Umberto Eco on the Mac

When I got my first Mac, four years ago, one of my professors sent me this text by Umberto Eco:

The fact is that the world is divided between users of the Macintosh computer and users of MS-DOS compatible computers. I am firmly of the opinion that the Macintosh is Catholic and that DOS is Protestant. Indeed, the Macintosh is counter-reformist and has been influenced by the ratio studiorum of the Jesuits. It is cheerful, friendly, conciliatory; it tells the faithful how they must proceed step by step to reach — if not the kingdom of Heaven — the moment in which their document is printed. It is catechistic: The essence of revelation is dealt with via simple formulae and sumptuous icons. Everyone has a right to salvation.

DOS is Protestant, or even Calvinistic. It allows free interpretation of scripture, demands difficult personal decisions, imposes a subtle hermeneutics upon the user, and takes for granted the idea that not all can achieve salvation. To make the system work you need to interpret the program yourself: Far away from the baroque community of revelers, the user is closed within the loneliness of his own inner torment.

You may object that, with the passage to Windows, the DOS universe has come to resemble more closely the counter-reformist tolerance of the Macintosh. It’s true: Windows represents an Anglican-style schism, big ceremonies in the cathedral, but there is always the possibility of a return to DOS to change things in accordance with bizarre decisions: When it comes down to it, you can decide to ordain women and gays if you want to.

Naturally, the Catholicism and Protestantism of the two systems have nothing to do with the cultural and religious positions of their users. One may wonder whether, as time goes by, the use of one system rather than another leads to profound inner changes. Can you use DOS and be a Vande supporter? And more: Would Celine have written using Word, WordPerfect, or Wordstar? Would Descartes have programmed in Pascal?

And machine code, which lies beneath and decides the destiny of both systems (or environments, if you prefer)? Ah, that belongs to the Old Testament, and is talmudic and cabalistic.

The Visitor

We watched The Visitor tonight. The story of an Economics professor, stuck in an emotional limbo who gets involved in the lives of two illegal immigrants in NY is captivating, powerful in its simplicity, and leave you feeling like you should run and join an immigrants’ rights NGO or something. It’s not surprising it won many awards and scored 92% at the tomatometer. In Toronto, you can still catch it at the Carlton. Don’t miss it.

The Gimli Glider

One of perks of being married to an airplane freak who has worked 37 years in the airline industry is that I have learned not only how to differentiate between a Boeing 747 and an Airbus A340 in flight but I have accumulated an array of airline stories over the years. One of my favourites is that of the Gimli Glider, the Air Canada 767 that ran out of fuel on its way to Edmonton and lost both engines at 30,000 feet. Luckily for all those on bord, the pilot used to be a glider and the co-pilot happened to remember of an abandoned landing strip nearby. Against all odds, the pilot glided the Boeing 767 and landed it safely. None of the people on board were injured and the plane was back in business two days later. It became known in the industry as the “Gimli Glider” after the town where it landed, Gimli, Manitoba. It continued to fly until Air Canada retired it from its fleet a few months ago. Since this week marks 25 years of this famous incident, I’ll leave you with a really cool simulated reconstruction of the event:

Upgrading the OS

As many of you know, we are a Mac family. In addition, Alan and I are both computer geeks and like to have the latest version of any software we use, let alone the operating system. Of course we bought Leopard, Apple’s much-touted new upgrade to OS X, as soon as it came out some months ago. We installed it right away in our iMac and have been enjoying it there ever since. But although we bought a family license for Leopard, we didn’t install it right away on our laptops. One of the reasons is that our laptops (a 12″ and a 15″ Powerbook) both have PowerPCs chips and there was some question at first as to how well would the new operating system – optimized as it is to work well with the new Inter chip in our iMac and the latest Macs – would work on older machines. Since I rely so much on my laptop for all my academic work, I didn’t want to risk it at first. And I also had to wait until all of the software I use would catch up to Leopard.

The time has finally come. Leopard is now on version 5 4 it seems and most of its initial bugs seem to have been exterminated. So this afternoon I finally cleaned up my hard drive (deleted junk, cleaned my trash, removed software I didn’t need), made a full back up to an external firewire drive. I’m now half-way towards making a clean install of Leopard on my trusty 12″ Powerbook. The next step will be to migrate all my files and applications from the external drive. I know things should work fine, I’ve done major OS upgrades before, but I still feel like a parent whose child is having a heart transplant…

PS: did I tell you I might be converting my brother into getting his first Mac? I promised him he would not regret the jump.

Update: Yay! It’s done! Hooray to Apple for creating an operating system that allows you to do a clean install – i.e. formatting the hard drive and installing the operating system from scratch – and then allowing you to migrate everything you had in your old machine without having to re-install a single software. Even the internet settings, desktop picture, preferences, everything migrates seemlessly. That’s why there’s no going back for me.

“Stay hungry, stay foolish”

Flá pointed me out to this speech by Steve Jobs, encouraging Stanford’s commencement class of 2005 to follow their dreams and not anybody else’s. I strongly believe in that and often tell it to my students, who are often lost and confused looking for the “right” career in which to succeed. I always tell them that you can’t succeed if you don’t have your heart in what you do. As Jobs says in the video below,   “your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.(…) Have the courage to follow your own heart and intuition.” Somehow things will workout if you do.