Open Thread for January 29, 2010

The Overthinkers recap the iPad, Howard Zinn, J.D. Salinger and Dollhouse.

And good morning to you, Overthinkers. Is that a new sweater? You’ve definitely lost some weight, at least. No? Well, enough of these pleasantries.

In happy news, Steve Jobs announced the iPad in a demonstration earlier this week, Apple’s entry into the undercrowded tablet computer market. The demonstration promised slick graphics, fast loading and 3G access. Everyone’s already made all the “tampon” jokes? The “like an iPhone, but bigger, and it can’t make calls” observations? Okay, good; just making sure the low-hanging fruit was plucked.

Question: what would the iPad need for you to buy one (taking as read “a $100 drop in price”)?


The Apple is always a low-hanging fruit.

In less happy news, the world of academia lost two original Overthinkers this week. First, Howard Zinn, the fiery revisionist historian whose People’s History of the United States remains one of the most accessible counter-cultural texts on American history. Then, in short order, J.D. Salinger, reclusive author of Catcher in the Rye, Franny and Zooey and other school reading assignments. Both took the same sort of hypercritical look at established institutions that Overthinking It plays at – Zinn, with his populist interpretations of history; Salinger, infusing suburban family dynamics with Buddhism. They were tremendous influences on our time.

Question: when a prominent author dies, do you go out and read their famous texts immediately? Or do you wait for the furor to die down? Or does it not make much difference on your reading habits?


I got namechecked in Good Will Hunting. How do you like DEM apples?

And finally, today marks the series finale of Dollhouse, bringing Joss Whedon’s latest attempt at a prime-time series to a close. Fans will doubtless have unanswered questions and bitter recriminations against the Fox network. I just hope people don’t lose respect for Eliza Dushku as a serious actor.

(Note: download our podcast on Monday for Overthinking It’s final thoughts on the series)

Question: what’s the biggest unanswered question about Dollhouse burning in your mind?


I'm trying so hard to avoid a joke about the mannequins upstaging her. So, so hard.

Not a fan of Apple products, academic literature or Dollhouse? Then as far as marketers are concerned, you don’t exist – but you’re still real to us! Tell us what you’d like to talk about, since this is your … Open Thread.

25 Comments on “Open Thread for January 29, 2010”

  1. Oh Henry #

    I have to say, I was pretty disappointed by the iPad for a couple reasons, not the least of which being I have no idea what this device is supposed to be.

    It’s too big to be a portable media player like the iPod, iPod Touch or hell, even the Zune. Yeah it’s nice for video, but the screen is not high-res and the aspect ration does not allow for wide screen. Plus, how long do you think that “flight to Tokyo” battery life will last when you’re trying to watch a movie?

    It doesn’t work as an e-reader, thanks to its full color/brightness lcd. Color e-paper displays are coming that are capable of playing video, sip battery life and are way easier on the eyes. Try reading a novel on your laptop and you’ll either go pick up a paper book or go blind. As reading experiences go, the iPad isn’t going to offer a good one.

    Finally, it’s $500 (minimum) for a device you have absolutely no control over. You can only install officially approved apps, and if history is any lesson, Apple tends to pull support for apps that don’t gel with it’s business strategy. For that price you can actually buy a full blown laptop that lets you install real programs and do real computing. You can even buy a legit Macbook for the price of a high-end iPad.

    In short, Apple has created the Chevy Avalanche of computers: a device that tries to do comfort, utility and price and fails spectacularly at all of them. Will iProduct fanboys buy them? Sure. But the idea that this is the revolutionary device we’ve been waiting for is ridiculous.

    If this is Apple’s vision of the future of computing (closed, overpriced and half-baked) count me out.


