Apple Tools

June 13, 2010

I think Apple users are tools. Apple fans are even more tools. And shame on Apple developers, for not only buying into the marketing, but helping to perpetuate it as well.

Apple users are tools because they ignore the fact that their products are overpriced (Macs), underpowered and under-featured (iPhone), and completely closed off, in favor of the marketing assertion that Apple products “just work.” Unfortunately, the “just work” part isn’t true at all, and what users get, especially in light of far better alternatives now present, is only a very shiny but of comparatively limited usefulness device.

I’m not a all-in-one fan. I find that specialized things are better at their specialty than jack-of-all-trades devices. I find that it is a bit more expensive to buy the best of everything separately, but that I don’t need the best of everything, only the best of a few things. I have a phone that will make and receive calls fairly decently. I have a gaming console that plays great games. I have an MP3 player (not the Cowon S9 BTW, despite my earlier ranting and raving on how it’ll be mine) that plays music superbly. I have neither want nor desire for all three functionalities present and available at once much less on one device. I know I’m not going to be playing games while listening to music–games come with their own sound and music, and it would ruin certain games if I was blasting Beethoven’s 9th while trying to hunt zombies.

Therefore, people who buy the iPhone for its so-called versatility are tools. It truly is a jack of all trades and master of none. Its sound quality sucks. Its touch feature is good, but limited in it having a capacitive touch screen. It’s missing a huge chunk of business-oriented features. It has a whole ton of general features missing (like MMS until late last year, and multi-tasking, which hopefully will show up later this year). So here I’m wondering what’s so great about it, and why people are so into it if it’s not really that good at anything.

Therefore, I have to conclude that “hip” people eat up marketing the way midwesterners eat up McDonalds, and that they are all tools–ignorant, foolish, at the hands of the puppetmaster Steve Jobs, but still somehow under the firm impression that they’re in control of their lives and future. I have to wonder how a true democracy can survive if these are the kind of people in it?


Doorway To Power

March 14, 2009

I’d like to elaborate on the previous idea of soft and hard power and to continue developing that line of thought. As I’ve probably mentioned a dozen times before, power can be separated along two orthogonal axes. There is soft and hard along one dimension, and internal and external along the second dimension (there are probably several more dimensions others may want to divide kung fu by, but those classifications are by and large regarding different styles, as opposed to different powers).

I previously described soft power as pushing a door open, whereas hard power is breaking the door apart. The differences should be plain with this explanation. Soft power is gradual, while hard power is sudden, explosive. One might say, a hundred pounds of force is still a hundred pounds of force. But though a hundred pounds of force may be required to gain entry–that a door might require a hundred pounds of force to open and a hundred pounds of force to break apart–one method preserves the object, but changes its state from open to closed, while the other maintains the state of being closed while changing the object from a door to pieces of the door’s material. To put it more abstractly, one method preserves intent but changes the direction, while the other method changes the intent but preserves the direction.

This is rather important, as no effective system of fighting exists as either completely soft power or completely hard power. All usable offensive power lies somewhere in between. The difference in styles is only a matter of where along this gradient the style primarily emphasizes. For example, tai chi, with the exception of the Chen branch, emphasizes soft power. As does jujitsu. A style such as hung gar, on the other hand, emphasizes the hard, though to be fair, hung gar is so expansive the statement isn’t entirely accurate. Regarding Chen style tai chi, it contains a healthy dose of hard power, though the focus remains on soft power.

I want to move away from mentioning and using specific styles as examples though, as though it is more often than a hindrance more than help. Any mention of a specific style would only result in distortions from existing preconceived notions of said style whether right or wrong. Instead, I want to focus on the existing door analogy.

Soft power and hard power are complementary, and are mutually exclusive. As well, they are diametrically opposed to each other, one capable of completely neutralizing the other. Soft power seeks to redirect the hard power, while hard power seeks to use speed and strength to drive through before it can be redirected. Imagine trying to push open a door that might fall apart from the weight of the push, or busting open the door that is on a loose set of hinges. The objective is achieved, but the energy expenditure is wholly unnecessary. And in a fight, the most efficient fighter of two equals in strength, speed, and skill is the winner.

The sole objective of a fight is to last longer than the opponent. With hard power–the more intuitive power to use–the idea is to cause enough pain and physical damage to the opponent to cause the other to stop returning the favor. The objective of soft power is a little different. Soft power cannot be used for causing damage. At best, soft power can achieve a throw into a body slam. Thus outlasting the opponent with soft power is literally that: waiting for the opponent to tire while expending as little energy as possible to neutralize attacks. While this sounds great in theory, it is impossible to pull of between two equally skilled combatants in practice.

