesus was.

And then, just before the nobody died, the heavens opened up, and there was thunder and lightning. The voice of God came crashing down. He told the people that he was adopting the bum as his son, giving him the full powers and privileges of The Son of the Creator of the Universe throughout all eternity. God said this: From this moment on, He will punish horribly anybody who torments a bum who has no connections!

Amen.

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Kurt Is Up In Heaven Now

Yesterday, I might have written what I believed — “Kurt Vonnegut is the greatest living American novelist” — and I don’t think I would have faced much of an argument. Oh, there might have been feeble peeps from here or there for Norman Mailer or Philip Roth or Gore Vidal, but nothing resembling a serious challenge.

Today, I don’t have the faintest idea who the greatest living American novelist is. “Kurt is up in heaven now.”

Today, I will write what I believe — “Kurt Vonnegut was the greatest American novelist of the 20th Century” — but that won’t go unchallenged. His books blow the doors off Hemingway’s, I’ll say that. His best work stands toe to toe and nose to nose with Steinbeck’s best, and his weaker stuff is a lot better than Steinbeck’s weaker stuff. But I guess you compare best to best, so I can only say this with complete confidence: “Vonnegut was one of the greatest American novelists of the 20th Century.”

This is silly, you know — comparing and ranking very different writers, trying to pick the one winner and champion, turning everything into a horse race. I feel stupid and pathetic, because what I really want to do is write something with just one percent of the grace and power of a single sentence in a Kurt Vonnegut book.

In the previous blog post, I said, “So it goes.” I look around on other blogs. Lots of people are saying “So it goes.” Those who have read Slaughterhouse-Five understand. To everyone else, it looks like a kind of secret handshake. I can’t explain it to you, either. Every sentence in a Vonnegut novel is part of a carefully woven fabric, gaining power and meaning from every other sentence. Not one word is wasted.

I avoided Vonnegut for years. I had heard that his writing was… well, different. At that time, there were some authors noted for their verbal stunt work and determination to boggle the reader’s mind and leave him feeling stupid. But Kurt Vonnegut wrote to communicate. He had something to say. He said it so well it boggled the mind. In Slaughterhouse-Five, Tralfamadorians were aliens who lived in the fourth dimension, who could see past, present and future all at once:

Billy Pilgrim says that the Universe does not look like a lot of bright little dots to the creatures from Tralfamadore. The creatures can see where each star has been and where it is going, so the heavens are filled with rarefied, luminous spaghetti. And Tralfamadorians don’t see human beings as two-legged creatures, either. They see them as great millipedes == “with babies’ legs at one end and old people’s legs at the other,” says Billy Pilgrim.

On a trip to distant Tralfamadore, Billy Pilgrim looks at some Tralfamadorian novels:

Billy couldn’t read Tralfamadorian, of course, but he could at least see how the books were laid out — in brief clumps of symbols separated by stars. Billy commented that the clumps might be telegrams.

“Exactly,” said the voice.

“They are telegrams?”

“There are no telegrams on Tralfamadore. But you’re right: each clump of symbols is a brief, urgent message — describing a situation, a scene. We Tralfamadorians read them all at once, not one after the other. There isn’t any particular relationship between all the messages, except that the author has chosen them carefully, so that, when seen all at once, they produce an image of life that is beautiful and surprising and deep. There is no beginning, no middle, no end, no suspense, no moral, no causes, no effects. What we love in our books are the depths of many marvelous moments seen all at one time.”

Kurt Vonnegut is gone, and he is still here. The many marvelous moments remain.

Read the books.

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So It Goes

Kurt Vonnegut has died.:

Kurt Vonnegut, whose dark comic talent and urgent moral vision in novels like “Slaughterhouse-Five,” “Cat’s Cradle” and “God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater” caught the temper of his times and the imagination of a generation, died last night in Manhattan.

So it goes.

He was the great American novelist.

I will try to say something appropriate later.

God bless you, Mr. Vonnegut.