  2. L33tminion #

    iPad: I think the iPad isn’t that different from the iPhone (none of the predicted crazy UI innovations), but it’s well targeted to the netbook market (3G connectivity is a logical progression, dropping the keyboard to focus on the screen could work well). I expect it might do very well, in the same way as the iPod and iPhone did. Both of those were relatively closed platforms, entering the market late at a price point that was somewhat high, winning on good design and superior marketing. I’ll be excited to see what netbook manufacturers come up with to compete.

    Dollhouse: What surprise do the post-humans (Echo and Alpha (and others?)) have waiting for the human survivors of the apocalypse at Sanctuary? Okay, that’s a pretty straightforward plot question, but I think that will really have a significant effect on the message of the whole show. In particular, if they make it through the apocalypse with something approaching normal human gender relations, I’d be surprised (and probably disappointed).


  3. Marty #

    The iPad should and could have very easily been based on the latest Macs (just add a touchscreen) instead of the iPhone (I just cannot take the style and app model seriously).

    This basically sums up all my disappointments with it:

    I don’t think Dollhouse has been shown in the UK yet, but I’ll have to check out the DVD at some point. It sounds as though it won’t replace the Firefly shaped hole.


  4. sarielthrawn #

    J.D. Salinger died. Any thoughts?


  5. Jon Eric #

    For me to be interested in an iPad, it would have to be betwee $100 and $200 cheaper than it is. It would have to have a higher resolution. And it would have to be able to use streaming Flash. The first two might be negotiable, but the last one isn’t. It’s a clunky device with half the capabilities of its (less expensive) predecessors unless they enable streaming Flash.

    My reading schedule is a bit cluttered anyway, so even when great authors die, it usually doesn’t alter my reading.

    And as for Dollhouse… well. I guess it’s pretty apparent, isn’t it?

    Actually… though my guest post dealt exclusively with Season 1, my biggest question about Dollhouse is about the ending: (SPOILERS: DO NOT READ UNLESS YOU’RE 100% CAUGHT UP) If Boyd was secretly in charge of the whole project the whole time, why did he spend so much time aiding the people in the L.A. Dollhouse with bringing down their parent corporation? Does this mean that he was responsible for Alpha’s composite event? And if so, then how did he know that Alpha would see Echo as so special? Why not just go straight for Echo, since she’s so gosh-darn special?

    Grr, argh. That plot twist made me want to shoot my TV. Actually, most of Season 2 made me want to shoot my TV.


  6. Brian Williams NBC Nightly News #

    Won’t comment on Dollhouse, since I’ve never seen it.

    Regarding Salinger, well, the site espouses to submit pop culture to the scrutiny it doesn’t deserve… and he was great. His works deserve the highest levels of scrutiny, and probably cannot be easily overthought. Unless one of the overthinkers can relate The Catcher In The Rye to Terminator: Salvation or Terminator or Terminator 2: Judgment Day, maybe we should leave it to more mainstream avenues.

    That being said, I hope he did indeed have a trove of unpublished material, and his family publishes it. However I doubt much of it would be very good.

    …Or Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.

    And to answer the reading question posed, I do find myself either reading or re-reading the works of recently passed authors. Insightful commentary often emerges and it’s fun to participate in that.

    …Or Sarah Connor Chronicles.

    Regarding iPad: Oh Henry’s post sums it up for me. What a waste, Apple. I’ll stick to my iPhone-Kindle combo.

    To sum up my comment, I’ll post the link to my favorite article about Salinger, published before his death:


  7. RiderIon #

    I’ve never owned an iPod or an iPhone and I personally don’t see the appeal of Macs. The last mac I used regularly was in 1995 and I was busy playing Number Crunchers and Oregon Trail instead of doing anything constructive. I like PCs for the hardware customization and guess what? I like Windows. However, I really want to like the iPad. I can think of some practical uses for it in my life: I’d use it to browse, check my e-mail and read things at work instead of using my smart phone. I can easily load it up with D&D books for easy reference (as I don’t own a laptop) during table top gaming sessions. It also reminds me of the tablet computers that they use in Star Trek TNG and DS9, which is one piece of technology I have ALWAYS wanted.