Both soft and hard systems rely on the horse, the root, the stance. Newton’s second law states that for every action, there is an opposite and equal reaction. Thus, for us humans to physically move about, we must use the ground as leverage. The ground is what gives us our energy to maneuver. If the opponent is standing on the ground, so must we. Otherwise, there would be nothing for us to push off of, and instead of causing damage on impact, we would fly backwards ourselves. That would look rather pitiful.

To be completely soft, even the foundation must go. Not only is that impossible, the effectiveness of every action would immediately be halved. Thus pure soft power is not practical at all. Instead, soft power is used to complement hard power, to be used during the times in between the hard movements. Such down times have to exist, as by nature, hard power is explosive, and it wouldn’t be terribly explosive if the energy output was constant. Any practitioner of hard power receives a considerable boost in stamina with strong soft power. This is because while someone who knows only hard power is required to use hard power for every motion, one is versed in soft power can substitute soft power in certain instances.

Orthogonal to hard and soft is internal and external. I know I’ve said this before, but internal power is power which an outside observer cannot see, and in fact cannot necessarily detect, while external is easily seen. To continue with the door analogy, internal may be the chemical structure of the door, while external may be the door meeting your face.

Most people confuse internal with soft, and external with hard. Hard external is very obvious. Hard power, as I stated above, is intuitive. External power is intuitive, because that’s the power we use when we do things. Even something as simple as typing this up requires external power. Not much, granted, but the power is still external. External soft is the next easiest to grasp. It requires externally exerting gradual changes in power. The width or shape of the curve is largely unimportant for this categorization, so long as it is a curve and not a spike. There are more ideal shapes and less ideal shapes, and faster is typically better albeit more difficult to create the right shape. But that topic I reserve for another time.

Internal power is incredibly difficult to grasp. What most people think of internal isn’t actually internal, but is either soft external power, or simply hard external power. That is not to say that they don’t know what internal power is, but that most people tend to misattribute the term. Because internal power cannot act on its own, it is not used in the same sense that one might use a limb. Instead, its purpose is to support and perhaps eventually supplant the external power, so that movements suddenly start relying on internal power more and more.

Internal hard power is most easily illustrated by the image of a shaolin monk during a performance, gathering “chi” to a specific part of the body. While this may be how this is explained by the system, the more general explanation is to say that monk is activating the internal hard power in those parts of the body.

Internal soft power is the soft version. It is the most abstruse of powers, as if you really think about it, it means soft power that cannot be seen, effectively no power at all. But it is there. It exists. It is actually the relaxation of the entire body. This is more difficult that it sounds, as most muscles in our bodies are constantly being flexed or are in a perpetual state of usage. This is because to so much as stand, our muscles have to support our frame and prevent it from collapsing due to gravity. The undoing of this intuition is extremely difficult. But if done properly, it can create an enormous boost in soft power.

External power can be trained through movement. Push-ups, sit-ups, practicing forms, etc. are all methods of external training. In order to train internal, the opposite has to happen. Instead of doing, internal training ideally involves no motion at all. It is, in some respects, a form of meditation. Rather than radiate the energy outwards in external training, internal training draws the energy inwards. This is the key component to the internal workout. Just as in external training, there is repetition, there is what I call cycling of energy for internal training. Slow or fast, gradual or sudden, cycling of this energy determines whether it is hard or soft internal power being developed.

Before ending, I want to mention something quick about weapons as a segue to the next post. Weapons are used as an extension of the arm. But a weapon needs to be met with a weapon, while the arm can be met with any part of the body.

Yet Another Season

February 28, 2009

The season is finally over and I have a fresh batch of injuries to prove it. Cuts, bruises, scrapes, pulled muscles, twisted joints, I have it all this year. I’m getting too old for this kind of stuff. On the other hand, I did get to see several new puzzles first-hand, and I’m pretty confident I know what to do for them. This was a good year actually, in that while there weren’t a lot of lion dances in terms of individual events, there was a lot of variety in the puzzles we did. It’s always more fun and exciting to do interesting and different puzzles than to just do the same old tired stuff. And this year was full of interesting puzzles. To name a few:

Ladder puzzle.
Greens in a bowl of water.
Greens with chopsticks.
Very high green (at least two stories).

