Apple. Stupid.

Greed redefined.

You can get a top quality BenQ 27″ monitor, with stand for $600:

The 27″ calibrated BenQ monitor.

Apple however Thinks Different and has determined that not only will its new monitor sell for $5000 (likely using a regular LG panel) but wants you to pony up an extra $1000 for the stand ….

The $1000 stand for the $5000 monitor.

Either Apple has concluded that their professional customers base is, you know, stoopid, or they need a new CEO. Heck, they have needed a new CEO, someone who occasionally has an original idea, since Steve passed.

As for myself, I use a 30″ Apple LCD monitor in its elegant aluminum case which I bought used 5 years ago for $400. It calibrates nicely using a puck and is a joy to behold. And yes, it came with a stand included.

The elegant 30″ Apple LCD monitor.

Mac Pro 2019

Function over form returns.

Click the logo for details of my
2009/2010/2012 Mac Pro CPU and memory
upgrade service.

Meet the new Mac Pro, same as the old Mac Pro.

Solidly aiming at their right foot, Apple managed to disenfranchise a huge chunk of its professional user base with the idiotic ‘form over function’ Mac Pro 2013 which looked like a trash can. Designed to show off your fingerprints and collect dust and detritus in its open cylindrical center, the ads showed this wonder unconnected to any peripherals, devoid of the clutter of wires that so spoils the work aesthetic of the modern hipster. Of course once you added the required external storage and so on, the thing started looking like the mess it was:

2012 vs. 2013.

The result of this design disaster saw two results. AV and music pros started abandoning the Mac Pro for competent HP workstations running newly reliable versions of Windows. Those trying to stick with the Mac Pro applied a variety of upgrades to this wonderful modular chassis. These included faster CPUs, more and faster memory, fast SSD boot and system drives, and tons of storage, the latter easily accommodated inside the Mac Pro’s big box. The truly masochistic even upgraded wi-fi from 802.11b to 802.11n, masochism being the required mindset in securing those minuscule antenna wires. I have done many and the 50th is no easier than the first. The results were fine, the machine newly speedy and every bit as bog reliable. And in the event something failed, a rare occurrence, the bad part was easily replaced in minutes. The massive 980 watt power supply saw to it that there was always ample current available for all those internals and the truly enormous CPU heatsinks made for the most reliable computing platform ever.

So Apple determined they should throw away their base and the attendant goodwill in place of the joke that is the Trash Can Mac Pro. Of course there was always the overpriced MacBook Pro for ‘power users’, the only problem being that when real computing power was required the notebook would throttle back its CPUs lest they melt under the strain. The MacBook’s cooling was never its forte compared with the myriad fans in the big Mac Pro.

Now, after a 6 year hiatus with an offering that was never updated and had already obsolete graphics when it came to market, Apple has realized the error of its ways and introduced a large, modular Mac Pro chassis. Or is that ‘reintroduced’, for sticking with the original box with later CPUs and memory would have been trivial to do, and that large base of power user advocates would not have been largely lost?

You get faster CPUs with more cores and lots of options, faster memory and vast capacity, and a bill for some $10,000 if you max it out.

But, for heaven’s sake, why did they make that grate so ugly?

Everything that is wrong with America

In one chart.

Who makes the money off the taxpayer.

This startling chart graphically illustrates one of the greatest crimes in public education in the United States. It shows the highest paid public employees by occupation for every state. It does not require a sharp eyed observer to spot that ‘Football Coach’ outnumbers ‘College Dean’ by a huge margin.

And when you see the truly offensive compensation these geniuses of education earn, you had better not just have ingested a large meal:

Obscenity, redefined.

By contrast, the highest paid professor in the U.S. is Dean Takahashi, who is Adjunct Professor in the Practice of Finance at the Yale School of Management, and Senior Director of Investments at Yale University. He earns a paltry $2.6mm annually.

Takahashi creates wealth every time he steps in front of a whiteboard. His sports equivalent at a public college makes Takahashi’s income in just 4 months and creates future Alzheimer’s cases as all the battered brains he has so cruelly exploited become basket cases in their early 30s. And while he is pulling down $8 million annually his charges earn precisely nothing and have an infinitesimal chance of making big money in pro sports before their brains explode. Yet each one of these morons on a sports scholarship is denying a space to an aspiring scientist or artist and denying that individual a decent education.

