family, technology

Unto the second generation.

In the dream that I’m unlikely to ever actually experience—because most of my dreams are, annoyingly, about being late for some sort of appointment while trying to get there on the wrong commuter train that then turns into a creepily-familiar railroad apartment in a shitty neighborhood—my father is alive again, and has just finished repairing someone’s wristwatch in his workroom. We’re in the apartment where I was born, in a Lower East Side neighborhood I haven’t been able to afford to live in for decades, should I have ever wished to.

He comes out of the tiny room through the French doors, wiping his hands, and I tell him a bit about the task I’ve given myself, while showing him the small home computer about to undergo an upgrade. I show him the tools I’m going to use. Most of them are far less delicate than the ones he requires a loupe to see the ends of, but I’m glad to have a hand-magnifier nearby anyway.

For the purposes of this dream, he knows what a computer is, despite having been born the year Ford’s Model T car debuted, and died (effectively) way before computers were anything more than an amusement from a silly movie or tv show. I tell him about how nervous I am at risking the functionality of something that costs several weeks’ salary (having of course chosen not to discuss the variability of a freelance career—because why would I need to get into that sort of conversation again, with yet another worrisome parent?), but he indicates encouragement, scrutinizing the gizmo through his Coke-bottle eyeglasses, and motions me to continue after moving a floor lamp closer to the dining table where I’ve laid out everything on a towel.

I have another computer, a laptop, set up to run the video that instructs me how to upgrade this one’s internal hard drive. He also accepts this anachronism, because having to go back to first principles to explain everything is someone else’s dream, not mine.

I start the video, stopping it often to run it back, to focus on a detail, and sweat bullets while replaying parts of it. The video, made by slightly corny but very professional midwestern nerds, is comprehensive. Scored with music my father likely has little patience for (it being something other than classical), but accepts the presence of. He asks occasional questions. Or he would, if I could still remember what his voice sounded like when I was five or six. I vaguely imagine a gravelly lyric baritone, heavily accented.

The work is, for me, complex. Nowhere near as complex as the movements of the Swiss watches he regularly manipulates with impossible patience, but still a great deal of detail to keep track of. I mark areas on my towel to place parts removed in groups, and carefully label them with masking tape and marker, remarking how far less reliable my memory is than his. He waves that self-deprecation off impatiently, because it’s my dream and he’s being supportive of my effort.

The components of the tiny device come apart, and I try to lay them out like the exploded-view engineering drawings I’ve seen. The target of the upgrade is replaced with something shinier, newer, and lighter. The video’s narrator is as patient as my thumb on the pause button can make him. The components of the tiny device go back together. I sweat bullets over the minuscule screws that strip too easily if too much force is applied.

The computer is closed up, and I attach it to a monitor, keyboard, and mouse for testing. It boots up in record time, and I use it to play a piece of music I know my father might appreciate. Maybe some Mahler.

I turn to him, for he is still there, watching intently. It might be a dream, but he hasn’t disappeared or turned into another commuter train. Or worse.

He’s smiling and nodding slowly. We exchange a high-five, because I know what awful things can happen when you hug someone in a dream.

We go into the kitchen to get a seltzer.

design, technology



The thirtieth anniversary of Apple’s Macintosh computer is an excellent opportunity to remind a special few of you about the things Apple has done for human beings who weren’t engineers or programmers, and about the things Apple did first, before commodity manufacturers could rewrite the history of consumer computing with trash-talk and gossip. That special few of you will include people who dismiss any technology that’s too easy to learn or that enables too many people who don’t build their own computers or write their own software.

You guys (and yes, almost all of you are and always have been guys, and you like it that way) were rarely helpful if you could instead find a way to be condescending, impatient, and ultimately dismissive. You provided object behavioral lessons for anyone who practices a specialty on how not to work with people outside of that specialty. You enjoyed being deferred to… way too much. You gave nerds a bad name and not a few of you are still doing your best to continue that sad tradition. Despite the fact that, year over year, fewer of the rest of us are asking for your opinions about anything.

Here’s something you weren’t remotely capable of doing while you castigated the Macintosh as a toy and treated its users like idiots:

Apple fundamentally enabled my chosen career, helped remove it from the toxic materials it had relied upon in previous generations, and gave it a wider creative scope than had ever been previously possible. And Apple did much of this while I was still learning about the field, so I could make active comparisons of how much their new technology had helped me improve my work… and remove a few carcinogens from the process.

Xerox, IBM, Compaq, Microsoft, and HP couldn’t have done that, and wouldn’t have wanted to.

Congratulations, Apple. And thank you, again.


First verdict.

Apple to Samsung: “Try doing your own design work.”

Apple to the consumer electronics industry: “We’re not your unbudgeted R&D department, and we never were. Try figuring this shit out on your own.”

Samsung to Apple: “Consumers have the right to cheap knockoffs.”

Samsung to the consumer electronics industry: “Pebbles in a stream! Stereotypical Asian poetry metaphors!”

* * *

Yeah, patents are fucked up. But original design work deserves protection. Even from companies like Zynga.


Some uncharitable thoughts…

Sales Department meeting interrupted by first  rehearsal of partially-written product presentation.

