Sunday, September 2, 2007

Shiny Pretty Beautiful

Well, I went ahead and did it. Today I ordered the iMac with the 24" screen.

I got tired of sitting around this apartment in a puddle of sweat. It was too hot to even sit still and read, and I am reading a pretty fascinating book right now. But it was just too stifling; my fans were all blowing hot air. I can be thankful that all the customers of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, like me, had power, at least. The customers of Southern California Edison, which seems to be most of the areas surrounding the core of the city, weren't so lucky. Also, of all things, there were flash flood advisories for the San Gabriel Mountains. Flash floods? We're in a heat wave, where is the flooding going to come from?

But actually, not too far from here, they're supposed to be getting thunderstorms. Ordinarily, I truly love thunderstorms as I used to experience them regularly in North Carolina; in fact, I really miss them. But maybe because of some hurricane or other off the coast of somewhere, we've got wierd weather patterns here and thus, despite temperatures in the San Fernando Valley as high as 118 degrees (in Hollywood, it's a more tolerable 105!), most of what is making everybody so uncomfortable right now is the humidity. Hey, this isn't Houston, but we're getting Houston-like weather.

I'd have gone for a ride in the mountains to experience the thunderstorms, except the weather service was issuing serious warnings about getting away from there. Never heard that before, but apparently there was a lot of danger from lightening.

So I went shopping, instead.

I wanted to go to an Apple Store just to look at the iMacs and buy an iPod Universal Dock. I want to somehow build the Universal Dock into a new Kenwood iPod-integrating car stereo system I recently bought. Not too long ago, I bought what ended up being a piece of junk, a Phase Linear 1 1/2 DIN cassette/CD receiver which I needed to replace my broken Cadillac factory cassette receiver. I was very happy with that Phase Linear unit for about an hour. It didn't take me too long to figure out that the cassette player in it was very Micky Mouse, and the CD player was all but useless in that the slightest movement on the road caused it to skip and bounce around unsatisfactorily. However, something good that it did have was an auxiliary input, and thus I instantly moved out of the world of the CD in the car and into the world of the iPod.

With the iPod, I could listen to all the music I wanted to in the car, supposedly all or most of my entire music collection (I bought the 80 GB iPod), and didn't have to lug around boxes of CDs. (I don't really know how much of my collection it will hold because so far, nine months after I bought the iPod, I've managed to load onto it only a small fraction of its capacity.) It was a pretty wonderful music solution for the car for a while, but then the rest of the Phase Linear unit began to bite the dust. First its brilliant jitter-bug Las-Vegas-style lights information panel (not very "Cadillac", but sometimes you have to make compromises) began to become unreliable until now it doesn't come on at all. Makes finding a radio station a hit or miss affair, among other control problems--the whole information panel just stays dark. But even worse than that is the cassette player stopped working altogether. At least half the time I am in my car, I listen to books on tape (which I get like I get Netflix) and now I don't have that ability anymore. For books, I prefer cassette tape to CDs, because you can keep track of your place easier and anyway, the Phase Linear CD player was a skip-a-holic, so I never use it.

Getting the damned thing fixed would cost more than it did to buy it and I don't think it is worth fixing anyway. I realized now that I didn't really need a CD player after all, but I DO need a good cassette player and some system that integrates the iPod into the receiver so that the iPod is charging while it is connected. Kenwood (among other brands) had a system that seemed to be what I wanted: a high quality cassette receiver with an iPod control box that connects through the CD changer connections. This allows the iPod to be charged when used and the CD changer controls on the head unit can (more or less) control the iPod.

Whereas before I had wanted to find a 1 1/2 DIN size unit to perfectly fit into the General Motors opening, this time I figured the standard and more commonly-found DIN size would serve me better, because now there would be room in there to have an iPod connection (instead of stuffing the iPod into the glove compartment). The idea I had would be to install the receiver on the bottom of the opening, and then using the 1/2 DIN space above to have something like a little door or drawer than be pulled open and a horizontal panel holding an iPod Unversal Dock can be neatly slid out. The iPod can be placed in the dock and the rest of the works are already connected to the stereo. The iPod will sit up there, plugged in, and not in the way of anything. Very "professional" and pretty nifty, if I can manage to make it the way I am imagining it.

At Outfest this past summer, I was telling some people in line about a short film I had seen at an Outfest program the night before. This film was about five minutes of one perfect-looking young man giving another perfect-looking young man a haircut. I told the guys in line that this was the kind of haircut that Bruce Weber said he insisted on giving the models for his photo shoots. I said that I didn't know what it was about this particular kind of haircut, but somehow it turned perfect-looking men into perfect-looking young gods.

