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February Done Right

I will go to great lengths to ward off the February blahs. In years past, I have decorated my home with tropical flourishes, distracted myself with games and group trips, tried to embrace winter with snowmobiling and “Doctor Zhivago” weekends. I have done all I can think to do, and February still comes… and stays.

My pain is prolonged this year, as it is a Leap Election Year. This is when we make up for time unaccounted for in the solar calendar, and make it seem longer still by adding the torturous political primary season. It’s an extra day to campaign; I know the politicians will never give that up. They are too busy twisting truth. But perhaps we don’t need the politicians to help us Keep February Short (™).

Photo by Lindsay Crandall

That’s right. I’m doing it. My New Year’s resolution: instigate calendar reform. Before you poo-poo this idea, remember that people have adjusted time throughout time. The Gregorian calendar lopped off 13 days when it was signed into effect in, of all months, February. My proposal is not nearly so dramatic, although I know any change is difficult. According to L.E. Doggett, reprinted on this website, “In most societies a calendar reform is an extraordinary event. Adoption of a calendar depends on the forcefulness with which it is introduced and on the willingness of society to accept it.”

The church is more fractured today than it was in 1582, so I’m not looking for another papal bull. I’m not going to any United States government entity either — remember, it is an election year. No initiative of real social value will get done.

I could take it to social media with a Facebook page or a Twitter campaign. The idea would gain likes and re-tweets galore, but what does that accomplish? I need to take this to the top.

Who is forceful enough to make this happen, with followers who are willing to accept change — yea, demand it? Who could do the “extraordinary”, do in a moment what Pope Gregory’s decree did in centuries? Who needs new frontiers to cross, with new leadership and something to prove? That’s right, Apple, I’m looking at you. Help me better the world — you’re so good at it.

Please move the intercalated Leap Year Day to June 31st.

Note how humble a request this is. I am not proposing a wholesale dismantling of the Inter gravissimas. I’m not calling for the annihilation of dreaded February, although I could make a case for its destruction. I am a moderate. I understand that there is a subculture who enjoy the grey days of winter. Some ski, I suppose, or hole up and listen to Morrissey. They revel in the cold and bleak. Despite our differences, I accept both the goggle-wearing and the pasty-faced. This proposal honors them in all their winter glory.

Some may say that our Founding Fathers would be opposed to such a shift. I say, prove it. Show me a declaration of our official calendar in the Constitution. It’s not there. This omission suggests to me that they were open to other calendar ideas, willing to allow future generations the freedom to one day modify time to suit our own needs. The time, I believe, has come.

Think of it. An extra day of summer. Let it roll off your tongue. June 31st. It sounds natural, doesn’t it?

The benefits are obvious.

Benefit One: It keeps the tyranny of February to a minimum.

Benefit Two: More available days in June=more June brides. Brides spend money. The economy improves.

Benefit Three: More summer tourists in my home state of Michigan. Everyone’s rooting for us. This is a perfect way to show support.

Benefit Four: Reduced carbon footprint & energy consumption. One less day of February means one less day of cold weather. Less cold weather means less energy used to heat buildings.

I see the complaints coming. Someone will cry, “It messes with our timepieces, the ones with the little month and date tickers.” To this, I point out that you must be arguing hypothetically, as no one actually uses those watches anymore except rich fat-cats. I say, let them enjoy their timeless monocles and spats. It’s time to help the 99%.

Some will say, what of those born on February 29th? You can’t just skip their birthdays, can you? To this I say, no we cannot. All February 29th birthdays shall be moved to June 31st. And what of those few who prefer a winter celebration? They can easily change their birthday through iBorn, available for $2.99 at the App Store (for month and date birth changes only; year changes is still in beta).

Some may say that changing the day doesn’t change the weather. But the math doesn’t lie. The average temperature in February in New York City, for example, is 33.5° F. The average temperature for that same region in June? 72° F. That’s a difference of 38.5, and that is going to add up over the next 500 years, when another calendar adjustment will be due. Some so-called experts will refute this, and to them I say I have skimmed both the aforementioned article as well as Wikipedia. Let Apple decide who is right.

Some may insinuate a corporate influence is behind this proposed change. Let me assure you that I am not in the pocket of Big Gelato. Others may intimate that Apple is the wrong company to handle this, given their calendar problems in the past. I say, thanks for bringing that up. Let’s look at the past. Apple is profitable; their society is loyal; their past mistakes and subsequent triumphs uniquely position them to conquer time.

Despite these answers, I know voices of dissent will linger, claiming we should gather a committee, think this through, listen to other voices. Maybe we should consider extending September, April, or November instead of June. To all this democratic talk, I say, sure, that ’s one way to do it. An old-fashioned way, a slow way. But what about the older-old-fashioned way? I called it first, people.

