Steve Jobs is not that insanely great

I’m only talking about Steve Jobs in an effort to get you to stop talking about Steve Jobs. Jobs Jobs Jobs. Steve Steve Steve.

I think teenagers today have somehow joined a dangerous cult, and I am here to warn you of it in curmedgeonly old-timer fashion. It is the cult of Steve Jobs, and the cult is ubiquitous.

Here’s how I know: over the last six months or so, I’ve spent part of my time tutoring high school students, including in preparation for the SAT. The new SAT has (for at least another year) a session which involves writing an essay in 25 minutes on a given prompt. Example prompts can be seen here, and involve open-ended questions like the importance of heroes and role models, the role of chance in life, and so on.

One problem with my students’ essays is that they often have a tendency to not support their arguments. For instance they would claim that some occurrence would certainly cause you (the reader) to feel some way, but not back that up. Thus, I have been stressing the idea of including concrete examples in the essays. But 25 minutes and no materials doesn’t give you much of an opportunity to find evidence or develop interesting examples, so a lot of these examples tend to be the lives of famous people. And it is here that I have encountered more than my share of Steve Jobs.

The sheer prevalence of Steve Jobs is unnerving. Imagine that scene in “Being John Malkovich” where John Malkovich goes into John Malkovich’s head and you start to have some idea of how Jobs-ian the discourse really is. Here is the proportion of students I have tutored that have used Steve Jobs as an example in an essay: 100%. Most students have used him several times. Here is the list of all other people used as examples: Albert Einstein once, Helen Keller once, George Washington once, Maurice Duplessis (!) once.

That is, Steve Jobs is on the mind of my high school students more than all other people put together. Say what you will about Steve Jobs, he is not by far the greatest or most important person of all time. But apparently that’s what teenagers believe.

Of course, I don’t have a representative sample. For one, my students all have parents status-conscious enough to want their Canadian kids to take the SAT in order to get into a US school. And rich enough to afford a private or semi-private SAT tutor. But the sheer breadth of Jobs-ness cuts through these caveats. Steve Jobs comes up regardless of gender, ethnicity, or grade level.

You’ll not be surprised to hear that Steve Jobs is cited positively in every single mention. The lessons that Jobs is recruited to illustrate are themselves not necessarily bad: passion in work is more important than money. Perseverance can help overcome adversity. There is value to a life lived for the sake of art. Role models are important. But if your primary example of not caring about money is Steve Jobs, that’s at least strange. And if your primary example of overcoming adversity is Steve Jobs, that’s pretty short-sighted. If your primary example of living life for art is Steve Jobs, you are missing out. And if your primary role model is Steve Jobs, you should find a better role model.

I once went dressed up as Steve Jobs for Halloween. My motivation was simple: I am a balding, scruffy-faced white dude who owns glasses, a turtleneck, a blazer and Apple paraphenalia. (Also my friend looks somewhat like Bill Gates and I was (unsuccessfully) trying to recruit him to go as Gates). So I’m not immune to referencing Steve Jobs unnecessarily. But at this point, I kind of think we don’t need to be any further saturated with Steve Jobs.

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Melissa Dahl of New York Magazine points to a Park et al. study where they looked for correlations between facebook users’ predicted personality traits (based on a variety of information) and the words they use in their statuses. I uhh… kind of think the researchers probably predicted agreeableness a little too well. This word cloud is definitely the funniest thing I have seen today.

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Bure-ing the Lede II

A few seasons back, I tried to perform a valuable service by making style headlines for the entire Canucks roster. It’s time to admit I didn’t do a good job of copying the NHL style. Their headlines don’t actually try. Also, they use a lot of apostrophes.