…about a disappointing product presentation from the other day.

“We’re going to keep talking about the Surface until you forget we hardly showed any software running on it.”

“This unit is actually connected to HDMI, because it’s the only one that can copy files to the desktop without crashing.”

“We’re enjoying the opportunity to brag about ideas we didn’t come up with and designs you’ve already seen elsewhere.”

“We’ll promise almost anything to keep iPad out of the enterprise. At least, that part of the enterprise that’s still speaking to us.”

“I say ‘perfect’ a lot. I’m going to keep talking about how perfect Surface would be if it was actually ready to demo.”

“The precision, intricate engineering of Surface was absolutely necessary to provide these great CG renders you see on the big screen.”

“We believe Surface is leaps and bounds ahead of our Courier ‘release’ in 2008. We actually made physical prototypes this time.”

“I can’t wait for you to get your hands on this keyboard. Not that anyone here will actually allow that.”

Like the Kzinti, Microsoft always attacks before it’s ready.

spew, technology


The most vocal defenders of a certain smartphone platform that accommodates carrier restrictions before the user experience are making lots of the same excuses for it that they made about their choice of desktop, way back while that very choice — with cavalier neglect — was helping midwife the current malware industry that now inflicts itself upon everyone.

Those same new defenders take justifiable pride in having learned how to jailbreak, apply workarounds, fiddle with task managers, run anti-malware utilities, and carry around a bandolier full of spare battery packs. After having chosen from a selection of devices, each of which boast UI variations mandated by the OS licensee. Just what the consumer market needed.

Yes, you finally made it all work. You are formidable and fearsome. And you’re missing the point.

I sincerely hope you enjoy your latter-day-steampunk hobby keeping all of this functional. I want you to enjoy needing to find a new phone sooner because your current one won’t update with the new features you’ll want when you see the preview. Enjoy wasting your valuable energy, time, and intellect solving problems which have already been solved elsewhere. Enjoy being An IT Department of One.™

Knock yourselves out. You’re a minority that often sounds as though you believe you speak for everyone. You don’t. Lots of consumers are tired of all this. Very tired. Especially after having learned it’s no longer necessary.

I know some of you stalwart rebels personally, and I marvel at your great reserves of patience, even as I try to answer your dogmatic criticism of my own, simpler choices. I wish you well, and I hope your platform has a long and distinguished presence in the marketplace. Truly. Just don’t act resentful or surprised when someone in your family switches as soon as possible from the gear you recommended… once they realize how much effort it costs them to enjoy.


design, technology

Thank you, Mr. Jobs.

I’m fairly upset tonight, having first heard the news, as usual, via Twitter.

The cause of Steve Jobs’ death is of particular interest to me. I’m fairly certain that had he not existed to advance the state of personal computing, I’d have been exposed to a lot more toxic chemicals while employed in print production (and later, design) than I actually was. I’d have been smack in the middle of workplace environmental hazards that would have significantly increased my chances of dying from some form of cancer.

Sure, something like Windows might have come along eventually. But nobody in Redmond would ever have released any product that could excite me as much as the prospect of doing my work on something like the Mac.

At best, I believe I’d be slumming somewhere composing company newsletters in Wordperfect on a proprietary microcomputer while odd news of a peculiar military project called “Arpanet” was percolating into a few oddball computer magazines that I’d never read.

Back in 1980, people who knew me seemed surprised that I wasn’t studying what was then charitably called “computer graphics,” because they didn’t understand that, back then, it was all just math. Didn’t interest me.

I wanted tools that would help me do the stuff I was already doing with type and art supplies. I didn’t want to learn programming to draw wireframe shapes on a green screen and pretend it was artistic.

I was waiting for what Jobs would eventually be working on without knowing it.

I’m very upset tonight that we’ve lost this man. We need a thousand more like him in positions of authority and influence if we’re to survive the problems we’ve allowed far less imaginative individuals to create.

I wish he’d had more time with his family. And I wish we’d had more time to benefit from his good taste.

design, technology

Jump ship? Sure!

The icon that never left.

I’ll bet they were all dancing in the cubicle farms over at Adobe today.

QuarkXpress 4.11 was the mainstay of a lot of shops full of worried older guys. Many missed their chance to switch when InDesign CS2 appeared. Why? Fear and partisanship for a product that didn’t return their loyalty.

That was when QuarkXpress 4.11 began to look like what it was: an unstable patchwork of hacks with a half-decade-old interface and missing needed features. At one trade show I attended then, lines were drawn in the sand by those worried older guys.

Bye-bye, worried older guys.

In the previous decade, I worked in what became a very busy textbook production group that was, by necessity, standardized on QuarkXpress 4.11. We saw InDesign appear, scrutinized its new features, and waited for it to get beyond its growing pains. It did.

We pitched a transition and implemented it. The few people who claimed they missed Quark afterwards weren’t exactly what I’d have called our star players.

We converted as many legacy documents as we could, given what downtime existed. We made good new books with InDesign, and hated having to wade through the muck of legacy files on the few occasions we had to harvest old content.

Sometimes avoiding pain causes greater injury.