So what do you say, Apple? June 31st. All you have to do is program it into our iPhones. Make it so.

 

Author’s voluntary disclosure: Contributions to this article also made by Jennifer Beltramo and Ty Beltramo. Reports of their ties to Apple, and Big Gelato, have been grossly exaggerated.

 

Ten Things I Learned at the App Store

Confession time: I am a Mac user who owns a total of zero touch devices.

We have no iPhone in the house. Our fanciest iPod is a Nano without a video camera. We marvel at the magical iPad from afar.

Due to this lack of modern technology, I have been missing out on the App Store. I know this because of my chums with touch screen Apple devices. I should start slipping them calcium. I fear they will develop hunchbacks from hovering over their screens wherever they go.

It’s tough to see the value of the app while staring at their scalps, so when Apple announced the opening of their App Store for Mac, I was excited: my first personal exposure to this wonderful world of Angry Birds and Urban Spoon. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

1. I can delude myself into believing I have more self-control now than when I was twenty. More confessions: I once had a gaming addiction. I would share the number of hours I’ve blown on Atari 2600, Sega Genesis, and the PC versions of Hearts and Solitaire, but by rule I only do one story problem a month (see point 3), plus I’ve spent way too much on hair color to date myself in such an obvious fashion. I’m pleased to report that even after downloading Action Potato and Pangea Arcade, I’m not spending a lot of time gaming on the computer. This allows me to continue hollering at my video-game loving children, without hypocrisy, while I’m on Facebook or Twitter.

2. Computer geeks like a good soap opera as much as girls. I decided to ask my friend Ty, an app developer, to be my Glinda, sans singing and dress, in the Land of Apps. As a part of my tour, he recounted the saga of Jobs and Gates, their split, the exit of Jobs from Apple, the return of Jobs, and the Google factor (and this was before the shake ups at both Apple and Google in mid-January 2011). Tremendous story. Recommended improvements? Cast Susan Lucci as the many faces of Android and supply chocolates.

3. Apple wants to own my consumer soul, part one. Shortly after I started toying with the App Store, I noticed an odometer-looking counter at apple.com. It was tracking the number of apps downloaded through iTunes, and if my math is correct, will turn over the ten billion mark within hours of my submission of this article. I felt like it was aimed squarely at me. C’mon, it was saying, everyone’s doing it. Tick-tock. Don’t you want a chance to win $10,000 in iTunes credit? What’s the harm in one little app? Don’t you want to be as awesome as the rest of the known world?  You at least want to see it roll over, don’t you? It was like a drug dealer inside my computer.

4. Apple wants to own my consumer soul, part two. I just said no to the ten billionth iTunes app slot machine/app-ometer, but they’ve got other ways of making you shop. The App Store shows me how badly I need to be unilaterally aligned with them. By teasing me with apps for my computer that are also available for the touch screen devices, I can see how much cooler it would be if only I could, say,  take my notes with me (yeah, Ty-Glinda the App Developer showed me Evernote), add to them, and sync it all up, nice and pretty.

5. An app by any other name is software. Such a satisfying little word, app, but an app is really just a software application, a focused sort of computer program. Thus the App Store is a virtual marketplace with a really great name. I would say “merely” a great name, but I can’t discount the value of the phrase “App Store”: Microsoft is suing over it.

6. Nostalgia can lessen your appreciation of the new. Fireworms, a part of Pangea Arcade, is a fun game to play, reminiscent of Centipede. It stirred a sense of longing for the past in me. You might be thinking, ah, she probably misses her teenage years and all that is contained therein: youth, vitality, innocence. You would be wrong. I miss the arcade rollerball. If you do not know what a rollerball is, just imagine your touchpad with a pop-up ball in a socket that you could control with your fingertips or palm, and in moments of extreme gaming frenzies, whip your hand across it and make it spin really, really fast.

6a. You were right after all. Discussing this made me also miss the game Tempest. Thinking about how few readers will remember Tempest makes me feel old. Now I’m longing for my youth, etc.

7. Programming a yelling robotto keep you on task may be as distracting as not having a yelling robot at all.

8. Selling software through the virtual store means less overhead. Aperture version 3.1.1, Apple’s step-up photography software, sells for $79.99 through the App Store. Aperture 3, sold in stores, is $199.99. This seems like good news for consumers, or at least those owned by Apple.

9. Despite the distraction of programming a yelling robot, it is fun to name him Steve.

10. When entering a high score, I call myself ACE, even though I’m the only one playing the game.

Upgrade Me:
Are We Getting Better, Or Just Newer?

