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Book Review: Becoming Steve Jobs

I tend to review books like this one in several parts, because the thought-flow is so high per page that it’s simply impossible to capture everything of value. This book is particularly dense. I’m only about 20% into Becoming Steve Jobs (iBooks is not so user-friendly in telling me how far I am), but every page feels like taking a deep breath and only releasing it after the (slight criticism) overlong paragraphs finish. But there is also something else that makes it difficult to skim this book, Steve Jobs’ emotional journey is described in significant depth, which is incredibly immersive, at least to me.

That is really the insight that lead me to write this short review (which may be followed by another). We / I tended to view Apple as this great mysterious black box, something that could be speculated about because it was fun and intriguing. By my count, I’ve perhaps written dozens of times about Apple, without ever really feeling that I understood something deeper than the superficial veneer Apple was comfortable in disclosing.

This book is, to use a terrible term, a game changer. It tells us so much about the man, stuff that was perhaps revealed in news articles here and there over the last 50 years, but all combined to create a persona that we can perhaps, to the extent that it is possible, understand. Steve Jobs (pre-NeXT is revealed as a man that is far less than perfect, who put his vision far ahead of the details, who is used to employing tantrum-techniques to get his way, who managed to burn more bridges than perhaps build them.

I’ve read plenty of other good business biographies over the years (of the founders of eBay, McDonalds, Ikea, Starbucks were the ones that stood out), but this one is different in that it is only authorised after the fact. Steve Jobs, as far as I understood, could’ve picked Brent Schlender to cover his life, but perhaps didn’t because he was much too close, much too perceptive. Isaacson was chosen instead, this historical biographer of great persons like Abraham Lincoln, which is such a Jobs move, at least the Jobs you read about in this book.

The title is of course Becoming Steve Jobs, which is not really a guide to being like the man, but rather a witnessing of the transformation, evolution, descent, or ascent, depending on how you interpret this journey. The tagline reads: “The Evolution of a Reckless Upstart into a Visionary Leader,” which is quite mixed as well. It’s a testament to the unauthorised character of this biography, that it is able to show the dark sides of Jobs as well. An incredibly fascinating journey already in this short portion of Jobs’ career.

In Movies: Scriptnotes talks Superhero Movies

Superheros are mainstream now, so like many of you, I have witnessed this pretty amazing blending of visual storytelling, innovation in the effects area, and allround blockbuster-money-exploding movie releases. The Scriptnotes podcast, in light of the recent “forecast” for when what 30 superhero movies will be released until 2020 (MarvelDC), is pretty insightful in explaining what “pillars” made all of this possible.

They begin with Brian Singer’s X-men, released in 2000, which was perhaps the first non-cheesy looking mainstream (!) comic book movie. He brought these characters on screen, focussing less on costumes and more on characters we care about.

Secondly, Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, released in 2005, which again brought a realistic, but hard-to-replicate gritty tone to the superhero scene. To me, this Batman is like the Indiana Jones of adventure films—an impossible character (in a good way) in a well-written adventure. If X-men was characters, I think writing is the key contribution here.

Third, Joss Whedon’ and Kevin Feige’s the Avengers, which really brought together the universe of these characters, much more so than X-men did. Craig Mazin says on Feige:

He’s like, you know, you have to go all the way back to like, I don’t know, Thalberg, and guys like that to find these really powerful, very smart guys that actually made like a good creator-like impact on the movie business. He may be our generation’s, I don’t know, whatever you want to call it, Zanuck or Thalberg. One of those guys.

… which I thought was really powerful stuff!

It’s hard to argue with John August and Craig Mazin, these two “pillars” of movie podcasting and scriptwriting, so I won’t. Like Lost or Battlestar Gallactica lead audiences into watching science fiction, something amazing has happened for comics as well. It’s nice to hear an analysis of what these contributing factors were and perhaps a discussion point for another time.

In Activities: So you want to try… Fitness?

This is a series of posts covering that most cherished of all activities, sports. I will only discuss those sports that I tried and formed a studied opinion about. Those include a handful. I decided to start with fitness first, because it is a broad sport that serves as a good introduction and complement to others. 

Target Audience

Young and old, male and female, fat and skinny, there’s a reason that fitness is such a widely adopted sport. The other is that it’s both for experts, newbies, and hobbyists (which can mean both an infrequent practitioner and one that does it as a supporting sport).

The Approach

Unlike other sports that favour a specific kind of body type, fitness caters to the main three types: ectomorph (thin build), mesomorph (median build), endomorph (wide build). Each body type requires a different approach. I am not an expert on all of these, so I’ll cover it only superficially—read a more detailed description here.

Ectomorphs have trouble building muscle, but no trouble shedding pounds, so their area of the gym should be more focussed towards strength, rather than aerobics. Mesomorph are nicely placed in the middle, they respond well to both and risk putting on a few pounds if they ignore the aerobics. Endomorphs are strong through genetics, but benefit extremely much from aerobics.

