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Assorted Thoughts on Steve Jobs & Professional Basketball

October 11, 2011 Leave a comment


NBA: Rich Guys vs Rich Guys

I’m in mourning today after hearing the news that the first two weeks of the National Basketball Association have been cancelled due to an impasse in contract negotiations. Crushed beyond belief. Why can’t millionaires all just get along?

No, seriously. You could have cancelled the first two weeks of every NBA season since the dawn of time and no one would have noticed. I would argue that, really, there are very few people in this country who care all that much about the NBA, except in April, but not usually until the final round of the playoffs.

But what is charming about the current labor dispute is the picture of grown men fighting selfishly over how many hundreds of millions of dollars to split among themselves. At this time, with the economic calamity that has befallen so many people, it is the perfect message for your sport to be sending to America: We Are Clueless About Your Pain.

Steve Jobs Contrarians

I have noticed that one of the most predictable trends in the world of blogging is the 2nd day contrarian viewpoint. This is the opinion that is forged by people way smarter and more clever than you and I who decide the initial consensus on any given story is too quaint or trite or too predictable, whether it’s valid or not.

Gawker recently posted an article on the “dark side” of Steve Jobs. He was mean. He once told someone at Apple their work was crap. He fired a project manager. Shocked, I tell you, I’m completely shocked. Why, he must’ve been the first successful media mogul in history to have been an SOB. Hey, I worked for Ted Turner. A visionary. A hilarious man. A great businessman. Check, check and check. Nice? Not so much.

And Andrew Sullivan published a reader letter today that says the notion that Steve Jobs changed the world is a ridiculous exaggeration. All he did was repackage existing technology and charge outrageous prices for it.

Let me give you just one example of his genius and how he changed at least the music world. Do you remember life before the I-Pod? Yes, others had digital media players but they were crap. Here’s what life was before the I-pod; CD’s. The genius was not just the simplicity of the device but the development of the business model that connected it to countless amounts of content: I-Tunes. By charging 99 cents a song, he singlehandedly saved the music business, even as the industry complained that selling songs for a buck was bad business. To the contrary, it saved the music industry from pirates who were giving the stuff away for free and artists were once again able to receive royalties for their work.

And by the way, I bought my I-Phone precisely because it was so integrated with I-Tunes and my song list and everything else you can get from videos to podcasts. So as the I-Pods become obsolete, the appetite for the technology is now transferred to smart phones.

We don’t even have to go into Jobs’ development of the first computers designed for use in the home. Or the first personal computers to connect with this thing called the World Wide Web. No, he didn’t invent the mouse, but he did make the graphical computer interface the world standard.

So Steve Jobs was no saint. He did not reinvent the world, just portions of it. He had a temper and he was single-minded and intense and ignored his kids and family for years and he said nasty things to his workers when they didn’t execute his vision properly and he wasn’t generous with his philanthropic giving. And blah, blah, blah.

I, for one, did not nominate him for sainthood last week. I just thought he had a hell of an impact on the world and certainly as much as famous innovators before him like Thomas Edison.

And he lived and urged others to live life as if every day was their last. Find me the contrarian point of view on that one. I’m sure it’s out there somewhere.

iSad


That’s what someone wrote on a post-it note and put on the glass wall of an Apple store last night. A lot of people are doing that today. Paying heartfelt tribute in one form or another to Steve Jobs.

I thought about him this morning as I slipped my I-phone into my jacket pocket after checking my e-mail and my messages. I thought about him last night as my girlfriend tapped away on her I-Pad. And then again as I used my mouse and clicked and dragged an item on my non-Apple PC. I thanked him silently on the subway as I put in my ear-buds and listened to a beautiful song composed and performed by my own son- a tune I had transferred from my I-Pod to my I-Phone. And I think about him as I write this- knowing he was the guy who produced the first personal computer designed to interact with the internet.

Many have compared Steve Jobs to Thomas Alva Edison (very interesting piece on that here). In terms of impact on the everyday lives of billions of people throughout the world, the analogy is spot-on. And like Edison, he didn’t exactly invent any of this stuff. He figured out how to put it all together. He’s the guy who understood the creativity that could be realized if only computer technology were made simple enough to use by anyone, not just techie geeks who knew how to maneuver through MS-DOS.

And when he got fired at Apple, his way of dealing with unemployment was to revive a then dormant animation studio called Pixar.

