Saturday, October 08, 2011

Steve Jobs - American Genius

The Steve Jobs Experiment: Outcomes Report

Steve Jobs had a knack for seeing the adult in a child, the grownup product that an infant idea could grow up and become. Looking at the toy computers that hobbyists soldered in their 1970s garages, he envisioned people like you and me wanting vastly more capable versions on our desks.  Looking back, you'd think it was obvious... which is pretty much the whole point about Steve Jobs's genius.

For example, I wrote my first novel with a typewriter and edited using a pair of scissors. I cut-and-paste with lots of actual tape and glue. When I saw what an Apple II could accomplish, I bought one with a serial number in five digits and I've used its Apple successors ever since. They simply made life better.

The Xerox Corporation was a great American success story, but they never made this mental leap to thinking about people as customers -- thereupon ignoring the market for home-copiers. They also snubbed their own innovators in Palo Alto, who wanted to turn the computer screen into a landscape, using a "mouse" to simply point at what you wanted. Executives at Xerox viewed this as a toy. Steve Jobs took one look at those early concepts and thought: "that's how our ancestors' brains worked on the savannah and it's how to turn every human being into a computer-user."

Even people who prefer Windows should still thank Steve for saving these inventions. He gave them to us all.

Steve-Jobs-by-Walter-Isaacson-1Early Macintosh computers offered a little program called Hypercard. It came with a few simple demo games, meant to illustrate the notion of click-linking from page to page. This was one of Steve's worst marketing mistakes. He thought the concept of hypertext was so obvious, the world would see those little demos and run with it! But the same derisive sneers dismissed it as a "toy"... till Tim Berners-Lee invented the hypertext-based World Wide Web and it all became retroactively obvious.

By then, alas, Jobs wasn't in much of a position to insist, having been cast into the wilderness by his own company.

So he built Pixar... giving us TOY STORY and other delights.  Nearly all of Steve's financial wealth came from Pixar, not Apple. He sold all his Apple stock in the early 1990s. Kind of like Nicola Tesla refusing stock in alternating current. If he had kept that stock... or milked Apple later on, for huge compensation packages... Jobs could have been in the top tier of world's richest men, instead of a mere single digit billionaire.

Instead, his passion was to make all of us richer, in the sense of the true positive sum game, when capitalism works. When millions of lives get better because we got insanely good products that were worth many times what we paid for them and that helped us be more productive in our own ways.  Alas, if only all of capitalism worked that way, as it's supposed to.

Jobs never seemed as blatantly philanthropic as some -- we'll see how that turns out. And heaven forbid that most families or nations should be run in the imperial manner that, in some great companies like Apple, can get big things done, pursuing the virtue of exquisite product design above all else.

But those are minor cavils. What we ultimately see, in this bona fide American genius, is a light showing us the path out of America's troubles. Do what we're good at.  Innovate! Be thrilled by science and the infant technologies that may grow mighty tomorrow. Nurture the inner-tinkerer that all the world sees in us, and has ever since the nation's beginning. Defend intellectual property! But stimulate others so much that nobody resents it. Make money not by financial parasitism but delivering better goods and services. (Duh?)

Help us all to both compete and cooperate with each other better than ever before.

Finally... some announcements: I'll be holding an open house meet-up in New York City on Monday, October 17, around 8:30 pm at O'Reilly's, 21 W 35th St.(upstairs: byo-drinks).  An informal gathering of folks who love the future, sci fi or just lots of talk! (If you really like all those things, then check out the Singularity Summit; I'm speaking on October 16.

I'll also be Author Guest of Contraflow, the New Orleans science fiction convention on November 4-6.


gwern said...

> Early Macintosh computers offered a little program called Hypercard. It came with a few simple demo games, meant to illustrate the notion of click-linking from page to page. This was one of Steve's worst marketing mistakes. He thought the concept of hypertext was so obvious, the world would see those little demos and run with it! But the same derisive sneers dismissed it as a "toy"... till Tim Berners-Lee invented the hypertext-based World Wide Web and it all became retroactively obvious. By then, alas, Jobs wasn't in much of a position to insist, having been cast into the wilderness by his own company.

