George Sarant

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Archive for March 2012

DOWNTOWN TRANSFORMATIONS

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Lower Manhattan has changed considerably in the years since I had an office there. From my window you could see the World Trade Center, and its destruction is at the root of the transformation. For one thing the area is swarming with tourists, where in the past there was never that many downtown. Whenever I used to get frustrated I’d take a walk down to Wall St to see George- that is George Washington’s statue in front of Federal Hall, where there were few visitors. Now poor George is surrounded by tourists taking pictures of each other next to or in front of him. But at the same time security has been greatly heightened. You can’t drive there any more; the streets are full of barriers, and it’s a nuisance trying to wade through the crowds if you have business in the area. Back up by City Hall there is now so much iron surrounding it citizens no longer have the easy access they once had, where you used to be able to drive and park in front on business. Police headquarters is even worse. There are so many barriers and iron gates it is like a fortress, and the nearby underground municipal parking garage is gone for security reasons. I don’t understand this siege mentality at all; it is not like the police are a vulnerable target. Whatever the case, it makes walking around a nuisance as well as an unpleasant experience.

Both buildings I used to have offices in are now residential, as are many others in the area as businesses vacate either for midtown or out-of-town, due to the onerous tax burden in NY City. The result is there isn’t much of what people think of when they say “Wall Street” left on the actual Wall St.  The area where the Trade Center was has gone through many transformations. Once Cortlandt Street was known for electronics stores, and I remember shopping there for tape recorders at a very young age. Not far away on Washington Street there was a produce market from  where wholesalers would supply restaurants and other customers. I used to send orders there when I was in the shipping business when the offices of shipowners were located way downtown. Then there was St. Nicholas church, where I was married, which was turned to rubble when the Trade Center was destroyed. There were years before that event when I had a parking space right next to the WTC due, I’m ashamed to say now, to a government connection.

Just across from what is now known as Ground Zero is Century 21 department store, which got its start in the Brooklyn neighborhood I grew up in, Bay Ridge, or Fort Hamilton as part of the area is also known. The downtown store is now always crowded with foreign,  mostly European tourists, who oddly enough are there to buy European designer clothes, if you can figure that one out. There are long lines at the checkouts everywhere, and their arms are full of apparel to take back home with them.  That brings me to the subject of

FASHION CLASSICS

I prefer a classic look in clothing, which has a timeless sophistication about it, as opposed to the ephemeral trendiness of fashions that, especially when executed in the extreme, quickly go out of style. I used to buy some of the Italian designer stuff I like at Century, but not any more. I  was quite taken aback to find virtually all of the men’s suit and jacket section full of garments with very narrow lapels. It’s as though they’ve flipped out over the Mad Men tv show. But given the cost of many of these clothes, notwithstanding their lack of particularly fine fabrics, you have to be crazy to spend good money on them. It won’t be long before these look as silly as the extremely wide lapels of the 1970s. To make matters worse, many of these jackets are cut so short that it leaves the distinct impression of a poor fit rather than anything attractive. Couple this with ties that are proportionately much wider and you look ridiculous, yet this is the look you are now seeing in many garment ads, at least for much younger people, but then the young always look ridiculous. Put that jacket over baggy pants perched on the behind and it is a very clear statement of very poor taste. It takes years to get passed the youthful impulse towards trendy conformity, but the sooner that happens the better off we always are.

At the same time I must note that the traditional men’s clothing stores nearby were pretty empty by comparison. But that’s where people who work buy their clothes and they aren’t likely to be out shopping in the middle of the day.

I’m no expert on women’s clothes, but one day I glanced through a style magazine my wife had that was full of various celebrity actresses in outfits that failed to impress. Then I came across an advertisement that had a full page picture of Audrey Hepburn in an elegant outfit, and that image just put all the contemporary women featured to shame. There was such a timeless beauty about it that the only way I can describe it is “classic.” Again, you can’t beat a well proportioned classic look.

