Chuq Von Rospach is a Silicon Valley veteran doing Technical Community Management and amateur photographer with a strong interest in birds, wildlife and landscapes. My goal is to explore the Western states and working to tell you the stories of the special places I've found. You can find out more on the About Page.
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Yearly Archives: 2011
Amelio is a smart and impressive man, and he’s known for leading the team that developed the first commercial CCD sensors while working for Fairchild Semiconductor. He later became CEO of another chip manufacturer, National Semiconductor, where he was instrumental in restructuring the company and helping it to regain profitability. Amelio was there to give us confidence after Apple had been pretty bruised under John Sculley and Michael Spindler.
It wasn’t an encouraging visit.
I remember Amelio going on and on about the past problems at Apple, and how he was going to fix them. Click here for an Apple video of ‘the speech.’ He had a long list of fixes, but what was lacking was a coherent, compelling vision. He was going to do ‘something’ about the clones, finally replace System 7, and settle down all the politics and warfare between Apple divisions.
I had some specific questions, but he dodged them. It wasn’t convincing, and I wondered if Apple was going to pull itself out of what seemed a certain death spiral. After killing Copland and failing to make a deal for the BeOS, Amelio invested in NeXT and brought Steve Jobs back to Apple. At the end, Amelio got Apple back to making a small profit, after years of losing millions. It was a tiny victory, but certainly not a turn-around.
Amelio was finally ousted from Apple in July 1997 via a boardroom coup engineered by Jobs. The rest is history.
As someone who was there, I don’t think Amelio has gotten credit for what he did, only blame for what he couldn’t. So a few quick words in defense of Amelio might be in order.
Michael Spindler left behind an exceptionally broken company that was bleeding from all pores. Product quality sucked. Morale sucked. Inter-division fights and politics had many company operations almost at a standstill. The company proceeded to lose over a billion dollars in a quarter, which even today is a lot of money.
He fixed a lot of things. He staunched most of the flowing red ink. He restructured QA. He re-arranged the product lines away from Spindler’s ongoing disasters.
He stabilized the patient. He kept it alive until they cold transport the patient to a medical team that could patch it up properly. Without Amelio, Apple would not have lasted long enough to allow Steve to figure out how to turn it around.
One of the things he did was NOT buy Gassee’s company, Be. The general consensus on the inside of Apple at the time was Gassee felt Apple had no other options and got greedy on the pricing. True? I wasn’t there. But the expectation among all of us was that Be and Gassee was coming, and then all of a sudden it was off, and then all of a sudden, it was Steve. And the rest was history. It went against the common thinking of the time, and it can’t have been an easy decision to bring back a company founder and someone who clearly could make a play for control of the company (and ultimately did). It took some serious guts to make that call, and Amelio did it.
Now, there were things Amelio couldn’t do. He was a numbers guy. He tried to connect to the geeks and couldn’t. they never seemed to warm to him, and so he struggled to motivate and work on morale. He wasn’t really a product innovator; the national semiconductor background is as a jellybean semiconductor company where product generations are tied to fairly discrete improvements. The product like didn’t catch on fire as much as it used to, but it still didn’t inspire. He fought organizational intransigence but didn’t seem willing to put heads on stakes; he wanted to convince people to follow him instead of realizing that sometimes, you have to not give them the option of saying no, and killing them if they don’t obey.
That wasn’t a problem for Steve. And it was necessary; a few public beheadings in front of IL1, where division heads who played the “I outlasted the last two CEOs, I can ignore you until you’re gone” game suddenly went away, and all of the other people who were putting their own priorities ahead of Apple either straightened up or ran for the exits.
Steve was the reconstructive surgeon in Tokyo who did the reconstructive surgery and made the patient healthy and pretty again, but Amelio was the guy in the Mash tent near enemy lines who kept them alive long enough to get there. (and if I want to stretch this analogy into silliness, that would make Mike Spindler north korea, not Microsoft. IMHO. but I won’t go there).
So while Steve did a transformation on the company that I still marvel at (even as I watched it happening from the inside), that was possible because of the foundation that was laid before he returned, and that foundation was laid by Gil Amelio. And generally, he doesn’t get much credit for that. Mostly because he’s not Steve, and Steve is a hard act to follow (or precede).
And then there’s that great unanswerable question: what if they had bought Be instead of NeXT and brought in Gassee instead of Jobs? What would Apple be today? Or would it just be a memory of what once was?
If you really want to understand the impact of Steve Jobs on society, try to conceive of what our society would look like today if he had never been returned to Apple and never took it back over. Imagine a world without Apple, not just the products it ships, but the products it’s forced everyone else to innovate to keep upâ€¦.
This world would be a much different place, and it’s hard to see many scenarios where it would be better off without him.
I Â happened to be having coffee today with an old friend today, someone who’d worked with me back at Apple. I got the news on Steve as I left the parking lot just after we’d broken up the party.
I’ve been pondering Steve and his impact on my life since. My direct interactions with him were quite limited; I almost ran over him once outside of Infinite Loop 1 as I was coming in for a meeting and he popped into the street without really looking, Jon Rubenstein and Eddy Cue in tow. He almost returned the favor once as he drove in to work as I was in the same crosswalk headed to yet another meeting on the loop. I spent a number of afternoons in his board room on the fourth floor in customer and vendor meetings, especially when open source companies like Zend were part of the discussion, because early on, I was one of the noisy ones about those technologies. He was never at those meetings, but his presence was.
I remember standing in IL1 one day when Fred Forsyth popped out of the stairwell and hurried out onto the street, and I realized he was using the stairs to avoid ending up in an elevator with Steve. He wasn’t alone. Steve could be — was — tried to be at times — a very intimidating person. His saving grace was that he held himself to the same standards he expected of others. Too few leaders do that.
Mostly, I’ve been sitting back and realizing just want an impact the man has had on my life. not JUST my years at Apple, but all across my life. The Apple II was the first computer I used instead of peeked. I bought an early Mac — a 512K — and later put a massive ten gig hard drive on it via the floppy port, and upgrading it to a huge 2 megabytes of RAM. I never thought I’d fill that drive up.
I did, of course, and many drives since. I’ve spent some time tonight trying to think about how many Macs I’ve owned over the years, and in all honesty, I can’t. My time at Apple spanned the Mac II to the Mac Pro, an just stop for a second to think about how much these computers changed and how much power they gained in that time — and despite that and all of the enhancements added to the system over that time, someone familiar with a Mac Pro would find a Mac II usable, and vice versa. they’re both recognizably Macs.
One of the things that drove me in the last years at Apple was that I was in a situation where I could create things that allowed a company that was reshaping society the ability to do so; how often do you have the opportunity to “move the needle” in a meaningful way?
Steve moved that needle almost routinely. His “one more thing” became a cliche; underneath Â that cliche those one more things have transformed the world we live in.
I am who I am today in large part because of Steve. Not directly, but through the companies he founded and the products he built and the technologies he fostered; even more importantly, because of the people he brought in and mentored who turned into people that mentored me. Because of the thinking and attitudes he promoted and inoculated that became part of what I’ve become.
What makes me melancholy today is that this is clearly the end of an era. Pundits will now start proclaiming this the end of apple, of course, because that’s what pundits do. Eventually they’ll be right, too, because nothing lasts forever. But while there is nobody at Apple who can be Steve, the most important thing he did at Apple was build a team of people who each understand what is needed so that collectively they can carry on what Steve did. None of them alone is Steve; collectively, they have been taught to understand the how and why of Steve, and so I think Apple is going to be fine.
What makes me happy today is something even more important — that Steve chose to walk away on his terms, with his shield and not on it. He’s smart enough to pull back before life does it for him.
Here’s hoping he continue to enjoy his life on his terms without the pressures of trying to run a company like Apple, and be a person like Steve in that goldfish bowl he’s lived in. Now is his opportunity to just be Steve, be with his family and friends, and enjoy life on his terms. I do hope we as a society gives him that opportunity and doesn’t try to peek and peer more than he wishes us to.
So thanks, Steve. I’m the person I am because of you, what you did, the opportunities you created, and the attitudes and expectations you baked into those around you.
When I left Apple, I had a stack of pictures of mine printed, and I wrote up thank you notes to a bunch of people who’d been influences in my time there. the first one I did and delivered was to Steve. No idea if he got it or kept it; doesn’t matter, either. But it was important to me at the time to say thanks to a bunch of folks, and he was at the front of that line.
Tonight, I say thanks again, because you can never say it too many times.
City of Ruins is Kris Rusch’s sequel to Diving Into the Wreck, which I reviewed back in June. It carries forward the story of from Diving into the Wreck, with the Boss now running an organization committed to acquiring as much of the stealth technology as it can to keep it out of the hands of the Empire and maintain the balance of power. There’s are reports that seem to indicate there might be stealth technology on a planet instead of in deep space, and while the Boss is skeptical, she pulls a team together to go and investigate.
To say “it’s complicated” is an understatement. The planetary government has secrets it would rather not be discovered. The Boss and her team make discoveries that include stealth technology, but definitely not the kind of find they were expecting. Rusch weaves in a completely independent plot line, except it’s really not, and I don’t want to say more than that because it’d be a spoiler. There’s a major earthquake, a first contact sequence, one heck of a chase scene with a “nick of time” escape, and what you end up with is a really fun, high energy romp.
The reader (and the Boss) also take big leaps forward in the understanding of the stealth technology and the ancient history that these derelict ships came from, and the history of how things got to this point in time becomes much clearer.
She also does something I love, and which happens all too rarely in series books — she brings this book to a perfectly satisfactory ending while at the same time clearly setting up the structure for future books and showing hints of where this series is going to go in the future. Too often authors fall too much in love with the overarching story arc and forget to tell the series as a set of solid independent stories, but Rusch avoids that trap. Both City of Ruins and Diving into the Wreck are in depending stories within a larger story, rather than extended chapters.
Oh, and Rusch leaves a subtle but clear sign that uber-loner Boss is going to find her reality complicated even more than expected in future books by a personal relationship. How Rusch handles that should be fascinatingâ€¦.
These books are fun, high energy action adventure science fiction. You don’t need to think too hard, but they don’t fall apart if you poke at them and consider what’s going on underneath the chase scenes. Solid entertainment and well worth your time to grab a copy and spend an evening with them. For best results, read them in sequence, but both books do stand alone if you choose not to.
One thing that staggers the mind is the amount of money Apple has on hand. During last Tuesday’s 3Q earnings call, it was announced that the company has US$76.2 billion cash on hand — actually a combination of cash, short-term investments, and other items that would take an accountant to sort out. While Apple CEO Steve Jobs has publicly stated that “we do feel that there are one or more strategic opportunities in the future” as the reason to have all that money on hand, I thought it would be more fun to think about ways to spend $76.2 billion on frivolous things.
Fun article, but Apple doesn’t buy things frivilously. I’ve felt for a while Apple’s cash position had a larger purpose, that larger purpose being that Apple has plans to buy something really, really big — when the time is right.
Think a bit about how Apple has succeeded. It’s succeeded by taking an industry and finding a way to disrupt it; to change the rules such that the industry leaders are weakened and Apple’s position is strong. It did this in computers by taking an industry that was rife with beige boxes and marketing messages around gigahertz and megabytes and convincing consumers it really was about style and looks and getting things done; a computer to use, not a computer to geek, and one that won’t clash in the living room.
Ditto music; it’s hard to remember now, but iTunes and the whole online music thing was a big experiment and risk. But Â Apple is now the dominant player in music sales not because they took on Tower and Wal-Mart directly, but because they disrupted the industry and shifted consumer demand into areas Apple could sell to where the existing players couldn’t tread. By the time the industry reacted, Apple had taken the business away.
If Apple learned nothing else from the Mike Spindler era, it was that standing up to a 800 pound gorilla and expecting to beat it going head to head is a stupid idea. the real profit is in changing the game, disrupting an industry such that the current leaders can’t compete soon enough to keep Apple from taking a chunk of it away.
So if you want to see where Apple is looking to future growth and new endeavours, look both at what it’s strong at (consumer electronics, large back-end infrastructures, style and finish and design, and strong customer support) and then consider what industries might be vulnerable to Apple deciding to come in and take off a hunk in an Apple way.
What industry has a strong consumer component, significant technology needs, huge back end infrastructures and low customer service rankings? Our friends, the wireless carriers (and secondarily our other friends, our ISPs that feed broadband into our houses).
The problem with taking on carriers is they have all sorts of built in chokepoints: it’s a brutally expensive industry to get into, and even if you have the cash, you have the problem of acquiring frequency spectrums (licensed by the US goverment) and cell tower permits (licensed by local governments full of NIMBY no-sayers), and it would take years to build out a network — all the while, the other carriers would ahve time to see you coming and get ready for the fight. You also need a massive back end infrastructure to manage provisioning, billing, customer service and things like email and the like. Â And you need to build up the technology to replace existing carriers SIM cards and the inherent lock-in of devices they cause.
But what if you’re Apple? And you have iCloud, a back end infrastructure already designed to support millions of iPhones and iPads? And you have iPhones and iPads, meaning you don’t need to worry about a handset manufacturer leaking your plans to the other carriers. And you have, oh, $80 billion dollars IN CASH hanging around getting bored?
The SIM lockout issue is a problem, unless you’ve developed your own (which rumors have surfaced that Apple is working on). The other entrance chokepoints — spectrum and cell tower placement?
Apple has $80 billion in cash. Sprint’s market cap is about $16 billion (roughly). Clearwire’s is under a billion. Apple could buy a carrier tomorrow — basically out of petty cash — at a good market bump over the stock value so that Wall Street smiles on the deal. Given Apple isn’t currently in that market, anti-trust issues should be minimal. Given financing is more or less “we’ll write you a check”, they won’t need to spend months building up the financing package — they could decide to do this and get the deal closed in 180 days. maybe 90. So fast no other carrier could even issue a press release complaining about it much less try to shift its business to compete against it.
But if Apple were to just walk into this business and act like another carrier? It won’t bother. It doesn’t just want to be “Sprint as Apple”, it’d be “Sprint as leverage to take over the industry” because that’s what Apple does best. So it won’t just buy a carrier to act like a carrier, will it?
Imagine this scenario. Apple announces a deal to buy Sprint (and for the hell of it, Clearwire). It announces that you will be able to buy iPhones with an Apple custom SIM in them, either on contract/subsidized, or off contract and unlocked. If you want to just buy a sim and put it in some other phone, Apple will sell you service, happily, month to month, pre-paid. whatever works. They add provisioning and account management for this to iCloud. Going to Europe? log in, buy a block of minutes in the countries you’ll be visiting, and Apple acts as the wholesaler for it. (goodbye, evil overseas roaming rates). Make buying minutes as easy as buying the new Coldplay album. if you want subsidized phones and bundles, cool. If you want to pay by the minute or pre-pay. cool. Lots of data? really cool.
Sprint would give them the spectrum to prevent carriers from freezing them out by refusing to let them buy minutes off of the other networks, making them a player in the business. There’s no need for Apple to use that spectrum the way sprint did, they can reshape the business away from the “locked in phone long contract” model endemic in the US in favor the european model. They don’t even care if it’s an iPhone or another model – just plug in the SIM and they’ll sell you network (of course, if you buy an iPhone, they make even more money).
Apple could walk in, buy sprint, disrupt the entire wireless industry and if they do it right, grab a huge chunk before any other carrier could react to the changes. And do it for $30 billion or so, leaving them another $50billion in the bank for investment in the infrastructure or to buy other toys.
If this is such a good idea, why hasn’t Apple done it already? First, they’ve needed to build out the iCloud infrastructure, and that’s still ongoing. That North Carolina datacenter has plenty of cycles, but they need to get the software in place and get it ready for the provisioning. Lion/IO5/iCloud are the first pieces that Â make this possible. They’d have to get all of the infrastructure pieces ready, though.
Second reason they haven’t? It makes no sense to make a move into being a carrier now, at the tail end of the “3G era”. The real 4G (not the faux-G being marketed right now) is just rolling out. My guess would be Apple would do this when it could make a national 4G presence and not worry about a 3G legacy customer base, and put all of its investment in building out and upgrading the 4G network. Even though the first true 4G phones are hitting the market, 4G networking is still not quite ready for prime time in enough cities; but in six months? 9 months? it’s coming. If I were Apple, I’d wait until 4G was reasonably well rolled out and then make a move like this. Not before. but definitely, 2012 is a sweet spot for being rolled out without allowing the other carriers to get entrenched in 4G.
If Apple were to do this right, there’s a huge opportunity to disrupt another industry and make a huge amount of money out of the disruption. Even if Apple maintains most of the existing carrier model — simply having a company with working web sites and billing that’s not byzantine and networks that work would be a huge competitive advantage (and Apple, if nothing else, would not tolerate mediocre networks with its name on it).
But there’s one other opportunity for disruption this would create. Remember I keep mentioning Clearwire? they’re a big piece of Sprint’s 4G buildout strategy, but this is also a “last mile” wireless broadband network strategy as well. Think about one of Apple’s big risks in it’s shift to the cloud — it’s ISPs and the growing shift towards data caps and “managing” network traffic.
So what if Apple not only went into the carrier business, but leveraged that to go into the wireless ISP business? Offered you 4 megabits down for half the price of Comcast, using 4G wireless and with no data caps? You think that might put a dent or two in the copper ISP plans to go to tiered (and increasingly expensive) usage based pricing plans?
do I think this is likely? Absolutely not. This isn’t rumor, this is just raw speculation, based on a few nights talking with friends over some really nice bottles of wine, and a few random intersting rumorlets about Mama Fruit. And, frankly, a wish for a wireless carrier that didn’t make me feel like an enemy, or at best a number. If you look at the wireless carrier industry, it’s ripe for a disruption — but doing so would be exceptionally difficult and expensive. Not many companies could do it, because not many companies have both the technology background, consumer experience, and capital available to make the investments to walk in and deal with the roadblocks in the way.
Apple, and it’s $80 billion dollar war chest, iCloud infrastructure and consumer savvy, seems to be the one company that could do it. If it chose to. And even if it took a $50 billion dollar total investment (more than twice what sprint is currently worth) — it still have a huge cash hoard to do things with.
So, no, I don’t think this is likely. But it’d be fun to watch the screaming if they try it, and I wouldn’t bet against them succeeding. And if nothing else, it’s a fun speculation to try to work out the details and see if it still makes sense when there isn’t a Barolo involved.
(have fun, don’t think too hard…)
Quick status update on my birthday present. It’s not done yet, mostly because I had to hold off last weekend when a knee got a bit grumpy, but put some good work into it this weekend, and it’s close. Because gravel and bricks are HEAVY (wow. who knew?) I can only carry so much in the subaru in one trip, which also limits how quickly I’m turning this around,. and mostly only working on it on the weekends. I’d estimated 16 bricks and about 20 bags of gravel (half a cubic foot, about 50 pounds, per bag), in reality, Im’ going with 7 steps (14 bricks) and it’s going to take about 30 bags of gravel to finish this off, so I have about 3 more trips for supplies to finish. If work cooperates, I’ll try to do that this week so it’s finished next weekend. That way next weekend I can start bringing in the wood chips to spruce the area up… Looks like the final cost of materials will be around $250.
There are four low-flow sprinkler lines underneath this now, and that’s the next project…. That, and general cleanup. For all I’ve been cleaning out the yards into the green waste bin this year, there’s still a hunk o’ stuff to clean up and get moving out of here to the city compost pile…
All in all, pretty happy at how it’s turning out. And it’s been a good workout hauling that stuff around.
Charlie Borland wrote an interesting piece recently titled Are You Sure You Want to be a Professional Nature Photographer? that I recommend to anyone who’s pondered that thought. I struck a few chords with me when I read it.
This kinda of struck home with me this recently when I realized it was five years since leaving Apple and which ties into that in some ways. Back in 2005, after my nervous breakdown but before I actually decided to leave mama fruit, I started getting serious about my photography. I was doing a lot of thinking and trying to plan forward as well, because at that point, I was seriously trying to figure out if I still wanted to be in high tech (or if I still had what it took to be in high tech), and if so how long.
One of the things I mapped out in some detail was what it would take for me to make the shift from geeking for a living to turning myself into a photographer and writer. The first thing on that list was not (surprisingly) “build a web site offering your prints for sale”, but “you need to get a crapload better as a photographer”.
QT Luong has a fascinating post on his trip down this path. It’s pretty much the path I figured I should take, and I think it’s the path any photographer looking to make this leap should be planning for and working towards.
Every six or nine months I’d sit down and do a formal critique of my work; I’d find comparable imagery from the pros and serious amateurs that I follow and judge myself against and I’d sit and look at my images and ask myself why anyone would buy my image instead of the other one? For a long time, my answer to myself was “I woudn’t” and then I’d set myself goals for the next round and go back to work.
It’s only been in the last year or so that I’ve come to feel that my work is “up to snuff”, that I could not only take a quality image, I understood the techniques and mechanics well enough to guarantee quality images and do so reliably; this has been one of the reasons I’ve done the road trips, to put me out of my comfort zones and comfortable areas, and to create a plan for taking images and then following or adapting the plan, rather than going and praying for interesting stuff to happen. I think that’s worked out well overall; even my recent yosemite trip where I ended up seriously dehydrated (grump. oops) I ended up with some decent shots — and a lesson in being more careful for next time.
So I finally decided I was at that point where I could consider beginning that path that QT Luong talks about. So I sat down and mapped out what that meant and how I would start the process — and I decided that I really liked being an amateur.
Here’s the thing; “turning pro” doesn’t mean you stop working for a living and pick up a camera (and magically, your rent gets paid and stuff). In fact, turning pro implies spending a lot of time and energy on sales and marketing, and in a lot of cases, doing even less photography to make room for it. It’s not like I was going to give up my “day job” and hope I’d be making enough money to cover before the savings ran out. So how do you squeeze in building a photography business?
Most likely, by sucking time out of your photography.
I decided I just didn’t need to do that. In the meantime, I’ve fallen back in love with working in high tech and doing what I do, so that initial motivation is muted. And honestly, I can live without the added complexity of trying to stuff something like that into my life right now.
It can wait. Photographs don’t rot in the field, and nothing bad will happen because i choose to NOT try to turn a hobby into a business. I can always change my mind and try it later (or not). If opportunities to sell an image arise, I can do it. but I don’t have to put the time into running a business to take advantage of occasional sales (or get nervous if they don’t happen).
So here’s my advice to others thinking about this; photography, especially nature photography, is a very tough, competitive business. Doing it professionally is a lot of work — work running a business, not holding a camera. It’s not something you’ll succeed at taking images once in a while and putting a website out with a big “buy my prints” sign on it. So ask yourself — take a long, slow walk somewhere and think about this long and hard — whether you really want to walk that path. the reality of being a professional photographer is a lot different than the fantasy I hear from most people who dream of giving up the day job to take pictures. You don’t give up the day job to take pictures — you give up the day job to SELL pictures; you need to have pictures to sell, but you don’t make the money taking them. To some degree, that’s something you squeeze in around the selling.
In my case? It doesn’t make sense. I’m happy taking pictures and sharing them and pissing off photographers who think my sharing images under creative commons is wrong because it might cost them a sale (my answer is: if your images are good enough, they’ll sell. And what have you done for me to warrant me doing you favors?).
This is a personal decision for each of us. I’m happy to have put in the time to improve myself to be ready to go pro; I needed the focus and the goal as I worked through the things going on the last few years (my camera and my wife were the only things that kept me sane in 2008 when I was dealing with dad). But just because I did that, I feel no guilt at choosing to not take that “next logical step” and neither should you.
For me, what matters is the camera, not the sale. I’m fortunate that I don’t have to depend on income from my camera, and I’m happy to have decided to leave it that way and not complicate my life by trying to go pro. And before you take that step down the path, I encourage you to think about it, and think about whether that’s really the right path for you, right now….
Or maybe you should pick up the camera and to shoot something…
I have been experimenting with (and when I say that, I mean “avoiding work with”) Google+ the last couple of weeks, and I have to admit, I did not expect to be impressed, but I am.
The engagement factor is very high, and the friction issue is minimal. It’s very easy to put content into it and point it at your social group — or a subset of that social group — via circles, which are sort of like Facebook lists, but not broken. That’s because facebook lists were grafted onto facebook and fairly awkward to use, while circles were the core element Google+ was designed around, and so everything uses them almost seamlessly and circles make organically slicing and dicing your social graph easy and (almost) painless.
As a result, I’ve found I’m spending a lot more of the time I budget for wading into the social data streams on Google+; this means that I’m spending less time on other services, and the big loser so far is Facebook, where between closing off my time on Zynga games and Google+ means I’ve cut my time on facebook by about 85%. My primary use of facebook today seems to be interacting with and talking to people who are on facebook but not on Google+. Pretty much any situation where someone is on Google+ I’ve shifted my interaction with them there.
The system is pretty good for a 1.0, but not perfect. If find the lack of any way to share items from Google Reader ont Google+ curious (but trust me, I know how in a company the size of Google this happens, and I expect it’s in the plans).
More troublesome is the kerfluffle going on over pseudonyms. it’s hard to spend any time on the system without running into one of the many threads going on about this. For those just getting started, check out this thread for some background; it also shows one of the strengths of Google+’s messaging in its ability for a thread to both get into a meaty, intense discussion without spiraling out of control, and be able to survive ratholes and side points successful. Those are both things many services fail at miserably, and it’s clear some thought has gone into figuring this problem out.
I think Google is well-intentioned but didn’t properly think this one through. Given that it seems some pseudonyms are okay (look at, for instance, 50 cent), google has set up a system I feel can’t be properly policed and is open to use as a spite attack vehicle (spite attack: I piss you off, you report me and try to get my account shut down), and given celebrities seem to be able to use their ‘stage names’ okay, have created a perception of a double standard where you are being required to use your real name, unless you have money and fame.
I made the following comment in the thread above, and it sums up my views on why this policing is a bad idea:
Okay, pop quiz. pick the real and fake names in this list:
1) Barnabus Arnasungaaq
2) Kanimozhi Karunanidhi
3) James Tiptree, Jr.
4) Parasayip Ole Koyati
5) Dean Wesley Smith
6) Chuq Von Rospach
You can look all of these up in google, if you want (I did). Stop and think about it for a second.
1) inuit soapstone sculptor
2) indian politician involved in a sex tape scandal
3) famous pseudonym of a science fiction author (or choose John LeCarre Jr, if you prefer)
4) Person of the Masai tribe in Africa
5) real name of an author who publishes under many pseudonyms
6) are you sure?
My point? first, let’s get past thinking everyone here is an American, using an American name, and that we really have any practical ability to look at a name and determine real or not. When you start looking at a global culture of the scale of the internet and G+, it’s all over.
So policing this on a scale the size of G+ is practically impossible except on the “report/challenge” system. And that means the most likely result of a policy like this is that it’ll become a tool of the griefers. There’s no way Google or anyone can police naming on the scale of a service like this, period, except on a case by case situation involving abuse. So they shouldn’t try.
And my other point is that this is policing the wrong thing. Police bad behavior, not names. Some subset of naming is an aspect of bad or abusive behavior and should be dealt with, but deal with it as behavior. Trying to put naming restrictions in place is well-intentioned but won’t scale and will open the system to abuse by those with axes to grind. Focus on what matters, which isn’t the name, but how whatever is behind that name acts.
By the way, there are still real people in the universe named Adolf Hitler. If one of them joins G+, how would you police that? Because pretty much everyone in the universe will presume it to be a fake name, right? What if this person wants to avoid the issues involved with that name so chooses to use a pseudonym? you going to force them into a situation that opens them to abuse?
And a second big issue: where does “nickname” end, and “pseudonym” start? And how would you write a set of objective rules you could police as administrators?
What is my name, anyway? Is it my real name? Is it my nickname? Or is it a pseudonym? and why?
From reading the various threads on this, it seems clear Google is grappling with this and trying to figure it out; I expect they will. I think this is a case of naivete towards the complexity and implications of the policy, not anything “evil”, and as this has come to light as Google+ rolled out, they seem to be trying to figure out what the right balance is and how to implement it. I’ll cut them some slack while they try.
An even bigger problem for me, though, is harder to ignore: users have found when they get shut down on Google+ that it impacts their entire Google universe. For some folks, that’s devastating. The tight integration of “everything google” is nice, until it bites you; when it bites, it can bite hard. I’m frankly very uncomfortable with the idea of having my gmail account locked or deleted because someone picks a fight with me on Google+; enough so I considered setting up a second gmail account JUST for Google+ usage. Instead, I’m considering shifing my public email presence back to my me.com email address, so that if something bad happens, I’m not completely screwed over here. That’s a challenge as all of these systems integrate more tightly, and something we all need to be aware of. I’ve been careful about not having too many things depend too heavily on Google (no domain registry, no running my business via google docs or google apps, etc) just to minimize the damage this might cause, but now Google+ and Gmail linked is a bit too close for comfort.
This is more serious because Google can (and has; I hear of a few cases of this a year) shut everything down on you without warning, and their appeal process is, well, weak. you can’t pick up a phone and fix things, and they don’t make it easy to get things fixed; not something you are happy about if you’re on the wrong end of it and key business or personal things are locked away from you.
My recommendations for Google to improve all of this are:
- Commit to service specific lockouts. If someone gets blocked out of google+, then lock them out of Google+, not everything. Ditto if their email gets hacked and someone uses their gmail account to send spam, it shouldn’t cause them to lose their google docs or any of their other services. Free or not, people are building businesses and lives around these products, and depend on them, and it’s good customer support to treat them fairly and give them a way Â to reconnect, appeal and pull their content out of their accounts even if those accounts are closed down.
- Improve your account lockout/closure appeal process. nothing should ever be shut down without warnings; google needs to improve and make more visible the ways to connect in and explain/appeal these decisions. (note for the record, google’s Â no worse than most online social sites out there, everything sucks at the mediation/appeal process; it ain’t just Google, but Google can take a leadership role here in defining best practices for social sites if it chooses – and make it a competitive advantage of its services).