In my first attempt at a full list, I was going for “so bad it’s good”, (I’m still proud of Dom Dale Weise and We Are Not Hamhuised) but usually doesn’t go for “so bad it’s good”. Their aesthetic is more “so “so bad that it’s actually beyond the point where it’s good and it’s bad again” that it’s good”. For instance, for Hansen’s recent hat trick, the headline read “All Hans’ on Deck”. My desire to partake reinvigorated by that awful, awful headline, I have done a run through of the current roster, more in the style, and pertaining to actual current Canuck events.

2 ‘Huis-ton we have a problem: Canucks defenceman out with groin injury
3 ‘Eksa-llent: Defenceman seems to have shaken early-season struggles
5 Busy Sbi: With Hamhuis out of the lineup, the Italian-born defenceman has seen his role increase
6 Web’ of mystery: Why do the Canucks keep playing Weber?
7 Two-Vey forward: Linden Vey scores pair vs. Red Wings
8 Now or ‘nev-er: Tanev desperately needs contract to be extended
9 Open and shut Kass: Injuries derail Zack Kassian
13 El ’Nino: Canucks second line centre heating up
14 ‘Rrows coloured glasses: suddenly things seem more optimistic for Alex Burrows than last year
15 Wayward ‘dson: Richardson’s possession numbers not strong
17 Ready for Vrbat’-tle: Radim Vrbata is contributing to his new team
18 Taking the Stant’: Canucks opt to put defenceman in the lineup despite his frequent gaffes
20 Higg’-in’ a hole: Forward’s declaration that US thanksgiving is the “real one” draws dissatisfaction
22 ‘Din’s list: Daniel notches two against the Capitals
23 ‘Ler-ning curve: Alex Edler appears to have overcome whatever happened to him last season
27 Matth’ Lab: Shawn Matthias is a penalty killing master
29 Put me to the Sest’: Sestito itching to play
30 Mill’-stone: Netminder stones in spectacular save. (Alternatively: netminder’s contract big problem for salary cap. Alternatively alternatively: Canucks’ strong possession play undermined by Miller’s low save percentage)
31 Back in Lack: Eddie gets start vs. Penguins
33 When all is Sed’-in done: Henrik should go to the Hall of Fame
36 Jannik attack: Hansen nets hat trick, then says he’s had enough, stops getting breakaways.
51 Ringing En-‘Dorse-ment: Dorsett’s shot off the post and in.
53 He’s all ’vat: Everyone in Vancouver is a fan of Bo Horvat.

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Canada Ebola Panic Blues

The Hon. Chris Alexander, immigration minister, who you shouldn’t vote for.

Although I am in general not a fan of the current government, I am still very surprised and highly disappointed in the Government of Canada’s ridiculous decision to stop issuing any visas to residents of, and travellers to, the countries affected by the ebola outbreak. Ebola is a dangerous, scary virus that is very likely to kill you should you contract it, so I can understand why you wouldn’t want it in your country. But ebola can’t be spread except by contact with bodily fluids of people who show symptoms. And the amount of people coming to Canada from these countries is small enough that they can be checked. In case you’re in doubt: the decision made by the government doesn’t apply to Canadians who go, nor to people who do have visas already but haven’t used them yet. So the actual harm reduction achieved by this ban is zero. Worse than that, it’s below zero because a blanket ban is irresponsible: the reason it is strongly discouraged is not just economic – it poses a health risk because it can lead authorities to cover up outbreaks, and travellers to avoid official channels. So our government is doing something that increases problems associated with the ebola outbreak, going against the advice of scientists and public health professionals, and as a bonus, breaking its obligations under the International Health Regulations treaty. As Nick Cohen writes in the guardian, ignoring the advice of scientists for political grandstanding reasons is a problem that has huge negative effects far beyond ebola. There is no doubt that this is what’s happening. As the National Post points out, officials in the current Canadian government can’t even claim to be standing by a misguided principle, as they were involved in vigorously protesting and overturning the travel advisory to Toronto during the SARS outbreak (a disease where a travel advisory actually makes somewhat more sense because of the possibility of airborne spread, but still not really, since once again non-symptomatic carriers are not contagious). Vancouver East MP Libby Davies is quoted as saying:

“The World Health Organization and the World Bank have both spoken out sharply against international travel bans, so the experts we’re relying on to fight Ebola are saying this is not the right approach. The Conservative government seems more interested in public relations than in acting on recommendations from public health experts.”

