Life is a series of lessons learned, of unmitigated disasters turned into instructional videos. Planning on sticking that fork in the electrical socket? Wouldn't do that if I were you, son. Beer before liquor? Take it from me -- bad idea. Inviting the intern up to the Oval Office for some pizza and a little heart-to-heart? Have it your way, Chief. But don't say I didn't warn you.
Yes, experience is the name we give our mistake because chalking up a blunder as a learning experience makes us all feel far less stupid.
This week's lesson? Be careful who you mouth off around. Especially when that person has the power to ship you out of the country at a moment's notice.
Let's say you're a highly skilled, well-regarded journalist who's wired in to the Mac universe. Let's say you have a nose for news, that you know where the bodies are buried, that nothing will stand in the way of you and a good story.
Failing that, let's say you're me.
You get back from Steve Jobs's keynote address at Seybold SF a couple weeks back -- the one where America's favorite iCEO says that the beta for Mac OS X will make its public debut at the Apple Expo show in Paris. And you say to yourself, "By God, I'm a highly skilled, well-regarded journalist who can delude himself into thinking he's wired into the Mac universe. I should be in Paris to cover this momentous occasion -- the emergence of a state-of-the-art operating system. Indeed, so important is this news that I should be flown out on the company's dime to confirm that, yes, Apple did release the Mac OS X beta, and it wasn't just a clever ruse designed to trick lesser, more gullible reporters."
And so you mention this to The Boss. Loudly. And repeatedly.
"Ha ha ha," The Boss says. "You expect us to underwrite a trip to Paris for you ?"
"Ha ha ha," you reply. "Well, yes."
"Ha ha ha," The Boss continues. "You're actually dumber than we suspected."
And normally, that is the end of our little playlet. Only last week -- a mere seven days before Apple pulls back the curtain on OS X -- The Boss sidles up to me and says, "Were you serious about going to Paris?"
And that's when you're trapped.
You can't very well say, "No, Boss. I was just pulling your leg. The time, effort, and risk of travelling to a foreign land to bring you back original content is, frankly, distasteful to me. I'd much rather kick back at the office next week, get the story off the wires, and spend the rest of my time playing Civilization while trying to look busy."
So you say, "Absolutely." And thus have you sealed your own demise.
I know what you must be thinking. "Michaels, you fat-headed simpleton. Are you actually suggesting that an all-expenses-paid trip to Paris, France is some sort of Faustian arrangement that inevitably spells doom for you? You really are dumber than a half-witted chimp."
And I would agree with you -- except about the fat-headed part; that's just hateful -- if I didn't know the entire, treacherous backstory.
You see, up until Friday, I didn't have a plane ticket to Paris. Or a hotel reservation. Or even a passport. I also didn't speak a lick of French -- something that didn't miraculously change over the weekend, I'm sad to say.
That's not entirely true, actually. I do know five French phrases, which will be of varying use during this week.
After that, I just plan on smiling, nodding, and pointing a lot.
We interrupt this article for a flashback: It's the summer before seventh grade. I have to pick a foreign language to take--Spanish or French. I opt for Spanish.
"When am I ever going to need to speak French?" the 12-year-old me says with an alarming lack of foresight.
Dumb, dumb, dumb.
Ah well. I'm told by an acquaintance that the French actually prefer us dim Americans to speak English rather than butcher their language. Of course, the acquaintance could just be having himself a good chuckle at my expense, and won't that be cold comfort when I'm being pummeled by an irate waiter in a dimly lit alley near the Arc de Triomphe?
Concerns about the language barrier aside, obtaining a passport with less than a week's notice proved to be surprisingly easy. You just have to show up at the Passport Agency with a birth certificate, driver's license, a couple of passport-ready photos, and a more or less reasonable extra fee to cover the cost of your lack of planning. Oh, and try not to look as if you've just stashed the minced remains of the bridge club in the cellar and need a passport to get to some South American outpost where the extradition laws are particularly nebulous.
Because that just looks bad.
Getting an airline ticket was an easy, if expensive proposition. But The Boss is covering that one. Right, Boss?
As for lodging in the City of Lights, I've been assured that it's all taken care of, that I have a place to stay within sight of the Eiffel Tower. Possibly under a park bench.
And so, as I sit here, waiting for that all-day plane ride overseas, I am left to ponder the mysteries of the coming week. Will I be able to find my away around a city where it looks like the streets were laid out in an effort to weed out weak-willed pedestrians? How can I get my hands on some of that toast I hear the French are famous for? And what exactly does Apple have in store for us this week?
Right -- the reason I'm going .
Clearly, the OS X beta has gotten the lion's share of the pre-Expo attention. But when Jobs takes the stage Wednesday, I'm not expecting any radical new features. What you've seen since January with the Aqua interface is what you're likely to get with the beta. Maybe there will be some new tweaks like the ones Jobs unveiled at Seybold -- a built-in MP3 player, a few changes to the Dock, a feature that lets you ditch Aqua's candy-coated colors -- but nothing of a stop-the-presses kind of announcement.
Which raises the question: Why is Apple going to Paris? Apart from the food, I mean? If it's just to hand out beta CDs and show folks for the umpteenth time that you can crash an application without it affecting the Mission: Impossible 2 trailer used in every OS X demo...well, you can do that just as easily from Paris, Texas, as you can from Paris, France. Why take the Steve Jobs Traveling Revival Show across the pond to announce something that's already expected?
Unless, of course, there's some other announcement in the works.
The Mac rumor Web sites have picked up that theme, with the consensus forming that Apple might be ready to tweak its portable product line -- maybe a processor speed bump for PowerBooks and iBooks, maybe new iBook colors to blend in with the iMac line.
And you know -- it makes sense. After unveiling a truckload of new products in New York, Jobs gave a low-key speech at Seybold, almost a Cliff's Notes version of his Macworld Expo address. A universe where Steve Jobs gives two consecutive no-big-deal speeches is not one I'm prepared to live in.
Jobs also took great pains to point out that Apple had remade its entire desktop line over the summer; he thought so much of that fact that he repeated it at least twice, according to my notes. Stands to reason that rejiggering Apple's portable products is next on the agenda, doesn't it?
I'm also going to predict that Jobs unveils plans for the long-rumored Apple-branded Palm device. I have nothing in the way of facts or confirmation to support this claim; I just make it before every big Steve Jobs speech under the theory that one day it will come true, and I'll look prescient.
And then the masses will worship me as their god.
Of course, there's one other mystery to contemplate before the melatonin kicks in, and I sleep the sleep of the innocent on my trans-Atlantic flight: What if Steve Jobs decides to give his entire keynote in French?
Because unless he spends his allotted time talking about how very tired he is or his love of cheese, I'm out of luck.