Wednesday, June 23, 2010


I admit it. I'm a Gleek. It happened to me gradually over the past year. At first I was ashamed of myself. Then I made peace with my shame and gave into my enthusiasm for all things Glee.

By all standards, I should hate Glee. It's noisy, it's angst-ridden misfit teenagers, it's singing and dancing on prime time TV. I like rational detective shows like CSI, or high octane thrillers like 24 or even tongue in cheek spy capers like Burn Notice. Glee is a different animal altogether. And I love it. During its just ended first season, I couldn't WAIT to download the latest episode from iTunes. I sat transfixed through every hour, laughing and crying and sometimes cheering.

What gives? I discovered, over the course of 22 episodes, that Glee fills a massive gap in the television landscape: the celebration of talent. Sure there are reality shows like American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance. Neither of those shows focus on talent as such. Mostly - in the case of American Idol - they focus on popularity.

Quick. Scan your memory banks and tell me how many American Idol kids stand out as performers and personalities. Now do the same for Glee. There's Rachel the nerdy girl with the captivating voice who takes on classics by Barbra Streisand and numbers from Les Misérables. There's Finn who can take a Journey song from the 1970s and make it his own. Even Puck, the former Mohawk sporting bad boy, does a touching solo of the cheesy Kiss song Beth. Let's not forget Mr Schuester, their teacher, who takes on everything from rap to a high octane duet of Bruce Springsteen's Fire with guest star Kristin Chenoweth. Finally there is the comic genius of Jane Lynch as Shuester's nemesis Sue Sylvester.

Coming completely out of left field in a television landscape dominated by procedural detective shows, Glee proves that Americans and the world at large love a good story of the underdog making good and the encouragement of talent. As the first season wore on, the Glee kids' ambition increased and the numbers they chose exploded in a dizzying display of theatricality. To be sure, there were some clunky subplots. I couldn't wait for the Terri Shuester character to go away so Will could pursue Emma, the quirky OCD afflicted guidance counselor. Similarly, Emma's 'romance' with gym teacher Ken Tanaka left me bored. But, the show's writers and producers had the smarts to learn from these mistakes and correct those problems early on, leaving more time for the core characters and their struggles and triumphs.

And then there were the turns by Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel, both big Broadway, TV and film stars in their own right. The show gave them just the right amount of screen time without overpowering the rest of the show. Both ladies served to move the story forward without detracting from what everyone loves so much about Glee.

My recent articles have focused on political and social matters portraying some of the negative aspects of what's happening in the world today. In thinking about what I value and the things that bring a smile to my face, I immediately thought of Glee. It gives its viewers a pause from the heavy handed events playing out in the world today. Glee is a happy pleasure, not a guilty one. It reaffirms that life is worth living and with a little talent and pluck, success can be ours.

I'm a Gleek and I'm not afraid to announce it to the world.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


There exists a curious divide these days between information technology experts and everyday users of technology. For the IT expert, to love Apple products is to admit to a brutish stupidity. I mean really, everyone knows Apple lovers are just 'fanboys'. What do they know about technology anyway?

As it turns out, I am a fanboy myself. I am also a computer professional and have been for 15 years. Am I stupid? Am I brainwashed? How could a thinking man like me succumb to the mass hysteria that is Apple worship? The answer is: slowly, but methodically.

Flash back to 2001 and the release of the first iPod. Apple as a company wasn't faring so well. Their Macintosh computers were selling, but nothing like today. Along comes the iPod, which resurrected the company. Yes, portable music players by Creative Labs and others were gaining traction. But when Apple released the iPod and iTunes, it was the first unified approach to collecting and maintaining one's music collection on a computer. Granted, iTunes was only available for the Mac, so it meant the iPod enjoyed only niche status.

Then, in 2003, Apple released iTunes for the PC and the iPod took off. In a few years, it became the hottest music player on the market. Everyone had one or wanted one. I was sceptical at first, opting to go with a 10GB Archos player first, and then later a Creative Labs model. In 2004 I bought an iPod Mini and loved it - until it died completely on me a few months later. I didn't buy another iPod till a year later.

For years I bought iPods of various flavours, but I stuck with my Windows PCs. Why spend THAT much money on an overpriced toy computer? Over time I grew weary of the instability of my PCs. They would inexplicably crash or grind to a halt, even though I had ample memory and disk space. I kept them optimised and well organised - all for naught. A friend of mine and Apple aficionado insisted that he never suffered a single one of the problems PC users did: no crashes, no slowdowns, no fatal viruses. I was intrigued but still sceptical.

Then, I decided to visit an Apple Store and try a Mac out for myself. I still didn't buy one. For a year, I weighed the pros and cons of switching to a Mac. Would all my files be compatible? Would I still be able to share data with PCs? Would I be able to port all my iTunes content over without pulling my hair out?

In February of 2008 I took the plunge. I bought myself my first Mac. It was a MacBook Pro with 3 GB of memory and a 160 GB hard drive. It was sleek and beautiful and a powerhouse of a machine. Within a few days I'd transferred all my files easily and lost nothing. I could leave my Mac running for weeks and weeks without restarting it and without slowdowns. I had arrived as an Apple fan.

Today, I still own my original MacBook Pro, and I have since acquired another 15" MacBook Pro for work and two 13" MacBooks for my own personal use. I also got myself a Time Capsule that enables me to back up all my Macs wirelessly and effortlessly. I bought an Apple TV that I attached to my home theatre system. I own an iPhone that I love and was one of the first people in Australia to purchase an iPad, thanks to a business trip to California in April of 2010.

