Monday, January 30, 2012

What I learned from iTunes

Many many many years ago, I divided my computer time between an Apple and one running Windows (I don't remember who made the computer, because frankly I don't care that much.)  Despite the fact that the two computers were of the same age, the Apple was horribly slow and cumbersome, and while I had to use it, I really didn't enjoy it much.

But, I assumed that things had changed.  So many people, many of whom otherwise seem like reasonable human beings, seem to verge on orgasm when the name of this company is mentioned, that I assumed that things had turned around (and given that now Apple products cost twice as much as everybody else's, people must be buying them for a reason).

So, after many years of avoiding Apple stuff, partly thanks to the above mentioned shit experience, and partly because I hate evangelism of all kinds (even in the massively unlikely offchance that I read an issue of watchtower and felt like it had opened my eyes to how things really were, I wouldn't admit that to a Jehovah's Witness, until they stopped with their ridiculously annoying policy of going round raving about it).  And Apple evangelism seems to me to be of the absolutely worse variety - it's not even of the religious type that aims to save one, it's of the type that ejaculates over a vast multinational corporation enriching itself further.

Bit anyway, I digress (and anyway I've already done that rant). After the Apple avoidance, I ended up, a couple of years ago, acquiring an iPod Touch.  And, I have to say, it was a really good gadget.  Did what it should have done, was very attractive, user friendly, well designed, and frankly - as far as pieces of electronic equipment go - great.  The headphones that came with it were rubbish, which given the price was a bit of a let down, but aside from that I have to say that I liked it.  Very very much in fact.  Perhaps things had changed, and Apple were actually producing good stuff now, and the cult members, while being a bit simple in many ways, were actually raving about something that they believed in.  In hardware terms this mini-computer (which is effectively what it is), was really good.  And, its operating system was also good.

But (let's face it you knew there was a but, didn't you?), there was a problem.  Not just a small problem, but a large massive elephant in the room.  The one thing that the Applecultists don't mention, because to do so, would presumably bring their carefully crafted illusions collapsing on their head like a house of cards or a really badly mixed metaphor.  This elephant is called iTunes.  iTunes, is, without doubt, the worst piece of software I've been exposed to for years (and I had Windows Vista for a while).

How do I loathe iTunes?  Let me count the ways:

  1. It's slow.  I mean incredibly slow. I'd click a tab, and I could go off and make a cup of tea in the time it took for that tab to actually open.  Even the simplest of operations took half an hour minimum.
  2. It has weird default settings which mean that it always opens up in an area which you never use.  These defaults seem impossible to change and personalise.  (Coupled with 1 above this adds more time as you then have to click through to get to where you'd like to start from)
  3. It seems to occupy vast quantities of hard drive space. I know many modern pieces of software are often referred to as "bloatware" these days but iTunes is less bloatware than massivelyobeseware.
  4. Because of 3, it not only is slow itself, but it slows everything else down to a crawl. I had to plan times when I didn't want to do anything else so I could spend an hour doing what I needed (eg downloading podcasts and "syncing" them to the iPod), because I knew when iTunes was open nothing else would work at a reasonable speed.  The day I finally uninstalled the bloody thing, my computer suddenly took on a new lease of life, like I'd untethered it from a massive cartoon anvil.
  5. Because of Apple's frankly insane policy of making everything they do linked to everything else they do (you have to use their operating system, you have to have this one inviolable whole), iTunes is pretty much impossible to not use if you want to have an Apple product playing music. Having been used to the fact that with other OSs, if you don't like something you get rid of it and replace it with something better (and often open source), this was a really big shock to the system.  Working around iTunes is a lot of work, and a lot of hassle.  And it is enough to piss one off, massively.
  6. Even if you just want to use iTunes to download free podcasts (which is basically what I did use it for) you still have to input your credit card details.  Why?  They won't say.  But it is seriously annoying.  And then this got more annoying, because...
  7. After I had uninstalled the bloody thing, somehow my account got hacked, and someone started trying to use iTunes to buy things in my name.  Luckily my bank noticed this and stopped it, and replaced my credit card for me, but it could have been a real problem.  How often do you hear about security problems with iTunes?  But do a search and it seems that this is a genuine and real problem and that the security of iTunes is paper thin at best.  The media love-in with Apple seems to extend even to here.  
  8. Did I mention how infuriatingly, maddeningly, horribly SLOW it bloody is?
Seriously, how is it that people are not tearing their hair out and complaining in their droves to Apple?  Is it that having spent so much money on the hardware they don't want to admit that the software is shit?  Is it that they think because it's not all over the media that it must just be them?  I'm here to tell you that no, it isn't you.  It's the software.  It's absolutely rubbish.  You can do it, you can admit it, it doesn't reflect badly on you, it reflects badly on them. Stand up and say it proudly:  "iTunes is an absolute piece of utter dogshit".

There now, I bet you feel better don't you?