The mention of Bruce Weber photos turned the conversation to Abercrombie & Fitch catalogues, the loss of which due to religious conservative "blue noses in Ohio" or some such place was really a disappointment to some of the guys. But one of them told us that instead of having nearly naked men (and women) in the A & F catalogues, they now have real life in-the-flesh shirtless greeter-studs at the A & F store in The Grove.

"Really," I said, "shirtless guys in the store at The Grove?"

"Well, I think in all of their stores," the man said. "It's at The Grove that I have seen them, but I am sure they have them at Century City, and at all the other stores, too."

We had a little discussion about that...the concept fascinates me. I wonder who they expect their audience to be for this? Are the actual CUSTOMERS of the clothes, whom I take to mostly be straight high school or college age jocks, drawn to the store because of this? Or is it all just going to be horny, drooling older gay men who really ought to not buy those clothes, which won't even properly fit, either their bodies or their lifestyle? The consensus seemed to be that it works on a "like draws like" kind of basis. "After all," the original man said, "their stores are decorated with huge blow-up photos of these studs, and the stores are full of guys buying these clothes, so it seems to work!" I guess it tells the customer "you belong here, see, all our signage shows people like you!"

I guess my problem was that I wanted to go see this, and yet I didn't know HOW I could. It's not as if these guys were go-go boys dancing on a pedestal in a gay dance club; there they KNOW they're going to be ogled (no matter what their own personal predeliction may be) and no one ought to feel bad ogling them. But at an A & F retail store, it somehow seemed like something you (I) could NOT do.

Anyway, back to my wanting to go to the Apple Store. I figured now would be a good time to not only check out the iMacs at the Apple Store, but also see what was going on at Abercrombie & Fitch.

A little on-line investigation revealed that I had a choice of three different malls that had both an Apple Store and an Abercrombie & Fitch: The Grove, Century City, and Westfield Sherman Oaks. In this heat, the choice was easy; Westfield Sherman Oaks was the only mall of the three that was indoors. I like that mall the best of these three, anyway, because of the parking. Westfield has convenient, easy to use parking, whereas I am too claustraphobic for Century City's tight, crowded, low-ceilinged two-layers-underground garage, and the parking garage at The Grove had been designed in Hell (it's the second most horrible parking garage in all of L.A., the first being the one at the Arclight).

Despite what must have been utterly massive air conditioning, the interior of the Westfield Mall wasn't really all that cool (not as cool as my car), but it was acceptable. And CROWDED! I had never seen so many people there and wondered if it were because of the three-day weekend, or were all those people there to escape the heat? I had never thought of a mall as place to go to keep cool, but it made sense.

The Apple Store was beautiful; a neat, well-ordered, luscious emporium of high-tech entertainment goodies to tempt even the techno-phobic. It was all aluminum, black, blue, white, and blond wood. They were heavily pushing the iPhone, a whole section in the front of the store given over to that, but gorgeous iMacs were on display against both long walls. At first I found it hard to determine which iMacs were the 20" and which were the 24". They weren't really labeled, and both sizes were astonishing large so that my eyes couldn't accurately measure them (my Dell desktop monitor is 15" and my iBook screen is 14"). One really could say that the 20" screen is plenty big, big enough to have two different projects up there side-by-side. However, even though I could see every justification for getting THAT size and saving about $300, a thread running through my mind knew without question that when all was said and done, I would end up getting the 24". It was almost like having a wide-screen TV and I suppose it was perfect for editing movies (its main purpose, I am sure).

All of the display machines were fully loaded with every kind of software, so I could check out the Internet, word processing pages and spreadsheets, photos, and movies, all of which looked absolutely sharp and beautiful. To write on such a screen, I would easily drag the blank sheet of paper into the middle of the screen, but I could have handy open on either side of the page Internet sources, a dictionary or thesaurus, encyclopedia, or any other thing. If one were putting together flyers or other printed pages, various illustrative photos, charts, graphs, or other materials could be kept handy and dragged over into place when the time came. This was more than a "screen" and more like a vertical assembly table. As long as one was going to do it, one may as well go whole hog.

Some on-line reviewers complained about the iMac glossy screens, wishing, instead, for a matte choice, siting glare as a potential problem. But there in the heavily-lighed store, I didn't suffer from glare and, in fact, hadn't even remembered to check for it until I had been there for quite some time. I did not see glare as a problem and anyway, the screen can easily be tipped back or forward a fraction to make whatever adjustment the user desires. There were no problems with any of it that I could see.

I bought the iPod Universal Dock (as for the iMac, I wanted to buy that pressure-free on-line through Apple's discounting Education Store) and talked to the guy who wrote up my sale, asking him how many machines I could load Microsoft Office 2004 for Mac onto (since I will have two computers). He explained that the Standard Edition ($399) only licensed installation onto ONE machine, but the Student and Teacher Edition that was the exact same software, came with three licenses and cost only $149 [with rebate, only $99.99 and no sales tax on Amazon.com]! I would qualify for that if, for example, I even WORKED at a school (you don't have to just be a teacher or student), which I do. That sounded like the best choice, although he suggested that I seriously check out iWork 08. (However, later investigation gave me the idea that iWork's word processing package, "Pages", probably cannot do merges with their spreadsheet package, "Numbers", and as that is a function I do constantly at work and would also need to do at home, iWork 08 lost out to Microsoft Office for Mac. But maybe someday I will want to have both.)

This clerk in the Apple Store, incidentally, in his tight lean-body-muscle-revealing t-shirt advertising "College Students, buy a Mac, get a free iPod Nano" looked like he couid have just as easily gotten a job over at Abercrombie & Fitch, which I next sought out.

However, over there, there were no shirtless greeters, nor were there any inside the store, either. Maybe they didn't think that was appropriate for an "indoor" mall. Somehow standing around in a bathing suit or cargo shorts and flip flops might make more sense outside in the sun of Century City or The Grove. I don't know; it's just as well, I wouldn't have known what to do with or say to one of them, anyway. I got my sort of "hunk hunger" taken care of by the hot guy at the Apple Store, with whom I could legitimately have a smart conversation about software.

I was quite impressed by the perfectly-proportioned, sexily-dressed, headless mannikens (all the better for your own imagining) that they had inside the A & F store, though. Not within four decades was that golf-tee-leanness my body type, yet boy do I love it. Does it count as "anorexic" when underneath that leanness they are all sinew and muscle? I've said before that we are all savants when it comes to instantly calculating body ratios, and for these A & F mannikens, as thin and strong as railroad spikes, no one would desire one more percentage point of added bulk. This isn't fashion and marketing sickness, this is a genetic ideal, I think; otherwise I wouldn't have the pattern as an appealing template in my ancient brain.

Going back home was an emergence out of temperateness into a glass-melting blast furnace. At least my car cooled down quickly enough, but I only had the stifling atmosphere of my apartment to go home to. Back at home, I lost myself inside the on-line Apple Education Store and figured out all my computer options. Once I had settled on everything (24" screen iMac, 2.8 gigahertz processor, 2 gigabytes of RAM, 500 gigabyte hard drive, DVD R/W super drive, and upgraded movie software, Final Cut HD Express, plus, of course, the OS X Tiger and i-Life 08 software that Apple bundles in there and keyboard and mouse and extra-cost three-year guarantee), it still took me over a half hour to finally let myself click on the button that finalized the sale. Anyone who knows me knows that I rarely fail to indulge myself, yet spending two and half thousand dollars is not something I do easily. But I get a free Nano! Not that I need it at all, since I already have a barely-full 80GB iPod. What do I need another 4GB for? But it was free (well, after getting a $199 rebate back half a year later) and very pretty--I chose to get a blue one and will have my name engraved on the back of it. Shiny, pretty, beautiful, well-made things--whether an iMac, an iPod, or an I-wish-I-had-a-body-like-that-A&F-manniken, I love them, and when I can, shall let myself have them!

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Heatwave

Labor Day: This is supposed to be the last hurrah of the summer, but I now find myself yearning for winter. Maybe I ought to rethink my belief that I like it hot. My dreams of paradise are always tropical, but then, tropical is always experienced neck deep in blue water or lying in a hammock holding a tropical drink in your hand. Not exactly real life, or all of real life.

I didn't really plan to go anywhere. I did do a way-too-late cursory Internet glance at various beachfront hotels to see if anything really grabbed me (San Simeon, Cambria, Ventura, Carlsbad, San Diego) but naturally everything was fully booked and beyond high-priced anyway. The truth is that I am globally-spoiled enough to not get too excited about the California coast or think it is worth a lot of trouble or expense. My beach dreams are Hawaii or the South Pacific, the Indian Ocean, or the Caribbean. Or Florida. I'd gladly pay $400 a night to be in Fiji, but $200 a night in Cambria seems too expensive.

But suddenly with this heat wave, I found myself yearning for cool mountains. Unfortunately, this weekend, there are none. Anywhere on a three-day weekend I could drive beyond Los Angeles would only take me to places that were going to be even HOTTER--various deserts or sweltering inland locations. Being right along the coast ended up being the coolest spot available, and even then, temperatures would still be on the cusp of 100 degrees.

At the school all week, it was over 100 degrees. My car's "outside temperature" gauge was probably exaggerating due to having been parked on an asphalt parking lot under the direct sun all day, but it said "111". My body agreed. This was the hottest I had ever been since I made the mistake of going to Las Vegas for July 4, 1976, the "bicentennial". In Las Vegas in early July, it was what I call "brain damage" temperature (what a dog is subjected to if you leave it in your car with the windows rolled up). Los Angeles at the end of August this year wasn't quite brain damage weather, but just one step down. "Pre-Alzheimer's weather," perhaps.