    Apple turned around and gimped the thing right out of the door though: no USB ports, limited flash memory (32 to 64 gigabytes isn’t enough), no Flash support and a problematic OS. I’ll definitely be waiting to see what Apple’s competitors are going to attempt to counter the iPad with as I imagine they won’t fall into the same trap.

    As for the death of J.D. Salinger, I am indifferent. Catcher in the Rye was not required reading for my high school. I’m not particularly interested in reading either.


  8. lee OTI Staff #

    My under-thought comment on iPad backlash:

    Let’s wait until it actually comes out and some reviewers have time to use it & live with it for a few days. I’m going to withhold judgment until then.

    Continuing with the under-thinking it:


    omg why cant u c teh apeal of macs they r teh best computrs and windowz is teh sux0rs.

    /End under-thinking it

    Okay, now for some more substantive comments on the iPad:

    The one thing I will say with certainty is that there *is* a market for this type of device, and it’s slightly different from the netbook and e-reader markets.

    Although this isn’t targeted for the corporate world, a device like this would actually be perfect for office drones who spend all day in meetings and typically haul around paper notebooks, print-outs of important documents, AND A Blackberry for real-time access to email and calendar (not that I would know what that’s like).

    Imagine having all of that in a tablet that sits in front of you on the surface of a conference room table. Not on a laptop–the upright screen is both a physical and psychological barrier between you and the rest of the room. You have access to your notes, and you can page through them quickly with touchscreen gestures. You have access to all the files on the intranet. You have access to email and calendar (obviously). Everything is searchable at lightning speed. This would be insanely great for productivity.

    Basically, the iPad, or a device like it, could be what ushers in the workplace of the future, that Star-Trek like environment where every last iota of information is where you need it, at your fingertips, on a screen that’s big enough to actually get the job done.

    I know there are a lot of barriers to this, and that Microsoft has been trying to do this for years with the tablet PC. But someone’s going to get it right eventually, and if it’s not Apple with the iPad, it’ll be a someone with a similarly sleek and powerful device.


  9. Matthew Wrather #

    Yeah, I’m with Lee: Only time will tell.

    The criticisms sound oddly familiar, like the similar criticisms of the iPod and iPhone when they came out. And we know how those stories end.

    This I will say: Apple seems to be a company that’s not afraid to define its audience and alienate others. If you’re Richard Stallman, this is not a toy for you.


  10. Trevor #

    Looking at the picture of the iPad makes me think that it might be aimed at the people who miss the oversized “brick” portable phones of the Eighties. But I’ll let others rate its merits/drawbacks.

    Regarding literary vultures (by that I mean those who only start reading a prominent author once she or he has passed), I’ve been one on at least two occasions within the past five years: Hunter S. Thompson and John Updike. Now, I’d read stuff by both before they passed away (more Thompson than Updike), but I did get around to purchasing “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” a few days after HST’s death, and I finally got around to reading the copy of “Rabbit, Run” that I’d gotten at a used book sale some years prior to his passing. In terms of writers, I like to start with works that might not be as well known or loved by his or her fans (the exception was when I read “The Amazing Adventures of Kavaliar and Clay” before getting into any other Chabon stuff), so with HST it was “The Great Shark Hunt” and the “Fear and Loathing Letters” collections put together by that Brinkley fellow (Douglas, I think). With Updike, I’d read some of his short stories but never an entire novel.

    I’d read Salinger before (“Nine Stories” and part of “Raise High the Roofbeams” as well as “Catcher” and some of “Franny and Zooey”), I’ll be interested to see how many people “start” reading him now that he’s dead. I think it’s something to do with the concept of “don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone” in terms of their literary genius (or lack thereof). At least now the rumors that Salinger and Pynchon are one and the same can be put to rest…unless Pynchon suddenly stops writing.


