The Rodney O. Lain Archive

Rodney O. Lain


This article was originally published on Mac Addict, a site which no longer exists. It is thus reprinted here without permission (which we would gladly obtain if possible.) Links have been retained when possible, but many go to the Internet Wayback Machine.

Rodney O. Lain writes the biweekly iBrotha column in which he tries to give you what you need instead of what you want. A transplanted Southerner, Rodney has taken it upon himself to attempt writing a column that is entertaining, funny, thought-provoking and a damned-good read. His compliment to the Mac is that it enables him to write for a plethora of web sites and still remain productive, a fact that he attributes to his using a Mac for his freelance writing chores instead of PC. Arguably one of the most visible if not popular columnists on the Mac web, we thought it would be nice to give you a rare glimpse into the mind behind the column. We don't think you'll be surprised by what we found...

Q: You've become one of the top Mac Web columnists overnight, or at least within the last year; how did you get into this racket?

A: Fifty percent inspiration and 50 percent frustration. Del Miller, a fellow columnist at another web site, attracted my attention some time about when he wrote this touching piece - about what, I forget. But what I do remember is that I was amazed that there was this person out there who was expressing an equally unabashed love for this computer. That prompted me to submit my first column to a Mac web site

That's the inspiration.

Some time later, I had this friend who kept suggesting that I read this particular columnist's writing. I read it . . . and wasn't impressed.

That's the frustration.

"Hell, I can do better than that," I concluded. This was about the same time that I'd been pondering writing a pro-Macintosh column. I read a few other Mac-related web sites and figured that my writing could measure up and compete with those other guys, and I proceeded to write a couple of columns that eventually appeared on the Mac web...

Q: We hear you also have a 'day job.' What is that

A: Let me just say that it is in the software industry, and it is Mac-related. I prefer not to go into too much more detail - you know, to protect the innocent, not to mention my job. That way, I can continue to say whatever I want in my column and not draw any attention to my place of employment.

Q: And do you plan on giving it up after you take over the Web?

A: Only if I'm offered a Robert X. Cringely salary.

But seriously... You are too kind to even suggest that I have a chance of "taking over the web." I must admit that I love to write, and would rather do that than any other thing. I would view it as a dream-come-true to be able to write creatively for a living. I think that the future of on-line journalism is bright enough that such a dream isn't as remote of a possibility that it once was.

Q: We've heard nothing but positive feedback regarding your iBrotha columns here at - is your work always received so well?

A: Oh, no. Believe me, I get my share of hate mail. I honestly believe that I get more hate mail than any other writer. Usually, it's about the fact that I play up my blackness in my column (the "iBrotha" standing sig, for example, has drawn more than one reader's ire). More than once, I've been told to stop writing about race and write more about Macs. More than once, my ethnicity has been attacked. So, the contrarian that I am, I plan to write more about the Mac being the OS "minority" :-)

I still receive hate mail concerning a particularly "infamous" column that I wrote a while back titled "The Macintosh is the nigger of the computer industry." After that one appeared, many said they'd never again read another word that I write, while others said they'd never heard of me, but would from then on read every word I write. I like that kind of response. I don't really aim for the casual reader, who often don't have any visceral reaction to what they read. I want people to have a response to what I write, not knee jerk, mind you. Whether you hate it or love it, all I ask is that you read it.

Q: Do you write only about Macintosh-related topics? What other types of writing do you like?

A: I rarely write Macintosh-related topics! Most of my ideas started off as Mac-related and morph into broader-ranged writings. I pare then back down to a Mac perspective before submitting them. My main themes are control, the concept of the "Other" and the minority. For example, my view on the Mac/PC dichotomy has inspired a novel that I'm working on. It started with my thoughts on things Macintosh, but will have no mention of Macs when I finish it. It's a social critique. I think it has great potential.