Of all the lovely tributes being penned about the genius of Steve Jobs, one of the most eloquent came from the White House in a statement released by the press office at 9:15pm last night:

By building one of the planet’s most successful companies from his garage, he exemplified the spirit of American ingenuity. By making computers personal and putting the internet in our pockets, he made the information revolution not only accessible, but intuitive and fun. And by turning his talents to storytelling, he has brought joy to millions of children and grownups alike.

Steve was fond of saying that he lived every day like it was his last. Because he did, he transformed our lives, redefined entire industries, and achieved one of the rarest feats in human history: he changed the way each of us sees the world.

I’ve always been taken by the sleek, modern simplicity of Apple products. Their lap tops were the lightest and thinnest. The I-pod was the size of a pack of gum, but thinner. The I-Phone is a simple rectangle activated by one button. Besides a virtual one, the I-Pad doesn’t even have a keyboard. And here is the essence of what I think was one of Steve Jobs’ guiding philosophies; that there is great virtue and elegance in simplicity.

Thank you, Steve Jobs, for your spark and your vision and your good sense and good taste; for the lessons you leave behind about how to live life and for your undying belief in the enormous creativity and possibility that can be unleashed by the digital age you helped create and that you made accessible to us all.

I-Phones, Non-Candidates and Hank Williams Jr.

October 4, 2011 1 comment


It’s not even Wednesday yet and there’s a new I-phone I won’t be buying, another non-Presidential candidate no one will be voting for and a country music star making headlines whose political opinions no one cares about.

The New I-Phone

Maybe it’s because I recently spent $200 on an I-Phone 4 and Apple announced today it’s now going to be reduced to $99. Maybe it’s because the new I-Phone is 7 times faster at playing games and I use my phone mostly as a…phone. Or maybe because it was touted as the I-Phone 5 and it’s actually the I-Phone 4s.

But, no, I will not be shelling out $300 for this new “thing.” I cannot keep up with all the new “things.” Often, new “things” don’t work all that well. Somebody let me know when the I-Phone 10 comes out.

The Latest Version of “No”

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie had to call a news conference today because the media did not believe him the previous 107 times he said he would not be running for President. So everyone gathered in Trenton this afternoon to hear him say it again and the non-event is going to be leading newscasts all day today.

Note to political pundits desperate to spice up the increasingly bizarre Presidential race- when a politician says over and over and over and over again that he is “NOT READY” to be President, he knows that’s something that could be used in a campaign ad against him and he is definitely not interested in running for President.

Are You Ready for Some Football?

Actually, no. I had absolutely no interest in Monday Night Football this week because who cares about the 0-3 Indianapolis Colts when there are baseball playoffs that actually matter? So, I missed that ESPN dropped Hank Williams Jr.’s opening song because the country music star made a comment recently comparing President Obama to Adolph Hitler.

Now conservative bloggers are reportedly outraged that ESPN is outraged at Williams who seems to be quite outraged about Barack Obama still being in the White House.

Ok. Why do we care again what Hank Williams Jr. thinks about anything?

Let me make this clear. I expect country singers to sing, athletes to play sports, Hollywood actors to act and politicians to make things up. Don’t confuse me by mixing up your roles in our lives. I’m already confused about what I-Phone to buy and what non-candidate not to vote for.

Netflix: The Streaming Gamble

September 20, 2011 Leave a comment


I’m getting dizzy reading all the contrasting views from business analysts trying to make heads or tails of what Netflix is up to. My conclusion: unless they figure out the content piece of their streaming services, they’re cooked.

First, they angered their customers by unapologetically raising their rates 60%. Their stock price tumbled and they managed to lose a million subscribers. Then this week, Netflix CEO and co-founder, Reed Hastings, sent a belated e-mail apologizing for all the arrogance and announcing the company would be split in two. Setting the PR debacle aside, the strategy is quite the riverboat gamble.

Netflix will now be streaming the TV Shows and horrible movies you’d never see in theatres that you can access on everything from your lap top to your Xbox 360. Qwixter is the new name for the DVD-delivery service that was the initial business model that put the company on the map and helped bury Blockbuster and similar companies that charged the outrageous late fees for movie rentals that Netflix didn’t.

