Thursday, October 27, 2016

No Mystery Why Apple's Sales Are Down; Try To Buy An iPhone 7

I bought my first iPhone on June 29, 2007, the day they first became available. I was number 222 at the Glendale, CA Apple store. I was probably the oldest person there, at least in my line of vision, surrounded by young whipper-snappers with more toys than Best Buy. I was stunned to see them so eager to buy something that many of us (really) didn't think would work all that well. After all, I had a Motorola Razor in my pocket and I hated that phone. It was, to use an old term, "the cat's meow!" To me, that meow was more like a screech.

A friend had dragged me to MacWorld in January that year, my first in fact, and we walked into the Moscone Center just as Jobs was finishing his keynote speech. In the foyer was an image of the iPhone at least 40 or 50 feet high. We all stood looking at it stunned. It was nothing like what anyone had surmised it would look like. Truth be told, it is still an iconic design and the standard that everyone else copies and tries to sell. In fact, the return to the original soft, rounded edges makes it a natural fit in your hand ... just like the very first one whose design luckily works with the two newest phones that are  much larger than the original!

My next phone was a iPhone 3 ... I don't upgrade every year as my plan with AT&T didn't allow that. So the next phone was a iPhone 5 and then now, at this very moment an iPhone 6.

This has been a very reliable phone and suffered through iOS 8, surely the most miserable of all the iOS's, successful through iOS 9 and now iOS10. I am a camera buff using my iPhone for many photos on trips that depend on the amazing panorama software that makes for stunning phones when printed in my Apple albums I frequently make from my trips. In fact, its low light sensitivity is better than that of my Nikon 3200 DSLR!

When I saw the ads and photos taken with the new iPhone 7+ I knew that I had to have one. Here in my pocket would be a camera that was always with me, took much better photos than far bigger cameras and with at least 128 GB of storage would hardly ever run out, movies on board or not.

There is just one problem. Getting one. I started looking into getting one about a month after they came out. If anyone else has had the same experience as me, and I would guess there are just as many as me ... probably far more, it looks like Apple has bitten off more than it can chew. The Apple Store in Palm Desert, CA, my nearest store, hasn't had a phone for sale in apparently weeks. Someone, somewhere IS getting them but not in the desert nor for that matter anywhere in at least a 100 mile circumference from me. The Apple store thoughtfully lists the availability of each color, size and RAM. Other than an occasional rose gold (I'm sorry Apple, pink IS pink) in 256RAM they are harder to find than chicken teeth. On reflection, worse!

So, at the end of October, a full month after they became available, there are just about none to be had. And, I have tried. The AT&T store says depending on color and RAM it can be 4 - 8 weeks. That's even worse than the Apple Store. So ... if 70% of Apple's sales are from iPhones and you can't get one, how does this affect the bottom line. I can tell you ... declining sales. Despite the critics, its not, as they keep insisting, that we don't want one, we simply can't get one. Can it be that Apple got caught with their pants down? Did they listen maybe a little too much to the critics, the analysts? I think so. Hopefully, with the release, finally, of their new laptops and serious upgrades to Apple TV, they turn a blind eye to the soothsayers and pay far more attention to what is going on online and in their stores.

Thank you for reading my blog. Please, take the time to read earlier blogs where the emphasis here and always is to explore the ways design and art affects our lives ... and always has. 


Friday, October 21, 2016

Huey Long (Eugene McCarthy - your choice) vs. Lady MacBeth

I am an American. Not a German-American or English-American, just a plain old American. That said I could be a hyphenated American because my father was German. His family immigrated from Saxony to the United States in the 1920's. I am first generation. My mother, however, is almost directly descended from the White's that came over on the Mayflower in 1620. So then yes, I am a WASP - white, anglo-saxon, protestant.

I love America. I was born in Ohio while my father was a translator at the Nuremberg trials. I grew up in Oregon, went to Oklahoma State for college and after a stint in the Peace Corps ended up in California in 1970. Aged 71 now, I have lived more than half my life here.

I am also a Republican ... an ashamed Republican but still perilously hanging on to the Grand Old Party, a party I have no doubt that Lincoln would find disgraceful. My earliest memories of being a Republican are of me standing on a street corner in Portland, OR handing out, at the age of 7, "I Like Ike" buttons" to passers-by. I wish I still had a few of them in fact. I really liked Ike then and still do. Years later I realized we shared the exact same birthday - October 14th. In college I campaigned for Barry Goldwater driving down the rural roads in Oklahoma stapling Barry's campaign signs all over the countryside. As a young adult I was involved with the old 59th Republican Congressional Central Committee in Los Angeles and was even the committee president several years until my first child was born and I had new responsibilities.