(But still, within an hour there'll be some Jobs's Witnesses in the comments section saying how none of this is true.  It is, and the thing is, YOU KNOW IT IS)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Romanian Education System (brief reprise)

This is a sort of coda to my post on money in the Romanian education system (or rather the lack of it). I still have to write the third in that series, which sort of ended abruptly when things got rather hairy last year.  That should come soon, now that I have remembered that this blog exists (and that I have some time)

It's just a short one, but illustrative of so much I feel.  The government has decided to create a "Year Zero" class for children who have yet to begin the first grade (nothing to do with the Khmer Rouge, you'll be glad to hear).  This is to ensure that children entering year one are prepared for the rigours of a school education.  Or something like that.  I think in the UK something similar is called the Reception Class.  Anyway, it seems like a pretty reasonable idea on the face of it.  Kids here don't start school until they're 7, and the idea of a sort of slightly more schoolish year between kindergarten and that first year of your actual real school makes a certain amount of sense.

The problem of course is that while the idea is reasonable, the practicalities have not been thought about in the Ministry.  You can imagine someone sitting there saying in some meeting "Let's create an extra year of school, that will prepare kids for things better, and possibly enhance learning", and the others just sit around nodding their heads and saying "Excellent idea.  Consider it law".  The problem, of course, as you may already have worked out is that when you effectively create an extra year of school, you need to find some teachers to be in charge of it, and crucially you need classrooms to put these kids in.  And this in a school system which is basically being starved of any money whatsoever - teachers' pay, buildings, materials, everything is being cut.  And yet, here is this plan to put kids into these schools a year earlier.  It makes you want to weep.

What solution will be found?  Well right now it seems that the most likely solution is that the kids will have to have their reception classes somewhere other than the already overcrowded schools.  Where, you may be asking yourself.  Well, the plan will of course free up some space in certain buildings, so at the moment the most likely way of coping  and meeting the requirements of the new law seems like it will be that the reception classes will happen ... in the kindergartens.  Thus ensuring that, in fact, at the end of the day, absolutely nothing will have changed. I can think of no better example of the incompetence of this government.

Friday, January 13, 2012

My Hopes for Transylvania in 2012

It's the New Year, and I have a dream, and all that...

I have this utopian vision in which people get over their need to be intolerant dicks who see everything through nationalistic spectacles.  (I mean those that are intolerant dicks who see everything through nationalistic spectacles anyway.  The others who are not can just be as they are, safe in the knowledge that they haven't incurred my meaningless wrath).

Anyway, to the idiots who insist on making everything into some national dick waving contest:

Let me let you into a secret: There is absolutely no difference between Hungarians and Romanians, aside from the fact that they speak a different first language (and there are a few nurtured "cultural" differences).  That's it.  In fact anyone who is from Transylvania is pretty much guaranteed to have both Romanian and Hungarian ancestors, that's just the way it is.

The history of Transylvania is one of diversity and different groups. Can't people be proud of that rather than find it as a reason to be irritating intolerant bastards? It makes me so tired.

Can't you celebrate the diversity?  One of the greatest ever heroes of Transylvanian (and Hungarian) history is Matyas Kiraly (Matthias Corvinus). He's a great example of a Transylvanian having (as he did) a Romanian father and a Hungarian mother. Everyone should celebrate him, but instead Hungarians want to pretend that the Romanian side didn't exist and Romanians (or at least Gheorghe Funar) want to dig up his statue. This kind of wankery goes on all the time.

The whole area has been home to Romanians, Hungarians, Szekely, Germans, Jews, Armenians, Rroma, Csango, Serbs, Slovaks, Ukrainians, etc etc etc for centuries.  This seems to me like something to be proud of.  The fact that a lot of these groups have gone or are nearly gone now is the real tragedy.

Romanians: When two people whose first language is Hungarian speak to each other it is entirely normal that they do so in Hungarian. It's not some massive insult to the nation. Swiss people, for example, seem to be able to manage to deal with the fact that some of their countrymen speak a different language from them, why can't you? It's not treason, it's talking.

Hungarians: If a Romanian comes into your shop or your cafe or whatever and wants to buy something, or ask a question or whatever, why can't you just behave like an adult and respond in Romanian? You know you speak it. It's not clever and big to pretend you don't. It's stupid. I speak the world's worst Romanian, but I reckon I could manage to sell someone a loaf of bread. I know you can do it.

Now, I know a lot of people will tell me that I just don't get it.  I just don't get the history, I don't get the pain that one set of people have suffered at the hands of the other.  I don't, in short, carry around some massive nationalistic chip on my shoulder.  That's true.  I don't. I do have my fair share of chips, but I don't have some kind of historical grudge against some people whose only crime is to speak a different language from me.  I know there's history, I know there have been bad things done to people for terrible reasons, but taking it out on your neighbours - who were not involved in any of these crimes - is not really going to solve anything. Let it go.

