Thursday, 25 August 2011

Jobs steps down

Steve Jobs is no longer the CEO of Apple. Hardly surprising, given his precarious state of health during the past few years. It is amazing that he has been able to hold on for so long. Still, the time to go (at least to some extent, as he retains certain functions within Apple) has come, a fact that he recognised himself.

All best wishes to him.

The man chosen to be the new CEO, Tim Cook, has, to all intents and purposes, held that position for some time, as Jobs's health has not allowed him to be fully functional. There is no reason to assume that Cook is not up to the job. Indeed, he get Steve Jobs' own blessing.

Of course, the soothsayers and speculators are immediately spelling doom and asking if the company can survive without Jobs.

It is true, that Apple and Jobs made an apparently happy couple, though not everything in that particular garden was rosy and Jobs showed elsewhere that he did not always have the magic touch.

Apple's technological breakthrough, indeed, came largely because of Steve Wozniak, rather than Steve Jobs. Wozniak was the technical genius of the pair, whereas Jobs was more the visionary and salesman. The Apple II was the machine that brought Apple onto the world scene, though it was certainly not the first personal computer (nor was the IBM PC, which came along even later). The Macintosh did not appear until 1984 and at least one failure preceded its somewhat hesitant entrance into the field of personal computing. Apple's pricing policy and the sheep-like attitude of corporate buyers (epitomized by the expression, "You don't get fired for buying IBM") meant that Apple struggled and in 1985 Jobs was let go.

During the late eighties and most of the nineties, Apple, without Jobs, continued to lose its way as far as product range structure in the Macintosh line was concerned, yet still managed to be extremely forward-looking in other areas, notably in that of hand-held devices or PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants). The Newton range was way ahead of its time, perhaps too far ahead for the available technology, so that, overpriced and underpowered, it had to be dropped from the catalogue after eight years, when Jobs returned in 1997 and wielded the axe.

Whilst away from Apple in the nineties, Jobs was not particularly successful as far as sales were concerned. He led the development of the NeXT computers, which cost a great deal and sold only in small quantities. NeXT, however, ran NeXTStep, a Unix-based operating system that looked just like the sort of thing that Apple needed to replace its struggling MacOS. So Jobs was called back to Apple and NeXTStep was adjusted to become MacOS X in the new fancy-looking iMacs.

During the following decade or so, under Jobs's leadership, Apple would provide the world with the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad and a series of MacOS X releases that showed that computing really was for the rest of us.

It would be wrong to think that Apple is Jobs, however. Apple is loaded with highly capable people—just consider the likes of Johnathan Ive, designer extraordinaire—who form a team that is likely to continue long after Jobs switches off his iPad forever.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Spanish bureaucratic madness

There is much about Spain that I like.

There are a few things I dislike greatly: lack of organisation, lack of planning, lack of respect for the environment, the constant intrusion of the Catholic Church in everything Spanish, from local fiestas to high government, and the overpowering bureaucracy.

For the past week or so, we have been confronted with aspects of the lack of organisation and the stifling bureaucracy.

When we first came to Spain from Belgium just over five years ago, I applied for residency shortly after our arrival. Elise waited a few months in order to be able to more easily sort out some legal matters in Belgium. When my application was accepted, after a real struggle, details of which are too far in the past to be relevant, I was given a sort of ID card, carrying my photograph, address, NIE number, and other information: a useful and handy document, easy to carry and to use as proof of identity. When Elise eventually made her application and was accepted, things had changed: instead of receiving the handy card, she received an almost useless A4-size sheet of paper, with no photo to identify her. Not only was the paper of an unhandy format, it could not be used as proof of identity. Sadly, the Spanish authorities had chosen to substitute this form for the ID-card format. The only advantage of the form, was that it did not carry a date limit, as did the card.

My own card's validity was until the beginning of October 2011, so the time had come to renew it. I knew that this meant that instead of a new card, I would also receive the useless A4 document, but that's the way things were, so it had to be done. Now you would imagine that, as all your details are known to your local Ayuntamiento (town hall) and as that Ayuntamiento has a big staff, with computers and printers and everything that is required, they would be able to exchange the ID card for the new A4 form (known, incidentally, as the Certificado de Registro de Ciudadano de la Unión). So first stop the Ayuntamiento.