A confession: a couple of Wednesdays ago, I brought my laptop to work with me for one purpose – to download the latest iPhone update. Apple issued an upgrade to its iPhone software that day, which added such long-awaited features as Copy, Cut and Paste, Spotlight search, multimedia messaging, and a plethora of other add-ons to the already excellent operating system.

(Yes, this is going to be a nerdy article.)

The iPhone 3.0 software got me thinking about the way we twenty-first century dwellers have become obsessed with the concept of upgrading. Think about it: the upgrade, though always associated with the computer, was a phenomenon that was once only available every few years or so. I remember very clearly the excitement my dad felt at the introduction of Windows 95 or the dawn of the Pentium chip. But both of these upgrades required a purchase: a new piece of software, or new hardware.

But today, the upgrade isn’t necessarily something we do as much as something that happens to us. Open up your web browser (assuming, and hoping, it’s Firefox), and every so often you will get a message that a new version is ready for download. Sometimes this new version carries with it features that will change the way you work, like tabbed browsing, and other times it simply has security patches that you didn’t know you needed.

Or, for instance, if somehow you didn’t know the iPhone was going to be upgraded on June 17, you may have plugged in on Wednesday to drop some new music on your handset and found a new version of the software, with a plethora of new features waiting for you, and for the low price of just fifteen minutes of waiting.

But constant updating is seen in a much more common place, as well. Think about any of the websites you visit on a regular basis. You likely check sites weekly or daily because the content will be fresh. The site will be updated. As a web developer, I am drawn to the ease of updating this medium. I know that if I make a mistake, or if the information I’ve transmitted becomes out of date, I can simply make a change, upload it, and refresh, and I will have fixed the problem.

I think upgrading is great. I upgrade as often as possible: phone software, websites, computer hardware, anything. But I’m very much aware that something important is lost in all of this frenzied upgrading – namely, permanence.

For instance: consider that website you visit frequently. Imagine that the design has changed, but you really liked the way it looked before. Too bad – it’s gone now. This certainly has been evident in the many new iterations of Facebook that have been released in the last few years. Every time that social networking site updates their look or the way certain features work, a group (the existence of which was, of course, an added feature to their previous platform) is created decrying the new look and feel.

We, as humans, long for change, for the chance to better ourselves and our surroundings and yet, almost as vehemently, we mourn the loss of what we had. Take for example, the graphic designer who decided to print out 437 “featured” Wikipedia articles, producing a book 5,000 pages long and 19 inches thick, to “make a comment on how everyone goes to the internet these days for information, yet it is very unreliable compared to what it has replaced.” No one, not even this “artist,” is even sure what is being replaced, but we’re sure we’ll miss it – that is, if we take the time to think about it long enough.

But do we pause to miss those lost things, or do we press on, ever eager to keep up with the next best thing? It seems that since the beginning of the modern era the pattern has been such that younger generations rush forward, making leaps and bounds that improve the human condition in the face of great concern from the older generations that hold to tradition as supreme. And then, eventually, that once-younger generation, in the face of the improvements of their progeny, hold fast to their once new and now old ways, decrying the infringement on tradition by the younger generation.

But this may not be the case any longer. I mentioned that my father eagerly anticipated the release of the newest version of Windows back in 1995. In truth, he was eager to see Windows 3.0 before that and XP years later. And I was right there with him. My dad got an iPhone before I did, and when he could no longer wait for the next iteration of the phone’s software, he jailbroke it so he could upgrade as often as he cared to. I’ve always been a step behind my father on the technological curve, so clearly I cannot remember him ever decrying the way things used to be. Who cares about tradition when there are new features to be had?

I’m not sure how we are supposed to feel about this. Should we celebrate our ability to update ourselves, now that even our elders enjoy the benefits of perpetual upgrade? Or have we lost something? Was there something about tradition, about permanence, that we will miss when it is gone, swept aside to make room for whatever’s next? Or, is this silly to worry about? Have we built into our upgrades legacy versions, ways to document and even eternalize the past?

I’m torn. As I sit writing this, I’m surrounded by shelves overflowing with books and more books in piles on every visible surface. I love books. But at the same time, I’m listening to music that is playing through my computer. The shelves of compact discs, which replaced my parents’ shelves of vinyl records, are no more. They have been digitized, saved, and transferred, and they live on this computer and three backup hard drives. They will come with me into the future, but they no longer physically exist.

I don’t own a Kindle. I’m not ready to convert my bookshelves into gigabytes – but why not? A practical consideration, maybe. Perhaps I really feel like e-book technology hasn’t quite arrived. But most likely, in the not too distant future, I will wonder what took me so long to succumb to the inevitable.

Not long ago I downloaded the Kindle application for my iPhone. Since its initial release it has been upgraded to make for a more pleasant reading experience. It’s still not a book. I’m still not a convinced. But a few more updates, and who knows?