It's hard to say these days

Against My Better Judgment I’m Going to Speak the Unspeakable

clock January 18, 2012 04:13 by author Tom

Disclaimer: I am against SOPA

SOPA has been the topic of many tech blogs (including this one) over the last few weeks.  The Stop Online Piracy Act would allow content providers to essentially shut down sites at a DNS level if they were accused of hosting copyrighted content.  In protest of this potential law sites such as Reddit, Craigslist, Wikipedia and others have decided to black out their content for one day in protest (Techmeme Link).  Other companies such as Google have dedicated space on their home page to the blackout (for example Google’s logo is blacked out). 

Now before I get to my point let me explain my most basic rule on politics.  I really don’t care what you believe as long as you’ve (a) thought it through completely and (b) are consistent in your application of it.  In other words I want people to make sure they truly believe in something and not form political opinions as an excuse to hate other people.  In that context I ask you this... 

Where’s the “corporations aren’t people” outrage over the blackout?

For those who aren’t familiar with the “corporations are people” kerfuffle here’s the short version.  A group called Citizen’s United created a negative movie about Hilary Clinton.  The FEC prevented them from distributing it in an attempt to control corporate money in political campaigns.  They sued and the Supreme Court eventually ruled that, for the purposes of free speech, corporations were people and could use their money to pay for anything that would be considered speech. 

And Reddit went crazy.  Articles flooded the homepage with titles like “The Grotesque Corporate Monstrosity Unleashed By Citizens United” and “Citizens United invites the worst corruption our democracy has witnessed since the Gilded Age.” (actually the same article with a new title but they were both such great examples I couldn’t resist).

So how is this blackout any different?  All the companies participating are essentially turning over extremely valuable ad space to a cause they believe in.  How’s that different from a corporation funding a film for electronic distribution?  A company that chooses to lose ad dollars to support a cause is no different from one that pays ad dollars to support a cause. 

(I’d like to give a special shout-out to The Left Call who published an anti-Citizens United article right before their coverage of the Blackout and completely failed to see the irony)

Again, I’m not advocating either side here.  I’m simply saying “think through what you believe”.  If you don’t like Citizen’s United then denounce the blackout.  If you are in favor of the blackout then support the Citizen’s United decision. 

Copyright Law and SOPA

clock January 13, 2012 14:10 by author Tom

Friends have accused me of having a special dislike for Tim O’Reilly.  That’s not really the case.  He seems like a nice enough guy and there is a lot I agree with him on.  For example, we’re both opposed to SOPA.

My problem with him is his arguments never seem to be well thought out.  Which makes it seem like well thought out arguments don’t exist (otherwise why would he use such weak ones).  And since he seems more than smart enough to think these things through that means he’s just being lazy.  Which annoys me. 

As proof of this I offer the quotes below from Colleen Taylor’s interview with Mr. O’Reilly on GigaOm. 

The way I see it, there’s a lack of need for any legislation at all. As a publisher, I have a very deep experience here, and the fact is that piracy is not a significant problem. Yes, there are people who are pirating my books, there are people who are sharing links to places where they can be downloaded. But the vast majority of customers are willing to pay if the product is widely available and the price is fair. If you have a relationship with your customers, and they know you’re doing the right thing, they will support you.

The problem here, and in much of the rest of his thoughts, is that he represents all media as being equal.  A movie with thousands of employees produced over several years is not the same thing as a technical book which requires a handful of people and can be produced in a fraction of the time.   Nor are their audiences the same.  Technical books are less likely to be pirated because they are career related.  Meaning many of them are purchased through companies and not with an individual person’s money.  Whereas entertainment media comes out of people’s disposable income. 

Finally this statement…

“the vast majority of customers are willing to pay if the product”

Is impossible to prove without knowing how many people pirate.  Because you don’t know how many people make up “the vast majority”.

The people who are pirating are most likely the people who would never give you a nickel to begin with. Piracy serves people on the fringes who are not being served adequately by legitimate markets. Frankly, if people in Romania can download my books and enjoy them, more power to them. They weren’t going to pay me anyway.

