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iPad Fever

April 7, 2010 Leave a comment

Yes, I succumbed. I knew I would. It was just a matter of when. And when came late this afternoon.

I have known for a long time that I wanted an Apple tablet computer. Whenever I sit around the house with my MacBook Air, I realize it’s the wrong product. If I want to type, I’ll sit at my desk. When I carry it around to other rooms, I use it to check email, read the NYT or other news in the browser, look at my calendar, maybe look up some statistic as I watch a sporting event. Holding my laptop is awkward. There are two planes, two flat surfaces, and I want only one.

I had a tablet PC for a couple of years. It had its own problems. It got too hot to hold comfortably when I used it for an hour. It was too heavy. It had no touch screen, so I had to click on websites or emails using the tablet pen.

I knew what I wanted. I wanted a lightweight touch screen tablet computer with no physical keyboard. Once I got an iPod Touch (and later an iPhone), the model was clear. And of course, I wanted Apple to make it, since all my other computing is done on Apple products with Apple operating systems, and since I sync my calendars and contacts and browser bookmarks through Apple’s MobileMe cloud computing service.

In effect, I had conceived of the iPad long ago, as it filled the major gap in my computing needs. I was simply waiting for it to appear.

I intended to be patient. At the least, I figured I would wait for the 3G version to come out later this month.* And since we were in New York over the weekend, there was no danger that I would buy it right away. But the more I read, the more tempted I became, and then I realized yesterday that Apple Stores had stock. If one ordered online from Apple, one would have to wait, but one could drop by a store and walk out with one. I was on campus this afternoon for a meeting. Afterwards, I went down the hill to the University Village Apple Store, tried one out for about 15 minutes, discussed the memory options with an Apple iPad expert, and made my choice (32GB).

What do I think? Well, I’ve been focused more on setting up tonight than enjoying it. I’ve downloaded Amazon’s Kindle app so I can read my Kindle books on it. Netflix. An app that lets me transfer documents from my computer hard drive to the iPad via our WiFi network and then read them on the iPad. My RSS reader (NetNewsWire). The WSJ app and the weird NYT app that lets you read just a small portion of the NYT, though in a convenient format. The Weather Channel’s app, which seems to think my location is Boston.

Oh, that’s another problem with not waiting for the 3G version. The WiFi version lacks not just 3G connectivity but also GPS. I figured I could do without. I have GPS on my iPhone. I don’t expect to be walking down the street with the iPad in hand, trying to find a restaurant. But maybe with GPS the Weather Channel app might have realized I’m not in Boston.

Do I love it? Not yet. But then, for the most part, it does what I expected. No surprises. Happy? Yes. In love? Maybe not.

What I take on our next trip will be the subject of a future post. The contenders: iPhone, iPad, Kindle, MacBook Air. Do I need all four? I sure hope not.

*The version released on Saturday connects to the internet by WiFi only. It comes in three forms, the only difference being how much flash memory it carries — 16 or 32 or 64 GB. The version yet to be released will connect through AT&T’s 3G cellular network as well as WiFi. It too will come with three memory options, and each one will be $130 more than the WiFi-only version. To use the 3G network, one will have to pay AT&T for a data plan, but unlike with the iPhone, no contract will be required. You can pay as you go.

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Categories: Technology

Wok Racing

April 7, 2010 Leave a comment

As I continue to catch up on items I meant to write about last week, let me draw your attention to the Wall Street Journal’s front-page feature two weeks ago on wok racing. When I first saw it, I imagined it was about dumb people sliding dangerously down ice courses on metal. Of course, that’s exactly what it’s about. But these aren’t just any dumb people. Some of them are the same dumb people who win Olympic gold sliding dangerously down ice courses on metal, such as Georg Hackl, the German luger who won Olympic silver in 1988, gold in 1992, 1994, and 1998, and silver again in 2002. After trading in his luge for a wok, Hackl has had continued success:

Wok racing began in 2003. As a guest on a game show called “Wanna Bet?” German comedian and TV emcee Stefan Raab joked with the audience about riding a wok down a bobsled run. The audience laughed, so he did exactly that.

“It was really amazing. I thought, ‘Why not create a new sport?'” said Mr. Raab, who has a penchant for dangerous stunts on his television show. He once wrestled a wild boar and emerged unscathed. He twice fought a German female boxing champion. She broke his nose.

Woks, which have been in use for hundreds of years in Asian cooking, weren’t designed for easy handling on ice. The rounded bottom rocks in all directions, and racers who don’t use their hands and feet for stability can find themselves spinning in circles, slamming into the track’s walls, or keeling over and sliding wok-less.

