Still Crazy After All These Years


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I remember when Steve Jobs came back.

I was working in Indianola  then, and was still very much one of the Mac faithful, despite it being a very dark time.

There was no reason that his return should have brought hope. Apple was, in fact, in bad shape. (Wired’s famous “Pray” cover was during this era — after Steve’s return, even.) And Steve’s latest venture, NeXT, while apparently technically competent, wasn’t exactly revolutionizing the world. (Nor yet was his side venture, a little company he’d bought from George Lucas named Pixar.)

But bring hope it did.

At first, the signs Apple was different, was more Apple than it had been being, were superficial. For all its grammatical offensiveness, “Think Different” just felt right. As did the underdog-fodder “Here’s To The Crazy Ones.”

And then came the more concrete signs. It was easy to believe change had arrived when the first iMacs appeared, with their convention-defying bubble shape and friendly colors. But we knew things were different when that same design aesthetic started appearing in everything from power strips to kitchen appliances. Apple was relevant again.

Over the next decade, relevant would become an understatement. Apple not only influenced, it shaped and eventually dominated. The company never returned to its first-Steve-era place as the leader of the home computer market. Instead, it made that fact unimportant. Rather than try to recapture that particular market, Apple simply repeated the same trick — creating new markets, and dominating them. And, this time, it learned lessons that had cost it the PC market, and avoided the same mistakes.

We’d been mocked. Now, the Apple logo was ubiquitous, and Apple became the most valuable company in the world. For the faithful, it was vindication. For Steve, I can only imagine.

I have confidence in Tim Cook. He has demonstrated that he can provide strong business leadership for Apple.

And right now, Steve remains on as chairman at Apple. His voice is still present; his insight still contributed.

And this is good.

Because while I have no question that Apple and its current leadership will have no problem maintaining the same levels of business acumen and technological genius, it’s the intangible I worry about.

Steve’s greatest unparalleled and world-changing skill since his return has been the ability to see what is, and to see what it could be. To look at a Walkman and see an iPod. To look at a cell phone and see an iPhone. Apple’s future is ultimately going to rest in whether the company can continue that almost-counter-intuitive innovation.

The news may have struck me differently on a different day, but yesterday, after hearing about the failure of a Soyuz rocket that morning and some of the vagaries of my personal life, it hit me hard when I heard on my way to church last night that Steve had resigned.

And it ultimately came down to this –

The world seems a little less magic.

“You Will”: The Future Is Now!


I’d forgotten about these. Some one posted them on Facebook, and it was a great trip down memory lane.

Ah, the future of the past.

Forget jetpacks and flying cars, here’s a glimpse, from 17 years ago, of a future that actually worked out.

To be fair, that’s largely because futures don’t come out of nowhere. I doubt any of those were pie-in-the-sky then, they were all  long-lead-time things that AT&T was working with partners on at the time. But, even so, it’s impressive in retrospect how accurately the predictions are. Just because something looks good on the drawing board, it doesn’t always turn out that way in real life.

It’s interesting how the reality differs from the vision, though; sometimes for better, sometimes for worse.

“Have you ever borrowed a book, from thousands of miles away?” Can you imagine only being able to read a book electronically on your computer if you had a connection to a physical copy somewhere? Or, for that matter, only being able to read a book electronically on your computer? I can read a book on my telephone, even if it doesn’t exist anywhere in physical form.

“Or sent someone a fax from the beach?” Um, I could. But why? Should I also sent a telegraph from the mall? Or semaphores from the bathroom?

“Bought concert tickets from a cash machine?” OK, I shouldn’t complain, because I CAN buy concert tickets from my computer. Or my telephone. But a cash machine? No. And it’s not that I really want to, but it’s a reminder how of AT&T missed this one probably because they underestimated what a closed system buying concert tickets was. The limitations here aren’t technology, but Ticketmaster. Moore’s Law doesn’t factor in greed.

