Category historic figures

NeXT Computer

As the world digests the curtain closing on Steve Jobs’ reign at Apple, I find myself pondering his time at NeXT Computer.

Steve created NeXT after being brutally ousted from Apple in 1984 by John Sculley (whom he brought in to run the company).

I remember NeXT vividly. I was in college, studying engineering and NeXT was making high-end workstations for intensive computing. I was so smitten by the company and it’s products that I wrote to them to buy a t-shirt (in pre-web era one didn’t just buy online). I wore that shirt with pride.

Jobs and Wozinac had created Apple in the mid 70s and leaned heavily on Xerox Parc breakthroughs to sculpt Apple into it’s own category of “personal” computing.  It was in the late 80s while Steve was at NeXT and, in my opinion, that his personal… unique vision really started to take hold; optical drives, laser printers, first web server, 1 sq foot die-cast magnesium shell, etc.

Based on Jobs’ own comments I also know this was an important time for him. It was his blank canvas. It was his time to reinvent himself AND computing as we now know it.

His time at NeXT became the running start for the product families he helped architect in the early days of his second reign at Apple. He shared his perspective about this time at NeXT in his 2005 Stanford commencement address.

When people think of Steve Jobs they point to the ipod, iphone and ipad… and Pixar. To be sure, those chapters are stunning stories of cultural and business prowess… but it was his time at NeXT that captures him for me.

Steve Jobs is about reinvention.

As he exits Apple for a second time I see a worthy metaphor, this is a similar time for Apple Computer as it was for Steve while he was at NeXT. Much has come before this time to set the stage for the future… but the truth is that in order to keep the visionary slot, Apple needs to reinvent itself again. And that is what Steve would want them to do.

Extinction of another species? Humans?

This video stopped me in my tracks. It’s not the first time I’ve heard Stephen Hawking talk about humanity and the large-scale issues facing species… including humans.

Stephen Hawking is truly thinking big. He’s looking past today’s melodramatic news regarding some hyper-shallow seemingly made-for-TV drama… he’s looking past the fiscal problems of the US and Europe… and past the Arab Spring.

I’m not posting this because I agree or don’t agree with what he’s saying. I’m posting this because I love this guy’s brain. I love how he thinks. I love how he compartmentalizes and dismisses meaningless chafe… and focuses on potentially large-scale issues.

J Robert Oppenheimer

All chapters of American history are important for us to know. While I adored Founding Brothers and the gillion other books focused on the birth of our nation I feel like many of us miss some of the central, defining American figures from more recent times.

J. Robert Oppenheimer is a central actor in the American story.

I friend told me about this film PBS, American Experience film The Trials of J. Robert Oppenheimer. Sure, we all know who he is and yes… we’ve heard the oft repeated quote “I am become death, the destroyer of worlds” but let’s admit it… we don’t really know the back story of this pivotal moment in our history.

Worthy film.

Edward R. Murrow

If the name Edward R. Murrow means nothing to you then Good night, and Good Luck is an important film to see. His is the story of an American fighting for the very values that we all hold so dearly and doing so in the most public of coliseums… live, on network television.

If you know the name Edward R. Murrow and haven’t seen this film yet, do.

Steve and the importance of story telling

My favorite thing about Steve Jobs presentations is how he tells stories. Sometimes he takes you somewhere, paints a picture about a fantastical place a new piece of software can take you.

What I love about this presentation is that all the regular Apple fanfare (great visuals, minimalistic stage, etc) is gone. This is Steve unplugged. Citizen Steve. The story he tells makes me wonder why all CEOs don’t see the simple need to tell stories to better position their brands in people’s minds.

It’s a long video but it’s worthy.

From chained books to Alexandria in your pocket

Below is a short version of the history of books and computing.

Two things spring to mind.

First, it’s amazing how slowly it takes for things to catch on. Mainstream culture tends to see advancements as overnight successes but they rarely are. If one takes to time to look at the larger story behind a given advancement there is usually a decade of slow-acceptance in front of a mass-acceptance curve. The simple truth is that it is hard for a culture with established practices and norms to see alternatives as the true advancements they are.

Second, unlike the case with Thomas Edison (who we all can connect with inventions) no one seems to know who the real true architects behind much of modern life are. Ivan Sutherland‘s sketchpad, Doug Englebart‘s mouse, Alan Kay‘s windowing graphical user interface design, etc. The list goes on and on. Instead we oversimplify and credit companies like Apple for inventing all of the above (when in fact they invented none of it).

Great opening to this segment. Compare the idea of a book accessible via a chain to a shelf… to more than the Library of Alexandria accessible via the device in your pocket.