Let me ask you this: Would you risk your entire business on a “most likely”?  Beyond that his opinion doesn’t apply to a lot of the media he criticizes because pirating HD movies and music requires a high speed connection.  People with such a connection can probably afford to pay for content

I also don’t see “they wouldn’t pay anyway” as a valid argument for throwing away the rule of law.  I’m all for prices mirroring their economies.  If the average salary of a worker in Romania is 1/10th that of an American then the average price of a book should be 1/10th as well and free markets tend to make those adjustments.  Because companies can cover their costs from the more affluent markets and once they’ve done that there’s no reason to leave any money on the table.  So it makes sense for them to price media so it can be purchased by people in less affluent economies. 

Don’t get the wrong idea.  If Tim O’Reilly wants to give his books away in Romania he should do so.  But he shouldn’t be able to force other people to do so based on his opinion.

I talked with Nancy Pelosi about SOPA the other day, and she said that the experience with piracy is different for people in the movie industry. Maybe — I’m not a movie producer. But I do know that right now the entire content industry is facing massive systemic changes, and to claim that declining sales are because of piracy is so over the top. Any company that is providing great content online in a way that’s easy to use with a fair price has a booming business right now.

Look at the first few sentences here.  He essentially says…

- I admit I might not understand the movie industry

- But I’m going to group them into “the content industry” so I can make it seem like I do understand their industry

- Then I’m going to pass judgment on them as if I understand their industry

And again he’s passing off opinion as fact by saying….

“Any company that is providing great content online in a way that’s easy to use with a fair price has a booming business right now”

Says who?  What statistics do you base that on?  Are you really willing to say there isn’t one single undiscovered artist out there who is producing great content and isn’t managing to make money off it?  And if you concede there might be one wouldn’t you have to concede there might be more than one?  And if there’s more than one wouldn’t you have to concede you don’t know exactly how many there are and they could be the majority for all you know? 

So here we have this legislation, with all of these possible harms, to solve a problem that only exists in the minds of people who are afraid of the future. Why should the government be intervening on behalf of the people who aren’t getting with the program?

I don’t have much to say here because again it’s all opinion.  I just find this sentence funny coming from a man of his political bent who is a big supporter of the President.  So bail out the banks, car companies, and investment bankers but don’t you dare intervene to enforce copyright law. 

I’m not criticizing the political bent.  There are plenty of valid arguments for an interventionist government.  But if you’re a person who asks the government to intervene when you want something you shouldn’t be surprised when it intervenes for other people who want something you don’t want. 

If you look at it from a historical perspective, the American book publishing industry as a whole began with piracy; there are lots of documents of Charles Dickens and the like taking a stand against these American pirates who were stealing their work. But America went on to become the largest publishing and copyright market in the world. Once the market matures, the pirates go away. They always do. Legitimate markets work better than pirate markets.

I wish someone had asked him “how do you know Charles Dickens held these beliefs?” The answer is “because he spent a large part of his life lobbying for copyright reform in the United States.”  AND HE WAS SUCCESSFUL!  America went on to become the largest publishing and copyright markets in the world AFTER the copyright reforms Dickens wanted were enacted. 

More recently you can see this in what happened with the music industry. For a while, music companies were fighting peer-to-peer file sharing. But once Apple came out with iTunes, which was an alternative that was easy to use and fairly priced, it became a huge business.

Saying “it became a huge business” is a bit misleading because it changes the question.  The question here is about piracy and whether pricing your product fairly and making it easy to purchase prevents piracy.  Mr. O’Reilly admits iTunes is priced fairly and is easy to use but fails to address consistently falling music sales (8.4% in 2010 alone).  So iTunes seems to invalidate his point at least as much as it helps it.

But there’s a larger point

So what’s going on here?  He’s against SOPA and I’m against SOPA so how can we disagree so much?

Because he’s conflated two different issues: Copyright law in general and SOPA in particular.  Which is dangerous because there is a large swath of people (myself included) who believe in copyright law but who don’t support SOPA and many of them won’t think the topic all the way through.  They’ll see Mr. O’Reilly’s arguments, recognize their weaknesses, and assume SOPA is a good thing. 

In my perfect world I’d like to see anti-SOPA people make this simple argument instead…

Good law is a fair arbitration between two parties who each want something.  Sometimes that arbitration is simple as in the case of a violent person who wants to assault whoever he pleases and a society that wants to be free of violence.  And sometimes that arbitration is difficult as in the case of copyright law.  But it should always be fair.  Even the violent person is allowed to hit inanimate objects, scream at people, and so on.  He’s just not allowed to inflict actual, physical pain.

So the question is whether SOPA is fair to both interested parties.