The key to finding the best approach is really the ‘running in the rain’ approach: if you don’t feel like doing it, that’s probably the area you should focus on most.

That said, fitness has one particular goal that may not be compatible with the goal of other sports. Fitness in the purest sense wants to optimise your body in a general way, they want to turn us all into Clark Kent or Diana Prince (Wonder Woman’s secret identity). Basically a balanced sport for a balanced body, while some other sports like running or olympic weightlifting require bodies more geared towards either of those activities.

The Options

Yoga_Class_at_a_GymThere are a variety of gyms that do or do not offer a combination of the below. They are ordered in no particular preference, though I would classify free weights as the most advanced and dangerous.

Machines vs free weights: You body benefits most from diversity, and machines don’t necessarily offer the best possibility to do that. I compare it to running in the sand vs running on pavement. On pavement, i.e. an even and unbending surface, your legs will always receive the same stimulation and grow accordingly. In sand, which is decidedly uneven and shifts constantly, your legs have to both run and keep balanced. There is a stimulation overload and the result is much stronger legs.

Machines are the pavement, they offer predictable and reliable movement, which is extremely safe and thus a good way to build basic strength. Free weights offer more flexibility to focus on either combination muscles or targeting more specific areas, but also force the muscle to constantly balance, creating the ‘sand effect’ on any muscle you train.

Free weights are however a decidedly advanced technique, where you can do much damage to your body and should not be exercised in isolation without education and thought. Any good gym should provide a basic explanations into what each weight and movement does and should be part of the introduction to this sport.

Classes vs. Personal Training: To the non-shy among us, there are a variety of classes available, ranging from ‘boot camps’ (allround, intense exercises regimes that range from 30 min to typically 1 hour) to aerobic classes (anything from dance to ‘rhythmic boxing’). The advantage of a class is the motivation aspect. 1. you have a teacher to guide you and 2. there’s a structure to it, both schedule-, content-, and music-wise. If you ever find yourself lacking motivation to just lift weights, a class may be the right change for you.

Personal trainers also range in orientation, from gymnasts to olympic bodybuilders, and offer the advantage of personal attention, as well as the disadvantage of cost.

The world is your gym ~ parkour

Niche Gyms: Whether you’re a runner, boxer, or simply hate the traditional gym model, there’s probably a gym that’s more geared towards a particular area. Running clubs may have a gym on site or attached to them, same as other sports, with equipment geared towards optimising for that sport. Then there is the relatively recent trend towards Crossfit ‘boxes,’ which is a combination of gymnastics, weightlifting, HIIT training, and various other sports. There is some controversy around it and similar to free weights requires a well-reputed trainer to guide you.

When you get really creative, the world can become your gym, from parkour, to playgrounds, to bouldering, but that’s outside the scope of this article.

Support Through Technology

The modern gym is on your phone or wrist. While before, I used to read Muscle & Fitness magazine, or read Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Bodybuilding Bible for workout tips, now every exercise program I use at the gym, as well as a timer and distance tracker, is in my pocket. Though they change over time, here are few that I’m enjoying right now (iOS only, sorry!):

Arnold Schwarzenegger the encyclopedia to modern bodybuilding

The StrongLifts 5×5 App (free with in-app purchases – download and read about the method here): This one is geared towards some very efficient core exercises, such as squats, deadlifts, and various back, chest & shoulder exercises. I use it as a basic structure these days, training my own exercises, but using the 5×5 methodology and timer.

Hot5 Fitness (free with in-app purchases – download here): What I like about this app is that it has different difficulty levels and blasts an area in 5 minutes (5 exercises each 1 minute long) with some good and clear video-based teaching. I use it mainly for abdominals, core training, but it can easily be integrated into a cross fitness routine.

 Moves (free, now owned by Facebook (yikes!), download here): Though there are many trackers, I used it from the very beginning to track any move I make, from walking to running. It allows for automatic activity setting per location (e.g. I go to the gym and it tells me how much time I spent there), provides daily and weekly reports on activity, and generally serves as a calendar and motivator. I have a feeling Apple’s Health app will replace much of it for me, but we will see.

There’s some other ones that I do not use often, such as a Tabata or HIIT timer, and the Pocket WOD (the official Cross Fitness app, but I’m not sure they are absolutely essential to mention here. Important to mention that any good workout benefits from great nutrition, and for instance Pocket Wod has a recipe database, as well as other specialised cooking apps.

The Pros & Cons

Finally, let’s evaluate. Fitness is a sport that’s easy to get into, for a wide audience, and has many options. One of the pro’s is that it allows for great time management, to go whenever and however long you can.

