On The Crash …

Let’s start this off by offering condolences to Dan Wheldon and the IndyCar family.

This morning, waking to the Today Show, I found myself dramatically underwhelmed at the interview about the IndyCar Las Vegas crash. But the resulting interview may have been symbolic for what the viewing (and non-viewing) public understand about car racing.

Matt Lauer’s interview style which cuts straight to the skeptical points was somewhat misplaced. The time was also so short I question the value of interviewing two people as Mario Andretti and another racer (it was 7am) were being asked about their thoughts on the crash. Lauer’s question–and style which is very effective when questioning the absurdity of Casey Anthony’s case or Tom Cruise–missed the mark, jumping straight to a conclusion that seemed to suggest banning oval races without questioning the science. In explanation why not, Andretti’s point seemed way too nuanced for the seven (or so) -minute segment.

And if there’s anyone to be believed it is he, perhaps the most accomplished American race car driver, having driven Nascar, F1 and IndyCar. His point offered the contrary: speeds have decreased in the time since his day, led to some degree by technical or physical restriction.

From my perspective, it’s just disappointing for this to have happened. Racing has always had its crashes and deaths. None more notabl than the movie out now about Ayrton Senna whose death formed a bridge between post-modern F1 and the series’ classic period (for my money). Safety standards have increased epically since then.

The advances have done little to assuage some of the problems posed by high-speed banked tracks. Was it 2005 when F1’s ordeal with Michelin’s tires came to a head when Ralf Schumacher crashed hard coming onto the front straight throwing into question the side-load data and effectively leading to a withdrawal of more than half the field.

I remember being asked whether I was disappointed that only two teams (four cars) ran the race. I wasn’t — I watch F1 with the hope that between my thirst for racing there is a buffer that keeps those guys safe, even at the expense of the sport.

By comparison, IndyCar is perhaps the wild west of a racing series in that it’s not Nascar which has a following, nor F1. It is recently finding its footing in a rebuilding of an American open-wheel racing market. And as this recent issue illustrates, sometimes it is done precariously so.

Paired for similarity IndyCar runs about at the speed of the slowest of F1 cars (the last track I’m aware that they both ran was Montreal).

While both can offer excitement in racing, one has to wonder about the safety improvements in light of the accident — I mean large fireballs — feels like an era passed by. It’s how the old Speed Racer cartoons rolled with large crashes and Hollywood billows of smoke. The question that comes to mind for me is what are the safety comparisons like?

For my purposes, I watched Nascar as a toddler and remember making gunning engine sounds as I ran around the house. Fast-forward to now Nascar and oval racing is irrelevant for me (and aren’t too many races?) IndyCar is, at least, a palatable option. I cut my teeth watching by going to, parenthetically Mario Andretti’s home: Nazareth for my first IndyCar race — my first and last oval with a race-fan buddy. That said, interest in ovals have waned for me: the relatively dim view of the track excitement, the high level of danger (especially with open-wheel racing), and as it seems to me (the questionable experience of some of the racers).

The last issue needs an example: I very nearly can’t watch the Indianapolis 500. One year I watched and there had to be a caution every fifteen laps. At the time, I questioned whther the lack of full “seat-time” in the unique series leads to some level of crash thwarting the action quite regularly. I don’t know that things have progressed in such a way as to transcend those issues. With that in mind, I’d really just like for Nascar to be the home of oval-racing.

Perhaps it’s the sheer danger as an attraction of race car driving that makes racing attractive as a sport. I can’t imagine any modern racer who hasn’t absorbed the notion of racing as immersed in danger terrifcally, as it was cast in the movie Grand Prix, with the job of being to transcend that danger and drive well and, of course, to win. Race fans know inevitably death is a part of the sport. The Las Vegas crash, though, left me feeling: “not like that” a seemingly solveable situation.

mac-moments …

With the passing of Steve Jobs, there’s no shortage of reminiscenes of Apple and its impact on design and, of course, the computer world.

I’m watching a show called “MacHEADS” (2010) — pre-empting my F1 watching — which covered the Apple story and aptly pointed out that in ’96, the company was on the verge of no longer existing. (Talk about a death-watch, ’96 was the last time the Orioles made the playoffs).

