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Aaron Levin
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On Steve Jobs' Passing:

To begin with I'm not that huge of an Apple person. I have never bought a Mac (I have had a few broken ones I repaired and kept) and I have an Android phone. I hate to start on a negative point but I feel it is necessary, with so much blind devotion, to plot my position on the fanboy spectrum. This is particularly interesting as I not only had one of the first Macs (Mac 512k) but I am a product of "The Vivarium Program". This was an experimental elementary school program run by Apple in the 80s which put 20 Macs in my LAUSD elementary school classroom and taught us to program in HyperCard (anyone remember that?!?). It was certainly a very cool opportunity and definitely contributed to my life path as a computer geek and programmer.

The reason I wasn't that into Apple as an adult was because, well, I didn't want to pay extra. It is that simple. The Windows PC was always half the price and did the same thing. Being a computer guy I was happy to figure it out so the ease of use never really was an issue for me. In many ways I also viewed Apple as a "form over function" company. What was cool was how things looked - not necessarily what they did. To a geek like me it seemed superficial. I also didn't like the fact that it was a closed system. It felt a bit anti-competitive in that you couldn't tinker with the hardware, buy from third parties, or really even reuse anything from model to model.

As an open source advocate I did applaud their move to a BSD Unix kernel with OS X and was encouraged to see them open up a bit. It is also impossible to deny that the Aughts were the decade of Apple. Each year they came out with a more and more influential product or interface which had all the competitors chasing their coattails.

It was also clear that Steve Jobs was the mastermind behind the elegance and consistency of their design and user experience. Something that focused and precise is not created by a team of people. It is clearly the work of an inspired individual artist. Once I realized this, their need to tightly control all aspects of their software and hardware began to make a lot more sense.

For me the legacy of Steve Jobs has to do generally with following the strength of your own vision and not chasing the crowd. On a specific level it has to do with constantly evaluating and rethinking how we interact with machines - not just at the software level - but at the much more difficult and fundamental hardware level.

Many people have great ideas. Some people actually have the resources to do them. Very few have the confidence and courage to see them through.

Apple isn't driven by focus groups our surveys. They aren't concerned with you being comfortable from version to version of their software or hardware. They aren't interested in playing it safe or the lowest common denominator. This is what made it so clear that Apple wasn't in it just for the money.

Look at almost any industry - the big money is in chasing trends. A comic book movie does well, we'll have 10 years of comic book movies. A band wears white belts, MTV will be full of bands with white belts. People like organic food now? Don't worry Safeway now has generic plain wrap organic food (no joke!).

Apple clearly wanted to innovate and Jobs was their mastermind. He had a strength of vision and confidence to not only show people new ways to do things but to pull the rug out from under them. Their famous 1984 commercial says it all - Apple is here to wake the masses up and free their minds. The courage this takes cannot be underestimated. As we all know, Apple wasn't doing too well when he rejoined in the 90s. That was the time to play it safe. Instead he went the opposite direction and clearly his gamble paid off in spades.

Specifically I think Jobs real flair was for hardware. He really seemed in tune with how we interact physically with computers and cultivating "the wow moment". I'm not just talking about the mouse and keyboard. I'm talking about the complete experience, opening the package, putting it together, and learning how to use it. I can still remember the tutorial when you first turned on the original Mac that taught you how to use the mouse. It was more fun than most video games. It was a real WOW moment. When it loaded the desktop you already knew what to do and where you were going. It felt intuitive yet brand new - a truly amazing feeling. It was like meeting a best friend you never knew you had. Compare this with the vertigo you feel when first using most new electronic devices - let alone a new operating system for the first time!

Today the iPhone and the iPad have clearly set the gold standard for interacting with a touchscreen device. Even things as simple as the pinch zoom or the slide your finger to the right for the next screen seem very natural to us but this was a new language - a new paradigm for interaction. Let us also not forget the visual language of drop shadows, smooth glossy 3D icons, transparent windows, or any of the new visual paradigms Apple introduced that are now common place across the Internet and all modern systems.

More than any other software/hardware company Apple and Jobs really created a new language for interacting with computers. To me this is the central dilemma of computer technology today. You know the QWERTY story right? Today's common keyboard layout was created to prevent you from typing too fast. Why? Because it was created for a typewriter and if you typed too fast then the little arms with the letters would hit each other. The typewriter was invented in 1808!! Yet we still use this crippled input device as our primary way to enter data over 200 years later.

The mouse? Invented in 1963. Sure we've added a whole lot of buttons and wheels but it is the same old mouse limited to one little arrow on the screen. We have ten fingers and 2 hands but we're still limited to only one little focal point (arrow) on the screen? Is that really the best we can do?

The popularity of the iPhone & iPad are baby steps towards breaking from these limitations. I still prefer a keyboard and mouse to an iPad but I applaud the gesture. I am also grateful for the new vocabulary they have provided in thinking about how best to interact with computers.

Jobs was one of the few visionaries who seemed to not just innovate but to chronically, recklessly, and relentlessly innovate. He lost a few times (NeXT cube) but certainly won a lot more. Though I have massive respect for his genius and skill I think it is his courage to innovate and strength to see his ideas through into reality that make him a true hero of technology and innovation.

And so the day has come that even a self-professed Apple skeptic such as myself must give Jobs the utmost respect for his accomplishments and vision. So long Steve and thanks for all the fish!

The ping-pong theory of social networking sites: It may be less important what a site does right than what the other sites do wrong.

The fashionably late theory of technology: The early bird almost never gets the worm when it comes to technology.