There are several con’s: it’s not a supplement for other, more *interesting* sports (insert your own here), though it can be a great complement to or launchpad for them. Advanced exercises can also lead to some pretty serious injuries, though the learning curve is decidedly not steep (the motivation curve can be). Finally, as with any sport, it can become monotonous, but again, it doesn’t have to start and end at the gym.

Feedback request: did you like or dislike this post? Should something be added? Let me know in the comments. Over the next coming month, I’ll continue to add similar (sport) introductions, hopefully making a nice collection out of it. Stay tuned!

In Books/On Writing: Haruki Murakami interviewed

From the article:

Murakami has often spoken of the theme of two dimensions, or realities, in his work: a normal, beautifully evoked everyday world, and a weirder supernatural realm, which may be accessed by sitting at the bottom of a well (as does the hero of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle), or by taking the wrong emergency staircase off a city expressway (as in 1Q84).

It’s hard to find these kind of books, let alone write them.

Murakami’s style is simple, even apparently casual, on the surface, and Tsukuru Tazaki, like many of his previous novels, has divided critics into those who find it banal and those who perceive greater depth in its vividness and precision of imagery. Like most simple styles, of course, his is the result of lots of hard work. “I take time to rewrite,” he explains. “Rewriting is my favourite part of writing. The first time is a kind of torture, sometimes. Raymond Carver [whose work Murakami has translated into Japanese] said the same thing. I met him and I talked with him in 1983 or 84, and he said: ‘The first draft is kind of torture, but when you rewrite it’s getting better, so you are happy, it’s getting better and better and better.'” There is never a deadline for a Murakami novel – “I don’t like deadlines …when it’s finished, it’s finished. But before then, it is not finished.” Sometimes he can’t tell when he should stop rewriting, but “my wife knows. Yes. Sometimes she decides: ‘You should be finished here.'” He smiles and imitates his own obedient response: “‘OK!'”

Just as important, Murakami talks about readers:

How long does Murakami think the game of literature can last? “I think serious readers of books are 5% of the population,” he says. “If there are good TV shows or a World Cup or anything, that 5% will keep on reading books very seriously, enthusiastically. And if a society banned books, they would go into the forest and remember all the books. So I trust in their existence. I have confidence.”

If I haven’t reviewed 1Q84 on this blog, I should. It’s one of my favourite recent books, and I’m constantly looking for more like this. Equally so, but differently, I enjoyed his short biographical book entitled: “What I talk about when I talk about running.”

In Books: The Lost City of Z

Written by David Grann, a regular contributor to The New Yorker, this can be classified as a book that is not quite aimed at the mainstream. I liked it because it describes a period in anthropology that was still filled with mystery and adventure, Indiana Jones style. I’m a sucker for those movies, which in itself integrates a lot of the various adventure myths and tales of that era.

It’s been about three years since I read the book, but it still fills a place of esteem in my bookshelf for being a relatively unique tale about a man-made mystery, something there’s not enough of. I was reminded of it again through the many discussions about flight 370, with many people expressing shock that ‘in this day and age’ we can’t find a plane. This is a human tragedy of course, with many relatives and friends not being able to find closure about what happened to the passengers.

A mystery usually comes accompanied by plenty of tragedy. The Lost City of Z describes the many attempts of archaeologist-explorer Percy Fawcett, who (spoiler for real life) disappears on his quest for this mystical city hidden in the Amazonian jungle. It describes not only Fawcett’s attempts to fund his mission, his reasons for believing this city exists, the changes in anthropological exploration that became much more science-based (as opposed to travelling to a pin on a map), and what actually happened after he disappeared. The public perception of Percy can probably best be described as that of a ‘mad scientist’ in pursuit of an impossible dream (the best ones are) and if it wasn’t for this book, surely his name would have been forgotten. I’m glad this book exists for that reason as well.

We do live in an age where there’s no space for mystery anymore. It sometimes feels that the only unexplored realms are outer space, deep sea, and the human mind. Perhaps to some extent the possibilities of technology and science creating new life. But something like a city in a jungle, hidden for centuries? That’s something for the fairytales.

That’s why it was nice to read a true such tale for once.

In Books: The Old Man and the Sea

A few years ago, I started watching old black & white movies. The reason was that they felt like a window into a time no longer here. Or a time that is connected to today, yet rougher, different. I forgot the exact movie that started it, but it was a 1930 movie about a criminal. Somehow, in mid-2005 perhaps, I felt like finding out how today’s recession related to the infamous Great Depression. All I remember from that movie is not well-tailored suits.

All this to say is that what we consume in terms of books and movies connects us somehow to the mindset that resulted in that creation of that piece of media. This piece that I’m writing is not really about Hemingway’s book, though I greatly value the way it was written. It feels nearly Japanese in its minimalism, an appreciation of fishing. I do agree with one one piece of critique published in the New York Times in 1952: when Hemingway writes about the fisherman’s philosophical thoughts, he really expresses his own, which diminishes the character in the book. But it doesn’t take you out of the story, which feels like the origin of The Life of ∏ and countless other stories that deal with a (hu)man, a boat, and the sea.

