music, technology & life in pasadena, california

Late night thoughts on Tiger OS X

During my recent trip to Las Vegas, I went to the Apple Store for the all-night Tiger OS X launch party. There were individual stations all over the store relating to Dashboard, QuickTime, Automator, iChat and Spotlight where the resident Apple geniuses were explaining the new features to the customers.

The iChat conference mode was interesting. I liked the fact that you could drag a file onto a person’s video feed to send it to them. I liked the PDF features and fast searching with Spotlight. The Dashboard Weather Widget wasn’t working (why did they keep trying to demo this one if it didn’t work?).

I absolutely love QuickTime 7 with the new H.264 features. Is there a better piece of cross-platform media software?

Did I mention that Tiger is beautiful to look at? But aesthetics are only part of what computer users need from an OS. We need easier and seamless functionality, diversity, easy cross-platform exchanges. And we need things to just plain work.

When I upgraded my wife’s iMac to Panther from OS 9.2 and plain vanilla OS X , I followed all the upgrade instructions to the letter. The wizard that the manual told me would pop up and help me through the installation never appeared. Many of her mailboxes and other settings from Outlook Express never made it over to Mail. (Mail is another story altogether. Why aren’t more import/export capabilities built in, rather than having to rely on external scripts for simple functions? Note to Apple…make it easier for people to switch.)

Computers aren’t supposed to be like this. They’re supposed to help us save time and organize our lives. The promise they held out to us many years ago has never been fully realized. Many of us are slaves to our machines, some of us happily, but let’s admit, it’s really become a hobby, and an addictive one at that. So we tell ourselves that we’re really into computing for all the joy and order it brings us, but we’re all slaves to the constant file maintenance, housekeeping, upgrades, etc…

Don’t get me wrong, the power that computing and the internet has given us is immense. It’s changed society, politics, social life, communications. Every aspect of our lives has been radically changed, mostly for the better. But when all of us geeks start pontificating about computers, we need to remember that we love them and put up with them not only because it’s our livelihood but also because we’ve consciously made a serious commitment despite the drain on our time and energy.

The Macintosh used to be known as “the computer for the rest of us”. Today, its interface and software are arguably much harder for a new user to grasp than it used to be. The intuitiveness that was its strongest point seems neglected. Of course, along with great power (which the Macintosh has in spades) comes complexity but I still think the Mac trends away from the “less is more” approach that new users need in order to have them rely on the computer as a daily tool. When OS X first debuted I really wanted it to be great, I wanted it to be the OS that would lead me back to into the Apple fold. But it didn’t happen. OS X made me turn away even more. If Apple wants to bring more customers into the fold, whether new users or “switchers”, they need to concentrate on the core beliefs that enabled them to become “the computer for the rest of us” many years ago.

I still like my iPod though.

May 11, 2005 | Link to this entry

First Impressions: Bouchon LV

I’m a big Thomas Keller fan.

Keller owns the French Laundry in Yountville, California, one of the world’s great restaurants. I’ve eaten there on two separate occasions and each time the experience was exceptional. Michael Ruhlman’s profile of Keller in his book, The Soul of a Chef, is an inspiring piece and gives an accounting of Keller’s quest for culinary perfection.

When owner/chefs start to get renown they tend to start opening more restaurants and many times that’s where trouble starts. The care that went into making their original restaurant so great tries to port itself over to the new location, but somehow the culture doesn’t take. They disappoint.

Keller has opened Per Se in NYC, Bouchon Yountville and Bouchon Las Vegas in a seemingly short amount of time. I was anxious to see what the experience was like especially in Las Vegas. Lately, famous chefs have been coming here en masse. Newer hotels like the Bellagio, Venetian and now the new Wynn have raised the stakes and invited chefs to preside over high-end restaurants that bear their names. These aren’t franchises or cheap knockoffs. They’re the real thing, as carefully monitored and quality-controlled as their big brothers.

Bouchon Las Vegas is in the Venetian Hotel, a Disney-like reproduction of Venice Italy right down to canal waterways with gondolas and a recreation of St Marks Square. Although much of the hotel’s action is indoors, a faux sky creates an eerie sensation of never-ending twilight. The only thing missing are the pigeons.

Bouchon is an elegant room that puts you in a Parisian mood right away. (Strange, seeing that the theme of the hotel is Italian.) Dark natural wood, blue velvet banquettes and brass fixtures supply the quintessential bistro décor while the simple but beautiful artwork in the frieze of the room lighten it up and keep it from getting too heavy. It seems to say, “We’re going to have a great meal here, but we don’t have to be too serious about it.” The room brought back memories of La Coupole in Paris, but updated for today and translated for a hip yet elegant American clientele.

Service was efficient and friendly. The waitpersons were very knowledgeable and enjoyed bantering about the “culture” of the French Laundry and the differences between the two restaurants. I always enjoy asking questions about the chef (Mark Hopper is the chef de cuisine here) and tried to get some info about Keller’s day-to-day involvement. He is very hands on, considering he has four establishments to look after, and comes in to observe almost every four weeks. Several days after a visit he sends eight to twelve pages of notes citing anything he feels needs to be tweaked, culinary or otherwise.

The menu is a folded piece printed on very thin brown paper and wrapped around the napkin at your place setting. I ordered the endive salad with Roquefort, apple and toasted walnuts with walnut vinaigrette as well as a roasted leg of lamb with polenta and spring onions in a thyme jus for my entrée. Each dish was exactly as I expected and should expect from a restaurant run by Keller. The fresh ingredients and lamb (from the same purveyor as the Laundry) were prepared perfectly. After dinner, strong coffee and the dessert special, a variation on the French Laundry’s playful Coffee & Doughnuts topped off the evening.

Even with all the competition, I can’t imagine a better meal to be had anywhere in the city.

Note: A few of my fellow travelers opted for lunch at the newly opened Daniel Boulud Brasserie at the Wynn. Daniel Boulud, known for his NYC flagship, Daniel and its sister restaurant, Café Boulud, is widely considered one of the world’s finest chefs. However, they were very disappointed in their experience. Appetizers took an hour to arrive, service was rude, a waitperson dropped a dirty utensil on one of their party dirtying his shirt in the process (no apology was offered) and meat was overcooked (ordered medium rare, served medium-well to well). I know that new restaurants need time to work out the kinks but their 3½ hour lunch sounded like an ordeal and I’m surprised that a chef like Boulud allowed this to happen. If it has your name on it, you especially need to be the final arbiter of the entire experience of your customers.

May 5, 2005 | Link to this entry


Paul Viapiano is a guitarist working in film, television and live performance based in sunny Pasadena, California.

You can email me here.

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