Mr. Raab staged the inaugural 2003 contest in Winterberg, Germany, after convincing reluctant track officials that racers’ body armor made it safe. Mr. Raab won, beating a motley crew of B-list celebrities, including a choreographer and an Irish-German folk musician.

Then Georg Hackl arrived. A three-time Olympic gold medalist in the luge, Mr. Hackl, now 43 years old, is that sport’s most decorated champion. Known as the speeding weisswurst, after the veal sausage, Mr. Hackl has always looked lumpy in the lycra bodysuit used in competitions. But what the beer-drinking Bavarian lacked in athletic appearance he more than made up for with drive and technical skill. He once took a job as a metalworking apprentice to figure out new ways to improve his steel-and-fiberglass luge sled.

Mr. Hackl has brought the same nerve and resourcefulness to wok racing. He beat Mr. Raab in the second championship in 2004 at Innsbruck, Austria. He has won every title since then, except in 2006 when Irish-German folk musician and weekend warrior, Joey Kelly, lined his wok with lead to turn it into a stir-fry missile.

Mr. Hackl reclaimed his title in 2007 after polishing his wok with wax and heating its base with a blowtorch before runs.

More Olympic lugers and bobsledders soon signed up for the championship. At last year’s wok championship, Mr. Hackl edged out Felix Loch, who won the gold medal in the luge at this year’s Olympic Games.

This year featured a re-match between Hackl and Loch.

This year’s championship was held in Oberhof, once a training ground for East Germany’s winter athletes. The day before the race, as spring sunshine started to melt the track, Mr. Hackl was confident he remained tops in the wok.

“The venue is like my living room. I know the track and I know the curves,” said Mr. Hackl, who retired from the luge after the 2006 Olympics.

Mr. Loch, fresh off his gold-medal performance in Vancouver, liked his chances in the wok. He said Mr. Hackl’s heckling hadn’t dimmed his confidence.

“He tells me that I can win at luge now, but that I can’t beat him in a wok,” Mr. Loch said.

Against these sliding Olympians, Mr. Kelly, who comes from a family of noted folk singers, complained he didn’t stand a chance. “I am getting better, but there are professionals here,” he said.

Still, Mr. Kelly held his own in the two runs to determine the championship. He made it to the bottom with friction burns in his lycra suit, but posted quick times.

The Olympic athletes were in a different class. They were low, flat and aerodynamic in their woks and traveled smoothly through the turns. Mr. Loch looked composed on the course, but he struggled to find speed, finishing in fourth place.

Mr. Hackl, stone-faced as he donned his plastic face mask before his first run, kept his feet pointing straight all the way down the course. In his second run, he glanced off the walls a couple times, but kept up a searing pace. He beat the runner-up, Mr. Kelly, by 10 seconds overall to hold onto his title.

In addition to solo wok, there is also competition in four-seat woks. This year, wok-race creator Raab and his team, which included four-time Olympic gold medalist bobsledder Andre Lange, won over a team of Olympians. The article closes with Raab’s wish that wok racing become an Olympic sport. It doesn’t sound quite so silly after you read the article. And if you can, watch the accompanying video.

Categories: Sports

Cynthia Ozick, Feminist Writer

April 7, 2010 Leave a comment

I won’t try to explain why I read the lead story in the NYT Sunday Styles section two Sundays ago. What possible explanation is there for reading about The Rising Stars of Gossip Blogs?

After an introductory section, the article introduces each of the eight rising stars whose group photo graces its top. I skipped around, reading a little bit about each of them and their current outlet, eventually reaching Lilit Marcus, editor of The Gloss. At the website’s homepage, you can see its self description as “A gloss on beauty, fashion, style, love and more.” No matter. Rather, what prompts me to write about the article and the site is the following passage: “The site, which focuses on fashion and beauty as much as the latest from the feminist writer Cynthia Ozick, aims to be lighter, Ms. Spiers said.”

I was dumbstruck. It had never occurred to me to describe Cynthia Ozick as a feminist writer. Maybe she is a feminist. Maybe not. But mostly she’s a writer, a great one, with enormous range — novels, short stories, essays. It’s not unusual to brand a writer with some simplistic label. One might complain whenever this is done. Sometimes I don’t even notice. Maybe I should. But this time I noticed, and it struck me as an especially dumb reduction of a great writer (who, by the way, if she must be simplistically reduced, might more naturally be called a Jewish writer).

By coincidence, just as I was going to start this post, The New Yorker put up a post by Erin Overbey on Ozick. The post is part of their 85th anniversary series, in which every day some piece from the The New Yorker archive is made freely available online, along with the entire contents of the issue the piece appeared in. An accompanying post provides context on the author and an excerpt from the piece. Today’s piece is Ozick’s short story The Shawl.

Categories: Journalism, Writing