The services will be completely separate, from billing to menus to websites. You’ll no longer be able to go to one place to figure out whether the video you want to see is streamed or available by mail delivery. Terribly inconvenient and done so on purpose. They apparently see their future in streaming not the resource-intensive mailing and processing of DVD deliveries. They seem to think Netflix, the streaming model, will survive and thrive and the DVD business will sink of its own weight and eventually go away.

I think they’re right about the DVD’s. Not so sure they’re right about the streaming. If you think for one second you can give up cable TV, FIOS or dish services and still watch streaming movies you’ve actually heard of for 7 bucks a month, you’d be sadly mistaken. Netflix and Starz failed to renew the deal that provides about 20% of the streaming content and the few movies they have that are worth watching. That content will be gone as of early next year.

And Hollywood cheered. The folks who make our motion pictures would prefer to make money from a public that will pay anywhere from 5 to 8 dollars through their cable systems for a single movie. They are not so keen on having their product made available to an outfit that allows unlimited monthly viewing for the price you’d pay for one on-demand cable TV movie.

So who is going to work with Netflix to provide any decent content? Where in the world are they going to get it? Streaming would work if you had the same variety you have with the DVD deliveries. But it doesn’t have that variety and it never will.

Netflix was about the DVD’s delivered to your home that you could keep as long as you wanted. It was genius. But it’s hard to see any scenario in which the streaming portion of Netflix will ever be more than garbage in and garbage out. And that’s too bad because I’m rooting for these guys and their ability to make movie-viewing an affordable proposition. Unfortunately, I’m afraid the old axiom is applicable here. You get what you pay for.

Goodbye Borders- Mixed Feelings about the Death of the Book

September 15, 2011 4 comments

Someday we’ll tell our grandkids that people used to read books that were comprised of paper, binding, a front cover and a back cover. Books you actually held and required you to physically turn the pages by hand.

I love the two remaining book cases I have in my apartment. They’re all sorted in categories; Biographies, Science Fiction, Politics, Science, the American Civil War, Baseball, Reference, even a section on Chess. I’ve read every one of them and I keep them because of the fond memories I had experiencing them. And they tell your guests something about who you are; what you care about, what interests you. It’s a peak into the soul, really.

I noticed the other day that with a few exceptions they’re all five years old or way older. I don’t really buy books anymore. They are now transmitted into my Kindle through thin air and appear magically seconds after I purchase them with hardly any effort at all. I can change the font sizes too, so my 54-year old eyes can comfortably read the print without strain. I can bookmark and make notes and highlight passages. And, yes, I can curl up with the Kindle on my couch just as I used to do with a real book.

So blame me for the closing of the local Borders book store. It was supremely sad. For a month they had their close-out sales. Each day, it seemed, the sales got bigger and bigger until by the end, the scavenged book cases had nothing left except the last thing anyone wanted to read. But you could buy it for 50 cents. And soon the store was empty and stripped bare, and today it sits vacant and barren and lonely-looking- a ghost of a retail space and yet another victim of the digital age.

Books take space and they’re heavy. If you move a lot, as I have, they’re a bit of a pain. And I’ve gotten rid of hundreds of them through the years so I have distilled the collection down to the bare basics of who I am and what I once read. I will always keep them, though. Because you could buy one case with one shelf and just put the Kindle on a stand- but it’s not the same effect.

And what of human history? A thousand years from now, after the great apocalypse that forever takes down the electrical grid; will anyone remember us without physical books? Will there be manuscripts and parchment from 100 A.D. but nothing from 2008 on? Will people think we just stopped reading and writing because without the electrical grid and wireless networks and credit cards- there’s no way to actually access the books of the early 21st century?

I wonder sometimes that if our entire existence ends up getting stored in some huge Digital Cloud designed by Apple- if we run the risk that someday no one will ever be able to ascertain that we even walked the earth. No connectivity-no history.

That’s the thing about clouds. They’re just vapor. Maybe we should keep a few real books around- just in case.

Viral Curiosity: Who ARE you?

September 6, 2011 1 comment

A couple of articles I posted months ago are suddenly being read again, and in fairly large numbers for a humble little blog such as this. So help me figure this out! Use the comment section if you’re so inclined.

Exhibit #1: Navy SEALs and Surgical Strikes

This post was published shortly after the killing of Osama bin Laden and was a love tome to our Navy SEAL community that came along with a suggestion that maybe we ought to use the concept of surgical military strikes in a more effective way to cut down on the terrible loss of lives we have suffered in recent conflicts that have been fought in more conventional fashion.

