A few thoughts on Steve Jobs stepping down as Apple’s CEO

Apple is far more than the creation of one man. A casual scan of Folklore.org, a site focused on its history, will tell you that.

But so would Steve Jobs.

He’s created a culture at Apple that is going to go on long with out him.

A few reads about Jobs stood out for me today and I’d thought I’d share them here:

WSJ: Steve Jobs’s Best Quotes – as someone said on Twitter, you could avoid reading a few business/programming/design tomes and just absorb these and be better off.

His Stanford University commencement speech: ‘You’ve got to find what you love,’ Jobs says. He ties in his life history as an adopted child of working class parents, into his pursuit of his dream, the failures he encountered, and the lessons that he absorbed that made him stronger. There’s a bit about life, death, perspective and mission. It is worth reading in full. There are reasons it went viral. You can watch it on YouTube as well. But the text is best.

Anil Dash on “What they are ‘protecting’ us from” connecting Jobs liberal, working class background, with his success, and wondering why some are fighting the policies that enabled stories like Job’s to be possible.

You won’t find much Apple fandom here and I’m not going to wax poetic about Apple products, but in a way, for programmers of a certain age like myself, one of the leaders of the personal computing revolution is now walking off his most visible stage and we have much to be thankful for.

So thank you everyone at Apple, Pixar, and NeXT, and thank you Steve Jobs for providing inspiration, and the foundation for so many careers reflecting creativity, communication, and passion.

“Right Now”: On the present, being present, and practice (TEDXPhilly related)

1. Breathe.

2. Remind yourself: Whatever you are doing – right now – you are practicing.

3. Remind yourself: Whatever you practice – you are improving, you are building, you are growing.

4. Ask yourself: Is this what you want to improve, build or grow?

Do this a few times a day and I’m betting it will re-center you.

Things that compete for our attention are everywhere, I get distracted too easily myself, and I am doing this to retrain my focus when it drifts.

“Right Now” was the theme of last year’s TEDXPhilly. For some terrific thoughts on the theme see TEDXPhilly’s organizer (and so much more in the Philly region), Roz Duffy, and her post “here and now”.

This year’s theme is “The City”. It will be fantastic.

For more thoughts on “Right Now”, see Rahul Bijlani’s great essay, “You are not running out of time” and Umair Haque’s “The Builders’ Manifesto”.

“What was the point in trying? Who wants to be laughed at?”

Erika Meyer shares what it was like learning to play guitar, fighting to make it happen, being a woman, and being told a few times along the way she had ‘no talent’: “How I Learned To Play Guitar”:

In 2000 I was a 32-year-old single mother with a four-year-old daughter. Looking for work as a web developer, I moved to Portland, Oregon, only to find that Portland is a town where it seems EVERYONE is in a band. I would watch my (male) friends in bands and sometimes find myself in tears, because deep down, I still wanted to be part of it. I’d been out of all urban ‘scenes’ and living a pretty isolated backwoods life since 1990, so I was largely unaware of the shifts that had happened in underground rock during the previous decade.

Around my 33rd birthday, I decided to ask for my guitars again, as I had every few years or so since 1990. Amazingly, this time, my mother returned them. I don’t know why she really kept them from me, and I don’t know why she finally returned them, but I immediately started to play. Thinking, “I want my daughter to experience music hands-on”, I bought a little practice amp and picked up where I’d left off, but this time with a new attitude. I decided right away that I no longer cared about ‘talent’. I decided that ‘talent’ didn’t even matter, that what matters, in fact, is passion and commitment. I knew that if I kept on the way I’d had been, I’d go to my death with some serious regret. It was time to take this as far as *I* wanted, regardless of what anyone else thought. I had thought I was playing for my daughter, but really, I was doing it for myself.

That change from a focus on talent and skill to a focus on passion and expression was a huge and important mental switch. I was finally giving myself what no one else had quite given me: permission to play guitar on my own terms. And more than that, I gave myself permission to ‘suck’. And with permission to suck comes the ability to rock, and to overcome all the fears and insecurities that had been holding me captive.