That seems spot on to me. The Canadian system of government is set up so that the party in power can govern, and the opposition has very little power but lots of opportunity for bullshit political posturing by shadow ministers. There are advantages and disadvantages to this system, but how do we react when the dumb PR-based posturing is instead undertaken by the government, and replaces actual governance? I think that, even if you are generally a conservative person, stuff like this is indication that the current government doesn’t deserve your money, doesn’t deserve your support and doesn’t deserve your vote.




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Another try at translating some Marina Tsvetaeva, this time from the Insomnia cycle. #10, my favourite, seems pretty untranslateable. I have bad (yes, even more bad) translations of most of the other ones.

I like kissing
Hands, and I like
Giving names
And also throwing open
– Wide open – into darkest night.

Holding my head
To listen, as some heavy tread
As wind alights on
A sleepy, sleepless wood

O, night!
Somewhere the springs leap
I’m drowsing
Almost asleep
Out in the deep
Someone’s drowning

After a sleepless night the body grows feeble
Not under your – or anybody’s – control
In the slow sinews, a feeling of whining needles
And like an angel, you smile upon one and all

After a sleepless night the hands grow frailer
And deeply uncared-about are both friend and foe
Every happenstance sound is an entire rainbow
And you catch the aroma of Florence despite the snow

Lips grow tenderly lighter and round the sunken
Eyes, the shadows grow gold – it’s the night that lights
This brightest of faces – and as the night darkens
Only one thing grows darker in us – the eyes.

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Songbook of Weeks: Bike to work week

Since Bicycle Day isn’t actually about bicycles in any way, we might as well celebrate bike to work week (which is happening in Vancouver this week).

Queen – Bicycle Race
St. Vincent – Bicycle
Pink Floyd – Bike
mum – Slow Bicycle
Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Bicycle
Be your own pet – Bicycle, Bicycle
Vampire Weekend – Obvious Bicycle
Herman van Veen – Fiets

Anything you wanna add?

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I wanna be non-doored

As recently mentioned, getting doored by a car sucks a lot, and my theory is that fear of dooring probably makes people bike in a less safe manner overall. But there is an easy cure for dooring: get drivers to open doors with the far hand (that is the right hand in right-side driving countries). That way, as a driver you sort of can’t help but look outside as you’re opening the door, and as a result, you’re gonna avoid dooring people.

But how do you compel drivers to do that? We want right-handed opening to be completely automatic, like shoulder-checking during right turns or putting on a signal to switch lanes. Making dooring punishable by a $100 fine is not an effective method, because most of the time you open doors the wrong way you don’t actually hit anybody and it doesn’t become automatic to check for cyclists.

Here is what I think should be done: make it illegal to open doors with the wrong hand when you’re parallel parked. For one thing, if you do it on your driving test, that should be a big demerit. For another, if a cop catches you doing it, it should be a fine.

Yes, I feel uncomfortable proposing making something else illegal. One worry is that this will create another law that everyone is breaking all the time, which is a recipe for sporadic targeted enforcement and basically petty tyranny by the police. But I think this is somewhat less ripe for abuse than other laws because drivers open their doors for such a small portion of the time that they’re behind the wheel. If you want to catch somebody, they’re much more likely to be breaking the law in some way that’s already punishable than by opening the door wrong. That gives me hope that this is something that can be enforced in a mostly legitimate and not overbearing manner.

So I say it’s worth a shot. Introduce a fine for left-handed door opening. Let’s do this, New Mexico. The other way to promote correct door opening technique is to be somewhat obnoxious to your friends and family when they open their car doors wrong. Let’s do that as well.

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