Likewise carrying “your medical history in your wallet.” The technology’s there, but the bureaucracy isn’t. To be honest, I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. I like the idea of convenience, but I’m not really sure who I want owning that repository of information.

I’ve never “opened doors with the sound of your voice,” but every time I lock my car from several feet away using a button on a remote, it bugs me that I still have to put a key in a keyhole and turn to open my house. I want the convenience of confirming that I locked my house with a quick double-click of a button that I have with my car. Someone make that happen for me, please.

The one that’s most intriguing, though, is this idea of “tucking your baby in from a phone booth.” Now, right now I have video calling on my iPhone, but it’s a small screen. I can do a video chat on a larger screen with my laptop, but that involves lugging it around and setting it up. I’m intrigued by the notion of having a kiosk that would allow you to do this somewhere. Again, it seems like the technology’s there, so whatever prevented this so-called “phone booth” from becoming a reality?

Did Steve Jobs Just Kill The Web?


Did Steve Jobs just kill the World Wide Web?

Maybe. Kind of.

You could make the argument that he didn’t because he was too late. At least you could if you were Wired Magazine. Back in August, Wired published a very interesting piece  titled The Web Is Dead. Love Live the Internet which argued that the Web is past its prime, due to a combination of two factors.

First, they said, Web traffic is increasingly coalescing around a handful of sites. Most notably, Facebook has essentially created a parallel Web, in which a huge amount of information is organized and accessed all through one site. When you go on Facebook, you’re no longer just seeing your friends’ statuses. You’re playing games and watching videos and reading news and any number of other things. All the benefits of the Web, without leaving the comfort of Facebook.

The other factor Wired cited was the growth of apps on mobile devices (and now tablets). On my computer, when I go to Twitter, on my computer, I go to twitter.com. On the web. On my iPhone, I use their app. Same content, without going on the web. A large number of my favorite apps are the same way — Amazon, TUAW, dictionary.com, Living Social, etc. I’m getting the web content, without ever going on the web. While the last point talked about how sites like Facebook are killing the Web, on my computer, I’m still getting there by going to Facebook.com. On my iPhone, I don’t even do that.

Which brings us to the Mac App Store.  The iOS version of the App Store has been very successful, and thus has given people expectations for how an App Store should work. And the Mac App Store is playing into those expectations. When I logged in for the first time, there was Angry Birds prominently displayed, just the way it should be in an App Store. And there’s a free Twitter client. One of the complaints I read the first day was that there was no Facebook app.

Really, why should there be? The app would be designed to run on your desktop or laptop, which is capable of running a full-featured browser, letting you access Facebook in a way that lets you do more than you can in the iOS Facebook app. Arguably, there’s no need for a Mac Facebook app.

But because of the success of the iOS app store, there’s an ingrained expectation that there should be one. And if one were created, theoretically, it would be the optimum version of Facebook — a version of Facebook freed of the mobile-device limitations of previous apps and of the browser-compatibility limitations previously on desktops and laptops. And then not only would there be the option of leaving the web, there would be a reason to.

And this isn’t true just for Facebook. A year from now, will I end up editing my blog from the Mac WordPress app because it’s better than WordPress.com? And will I be getting my weather from the Weather Channel app? What web sites will I stop visiting because there are better ways of accessing their content?

There’s a bit of irony here — for the last few years, the trend has been that everything is moving toward the web, and that web applications will replace desktop applications; that I’ll be doing my word processing through the web instead of using a native application.

If the best analyses are to be believed, two years from now, I’ll be reading Facebook in an app while I’m doing spreadsheets on the web, streaming movies on to my laptop while controlling my computer through the TV. I’ll also be washing my clothes in the stove and cooking dinner in the bathtub.

Just so long as my Garmin GPS music player is compatible with my flying car.

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Washa Neeba Zow


(Lyrics & story)

Hi!


Um, hello!