I had begun to understand, also, by this point, a lot more about psychology behind art. I remembered when I was a kid, my friends would tell me, “I can’t draw” and I would say, “Anyone can draw!” I knew it was just a matter of practice and learning to see and to trust your instincts. So I thought, “What if it’s true of music, too? What if anyone can make music?” I also knew by then that artistically frustrated people often try to put down or discourage other artists, so I decided I wouldn’t internalize other people’s negative projections about my abilities or my right to put time and energy into music. I’d focus on what I knew in my heart to be true: that I have just as much right to rock as Mick Jagger does. Maybe even more.

What is “Fast Fashion”, how it relates to big data, Facebook and us

Speed. Data. Lack of security. Encouraged anxiety. What makes a self-identity? And… fashion, clothing retailers and social media. n+1 has an interesting read in: The Accidental Bricoleurs:

…As the fast in fast fashion implies, the companies’ comparative advantage lies in speed, not brand recognition, garment durability, or reputable design. They have changed fashion from a garment making to an information business, optimizing their supply chains to implement design tweaks on the fly. Zara “can design, produce, and deliver a new garment and put it on display in its stores worldwide in a mere 15 days,”2 and this flow of information is by far the most significant thing the company produces, far more important than any piped pinafore, velveteen blazer or any of its other 40,000 yearly items. The company’s system of constant information monitoring allows it to quickly spot and sate trends and at the same time largely avoid overproduction boondoggles and the need for heavy discounting.

Unlike earlier generations of mass-market retailers, like the Gap’s family of brands (which includes, in ascending order of class cachet, Old Navy, Gap, and Banana Republic), companies like Zara and Forever 21 make no effort to stratify their offerings into class-signifying labels. They also don’t adopt branding strategies to affiliate with particular luxe or ironic lifestyles, à la Urban Outfitters or Abercrombie & Fitch. Instead they flatter consumers in a different way, immersing them in potential trends on a near weekly basis and trusting them to assemble styles in their own images. Clothes reach stores with practically unspoiled semiotic potential, and consumers are invited to be expressive rather than imitative with the goods, to participate more directly in fashion. We become the meaning makers, enchanting ordinary cardigans and anoraks with a symbolic significance that has only a tenuous relationship to the material item. We work in lieu of advertisers to reconfigure trends and remix signifiers, generating new and valuable meanings for goods. The more new clothes come in, the more creative we can be.

Fast-fashion retailers reap the fruits of that creativity by capturing our preferences in successive generations of products and nearly synchronizing to our whims. Thanks to the rich data we generate as we select, reject, and recombine the items fast fashion offers, the companies need not develop their own brands so much as seize upon customers’ ingenuity, distilling their choices into easily replicable trends and rushing the resulting products to market. If fashion functions like a language, then the fast-fashion firms are mainly interested controlling the underlying system and leave the meaning of the “words” to interchangeable designers and individual consumers. As long as customers are willing to speak fast fashion’s language, the companies aren’t particular about the specifics of the vocabulary. They are concerned only with the rate and volume of change.

…Like fast fashion, social media have brought with them a profusion of means and ways to reshape and display our identity. Constantly given new tools to share with, always prompted to say something new about ourselves (“What’s on your mind?” Facebook asks thoughtfully), we are pressured to continually devise ingenious solutions to our identity, which suddenly appears to be a particular kind of recurring problem: one that can be solved by replenishing social media’s various channels with fresh content. Just as fast fashion seeks to pressure shoppers with the urgency of now or never, social media hope to convince us that we always have something new and important to say—as long as we say it right away. And they are designed to make us feel anxious and left out if we don’t say it, as their interfaces favor the users who update frequently and tend to make less engaged users disappear. One can easily fall out of fashion with the algorithms Facebook uses to select which content users see out of the plethora of material friends in their network contribute.