? Reading the Wikipedia article, Apple wished to charge for it, minimally supported it, and stabbed it in the back by handing it over to Claris in 1991.

And more importantly, WP tells me Jobs was fired from Apple in 1985, just two month after Bill Atkinson began the earliest work on Hypercard!

David Brin said...

Okay. My bad. Guess he un-geniused that one!

Wait... fired from Apple in 1985?

Acacia H. said...

Sorry, Dr. Brin. Steve Jobs may have helped bring about innovations both in computers and cell phones... but I dislike what his company has become under his guidance and refuse to purchase Apple products. He was an innovator, yes. But there is a sentiment that a number of my associates carry to heart: When did Bill Gates and Microsoft become the Good Guys, and Steve Jobs and Apple the Galactic Empire?

Though I will say this: I'm fairly certain that the iPhones and smart phones that came about as a result of this are part of the backbone allowing the ongoing 99% Protests. Without the easy access to social networks and their ilk, we couldn't have such wonderful and bizarre innovations as flash mobs or the new Progressive Protests. Which only goes to show you that even a product of the Evil Empire can in fact be used for good. ;)

Rob H.

P.S. - I must admit some amusement at how conservative you are when it comes to your word processors - to the point you're using an antiquated system because you so dislike what is out there. Except of course there are Shareware and Freeware word processors out there as well. Undoubtedly one of those would do what you want.

Rob said...

Shoved aside, at least. John Sculley orchestrated a Board takeover. Jobs then left Apple, sold all his stock, and founded NeXT, where the technology was incubated that eventually became Mac OS X.

Thought you already knew that, actually.

David Brin said...

Knew it. But 1985? Really?

As for word processors, I am particular. I need for the damned program to NOT BOSS ME AROUND. When I backspace to remove a line space, I do not need $$##@! Word to suddenly transform the previous paragraph into some obscure font I have never seen before in my life.

IN word I see a ruler. I want to shift the margins for the whole doc. I press select-all ,,, and the ruler DISAPPEARS!

I do not need to type an asterisk... a simple freeping ASTERISK and have the entire document switch everything suddenly into damned bullet points!

I'd like the home and end buttons to work. I want simple buttons that let me toggle in and out of zoom or increase decrease font.

Above all, if the program has done something nasty, I want to be able to get in and see the damned codes! Every last one of them. SHOW CODES alone was enough reason to prefer Word Perfect... which does not exist for the Mac anymore... and the latest versions of WP all have copied WOrd's insane illogic in the menus ("Paragraph"? Document?")

I am locked into an old word processor because it dates back to when people designed them to help a writer to write without thinking about a program that screams PAY ATTENTION TO MEEEEEEEEEEE!

Acacia H. said...

So disable most of it. It's not that difficult to do. And as I said before, there's some decent free and shareware out there as well. For instance, OpenOffice, which has many of the same functionalities as Microsoft Office.

Rob H.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

SHOW CODES alone was enough reason to prefer Word Perfect... which does not exist for the Mac anymore...

It was "reveal codes", right? At least it was in the version my employer used in 1991.

I remember being in an in-house training class for WordPerfect. I was an IT person (it was called Data Processing back then), but most of the room including the instructor were non-technical. Mostly secretaries and end-users.

And every one including the instructor talked about "reveal codes" as if that was the name of the things being shown. As in "It's always helpful to look at your reveal codes". I think I was the only one there who figured that "reveal" was an instruction to do something (a verb) rather than a name for the kind of codes we were looking at.

Fun times, actaully.

sociotard said...

rewinn said...

However I, personally and as a student of law, express no outrage because the killings were clearly legal under the law of piracy. Al Qaeda is many things, and one of them is an organization that pirated air vessels. Pirates may be killed where found.


You can't torture pirates; the classical law of piracy does not admit inhumane treatment and in the current era, the torturer has become, like the pirate, the common enemy of all humankind. If you choose to imprison them, then you are not choosing to treat them as pirates, and must choose to treat them as POWs or as criminals; there are plenty of rules for each case. I would have vastly preferred that one or the other course were taken, but understand the practical issue involved and ... to directly meet @Twinbeam's challenge ... my preferences don't make anything illegal.

rewinn said...