My pro-Mac columns have also helped me in other writing genres: A popular technology magazine made me an offer several months ago,but I can't find the time to write another column, since I've just been signed on with a major daily newspaper (St. Paul Pioneer-Press) as a technology columnist. I won't be writing about Macs, per se, but I will get to bring my Think Different style and perspective to the local technology scene. I'm excited about that prospect.

Q: Did any writers influence your style?

A: Most definitely. I'm a big fan of the modern legends like Frank Miller and John Byrne. I adore Mike Royko. I try to emulate his wit in my "Mac Daddy" pieces. Lewis Grizzard was a masterful columnist at an Atlanta newspaper. I revere his memory. Being an English major, of course, I've also read and regurgitated the DWEMs (Dead White European Males). I liken myself to H. L. Mencken, who wasn't scared to write about anything or anyone. Somebody has to do it.

Q: You'd mentioned "Mac Daddy," a fictitious character you created for your column. Where did you get that idea and why?

A: Have you ever had an issue that you were divided on or ambivalent about? Most recently, mine was Mac OS X's Aqua interface. It's a love/hate kinda thing. So I created Mac Daddy to express that schizophrenic feeling I have from time to time. Is Mac Daddy my alter ego? I doubt it. Think of it as a Socratic dialogue: he always used dialogues to discuss an important issue.

Q: Legend has it you work (or worked) weekends at CompUSA just for the chance to help spread the word of Mac; are you still doing that?

A: Oh, yeah. But I'm at that stage where I'm wondering if what I do makes any difference. After all, I'm giving up my weekends, and I doubt if Apple gives less than a damn about that. I've considered quitting several times. Lately, I've pared down my schedule so that I'm in there every other weekend. The upside is that it's a great way to have access to the latest Apple toys, as well as a great way to gauge public opinion and make observations for my writings. Forget what the media and analysts say. If you want to know how Apple's doing on the retail sector, spend some time in the retail sector.

Speaking of which, I've noticed something that I haven't seen anyone write about: even though Macs are 500 MHz behind the PC in raw speed, the product line is still strong and gets much love from the consumer sphere. You would think that this would be PR hell for Apple, but they're still selling polycarbonate-plastic-shelled computers left and right.

That's most definitely a sign that Apple is doing well...

Which leads to my crisis of faith, vis-à-vis my CompUSA job: I feel that Apple doesn't appreciate us Mac evangelists (are you listening, Steve?), and sometimes I feel that our job is done. I don't mean that in a sour-grapes way. I just feel that we are underappreciated and probably viewed as a blemish on Apple's attempt to rebrand itself as a "serious" computer maker. Personally, I'd like all Mac addicts to stop helping out at stores just to show - I hope - how much of an impact that Mac users have on Apple's ability to sell product. We are the unsung sales force.

Q: How long have you been a Mac addict?

A: Since 1990, the year I ran across PageMaker and desktop publishing.

Q: And the obligatory corollary: what was your first Mac or Mac experience?

A: My epiphany was in 1995, when I was teaching at this university. I had a class in a lab full of PeeCees running Windows 95. We had crashes daily. Not a pretty picture. Meanwhile, in a Mac lab next door, everyone appeared to be at peace. Couple that with the mind-soothing Mac I had in my office, the seeds were planted for my rebelling against the "beige Borg."

Hell, I was Thinking Different before it was cool.

Q: Out of Apple's current offering, what's your dream-Mac?

A: A few months ago, this would have been an easy question. I would have said the iMac DV or the G4. Now that the iBook finally has enough frickin' RAM and hard drive space, I'd take any product that Apple is shipping. If you force me to choose one, I'd be hard pressed. Those guys in Cupertino have earned much love from this Mac head.

Q: And your Real-life Mac?

A: I am typing this during my lunch break on a "Microsoft-free" WallStreet PowerBook 233 MHz running OS 9 with 96 MB RAM and a Lucent WaveLAN AirPort upgrade. My email client of choice is QuickMail Pro, though I'm considering switching back to Eudora Pro. My browser of choice is iCab and Netscape.