…In social media, where everyone can employ design ideology, the persistent messages of advertising—that magical self-transformation through purchases is possible, that one’s inner truth can be expressed through the manipulation of well-worked surfaces—become practical rather than insulting. Not only do the methods and associative logic of advertising become more concretely useful, but its governing ideology no longer seems conformist but radically individualistic. Social media encourage us to appropriate whatever we want and claim it as our own without feeling derivative or slavishly imitative. On Facebook, if I link to, say, a YouTube video of Bob Dylan singing “I Threw It All Away” on the Johnny Cash Show in 1969, I am saying something particular about myself, not merely consuming the performance. I am declaring that video clip to be essentially equivalent to an update I may have written about a trip to Philadelphia or to pictures of me at a party that someone might have tagged. It is all bricolage for personal identity building.

It is a long, but thought provoking read. Go read it.

Related Metafilter thread: “The Total-Corporate State May Have Arrived”.

Ever see the “Mother of all Demos”?

In 1968 Douglas C. Engelbart, along with a team of 17 researchers at Stanford, in a 90 minute taped demonstration, showed us what was then the future – which is now the present (and soon to be the past?) – hypertext, gui based interaction, online collaboration including email, and more.

Stanford has a terrific page on the demo, including video clips of it broken down by time and topic, and a single clip of the whole thing. If you’ve never seen this before, take the time, scroll to the bottom of this, and watch beginning to end. It’s not called “The Mother of all Demos” for nothing.

I’ve watched this a few times over the years and I keep coming back to it and being blown away. How far have we gone? How far have we not? There has been much added to the mix these past ten years, but it was a long way from there to here.



Worth Repeating: Rob Pike “Data dominates.” and Frederick Brooks “Representation is the Essence of Programming”

Rob Pike is a famous name in programming with a history going back to Bell Labs, co-author of two often quoted books, and today works at Google.

Back in February 1989 he wrote an essay, “Notes on Programming in C” which many consider contains insight to the “Unix Philosophy”.

One of the sections of the essay people focus on were six rules he listed on complexity. Rule number 5 is:

“Data dominates. If you’ve chosen the right data structures and organized things well, the algorithms will almost always be self­ evident. Data structures, not algorithms, are central to programming.”

I’ve seen people summarize that rule (why summarize three sentences?!) into “write stupid code that uses smart objects”, but I believe that misses the point.

To help us understand the context behind the rule, Pike cites Frederick Brooks’ “The Mythical Man-Month” p. 102. Here it is for your edification:

Representation is the Essence of Programming

Beyond craftmanship lies invention, and it is here that lean, spare, fast programs are born. Almost always these are the result of strategic breakthrough rather than tactical cleverness. Sometimes the strategic breakthrough will be a new algorithm, such as the Cooley-Tukey Fast Fourier Transform or the substitution of an n log n sort for an n2 set of comparisons.

Much more often, strategic breakthrough will come from redoing the representation of the data or tables. This is where the heart of your program lies. Show me your flowcharts and conceal your tables, and I shall be continued to be mystified. Show me your tables, and I won’t usually need your flowcharts; they’ll be obvious.

It is easy to multiply examples of the power of representations. I recall a young man undertaking to build an elaborate console interpreter for an IBM 650. He ended up packing it onto an incredibly small amount of space by building an interpreter for the interpreter, recognizing that human interactions are slow and infrequent, but space was dear. Digitek’s elegant little Fortran compiler uses a very dense, specialized representation for the compiler code itself, so that external storage is not needed. That time lost in decoding this representation is gained back tenfold by avoiding input-output. (The exercieses at the end of Chapter 6 in Brooks and Inversion, “Automatic Data Processing” include a collection of such examples, as do many of Knuth’s exercises.)

The programmer at wit’s end for lack of space can often do best by disentangling himself from his code, rearing back, and contemplating his data. Representation is the essence of programming


Wikipedia: Unix_philosophy

Eric Steven Raymond: The Art of Unix Programming: Basics of the Unix Philosophy