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Steve Jobs 
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Heinlein Nexus
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Post Steve Jobs
I just finished Walter Isaacson's hamster-killer of a biography, and I must say I was pleasantly surprised.

[Here I have to interject because I hear Jim sharpening his usual Apple-fanatic axe. Please note that this book is about Jobs, not his followers. I'm sure that the drive of Jobs is something you admire.]

When I saw the size of this thing, I fully expected to skip large parts. You know, the usual quotes from the grade school teacher about how the subject lined up all the classroom rubber ducks and painted them black and then convinced the other kids to buy them back at a premium, that kind of crap. But instead, this book is into the phone phreaking with Woz and the start of Apple within a few pages. And it is just too darn readable to skip. I read the whole thing. A gutsy decision at the end was to omit the final end of Job's life with the mandatory deathbed scene and bid farewell to him on more equal terms, as it were.

In between; well, you know about Jobs. This isn't a PR whitewash by any means. I wasn't aware just how mean he could be in, for instance, taking credit for other people's ideas. But overall, the impression I got was overwhelmingly one of a latter-day Howard Roark. The parallels are striking. The contrast with the other industry players, even more so. He simply did not care about money; he just wanted to make the best product he could. It is gratifying to read over and over again the dismissive reaction of Gates or Ballmer to a new Apple product when you know just how wrong they turned out to be. They were caught in their own PR web. Jobs was like the scorpion who stings the frog carrying him across the river: he would rip someone a new one even when it was certain to sour a deal he wanted.

The man was a force of nature. Probably the most-used word in the book is "stunned," as in, for instance, the reaction of people coming from companies where certain types of decision took months, to seeing them made by Jobs within minutes. This biography fuels my own ongoing question into whether great results can be achieved without steamrolling a whole bunch of people in one's wake. I don't know. But when weighed against what Jobs did for uncompromising design aesthetics, the net is comfortably positive.


Mon Aug 20, 2012 11:56 am
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Post Re: Steve Jobs
Peter, thank you for the review (by someone whose judgment I trust more than #114 on Amazon). Based on it, I'm making this my next biographical read.

After two U.S Grants, two Bismarcks, an Alexander Hamilton and a George Washington this year, I need to study someone contemporary!

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Mon Aug 20, 2012 12:34 pm
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Post Re: Steve Jobs
PeterScott wrote:
But when weighed against what Jobs did for uncompromising design aesthetics, the net is comfortably positive.

Perhaps.

Jobs is sort of a Ty Cobb of computerdom - his accomplishments are in many ways almost superhuman, but have to be balanced against a personality, and sweeping, often pointless injury to others, that puts an asterisk over things like the iPhone. There is no reason Jobs could not have striven for, and achieved, the sort of pinnacle engineering that many Apple products represent, without being a poisonous, backbiting, soul-crushing a**hole. In the end, it's less about a quest for perfection than the ultimate, unlimited power and unlimited budget 'we WILL do it my way' trip.

Really, the Fat Mac debacle says everything about Jobs for me. He was wrong, and everyone else in the company knew it, and only their courage to work behind his back - THEIR opposing vision of 'perfection' - saved the Mac and Apple. It's not the only episode. And when Jobs was wrong and a product failed, others paid the price.

I fail to see why he's so venerated. But to continue that line of thought I'd have to get into Apple fanaticism and I think we're all bored with that topic.


Mon Aug 20, 2012 3:17 pm
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Post Re: Steve Jobs
Oh sure, there were times he was wrong. But there were many more times when he was right, and the only one.

Like I said, I don't know whether he could have been as effective without being the supercharged jerk he was. On paper, those things should be separable. But I can think of no one else with his striking judgement that wasn't also a SOB on wheels.


Mon Aug 20, 2012 6:24 pm
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Post Re: Steve Jobs
And, as if by magic (does Scott Adams lurk on this board??), Dilbert is right on point for this discussion.

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Tue Aug 21, 2012 6:49 am
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Post Re: Steve Jobs
I've been haunted by Adams for years. I lost count of the times I had a work conversation about some esoteric subject, only to have it show up in the strip two weeks later. Sometimes even the specific terms and phrasing.

I'm sure it's just coincidence and that we're all drawing from the same cultural well and influences, but there have been times I was sure SA was invisibly taking dictation in the corner.


Tue Aug 21, 2012 7:38 am
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Post Re: Steve Jobs
I agree that it was a good read. It was well-documented and the biographer sure didn't leave anyone out to talk to, so I think it can be presented as a fair representation. What I liked the most about it was the many times that anyone that ever worked for him talked about the "reality distortion field" that he could wield to get his way.

Read this book and then read "Ready Player One"--a good pairing in my mind. Even if you don't read the bio read "Ready Player One"--a fun fiction read!


Tue Aug 21, 2012 10:50 am
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Post Re: Steve Jobs
JamesGifford wrote:

I'm sure it's just coincidence and that we're all drawing from the same cultural well and influences, but there have been times I was sure SA was invisibly taking dictation in the corner.


Ditto.

I see a lot of people trying to emulate the "insanely great" philosophy of Jobs, but only managing half the deal.


Tue Aug 21, 2012 12:55 pm
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Post Re: Steve Jobs
I can think of a few "Jobs-like" business leaders, but not many. Elon Musk, formerly of Paypal, currently CEO of SpaceXm, CEO of Tesla Motors, and CEO of SolarCity, is one. You might want to review his bio in Wikipedia. I haven't met the man, but I know a number of people who have worked for him over the years. (You don't really work *with* Elon Musk, I am told.) I'd find him impossible to work for, I suspect -- he's got a reputation for being as much of a sexist in the workplace as any CEO can be in California nowadays. But he's brilliant, he's visionary, he has a wonderful esthetic sense, and he *gets things done*.

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Tue Aug 21, 2012 6:30 pm
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Post Re: Steve Jobs
I don't always care for John Dvorak's approach to things (I wonder if "dvorak" means "blowhard" in Hungarian?) but of a number of similar essays, his nails the point with precision and humor:

http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2409010,00.asp

Apple v. Samsung may become the wikidefinition of "pyrrhic," and all for reasons Apple should have known. Over nothing much more than the colors and corners of icons, Apple shouted to the world that Android phones were just as good, and maybe better, than iPhones. That's certainly not what they meant to shout... but then, never forget that the outcome of Max Headroom's Pepsi-bashing Coke commercials left a significant number of people remembering Max as a Pepsi spokesman.

It's a trope that advertisers have to periodically be re-taught: bashing your competitor by name lowers audience opinion of both brands and/or backfires more often than it works.

With no theft of real, significant technology, only image, Apple would have been far better off suffering in silence and putting their effort into an absolutely killer iPhone 5. As it is, they may have permanently undercut themselves in the phone market, perhaps irrecoverably, no matter how many Apple partisans stick with the brand.

While I'm here, another quip from the new New Yorker (see, Dan, you don't have to annotate ALL my posts) - "You can see the future at any Apple store. No, not the technology - the college graduates in polo shirts, retailing Chinese products." *snork*


Wed Aug 29, 2012 12:13 pm
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