  11. cat #

    Having read Zinn (A People’s History) and Salinger (Catcher in the Rye) I salute the loss of two overthinkers but I feel no real impetus to go and re-read those texts or others immediately.

    No one’s really picking up the Dollhouse topic, so I’ll go for it. I admit to being part of the problem. The main reason I watched all of it was because it was so easily accessible on Hulu. Oh, Eliza. Terribly miscast as a lead for a show. She picked it up a little in the last episode, Epitaph 2. The side characters did their best to support her, some of them putting in really spectacular performances at times. On the whole, the series ended and I didn’t feel anything for any of the characters. They hadn’t been developed in a meaningful way that I don’t think you can solely blame on only having 2 seasons. There just…was not a reason to care. A decent series finale, though.


  12. Gab #

    State of the Union, anybody?




    I feel horrible, but my first thought when I found out about Salinger was, “Damn, now I can’t hate on _Catcher_ as much for a while.” Never was a fan of that book, not in hs and not when I reread it a few years ago. But I think that initial reaction comes from a place that’s somewhat valid to overthink a bit, or at least contemplate. Are his books going to be viewed differently now that he has passed on? I’d hope not, but it happens all the time.

    _Dollhouse_: I may be misinterpreting or missing something, but was Alpha special in the same way as Caroline?


    Meaning his ability to have a bunch of different personalities in his head simultaneously looked the same as hers. So couldn’t they have snatched him up and drained *his* spinal fluid, too?


  13. Jon Eric #

    Gab, that’s pretty much exactly what I’m asking. Also (SPOILER), if all they needed was her spinal fluid, why did they let her be an active for like three years?


  14. Matthew Wrather #

    Hey, is there a rule of 3 in effect with Robert B Parker, Howard Zinn, and JD Salinger?


  15. Matthew Wrather #

    Oh, and for the repeat: We’re obviously not a technology site, but I thought these articles about the iPad were illuminating. You don’t have to like it (my first computer was an 8088 and I tinkered with it so much I didn’t even bother putting the cover on after a while), but you DO have to recognize that we’re in the midst of a huge shift in how we use computers:

    (Also, has been pretty perceptive about the new paradigm.)


  16. mlawski OTI Staff #

    I didn’t know anything about this iPad thingy until I just read all of these articles you folks linked to, and, let me say, on the whole, I’m not terribly impressed. The argument that the iPad is going to revolutionize computing while simultaneously leaving out the ability to multitask — one of the most important capabilities of an actual 21st century computer — is ridiculous on its face. I don’t have statistics on this, obviously, but I would bet that most “normal” (i.e., non-techie) computer users multitask while they’re using computing devices. When I’m talking to friends on skype, I want to be able to surf the Internet and maybe even send them a streaming video (that uses Flash *gasp*). For my work, I need to have a word processing program and a web browser with several tabs open at the same time. It would be a major, major pain in the ass to have to keep opening and closing these programs. And let’s not talk about when I’m using more advanced programs like the Adobe creative suite…

    The argument that my desire to not fundamentally alter the way I — and, I believe, most people — use a computer means that I am scared of change and succumbing to “future shock” seems disingenuous to me. Ease of use is important, but not to the detriment of capability. To hijack the “manual vs. automatic car” metaphor everyone seems to be using, it’s like saying, here’s a car that’s super-easy to use: it only has two buttons: on and off! Yep, there are no gears: no pesky “neutral,” no “reverse”! No radio to distract you! You can buy “headlights” or “windshield wiper” apps — but you can only use then when you aren’t driving. Ease of use! It’s so easy, even your grandma can use it! And to any of you people who complain, well, you’re just an obsessive car geek who can’t understand that driving forward blindly in hurricane conditions is the Wave of the Future!

    Not that the iPad won’t be a step in the right direction, of course. But until we have a tablet that can do most (if not all) of what a computer can do, then I personally am not going to buy one.


