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.

science, technology

I’m a fucking weepy nerd, and I don’t care.

I just posted a comment over at Gizmodo—of all places—because they had the smarts to publicize JPL’s Mars Phoenix lander and the fantastically smart people who made it possible. One of these stupendous folks was Veronica McGregor, who was Mars Phoenix’s voice on Twitter. Her enthusiastic posts did the job of transforming a dry piece of science into something more.

This was possibly the best use of Twitter I’ve ever seen and a great way to get almost anyone with a heart involved in the farthest-reaching and most efficiently-run part of my space program that has ever existed: JPL’s unmanned robots. Twittering brief progress reports in the manner of an online acquaintance sucked me in almost immediately.

Ms. McGregor nailed me right in my 1960’s childhood with her wonderful personification of the hard-working, stalwart Mars Phoenix lander. Her bravely poetic words, cheerfully forecasting MP’s inevitable death while reminding us daily of all its accomplishments, personified the entire team of JPL and Arizona U’s wonderful engineers and scientists. Her first post about MP’s ultimate fate did make me cry for the same reasons that the end of the Apollo program did in 1972 (and its portrayal in HBO’s From the Earth to the Moon miniseries).

This is my space program. Doing heroic, pure research with tiny amounts of money and enormous ingenuity. And involving me emotionally in the enormity of what it discovers on my dime.

science, technology

Another shoulder to stand on.

Artist\'s depiction of Phoenix\'s powered landing, which took place on Sunday.

The Phoenix Mars lander touched down yesterday on Mars’ northern polar region, where it will prospect for frozen water and any possible artifacts that the presence of water might have enabled.

Despite the seemingly relentless tide of foolish anti-science sentiment our culture has made its hallmark since 1980, despite sham budgets and ignorant indifference from visionless leaders, and despite occasional setbacks that get far more tabloid-level press coverage than their victories….

Amazing people at NASA, JPL, and the University of Arizona continue to accomplish heroic levels of engineering, coordination, and sheer cleverness. They ably carry on the work of the old big-ticket manned programs, solving problems that nobody has ever run up against (or could have foreseen), and push back the limits of what we know—all on a far grander scale than the public’s attention would suggest.

I suggest anyone who feels similarly to have a look at the respective sites of those entities responsible for this wonderful work.

And for more apt commentary about the ever-present noise competing for your attention, I direct the reader to this gentleman, who is very good at shining a light on the cockroaches.

Also, my thanks to Randall Munroe, whose brilliant online comic XKCD inspired part of the inscription for my latest gadget acquisition:


Nuggets of Contrition

Leo Laporte apologizes for having whined. Reason and fact largely prevail in an excellent MacBreak Weekly, wherein actual information is assessed, and the manifold opinions of the mobile phone user community are placed in context within a far-ranging meta-conversation between Leo and his guests Alex Lindsay, Andy Ihnatko, Chris Breen, and Merlin Mann.

Seems that the available evidence of recent post-update iPhone dysfunction includes non-hacked phones as well as those which were tinkered upon. And had Apple truly meant to punish heretics, they probably would’ve done a more precise job of it.

Whew. Now if only George Ou would go back to dancing.


There must be something in the water. Has the Joker escaped from Arkham?

Two of the last places I look for rationalism and accuracy in the Mac tech community have succumbed to what I can only interpret as some form of viral Britneyism, conveyed in the form of creeping self-entitlement, and expressed as godawful, presumptuous whining. Someone has tainted the water supply. Activate the Bat-signal!

Both Leo Laporte and the editors of Macworld/Playlist magazines, individuals I’d normally rely upon for sober and factual discourse, have recently posted podcasts full of anger and churlish pouting over the results of Apple’s recent software update to the iPhone.

All of these gentlemen, individuals I’ve normally associated with factual analysis of—and dispassionate objectivity to—Apple products, seem to have suddenly turned into representatives of the whiner population. You know those folks… the ones who sue a fast-food restaurant chain after spilling coffee on themselves. The people who paid full retail for a new consumer electronics gizmo, and then bleated like sheared sheep when its price dropped, even though they’d very likely already gotten their early-adopter bragging time.

Now some of these odd ducks are squealing because, after having tinkered with this device, they’ve found it no longer works properly, because one in a series of promised software updates has disabled it.

Whether it turns out that Apple could have been less aggressive with their update’s “reset,” I have a few questions for the most vocal of these people… specifically Rob Griffiths and Leo Laporte… because I’m baffled by their anger over this issue.

Where in the feature list or tech specs for the iPhone did it ever say you were at liberty to modify the functionality of the device to add unsanctioned applications?

Did your overview of the consumer technology space somehow empower you to presume that anything with a chip in it is infinitely subject to hobbyist tinkering, without consequence?

Did you find it impossible to wait until Apple had acquired more than a few months’ experience in a new consumer category, maintaining their side of iPhone functionality, before taking matters into your own hands?

Is the practice of conflating separate issues (lack of “third-party” apps, limitations on ringtone licensing, single-provider availability, read-only Notes, etc.) too tempting to overlook as you echo-chamber the “Apple is the new MS” slogan?

Does calling the iPhone a “platform” make it one, despite the fact that it’s not yet available to you as such?

It’s alarming to narrow my sources of sane information on this topic down to John Welch, John Gruber, and the Macalope. Late-adopters like me need more primary sources than that.

Disclosure: I’m an Apple shareholder.