The reason I read The Old Man was to read the work of a craftsman. I will probably not read much else of Hemingway’s work, but it’s good to know what makes this writer so appreciated. It’s completely different from other writers, yet somehow feels at the foundation of the craft of English writing.

Next up, Tolstoy.

In gadgets: Remembering Sony Walkman

In terms of “Gadget Porn” (yes, such a thing exists), the Sony Walkman perhaps doesn’t pass the test of an ageless object. But it’s an incredibly nostalgic device to anyone growing up in the 80s and early 90s, and it remains an important piece of consumer electronic history. Sony, which had a blockbuster with portable radios, then portable TVs (if memory serves), then walkman, diskman, and then … fade to black (I guess the playstation counts). Little known fact is that I worked for Sony around the year 2000, because I was so fascinated with the company. But just then many things changed and it took the company years to make a comeback, but not even close to the iconic status it had up to the late 90s.

Enjoy the pictures of the Sony Walkman TPS-L2 on Minimally Minimal, the inspiration for this short paragraph.

1396200425052

In Music: Records fight the digital age with Sleevefaces

I found this on Facebook: a collection of Sleevefaces, 1970s answer to the Selfie. I’m happy to say that it’s not the only use I found for records. If you’re willing to live with changing side every four songs, it makes for an excellent audiovisual accompaniment to any candlelight dinner.

sleeveface-vinyl-sleeve-optical-illusion-4

In Sports: The Impossible Training for Climbing

I think that I tend to make choices on the basis of past learned behaviour. Perhaps many people do, perhaps only a few, I do not know, but I do know that this behaviour limits the scope. In my case, I’ve started my exercise trajectory with lifting weights and I generally tend to come back to it when I train for other sports. After weights, I did kickboxing, salsa, and competitive running for significant amounts of time. And since 2007, I discovered climbing. It’s a sport that I love and hate for a multitude of mental, social, physical, and emotional reasons.

The mental…
Climbing is about planning ahead, it’s about looking at a route (a series of grips and steps) and imagining yourself climbing through those, after which you hopefully manage to. The way it has transformed my life is that I have learned to see plenty through a similar lens. If you envision the steps that you take to reach a goal, you will reach it or get closer to it than if you don’t. And (hopefully) nothing is impossible.

The social…
I’ve made tremendous friends since I started climbing, but I tend to make tremendous friends during many activities. The difference here is that you are literarily entrusting your life onto others, which is a bond that is as strong as family nearly. Because of this, I’ve also lost some friends, because the trust was not earned. But you tend to look at people in the same way in other areas of life as well. Is this a person that will hang on to me if I fall?

The physical…
I am not typically built for climbing, but I can say the same for running as well. Then again, every sport has sub-sports. In running, I was always better at sprinting because of the explosive nature of it and the way my body works. In climbing, your greatest advantage is not just strength or endurance, but also weight. And I tend to be a tall, rather heavy person. This is a battle I fight with every time I climb, particularly in areas where upper body strength (which is equally affected by body weight and technique) is required. Therefore my route of choice tends to be flatter, though there I like to do difficult flat ones as well, because they are more about puzzling and technique.

The emotional…
The hardest saved for last. What does it do to a man or woman to not win? What does it do to get older and see all the young ones passing you by? What does it do to be too thin & frail, too fat, too injured, or in some way incompatible, at least in your mind? And, what does it do to be afraid of heights or to do something that you never succeeded at before? It’s a tremendous experience, climbing, and mainly because you have to face demons every time you do it. If you look at beginners or pros, there is always that new challenge, that unclumb route, that move that your body just doesn’t seem designed for. You learn, tremendously, by experiencing, step by step, how to accomplish something. Your fingers hurt, your feet and knees can hurt, your core, your back… a lot of pain is the natural companion of sport, but the learning that you do is what keeps you going.

In my case, I mentioned my physical ability and how it affects my actions. But there is also the emotional part, the mental endurance and the fear of heights, both of which seem nearly impossible to train, but in fact just require trying and trying again in different ways.