Hungarians: Transylvania is in Romania. The only way that it won't be in Romania in the future would be through some absolutely catastrophic event which would definitely be a very bad thing. Get used to it, and perhaps even enjoy it.  The land is the same, the people are the same, it's just governed by some people in a far off city beginning with Bu- and ending in -est, so in fact very little has changed.  (And yes I know the current government in that city are utterly shit, but even then they are marginally less bad than the current government in Budapest.  So, on balance you're ever so slightly better off, anyway)

And if somebody Romanian acts like an wanker, it's because they are an wanker, not because they are Romanian.  Likewise if a Hungarian acts like a dick, it's because he's a dick not because he's Hungarian.

To give an example, it seems that the nationalities of the two main protagonists in the story of Basescu vs Arafat are being presented as an issue.  They are not.  Basescu is a twat because he's a twat not because he's Romanian, and Arafat is one of the good guys because he's one of the good guys, not because he's Palestinian. (Or, if you wrongheadedly see things the other way round, nationality still doesn't come into it)

Even in the case when people allow nationalism to drive their thick-as-pigshit-ness, that still doesn't come down to their nationality.  The bloke from here who hanged an effigy of Avram Iancu last March 15th?  Those Noua Dreapta scum who showed up here a month ago on December 1st to spread their poisonous bullshit? Those people are arseholes pure and simple.  The fact that they hang their arseholery on nationalism doesn't make them arseholes because they are Hungarian/Romanian.  It is just because they are braindead fuckwits.

(Romanians: Here's a little test for yourself: Every time you feel the urge to go off on one about Hungarians, first do the following. Imagine the situation in question pertains to Romanians living in Northern Bucovina, and see if this changes your perception. If a Romanian in Cernauti speaks Romanian to his neighbour, or doesn't proudly hang the Ukrainian flag outside his house, do you feel he should be criticised for somehow being anti-Ukrainian)

Basically, nationality is not a factor. You are of course more than welcome to identify yourself as being part of a national group (I don't really understand that either, but I recognise I'm very much in the minority in that), and even if I wanted to I couldn't stop you from making nationality part of your identity, but it's not a factor in anything else.  If someone disappoints you or annoys you or makes you angry or challenges you or arrests you or attacks you or pleases you or intrigues you or says something interesting or turns you on or makes you feel good or whatever, their nationality is not the first thing you should focus on.  It's not even the last thing.  It has no bearing on anything.

I know this sounds like some naive Rodney King-esque plea, but really can't we all just get along? And I'm not talking about tolerance, if that's the best you can do, you probably shouldn't bother.  You, we, are all the same. Celebrate that fact. But if you can't do that, just moan about each other out of range of me.  You're making me really tired.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

A post!

In fact like buses, I'm hoping that after there has been none along in months there may even be two in very short order. The second one is already half written, but for now...

There is this man in Romania, who pretty much everyone here has heard of, especially now, but I suspect almost no-one outside of Romania has. His name is Raed Arafat. He is a Palestinian who grew up in Syria (like so many Palestinians to refugee parents), and he came to Romania at the beginning of the 80s to study medicine at the University in Cluj, and then subsequently to the university in Targu Mures to continue his studies. After graduating and going into practice in Tg Mures, and following the revolution he saw the need for a real emergency service. He and a team of volunteers knocked on every door in the city (and I am assured that it was every door, and it's a biggish city) and during a time of great hardship raised enough money in whatever donations people could give - very often very small amounts of money - to start something called SMURD. The story of SMURD is a long and impressive one and it has grown from these very small beginnings to be a vital cog in the otherwise ailing Romanian healthcare system. You can read all about the history of it here:

Anyway SMURD eventually became incorporated into the healthcare system, and Arafat became an under-secretary of state for health.

But now a "scandal" (everything in Romania is a scandal) has erupted - Arafat has resigned and left the Ministry because of a new health care law which effectively privatises the ambulance service. Basescu (the president), rather than talking to Arafat - who, I submit, knows a fuck of a lot more about emergency medicine than Basescu - abused him live on TV (via the medium of calling into a chat show), accused him of lying, and the went on about his "leftist views" (in this case not wanting to privatise an essential public service is "leftist", which I suppose it is, in relation to what to me seems like a pretty hard line right wing position - viz the privatisation of an essential public service). Basescu then pretty much told him to resign, which fairly unsurprisingly, Arafat then went ahead and did.

It's a great shame, as he's obviously a deeply committed individual who has done an incredible amount for Romania, and deserves to be heard and not treated like shit by an obnoxious president. I hope SMURD will survive, and I hope the healthcare system survives, but I have my doubts. Basescu and his government seem hell bent on using the excuse of "austerity" to destroy education, healthcare and pretty much everything else that the country actually needs.

You can watch Arafat here giving a speech in happier times through the TED network (in Romanian)