1. AA was a member of AQ (evidence: his own statements)

2. AQ was a pirate gang (...among other things....)


A pirate's surgeon or pamphleteer may be personally nonviolent but is a pirate none-the-less.

I'm not sure that congress has made that distinction. From the Constitution, Article One, Section 8:
To Define and punish piracies and felonies committed on the high seas . . .

While the Congress did go on to define the punishment for pirates (death, naturally) they did not actually bother define piracy. It was just always assumed that a normal person could identify it when they saw it, like porn.

There's a problem here, though. Al Qaeda has attacked and sunk naval vessels, but they are not primarily a naval force. Anyway, I very rarely hear them refered to as "pirates".

Anyway, I can't feel comfortable calling Al Qaeda pirates unless the Congress defines them as such. The constitution explicitly says that piracy is the congresses job to handle.

(and yet, Congress just doesn't seem to want any authority at all, or at least no responsibility. They seem to like letting the president engage in undeclared wars instead of exercising their constitutional authority to declare war. I doubt they'll be interested in piracy)

David Brin said...

"OpenOffice, which has many of the same functionalities as Microsoft Office."

Um... and that should make me... um... WANT it? Help me with the logic here. I despise almost every trait of Word... and so I should go with a clone that makes me do the added steps of doing multi-part saves?

You seem to think I am inexperienced with these things. I have used both products extensively. I am forced to do my final rewrites using word, for compatibility reasons. I know it very very well. And just becausesome folks are USED to imps with ball paen hammers pounding their skulls while they work... that means I should emulate them?

Paul451 said...

In case anyone missed it, Robert posted a link to a gorgeous short-story in the last thread.

Re: David and Open Source.

As much as I like FOSS, it lacks the intuitive elegance that I think David is seeking. OpenOffice/LibreOffice-Writer is an inelegant clone of MS-Word, which is an inelegant version of a word processor. That being said...

If you like being able to get at the code, have you played with a LaTeX editor like Lyx?

rewinn said...

@sociotard - It's neither surprising nor relevant that a document written in 1789 does not discuss air travel. Air travel is not outside the law merely because it is not in our Constitution.

AQ is best known for its acts of air piracy; indeed the effect of its air piracy are still felt by every American who flies commercial.

I have yet to see citation to anything criminalizing the killing of BL or AA. I don't believe either fall under the protections of any federal murder statute so you'd have to go to state law, and so far no state attorney general has convened a grand jury to avenge their deaths.

Paul451 said...

Slate patronises writers.

Paul451 said...

Salon, not Slate. It's right there in the futzing url.

Anonymous said...

What would be so bad about running a nation in an imperial manner if it was led by someone as visionary and competent as Steve Jobs? Is this directionless, dysfunctional democracy of ours really so sacred? My feeling is that governments are moving toward techno-fascism globally because the corporate model simply works better than the alternatives. Sarah Palin wouldn’t last five minutes as a corporate executive, but in this wonderful democracy she’s almost presidential material. Madness!

Acacia H. said...

I just want to say again how disturbing that iTime time travel story was. Though I must admit to some surprise that the President of the United States would be allowed to use one - I would think that with that level of technology, there would be a half dozen government agents with them who would take turns advising the President on events so to minimize aging issues (though he was secondary to this - I almost wonder if the "President greying" nod was suggesting the President already has access to this technology and this explains why they go grey so fast).

I find it horrifying for two reasons: first, that it would so easily be abused with no safeguards on it to prevent multiple loops to relive the same four hours over and over again, and second, that the primary character saw her roommate grow old and die... and yet willingly decide to follow in her footsteps.

(Imagine what it might do to a pregnant woman! She could end up giving birth within a few days rather than the months normally meant for this... and then the child would lose their mother as the mother continued to abuse the iTime.)

No. To me, this is a horror story. And if they ever came out with an iTime story... I would refuse to take one, even if offered one for free. Because the temptation to abuse it would be far too great.

Rob H.