It isn’t.  SOPA is weighted entirely towards the content providers.  So you get situations where an individual content provider can shut down a whole website based on a single claim (which may or may not be valid since the shutdown occurs before a fair hearing of the facts).  That alone is reason to oppose SOPA.

Once the battle against SOPA is won society can turn back to the issues of copyright law in general.  But for now we shouldn’t confuse the two issues.

I really don’t have time for this Bull You-Know-What

clock December 24, 2011 21:44 by author Tom

It’s Christmas Eve.  I don’t have time to be posting to this blog.  But I opened Techmeme up on my phone and saw this headline from The Next Web: “Go Daddy lost 21,054 domains yesterday in wake of SOPA PR disaster

Here’s a quote…

It looks like these PR moves to save face, and business, are completely futile. According to TheDomains, 21,054 domains were transferred away from Go Daddy on Friday alone. At $6.99 a pop, that would make for a loss of $147,167, not taking future renewals into account. The day before wasn’t a good one for the company either, with 15,000 people taking their domains elsewhere. That means that even though Go Daddy changed its stance, people have had enough.

The stats from DailyChanges show that the transfers away from Go Daddy have been increasing all week. 

Sounds really bad doesn’t it?  So I went to the DailyChanges website and I noticed a couple of things TheNextWeb neglected to mention…


So almost as many people transferred in as transferred out and there were more new domains created than old domains deleted. 

Don’t get the wrong idea.  I’m not suggesting people joined GoDaddy because of their SOPA support.  I’m simply saying the 21,000 number is probably close to an average amount of in/out transactions for GoDaddy.   In fact, I made a quick visit to the WayBackMachine and took a look at September 9th (the closest I could get to “this time last year”).  I found 15,001 for transfers out and 15,876 for transfers in.  A relatively similar ratio (there are more transfers out in the current numbers but that’s not surprising since the SOPA protest could easily have caused a couple thousand transfers out).

May 14th, 2011 is the next record in the database and it has 10,704 (In) and –15,455 (out).

So don’t be misled.  The SOPA protest almost certainly had some impact but it isn’t as dramatic as the headline would lead you to believe.  I’m not going to outright accuse TheNextWeb of skewing the story but I did note their source (TheDomains) noted the “Transfer In” numbers while TheNextWeb did not. 

Addendum: Just to further make the point here is a list of the Transfer In/Transfer Out numbers for the week leading up to the Reddit post that encouraged a boycott.  And yes, that is 46,000 out transfers that happened days before the SOPA list was published.

(The numbers are from DailyChanges but I believe you need a subscription to access them)


12/16  23,762 / 21,783

12/17  21,762 / 46,958

12/18  18,901 / 14,998

12/19  16,825 / 8,836

12/20  17,285 / 13,143

12/21  16,232 / 14,493

12/22  18,095 / 15,860 


Harsher Tactics

clock December 22, 2011 22:08 by author Tom

Three years ago, almost to the day, I posted this in response to claims the RIAA was dying…

But it’s important to remember something here: The RIAA is not the record companies.  If the RIAA dies it won’t end the record companies’ efforts to stop file trading.  It will only give birth to another organization tasked with the same goals.  Which makes the RIAA’s desperation a good thing because it makes them more willing to deal (which a new organization probably won’t be).  

Which brings me back to my point.  File Trading Advocates can attack the RIAA all they want but it isn’t going to accomplish anything.  What they need to do is praise every effort that moves away from harsh tactics and work with the RIAA to develop realistic solutions.  The RIAA’s current desperation means there’s no time like the present to start a dialogue.

That’s why I’ve been relatively quiet on the “Stop Online Piracy Act”.  I don’t like SOPA, I don’t think it will be good for the Internet and I hope it fails.  But it was inevitable.  These copyright holders have been forced into harsher solutions because the tech industry refuses to engage them and makes no effort to find realistic solutions.  Even now the tech industry continues to be on the attack

The company boycotts  have sparked a threadon Hacker News, where user Solipsist posted a link to the list with the comment, “While I understand your sentiments towards SOPA, are you really going to distance yourself from all of these companies?”

To which YCombinator founder and investor Paul Graham replied,

“Actually that’s exactly what I thought when I saw the list yesterday. Several of those companies send people to Demo Day, and when I saw the list I thought: we should stop inviting them. So yes, we’ll remove anyone from those companies from the Demo Day invite list.”