I know at least one SEAL family member read it because there’s a post on the comment section that the picture I used to illustrate the article was a photo that included an image of his uncle, Ken Myers. Are Navy SEALs and/or their family members and friends passing this post along to each other?

If so…I am incredibly honored. And I want to express my deeply heartfelt condolences to all of the families of our heroes who gave their lives in the helicopter crash near the Taliban stronghold in Wardak province, Afghanistan on August 6th. A stronger statement could not be made about their courage and commitment and love for their country that they would give their lives for us all. Thank you, SEALs.

I wrote on May 4th that the more I learn about the SEALs, the better I sleep at night knowing these brave folks are fighting for us out there in the world’s most dangerous places. And we are all still sleeping well- because of you and the wonderful families that support you.

Exhibit #2: New Year’s Conversation With An Alien

Another example of the strange viral thing that seems to be happening this week involves a ridiculous article I posted on New Year’s Day that involved an imaginary conversation with an Alien regarding the silly rituals we humans partake in every New Year. Over the past few days, like a hundred people have suddenly found this post. Who ARE you?

It would be interesting if it was a community of aliens from the planet Firbu who just happened to intercept some random earthling blog posts. But my finely honed instincts tell me the readers of New Year’s Conversation with an Alien are actually from the blue planet. But from WHERE on the blue planet?

Well, thanks for reading that little piece of satire and I trust you are having the “good and cautious year” that our fictional alien wished us all 8 months ago.

Thank You

When an actor on stage suddenly goes out of character and directly addresses the audience, it’s called breaking the 4th wall. When it comes to my blogging, I don’t often write about this blog, the digital version of breaking the 4th wall. But my viral curiosity got the best of me.

Plus every now and again, it seems only right to thank those of you who take the time to read this stuff. Over about two years of engaging in this labor of love, people have turned to this blog over 41,000 times. That both amazes and humbles me

Thank you, dear readers. I hope I can deserve your continued interest.

Reading the Constitution

January 5, 2011 4 comments

Representatives of the Tea Party movement will be reading the Constitution into the Congressional Record on the first day of the new legislative session and I heartily concur that more people need to know about this remarkable document.

For the record, I am not a member of any organized party or movement, and I too revere the American Constitution. We have our freedoms because of it. We have fought wars and spilled blood to protect it. I got a Kindle for Christmas, by the way, and one of the first things I downloaded were the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence. I have actually read them. Recently.

Times were different then and some of it is a little anachronistic- especially the parts dealing with the tricky issue of slavery.

I am curious as to which version of the Constitution will be read into the record. For example, there is a sentence in Article 1, Section 2 about how to determine the make-up of the House of Representatives and apportionment of taxes.

Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three-fifths of all other Persons.

In other words, you count free white citizens plus indentured servants, no un-taxed Indians, and slaves count as three-fifths of a person. In retrospect- not one of our prouder moments.

You don’t have to actually read that sentence, though, because it was technically eliminated by the 14th amendment. We fought a really horrible and bloody war that settled all this and so it was that on July 9th, 1868, we took out the part about indentured servitude and “three-fifths of all other Persons” since, by then, slavery had ceased to exist (see the 13th amendment passed three years earlier).

So if you leave out the reading of the “three-fifths” sentence then you have to read the entire 14th amendment that replaced it and which enumerated the following right- in the very first sentence:

All persons born or naturalized in the Unites States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.

This could be a little awkward as there is a burgeoning movement within some elements of the Tea Party to repeal the 14th amendment which would end automatic citizenship for, say, the children of immigrants just because they were born on American soil.

Now I understand the frustrations posed by illegal immigration and amending the Constitution is a totally constitutional act. But the reason the Constitution has been embraced as the guiding philosophy of the Tea Party movement is because of the belief that strict interpretation of the document should be adhered to and has been continually violated through the years.

If you believe in strict interpretation of the Constitution, then why would you want to amend it? Unless you want strict adherance to the Constitution, except for the parts you don’t like. In any event, I suspect some lawmakers will be reading the 1st sentence of the 14th amendment through gritted teeth, though it will go by quickly.

In the interests of full disclosure, I will admit I have a personal though indirect stake in this debate. As a 1st generation American born in New York City, if the 14th amendment had not existed, I would never have been granted automatic citizenship.

And there’s a good chance there would have been one less American carrying the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence in their Kindle.

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