It went something like this:

"My card is about to expire. Can you renew it or provide me with the new form?"

"For that you must go to the Office for Foreigners at the National Police Offices in Elche."

"Can you tell me what I need to renew the card?"

"For that you must go to the Office for Foreigners at the National Police Offices in Elche."

Now, I might be naive, but it seems to me that, even if the Ayuntamiento is incapable of actually performing the task of renewing the card (in fact, exchanging it for a silly document), then they should at least be able to tell someone from the EU what is required to achieve this magnificent feat: thousands of EU citizens live here in Guardamar, so the information really should be at the fingertips of those responsible for registrations in the Ayuntamiento. But no, it is apparently not their job, so they know nothing about it.

Right, next thing is a quick visit to Elche (an almost 80 Km round trip) to ask what must be done in my case. We arrived at the offices at about 11 o'clock one morning. Entering the offices, we are stopped by a brusque official.

"What's it for?"

"I want information on what to do about my ID-card [shows ID card] which will soon expire."

"Through there."

We enter the room that we were headed for (there is nowhere else to go), which is full of people. One of them tells us that we need a number, so we go back into the entry hall and ask the same official that just told us where to go for a number.

"No numbers left. Come back tomorrow."

You might well ask why he sent us through in the first place!

Back home, the next day I decided to phone the Elche offices to see if I could gather the necessary information that way. Fortunately, after some delay I was able to speak to a pleasant-sounding lady who informed me that all I needed was the ID card itself, my national passport and the fee of 10.20 euro. Remembering the long waits of five years previously and the requirement for a number, I also asked if many people usually came. She assure me that it was not as busy as it used to be. I wondered if it was possible to make an appointment (I had seen that an appointment could be made for NIEs and passports). No, she replied, this was not the case for foreigners.

Last Tuesday, we got up at seven in the morning (generally unheard of in our household) and made our way to Elche. We were at the offices at about eight o'clock and there was hardly anyone to be seen, other that a policeman. To say he was gruff would be an understatement. I don't think I have ever known a policeman, and very few other people for that matter, with less people-skills. His job, I assume, was to offer help and assistance to those coming to the offices. That can only be a joke. He didn't speak, he barked. His Spanish was coarse, poorly enunciated, and spoken in a most unfriendly manner. He was not a welcoming image to either foreigners or Spaniards visiting the offices (Spanish nationals must come to the offices in order to obtain passports). Fortunately, another person was there who could speak clearly and answer questions in a civilised manner: all of the numbers had already been issued for that day.

Our next expedition was planned for Friday. This time the alarm was set for six o'clock (!) and we arrived at the offices at seven. There was already a considerable number of people, but most seemed to be Spanish nationals, who would receive a different set of numbers. Upon enquiry, I was told that 32 numbers would be given to foreigners. It looked as if we would be in with a chance. When the distribution of numbers took place just before eight o'clock (in utter confusion, of course), I obtained number 16.

We had made acquaintance with a young couple while awaiting the distribution of numbers. He was Italian/Australian and his girlfriend Spanish. He was also there to obtain the Certificado de Registro de Ciudadano de la Unión, having just come to live in Spain after several years in South Korea. He told us that I could get the form for the payment of the 10.20 euro fee in the entrance hall of the office. After having obtained our numbers, we both went up to the entrance hall in order to get such a form (highly necessary as, without having paid the fee the form will not be issued!). In the hall was the unfriendly policeman.

"What's it for?"

"We need a payment form."

"Get out! Get out!"

Nice chap! The poor Italian/Australian lad was most put off by this attitude: he had never been treated so badly, it was no way to treat foreigners, it was downright bad manners…

We tried again ten minutes later and thankfully a more amenable person was also in the hall, so even though Unfriendly Policeman again tried his authoritarian tactics, we were able to obtain the required form.

