Apple Kills

A few months ago, when Apple bought, I didn’t panic. I thought Apple’d integrate’s store into iTunes, rebrand the site, and keep things rolling.

I was wrong:

Dear Ron T.,

The Lala service will be shut down on May 31st.

In appreciation of your support over the last five years, you will receive a credit in the amount of your Lala web song purchases for use on Apple’s iTunes Store. If you purchased and downloaded mp3 songs from Lala, those songs will continue to play as part of your local music library.

That’s part of the message I got in my inbox this morning. Apple’s shutting down, and offering me “credit” in the iTunes store as compensation.

Fuck you, Apple. I bought music from because I didn’t want to buy it from your store. I had a choice, and I exercised it. But you just can’t understand that, can you?

I will never buy anything from the iTunes store. I will never throw my money away on songs in your proprietary format.’s ease of use, free access to every song in the catalog, cheap prices and web-based portability were far superior to the iTunes store. You couldn’t compete with that, could you, Apple? So you bought it and killed it.

Fuck you.

The Choices I’ve Made

Finished reading Just a Geek. Surprisingly, my experiences and feelings toward NASA parallel Wheaton’s feelings toward Star Trek in many ways: the feeling that I need to prove leaving was the right decision, the odd mix of guilt, excitement and nostalgia I feel whenever I see someone I used to work with, the worry that something went horribly wrong with my life and I’ll never get it back on track.

It’s good, then, to see that Wil has grown into an acceptance of his past and his decision. I feel like I’m still somewhere in the middle of the story, with a sense that I can and should let go of both the image of myself that working at NASA gave to me, and the dreams I originally left NASA for. But I can’t bring myself to drop them, yet.

That’s not to say I can’t dream new dreams. I know I should, and I’m trying hard to, but I’ll be damned if both dreams–NASA Engineer and Novel Writer–aren’t hard to wake up from.

What Have You Done For Me Lately?

This weekend, a friend of my wife’s was gushing about how her church had just started a program to help the poor in Uganda: they take unwanted clothes from Ugandans, ship them over to the US so her church-members can sew them back together using Christian-themed patches, sell the clothes to people in the US, and then send most of the proceeds back to poor Ugandans.

“Why not help the Ugandans setup a factory to do the clothes repair in Uganda, so they can sell the clothes to other Ugandans (or ship them themselves) for a profit?” I asked.

She looked at me like such a thought had never entered her mind. Why wasn’t I proud that her church was helping the poor, helpless Ugandans?

Because they’re not helpless. Because teaching someone to fish is always superior to giving them a fish. Because what her church is doing is not helping anything other than their own sense of self-righteousness.

Christians in the 19th century were a progressive force: they pushed for the abolition of slavery, they setup workshops for the poor, they endowed schools and universities teaching up-to-date science and technology.

The current crop of Christian evangelicals could not be more different from those charitable pioneers: they want to take rights away from homosexual couples, cheer when Muslims are discriminated against, and want science muzzled.

So here’s my challenge to any evangelical, fundamentalist Christian: What are you doing to make the world more free, to add to the body of human knowledge, to increase the prosperity of your fellow man?

3 Careers

I was going to write up a list of the differences between my three careers (optical engineering, writing, and programming) and post them here, but then I realized what all my differences had in common: they were changes in the way people thought of me.

As a NASA employee I was awe-inspiring, as a writer people envied me, and as a programmer I’m mundane but very very useful.

Is that all a career is to me? A set of other people’s opinions?

What I should talk about is what each career taught me.

How NASA showed me how much human engineering can accomplish, while humbling me by forcing me to realize that decades-long projects are too long for me.

Writing made me appreciate how hard it is to tell a good story, because my own efforts were far short of what I needed to keep steady writing work.

And programming took me back to my days learning BASIC on a Commodore-128, while schooling me in how hard it is to run a company, to compete with other businesses and succeed.

But I keep thinking that’s using the present to justify the past. What I’d like to know is: was I right to leave NASA, at the time I left it?

Facing the Past

I’m reading Wil Wheaton’s Just a Geek, for two reasons: because I’ve enjoyed his blog, and wanted to check out more of his writing. And because I’m hoping he can help.

If you don’t already know, Just a Geek is Wil’s book about his shift from being “That Guy Who Used to be on Star Trek” to the writer, blogger, and all-around geek Wil Wheaton.

Here’s a guy who went from working on a show with millions of adoring fans, to being an out-of-work actor struggling with his bills, to a popular writer who’s given keynotes at PAX and has done hilarious cameos on The Guild and Big Bang Theory.

And here’s the thing: he quit Star Trek. He wasn’t fired, they didn’t replace him with someone else, he walked away. Walked away from certain success to an uncertain future. He writes about how that decision haunted him, like my decision’s been haunting me.

You see, I used to work at NASA. And not as a janitor or maintenance guy. I was an optical engineer, responsible for putting together instruments for the likes of the Hubble Space Telescope and the James Webb Space Telescope. I was paid really well to do really challenging work with brilliant people.

But I quit. Five years after I started working as a wide-eyed college kid, my wife and I picked up and moved to Arkansas, leaving all that behind.

And I’ve been wondering if I made the right decision ever since.

So I’m reading Just a Geek, hoping Wil’s story will help me feel better about my own past, that learning how he grew beyond working on and then leaving Star Trek will help me put my own demons to rest.

‘Cause some nights I still dream that I’m back there at the Goddard Space Flight Center, working to expand our knowledge of the universe.

The iPad Experience: Best Buy Edition

Me: Hey, iPad! Mind if I install this cool KoboBooks app I’ve heard so much about?

iPad: Sure thing! Just gimme your iTunes password.

Me: I don’t have an iTunes account.

iPad: No account, no software.

Me: Ok…Let’s just fire up, so I can check my email.

iPad: Nope.

Me: No?! I can’t check my email?

iPad: Sure thing! Just enter your .Mac password…

Me: Screw this. I’m buying a netbook.

Apple’s Garden is Walled, with Locked Gates

I’ve just been reminded why I left Mac for Linux.

Me (to store rep): “Can I install and play with some apps on this demo iPad so I can decide if I want to buy one?”

Rep: “Nope. Use just what’s installed.”

…and that’s when I left. If I can’t be allowed into the Walled Garden of Apple long enough to decide if I want to spend some money there, I’ll stick with my open-source.

I’m off to Best Buy to look at a Linux-compatible netbook.