The Impossible Training
Sometimes it seems like there is no way to train for climbing except by climbing. Here are the focal points:

  • Get your strength to weight ratio right, meaning you need to have strength but keeping your weight low. The top-performers have lower than 5% body fat (source), but that’s certainly not for the food lovers amongst us… In my view then, the only option is aerobic exercise to compensate for the increased caloric intake. 
  • The type of strength is hard(er) to train for: grip strength, static (isometric) strength, core strength, and other muscles contribute to performance, but typically the more you train outside of a climbing environment, the more you build unnecessary bulk. 
  • The mental and emotional strength is nearly impossible to train for outside of a climbing environment, just because much of it depends on exposing yourself to difficult conditions, that are not easy to replicate elsewhere. But you do need to train these, as much as everything else. 
So here a brief insight of what I spend much of my free time with. Hope to see you on the rocks soon 🙂

In Hardware: the iPhone 5s, a future-proof computer and camera in my pocket

First, some bullet-point format observations:

Finger print sensor: I like it, primarily because it saves time over the code I would usually enter to unlock it, not to mention my Apple ID in the App Store. During the unlocking, I don’t like that it immediately requires the fingerprint when I lock the phone, because I had it previously set for a few minutes after closing, which is not an option now. I do hope that changes, because it’s still slower to unlock the phone then. 
The camera: haven’t tested it extensively, but like the nighttime performance, the intelligent flash function, the launch speed of the photo apps I use, the picture burst mode, and the slo-mo, although filming is definitely not my métier. It’s clearly better than the iPhone 4 camera, which is what I wanted. 
The M7 sensor: I’m excited about it, but haven’t used it in an app yet. I hope Moves, which I recommended before, integrates it soon, providing that Nike Move doesn’t sue it out of the water. 
The look & feel: it doesn’t feel oversized and it’s super light, but I found the iPhone 4 light enough. I did notice that the White iPhone collects dirt at the bottom edge, which annoys me to no end. 
The battery life: Houston do we have a problem? This battery does not last long, maybe 10 hours on light use, and I’m wondering if it’s to do with that I’m still on 3G (T-mobile NL is supposedly switching to 4G in a few weeks) or because of the battery bug that I hear about. Or, because of some kind of software or background process problem. Frustrated about it. 
The apps: I started using Pages for writing, because it syncs so easily with my Mac and with Pages in iCloud (useful for Windows PCs). Not really using other apps, or not noticing big changes. I do enjoy making bad music with Garage Band though…
Other: light sensor is much better and I really enjoy using the phone in inverted colour mode (the contrast is much better now!). Siri works well for me, as does dictation (typed a blog post with it yesterday). 
CONCLUSION
The frustrating and good thing about Apple devices is that they are of such good build quality that if you already have an iPhone (4 in my case) and were already able to put iOS 7 on it, the iPhone 5s does not feel that new. My old phone is 3 years old. About 3 months ago, the mute switch and top volume button stopped functioning (I did drop it a lot), but other than being slower, which you get used to, the only reason I needed to upgrade was because it made financial sense with my provider. I’ll probably get the iPhone 8 and 11 for that reason as well, because I’m actually buying something that works durably. With other brands, I never know if the build quality is good, if the software continues to work well, and if the apps are available. So, it’s a pragmatic choice.

It’s frustrating to no longer have that pink cloud feeling about Apple gadgets, but at the same time there are so many easter eggs contained within the software and features that I’m sure to enjoy discovering over the next 3-6 months, after which it will become a good companion.

If you care to support this Website, feel free to order an iPhone 5s on Amazon and give us a kick back!

Why not choose an iPhone 5c?
The simple answer is future-proofing. The iPhone 5 was a perfectly good phone (apart from some battery life issues on 3G) and the iPhone 5c is essentially the same one, with some improvements in the camera and elsewhere. Another reason for not upgrading to it is the plastic, which I feel is a bit of a downgrade from the Braun-inspired design quality of the iPhone 4.

The iPhone 5s feels more like it’s designed for, well, a lot of interesting things to come. Apart from the camera, which is state of the art for a mobile phone (see a comparison with the new Nokia Lumia 1020 here), the fingerprint sensor seems like a step towards a lot of opportunity, and I’m really excited about the M7 sensor, as I exercise a lot and care about having good performance data.

P.S. I do believe something is wrong with both software and hardware aspects right now (particularly the battery life), which I will try to fix with their help over the coming weeks. 

In Software: Moves for iOS & Android (FREE, but it’s not all good)

“The Best Camera Is The One That’s With You.” ~ Chase Jarvis

I think that most of us smartphone owners probably heard that saying somewhere. Smartphones are amazing devices, whose computing power parallels the ones that made the second Star Wars trilogy, and cameras that are getting, to some extent, closer to professional cameras. But there is another trend that we need to bite into with these devices, the health and fitness market. We humans do not move enough. We sit too much for 8 hours a day and probably mornings and evenings too.

Smartphones have the advantage that they are always with you. Yes, you can buy Nike+ devices to attach to your shoes (…), various wristbands, and belt attachments, but the smartphone, our music player and Facebook crack all in one, is usually always there.

And so is Moves, which has been on iOS for some time now and was recently released on Android. Moves is free (I never get these business models) and tracks every kind of movement you make, as long as it’s horizontal and not vertical (my climbing is not counted).