Been a little while, huh? Sheesh, I haven’t written an actual real post on here in a week, which is kinda unusual for me. Sorry. Why? I’m really not sure. I’ve been busy. I haven’t had much to say. There are parts of my life that don’t get blogged at the moment. I’ve been saying stuff places other than here. I’ve been putting off writing my next Reconstruction post. Who knows?

So random thoughts about stuff:

I’m going to NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, soon, which is exciting. It will be the sixth of the 11-or-so NASA field centers that I’ve visited, putting me above the halfway point. I’ve not been to Cleveland before, so if anybody has any suggestions of things to do there, they would be much appreciated.

Shortly thereafter, I’m going to the Simon & Garfunkel concert, which I’m also rather excited about.

This weekend, however, I’m going to watch students launch rockets a mile into the air as a volunteer at NASA’s Student Launch Initiative. I’ve never seen the event before, so I’m eager to witness it firsthand.

Last weekend, I volunteered at NASA’s Great Moonbuggy Race, and, for the first time, got to ride a moonbuggy. Kinda challenging.

President Obama expanded on his new vision for NASA’s future today, with some great finessings to the plan. Most significantly, construction of a new heavy lift vehicle beginning in 2015 is the best news that the spaceflight community could hope for. An HLV is the key to human exploration of the solar system, as well as opening up amazing opportunities for science.

I went to the Yuri’s Night party at the Davidson Center Saturday night. Huntsville’s still behind other cities in their celebration, but hopefully we’re moving toward catching up.

I taught kids at Sojourn again on Sunday. Threw out everything I thought I knew how to do, and did it completely differently. Seemed to go a bit better.

Have I mentioned that I got a chance to play with an iPad? I did. For that matter, I forget if I blogged my great story about standing in line to not see a product I had no intent to buy. In the rain. And I’m too lazy to go back and look. I need to try one again, to see what typing on it is like. The picture below is from Lain, but I like it.

Eh, enough for now, I guess.

Links And Stuff


>>> I just came across a new review of our book, Homesteading Space, online.

It opens with a foreword by NASA rocket engineer and inspirational author Homer Hickam, and it closes with Skylab III Commander Alan Bean’s previously unreleased in-flight diary. Sandwiched between are more than 450 pages of sometimes gripping, always interesting, narrative on the history of Skylab and its missions written by a veteran NASA editor-journalist and two Skylab scientist-astronauts.

Consequently, the Skylab participants, through these talented authors, share with readers a fantastically rich, vicarious experience, one not unlike what good fiction might generate. But Homesteading Space is factual in every detail.

For all the astronauts’ serious efforts to maximize the success ofthe Skylab missions, there was a lighter, playful side seldom revealed in official records but unabashedly exposed in Homesteading Space.

– Dr. Rick W. Sturdevant, Deputy Director of History, HQ Air Force Space Command

The review actually makes me want to go back and read the book again. (And only partially because it alludes stories from the book that I honestly don’t remember — “Really? That’s in there? I need to re-read it!”)

My personal favorite part is near the beginning: “Although design and development of Skylab subsystems necessarily receive attention, the focus remains consistently on the actions, experiences, and feelings of the astronauts who occupied the station and their relationship with crews on the ground.” Because, ultimately, that’s what we were trying to do — tell the human story of Skylab. Seeing someone else recognize that makes me feel like the book was a success.

>>> I liked my co-worker Heather’s blog post about making the switch to Apple enough that I have to link to it, and only partially because I’m the hero of the story.

>>> Since writing my “bucket list” post last week, I’ve created a standing “The List” tab on the blog where I can keep up with ideas of things to do, track progress in working toward them, and cross them off when they’re done. And, too, if anyone has any suggestions, or wants to join in on anything, they can let me know. Since setting the page up, I’ve made mild progress on the skydiving item, have applied for my passport, and may have found a way to use it. (And along the lines of blog updates, I’ve also gone in and actually written stuff for the About tab beyond just, I’m David and this is my blog.)

