Speechless? Obviously not.

I’ve been on a big Ubuntu kick lately. Ubuntu is the Linux distribution (derived from Debian) that is finally within sight of the elusive goal of producing a “desktop Linux for the masses” as they say. The latest version just came out last week. I’m so impressed with it that it’s distracted me significantly from the upcoming release of the next version Mac OS X. (OK, I do still remember that it’s coming up this Friday, and yes I probably will be queuing up outside the Apple Store this Friday.)

Anyway, I’ve also spent a lot of time reading everything I can pertaining to the new Ubuntu release, including, with great relish, articles wherein longtime Windows users profess their star-crossed love for this newest Linux release. Often the comments are as interesting (or more) than the article itself. Such was the case with this article from the UK branch of ZDNet. A comment there was so funny that I feel I must simply share it here in its entirety:

Microsoft’s now promoting Vista with a campaign called “100 reasons why everyone’s so speechless”.

I looked. #23 is “Because it’s like a digital candy store.”

Puh-leeze. Bring up the Adept Manager in Ubuntu. Now _that’s_ a digital candy store. Over 20000 applications for doing almost anything you can imagine, and quite a few things you can’t. Running Vista is like being in a candy store that only sells black liquorice (I _hate_ black liquorice) at exorbitant prices. Oh, and you’re only allowed to eat the candy in the store. Plus each individual piece is really small and is wrapped in seven layers of cellophane, and the store won’t let you throw the wrappers away. You have to take them with you and throw them away at home. Plus they set off a grenade in the chocolate store across the street in the middle of the night and mugged the proprietors of the penny candy stand. Oh, and Microsoft are the ones behind the urban legend that red M&Ms cause cancer. That’s the kind of candy store Vista is.

The Microsoft page in question, 100 Reasons You’ll Be Speechless, is pretty ridiculous. I have yet to encounter in my day-to-day life a single person who has even acknowledged using Vista, much less anyone who’s actually impressed with it. But as I perused the first dozen or so “reasons,” I could find nothing that isn’t already more-or-less present in Mac OS X, Ubuntu, or some readily available specialty device (like AppleTV) that interfaces easily with one or both of those OSes. And I won’t even get started on the usual litany of complaints about Windows. But the “100 Reasons” probably still makes for an entertaining read… if you’re really desperate for entertainment. (Then again, you probably have plenty of other, superior sources of entertainment at your disposal at this very moment, so why not choose them instead?)

Haystacks!

Originally posted July 21, 2006. See below for an update!

Not unlike Charles Foster Kane’s plaintive deathbed whisper — “Rosebud!” — I awoke this morning with one word in my brain (though fortunately for my surely-to-be-perplexed wife, I did not utter it aloud)… “Haystacks!”

Not a literal stack of hay, mind you, but a particular type of candy my grandfather adored (for some inexplicable reason); one I haven’t seen in years, if not decades.

The haystack is a peculiar candy. Start with a mound of a mysterious white sugary substance, the most cloyingly, sickeningly, tooth-rottingly sweet concoction you can imagine. Form it into the vaguely parabolic shape of a haystack (hence the name), and cover it in chocolate.

I think Brach’s used to sell these in cellophane bags, along with dozens of other kinds of candy not enjoyed by anyone born after 1929. But my grandfather used to buy his in bulk at a fresh produce market (that also had a greenhouse and a large bulk candy section), improbably located in Mapleview, Minnesota.

In attempting to locate more information about these candies, I was reminded of two things: 1) There’s another, completely unrelated (although much more accurately describable as “haystacks”) type of candy involving butterscotch, peanut butter, and chow mein noodles, and 2) although my grandfather, and by extension my parents, called them “haystacks,” I think Brach’s and Super Fresh Produce actually called them something else.

And so, I am brought back to Citizen Kane. Like Charles Foster, I am probably destined to live my entire adult life never to relive certain childhood memories. Unlike Mr. Kane, however, I doubt it will lead to any deathbed regrets.

Addendum (July 21, 2006): I was simultaneously validated in my memory and pigeonholed geographically and culturally by this discovery. In my various and relatively fruitless (not to mention pointless) Google searches to try to get an answer, I found a reference in a post on the Prairie Home Companion message boards to the candies I’m talking about, even calling them “haystacks,” distinctly different from every other type of “haystack” candy I’ve so far found online, all of which seem to contain coconut, chow mein noodles, or shoestring potatoes. Not at all what I remember, though I will happily concede that they do much more closely resemble actual haystacks.

Update (August 26, 2006): I guess it’s good that my parents read this after all! They informed me today that the “other” name for these candies is chocolate cream drops. A fine example of what they look like can be seen at the Vermont Country Store website, where you can even order the godawful things if you want. Knock yourself out. If you’re just interested in more pictures (recommended) rather than actually tasting them, you can also see some examples at the Spangler Candy (archrival to Brach’s in the inedible candy wars) website or, strangely, on a site called Smokes-Spirits.com (which, after further consideration, I guess makes sense, considering the only way you can stand to eat these things is if your sense of taste is numbed by alcohol or a 2-pack-a-day habit).