Now let's revisit the fanboy slur. If it is true that Apple lovers are just following a fad, then what does that make me? I spent years before buying an Apple product. I didn't buy a Mac until it became crystal clear to me that it was a superior machine worth every cent paid. What gives? In my view, it comes down to envy.

Now, no Apple detractor would admit to feelings of envy, but if you give it some thought, you have to wonder why these detractors so vociferously attack Apple fans. Who cares, right? One can still buy a PC with Windows or any other operating system. One can still buy portable music devices from Creative Labs and other vendors. Notice, however, that as Apple's prominence in the marketplace has increased, the attacks on the company have also increased - but not by Apple's customers.

Food for thought.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Six Percent

Recently I've been thinking about the figure of six percent. No, it's not the percentage of my salary that goes to taxes. Nor is it related to some number of people afflicted with a disease in a given area. Six percent refers to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's proposed 'super profits tax' on mining companies in Australia. His ostensive justification for this tax is it will help 'working families' in Australia. The real motive is hatred of producers.

The reason this has been on my mind is my amazement at how Mr Rudd arrived at this figure. Why not 10 percent? Or five? Or eight? Is six percent the amount above the 'usual' and 'reasonable' profit margin that governments today deem 'enough'? Who can say? One thing is certain: his hard push for this tax has garnered him some nasty press in recent weeks - enough that his entire administration is losing supporters fast.

Now let's think about what such a tax must mean in reality. If I were running a business today, any profit I make would necessarily be reinvested back into improvements in my firm. I would be able make more of the products I sell, which means more customers and also better pay for my employees. I might be able to offer better incentives to my employees to retain their skills. Or I might be able to modernise my equipment so I can produce my goods more efficiently. Whatever the case, profits exist to ensure that the business keeps functioning and growing.

Contrary to popular myth, profits do not line the pockets of fat cat capitalists, though it is no concern of mine what successful businesses do with their money. Look at Apple. In the news recently, we learnt that they had surpassed Microsoft to be the most successful tech firm in the world. Their Mac computers, iPhones and iPads sell like hotcakes. A new Apple product release resembles a blockbuster movie release, replete with celebrities and overjoyed customers raising their fancy new gadgets high in the air.

What does Apple do with its profits? Or rather what does its CEO cum rock star Steve Jobs do with his profits? Buy fancy houses, cars and yachts? Does he live the life of a playboy? No, he goes to work. Mr Jobs enjoys his fabulous success by WORKING MORE.

What if the American government were to slap a 'super profits tax' on Apple, for the simple reason that they're highly successful? Would Steve Jobs continue to work as hard? Would his company turn out as many great products as they do now? Would Americans be better off because Apple could produce less?

It is well known that Australia escaped the worst of the global financial crisis in large part because of the mining industry. For this reason alone, they should be spared the insanity of having to rethink their business plans to avoid paying a 'super profits tax'. If Mr Rudd cared a whit about the enviable Australian standard of living, he would cease his chicanery of punishing successful firms and focus on making it possible for more Australians to succeed. The best way he could do that is to tell the Australian public that they are free to produce to the best of their abilities and that he will pass no law preventing them from accomplishing their goals. And then honour that promise.

Addendum: On Thursday, 24 June 2010, Julia Gillard succeeded Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister of Australia. Much is made of her being the first woman Prime Minister, but she possesses the same tired ideas as her predecessor.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Male Dollar

A Facebook friend of mine recently offered, as one justification for the concept of feminism, the 'fact' that women make 70-ish cents to the 'male dollar'. Now, this is a view I have heard bandied about for several decades, but I was particularly taken by the expression itself. Many people today would shake their heads in dismay and proclaim that we must right this horrible and sexist wrong without further delay.

My reaction, in keeping with my investigative mind, was to offer that it would be a damn fine thing if it were true. Think about it: if businesses actually DID pay women some reduced amount compared to their male counterparts, then it would stand to reason that those businesses would JUMP on this. Why hire men at all when they can realise immense savings just by hiring women with the same skills as men? Think of the possibility of business expansion!

All sarcasm aside, the notion of a 'male dollar' is specious on the face of it. No business can or does last long by hiring purely on the basis of the sex of the employee. The purpose of any rational business venture is to attract the best talent and pay market wages. Why? Or, why NOT hire women at lower wages BECAUSE they're women? The answer is: because under capitalism or even semi-capitalism as we have today, any business that pays some group less because they belong to that group will soon find they are bleeding talent to their competitors.

I work in the enterprise software field. Every day there are market pressures to continually improve the products and lower the costs of development. If my firm were to make its hiring decisions on the basis of sex alone, it would soon find its competitors overtaking it. It would then face the threat of sure failure if it continued in its irrational hiring practises or change its ways and hire on the basis of talent alone.

Another common claim is that between two equally qualified candidates, it is usually the man who is hired over the woman. This simply cannot be true, either. The stakes are too high for an employer to make the wrong hiring decisions. They MUST hire the most qualified or suffer the consequences quickly. In reality, there is no such thing as two equally qualified candidates for a given position. The education, aptitude, drive and prior work experience will always favour one candidate over another, regardless of sex. The two finalists vying for the same job may be close competitors, but one will always be the better choice.

In the end, one must constantly challenge oft repeated bromides. Just because one makes the same claim over and over again for decades doesn't make it true. To arrive at the truth, one must remain ruthlessly logical and look for the evidence, just as crime scene investigators must sift through mountains of facts to catch a criminal.

Location:Mitchell Rd,Alexandria,Australia