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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 People: Arnold Schwarzenegger podcast interview

It’s perhaps necessary to explain why Arnold Schwarzenegger is one of my favorite people, on par with some of the great leaders of the world. Sure, he’s a republican, but any sensible rich person would be 1, and sure, as the Governator he didn’t do so great, but I don’t know many politicians that are doing great in this age of global crises. To me, he is someone that knew how to execute his career on a strong vision, from winning championships to making movies, whilst keeping his roots and his head present. I didn’t know that in the midst of building his bodybuilding career, he had a successful real estate business, nor was I aware that he worked in construction, both of which he discussed in the interview with Tim Ferris.

What I was aware of was his public persona, the way he conducted himself in Pumping Iron—with purpose, confidence, and the ability to judge and undermine his strongest competitors. And of course his movie career, which contains some of my favorite movies (Terminator being a big one).

In this interview he is surprisingly open about his career: on competing, having vision, playing it safe with investments, following a passion (after-school-programs), keeping investment & acting separate, etc. The most surprising to me was how strong he is still connected to his roots, something that is easily forgotten when you think about what he’s achieved since. I’m pretty sure that this is one of those interviews that I’ll come back to, because it just makes you laugh and gives you energy for the rest of your day.

Well worth a listen!

Notes:

  1. This is a joke! Only in countries like America and the UK are people to choose left or right, and I think there is plenty of room in the center.

Lin火: Talib Kweli on why he left major labels

Talib Kweli is a hip-hop artists that I’ve known from the band Black Star, a collaboration between Mos Def and him. In this piece he recounts the process of going independent and the kinds of influences he has today.

So the question for the artist who is making a living from their art is: how do you monetize cultural relevancy?

It’s generally agreed that this is a problem for the artist, not the consumer of art, to solve. To find the answer I began to pay attention to indie artists with integrity who still make a good living, and I found myself paying attention to comedians. When Louis CK filmed a stand-up concert and made it available for stream and download on his website for $5, he made a cool million and gave half of it away to charity. I thought it was a genius idea, but when I tried to apply the realities of releasing a hip-hop album thru this kind of platform, the task seemed daunting. Louis CK comes up with jokes in his head and delivers them solo, on a microphone to an audience that is paying for seats. His only costs were probably the filming, the streaming and getting the website built, but the money he made from the concert could have probably covered these things. Louis’ hit show on FX and the success of his past comedy specials did the marketing for him, so he didn’t have to spend a lot of money in that department. He had no producers to pay, samples to clear, studio time to pay for, engineers, musicians, etc. There are no royalties that he has to pay out to anyone once the product is released as well. I scrapped the idea of being a hip-hop version of Louis CK, until singer/producer Ryan Leslie tracked me down to share an idea with me.

Quote on Writing: Neil Gaiman motivates

Embrace the fact that you’re young. Accept that you don’t know what you’re doing. And don’t listen to anyone who says there are rules and limits.
If you know your calling, go there. Stay on track. Keep moving towards it, even if the process takes time and requires sacrifice.
Learn to accept failure. Know that things will go wrong. Then, when things go right, you’ll probably feel like a fraud. It’s normal.
Make mistakes, glorious and fantastic ones. It means that you’re out there doing and trying things.
When life gets hard, as it inevitably will, make good art. Just make good art.
Make your own art, meaning the art that reflects your individuality and personal vision.

Via BrainPickings.

Lin火: Shinji Mikami: the godfather of horror games

Look no further than Japan for insight into horror. I’ve never been as scared as when I watched the Japanese original The Ring movie, but I also remember playing a fair amount of Japanese games that were just not pleasant. On how to scare people, Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami says:

“Back in the early days, when I was making the first Resident Evil, I spent three months studying the psychology of horror,” he says. “But what I’ve learned is, horror is instinctive – the things that scare me take precedence over any theory of horror. With Resident Evil, we went with human and human-shaped enemies because people are generally more interested in and scared by other people, rather than some obscure creature that we don’t recognise. Evil Within is the same.”

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.”

火 in TV Shows – Interviews with the Simpsons on the Fresh Air Podcast

Great podcast episode in anticipation of an insanely long 552 ‘The Simpsons’ marathon on FFX. What?

I love the Nancy Cartwright (Bart, Nelson) interview.

火 “Obama on the World”

Read this Thomas Friedman interview (excerpts of) with US President Barack Obama. The one line that resonated with me was: “…the more diverse the country is, the less it can afford to take maximalist positions.” Also a reflection on the world and the positions taken these days, where none really seem considered towards that diversity of people.

Irregardless of how you feel about Obama’s 6-year run (I think most people feel negative about it), it seems like he’s in the midst of a great many melting pots around the world: Russia-Urkraine, Syria, Iraq, Israel-Palestine, let alone his own country. It’s a mess and the only thing I’m sure of is that he won’t resolve it in a mere two years time.

 

In Web: Interviewly – Interviews with interesting people

Interviewly Interviews with interesting peopleWhat do Barack Obama, Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad), and Psy (Gangnam Style) all have in common? They were all interviewed on Reddit’s AMA (ask me anything) for one. Now, in all it’s readable glory, you can read them as actual interviews on Interviewly.com, which is 100s of hours of interesting reading. I love the Web.

In People: God, I love Alec Baldwin

Never stop being a public figure, Alec. From his pre-school report-card:

Playing Habits

Alec is a generous and caring playmate, although during one game of tag, at recess, he claimed that Jimmy Peterson had not, in fact, tagged him, and Alec asked me to call in both a police officer and an attorney. “Jimmy was nowhere near me,” Alec insisted, “and he knows it. Jimmy is a fucking little candy-ass liar who’s gonna end up living in a trailer with his fat wife and their eight fat kids.”