At home, we have a Blue-and-White G3 400 MHz with 320 MB RAM and a 20-Gig upgrade to it's standard 6 Gigs. Unfortunately, it is not Microsoft-free, since my wife uses Office at work. Since she has Office, I decided to give her all of the Borg implants: I installed IE 5 for her, and I must admit it is a good product (but I still won't use it; you know, religious reasons). The 20-Gig hard drive is partitioned so that I could install a certain controversial Developer Release of a certain Operating System. I am under NDA, but I will say that the critics of said OS are full of you-know-what. Mark my words: Apple is about to hit another home run.

Q: Your columns go where many columnists don't tread - who are you writing for? (i.e., Steve Jobs, your journalist peers, consumers, professionals, yourself, any thinking person...)

A: It depends on what I had for breakfast. But it doesn't take a bad breakfast to see that I like to thumb my metaphorical nose at readers and writers who like to hear only the smooth, soothing things about the Mac. I don't write intentionally to stand out of the crowd. What I write is who I am. I'm "keeping it real" in the truest sense. I'm more of a cynic.

Ever heard of a comic book called "Watchmen"? It's a classic. There is a subplot that involves this superhero who is very cynical of society. The point is that his view, which is very, very cynical, turns out to be closer to reality than those of the mouth breathers who inhabit his world. That's the way I am. I have a wry opinion on everything, and I only express it in my column - and to my wife. I never talk the way that I write, first of all. In person, I realize that no one ever listens to what I have to say because 1) they think that I have neither wit nor depth 2) all they see is this little nigger boy who can't possibly have any understanding of the ways of the world and all therein 3) they're a bunch of jealous bastards who can't stand to see a brotha speaking his mind and speaking it well 4) all of the above.

Q: What would you do differently if you were in charge of Apple?

A: I would open a can of whup ass on Motorola. (God, those guys are lazy.) If that didn't work, I'd hedge my bets by striking separate deals with AMD and IBM; both contracts would have escape clauses allowing Apple to back out of the contracts in case foul-ups happened like the current low.

Q: What about Microsoft?

A: What about Microsoft? :-)

Seriously, if I were in charge of Micro$oft, I'd discontinue Windows. I'd subsidize Apple's R&D to port OS X to X86 processors and migrate all Micro$oft products to this Intel Mac OS (getting PeeCee users to switch isn't as hard as you'd think - they users are used to forced Windows death marches with each upgrade). I'd then dedicate Micro$oft's resources to producing product for focused markets instead of the take-over-the-world approach. Furthermore, I'd disband the Windows CE or Windows Powered or whatever they're calling that butt-ugly handheld device. Being all things to all people never produces quality product, I'd get the Microsofties to realize.

Oh, yeah. And I'd give away 40% of Microsoft's revenues - no strings attached.

Q: Anything else you'd like to share?

A: People are always accusing me of writing in a way that attracts attention to me and to my writing. Well, duh. If I've said it once, I've said it a hundred times: this isn't a humble profession. The only thing I'll plead "guilty" to would be that I use every rhetorical weapon at my disposal to get my point across, be it satire, ridicule, humor or flat-out in-your-face rabble rousing.

Finally, I'd like to end with one of my favorite quotes. It sums up my whole stance on this opinion-writing thing:

"In teaching, my first desire has always been to interest the listener; if I don t interest him [or her!], he will soon stop being a listener. But I have never been eager that he should think as I think, but only that he should think. I hope that he will agree with me, but, if he does not, I shall be well content if he will examine his own beliefs in the light of what I say.

The only kind of person who really offends me, to use Somerset Maugham's word, is the person with the shut mind who refuses even to think about what is said to him, the person who deliberately misunderstands, the person who substitutes parrot cries for thought, and, worst of all, the person who criticises [sic] a writer without ever having read a word of his books. I hope that I have always taught in order to stimulate and to awaken, and never to indoctrinate and stifle."

William Barclay, A Spiritual Autobiography

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