Huey Long of Louisiana in his heyday!
A student of American history, Teddy Roosevelt is my hero and feel that if we ever needed him the time was now. Even though she is a Democrat, my current political hero is Elizabeth Warren who, like Roosevelt, stands up for what is right and is merciless to the creeps that tear down the fabric of our social contract, the Constitution, while enriching themselves.

Watching the debate Wednesday it became apparent to me just how flawed BOTH candidates are. Trump caused me to "remember" the legacy of Huey Long from Louisiana who was a demagogue that could, under the right circumstance, have brought the republic down. Watch Trump again. There is little difference.

Hillary as Lady Macbeth
Then watching Clinton I suddenly seized on the memory of Shakespeare's Lady Macbeth. After all, she had killed her first husband. To me the contrasts of Hillary and Elizabeth were striking. Here was one grilling and condemning the CEO of Wells Fargo for an unbelievable dereliction of leadership while our candidate was making cosy, and getting paid quite well, with the very people who nearly brought down not only our own economy but narrowly missed destroying the economy of the entire world. In its wake you have the Middle East, China and Europe still trying to dig themselves out of this morass.

So we have a candidate that is the poster boy for greed, and is proud of it, and a candidate that left a trail of blood throughout the Middle East, that not only set up her own private server (she was first lady 8 years ... she knew better) but after being subpoenaed to produce all of her illicit emails turned around and destroyed over 33,000 of them. Actually, I am surprised they can't find them. It is my understanding that once written they are out there somewhere in the cloud because once written they never go away no matter how hard you try. Somewhere, they are on the server of the Internet provider she used.

Guardians of the middle class? Any class other than their own? I doubt it. If any normal citizen had said and done the things these two brush off as inconsequential, we would be behind bars. Seriously. Think about it.

However, they both have their admirers ... people that believe in them no matter what kind of things they have said or have done. But not all. Watching PBS News last night, they had a feature on extremely poor citizens of Wilkesboro, North Carolina. They struggle every day to survive and their take on either political party is not kind. They all, every single one, feel abandoned. After 8 years of a Democratic presidency they look at Trump, a "dazzling" billionaire as someone outside the political morass of Washington who provides hope. Like Trump said, "What do they have to lose?" I wonder if Caesar Augustus told the Roman senate something similar.The United States is a great nation. It has welcomed, more or less reluctantly, people from all over the world. Some have succeeded beyond all expectations and made our lives better and been a beacon of light. That said, I also am more than aware of the flaws in our system. Being a Peace Corps Volunteer in Liberia, West Africa, often traveling across the continent, talked to many that maybe admired us but certainly didn't want to live like us. I remember bringing news reels to my small village and showing them the flight of Apollo 11. They were incredulous and couldn't believe that we flew around the same moon they could go outside and see that night. While the youngsters wanted to come and many did during 25 years of civil war, most stayed home. LBJ suffered the same delusions. He just couldn't believe that every Vietnamese didn't want to be like us.

The struggle is fairness, leveling the playing field so that all have a chance to succeed. Isn't that the very reason of the Revolution? Taxation without representation? There is no "official" royal family in the United States but we are a stratified society nevertheless. With enough money, you can get off the hook, the same hook I would imagine that most of my readers could not escape. For readers of ANIMAL FARM, the sign on the barn at the beginning of the book said, "All animals are equal." At the end of the book, when the pigs (very apt I might add) take over, the sign now reads, "Some animals are more equal than others."

We design, believe it or not, the society that we live in. Every vote, every law passed or reviewed by the courts, creates (designs) our society. If you don't think so, read the United States Constitution. It is quite clear in what can and cannot be done. While the document is nearly 250 years old it contains many truths and much wisdom on how to create and live in a moderate, secular society. The Constitution is a social contract between it's citizens and the citizens we elect to represent us. This is something many groups in this country have ignored to the point of creating an idealogical chasm that seems, at least before this election, impossible to cross. America's greatness is its ability to meet and compromise ... not dictate! That Trump would even allude to not accepting the vote of the electoral college is anathema to our very system of government. To even hint at this is to say goodbye to the American Republic and usher in Imperial America ... PAX Americana. More than one historian has observed the similarities of Ancient Rome and its potential here in the United States. Let's hope and pray they are wrong.

I make no recommendations but instead hope you will vote or as Edmund Burke observed in 1795 as America struggled to become a nation, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men (and women) to do nothing.” I DO urge you to vote! Every vote counts as Al Gore acknowledged the other day; he lost the Presidency of the United States by about 567 votes. For better, or worse, the republic must go on. You do count. Please VOTE!

Thank you for reading my blog. Please, take the time to explore earlier blogs where the emphasis here and always is to explore the ways design and art affects our lives ... and always has. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Transforming White Paper Masks Into A Halloween Costume

White paper masks
When I first stumbled on these white paper masks in a small but amazing "general" store in the middle of nowhere on Vancouver Island in Canada last April, I just looked at them and moved on. What on earth could you do with these, I thought? However, as I continued to be amazed at the unique and very inexpensive art supplies in this store, I suddenly remembered my friend was coming to visit me around Halloween here in Palm Springs.

Snowbirds, Gays and everything in between go all out for Halloween in Palm Springs. No, it's not a raunchy affair like in West Hollywood ... more of a family affair, more or less. Jesus was our bartender at Lulu's, we saw men dressed, and quite well I might add, as Polynesian beauties, the Pope with his girlfriend, even a dominatrix leading her husband around with a chain around his neck. Even the kids get involved. Third place in the evenings costume contest went to siblings dressed (and quite well too) as minions, one of my favorite cartoon characters!

While I haven't worn a costume in years, I was so intrigued by what I saw on a visit last Halloween I decided that this year, friend from China in hand, we would dress up! But as what? I bought the two white masks and thought that I would be inspired by masks for sale at the weekly street fair and what I remembered from New Orleans and Brazil. But a costume too? Never!!!

Two sided - red and black reversible
robe with amazing embroidery

When I visited Hong Kong again last July (2016) I mentioned to my friend that it would be nice to find something we could buy and wear in Palm Springs for Halloween. Even more reluctant than me, we toured the seemingly endless opportunities to shop there. If you haven't been to the Night Market on Temple Street in Kowloon, open from 6 pm to midnight every night, you have truly missed a shopping opportunity of the first order! It may be, ugh, junk, but fun junk. Really!

We struck gold though when walking through one of about three malls at The Peak, the top of a mountain behind Hong Kong with a spectacular view of Hong Kong, Victoria Harbor and Kowloon, especially on a clear night! Looking at all kinds of things we really didn't need, we stumbled on a row of racks crammed with robes. The first few were eh, but as we worked our way down the row we found more and more beautiful sateen robes with amazing embroidery on both sides! They were $269 HK dollars, too rich for my blood until Qiang said, that is about $35 American. Trying one on (one must be very careful in Hong Kong ... their large would be very small to an American), I found it fit perfectly and I liked the slinky feeling of the fabric with, even if machine made, beautiful embroidery.
Traditional Mandarin hat with pigtail

I bought it. Then I told him I needed a traditional Mandarin hat so I could dress as an educated Mandarin from the old days. He said he knew just the place.

On another day of shopping (I swear this is the national sport and the locals know the prices of absolutely everything too!) he took me to an alley lined with shops. These small shops are everywhere and usually line the alleys with small booths stuck up near the walls where shopkeepers sell just about anything you can imagine and maybe more. There, hanging on the wall alongside the shop were latex masks of just about everyone famous you might know along with those you don't. Inside the dark dim shop we found the proprietor, not a very friendly sort, and inquired about the hat I wanted. She went somewhere and returned with a stack of red and black hats, complete with golden embroidery and the old traditional pigtail. I bought it.

To make the costume complete I searched for but couldn't find the type of shoes they would wear and figured black Crocs would give about the same effect. I mean here, we never worry about the rain.

Could this be a tiger mask?
When I came home I pulled out the two masks but just couldn't decide just how I could use them in my costume. Then, after my friend sent me a photo of a tiger backpack he bought for his costume I realized I could convert the large, butterfly shaped mask into a tiger face! How easy (or hard) would that be?

Comparing the photo he sent to the colors of paint I had or could mix up, I decided to paint the entire mask a tiger tan color. However, the shape seemed to be a real obstacle. I forged on first adding the white brows, cheeks and other white areas of the face where they would appear cutout or not. After I was satisfied with the white, I let that dry and using the end of a flat brush more of less squashed the paint tip down on the face to create the tiger stripes. It was far more fun than I ever thought.

The finished tiger mask
I used DecoArts Traditions paint for their opaqueness and was pleased with the coverage I got considering the mask was painted completely tan. The Traditions white and black coming later had no problem with coverage. Letting this dry, I put on a bit more white and then a bit more black especially around the eyes making sure the stripes stood out from the tan face. All considered, especially since you won't see the nose, I think it does a credible job of capturing a tiger's face with an unusual, butterfly shape!

I used DecoArts Matte varnish, two coats in fact, to give the paper more strength and to protect the paint from sweat and such.

While it may have looked difficult, the tiger mask proved to be the easier mask to paint. Using a small butterfly shape with very definite formed lines and circles proved to be more of a challenge.

The raw, white butterfly mask

I realized the mask had to mirror the robe and hat so I used matte black paint top and bottom leaving the central flat area red. To pick up the gold embroidery on both the hat and the robe I used gold for accents. Painting the black first proved a challenge when I used red in a band across the mask around the eyes. Several coats were needed to hide the black.

Because it was so detailed, I ended up using a liner brush to paint the gold! I again used Traditions paints ... black and Naphtha Red and got pretty good coverage even though I was sloppy with the black. Interestingly, the gold paint I used from the old Delta line did an amazing job of covering both sloppy red or black paint.  
The Chinese themed mask ... finished?

Finished Chinese themed mask ... bling and all!
The Chinese Mandarin costume
I liked the look of this mask and had to admit it works well with the costume. However, a neighbor noted that I should use some of the Michael's jewels I was planning on using on a new birdhouse. Jewels? Really? It isn't gaudy enough? They assured me, glam was in and so I relented and agreed to add "jewels" to the gold circles for a bit more bling. I guess if I had come this far, what was a bit more? After all this is Palm Springs and excess of anything is not unheard of. After adding the jewels I had to admit they really did give the mask more of a Mardi Gras look, one that would be perfect for Halloween.

You may be wondering how does it all fit together? Was I too crazy? I don't know, look for yourself? Is this costume a keeper? Something to trot out every year? It certainly was fun for me to design and put together.

I think the lesson here is that we need to always be aware of the things we stumble upon, no matter where, and to grasp how they might be used in our creations. Did I design this? Certainly! And, you can too. It just takes the time to gather things you like, see how they might work together and then work on the parts so that they DO work together. Here, by using black, red and gold, I was able to design an outfit that mimics what might have been seen in days past. It ties together with color items that we might otherwise have never seen.

Thank you for reading my blog. Please, take the time to explore earlier blogs where the emphasis here and always is to explore the ways design and art affects our lives ... and always has. 

Friday, October 7, 2016

Why The Post Office Loses Money (And will continue to do so)

Our friendly neighborhood post office
When was the last time you went to one of these? Are you like me and hold off that trip as long as possible? The time before last, when I went to my "nearest" post office, there was a long line in the middle of the day, only two windows were open and in 15 minutes not one person had moved. By the time I left, the line had doubled in size.

Since I was heading east anyway, a friend and I stopped at the next available post office. There was a line there as well but at least it moved. It was a sobering experience to say the least.

Post Office patrons waiting, waiting, and ... waiting
However what really got me mad was my experience yesterday when documents I needed for a loan had to be sent to an escrow office 90 miles away. As usual this was the sight - long lines yet again. It too was at a relatively, at least to my mind, dull part of the day. Not only did the line look like this but there was only one person behind the counter. Yup one and he was busy yucking it up with a woman at the counter.

To add insult to injury you were greeted at the door with another employee with a pad of paper questions. It was a list of things that she asked you. Each answer was checked off and when done, she handed the slip to you and told you to present it to the clerk behind the counter. What made it even more infuriating was that he took his time behind the counter and she waited in the lobby for the next patron. We all just stood there. It would seem to me that her services would have been better served behind the counter not as an order taker that waited for the next patron.

