Archive | September, 2010

The Importance of Pain

10 Sep

Suffering is something we all share. Pain, specifically, bridges all cultures, socio-economic strata, GPS coordinates, religions, and political affiliations. Everyone from Bill Gates and Madonna to clutzy kids and cranky old folks has stubbed their toe and knows it hurts. We’ve all experienced pain and, with precious few exceptions, we all hate it.

Our universal connection to pain is what appalls us when we learn our governments are involved in the torture of prisoners. We are horrified by the inflicting of pain on the helpless, and no matter how bad they might be, once captive, every prisoner is helpless. The purposeful infliction of pain on another strikes us as, if not pure evil, the act of a disturbed person.

As such, pain’s ubiquity has long undermined the notion of a just and merciful deity. Long before the Christian era began, Epicurus taught us that the pervasiveness of evil, evident by such things as torture, proves the fallacy of any god’s omnipotence or goodness. To this day, theists wrestle with, what C.S. Lewis called The Problem of Pain. God never explained to Moses or through the Evangelists or in the Qur’an why the world is rife with pain and suffering. It just is. If you’re religious, you have to suck it up and pray (literally) that there’s a good reason for it. If you’re not, it’s just another reason to question the idea of an all-powerful being kindly watching over us.

Minimizing pain is what many people afflicted with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, trigeminal neuralgia, multiple sclerosis, lupus, and other diseases do every day. How much am I willing to hurt today? That’s a question they answer before deciding to go shopping, attend a party, or see a movie at the cinema. Avoiding pain is an elemental part of our evolutionary success even for those who cannot.

Yet, many of us intentionally inflict pain on ourselves through sports and training. We rationalize the suffering we endure as part of a process that makes us faster, stronger, and healthier and, we hope, able to live longer. “No pain, no gain,” we quote to one another after a particularly brutal exercise session. We make fun of our suffering on the field. “Give blood. Play rugby,” footballers quip.

Ironically, pain is an essential part of any plan to improve one’s physical condition. If we haven’t pushed our bodies until our muscles ache, we think we’re no better off than before we started exercising. If our lungs aren’t gasping for air, then we haven’t worked out hard enough. Pain is a measuring stick for our well-being.

When I’m cycling I push myself hard on each ride so that at least once my legs are barking at me to stop or I am breathing so hard it hurts to inhale. But I press on.

Why? Why do I persist?

Trust me, it’s not because I get pleasure from the pain. It hurts. I want it to stop, but I keep going. If I have trained well enough that I can conquer a given hill or distance without pain, I pick a steeper hill or a longer ride. Maybe I’m addicted to the endorphins that are said to kick in at certain exercise thresholds. Perhaps it’s just my ego battling myself, always trying to outdo what I’ve previously accomplished.

Or, maybe I’m engaged in a futile project to ward off death by getting in good health. Maybe I embrace suffering as a way to spit in the eye of a deity that would include pain in an “intelligent design” of the universe.

I wish I knew why because I’m about to leave for another ride today. My riding partner and I have a long one planned with lots of hills in store. My legs, butt, and back will all complain mightily during and after. It bodes to be a cruel ride.

I can’t wait.


Apple’s iTunes 10: An Off-Key Upgrade

8 Sep

Unless you’re a big fan of Ping or have fancy AirPlay speakers, iTunes 10 is a flop. It’s not faster. It does not automatically include existing settings in different albums from previous 9.x versions. And it is much, much less attractive.

Also, at least for me, it introduced a glitch. Since I upgraded my Mac to iTunes 10, every time I connect my iPhone to my computer, for some inexplicable reason, the ImageCapture application launches and stops the syncing process until I close app. There does not appear to be a straightforward way to stop it from happening. (Any help here is appreciated. Image Capture 6.0.1 does not have a Preferences file to fix and the one in iTunes does not offer any help.)

My biggest complaint, though, is the new look and feel of iTunes. Is BORING the new cool at Apple? Have color highlights that help navigate through software been banned by aesthetics idiots at the company? Is making an application more difficult to use considered hip and cutting edge? By comparing version 9 on my wife’s machine and version 10 on mine I’d say Apple responded with a resounding “yes” to all those questions.

Sometimes app developers, particularly on the user-interface side, feel compelled to change things just to rationalize their existence on a payroll. They eschew the famous expression “If it’s ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Instead, they just rush ahead and break things.

I wish I had never upgraded to iTunes 10. My advice to others is to skip it as well.

Coastal Views

7 Sep

Just returned from 1,600 miles of driving around Oregon and northern California with friends from Europe. These photos are from the beach near the ever-funky See Vue Inn.

Sun reflected in tidepool

Cairns in grotto

Devil’s Churn

Rock and sand

Larry’s Instincts

6 Sep

By signing up ousted Hewlett-Packard CEO Mark Hurd today to be his president, Larry Ellison once again burnishes his idiosyncratic reputation among Silicon Valley bigwigs. Hurd, one of the least liked executives in the Valley, who left his former post under a cloud, must be grateful to Oracle’s leader for the job. I’m sure the salary and perks are first rate, and Hurd doesn’t even need to move, since his new company’s headquarters is just up Highway 101 from HP. But the benefits to Larry and Oracle remain murky at the moment.

Hurd replaces Charles Pierce a seven-year Oracle veteran. At this writing, Oracle’s newsroom web page has no explanation of why Pierce is leaving. It probably has little to do with the company’s financial performance, which has been better than decent during the Great Recession. Chalk it up to Larry’s whim. Or instinct.

For those who think Larry Ellison is as bullying and monopolistic as Bill Gates but in a better suit, he deserves the title of the book by a former employee, The Difference Between God and Larry Ellison: *God Doesn’t Think He’s Larry Ellison. And some undoubtedly question whether Larry deserved to be the highest paid executive in the world for the first decade of the 21st century.

Even I found it telling that Scott McNealy ruled out staying on after Oracle bought Sun Microsystems. Although considered brash, maybe even harsh, Scott was never unnecessarily self-centered and cruel and might not have survived at the new company.

Hurd’s another story. He reminds me of Ray Lane, a former #2 at Oracle who lasted almost eight years working side-by-side with Larry. Lane was credited with much of Oracle’s success during his tenure and it was his increasing prominence that may have led Larry to usher him out.

Hurd was becoming full of himself at HP, which undoubtedly led to his missteps and firing. But he’s probably better suited out of the limelight and working for a larger-than-life character like Larry. Like Lane, as Larry instinctively knows, Hurd will excel as a #2. It’s when the man is given free reign that his weaknesses appear.