Tony Fisk said...

More time travel: Big Ben is tilting!

(Will read iTime later)

Carl M. said...

Steve Jobs brought the GUI to the consumer level early. He did not save the GUI. Workstation computers using GUIs existed before the Mac. Sun, Apollo (bought by HP), Silicon Graphics and IBM all had mouse based workstations. They were just expensive.

The thing that killed the UNIX workstations was this virus which came out of MIT called X Windows. Sun had TWO graphical user interfaces that were vastly superior: SunView and NeWS. Alas, at the time the other workstation makers feared Sun and got tired of them setting standards, so everyone went with the truly dreadful X Windows, which still inflects linux to this day.

As for word processors, I tried Microsoft Word for Mac and found it to be unusable. The Windows version is superior -- or at least was before the 2007 downgrade.

But what I'd really like to see is a WYSISIG version of the old UNIX troff, which had the easiest equation making system of all: eqn.

Al said...

You mention that he hasn't been as generous in philanthropy. I think you meant "hasn't engaged in philanthropy at all."

He closed his philanthropic foundation down due to a lack of activity and never restarted it. Jobs has no record of giving philanthropically to ANYONE. Nada. Zip.

He kept his money.

David Brin said...

Re Jobs philanthrop, I guess we'll see. Can we suspend judgement till Probate?

Re Lyx... I'll try it if I find the time. But saving time is the reason I still use the perfectly serviceable WP for Mac 1997, which simply does everything I want, when I want it to, letting me ignore it while being creative.

I've learned how to do the final-final edit in Word. The editor state of mind is grouchy anyway, but I can't afford to be constantly irritated duing the CREATIVE frame of mind! Got it?

Let me add this. If any of you do not have a simple keyboard enhancing program like Quickeys, then don't lecture me. I never type the repetitive things, like my email address or password or outer template for answering fanmail, or my address or phone number or standard speaker response. Ever. They all take just a single button.

The entire numerical keypad at the right side of my keyboard is re-tuned to launch maybe fifty time saving macros - some needing a command or control key, of course. "Print" comes with a return so I can ignore the pop-up window.

Here's one I never have to type: "The Transparent Society: Will Technology Make Us Choose Between Privacy and Freedom?" I pressed a button and all of that self-typed.

Seriously guys. If there's something you type every day, eliminate it with Quickeys! And the fact that this is not simply a standard OS gimme is a travesty.

David Brin said...

Sith master - your screen-name seems very apropos after saying: "What would be so bad about running a nation in an imperial manner if it was led by someone as visionary and competent as Steve Jobs?"

Are you aware that that is precisely the moral message pushed relentlessly (and poisonously) by that notorious ingrate George Lucas? Saying the best government was a benign dictatorship because it "got things done." Ignoring the blatant fact that 6000 years of tyrannies got very little "done"... a few pyramids and fancy tombs.

The sum total of all the world's oligarchies got far less done than this "dysfuntional democracy" you despise. Yes, our nation has toppled into civil war... a dysfunctionality that has been paid for and subsidized by the very exact men (many of them ceos) who want a restored oligarchy. Stop parroting their lines!

Bossy dictators in a corporate setting are okay because the ones at risk are just the stockholders who can vote with their feet. Can't do that in a nation.

David Brin said...

Oh! Quickeys can also eliminate most of your tedious trips to the menu. For the MOST frequent tasks, like copy, paste, it is worth even eliminating the effort of pressing a control key to do control-c for copy.

I do that so often that a stab-button that doesn't call for the control key adds up to many many saved hours!

Same with SAVE, CLOSE and SHOW CODES. opps you guys don't have show (or reveal) codes, so you just don't know its bliss.

David Brin said...

For balance... the dark side of Steve Jobs... and more than enough reason to be glad he doesn't run a country:

rewinn said...

The iTime story was horrifying from the 1st person narrator's POV, but from the POV of the iTime abuser, it was pretty much a win. She got what she wanted, most of the time, and lived a long and full life (in a way that is sort of the opposite of "Marooned In Realtime" ... the universe effectively slowed its progress to let her achieve her ends.) As it happens, her ends may have been a bit shallow (popularity, the company of any man she wanted...) but I'm not sure that resisting that temptation would be in the powers of most people.