Disinviting offending companies to YCombinator Demo Day? That takes, um, guts. Graham told me in a followup email that he was indeed serious and had just given the list of SOPA supporters to the people in charge of the Demo Day invites, ”I don’t know exactly which companies had people on the list.  But I know which will now: none of them.”

I’ll admit this hits me where it hurts.  I admire Paul Graham so to see him take such a counter productive position is honestly painful to me (not to mention embarrassing because I’ve used him as an example of a reasonable person in the tech industry)

I mean, lets be realistic about what he’s saying here.  He’s saying he understands there are companies who support SOPA and he’s going to do everything in his power to force them into doing what he wants regardless of how they feel. 

Ask yourself this: How do you feel when someone tries to force you to do something? 

My guess is it doesn’t endear them to you.  It certainly doesn’t make you feel like taking their side. So you can try to force these companies to withdraw their public support but they’ll still privately support it.  In fact I’d argue they’ll become more dedicated to the cause because people who are forced to do something tend to double down on their beliefs. 

Given that what do you think comes next?

I predict SOPA will, in its essence, be implemented three years from now.  Even if the current bill fails.  Because these companies won’t give up.  They may not want a public fight so they’ll just pay legislators to slip SOPA into other bills piece by piece.  In fact, I’d wager they’ll slip something worse in once all is said and done. 

If Paul Graham wanted to be productive he should do just the opposite of what he’s doing.  He should personally invite the CEOs of these companies and their representatives to the next Demo Day.  He should prominently post signs by each startup explaining why SOPA would hurt the innovation they represent.  He should deliver a speech making an impassioned argument against SOPA.  Basically he should see them as good people who are wrong and not evil people who he should try to hurt. 

Open WebOS

clock December 9, 2011 17:09 by author Tom

So HP has decided to Open Source the Palm WebOS

HP today announced it will contribute the webOS software to the open source community.

HP plans to continue to be active in the development and support of webOS. By combining the innovative webOS platform with the development power of the open source community, there is the opportunity to significantly improve applications and web services for the next generation of devices.

I wish I had more to say on this but in truth this announcement doesn’t tell us anything

Here’s the problem.  A lot of people think Open Source is a scenario where you build something, give it to the world, and the world embraces it from there.  But It doesn’t really work that way.

Every successful open source project has one thing in common: a group of people who are dedicated to it.  Who treat it more like a religion than a hobby and who work very, very hard to make it successful.  Sometimes it’s an entire company (Think Android with Google), sometimes it’s a foundation (Mozilla) and sometimes it’s just a small group of people (Linux in the early days).  But whatever the case open source projects need that push.

In many ways an Open Source Project boils down to the willpower of its backers.  It is a physical manifestation of their dedication to accomplish the task it was built for. 

So HP saying they’ll “engage the open source community to help define the charter of the open source project” tells us nothing.   Are they going to keep a full time staff on it?  Are they going to put money into a foundation for it?  Do they have dedicated staff members who are still so in love with the platform they’ll work on it in their spare time? 

Those are the questions that will define what happens next. 

Which brings me to the other important thing behind every open source project: Purpose.  For an open source project to succeed it has to fill a void.  Linux provided a viable open OS, Mozilla provided an alternative to IE and Android provided an alternative to iOS.  For WebOS to succeed it has to find a void to fill and right now they don’t have one.  There’s already a popular open mobile OS and a popular open desktop OS. 

If I were a WebOS supporter I’d focus on the platform itself.  The one thing WebOS did better than anyone was to create a platform for web applications that could function like native apps.  They should ditch the underlying plumbing and treat WebOS as a Linux shell (it basically is a very developed Linux shell).  Use WebOS to create what ChromeOS should have been: a Web based OS without native applications that is fully functional. 

That’s a void that needs to be filled (and because you could adapt existing web applications to it you’d have a good chance of getting support. 

Siri is a Search Engine…

clock November 5, 2011 17:50 by author Tom

Remember all that talk about Apple building a Search Engine?  It’s starting to look like they did just that

Apple's new Siri voice control on the iPhone 4S can answer questions, access information and deliver search results without displaying any advertising, which one analysis says will hurt search providers like Google.

If users were to become more accustomed to search by voice through Siri rather than visiting Google's website and typing a query, it could place Google at risk, a new analysis from Nigam Arora suggests. Arora noted that before buying an iPhone 4S with Siri, he was required to search for an Indian restaurant through Google's website.