Jobs’ death has me personalizing the history of Apple as my own remembrances of him is in the wake of the ways Apple touched me.

1. My first remembrance of Apple is from college when all the PC labs were full and I had a paper due the next day.

After waiting some time, I just decided I had to use whatever computer to finish my paper and settled on the sparsely populated Mac Lab. Some hours later: a non-spectacular paper resulted (I got a “C”). Over the trauma of a large essay written overnight, I found how easy it was to edit and change fonts on the word processor. Back then, changing fonts was huge — even nearly a decade after Apple’s landmark commercial.

2. Fierce loyalty to Macs then came with the territory. Studies at the time compared the architecture of design programs on computers and showed how much more efficient they were on Macs over PCs.

I remember the last days of college and being at the end of the (free) “escalator” of access to programs and computers and thinking how great Macs were for designing anything. There was so much more out there, but for me it was a start.

When I got a job, networking in those days was an afterthought after having worked in the techology deficient government. (I used to enter payroll on a computer that looked like that one on Lost and you didn’t know if you made a mistake until two weeks later when you saw the aggregate report).

In the design office though, there was the powerful computer, the design programs and the printer (office and final project printing): all else was extra. I remember only checking e-mail three times a day (once in the morning, after lunch and on the way home — boy that’s changed). Often, the nightmare came in when I needed to interface with PCs.

From those experiences, most Mac Users I knew had nearly as much — if not more — experience working/fixing their computers/setting up networks/dealing with setbacks as the tech companies that set up the networks. (One thing I never agreed with was calling the help desks ‘Genius Bars’.)

3. Jobs’ reemergence translated into pushing the Mac into the hands of Hollywood in big ways as I became stoked when Mac products were the computers used in movies and the like. It seems like ages ago now, but the early days of Sex & The City — and Carrie’s Powerbook was another example that helped translate the iconic nature of the Mac (the scene I saw immediately validated the design update of flipping the logo to appear right-side-up for the viewer).

4. The opening of the store: time was when the push to open Apple Stores was a big gamble.

Witnessing first-time users, Apple products were big on the uptake when people viewed them — and had the chance to see them at work. For someone like me, it had always been a modern museum and a vision of what my office should look like.

5. The iPod. The iPod — even the early ones were amazing pieces of hardware which led the process of chipping away at what the experience of music buying and listening has become. Equally important was iTunes in my view. Creating a Mac and PC environment to develop workflow for the music market was critical to the success of the iPod.

I personally remember betting against the cost of an iPod and getting a Nike/Philips mp3 player. In the end, I was wrong: the software and the flash storage of the iPod reigned supreme back when a 10gb click-wheel iPod was something to have. The mp3 player software just wasn’t as good. Also, Apple also developed a strategy to cut through the piracy of mp3s where there was no structure up until then.

6. For years, my desktop computer was a G4 Cube. Great computer. Great form factor.

7. Somewhere in here has to be noted the failure of Microsoft Windows to take advantage of its size advantage in the mid 90s coupled with the gaffes and problems with its operating systems. Mac proved over and over people could have more computer as long as the penalty of translating their work from a PC-world wasn’t too steep (email, MS Office, internet, etc.)

8. The iPhone and iPad. Both of these devices are enough by themselves to be great accomplishments, though I don’t own either. I always had a love-hate relationship with Mac products so that I never wanted to be the early adopter (I have a thing against expensive phones and being an early-adopter who gets caught out there in technological no-man’s land.)

I just heard a 1996 Jobs interview on Fresh Air where he talked about the post-PC world that takes full advantage of an internet connected world. The “think different” mantra of Apple, coupled with some high-end failures opened the conditions that led to well-curated products that also successfully cultivated content as well (iTunes/appStore popularity).

Well, I considered lining up my Macs for a portrait to send in to the New York Times as they were requesting today, but this portrait is more satisfying in that not all my Mac products are still around (sold The Cube on eBay/threw out the Powerbook).

“The Ceramic Duck”

People who’d say they knew me and others who think they did alike know that I use a ton of analogies and a large subset of those are sports analogies.

Here’s one that’s a reference to the old school Wheel of Fortune (way back) when you had to spend all the money on the gifts — sometimes nice, sometimes lame: The ceramic duck: refers to the gift where no matter how bad you had no other choice.