The horror comes in the impact her enabled addiction had on those around her, but for me it was in the dawning realization that the 1st person narrator may well decide to try out the thing itself ... lying to herself that she will control the addiction of course. Can we not always justify picking up the Monkey's Paw?

P.S. redstonefiction just became my new drug of choice. D@mn you Paul ;-)

Tony Fisk said...

Hoarding is to be recognised as a psychiatric disorder

Thinking satiability, and its lack in certain financial circles...

I can appreciate Sith's pov: a visionary and benign despot could focus on getting things done, if one ever existed. Meanwhile, democracy serves us pretty well (Ironic that Lucas penned Amydala's despairing remarks on the ascension of a charismatic Palpitane/Sideous: "So this is how democracy dies; to the sound of applause!").

Speaking of which: crowd sourced innovation! Any comments on the 'human microphone' technique used by the occupy wall street protests to get around the ban on electronic amplification?

David Brin said...

Ironies abound. Lucas hated
George W. Bush. Even more ironic? Watch the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles... the original versions not the ones edited by the pod person who replaced Lucas, years ago. Love of science and democracy and enlightenment abounds!

Acacia H. said...

Here's a horrifying thought for an iTime story: a troublemaking child watching her parent grow old before her time and constantly rebelling and being pulled out of trouble at the last second. Because the parent keeps using the iTime to save their child from harm... and the child grows resentful and keeps putting herself in harm's way in revenge (without knowing of the iTime).

Rob H.

deaddism: an ironic verification considering the story concept I posted...

Brendan said...

I love my WP it is such a powerful beast. When I was doing volunteer work I downloaded the WPV8 linux code to install on some machines. It is still available on the web in certain places

The problem with Word is it makes doing simple things very easy but if you want to do anything more advanced it is next door to impossible.

Brendan said...

How US justified killing al-Awlaki

The short version is that al-Awlaki was considered an operationally significant(as opposed to propagandist) part of al-Qaeda and was thus covered by the post Sept 11 authorisation to use military force against them, US citizen or not.

Paul451 said...

Sith likes to playfully comment "in character". Ideal for stirring up ContraryBrin, but don't read too much into it.

Re: Redstone
Rob's link. Blame Rob.

Rob H,
Re: iTime.
Random thoughts:
When did the addict sleep? 50+ years of sleep is 16 years of real-time. (Unless she set an alarm for 4 hours, iTimed back to the start, then slept for another 4, then iTimed back again. That would actually be tempting sometimes.) Weeks doesn't seem long enough to live 50+ years even in 4hr loops.

The casual mention of the ageing President. Implying that he's been living "faster" via his 8hr iTime. Every dictator in the world would buy one. Imagine wars fought between two iTime using leaders. Battles fought between iTime using generals.

Pedantry: It was noted that the addict had been retrospectively researching facts in order to appear educated. Over time, that kind of attention to detail would surely make her more informed. Likewise, if you were redoing conversations over and over, if that was your entire focus for decades, wouldn't you actually start to get good at it? Wouldn't the number of run-throughs per conversation decline?

Stefan Jones said...

Oh, my:

American Spectator Editor Admits to Being Agent Provocateur at D.C. Museum

David Brin said...

Donald Segretti lives!

Geez, they got none of the class of Abbie Hoffman.

David Brin said...


Dave Rickey said...

Just FYI, the connection between Jobs and the WWW is a little more direct than Hypercard: Tim Berners-Lee wrote the original webserver on a NeXT.


JuhnDonn said...

Hi Dr. B!

Not sure if I've mentioned it here but Word Perfect 3.5E for the Mac is still available as a package that runs in an MacOS vm. Yeah, it's a kludge but it's still WP and runs on modern Macs (at least up through OS X 10.6).

Now, if they'd allow MS Word 5.1a to be available in such a setup, I'd be a happy camper.

Glenn Amspaugh
Mac Tech

Wolverkrom said...

William Gibson helps to summarize Jobs' significance: