Friday, February 24, 2012

Book Review: Steve Jobs

I wasn't going to read the Steve Jobs biography. I figured I knew enough of his and Apple's history that I wouldn't pick up that much new. Still, so many friends recommended it, I figured I'd give it a chance.

So much has been said about it that I feel a lengthy review isn't going to add much. Instead I'll give some high level impressions and a few interesting points and leave it at that.

The biography is interesting, but overrated. Jobs was certainly an interesting, super-driven guy with a passion for well crafted product. He was also quite an asshole (which the book does admit) as well as selfish and childish (which the book touches on but less so).

While the book mentions that he was guilty of taking credit for others' ideas, it then credits him with many of others' ideas. That said, there's something to be said for recognizing good ideas from the many placed before him, and creating an environment that pushes those ideas to be better.

In the end, the lesson is that a passion for craftsmanship, perfection, and simplicity, and placing these before profit, can yield great results. We should all strive to emulate Jobs a little in this sense.

One of the best examples, I think, of that striving for perfection is glossed over at the end of the book when discussing the plans for Apple's new campus built on HP's former campus in Cupertino. The campus is going to be a giant donut-like structure that looks like this:

Given it's massive size, one could imagine that the windows, if they were say, 8' segments, would be very close to the perfect circle. However, Jobs called for *curved* glass to be made so that it would truly be a  perfect circle. Imagine the difference in cost over that size of structure.

Steve Jobs

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Welcome to the future of e-commerce

From a BoingBoing post on a bookseller's experience with Amazon bots competing with one another to game prices, when they run into bot-authored print-on-demand books (that are auto-compilations of wikipedia articles and the like):

let me tell you about another book, “Computer Game Bot Turing Test”. It's one of over 100,000 “books” “written” by a Markov chain running over random Wikipedia articles, bundled up and sold online for a ridiculous price. The publisher, Betascript, is notorious for this kind of thing. 
It gets better. There are whole species of other bots that infest the Amazon Marketplace, pretending to have used copies of books, fighting epic price wars no one ever sees. 
So with “Turing Test” we have a delightful futuristic absurdity: a computer program, pretending to be human, hawking a book about computers pretending to be human, while other computer programs pretend to have used copies of it. A book that was never actually written, much less printed and read.
The internet has everything.

Indeed it does.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Book Review: Have Spacesuit Will Travel

Have Space Suit, Will Travel is a Robert A Heinlein young adult novel written back in 1958. I spotted it on the shelf in at the library (in audio book form) and picked it up on a whim. I've reviewed a fair number of science fiction books over the past few years, but most of them have been fairly recent. It was interesting to go back to something from the ‘classic’ era of sci-fi, to give perspective.

The story is pretty typical for works written during the cold war and the space race. Boy dreams of going to space, luck aligns such that he does (via alien abduction), and he and a side-kick end up saving the entire human race. Through this lense, we hear the societal worries of that time: Can mankind overcome his savage nature? Will we nuke ourselves out of existence before that can happen? We also hear, as a YA novel, Heinlein trying to plant the seed with the reader to try and generate an interest in the wonders of science.

There are some surprisingly prescient views of the future in this example of Heinlein’s work. There’s an Internet-like knowledge repository, Crowd-sourcing of legal judgments, and a few other gems.

People critique the book for being dated, but I still liked it. I'm going to let my 8-yr old son tackle it on our upcoming vacation (he'll have a lot of airplane time) and see what he thinks.

Have Space Suit, Will Travel