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Written by georgesarant

March 30, 2012 at 4:04 AM

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REFLECTIONS ON A DEAD APPLE

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<div style=”text-align: justify;”> Apple may be the most valuable company in the world today, but in my view this is, ironically, despite its computer business. Awhile back the screen died suddenly on my MacBookPro one day and I found myself staring at 17 inches of  darkness wondering what to do. To make a long story short, after some frantic calls it turned out that the computer was unrepairable since the graphics chip was part of the motherboard and couldn’t be replaced. After mulling things over it occurred to me that the hard disk was probably okay, so I had no choice but to buy yet another computer, transfer whatever I had on my last Time Machine backup,  (an Apple device of course), and then remove the hard disk from the “old” computer and rig up something to connect it to the new computer, to retrieve the rest of my work, which I eventually did successfully. But I decided I was not going to buy another MacBookPro, because there’s talk of a new version in the spring and I’m not going to get stuck with suddenly obsolete stuff this time, if I can help it. 

This problem in some ways contributed to my hiatus from here for awhile, as I attempted to try working on my IPad with a bluetooth keyboard, (that being a nearly new IPad2 which of course lately has been replaced with a new version).  But trying to do any kind of serious writing on an IPad, even with an external keyboard, is sheer torture, so apart from some usefulness with Email when traveling, for me at least it is, mostly an expensive reader. Yet I still seem to go for their latest gizmo, as jaded as I am. (By the way, as I’m typing I notice that Apple’s own word processor, Pages, has a spell checker that doesn’t recognize the name of its own product).

Just like my previous model, the MacBookPro died shortly after three years, just when the Extended Warranty I bought expired. I won’t do that again because these things are apparently built to last three years anyway. I don’t remember how many laptops I’ve been through, but it goes back to the original. For that matter I can’t count how many computers I’ve been through since the first Apple II, but let’s just take the Mac. The first one came out with only 128k of memory, replaced a few months later by a 512k version (yes that’s kilobytes), but since the thing was sealed there wasn’t much you could do about it if you had the first one. Worse, when they did come out with versions that were more or less “upgradeable” they used a proprietary bussing system for internal boards you could insert, so that when they periodically would suddenly change to a new bussing system you would be stuck with a truckload of obsolete peripherals. Nevertheless I got snookered by Apple so many years ago that I’ve got too much invested in software to even think about changing. How about the first of the IPods? That was another very expensive turkey, and you’d laugh if you saw it now.  Until very recently Apple survived mainly by maintaining a user base of suckers like me that would keep shelling out for their stuff. The moral of the story is that you should never buy the first version of an Apple product.  

Sure things keep changing due to progress and improvements, at least sometimes, and three years is a long time in computer terms, but not for a product that costs what these things do. There was very little functional difference between my prior titanium laptop and this one, or the one before that. All of them did the identical things and the improvements were totally under the hood, and nominal, so there is no reason why such a device should not last longer, even with heavy use, like say, a television or refrigerator. 

This is not a total screed against Apple. But while waiting for the next MacBookPro to come out, instead of going for the highest end model this time I bought the lowest, a Mac Mini, at about 1/6th of the cost, threw out the Apple memory and installed 8gb (not from Apple). I figure to eventually use this as a media server when I get a new laptop because I hate having a desktop computer screen in my library. The memory isn’t overkill because its cheap and I need the power at the moment. I’ve had it on continuously and frankly I’m amazed at how much I am able to do with it. It runs cool and quiet and at this point is a definite bargain if you’re looking at one. 

Finally, I recently completed a project that may require a fairly large batch of touchscreen computers, based on porting over particular software. I quickly needed a document on service partnerships. I called HP and spent half a day getting told “it’s not my department without providing any other useful information from several different employees, all of whom had the almost sullen, indifferent attitude of many government bureaucrats. Then I called Apple. One person in I got a cheery “sure no problem” response. I guess that comes with the territory of a company riding high as the world’s most popular brand at the moment, though not because of of computers but rather all their other gizmos. So Apple may be “cool,” but don’t spend too much money, and again never buy the first version of an Apple product! </div>

 

Written by georgesarant

March 23, 2012 at 4:32 PM