Then this clerk, when done with his customer, just left. There was no one behind the counter. We all looked at each other, then the paper taker and back at each other. One person left but two or three more entered the line. Finally, after 5 minutes (the post office thoughtfully had a clock so you can watch time fly, or not, as you wait in line) he returned and took the next patron.

I don't know what that paper did because lo and behold, he too asked many of the same questions. When I finally got there I pointed this out but he said he was required to. So ... what was the use of the woman waiting around asking questions if they were going to be asked anyway? She would have been better utilized behind the counter rather than standing around. I can tell already, Christmas is going to be a joy at the post office here in the Coachella Valley. It is this kind of behavior that drives businesses and patrons to seek other means ... notably FedEx and UPS. There are many in Congress who have voiced the same observations as they all make money and the post office loses billions every year!

IRS call that took 56+ minutes
before I could talk to an agent
Of coarse much of this has to do with the system itself. Have you ever dealt with the DMV, stood in line at the post office, dealt with any city, county, state or federal agency and not waited? I received a letter from the IRS that sent me into a panic. I had already been dunned over $5,000 in owed taxes that my accountant found was incorrect. It appears it can take up to 90 days for the IRS to post a check if you owe taxes. So now what? I even took a phone snapshot of my wait time (left). The lady was very nice but today, Oct. 6, 2016 I still have not received the documents I requested last month after a 56 minute wait.

Civil servants, who have protections that are far above and beyond those enjoyed in the private sector, seem to relish making you wait ... in person, on the phone even in answering letters or email. The bigger the line, the slower they get and the longer you wait. Truly, doing business with them is like watching time go backwards. There is no incentive, at least in their minds, salary and benefits aside, that gives them incentive. I know people who would kill for their jobs.

Many people are unaware that when the I-10 freeway collapsed in West LA, after the Northridge Earthquake, CalTrans, our highway building / maintenance program said that it would take from 6 - 9 months to repair the broken overpass that collapsed onto the freeway. Traffic was a nightmare as you had to get off the freeway via a ramp onto city streets, wind your way to the next good ramp and proceed going west towards Santa Monica. The city fathers soon discovered they were losing millions (money turns the crank) as freight lines, trucks and anyone moving anything tried to find other solutions. The daily commute was a nightmare. The cost of moving goods through the city skyrocketed. Everyone was up in arms. The thought of up to 9 months of this? Deplorable.

In their desperation they put out bids and incentivized any company that was awarded a bid that they would get $1 million a day bonus for every day they beat their estimate. A bid was let to a private firm that said 90 days. That sure beat the at least 6 month estimate by Cal Trans so they got the bid. The upshot? It was completed in 61 days. Even better than it was before and became a model for every retrofitted overpass in the Los Angeles basin.

Is the Post Office an anachronism? In this day and age with everyone sending emails ... even fancy ones are available in just about any email software program, who uses them? Junk mailers for sure, politicians, solicitations, utility bills, a stray birthday card and packages. But ... for how much longer? With Amazon playing with drones to deliver goods, you wonder if the post office's days are numbered. For any package too large for a drone there is always UPS and FedEx. Sure they aren't as cheap as the post office but they are fast and pretty reliable and would ultimately save taxpayers from bloated salaries, too many workers with unusually high costs and no way to get employees to work smarter. However, my experience with UPS and their franchise stores shows a lot of improvement is needed there too. Its a sad day when you know more than the guy behind the counter! UPS needs to tighten their training and then keep checking it is being followed.

How, you may ask, is this design. Design covers every aspect of our lives. Be it a pretty brochure, the trip that we take and yes, the someone who designed the very processes that are being followed in delivering our mail. That original post office was started in the 1700's by Ben Franklin. At one time, it was the most efficient postal delivery system in the world. It was a wonder, but like many of our institutions developed over the years, there have been resisted improvements over the years. I was witness to this in college. The linotype hot lead type of printing was replaced by cold type offset printing, then desktop printing that put the control of the page layout with the editors stopping the need for as many press room employees. Newspapers have failed because they lost their way in presenting the news. Marshall McLuhan, media guru in the 60's, would have welcomed the digital age as he said so famously, "The medium is the message." New processes, new techniques! I think that Ole Ben would have wrapped his arms around a computer ... anything that could get information from here to there instantly. The lack of speed was the Bain of his existence!

Thank you for reading my blog. Please, take the time to explore earlier blogs where the emphasis here and always is to explore the ways design and art affects our lives ... and always has.