>>> They show up in my Twitter feed in the sidebar, but, nonetheless, I wanted to post a reminder about my formspring.me page where you can ask me anonymous questions and read my answers. It’s kind of fun. And, of course, my 365project page is still out there as well.

>>> This is inappropriate and I shouldn’t link to it and you shouldn’t follow the link and I’m not responsible if you do, and, yet, you know, I kinda want one of these, even if I would never wear it in public. Along those lines, I’ll also link to this.

Graphic Language


It’s not that I didn’t have any interest in becoming a writer. It’s just that it didn’t seem like a realistic goal. And that’s why it happened completely accidentally.

I enjoyed writing stories from very early on, and even started my first novel when I was in middle school. Granted, it was a Star Trek book, but I got a decent ways into it for a middle schooler, as I recall. In high school, I went for a more serious literary approach and dabbled with short stories, and even wrote some poems, as unlikely as that may be now. (That said, I’ve been really considering writing a poem on here before too long, inspired by Kyle, from my Journey Group.)

But I never considered writing as a career. I’m not sure why. I wanted to write, but always figured I would get a different job, and write as a side. I think maybe I thought being a professional writer required a level of talent I didn’t have. (This mindset would continue for quite a while. When I first had the idea to work with Owen on Homesteading, my first reaction was that was silly; it was the sort of thing professional writers did. It was literally months before it occurred to me that the fact that I write for a living arguably makes me, you know, a professional writer.)

From the time I was old enough to start seriously considering a career, I wanted to be an aerospace engineer, a desire that stayed with me until about halfway through high school. I joke that it was at that point that I realized that it involved math and science; that I had always thought I would just be drawing pretty pictures of spaceships: “OK, we’ll put the warp drive here …”

The truth is that I had a couple of math classes that I could have done better in, and at the same time I first got involved in my high school newspaper. Again, completely accidentally. I had been operating a computer for the guidance counselor, they needed someone to use the computer, so i was drafted. One could make the argument that operating a modem terminal and doing computer graphic arts aren’t really the same thing, but in my teenage arrogance, I figured, sure, I could do that.

And, of course, I could. At the time, newspaper computer graphics and design was actually a pretty decent fit for me, taking advantage of the fact that I’m about equally left- and right-brained. I loved it, and had an aptitude for it. During my senior year in high school, I even worked an internship at The Huntsville Times as a graphic artist, doing some work that I’m still proud of to this day.

By graduation, I knew that this was what I wanted to do professionally, which was where I ran into a problem. I was pretty decent doing graphics on a computer, which was pretty forgiving if you knew what you were doing. Working in physical media, however, I was not nearly so talented. Give me pencil and paper, and, on a good day, I could do competent work. Majoring in graphic design, however, was going to require doing good work consistently.

The solution was obvious, though — I didn’t just want to be a graphic artist, I wanted to be a newspaper graphic artist. So instead of majoring in graphic arts, I could major in journalism. Plus, being the ambitious guy that I was, I had the idea that I might someday work my way up through the ranks from graphics and design to being an editor. Oh, sure, that’s completely not the way it works in real life, but only because I hadn’t done it yet. And clearly my journalism degree would help me make that transition.

And so, I started working toward a degree in journalism, and I started working at the student newspaper, The Daily Mississippian, as a graphic artist.

But a funny thing happened on the way to graduation. Somewhere along the way, in the midst of taking reporting classes, and being encouraged, primarily by fellow DM staffer Joe Gurner, to do some writing, I stopped being a graphic artist. By the time I graduated, I was a reporter.

Oh, sure, I still dabbled a bit, doing graphics every once and a while for papers, with less and less frequency as time went on. And, ironically, I did ultimately make the transition from graphic artist to editor of a weekly newspaper in about seven years, just with a long detour through reporting.

When I took my current job, I dropped “newspaper” from my role, and became strictly a writer. The last vestige of my original (well, post-engineering) career goal was gone.