Anyone who plays ping-pong very long soon realizes that the best offense is defense. You just need to hit the ball back without missing the table. By definition, if you return the ball 100% of the time you cannot lose. The times you try to slam it really hard, go for some fancy spin, or outsmart your opponent are when you lose the game.

This seems to be the case w/the on going FB vs. G+ wars. Initially G+ corrected many of the issues that FB had wrong. This was its major selling point. It hadn't deviated very much from the paradigm but was built from the ground up to be sensitive to the sharing and privacy issues that have hurt FB so much. So what did FB do? Quickly incorporated all of this functionality.

I read a great article saying essentially that the best thing that G+ has done is improve FB. I think this is a valid point. For most people (read: not on G+) the greatest impact that G+ has had on them is that it has given them the same functionality on the site they actually use (FB). In a sense G+ took the bullet of introducing new paradigms for sharing. The engineers at FB could then watch and learn and safely release a kid tested, mother approved way of sharing.

This is where the fashionably late theory comes in. Though it is counter intuitive, the first person to market rarely wins in technology. For every seeming innovation there is a long history of many failed attempts at the same thing. None of these innovations are born in a vacuum, they are the result of a lot of trial and error. Think of the Friendster->Myspace->Facebook continuum. Hey iPhone, remember seeing those old black and white pics of your great grandfather The Newton? The first email was sent in 1971. First optical disk (CD) was created in 1958 (!) Though we like to think of technology as all about novelty really it is largely trial and error and by the time it is adopted by society at large it has been around the block a few times. People resist change for the most part & you need to really offer someone some major advantages for adopting new technology over and above "it's just a little better than the old one - ohh and it may not work at all".

... and so today we find a mass migration to G+ due to the new FB design. Perhaps the tables have turned now and G+ can let FB put its neck on the line and learn from its mistakes and triumphs. No longer the new kid on the block, I'm hoping G+ can at least survive (get enough people to join) into adolescence so we can get a glimpse of the system it might become.

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Happy Birthday Linux! For all of today I'll stop telling everyone that FreeBSD is better - DOH! :-)

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Just got my Diaspora invite ... social network overload!! Let me know if you'd like an invite.

The hacker & open source advocate in me would love to see this win as it is the first truly decentralized and open source social networking protocol. The skeptic in me worries that this is probably way too geeky for most. The social network user in my notices that it looks a whole lot like Google+ with one huge advantage ... Facebook integration :-)

If they want to win then they should treat it more like a social network aggregator/syndication utility rather than a new social networking platform. Then it would really have some utility.

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To start, I LOVE G+ but I too have noticed (and contributed to) the tumbleweeds. I feel as though the first round of immigration to G+ is over and we are in a lull right now. Us early adopters are building our homesteads on the frontier but we're waiting for a second push to get everyone else to join.

I worry it comes down to the classic Beta vs. VHS conundrum we see in technology all the time. The best tool/standard does not win. The most used standard wins. Why? Because the point of a standard is to be used. The measure of its success is how widely it is adopted. The consideration of the quality of the standard in and of itself is secondary.

Beta had better resolution, a smaller form factor, and by most objective measures was the higher quality standard. However, once it had only 10% of the movies available on VHS who cared? The fact it looks great doesn't matter when you can't watch the movie you want. To once more abuse the "G+ is an empty party" metaphor, you can create the greatest party ever but if nobody comes then it is a failure. A party is about people coming, not about how good the potential party could have been if people were there.

So why haven't people come?

I've noticed the less techy won't even consider it. I think a lot of it is the investment of time people put into their online profiles. We take a lot of time building a presence on these sites. We upload pictures, blog, approve friends, join groups, fill out surveys, populate our interests, etc ... We've spent years building a home for ourselves and we need some really pervasive reasons to move to a new place.

Another oft-overlooked issue is the investment people make in learning the user interface. As we master the site it becomes more natural and seamless to use, find what we want, and build what we want. Much like playing an instrument, once you master the fundamentals you are able to stop thinking about them and express yourself directly. So I think for many people the idea of starting all over with a new toolkit, no matter how much better, is a huge barrier.

What is ironic is that this kind of "fresh start" is actually a big reason I like G+. Personally I love the circles and granularity of G+. I like the fresh start that it gives me to categorize my friends, follow people I don't know, and play around with the new features. In some ways I even like the emptiness of my activity stream because you actually see people's posts instead of being overwhelmed.

With all that said I must admit that when I want to share something with the most people, I still turn to The Book.

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OMG, I love my new phone! The phone is super quick (1.2 dual-core processor!). The connection is super quick (4G - say what you want but it is way quicker than 3G). It has some great features and a great camera but the most impressive part is the voice recognition! It actually works reliably. I mean leaps and bounds above any VR I've ever used. You can dictate messages, notes, search the web, etc with just voice and it is 95% accurate so far. Very impressed.

Day 3 of spotify. I'm totally sold though I'm still on the Free version. Honestly, I see no reason to upgrade except sound quality and mobile device access. However I really don't find the commercials too intrusive or frequent. I also like that they are for other albums that I can click on and listen to rather than totally out of context (i.e. for insurance, etc ..).

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I've been checking out the free version of thanks to +Rob Tocalino . Definitely a potential game changer though it lacks many large artists (much like iTunes in the beginning). That said, I think they have a better shot at being the Netflix of music than any other service I've seen.

Expression of the day: Bio Break. The way a geek says they need to go to the bathroom during a meeting.
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