Broken Into

Our apartment was broken into last weekend. We arrived home from a weekend away to find our door forced open. Pushing it open, the first thing I noticed were the pieces of the lock on the floor, followed by the wires trailing from our TV stand, to which our Blu-ray DVD player had once been attached.

There is a complicated flood of emotions that arises in this moment. The first was blind fear: was the cat all right? (She was.) There is helplessness, a kind of grief, and in my case at least, a deep, sour rage. I couldn’t keep still, pacing relentlessly back and forth waiting for the police to arrive, and after them, the evidence technician. I prowled our rooms again and again, spotting what was missing, trying to notice everything that had changed. The DVD player was definitely gone. My wife’s laptop bag was rifled, the computer missing. The jewelry dish on the dresser was empty; what was in it again? Her sapphire engagement ring. Maybe her antique watch. Was that bag sitting on the bed when we left? Did I leave that drawer open? “What about your camera?” my wife asked. Checked the windowsill in the office where the camera bag was. Gone.

The initial shock wore off, after a night or two. Our broken door was replaced and fortified with a piercing battery-powered alarm. I called my insurance company and put the wheels in motion to have our stuff replaced, inasmuch as it can be. (If you rent and don’t have insurance, stop reading this and call your agent now.) What remains is the sense of violation — I try not to imagine the burglar actually walking through our apartment, sizing up our possessions for their pawn value, perhaps glancing at the cat regarding him quizzically from her carpeted perch — and the knowledge that we are not safe, at least not from anyone determined to do whatever necessary to steal from us and invade our lives. The worst injustice is not that our stuff was taken; it’s that someone can rob you of your sense of control over your own life, and that they can do it so easily and with so few consequences.

I suppose there is a chance that some of our items will be recovered. The police have told us, that our best bet for finding our things is to check the pawn shops ourselves, on the principle that we are best suited to recognize our possessions when we see them — and a tacit admission that, absent a really lucky break, there’s not much they can do. I am not holding out hope. The things are gone. We’ll get new ones. The sense of security and control is another matter. I’ve been burglarized once before, and I can attest that you do get over it; at any rate, you forget to be afraid. You could argue that we shouldn’t, that illusions of security are ultimately dangerous. But we all know that’s bunk. Living in fear is no life at all, and it’s easy to forget in a time like this that most people actually are decent. I think that setting my alarm when I leave the apartment is a sensible precaution. And I hope I won’t lapse back into the lassitude that had me believing that locking my door was my only responsibility in maintaining my safety. I won’t live in fear, but I really ought not to live in ignorance either.

Karaoke: Live in Fear

A peculiar thing happens when you set up a karaoke machine at a party. At first, no one wants to approach it. Everyone, whether they have any interest in singing or not, is waiting for the first person to walk up there, pick up the microphone and start singing. No one wants to be that person — and certainly no one wants to be mistaken for that person. If the karaoke machine happens to be set up next to the liquor, then the shy partygoers are forced to either walk over to it with exaggerated nonchalance or simply refrain from getting another drink until someone begins singing. (Or worse, ask someone else to get a drink for them.) Observing this in action at a party this weekend, I began to speculate on how karaoke machines could be used to exploit natural social anxieties. I envision a safe disguised to look like a karaoke machine: those who weren’t frightened by it would likely be too repulsed to go near it. Karaoke machines could be used to hide stains or damage you wouldn’t want people to notice, or to dissuade guests from raiding your refrigerator. I would even guess that a karaoke machine in the bathroom would, if not scare people away completely, would at least instill a vague disquiet. Why is this here? they would wonder, eyeing the machine nervously as they wiped. Are we going to be singing karaoke later? They’d be so freaked out they’d completely forget to snoop in your medicine cabinet.

As for the experience of singing or watching karaoke, I realized this: karaoke is like jet-skiing, in that it is an enjoyable pastime for those actually doing it and a grating annoyance for everyone else. I have jet-skied and thought it was a blast. Yet watching jet-skiers roar across the placid surface of a lake, frightening wildlife and disturbing everyone’s peace, makes me angrily denounce the steady decline of civilization itself.

I have never sang karaoke. It’s bad enough I like jet-skiing.

My Day, Had I Been a Character in a Kung-Fu Movie

9:03

Arrived at office. Changed shoes, stopped at coffee machine and chatted with copywriter about her sons, one of whom is returning to live with her.