While I did accomplish all that I HAD to do (concerning start of the school year and new hire insurance deadlines), I really wasn't able to accomplish a whole lot more. We suffered continual power failures and brown-outs, so that most of the day we spent with our lights all off, our windows wide open, and various irritating non-stop "power's out" fire alarm tones beeping. The various air conditioning units kept blowing fuses until we had no fuses left. Also, anything that fed through a computer was non-functional, due to too-hot temperatures, power failures, or both. That included server-accessed computer files, e-mail, Internet, network printers, telephone voice mail, fax machines, and even some of the xerox machines that are also scanners and printers. I managed to do some filing and a little xeroxing, that was about it. Spreadsheets, memos, data updates, et cetera, forget it. I kept trying to do stuff on various computer systems that seemed to be working, but that was an illusion and ultimately I gave up on it, to try again next Tuesday.

Fortunately due to this heat we didn't have to dress up, at least. Ties for the men may as well have really been nooses, but we were saved from that. Still, I couldn't keep from sweating as if my office were a New Orleans sauna bath in August; I was a walking flash flood.

I have no idea how the teachers managed; I'm sure the kids were thinking this was the school's punishment for starting so soon. It not only WAS still summer, it was the hottest day of the year. By Friday afternoon, they gave up on trying the teach anything. The kids were let outside to run around through the sprinklers and play on the waterslides that were still left from the summer's camps. I thought they should have let everybody into the pool (I volunteered to be one of the lifeguards), but I guess liabilities blah blah blah prevented that. See, this is what happened with only P.E. teachers taking the lifeguard training last week. I'm the only extra they've got to call on at times such as this. I know they had hoped that several other teachers would have wanted to do it, too, but I suppose if you are going to let the whole school into the pool, you'd have to have about 20 lifeguards (instead of 7), so ultimately I guess it didn't matter. Too bad.

I felt like it was a bad time for computers all the way around, because not only did none of the school's computers work, but I finally got a call from the computer repair shop where I had taken my Dell desktop nearly a month ago (meanwhile, I have been using my reliable iBook laptop). They told me they had given up on my computer. I had tried myself, and failed, to install a new 200 GB hard drive and upgrade my operating system from Windows 98 to XP. But there was nothing I could do to get it to work (it could never see the new harddrive, or even see the old harddrive with the new one in there, even with the addition of a highly upgraded ATA166 controller card, and XP would not load) and now the shop had that same trouble. They thought that perhaps the motherboard was damaged and figured a computer this old (7 or 8 years) wasn't worth the time and expense to keep working on it. I agreed.

They felt bad at keeping my computer so long and never solving my problem and told me they wouldn't charge me anything. In turn, I felt bad about not paying them anything, but told them they could keep the new Seagate 200 GB harddrive and the brand-new Windows XP software that I had bought; I had no use for them, now. I knew by then that I was going to buy a new desktop with at least 500 GB on its internal harddrive and that stupid new Seagate had left a bad taste in my mouth, and my computer certainly would NOT be a Windows machine, so I had no use for the XP software. Ultimately, all of it was going to be taken to the dump, anyway (to be more accurate, to the "Hazardous Waste Site" at the dump). The guy at the shop said he was happy to have the harddrive and the XP software.

I'm pretty sure what I am going to buy will be an iMac, but I think I ought to look at one of them in person, first. Also, I am tempted to get one with a 24-inch screen, but that seems HUGE to me, perhaps too huge (even their other model, the 20-inch, seems huge), so I want to see one of them first. Frankly, I'm not quite sure why one would want such a huge screen (the very first computer I ever had, a rented KayPro, had something like a 5" screen!), but for editing movies I can see it and maybe for having various document windows open, it would be like having two monitors side by side. We will just have to see.

But today it's too hot to go to the Apple store, so I will save that excursion for later.

Meanwhile, the fans are blowing on high and I'm contemplating a cool-off dip in the pool. At least for this holiday I didn't plan to go to Mexico. I understand that striking Mexican teachers (and by this I mean citizens of MEXICO, striking along the border IN Mexico) had planned to block all the tourist road entrances into Mexico. That's a wierd one, Mexican citizens working like "Minutemen" to keep AMERICANS from crossing the border INTO Mexico. I don't see how a move like this will help their cause at all, and in this heat, this just might be what finally sparks a pent-up race war between Americans and Mexicans. I'm awfully glad to be keeping well clear of it. Anyway, Mexico never lured me for this holiday. But the Yukon, I wish I had thought of that one before.