Here's another stupid aspect of the whole sorry affair. The fee for the Certificado de Registro de Ciudadano de la Unión is 10.20 euro and must be paid before the form is issued. Now, this is 2011, the twenty-first century, an era of electronic banking, digital transmission, cash points, cash cards, credit cards, debit cards… That cash is not accepted I can understand for security purposes, but wouldn't you think that a government office would be able to accept payment in electronic form? I mean, the local Mercadona, Consum, El Corte Inglés, Hypercor, and any other supermarket can; the little bricolaje (do-it-yourself shop) in Guardamar can; the newsagents can; the bars and restaurants can. So why can't a government office? No, instead, the punter must go to a bank, make the payment, have the form officially stamped to show that the payment has been made, return to the offices and present the application with proof of payment. Crazy!


It gets crazier, for many banks will not accept such payments on a Friday! I kid you not. Fortunately, we were able to find a bank with a friendly teller who had nothing to do, so was prepared to make the payment, but there were notices around informing us that such payments could only be made from Monday to Thursday.

I had asked at about what time we should return to the Office for Foreigners, given that we had number 16, and was told that number 16 would be dealt with at about eleven o'clock. After having made the payment in the bank, we had breakfast, walked around Elche for a while and decided to return to the Office rather early, just after ten o'clock. There were relatively few people there and the display panels indicating the number being dealt with at each counter were blank: the numbers were simply being ignored! There was one counter for foreigners, so I plonked myself in the queue (there was just one other person there) and was soon dealt with. The whole process for exchanging my dearly beloved ID card for the pathetic green A4 Certificado de Registro de Ciudadano de la Unión in the end took less than five minutes of actual work.

Somebody, and I honestly have no idea who, needs to look into this whole business. The processing of EU citizens should be moved to the Ayuntamientos to start with. Officials need to be taught people-handling skills or, at the very least, basic good manners. The whole process needs to be rationalised, simplified, modernised, reworked.

And Spanish citizens should not have to queue for hours in the hope of obtaining a number that gives them the right to request a passport, which is their basic right (numerous Spanish people who were queuing with us failed to obtain a number and must return another day).

Here comes the pope

Spain is supposed to have a non-confessional government; the Catholics are not presumed to interfere with any aspects of the government, nor to have any governmental powers or special favours awarded by the government. In spite of this, the Catholics now want the government to help finance the latest visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the tune of millions of euro.

If the Catholics wish to send Herr Pope on silly holidays such as this, then let them pay for them themselves. The Catholic Church (like most other organised religions) sucks enough money out of its followers, especially those most in need, and has sufficient riches to finance the Pope's occasional outings and anything else that needs to be paid for, so why ask the Spanish government for aid? Has it passed the Catholics' attention that Spain is suffering a crisis, with over 20% unemployment, rising to some 45% among the young? Has it passed the Catholics' attention that there are plenty of non-Catholics, believers or not, that have no wish to see their fiscal contributions converted into support for a ridiculous manifestation of power and control?(And what about the bible's contention that the love of money is the root of all evil, not to mention Jesus Christ's own rants against money lenders and temple traders? Do these mean nothing to the Vatican and its deluded followers?)

Let us hope that for once the Spanish government will truly stand up to the pressure so often put on it by the Catholic Church and will quite simply refuse to give even one eurocent to the money-grabbers. Indeed, why not ask the Church to pay for any and all extra costs incurred in Spain by this ridiculous Papal visit?

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Apple Newton

When the Newton first came out early in 1993, I thought it was a great concept. As the line developed, so did its greatness, right up to the MessagePad 2100, which was to be the last of the production series, discontinued early in 1998.

The Newton was way, way ahead of its time and it can still do some things better than the PDAs of today.

I started collecting a few Newton items some ten years ago, but now has come the time to sell what I have and that is the purpose of a small site that I have created. There are MessagePads, accessories, and even some software and other third-party items offered for sale there. I still have a few items which I shall add to the list, too, but a trip to Belgium will have to occur first, as they are in the apartment there and I'm in Spain!

Remember that everything is second-hand and much of what is offered is electronic equipment of well over ten years old. I offer no guarantees, other than to say that everything worked the last time that I used it.