It comes with a number of features:

  • it tracks running, biking, walking, and (public) transport (it’s occasionally tricked by roller blading as public transport as well…)
  • it uses Maps, which means that you can tell it when a destination was the gym (good!) or the McDonalds (bad!)
  • it can show you distance, time, and calories burned
  • it can send you daily, weekly, and monthly (?) notifications about how well you did, including new records
  • I believe that it plugs in with other apps, which must be its business model, but I don’t use them…
It just has one caveat, which is the new automatic updates on iOS 7. Because when you update Moves, it turns itself off. So you need to start the app again. But how do you know that Moves has been updated? You don’t really, which is why I asked the developers to create custom notifications and/or just send me an email if the app is updated. Still awaiting that answer which is caveat 2: customer service must always be responsive, else it alienates users. So please join me in waking Moves up about this issue!
All that said, incredibly useful if you want to know how much you bike every day, how much you walked on your city trip, how much you ran on your weekly run, etc. It is your companion for Movement!

In Software: iOS 7 part 2 … and what that means for Mac OS 11

For lack of a better space to post this, I can still clearly say that the Apple ecosystem is generally a favourite of mine where it comes to technology, design, and strategy. This post will be more about strategic thoughts regarding Apple’s resource allocations after Steve Jobs passed away and Scot Forstall, former head of iOS, was removed from that position.

Company- and product building are not that different. Screws and bolts can be interchanged with people, buildings, skills, and activities. Apple is a collection of all four, combined with a strong, if not very secretive vision of the future, centred entirely around quality and “being different.” It doesn’t matter what Apple machine I’ve owned, iBooks, Macbooks, iPods, iPhones, or iPads, there’s a logic behind all of them, both in “product – market fit” and in the construction of hardware and software.

iOS 7 has been called the “harkening back to the original coloured iMacs” days and you can perhaps recognise the initial playfulness, largely inspired by Johnny Ive’s work, in iOS 7 (also under Ive’s supervision).

 

Jonathan Ive’s and Craig Federighi’s collaboration for iOS 7 represent what I think the ideal state is for Apple, the perfect melding of hardware (Ive’s territory) and software (Federighi used to be responsible mostly for Mac OS X, but now largely for both OS X & iOS 7). Good article on that here, but don’t expect to find the answer to everything. I love this quote from Federighi:

OK, I’m a technology freak, but I think probably if someone mapped my brain, you would find that there were moments when I lit up the love pattern in my neurons in association with our products. I mean, literally, there is love, and I think that is true of many of our customers. I think when we build something we love and that others love, then we have done our job.

When I see the little tidbits in iOS 7, I see Love. When I see Game Center, I see playfulness. When I see the whole thing, I see logic that transcends individual apps, software, and even hardware.

Why this affects Mac OS 11…
Mac OS is the Apple device OS. Just because it’s called “Mac OS” doesn’t actually mean that it’s the operating system for the Mac computer, but it’s simply the software that Apple writes for its computers. So, Apple TV, iPod, iPhone, iPads, they are all computers. And the only reason Mac OS looks different is because the interface needs to be different and the hardware capabilities have (so far) been different. A laptop or a desktop will never become a “touch” device, it doesn’t make ergonomic sense. But what we have to focus on here is the greater achievement of iOS 7 and devices like the iPhone 5C (color). The strengthened interplay between software and hardware.

Clearly a prediction, but everything suggests that for new computing devices this bond is meant to become stronger. Apple products are neither meant to be hardware or software, but tools that are useful, that we love to spend time with, and that don’t get in our way. Apple is slow when it comes to changing things that work, so I don’t believe that Maverick will do anything revolutionary to bridge the software – hardware gap. But Ive’s & Federighi’s collaboration is sure going to be applied to their “traditional” devices as well, which means that we will see more of iOS 7 (maybe not the visuals, but the ideas behind it) in Macs and Apple TVs as well.

In Software: IOS 7

Just a few titbits:

Speed: I love the little settings pop-up. Whether it’s to adjust screen rotation, to quickly change the brightness or to turn airport mode on and off, it just so much more convenient and faster to do just that.

Usefulness: I love the look of the new notification pull down window. 1. It’s a nicer way to read the weather in plain text as that’s a more human way to interact. 2. it’s well organised with the calendar and I appreciate it letting me know how busy I’m always the next day. 3. Thanks for shifting the notification to other, less used panels, those were just guilt inducers for me.

Hardware compatibility: Until I decide to switch or until this damn phone dies, I’m still using an iPhone 4. And while I thought the last update to IOS 6 made the phone slow already, it still feels plenty usable with iOS 7. I also noticed that multitasking is more responsive, even not recently used apps load faster when “multi tasked,” and being able to quit running tasks quickly also speeds up this older phone by quite a bit. Apple could’ve chosen to make me feel antiquated, instead they breathed new life into this old dog.

