The Good, the Bad, and the Gruber

John Gruber is a blogger and a podcaster. His website, Daring Fireball, is probably the best place to find informed and sensible analysis of the latest developments regarding Apple, i.e, the mega-corporation that produces iPhones and Macs, among other things, not the fruit or the Beatles music company. He regularly skewers the so-called analysts peddling erroneous conventional wisdom.

His Talk Show podcast often features smart talk about the same things, with smart guests joining in the lively conversation.

He has been frequently featured on CNN, where he is asked to expound off-the-cuff about the latest Apple technology, and he is probably one of the few truly intelligent experts on a channel that purports to offer news but is really more interested in making money by maximizing viewers with the latest nonsense.

Not only is Gruber recognized as a smart fellow by the world at large (or at least that segment of the world that knows about him), but Apple has him on its list of preferred news sources, so he receives review units and is invited to new product unveilings. And he seems to have little difficulty in scoring interviews with some of Apple’s top executives.

I subscribe to his blog’s RSS feed, and I largely trust his opinions on Apple gadgetry and the direction the company may be going.

Oh, and he’s a fellow Philadelphian who lives not that far away, maybe not spitting distance, but close enough (no, I don’t know his address, but he’s mentioned which part of the city he lives in).

A few years ago, in 2018 actually, John Gruber was a guest on an episode of another podcast where the subject was Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey, and since Gruber is a big fan of Kubrick’s, he was the right person to talk about the movie.

However, during the course of the episode, he mentioned a few lacunae in his understanding of the movie, so I sent off the following email to him after scanning a few things into PDFs:

I just listened to the episode of the Incomparable where you joined the discussion of Kubrick’s Space Odyssey. I saw the film for the first of several times in the summer of 1968 shortly after it was released on a large screen in Harrisburg, and while I had reservations about it (still do, but they are different ones than I had then), I was thrilled to finally see a science fiction movie that was about something other than monsters.

Anyway I noted that you weren’t interested in seeing the 2010 film (can’t blame you there) for an explanation of HAL’s behavior, but in case you’re interested, I’ve enclosed a PDF of the chapter from Clarke’s novel, written along with the screenplay, that describes what went wrong with HAL. It’s only two pages long.

Also, I’ve gone back to my collection of the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction for the first time in many years and scanned the reviews published in the August 1968 edition by Samuel R. Delany and Ed Emshwiller. They got to see the original uncut version before it was panned by the critics, forcing Kubrick to lop 20 minutes out of the runtime to make it more palatable to a wider audience. I for one would love to see that uncut version sometime, though I seem to recall you have written that you don’t think it should be restored (perhaps I’m misremembering).

Anyway, hope you find these PDFs of interest.

Magazine of fantasy and science fiction August 1968

I wasn’t expecting to hear back from him as I know that he receives a lot of email, and he’s mentioned more than once that he’s way behind in clearing his inbox.

And my expectations (or lack of them) were met, as I checked my inbox over the next few days and never received a reply. No big deal.

And I forgot all about it after a few weeks.

The years passed.

Then, out of the blue, in May of this year, there was a message from Gruber in my inbox. Huh. I wonder what that’s about?

Lo these 4.5 years later, I just stumbled upon your kind email, below, in my unreads, while searching for something else. I enjoyed the scanned PDFs very much — thanks! (Belatedly!)

—J.G.

That was an unexpected surprise.

So, you might be saying, or thinking, that I have nothing but praise for Mr. Gruber. I wish it were so, but he doesn’t just talk about things in which he has some expertise, such as Apple and Kubrick. He often veers off into other topics, and when he does, it tends to be a bit hit or miss as his opinions are not always as well-informed.

Sadly, one of those topics has been Covid and the pandemic. And it seems that he doesn’t necessarily get his information from science sources (of which there are several very good ones, both web and podcast) but mostly from the popular press, like CNN and The New York Times. And those sources tend to simplify to the point of distortion, and once they hit on a narrative they rarely diverge from it. Even Krugman was spouting nonsense like “the highly contagious Delta variant”. Just because the nytimes publishes it doesn’t mean it’s true.

I won’t list all the things that Gruber mentioned that were wrong over the last couple years, as I have no wish to turn this into an attack piece (plus I’d have to do a lot of research, and as you know, I hate doing research); plus, to be fair, a lot of what he mentioned in real time was not so much wrong as speculation and clearly labelled as such. But even in his most recent podcast (with Marco Arment) “I’ve Kissed That Mouse” he mentioned that the latest virus variant is more contagious but less severe.

<Sigh>

No, the current variant is not necessarily more contagious—people aren’t wearing masks anymore, for the most part, so of course, it’s going to spread more. And it’s less severe not because it’s inherently less severe, but because more people have some form of immunity. But people are still being hospitalized and dying (largely those who have refused to get vaccinated or are severely immunocompromised).

I just wish he would apply his considerable critical thinking skills to other areas that he discusses rather than amplifying the half-truths and untruths of the popular press.

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