And the biggest crime is that almost all of these sports coaches work at public colleges, meaning it’s the taxpayer who is footing the bill.

Karl Marx postulated that capitalism will hang itself using a rope of its own making. That process is well advanced in higher public education in the U.S. I always thought you attended college to improve your brain, yet the highest paid at public colleges are in the business of destroying brains.

Roy Stryker

Bringing the message home.

Roy Emerson Stryker

FDR’s cousin Teddy Roosevelt saw to it that through Jacob Riis’s pictures of the poor of New York the awful poverty of the lower classes was brought into Americans’ homes. FDR did something similar in appointing Roy Stryker, a Columbia trained economist and amateur photographer, to head the Farm Security Administration in 1935. The goal was to document and expose the plight of the poor in ‘fly over country’ to the affluent, coastal masses, and Stryker did so with aplomb.

The photographers he hired to execute this massive task read like a who’s who of the best reportage picture makers of the era: Dorothea Lange, Arthur Rothstein, Walker Evans, Ben Shahn, John Vachon, Marion Post Wolcott, Russell Lee, Jack Delano (no relation to FDR), Gordon Parks, John Collier and Carl Mydans. Each went on to fame and fortune and if I was forced to make choices I would have to single out Dorothea Lange and Marion Post Wolcott.

In the same way that a pre-television age saw FDR come into Americans’ living rooms through the medium of his Fireside Chats on the radio, the work of Stryker’s team of photographers brought the images of the Depression into their homes along with the daily paper. FDR never managed to turn the economy around from the Great Depression which arguably started with the Wall Street crash of 1929 but he showed that he was trying mightily hard. The Japanese solved the problem, putting Americans back to work on December 7, 1941. It was called Pearl Harbor and the economy took off on the back of government military spending that the isolationists had prevented for over a decade. Yes, they were Republicans, as cruel and grasping then as now.

The FSA was eventually folded into the War Department and Stryker moved on. But his accomplishment remains one of the most fertile in documentary photography.

The Contarex

Wild complexity.

If you want engineering design excellence it’s generally a good idea to keep the accountants away from decision making. These are people who will not give a second thought to trashing design integrity and brand equity in the interest of saving a penny, which is why no accountants run Fortune 500 companies, and thank goodness for that. If accountants ran NASA the moon landing would remain a work in progress.

However, to totally divorce the design process from the real world is not such a great idea, either. An automotive example will suffice. In the 1970s the big Mercedes sedans, the W116 series, set a benchmark for performance, reliability and safety. And while the reliability wasn’t the greatest, for it included such cockamamie ideas like placing red hot catalytic converters under the hood, Lexus and Infinity were yet to appear and redefine what ‘reliability’ should mean. So, as these things go, the W116 was a reliable, big sedan.

Mercedes built from strength in the 1980s, crafting the W126 series of big sedans and coupés, some of the best grosser Mercedes ever made. And while they lacked modern twin cam, variable valve timing motors for power and efficiency – the 5.6 liter single cam V8 motor managed but 238 horse power – they were made like a vault and largely problem free. If there was an Achilles heel it was the daft idea of operating just about everything using vacuum lines and valves. Door locks, seat locks, a/c switches, you name it. The rubber diaphragms in the related circuitry would rot and split after a few years and, while they were $2 parts, accessing and replacing them was a half-day job. Awful. When the Japanese came along with their competing big sedans they saw to it that all these peripherals were actuated using small and reliable electric motors. No vacuum tubing required. And because these small and inexpensive motors were located at the point of operation – in the door for the locks, as an example – replacement was a simple matter should they fail, which they rarely did.

So two decades of success with their most lucrative product lines meant that the engineers were well and truly in charge, the accountants now hiding behind their green eye shades. And this is where it all went disastrously wrong with the successor to the W126 line, the W140. One favored German vacation strategy is to place your car on a railroad flat bed, have the Deutsches Bahnhof diesel it to your favorite spot for reminiscing – you know, Berchtesgaden, the Berghof, the Nuremburg rally site, the location of the Führer bunker – and then drive it around at your destination while reliving German charm and history. So the first thing the engineers did was to make sure that the W140 was too wide to allow it on the railroad’s flatbed. A winner for sales, that one.