The Look: it feels like a modern interface, I would primarily describe it as elegant with a lot of colour play. As I’ve heard other people say, I agree that iOS 7 makes iOS 6 feel outdated. 

In TV Shows: Scandinavian Shows Evaluated

Scandinavian TV shows have always had a particular aesthetic, different from e.g. German shows, not to mention French or British TV shows.Don’t ask me why that is, according to my girlfriend, very talented photographer, it’s the way they frame and film the scenes, but I think there’s a cultural emotional subduableness, subtlety, and design aesthetic, not to mention very good story telling that makes Scandinavian TV shows special. In this piece, I’ll shortly go through some shows worth watching.

The Killing

I think that this show is easily the second most famous one (after Millennium) coming out of Scandinavia. A strong female character, to the point that she doesn’t work well with people, silent and determined to solve the different crime that each season is centred around. The 1st season is obviously the best one, the middle seasons feel like filler to me, but the show ends with a bang. Could not stop watching, it lead to plenty of woollen sweaters around the house as well. Don’t watch the US remake, watch this!

The Bridge

Comes in part out of the team responsible for The Killing. Another strong, but sincerely messed up female protagonist, from Sweden this time (The Killing is Danish), teaming up with a Danish policeman to solve a crime that happened exactly on the intersecting bridge between Sweden & Denmark. Most entertaining is the interplay, the psychological derangement of the female character, the way it is shot (less dark than The Killing). The story itself was not as good as The Killing, but still pretty exciting. Don’t know about the US remake, but this one is worth a watch!

Borgen

Completely different show, a drama with another strong female protagonist (!). This time the focus is a politician’s rise to power and challenges in balancing being a prime minister with being a mother and a wife. Very relevant topic to today’s society, but also compelling to watch. Looking forward to the new season if/when it comes out.

The Ones Who Kill

New show that I started watching, playing in Denmark, another (disturbed) female protagonist who partners up with a profiler to solve pretty gruesome crimes. It’s well-filmed, but sometimes a bit too graphic for my taste. 

Bonus:

Millennium: infamous book and movie trilogy. I liked the Scandinavian film version of it, though this kind of story is better told across a season, rather than 3 movies.

Let The Right One In: thriller about vampires, great movie, more atmospheric than bloody. Liked it a lot.

Insomnia (1997 version): psychological thriller about chasing a killer during the 24 hour daylight that haunts some Scandinavian countries during mid-summer. Very haunting and effective. 

In Books: 1Q84 Trilogy by Haruki Murakami

This book was recommended to me by a friend, who couldn’t stop reading it on a 24 hour road trip. I couldn’t put it down either. It’s the type of “unusual” book that I am attracted to reading, unusual in plot, world, and perspective, but clearly and simply written.

The story is about a Japanese man and woman, one a writer, the other an assassin, who are attracted to each other across different parallel realities. I’m afraid to write more, because I don’t want to spoil it.

P.S. if anyone has read it and has tips on books that are equally enticing, long, and hopefully on a good intellectual level, please let me know!

The Wrongs and Rights of Circa (news app)

As a news junkie and avid iPhone user, I am constantly on the lookout for novel approaches to displaying news on my phone. Circa (iTunes Link, iPhone only, free) is a news app that introduces a new way of consuming news, promising to minimise signal-to-noise ratio by showing you just the relevant parts. The question is, does Circa deliver on its promise?

How the app works
Circa does the following. When starting the app, you are presented with two categories: Top Stories & the Presidential Election 2012. By default the app takes you straight to the top stories. In it you see a list of hot stories (Armstrong’s losing battle to the doping accusations, a new Earth-sized planet that’s been discovered, etc.), hand-picked by Circa’s editors. But the real difference happens when you click on the story.

The Circa website explains it better than I can:

  1. Circa’s editors gather top stories and break them down to their essential points — facts, quotes, photos, and more, formatted specifically for the phone.
  2. Keep track of stories that matter to you. Whenever there are new developments in a story you’re following, Circa adds a new point to it rather than making you read a whole new article.
  3. Do it ‘cause you want to, not ‘cause you have to. Circa helps you share individual points or whole stories using Facebook or Twitter.

Impressions
I’ve been using it for a few days now and am having some issues with it, some based on habit, some based on interface issues. Prolific readers like me tend to skim news-stories–we already do what the app does for us. So having it done for you makes it feel like you’ll never really get to see the whole story. But this may be something that I get used to over time.

The interface also takes some getting used too. Circa splits the main points of the story by iPhone screen (clearly meant for the iPhone 5 screen size  as I often find myself having to scroll down to see 3-5 more lines), and you have to scroll/pull to the next screen to see the next point. I find that it accomplishes accentuating important titbits, but also being pulled out of the flow of reading/skimming the story.