Arora believes that Siri could change users' mobile habits, making them search for information via Apple's Siri rather than directly through Google. He thinks Siri is a better solution because it provides a small number of relevant results rather than a long list that users must sort through. Plus, he views advertisements on a small screen like an iPhone as a distraction.

The hallmark of a great business decision is it looks obvious in retrospect.  In the late 70s Microsoft and Apple were probably the only two companies in the world that believed there’d be a computer on every desk.  Now it seems foolish for people to have believed anything else. 

That’s what makes this situation so hilarious to me.  If you look at Siri in this context it should have been obvious. 

Yet most people, including Google, never saw it coming.  In fact Google probably thought this was a benefit because Siri defers to Google if it can’t find another answer.  But as Siri gets better and better you’ll see it going to Google less and less.  At which point Google dies a death of a thousand cuts. 

(I don’t believe Google will fully die but you get the point). 

As for the rest of us we should have seen it coming.  This is exactly the type of Search Engine Apple would build.   The Apple mentality has always been one where the user gives them control in exchange for the benefits of a culled environment.  That’s exactly what Siri is.  A culled environment wrapped in some fancy speech recognition. 

You don’t tell it where to search you simply ask it a question and Siri picks the best sources and delivers them to you.  I, for example, rarely ever used Wolfram Alpha for anything before Siri.  Now I use it 3 or 4 times a day because it was Apple’s choice.  Just like they choose what apps get into the App store or what Mac features developers can use. 

So looking back isn’t it now obvious that Siri is a Search Engine?

Oh Netflix, I love ya’ but I’m beginning to think you’re doomed

clock October 24, 2011 22:32 by author Tom

Netflix announced its earnings after the market closed today and the results weren’t good.  Another 800,000 customers fled the service.  As of this writing Netflix is down a whopping 26.86% in after hours trading.  That would mean the stock has fallen 71.5% since its high on July 8th, 2011. 

But Netflix’s CEO claims to have learned a lesson

Q: Why did you try to do Qwikster?

Reed: In hindsight, it is hard to justify. Having separate brands can in theory make sense. However after the price increase, Qwikster became the symbol of Netflix not listening.

That quote makes it seem like he got the message.  But did he?  Take a look at this…

Q: Why not reintroduce a combined streaming-DVD?

Reed: we think future is brightest for streaming. We don’t want to subsidize DVD. We think $7.99 is such a great price that mostly we should focus on filling out content.

The focus for us is in rebuilding our reputation

DVD business will become like AOL dial-up. a slow decline.

The problem here is he admits to not listening but then doubles down on the exact same strategy.  So  you have to wonder what he thinks people were trying to say.  To get that answer look no further than the NY Times Magazine Interview of him

Last month, when announcing Qwikster, you apologized for the way Netflix handled its price hikes, writing, “In hindsight I slid into arrogance based upon past success.” But wasn’t introducing Qwikster the way you did the most arrogant move of all?
No, I think it was just a mistake in underestimating the depth of emotional attachment to Netflix.

I’m curious if you could have done any kind of research — or even a select-market rollout — that could have anticipated this?
I don’t know of any Internet service that opens on a regional basis. Our focus-group work concentrated on trying to understand consumers’ perspectives on names other than Netflix.

Now maybe it’s just me but I don’t think people disliking the name Qwikster is really the problem.   The problem was and still is the company’s attempts to push people into the streaming-only service before it’s ready.  

Note: I’m a streaming only customer. 

But I get away with that because I don’t watch that much media.   I use Netflix for no more than 10 hours a month and I have the financial resources to just buy what I want off iTunes if Netflix doesn’t have it.  But not everyone is that lucky.  So the limited content on Netflix’s streaming service is a significant issue to some people.  Especially when the amount of content they have is shrinking…

When your agreement to stream Starz content ends in March, you’ll lose your ability to show Disney movies like “Toy Story 3.” You’ve played down the effect this will have on the service, but can you name a movie that my kids will enjoy as much?
We can give you hundreds of titles that we’ve been adding over the last couple of months, both animated big movies and Japanese anime and lots of Nickelodeon content as examples. And of course, DreamWorks is coming online in 2013.

But can you name just one that will cushion the blow of losing Buzz Lightyear?
I watch mostly independent films. I’m not in that particular demo. I’ll send you a list.

