Off the Top: History Entries

March 28, 2015

Interview with New Steve Jobs Biographers is Quite Good

On Friday I saw that John Gruber had interviewed the authors of Becoming Steve Jobs as part of Apple’s Meet the Author Podcast series. I had been reading snippets and reviews about the book for a couple weeks, with Steven Levy’s “The War Over Who Steve Jobs Was” and Rick Tetzeli’s Fast Company except “The Evolution of Steve Jobs” and found them interesting and much more inline with the many books I read over the years about Apple and Steve Jobs, than I did the Walter Isaacson book snippets I read.

This morning I watched the iTunes podcast of Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli: Meet the Author and it more than lived up to expectation. It was incredibly good. So good I bumped the book to the top of my wishlist.

Why this book?

I have read quite a few books about Apple and Steve Jobs with Alan Deutschman’s “The Second Coming of Steve Jobs”, Steven Levy’s Insanely Great, and Adam Lashinsky’s “Inside Apple” standing out from the many others I read and all the Silicon Valley history and culture books I have read along the way. They stood out as they grasped the lore, debunked it as well as extended it. They filled in the gaps with new stories and understandings. But, under it all they looked to only tell the stories of what, the place setting, and how, but they get to the why.

This book seems to fit why I liked the others with filling in the background and understanding the lore. This book seems like it will fit well in my underlying interest.

My fascination with Apple and Steve Jobs has to do with influence and foundation setting. In particular its early-ish influence and foundation setting with me.

I was born in the Bay Area, but grew-up up and down the whole of the West Coast in and just outside the major cities until my second year junior high when my parents moved to the California’s Central Valley. Being back in Northern California and a little over and hour from San Francisco we got San Francisco stations. This meant in the late 70s the personal computer was being talked about a lot. My dad was a systems and operations guy in the health insurance industry and there were always magazines around with computers in them. His fascination and work with computers rubbed off.

But, being in Northern California meant television and print news also covered computers and technology. This hippy guy with long-ish hair and a scruffy beard was continually on talking about what was happening today and in the near future. It was Steve Jobs. His near future visions influenced my perception of reality and how things should be. Our family’s first computer came in 1983 and it was an Osborne Executive, which I learned to use and copy code (copying small software that was handed out in local user groups) and play around with to see how things worked until they broke (then I swore and did it again).

But, in 1984 the Mac came out and that changed my whole perception of things. Not only did I have computer envy for the first time, but I also began to understand the future of where things were headed and was (then) thankful I didn’t go into computer science as a major as things became much easier to use (what I sorted out a few years later is much of what I wanted to do would have been aided by having a formal CS background). But around this time I also was meeting people who worked at Apple and they loved what they did and loved their jobs. Many at college had Macs and our newspaper my last semester not only was set up with Macs, but we got a new type of software, desktop publishing, for Mac from Aldus, called Pagemaker. It was so new we got a lot of training as part of the deal. We sort of had a digital newsroom (with a fully functional sneaker net).

After Jobs left Apple I followed what he was doing and had deep interest in Next. During this time I still had Macs around with most jobs and in grad school a couple students had Macs, but they weren’t as prevalent as they were in the late 80s in California. Often jobs I had would have a Mac around for creatives or testing, but by the mid–90s they were buggy. When Jobs came back to Apple as advisor as part of Apple purchasing Next in 1997 I still knew a few people at Apple and they were quite happy to see him back in some capacity. The shifts and changes at Apple fascinated me as the guy who influenced a lot of my belief in personal computing, what is was doing and could do, and how it should be done (with a focus on the user and ease of use - this was a “no duh” for me in the early 80s as I was making and breaking things on my Osborne).

Around 1999 I started cluing into the Steve Jobs keynotes again and in 2001 I picked up my first Mac, a PowerBook G4 Titanium, lovingly known as a TiBook. I got it because my laptop I was using, a light Toshiba, was tied to my project I was on and I left that project. I missed having a laptop, but I really wanting power, good screen, and ability to have UNIX / LINUX as well as a major consumer OS. In the TiBook I had UNIX as the core of OS X with command line ability, OS X, Classic Mac, and importantly a Windows emulator that allowed me to use Visio and MS Project (those needs would dwindle and become tiresome the more I got used to the Mac and its ease of use and its “it just works” approach to things - these do not always hold up). But my needs for the 4 OSs on one device that was powerful and relatively light eased into the background as the lack of needing to spend regular time maintaining things turned quickly into me just doing my work on the device.

Over the years with my Mac and increasing interest in Apple and how they do things and frame things, I got to know even more Apple folks as friends went to work there and I gave a some talks inside Apple. I was also running into people who had managed at Apple and I enjoy interacting with them as they think and work differently, which often fits how I like working and approaching things.

It is this trying to understand why my Apple tools and software (mostly) work really well for me and how I enjoy working with Apple (and ex-Apple) folks (I also have this enjoyable fit with McKinsey folks, but for very different reasons). It is trying to understand the what, how, and why of the fit with Apple, but as well as they “this is the way things should be” that was seeded in my head in the late 70s and was feed and groomed through life, that has me interested in understanding Apple and Steve Jobs.

January 16, 2013

A World without Aaron Swartz

It was a weekend not focussing on technology or internet much, but I saw some usual patterns that are the usual signs that something is not well, but I had other things that took priority of focus. Sunday I gave a quick look and let out that human deep gasp and my kid looked up and asked what was wrong as my head slumped. I was late to the news that Aaron Swartz had taken his life. I don’t know what site I read it but all my screens of services and people I follow closely where sharing the news and their remembrances.

Aaron’s passing was beyond the “he is too young” and “what a shame”, he was not only someone special he was changing the world and had been for quite a while with his sorting through the battles of standardizing RSS, working with the Creative Commons to create a modern equivalent that could be relatively easily used attach to published and shared content allowing much better and more open access to it, he helped contribute to Reddit as it was hatching and stayed with it through to it being purchased. He has done so much more since. But, he died at 26 years old. At 14 when he was partaking in the RSS discussions on listserves nobody knew his age. Nobody had a clue and it wasn’t known until they asked him to come to a gathering to discuss things face to face. This story of his age and the wonderful story about how people found out was spread on listserves I participated in and at around post conference drinks in the early 00s. At the age of 14 Aaron had lore. He had earned the respect and right to be a peer with the early grey beards of the Web that were battling to understand it all, help it work better, and make the world better because of it. Aarron fit right in.

I was at a few events and gatherings that Aaron was at in the early 00s but I never had the chance to work or interact with him. But, I have worked and interacted with many who did have that fortune and even with the lore Aaron had they were impressed by his approach, capabilities, and what he could accomplish. In the tech community it is a meritocracy and you earn credibility by doing. The world has always been changed by those who do, but also by those who are curious. but are guided by an understanding of an optimal right (correct way).

What we lost as a society was not only a young man who earned his place and credibility, and earned it early, but he gave to others openly. All the efforts he put his heart and mind to had a greater benefit to all. The credo in the tech community is to give back more than you take. Aaron did that in spades, which made thinking of a future with whatever he was working on a bit more bright and promising. Aaron’s blog was at the top of my feed reader and was more than worth the time to read. He was a blogger, an open sharer of thoughts and insights, questions as well as the pursuit of the answer to the questions. This is not the human norm, he was a broken one in all the understandings that brings as being outside the mainstream norms, but much like all those in the Apple “Think Different” ad campaign he made a difference by thinking different and being different from those norms.

I love David Weinberger’s Aaron Swartz was not a hacker. He was a builder. as well as his Why we mourn. From the rough edges of hearing friends talk about their working with Aaron and following along with what he shared, we as a society were in for a special future. Doc Searls’ Aaron Swartz and Freecom lays out wonderfully the core of Aaron’s soul as a native to the Net in the virtues of NEA (Nobody owns it; Everybody can use it; Anybody con improve it). Doc also has a great collection of links on his memorial posting, many from those who worked with Aaron or knew him well on his Losing Aaron Swartz page.

Dang it, we are one down. We are down a great one. But, this net, this future, and this society that fills this little planet needs the future we could have had, but now it is ours to work together to build and make great.

How to we get there? Aaron’s first piece of advice from Aaron Swarts: How to get my job is, “Be curious. Read widely. Try new things. I think a lot of what people call intelligence just boils down to curiosity.”


September 22, 2010

Good Night Sweet Six Apart

Odd how news of business transactions hits. Today I saw Six Apart was bought by VideoEgg (yes, Six Apart that makes TypePad and MovableType). This news made me a bit sad and nostalgic.

Movable Type is Old Skool

As the young people used to say (they were still young back then) Movable Type (MT) is OG. MT was far from the first blogging platform, as Blogger and others like Grey Matter (this influenced the blogging platform under this blog a lot). MT was started by the couple Ben and Mena Trott out of their house in the dust of the test boom bursting. It was started as a blogging platform and build to be a well thought through platform for others to use. By 2002 it had been launched user tested and was the first underpinnings of Boxes and Arrows Magazine (as deployed by Jay Allen).

Those were good days and MT was a solid product. MT turned in to Six Apart and offered a hosted platform, TypePad, which my Personal InfoCloud blog is hosted on. The became the first real blogging platform company and it grew into a solid company.

The Show Goes On

The announcements around the purchase state MT and TypePad will continue to be supported. The big change is a new owner, a new company name (SAY Media), and possibly a new direction. I've had a lot of friends work at Six Apart or work with them.

The days of sitting up late talking blogging platforms in the early days at SXSWi and how all of this was more than just something the "broken one's" did. We have seen WordPress surface out of another platform and thrive as have many other personal sharing social platforms that have not only changed the web, but have also largely changed the world for the better. MT and other blogging platforms gave nearly everybody a printing press with a wider reach around the globe than any personal printing press ever had. As well the readers or people with affinity to the ideas shared, or even trying to get a new or different view.

I look forward to my new TypePad overlords and hope they are as inspiring and gracious as the kind, smart, gentle, and caring folks at Six Apart always have been. I also have my own hand rolled blogging platform that sits under, as well as my vanderwal on Tumblr blog, and all those other social platforms I share things within and on. Be well Six Apart as you move from a blogging platform company with a name on the door, to our collective blogged memories.

June 1, 2005

The Last Big Piece

I grew up in the early 1970s with the Watergate scandal and hearings on television in the background to my world. Yesterday the one big missing piece was revealed, Felt was Deepthroat.

June 13, 2003

June 6, 2002


To help remember D-Day Encyclopedia Britanica offers good multimedia tools for a light overview, but decent breadth.

December 26, 2001

The Web Grew Up

I was thinking the other day that two years ago, or so, was the last Christmas lag I noticed on the Web. It used to be that around Christmas time the Web would drag around the Christmas holiday as students finished their exams and surfed the Web. Office workers took advantage of their fast connections and a few free moments to order off the e-commerce sites.

This year I noticed this lag did not happen. Not this holiday season and not in September when students went back to school and were using their fast pipes to pull songs from Napster and catch-up on all their friend's sites.

Yes, maybe the Web has grown up. The only lags these days are from viruses and worms that grab hold of distant machines and only make it seem like we are all on dial-up as the malicious traffic drags the services down for the rest.

December 10, 2001

Foundations of Hypertext Navigation, Part 1

Another discussion on Peterme that has fallen into the discussion of spatial metaphors and the Web. The general feeling is that the spatial metaphor provides a poor descriptive language and metaphorical base to discuss the Web. Finding a replacement seems to be the focus, but there is an embedded base in the population of users that have adopted these analogies. I agree to a great degree that the spatial metaphor is not the best (agreeing with the negative of a positive superlative is the easy way out as there is very little room to be wrong so it is a false method of looking smart).

There is a chapter on "NAVIGATION THROUGH COMPLEX INFORMATION SPACES" from Hypertext in Context by Cliff McKnight, Andrew Dillon, John Richardson, which provides a solid understanding of some of the history of the navigational metaphor in hypertext services.

November 1, 2001

Paula Thorton presents her thoughts on Meet the New Information Architects , which offers a nice history lesson of IA, interaction design, other elements.

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