  17. Matthew Wrather #

    Like I said, only time will tell. If we were betting money, though, I wouldn’t forget that Apple has a pretty good track record of picking the right spot on the ease of use vs. flexibility continuum for a mass audience.

    (But…side note… don’t defend Flash. It’s awful, buggy, computer-crashing junk — terrible to author and terrible to use. As soon as we have something better — like for instance when HTML5 is ironed out — everyone important will jump ship without a backward glance.)


  18. RiderIon #

    @Wrather After using Wikipedia to inform myself about HTML5 (of which there was little information), I find it makes a ton of sense for Apple to not support flash. Ian Hickson of Google and David Hyatt of Apple are two major editors for HTML5. Why would you support your competitor’s software language when you’re trying to make your own language the standard?


  19. Matthew Wrather #

    Except that–and this is a crucial difference–nobody owns HTML5. It’s not a pogram that you have to buy (and it’s controlle by a standards body, not any single for-profit company). Everyone is free to create or implement their own software that implements the standard.

    And with that, I think I’ve crossed the line to being one of *those* people, having annoying pedantic conversations about Apple and free software. LINUX RULEZ.

    Shudder. Mea culpa. That’s my last tech post on a pop culture site.

    So. How about those Grammys?


  20. Jon Eric #

    Wrather, I read that StevenF article you posted. Took a little while to digest, probably for reasons related to the bitter aftertaste it left in my mouth, but I’ve come to something resembling a conclusion about his proposed paradigm shift in computing.

    He posits that this New World of computing technology will inevitably overtake the Old World, and this will be officially a fait accompli when they perfect these three things:
    1.) “A managed way of putting processes in the background.” In other words, multitasking.
    2.) “A way of sharing data with other devices.” In other words, the ability to save and manipulate files.
    3.) “A way of sharing data between applications.” In other words, the use of files that are not completely proprietary to the app that generated them.

    I wonder if it occurred to him that the development of these three things would make these new app-based systems indistinguishable from our beloved Old World OSes, and would likely make them susceptible to the same limitations that Apple was expressly trying to avoid when making the iPad?


    My whole take on the iPad is, if I’m going to pay that much for a device that’s that big, it’s going to be a real computer that can do things like listen to music and surf the web at the same time, and install whatever program I want (not just the ones vetted by Apple).


  21. Trevor #

    My big question about the iPad: Will it be compatible with my Zune?


  22. Trina #

    Got linked up on this through the Dollhouse article but I guess I’m just going to spoliertag it in case anyone isn’t caught up.


    Anyway this is @Jon Eric
    “if all they needed was her spinal fluid, why did they let her be an active for like three years?”

    I believe in The Hollow Men Boyd makes reference that they needed her spinal fluid but she needed time to develop or mature. I guess in order to make the cure/vaccine they needed to let it sit like a fine wine.
    The plot holes are many and unfortunately Boyd’s reveal was a last minute decision because I believe in an interview with Tim Minear they said that they didn’t even decide to make him the bad guy until season two. I’m guessing the pending cancellation had a lot to do with it.

    It’s really a bummer as the last few episodes really did start to get quite good. But then there’s so much missing from Getting Closer, The Hollow Men, and even Epitaph Two.
    Unfortunately they really constricted themselves by putting together Epitaph One and while it’s a surprisingly good episode many people missed out.

    I just want to know what the heck happened to Dominic, Ivy, and Whiskey. I mean there are plot holes galore at this point and the original five year plan will likely never see the light of day which is really a shame. The show had a lot of potential and the messages were there.

    Everyone gets down on Joss but I can’t help but feel bad for the guy. Angel gets canceled and can’t finish its run, Firefly doesn’t even make it past season one, and then Dollhouse barely scrapes by for a second season and it seems like everything with that is a mess. It’s gotta be disheartening.


  23. Gab #

    What Echo/Caroline needs is an amp that goes to eleven.


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