At the same time, it’s far more tiring this year. And I still suck at actually getting the lettuce, though my throws are probably a lot better this year. I think I’m going to work on kicking it for next year, so that it can reach those high places where people try to hide from getting hit with the lettuce.

I had an epiphany at work today. The difference between hard power and soft power is that hard power is used to shatter a glass door, but soft power would be used to open it. And thus soft power isn’t so much about brute strength as it is about control. And I guess it’s the same regarding real soft power, i.e. the kind in politics. There’s an appropriate time for either. I think the real test in skill is knowing when to apply hard power, and when to apply soft power.

I just wanted to get that out of the way before I forgot.

Happy New Year! (Again…)

February 8, 2009

Another year has gone by, and a new one has come. It is the year of the ox–or the cow, as I like to call it.

Lion dance season is upon us again. Or was anyway. New Years happened on the 26th of January, and I’ve had nearly non-stop lion dancing for about a week and a half. The economic downturn has caused many smaller shops to cut their festivities’ budgets, but for some reason, we seem to be as busy as every other year. I’m not complaining, but I wonder if a lot of companies are just trying to put a good face on a bad situation.

I’ve managed to not mess up this season. Hung was out for several of the performances, so it was up to some of the other people, myself included, to make up for his absence. I think I did OK–not that anybody would tell me if I did otherwise. I’m a little more aggressive this year than before, I think, towards the pricks who think it’s fun to wave the red envelope around in front of the lion. I’m not kicking them outright, but I do cut it close enough to make them back off. I really have no interest in humoring these people, though I definitely would have thought otherwise last year.

I haven’t posted for a few months. In that time, a lot of stuff has happened. The WordPress interface is markedly different. The Cowon S9 Curve is out, but I’m still waiting on the 32GB version before I take the plunge. I did buy myself a new camera, and I’m looking into a light tripod to carry around with it. I also bought myself the Millenium Falcon that I’ve been waxing and waning about since it came out.

On that front, the new 2009 product lines look spectacular. I don’t have any of the pirates yet, but I’m seriously considering buying the entire line as soon as lion dance season is done. There’s also the new castle village set that I’m hearing great things about. The new construction and farm city sets look OK. I’m also considering buying one or two of the Power Miners sets. We’ll see about that.

Things with Pug were actually looking up for a little bit. But judging from how things have turned out at the lion dances so far, I think we’re back to the status quo again. Our relationship is like the stock market; it’ll bounce up a bit every so often, but it’ll eventually go back to bottom and stabilize around that.

On that line of thought, I’m officially predicting that it will be about two more years before the economy starts recovering. I’m not sure about when the stock market will turn around, but that should bounce back up sometime after the economy does. The Dow won’t hit 14K again for another 10 years though, at the very latest. Unfortunately, quality of living with continue to decline for another three or four years after that before it picks back up again. As for the housing market, I can only see it go down slowly for the next 5-10 years. Or more accurately, housing prices will stay about the same, but inflation will hit the roof in that time, so the value will effectively decrease. Oil will stabilize at around $50-$60 a barrel once the economy picks up again. In all honesty, I don’t really put too much faith into my long-term predictions because of the multitude of variables, including what the idiot Feds are going to do, but the short-term ones I’m pretty damn sure about. I’m just putting these down on the record, so when the time comes, I can tell everyone I told ’em so.

Anyway, I know I’m not supposed to mention concrete dates here, but the big lion dance is tomorrow, and I’m–as always–nervous and excited. It’s actually rather boring as far as the actual performance goes, as all it is is just walking around with a lion head the entire day. But for some reason, I still get that warm, familiar feeling run through me when I think about it. Maybe it’s all the people who’ll be there, or maybe it’s just the idea of going out and completely owning our little section of the streets for a few hours one day every year.

Merry Christmas!

December 25, 2008

It’s Christmas! So many things have happened in the past month. The S9 is finally out, and it’s as much a reviewer’s delight as any non-iPod player could be. Its sound and video quality are both awesome (Cowon is known for sound quality, and the AMOLED does videos superbly), but it’s UI is still rough around the edges despite the capacitive touch screen. One can’t possibly review it without evoking the iPod Touch, and quite frankly, nobody’s going to be able to come out with a new product that will be immediately comparable with the mature iPod Touch line. I await firmware revisions to fix the existing bugs, and maybe even to add more functionality. That having been said, I’m quite psyched about getting one myself. If only it wasn’t Christmas and I actually had the money to spare at the moment instead of spending it on presents…

On the same train of thought, I’m slightly disappointed at the lack of sales for the Panasonic LX3. I decided that while I’m waiting for Red to whip their Scarlet line into shape, I’d buy myself a nice point-and-shoot. I decided against the Casio EX-F1 because of the poor image quality and auto-focus. I’m not sure if subsequent firmware revisions have corrected the auto-focus issue, but I’ve moved on. The LX3 is comparable to the F40 in terms of low-light performance, but like the G9 in terms of features. The only thing lacking is that it has a max zoom range of 60mm, though it does have a wide-angle of 24mm. But since most pictures are taken at 50mm anyway, it doesn’t matter that much.