As the stories are fairly US-centric and I live in the Netherlands, I find myself not using the story-following feature much. But I imagine it will be very cool for more complex stories that develop over time.

I do wonder whether this model is sustainable. Yes, sharing individual points over social networks is a great feature, but does it innovate much over other news-outlets that also summarise the news? And does it then justify the manual/perhaps automised work done by editors to split stories apart?

I wholly recommend giving this app a try. Perhaps it is a solution to getting just the news. And I hope for them that their use case and business model works.

In Music: The last track of ‘Six Feet Under’

The last track of the show was a beautiful piece of ambiance while the final scenes of the show were shown. So sad! I wrote before how I wondered whether this show, which is about death, desensitised you from the death-experience. I think that it does the opposite, that you become more sensitive to it, but that ignoring it is worse—you have this constant shadow hanging over you, especially when you get older. I didn’t realise that Alan Ball, who also wrote and directed ‘American Beauty,’ had done the same for this show. A marvellous piece of art and I feel privileged to have been allowed to see it (as I feel with many of HBO’s shows).

Enjoy the track!

In TV-Shows: Thoughts on "Six feet under"

My first thought about this show was, what is people’s fascination with death? Then I realised that we are all fascinated with death, which should make anything to do with that topic an instant blockbuster. Of course, the latest show on this topic, “Pushing Daisies,” was just cancelled, so even death can’t save your show all the time.

There are three big themes to “Six feet under.” The first is clearly death. The second is homosexuality. The third is the insanity of the Fisher family, the main focus on this show. The Fisher family runs an undertaking business and one of the members is gay, which is the way that all relates.

Let’s start with death. I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about that part. Every episode starts with a death (with the exception of one or three). Some deaths are normal (i.e. of old age), some deaths are odd, some deaths are horrible, some are comical. I’d like to say that watching this show desensitises you to death, but I luckily haven’t been in the position to test that out yet. What I can say is that you get the feeling that death is something rather natural and that we all cope with it somehow.

Let’s continue with homosexuality. There are a lot of gay scenes in this show, as one of the characters comes out of the closet and tries to live a normal life. I think he succeeds, and through it you develop a better understanding of the battle (both in the gay person’s head and in his environment) and feel good when that battle is won.

Let’s finish with the insanity. I’ve thought a lot about it and I think that situations in the show end up becoming insane, because people constantly play off other people. E.g. in an effort to become closer to another man, a woman joins a cult, and insanity follows. Or, because one man finds out he’s dying, but keeps it from his girlfriend, she feels alienated and starts sleeping around, which creates more tension. There’s some seriously “fucked up shit” (a phrase often used in the show), that’s happening, but it can all be explained by reacting to the actions of another person. It kind of feels like no one has control over their own choices, which is a semi-true parody of real life and explains why not everything is nice and logical or orderly.

Kick-ass drama. If you can get past the death-part, it can be enjoyed by all I think.

In Film: Why "Frost / Nixon" was made at this time

Why? Read this article.

About 31 min. into the film.

Frost: Well what is it that you want to achieve
Reston: I’d like to give Richard Nixon the trial he never had.
Frost: Of course, we’ll be asking difficult questions.
Reston: Difficult questions… the man lost 21 thousand Americans and a million Indochinese during his administration. He only escaped jail because of Ford’s pardon.
Frost: Yes, but equally going after him in some knee-jerk way, assuming he’s a terrible guy, wouldn’t that only create more sympathy for him, than anything else?
Reston: You know, uhm, right now I submit it’s impossible to feel anything close to sympathy for Richard Nixon. He devalued the presidency (emphasis mine) and he left the country that elected him in trauma. The American people need a conviction, pure and simple. The integrity of our political system, of democracy as an idea entirely depends on it. And if in years to come, people look back and say it was in this interview that Richard Nixon exhounorated himself, that would be the worst crime of all.
… (actual silence)

You see a little bit of that conversation in the trailer as well.

To me, this film was one of the best of 2008, and yet Nixon was never convicted, so was it a victory for democracy?

In Film: The King of Kong

Continuing my documentary trail, The King of Kong is either the saddest or the coolest movie, you ever did see. Cool, if you like games / the 80s and 90s scene / games / mullets. Sad, if your world is just that or you realise that their world is just that.

I think that this film had very little to do with the game of Donkey Kong, which may have been for the better, but more to do with ego. There’s nothing wrong with ego, it can bring you to great heights but it can also turn you blind / make you proud / make you high. I didn’t have sympathy with any of the characters in the film, not Billy Mitchell, who reveals himself quite boorishly here, not Steve Wiebe, who is made out to be the martyr, until you realise that we are talking about Donkey Kong.

That said, it was a good laugh, all the way through.

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