After I spoke with Alec about his response, he apologized to Jimmy and added, “Jimmy, I bet someday you’re gonna have a totally hot wife, and I’m gonna be all over that.”

I must confess that I fell head over heels with Alec after 30 Rock.

In People: ‘Nelson Mandella’ on The New Yorker Cover December 16th 2013

All Rights To This Picture Owned by Conde Nast / The New Yorker / Contributors

Link-up In Music: Jay-Z’s favourite albums ranked by … Jay-Z

Arguably, Jay-Z is the smartest dude on the planet, a close second being Arnold Schwarzenegger, before he reached too high too early, but that’s another story. So Kottke linked to this, hence I just re-link to him with some other comments.

Jay-Z’s book, Decoded, is not the greatest ever written. It’s no “Road to Freedom,” but I read it because I do believe it’s a smart dude. So, in his works, you could argue it’s a piece of long-form poetry,  I would rank that maybe around Blueprint 3.

I came across him during Blueprint 1 & 2, as well as the Black Album, all of which were great and continue to be re-listens. I’m also, for some reason, a great fan of American Gangster (movie & soundtrack), which is kind of like a fairy tale of a gangster movie, where you root for the bad guy, even though you know the man’s eventually going to get him.

Do I really think he’s smart? Yes, absolutely. The smartest? It depends on context, but I do think he’s got an empire state of mind (much like Arnold) and moves the chess pieces accordingly. So he deserves my respect for that.

OK, I’m out. 

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 People: You’ll love Russell Peters as a global citizen

Russell has a way of insulting half the room and making it all better by insulting the other half two seconds later. If you somehow cannot take jokes about your race / culture, you’ll probably hate him.

In films: "I’m not there"

The smile is contagious, I was born to love her“—a random lyric from the end-titles of “I’m not there.”


I felt like blasting this picture up there and writing no words at all.

Detachment is the word that most comes to mind to describe the film. 6 actors, of which Kate Blanchett was the biggest surprise, because I just couldn’t place her, each of them apparently portraying a stage in Dylan’s life.

But he’s never there and you get this real guessing game going about what’s going on.

I like the film, it felt like it went through some important questions about the meaning of life. Do we have a responsibility to change things or just report them? Why don’t people revolt more? Is there ever a point to revolting? I also had an good discussion about the phrase “Plus ca change” during the film, essentially meaning: the more we change, the more we all become the same. And vice versa.

And I realised that when we truly listen to ourselves, we all become aliens to everyone else. And when we try to be different, we end up listening too much to others and become like them. It’s sort of related to the film, but not really.

“I’m not there” cannot be described as anything less than a piece of art. Which makes it, by nature, difficult to digest. You never know whether you’re being taken for a ride or whether there is a great lesson there. But, the acting, the music, I had a good time for 2 hours.

Oh, and I think it’s probably best to read some kind of summary, before watching the film.

In people: my Twitter quotes of the day


href=”http://www.twitter.com/vincentvw”

I’ve been collecting a number of quotes over the last few months, not many, but enough for this post.

  • “A simple rule dictates my buying: Be fearful when others are greedy, and be greedy when others are fearful.” (Warren Buffett)
  • [about starting a company] “The truth is boring: the state of the economy doesn’t matter much either way.” (Paul Graham) http://bit.ly/3rtGG7
  • “I only report what I know to be true. This is not some sort of high standard. It is basic journalism.” (John Gruber) http://bit.ly/1gE0YN
  • “Think about the things that don’t change in the next 5-10 years.” (Jason Fried).
  • “find an editor you can trust, one who is working at the highest possible level of professionalism” (Simon Roberts) http://tinyurl.com/4phbo8
  • “How much of human life is lost in waiting…?” Ox, Indiana Jones, 2008
  • “Truth be told, I like getting my ass kicked because it makes me angry, motivated and focused.” @jasoncalacanis on the downturn
  • “When things go bad nowadays, you get yourself an Ism, and you’re in business” (M. Vanderhof 1938) http://tinyurl.com/2f56yw
  • “Risk Aversion is the single biggest innovation killer” (@KathySierra), via @ceciiil http://tinyurl.com/6×9933
  • “He who looks outside, dreams; he who looks inside, awakes.” (Carl Jung quote from an AVC comment)
  • “what A-list twitterers are doing with their 1000s of followers is turning it into mass-media again.”(@Matthias20)

In web: Phil Gyford’s website

Gyford.com

Design:

  • I first noticed the nicely categorised lists at the side: currently reading, the recently listened to tracks (changes to most listened artists when you click on a post, which I prefer).
  • I liked the choices in rss-feeds: writing only, pictures only, links only, or a combination of the above.
  • The picture feed at the top is very subtle.
  • And I love, love the time-line view of the things he’s done. Best I’ve seen so far.

Timeline (Phil Gyford_ About me).jpg

Content:

  • The time-line view, once again, is excellent and shows a well-rounded background, which should also translate into better writing.
  • I can mainly judge the article I originally fell on through Kottke, entitled “Graphs that lie,” which makes for an interesting point.
  • The video he acted in, called Manicato, is very nice though!

1st impression: I like.

In film: why I crush on Naomi Watts

One movie and one scene.

In film: Jean Arthur, everyday heroine


There’s nothing particularly special about Jean Arthur, except that she’s funny, she’s got spunk, and she prefers to be photographed and filmed on her left side—ever since I found out that fact, I’ve been paying attention and it’s true.

She’s famous for three films mainly, in which she’s not the quintessential “hot” actress that everyone expects a leading lady to be. Rather she’s the everyday heroine, but what a heroine she is.

3 great movies she’s in:

Enjoy!

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