It seems a lot of other stuff have been discounted though, and I’ve taken full advantage of that. All this buying certainly accounts for my current lack of cash, though my lack of wealth in general can be fairly attributed to the recession in progress. But anyway, I picked up the UCS Millennium Falcon for less than $350 total, which to me, is a steal. In fact, I have the thing in a box, unopened, still sitting in the doorway where I left it when I picked up the package. I also picked up the Skeleton Ship Attack from a collector’s shop for a little more than MSRP. I now have a troll vs. skeleton vs. agents thing going on. As soon as I pick up the new pirate ship, it’ll be an all-out 4-way naval battle. I have the fireboat (that really floats) too, but I’m not sure I should include it yet. And yes, this entire paragraph was entirely about Lego.

On a more somber note, things are going to be bad for retailers this year. Yes, entertainment is probably at its peak. But it will be at the cost of big-ticket items such as TV’s. With the recession happening, the idea is to buy smaller gifts. And where gifts in the past averaged several hundred dollars, they’re now more likely to be in the twenty to fifty dollar range. The truth is, the economic meltdown is not going away anytime soon. In fact, it’s only going to get worse. I’m seeing a minimum of two years before signs of rebounding even begin appearing, possibly another year or two before things actually get better. 2009 is going to be a bad year all around, and I know both companies and individuals are hording cash to brace for its impact.

On a lighter note, here’s a Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanza/whatever present: a more advanced beginner’s tip.

True power can only be attained when the body is relaxed. That is not to say that any part should be soft and flabby. Instead, it means to be ready. To be holding power is to be tight. For example, clench hard, and your arms start shaking. This is a bad thing in practice. Power needs to be projected from the body in bursts. And in order to do so, the part of the body that the power travels through must be relaxed. The entire chain, from generation to projection, must not be tight. But power is useless if it isn’t focused. So if the power is coming from the ground, it is equally important to be able to have the legs focus the power travelling up. This basically means that even though the legs are relaxed, they do not move. This focus must extend to the part of the body that’s acting, so that the energy has a purpose and isn’t merely thrown out of the body like an old rag.

One must acquire strength in order to do this well. By well, I mean naturally. That is, after all, the goal of training. Anyone can copy motions if they go slow enough. But to be able to have the techniques come out as needed is a different story and requires significant training. And foremost is to have the muscles to be able to pull off the technique and do it well. But this isn’t the same strength as from weight lifting. The strength developed from weight lifting is dead strength. In order for raw, brute strength to become power, it needs to be alive. This means working muscle groups together in the same way as a technique, but with resistance. Such a training regiment doesn’t just improve muscle memory, it also links the muscles together, and strengthens that link so that the burst of power becomes a natural movement. Thus, you can say that this training is to accelerate the process of turning an unnatural movement into a very natural movement that would otherwise have to be acquired through years of repetition.

For example, one method of training the grip is to constantly lift heavy and cumbersome items from the top (as opposed to from the bottom). But because every style focuses on a different type of power from a different part of the body, I leave it as an exercise for the reader to develop the most appropriate exercise. The only requirement for the exercise is that its motions are the same as that of the techniques that need to be developed.

Then, when a technique has become natural to the point where you can put power into executing the technique but still remain relaxed, that is the the body has physically mastered the technique. The mental aspect is completely different, and something I will save for a subsequent post.


November 10, 2008

Beginner’s tip: know your distances. There is a range for kicking, a range for striking, and a range for grappling. There’s no set measure for ranges. It depends on the individual style and the focus of that style. Know your distances. Your style, your body type, your mentality all contribute to what your distances are. Distance determines what to do–whether to bridge, to step in, or to retreat–and how to do it. It’s a good idea to know all aspects of a fight, from the footwork to the ground work, but not all styles are complete in this manner. One can either choose to pick up a complementary style, or work around the lackings. The latter path means constant repositioning is necessary in a fight in order to maintain the ideal range. It goes without saying that a strong understanding of distances is paramount to doing this well. After all, if someone can do in one move what you need two to do, you’ve put yourself at a significant disadvantage.