It’s been interesting, though, because the team I work on for NASA is composed primarily of former school teachers and former newspaper reporters. And, generally, the companies that win our contract don’t tradionally hire former school teachers and newspaper reporters, so they have a hard time matching us to their existing job title choices. At one point, I was a word processor operator — oh, sure, I’m an award-winning wordsmith, but, more importantly, I know how to push buttons on a keyboard! My eighth-grade keyboard teacher would be so proud!

Comparitively speaking, the “tech writer” title I wear today, while not entirely accurate, is far more appealing. But, as of next month, I will no longer be a tech writer.

Today, I got my job offer from the company that won the new contract at work. And, once again, they had a hard time matching what we do to their existing titles.

So, in a curious turn of events, as of February 1, my offiicial title will be — graphic artist.

Heh


What is going to happen, Dave?

For Great Justice!


I’m writing this post from the jury waiting room at the Madison County Courthouse, where I’m doing my civic duty. By blogging, apparently.

This is my second time being called for jury duty. Or, rather, my second time reporting for jury duty.

Back in ye olde days in Indianola, I got called pretty frequently, but always got excused ahead of time. It was a win-win situation, I suppose — my boss didn’t want me to be gone, since we had such a small staff, and odds are I wasn’t going to be able to serve anyway, since I covered police and courts and thus new all the players and many of the cases, so it saved them having to eliminate me.

That said, I kind of would have liked to serve. Covering courts, it would have been interesting to experience it from the other side, to find out what it was like to be behind-the-scenes as a juror. (And if one of us had ever been selected as a grand juror — I can only imagine. We would have found a way to serve if that had happened. To have every record, every official, every room of every public agency open to us? Yeah, wow, I can only imagine.)

So it was kind of exciting three years ago when I got called for jury duty in Madison County for the first time, and having no reason that I couldn’t report.

And it was, indeed, an interesting experience, albeit not in the way I had hoped. I learned a lot about being a juror, but without actually serving on a jury. Really, it was not unlike the wonderful learning experiences of my two trips to see shuttle flights scrubbed. It’s very much a part of the reality of the experience, but not the reality I had hoped for.

But the Circuit Clerk did a great job of explaining the importance of the “nothing” that I did. Court doesn’t move forward without jurors. Pleas are entered, settlements are reached, largely when cases are about to go before a jury. And that doesn’t happen unless there are potential jurors. So by sitting in the jury waiting room, I’m very much helping resolve cases.

So yesterday and today, I’ve been dispensing justice … by blogging, Twittering, reading, texting, Facebooking, etc. Again, not what I’d hoped for, but isn’t it nice to know, as you’re reading this blog entry, that while I was writing it, I was bringing criminals to justice?

Thus far, I have been called in for the jury selection for one case, but, after going through the voire dire, was rejected, either because of my ex-wife or my ex-fiancee, I’m not sure which. But definitely not my fault. (Yes, I know fiancee needs an accent mark, but I don’t know how to make one on this computer, even though it’s easy on what I’m used to. I’m here doing my civic duty, and they thank us with Windows machines. Still, MUCH better than nothing, so I’m grateful.)

Jurors have been called for jury selection for other cases, but I haven’t been selected to even be part of those selections. They’re expecting another round this afternoon, so we’ll see.

Sad Chimes They Say So Much


Sad Chimes Rest Home
Arguably, I really should own this t-shirt, but I don’t really need it $26 bucks worth. (If someone wanted to spend money on me really frivolously … well, there’d still be better ways. But it is cool.)

Technically, of the three computers on the shirt, I only currently have in my possession the front one (but I have at least three computers with that basic form factor). I used to have the bubble iMac, but it’s one of the rare computers I’ve owned that found its way into other hands.

In addition to those three and my current machines, however, there’s an old PowerMac Performa, a rare all-in-one education G3 and a variety of useless laptops.

I’m begining to realize, however, it may well be time for the Mac retirement home to shut down, and its occupants to move on. So, whether he likes it or not, a variety of antique machines will be eventually heading to my friend Joe Gurner.

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