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No More Golden Arches

Week of August 21, 2002
There was a time...

There was a time when 'fast food' was a novel idea, and when 'fast food' implied 'cheap food'. You didn't have to sit around and wait for someone to take your order, or wait for your food to arrive, or wait to pay your bill. You stood in line and placed your order at a counter and paid for it before you got it. You didn't have condiments sent to your table; you picked them up at the counter. There was no linen napkin waiting at your table; you plucked a few cheap paper napkins from a dispenser at the counter, along with your straw, your salt, and your pepper. Then you turned around, checked to see if a table was free, cleaned it off if necessary, and sat down to eat your meal.

Your meal - burgers - came wrapped in paper, and often you'd find a slice of dill pickle hanging out of one side, a littering of finely chopped onions all over the wrapper, and smudges of ketchup and mustard everywhere. But you didn't complain - you ate your 'food' contentedly, and with your fingers - no luxury of a knife and fork here, or the even more elegant chopsticks. And when you'd finished your meal, you might have done your civic duty and taken your tray to the trash disposal and sorted your trash into the various containers found there.

After a while you noticed that this 'fast food' was neither fast nor cheap. Prices rose, lines grew longer, the restaurants got dirtier and dirtier. And for all the money you spent, in addition to wasting just as much time as you would in an ordinary lunch restaurant, you noticed you weren't particularly nourished either.

And then the alarm reports came in. Fast food companies were doing funky things with the food, and they were always soaking it in animal fat, about the worst thing you can take into your body. And when you stopped to consider the level of education of the personnel there - both formal and restaurant-oriented education - you started to wonder what ever led you to such a dive in the first place.

You started cooking at home. Even cultures such as the US and the UK stopped putting ketchup and HP bottles on table, and stopped frowning on cooking with wine, and suddenly everybody everywhere was doing it and loving the art of creation almost as much as the final result. And you couldn't deny that you were eating a lot better and treating your body a lot better too.

Of course there was always occasion to visit the 'white tablecloth' restaurant for that exceptional dining experience; and between these visits, and by cooking your own food at home, and using real restaurants for those lunches away from home, you gradually realised you were feeling a lot better, and were a lot better off.


There was a time when 'personal computing' was a novel idea, and when 'personal computing' implied 'cheap computing'. You didn't have to wait for 'uptime' to connect to a mainframe, or wait while your screen was being refreshed, or wait while your files were being processed. You turned on your own computer, stored all your files locally, and turned your computer off yourself. And although you didn't have the power of the bigger computers, you used what you had as well as you could and were completely content with it.

Your programs were often shoddy, with bugs protruding everywhere, but you didn't object; instead, you found ways to work around them. And if your machine crashed right in the middle of important work, you didn't curse - at least out loud - but silently rebooted your machine and started stoically all over again.

After a while you noticed this 'personal computing' wasn't cheap anymore. While computer hardware evolved continually, computer software seemed to go down the drain, along with its quality. You found yourself paying more for less. Prices rose, installs became more painful and time-consuming, and around every corner waited a new version costing more money and introducing even more bugs. And for all your work to keep up, and to silently accept this declining situation, you found that your work was suffering: you were getting less and less done in more and more time.

And then the alarm reports came in. Your operating system and software company was doing funky things with your machine, and it was always soaked in bloat and bugs and security vulnerabilities - about the worst thing you can allow on your computer. And when you stopped to consider the competence of the personnel there - both formal and computer-oriented competence - you started to wonder what ever led you to such a shoddy company in the first place.

You started tinkering on your own. Even people with computer phobias stopped expecting everything to work (or to crash) and stopped frowning on compiling one's own kernel, and suddenly everybody everywhere was doing it and loving the art of creation almost as much as the final result. And you couldn't deny that you were working a lot better and treating your computer a lot better too.

Of course there is always occasion to use the 'white tablecloth' environment - OS X - for that exceptional computing experience; and between these sessions, and by creating your own environment yourself, and using real tools and quality software whenever possible, you gradually realised you were feeling a lot better, and were a lot better off.

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