I might be training a little too hard recently. Old injures are starting to flare up again. The silver lining is that the pain is in the right places this time. Last time, I had pain in completely unrelated places, which meant I really, really screwed something up, to the point where parts of my body that shouldn’t be in pain were. But parts of by body are still screaming, and that’s never a pleasant feeling, whether the body part has a right to do so or not.

On top of that, I’m going to be stuck with Pug and Poodle for a week. So long as they don’t force me into action, I think I will survive. I’ve got my fingers crossed.

The good news is, I’m looking forward to Black Friday this year. There probably won’t too many good deals, but I’m hoping I’ll be able to pick up a big Lego set from Target. They typically have one or two big sets on sale every Black Friday, and I’m hoping one of these will be from the 2009 Pirate line. I’m also looking to pick up a camera. I know Red is announcing their DSLR killer, but I need a decent point-and-shoot. I’m still hoping Red’s new thing (or one of their new things) will be a good, small camcorder. But Red is good at camcorders. I’m looking for something I can stick into my pocket.

To that effect, I’ve picked out the Panasonic LX3. It is no Fuji F31 in terms of low-light sensitivity, but it does have 24mm at F2.0 and raw output, which means it might not need ISO800 in the same situations the F31 does. Its ISO800 compares well to the F31’s ISO1600, so I think it’s comparable. And it does 720p24 movies. I’m not sure how useful the movie feature will be if I get a Red camcorder, but at least if Red’s new thing isn’t to my liking, I can stick with the LX3. The only bad thing is that it’s zoom is to 60mm, which is paltry compared to 140mm or 175mm of other P&S cameras, but I suppose I can’t have my cake and eat it too. At least it’s not a lie.

So despite recent economic woes, I’m looking to spend a shitload of money in the next 3 months. I’m getting depressed just thinking about it.

State of the Union

November 7, 2008

So Barack Obama will be our 44th president, electoral college willing. That’s good, if only because Sarah Palin won’t be a heartbeat from the highest office in the land. Newsweek has a good post-election special on the candidates during the campaign. It sounds like Palin’s worse than everyone suspected. Putting those people anywhere near a powerful position would’ve utterly ruined the United States. Even with her as VP, the family would’ve made Dick Cheney look like a used car salesman, especially considering how spineless the Democrats are.

Here’s the thing though: this is going to be a tough presidency. Things in the United States is certainly going to get much worse before it gets any better. And the rest of the world will sadly follow. But twenty years of Reaganomics (yes, even under Clinton) has left the country in such a poor form that I wonder just how much better things will be in 10 years. But it’s probably a good thing, because the world has seen enormous growth over the past decade, and it’s time to slow down and refine what great minds have developed these past ten, fifteen years.

The government is scrambling to find a solution to the subprime crisis. But the fact of the matter is, housing prices have fallen, and no amount of money injected into the system will send them back up. If they had bought high, people will have to live with their loss, or in this case, live in it. And even if people aren’t losing their homes because they’ve suddenly found themselves out of a job, they’re still going to stop spending. Which means retail and marketing will be in for some bad times in the near future. Entertainment and tourism, has already fallen, but following the decline in marketing, it will be even worse. And tourist-supported local economies will suffer.

It’s a good thing people have saved up for rainy days just like this. Oh wait. At least people will still have their health. Or maybe not. Personally, I think we’ll be in for three or four years of suffering followed by another ten to fifteen years of just getting by. It’s bad enough that this is happening at all, but it has to pick the best time too. The United States government has been cringing at the thought of the baby-boomer mass-retirement, and that was when things were good. Well, it won’t feel like the end of the world for too long. But people will actually have to work harder, and perhaps finally, people will learn the value of their possessions.

I had something kung fu related to write about a few days ago. Alas, by the time I’ve gotten around to writing, I’ve forgotten the subject matter entirely. Maybe I’ll remember tomorrow morning and be awake enough to jot it down on a piece of paper. In the meantime, I guess I’ll give a brief status report. I am progressing slowly as one would progress in PKFS, as well as in SKFS albeit faster, if I were to be the judge of such things. My ailments have healed perhaps 70%, so I’m starting to do better in OKFS. But every time I look at the old masters, I realize even if I was at 100%, just how much farther I still have to go.

On an unrelated note, WordPress is practically unusable through Tor. I have to jump through hoops just to get anything posted. And it sucks.