9:07

Entered office of Ran Bao-tu, Senior Creative Director and kung-fu master of unmatched skill, nobility and judgment, for morning conference only to find room in shambles and Master Ran lying sprawled on floor, severely beaten and on the brink of death. Cradled master’s head on my knees, imploring: “Who did this?”. Marshaling last ounce of strength, master weakly named Bai Tiao-man, leader of rival kung fu school Cobra Whisper, as his assailant. Master then croaked final breath, dying.

9:08

Swore revenge in the name of my ancestors on Cobra Whisper and its contemptible, craven master, Bai Tiao-man.

9:09

Began catching up on email.

9:19

Sent Outlook meeting request challenging Bai Tiao-man to combat to the death at 5:00 pm. Request was promptly accepted.

9:30

Met with members of Media, Production and PR teams to coordinate efforts on new brand rollout scheduled for next month. Received numerous condolences and expressions of sympathy on death of Master Ran.

10:18

On way to water fountain, chanced upon my counterpart in Marketing at Cobra Whisper, who disgraced Master Ran’s good name with vile falsehoods and insults. Confrontation quickly escalated into combat. Fight ranged throughout Accounting and Human Resources, ending in front of vice president’s office, where I finally bested my opponent with rapid combination of Crane Plucks Eggs from Nest and Swift Tiger Pounce.

10:22

Stood out in lobby alone, silently mourning Master Ran, a single stoic tear streaming down cheek.

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Mac OS X: The Lion in Winter

First of all, mea culpa: I was completely wrong about Apple’s pricing strategy for Mac OS X 10.7. That doesn’t bother me — it doesn’t even surprise me that much. I don’t believe Steve Jobs and company are incapable of error, but I do believe they know much more about running their business than I ever will.

But the fact that OS X 10.7 is being released to the public for the measly price of $29.99 (side note: what’s with the double-decimal pricing?) is a huge deal, and not merely because it will likely be the most successful — that is, the most immediately widespread — OS release Apple has ever had. It symbolically closes an era that began 16 years ago with Windows 95: the era of the retail software event. Back then, the country went crazy for Windows 95 in a way that hasn’t been seen since, well, the iPhone came out. People lined up for it, bought it in droves, gossiped and kibitzed and complained about it. A lot of people liked it, a lot didn’t (at least at first), but everybody had an opinion. Windows 95 was more than the tech story of the year: it was the heart of the tech universe, a symbol of how much more than mere technology computer software was becoming. And it was Microsoft’s baby.

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Mac OS X 10.7: How much for that Lion?

AppleInsider tells us that Apple is considering underpricing the next version of Mac OS X, due this summer:

This source, who has an unproven track record, claims that Apple higher-ups were pushing for an aggressive price point on Lion — an approach the company already employed with great success when Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard launched in late 2009. Snow Leopard debuted with a $29 price tag, and that strategy resulted in sales that doubled the previous record-setting launch of Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard.

The article goes on to note that Apple software released through the Mac App Store is often significantly cheaper than the same software’s boxed retail version, so there is a further precedent should Apple decide to go this route.

I plan to upgrade to Lion no matter what it costs, so I’d be delighted to get it for $20 rather than the customary $129. However, there are a couple of reasons why I won’t think this will happen:

1. Cheap now, cheap forever

It’s easy to make a product expensive and then gradually reduce the price. It’s much harder to start cheap and then get more expensive. Apple may not be forever inclined to effectively give away major releases of their operating system. It’s generally a bad idea to “train” the market to expect high value at cheap prices. Which leads me to the next reason:

2. Perceived value

Have you ever shopped for wine and found yourself selecting the second-least-expensive bottle? We like things to be cheap, but not too cheap, especially when it’s something to be enjoyed; we don’t like to feel as though we’re skimping on our own pleasure. Apple, of course, is all about perceived value, and their computers are marketed not just as powerful tools but as fun to use in themselves. Along with industrial design and a certain aspirational, clever-but-not-hip advertising approach, price has been one of the chief means by which Apple sets its products apart in the market. It’s not that the products are overpriced, for they usually compare quite favorably, even aggressively, with products of similar calibre. It’s that Apple doesn’t make cheap stuff. Even the entry-level Apple products, like the iPod shuffle, have a certain robustness and elegance that communicates that they were made with care — and not cheaply. (Apple got away with underpricing Snow Leopard by explicitly managing expectations. It was clear from the get-go that there was not a lot of user-directed innovation in that release.)

So I am guessing that Mac OS X 10.7 Lion will appear on Apple retail shelves for the customary $129, with the App Store version (it seems increasingly certain there will be one) offered at a modestly reduced price, say $79. If you’re selling “the world’s most advanced operating system,” after all, you ought to charge what it’s actually worth.