Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Geek Wednesday: Language and Its Enemies

As if specifically targeted for Geek Wednesday, we note that Jacob Weisberg has his linguistic psychoanalysis of Bush up on the Slate site. Here's a selection:

Bush's assorted malapropisms, solecisms, gaffes, spoonerisms, and truisms tend to imply that his lack of fluency in English is tantamount to an absence of intelligence. But as we all know, the inarticulate can be shrewd, the fluent fatuous. In Bush's case, the symptoms point to a specific malady—some kind of linguistic deficit akin to dyslexia—that does not indicate a lack of mental capacity per se.

Bush also compensates with his non-verbal acumen. As he notes, "Smart comes in all kinds of different ways." The president's way is an aptitude for connecting to people through banter and physicality. He has a powerful memory for names, details, and figures that truly matter to him, such as batting averages from the 1950s. Bush also has a keen political sense, sharpened under the tutelage of Karl Rove.

Language, according to common wisdom, is an essential part of what differentiates humans from the other critters on this planet. Why, then, would we choose to be so lazy and even intentionally stupid about the way we use it? This is a question that goes far beyond Bush and into the realms of our everyday lives. Who doesn't know someone who makes a show of Bushian dyslexia, or otherwise abuses the language with an effrontery at the other polar extreme—the tortuous neologisms of corpo-speak?

Geeks have an appreciation for language, even if many of them aren't that good at English. Get a bunch of them in a room and listen to the banter: "what languages do you know?" Many, indeed, are multi-lingual, but this question is about C, Cobol, UNIX, Javascript, etc. If you want to piss off a geek, screw up his hardware or block his root access. If you really want to piss off a geek, mess around with his code. Geeks know that language matters. Maybe that's why I get along with them so well, even though I couldn't write a line of PERL if my life depended on it.

Geek Wednesday News

Uncle Bill is tired of European lawsuits, delayed Vista release dates, never-ending IE flaws, and those wise-ass Apple commercials that make fun of his hideous operating system; so he's going to pick up his marbles and go home, about two years from now. It's Michael Eisner redux, and should be an encouraging note for the rest of us: after all, us schmucks only have to give two weeks' notice when we quit; but if you're a CEO, it has to be two years. Anyway a comedian I've never heard of named Craig Ferguson did a very funny bit on Bill's ride into the sunset. It's well worth watching.

Now on to part 3 of our review of MS Office 2007. I had a look around Powerpoint '07, which I found to be better organized and more visually appealing than its predecessors. But as with Outlook, nothing really works. I imported a couple of shows I had on the box, including my "Depredations of Bush" piece that I had made last year. But PPT 07 won't allow you to make a movie or a Flash piece of a show. So while it converted the file adequately, I couldn't really do much with it.

This brings us back to the point about the Google vs. MS divide, which has been made here before by Nearly Redmond Nick. When Google releases a beta, it works. Most recent case in point: Google Earth 4, with better resolution and more features to further jangle Dick Cheney's clotted vasculature. In other words, Google puts out beta code that's got substance, that people can actually use. The Writely word processor is another example—by the way, anyone who's looking to try it can contact me for an invite; I've got another 40 or so to spare.

But MS puts out beta that's either mere display or else is so riddled with bugs as to be just too annoying to really use. Outlook '07 doesn't send mail; Word '07 creates files that are incompatible with anything; PPT '07 won't even create a pps file; and I haven't even gotten to Excel yet. So how come this $50 billion dork gets treated as a god by the mass media, which starts wetting its pants because the fool says he's going to retire in two years to devote his life to philanthropy? To me, true philanthropy is donating 20 bucks when you've got 10 in the bank.

All right, so back to PPT and its alternatives, because there is one—a really good one. Since the second version of Apple's Keynote came out, I've used that almost entirely for presentations, because of its superior handling of graphics and media, along with its simple and elegant user interface. Trust me on this one: Keynote is the best presentation software out there today; no version of PPT can match it, and I am willing to bet that this won't be any different once the bugs are fixed in PPT 07.

But don't take my word for it...Al Gore preferred Keynote, too. He made a movie with it.

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