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Archive for January, 2012

~ A biography by Walter Isaacson

I bought my first computer in 1981. It was an Apple computer, and I’ve been an Apple user ever since. I think the new iMac that I bought a couple of days ago was my 10th or 11th new computer. All I can say upon finishing this book is, “Thank you, Steve Jobs.” Reading this book was like a walk through time: the time of the birth of  personal computing. It was largely Steve Jobs with his genius who brought us the world of personal computing. And yes, he truly was a genius, one of the defining geniuses of the 20th century. He went from being a hippie who tinkered with electronics with his friend Steve Wozniak, to being the co-founder (with Woz) of one of the largest, most successful corporations in the world. And he did it all by intuition. He knew what we wanted before we did.

But Steve Jobs was also a testy and often rude person. He felt that the rules did not apply to him. He drove a car that had no licence plates. He parked in handicapped spaces. If he didn’t want to deal with something, he mostly would ignore it. That’s why he died young (in his mid 50s) of cancer, because he just ignored his cancer for 9 months. He didn’t want to deal with it. That delay in his getting treatment undoubtedly signed his death warrant. This book shows Steve with all his many faults – it is not a whitewash of this complex, driven man.

Steve did not set out (as did Bill Gates) to develop a wildly successful business corporation. He set out to make computers that would be simple to operate, that everyone could use, that would work almost intuitively, and that would be clean in design, and operate right out of the box. His computers would be fully closed systems, whereas Gates was producing open systems that users could muck around in. Furthermore, outside developers could create software for the Gates computers because they were open systems, and subsequently their users would be dogged by incompatible software that fought with other software. If you are reader who is a PC user, you’ve been there and done that, haven’t you?

Put another way, Jobs’ eye was always on the product and how it could be improved, while Gates’ eye was always on the business and the bottom line. The actual products were secondary. I ask you, whose products would you like to spend your money on? It’s just a no-brainer, or so it has always seemed to me.

We Mac users, from the very beginning of Apple’s computers, have not had the problems the PC users have dealt with, because Steve’s attitude was always that he was creating computers for those who didn’t want to mess around with the insides, but just wanted to open the box, plug in the computer and start using it immediately. He built not for “hackers” (not meant derogatively) but for creative people who wanted to just get on with it. And that’s exactly what he gave us–closed systems where Apple governed totally what OS was used, and what applications would run on the hardware. This is for true for each and every version of an Apple product, including iPod, iPhone, iPad. He wanted his products to be sporting clean lines, and to look seductive even as the user was opening the box. He had the same attitude to the stores once he started opening them. Next time you see an Apple store, take a look. Steve was totally responsible for the look of the stores. He picked the granite floor tiles himself, and put them into every single store. All the granite floor tiles come from the same quarry, and they look the same in every Apple store no matter where in the world it is located. He was a very picky guy when it came to what he wanted in his products – store or hardware or software. Ever notice that your Mac has no buttons on the front? Steve hated buttons of every kind, so the on/off button is on the back of the Mac, where it does not spoil the clean lines of the front. The book is filled with examples like this of his obsessive control- which ultimately paid off in spades for him and his company. And now you know why he always showed up to display his products while wearing a black turtleneck shirt.He really hated buttons–of every kind.

This is just a small sample of the many things I learned about Steve from this book. It’s a big book, over 650 pages. It’s also well-indexed. It’s not a book that you read straight through. You dip into it, read a chapter or two, and set it aside for a day or two, and then go back to it. I bought it just after Christmas and finished it two days ago.

As a dedicated Mac user, I really enjoyed this book. I recommend it to all Apple/Mac lovers.

Are you unhappy with your PC (and I know many of you PC users are hurling insults at your computers) and yet again calling your techie person to come and help you? I see my friends posting  remarks such as “I hate computers,” and when I read that, I can bet you are a bogged-down PC user who is waiting for your son, daughter, grandchild, or hired technician to come and sort out your problems with your computer. And this is when I say to myself, “That person should have bought a Mac!”  I even sometimes brag that in 31 years of using Apple computers I have never had to ask for technical help, or take a computer to the Apple store for repairs or any other kind of help.

Steve Jobs knew exactly what he was doing every step of the way. He was making user-friendly computers that everyone could use, be creative with, and even enjoy. His computers stood at the intersection of technology and the humanities, which is exactly where he wanted them. H knew there was a vast market out there of people who did not want to access the guts of the computer. They just wanted to get going and use the computer. I liken this to drivers who have no clue how  a car works, they just want it to start and work for them.

Not everyone will want to read this book. I get that. But be assured that it’s a good read, well-researched, and also a summary of what was going on in the personal computer revolution. There is much in this book to learn about Steve Jobs, how he got that way, and what drove him. It’s engrossing, and I recommend it highly – even to those who have never used a Mac. It’s non-fiction, an excellent example of well-done biography (it didn’t hurt that Steve gave liberal interview time to the author!) You may not love Steve Jobs after you read his biography, but you’ll probably wind up admiring him for his vision, and his tenacity in creating what he knew in his heart we needed.

I give this biography a 10/10 on my personal scale. I cannot imagine anything that would make this book any better than it is.

Recommended reading!

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Pub: Doubleday Canada     ©2011   Paperback edition

The author of The Accident is Linwood Barclay, whose former occcupation was that of columnist at The Toronto Star. Once again, in The Accident, he has written a page-turner of a mystery novel.  The narrator is Glen, a Connecticut contracter who specializes in renovations and additions. In the accident, his wife has been killed. That’s why she has not come home. The cops say that she was drunk, drove her car the wrong way up a freeway off -ramp, stopped her car across the road where it was hit by another car. She was killed in the crash. Question is, how did this smart and loving wife manage to get herself into this DUI smash-up? Glen will not rest until he solves this mystery- and neither will we. I read this book in a day and a half, and I bet you will too. Classify it as a popular adult mystery.

Rates an 8 out of 10 on my personal scale.

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The Help

This week I finally saw The Help. I’m no movie critic, but I came away from this film thinking to myself, “This movie has ‘Oscar’ written all over it.”

In fact, the movie has received a number of nominations for Golden Globes. (The Academy Award nominations are not yet public. I think maybe the members of the Academy are doing their voting this week.) The Oscar nominees will be announced near the end of January, 2012.

I thought that The Help was perfectly cast. I liked that the main characters were not so famous that they distracted me from the plot. Most of the main actresses in the film are very experienced, and inhabited their roles with a realism that was uncanny. The book really came to life here. In fact, I think that I enjoyed the movie more than I enjoyed the book.

Watching this movie will transport you to the time and place: Jackson, Mississippi, when racism was  endemic. It’s another world away from today. It would be hard to believe had I not seen this kind of racism for myself when I made my very first trip to Florida over 50 years ago. This Canadian girl was shocked to see washroom signs that said Colored Only. Nothing like that existed anywhere in Ontario that I had seen, but those signs were common in Florida.

I thought that the script glossed over a critical part of this narrative – which was the drive to keep the black servants out of the bathrooms of the white people. The women in this story could not stomach the thought of black bottoms touching their toilets, and so came up with the idea of building outdoor toilets for ‘the help.’ But other parts of the story sprang to life with uncanny realism. Hilly was perfectly awful. Skeeter was perfectly set on getting her book about ‘the help’ written and published. ‘The Help’ actresses themselves will get Oscar nominations for sure!

If you liked the book, you will love the movie. It’s another time, another place. Racism lives in this society. Skeeter prevails and launches a career. ‘The help’ continue, but their story has gone public and nothing will ever be the same.

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Happy New Year!

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.”
– T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding”

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