On top of all this you have the original content issue.  Apparently Netflix doesn’t have the money to keep the Starz contract AND they’re so poor they need to significantly raise the price of their DVD service.  But they can afford to pay for exclusive rights to obscure original content.  

I admit to being on the outside here.  As I said I’m a streaming only customer who doesn’t watch anything that’s part of the Starz contract.  So my costs haven’t gone up and I’m not losing anything.  But I can see how other customers would be fleeing in droves.  To my mind Reed Hastings has built up a lot of good will over the years and I still think people should support him through this obviously tough time.  But with him giving interviews like the ones above and the stock in a freefall he’s making that very hard to do. 

Thoughts on “Steve Jobs”

clock October 24, 2011 06:37 by author Tom

So it’s out.  Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs (titled simply “Steve Jobs”) hit my Kindle around 6pm today and I dove right in.  I’ve been kind of shell shocked on a personal level since Steve Jobs died and I hoped this would provide a bookend for the last couple weeks.  A way to honor him (by learning more about his life) while at the same time moving on. 

Having just finished it my opinion basically boils down to this: : It’s a good read but it’s a bad historical account. 

I feel pretentious saying that because obviously I wasn’t there when things unfolded at Apple (in fact I wasn’t alive for the early parts).  But I’ve read many, many accounts of the events detailed in this book.  Those include…

Apple: The inside story of intrigue, egomania, and Business Blunders (My personal favorite)

Infinite Loop: How the world’s most insanely great computer company went insane

Apple Confidential 2.0

Return to the Little Kingdom

The Second Coming of Steve Jobs

iCon: The greatest second act in the history of business

iWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon

The Pixar Touch

Odyssey: Pepsi to Apple

On the Firing Line: My 500 Days At Apple

Accidental Empires

Barbarians Led By Bill Gates (the Mac deal from a Microsoft employees perspective)

So I know a little about this.  I mean, everyone spins the story a little differently but when the same facts come from 4 or 5 different sources you start to get an accurate picture. 

In the case of “Steve Jobs” the problems are mostly ones of omission.  For example, it’s easy to portray John Sculley and Gil Amelio as “Bozos” if you omit their earlier successes.  It’s easy to portray Sculley’s tenure as having coasted on Jobs’ laurels and then dropped if you ignore the fact that Sculley actually turned the company around twice (and was ousted before he could try a third time).  It’s easy to accuse Microsoft of copying the Mac if you don’t know the internal story of Microsoft’s development procedures (procedures Apple insisted on and inspected themselves).

There’s also a lot of hero worship that hurts the book.  Clearly these interviews were done at a time when the people being interviewed knew Mr. Jobs could die soon.   So what you find are a lot of employee accounts that contradict what those same employees said at the time these events took place.  This is especially clear in how fast the author glosses over the Mac vs Apple II conflict that eventually led to the lackluster Apple III (produced by a completely demoralized team) and was partially responsible for Woz leaving Apple.  You also don’t get a clear view of just how much the Mac took from Lisa  (remember Jobs was in charge of Lisa before he started on the Mac) or how troubled Jobs’ relationship with Pixar has been over the years. 

Then you have the author’s personal opinion that is sprinkled throughout the book.  Here’s an example (the author’s words are in bold while the rest of the text is a Sculley quote):

At every opportunity Sculley would find similarities with Jobs and point them out:

We could complete each other’s sentences because we were on the same wavelength.  Steve would rouse me from sleep at 2 a.m. with a phone call to chat about an idea that suddenly crossed his mind.  “Hi, it’s me,” he’d harmlessly say to the dazed listener, totally unaware of the time.  I curiously had done the same in my Pepsi days.  Steve would rip apart a presentation he had to give the next morning, throwing out slides and text.  So had I as I struggled to turn public speaking into an important management tool during my early days at Pepsi.  As a  young executive, I was always impatient to get things done and often felt I could do them better myself.  So did Steve.  Sometimes I felt as if I was watching Steve playing me in a movie.  The similarities were uncanny, and they were behind the amazing symbiosis we developed. 

This was self-delusion and it was a recipe for disaster.

John Sculley had his flaws and I can’t imagine anyone arguing he was AS exceptional as Steve Jobs.  But the man was exceptional.  There’s no question of that.  The man was responsible for a business strategy that Pepsi uses TO THIS DAY.  Beyond that Steve Jobs clearly thought highly of him before their falling out.  So it really isn’t fair to bash the man for drawing comparisons.  Negative portrayals such as that take away from the historical value of the piece.  It would be like a book on John Adams downplaying the intelligence of Thomas Jefferson. 