Then, because you need total silence while listening to the Ride of the Valkyries on your 12 speaker system, those same engineers saw to it that the windows were double paned, with a vacuum seal which promptly leaked, allowing in condensation. And finally, engineering installed a faulty air conditioning evaporator which failed after a couple of years. So buried was this device in the innards of the W140 that the shop time – which is what Mercedes reckons it should take – was 23 hours to replace the faulty part. 23 hours! Call it $3,000 in labor and $2,000 in parts so you could continue enjoying those Valkyries in air conditioned comfort. Little wonder that most mechanics refuse to even do this job as 23 hours on your back inside the car removing everything from the dashboard to the firewall is not fun. And the resulting behemoth was not only quite especially ugly, it also weighed over 5,000 lbs. And did I mention the $1,000 interior rear view mirror? Sales were poor, used values quickly dropped to 15 cents on the dollar (“$80,000 Mercedes S500, five years young, just $12,000. Drive the best.”)

The W140. Subtlety was not a design dictate. The V12 motor compounds complexity.

But Mercedes’ engineers were not breaking new ground here. Rather they were following an honorable legacy of ridiculous over-engineering which probably peaked with the Zeiss Ikon Contarex of 1958. When they were not making sights, scopes and binoculars for the Wehrmacht the better with which to invade their neighbors, Zeiss had a long and honorable tradition of making fine optics and a range of cameras for most pocketbooks. The folding Ikontas of the 1930s brought compactness to roll film bodies, whether in 6×4.5, 6×6 or 6×9 formats, paired with excellent Zeiss optics. To compete with the Leica, Zeiss came out with the Contax range of 35mm rangefinders, whose integrated view/rangefinder of 1936 pre-dated the magnificent design of the Leica M3 which was first marketed almost two decades later. True, the stirrings of needless complexity were to be found in the brass slatted focal plane shutter, not know for its reliability as the silk (no kidding!) cords guiding its movement were known to break, but that aspect did not bother the likes of Robert Capa who took one to Omaha beach in 1944 to document the D Day landings.

So in the late 1950s, seeing its lead in 35mm cameras threatened by the Nikon F – the AK47 of cameras being crude, bold, robust, reliable – Zeiss decided they would make the ultimate 35mm SLR. It would have everything in the one body, interchangeable film backs with a dark slide to permit change of film stock in broad daylight, a built in coupled exposure meter and a large range of the highest quality Zeiss lenses to fit the bayonet mount. But something went awry while the accountants were at the Oktoberfest getting blasted, for the resulting Zeiss Ikon Contarex came out large, quite specially ugly, massively heavy and unbelievably complex. How about a complex and fragile gear train for the film rewind mechanism, in lieu of a simple slotted post? W140 anyone?

The Contarex Bullseye. The nutty name font portended problems to come.

The ‘Bullseye’ moniker was added by the press and they were probably thinking of the target painted on the foot of the lead designer for this disaster. The lenses were, in the great Zeiss tradition, some of the best made, with exotic designs even in those distant days.

Some of the lenses offered were way ahead of the time.

In addition to the vast complexity of the design – 40 steps alone required to remove the top plate – some of the design decisions were downright befuddling. The lens would remain at its stopped down aperture after the shutter was released, meaning all was dark if you elected a small aperture. Unlike with the Nikon F the prism was fixed, so scientific use was tricky. Confusingly, the frame counter started at 36 and counted down. The interchangeable backs were a solution looking for a problem. And the whole thing was silly expensive. After a period of professional use reliability was found to be poor at best, and the superb chrome plating of the exterior, which was very wear resistant, would hide a shop of horrors inside. And those fine optics did not benefit from production line manufacturing which makes all parts interchangeable. Oh no. They were ‘hand assembled’ which is a euphemism for poor parts consistency owing to the use of outdated machining tools.

Zeiss struggled along with the Contarex in a fruitless effort to recover all those sunken design costs, coming out with the Professional (a meterless body with an interchangeable prism), the Super (a TTL semi-spot metered design like that in the excellent Leicaflex SL) and the Electronic (whose electronics promptly failed with spare parts quickly becoming unavailable). None managed to avoid the wild complexity of the original Bullseye. Indeed, the Electronic managed to compound that complexity, which was quite an achievement.

Some aver that the Contarex was the cause of the demise of Zeiss Ikon but I rather think that the Nikon F and its many excellent Japanese competitors, fair priced and reliable, were the real cause. As a collectible the Contarex is peerless. As a working camera it is next to useless.