Moving on there are also factual inaccuracies that, because they are presented as Mr. Jobs’ opinion, are put forth unchallenged.  Like…

It had taken Microsoft a few years to replicate Macintosh’s graphical user interface, but by 1990 it had come out with Windows 3.0, which began the company’s march to dominance in the desktop market.  Windows 95, which was released in 1995, became the most successful operating system ever, and Macintosh sales began to collapse.  “Microsoft simply ripped off what other people did,” Jobs later said.  “Apple deserved it. After I left, it didn’t invent anything new.  The Mac hardly improved.”

So Quicktime, the Newton, Claris, Copland, and a host of other innovations were nothing?  The truth is, from every insider account I’ve read the opposite was true.  They created an unprecedented amount of things but the management was so bad they couldn’t capitalize on any of it.  Apple created no less than 3 different operating systems that were more advanced than System 7 but couldn’t get a single one out the door.  Beyond that almost every account I’ve ever read has said Windows 3.0 did not succeed because of its technical superiority.  It succeeded because it was cheap and good enough. 

I know it seems like I’m defending the period between Jobs’ ousting and his return but I’m really not.  That period was just the easiest to find examples from since Mr. Jobs had a clear distain for everything that happened during that period. 

Beyond the above flaws the book is interesting from a “what Steve Jobs believes” perspective.  Plus the account of his childhood is more detailed than anything I’ve ever seen and that alone is worth the price of admission.  Then there are little revelations that make it worthwhile.  The fact that Jobs wanted to make a “Mac in a book” (aka a Tablet) after seeing touchscreen technology in 1985 is a fun fact.  And of course there are post iPod stories, an era that haven’t been written about much  (since most of the insiders from this time are still working for the company making historical accounts hard to research). 

Just to be clear I think Steve Jobs deserves hero worship.  I’m glad he’s getting it.  Because of him a whole generation of technologists have grown up knowing usability is as important as features and that’s put technology on a better path.  But at the same time the whole point of history is to pass on lessons from the past.  If the genesis of those lessons becomes white washed then the lessons themselves get lost. 

The Internet is Breaking

clock October 5, 2011 23:53 by author Tom

As I sit here and refresh Techmeme and Hacker News over and over again looking for more people to commiserate with I’m finding a lot of the links are going dead.  I have to admit it brought a smile to my face. 

Is there anyone who deserves such a send off more than Steve Jobs?

To The Ages…

clock October 5, 2011 23:16 by author Tom

I really hoped this wasn’t true


I have two thoughts on this. 

First, You can’t see this as anything but a tragedy and I want to say up front that I wish he’d lived to a ripe old age.

At the same time my first thought when I heard this news was to think of an old quote.  After the doctor declared Abraham Lincoln dead a silence fell over the room.  Then Lincoln’s War Secretary, Edwin Stanton, reportedly said “Now he belongs to the Ages”.  As tragic as the death of Steve Jobs is you have to also see the beauty of him always being remembered as the relatively young man with a twinkle in his eye and a magical device in his hand. 

Now that he’s passed it seems impossible to imagine him as a doddering old 80 year old sitting in retirement.  He truly did belong to the ages. 

The other thing that keeps going through my mind is a story that made the rounds a while back.  After it was clear MobileMe had become a disaster Jobs reportedly took the team aside and berated them.  He’s reported to have yelled “You should hate each other for having let each other down”

To be honest I don’t think you can learn much from Steve Jobs because he had such an extraordinary talent.  His instincts were better than the combined rational thought of an entire industry.  So in most things you can’t hope to emulate Steve Jobs.

But you can live passionately.  You can work so hard at doing something well that you hate yourself for failing.  That’s something we can all do and even if we’re not lucky enough the change the world like Steve Jobs we’ll certainly succeed in making the world a better place. 

That’s my take away tonight.

Addendum: I certainly didn't realize this but for the record Abraham Lincoln died at the very same age, 56.

About Me

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For the record if you've tried to e-mail me over the last 4 to 6 months I didn't mean to ignore you. The e-mail forwarding isn't working and I didn't realize that until months worth of e-mails had been deleted on forward. The address still won't forward to the postmaster account and I don't know why because it's provided by the webhost. But if you're one of my old blog pen pals I would always welcome an e-mail from you at the address


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