- Resolve the naming issue; as I note above, I think the naming issue is a red herring. Police abuse, not names; if nobody has a problem with the actions and content — don’t worry about it. I think any other path will lead to continuing conflict with the user base, and that’s not good for the service or its users.
- and please, hurry up and implement nested circles and “mute this person”.
- oh, and posting links/notes from google reader onto my public stream.
but overall, I think it’s a great launch. If things continue, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if I dump my facebook account down the road. And I’m already posting fewer things onto twitter, and posting them onto google+ instead.
Those are the two services i think are at biggest risk at losing people’s time and interest from Google+, plus all of the smaller specialty sites (like Quora) can’t be happy with a new elephant in the room drawing attention. The biggest risk for Google+ is the naming issue; if they don’t resolve it in a reasonable manner fairly soon, I think there’s a risk it’ll turn into one of those running firefights you see on some services, with the controversy being continually replayed well out of proportion to it’s real impact, but having a high public visibility and impacting the reputation of the services overall.
Let’s hope that doesn’t happen, and Google+ grows into its potential. It looks to me like it can be a game changer. I didn’t expect Google could do that.
In any event, if you use Google+, you can find me here. Feel free to wander by and say hi.
Apologies in advance. this is long, this is personal, and this is probably going to annoy some of you. If you’re the type of person who doesn’t like long and personal on someone’s personal blog, go and read the lolcats site for a while, Thanks.
When it Changed…..
Five years ago today I sent out the email to my team announcing I was leaving Apple after 17 and a half years. I posted a copy of it here. I left slowly, working with my bosses to make the transition smooth, so it was two months before I actually handed in my badge and became a free agent.
It was an interesting time in my life. At that time, I said this:
With the passing of time and the sharp focus of hindsight, I have to say it was definitely the right decision; in all honesty, I was tired of Apple, and Apple was tired of me, and we both needed to make the break. You can see from Apple’s stock price since then just how badly they missed me.
Two events precipitated this decision, although it was honestly a long time coming. The first one was when a really neat lady I liked and respected asked me an unfortunate question when I was having a bad day, and I went off on her. It was mean — it was abusive — she didn’t deserve any of it, and 30 seconds after I did it, i was mortally embarrassed at what I’d done. It was also something that you can’t undo with apologies, although i definitely tried. It was at that moment that I realized if I was that stressed out that I was losing it that badly, I had to make changes before I did something seriously dangerous or the stress killed me. (to her great credit, she eventually stopped being freaked at the thought of being in a room with me, but it is one of those moments in my life I will never forgive myself for).
Then a few weeks later, I was in a planning meetings when the alarms went off because the system was down. It turned out the database machine threw a drive, the primary data drive. On the primary master server, which was two weeks from being made a fully redundant, multi-machine server with automatic failover. We were that close from avoiding this disaster — and that drive was basically the one piece of the system that wasn’t redundant or easily replaced on failure; of course, it was the piece that fried. We knew about the risk, we were working to resolve it, and we missed it by THAT much.
It took us 13 hours to bring the system back live, swapping in one of the redundant slaves in the mysql pod and turning it into a master. There was no data loss (thank god), but still, that was one of the most stress-filled, panic-inducing times I’ve had in my life. At the end, I wandered into my director’s office, slumped to the floor, looked at him, and told him I couldn’t do that again. I was done. He sent me home, told me we’d talk later, and I went home and slept for 15 hours.
We agreed on two months as an offramp, plenty of time to bring up the new team and train them. That gave me, I thought, time to find a new project and home at Apple; in reality, I had no clue what I wanted to do — only that it was time to stop doing what I was doing — and didn’t try very hard. So I handed in my badge, got in the car, and drove off the face of the earth for a couple of weeks, my first “no phone no modem” vacation in years.
That project started out as a skunkworks with myself and one other programmer to see if it made sense to bring Apple’s marketing email inhouse. It turned into a behemoth that when I left was conservatively driving $50m a year in revenue and we were showing at least $10m a year in cost reductions within the company with a team of about seven. It was recognized as having the best ROI of any project in Apple IT — ever. We extended it for use globally, localized to something like 20 languages. It was the first Apple IT project to make significant use of open source technologies and be hosted 100% on xserves, so we blazed a few trails I’m rather proud of. it was (and still is) one hell of a hack; the team that took it over has done an awesome job and done some nice things to it I wish I’d thought of. If there’s one thing I’m really proud of, it’s that the transition went off about as smoothly as you could hope for, which is what I wanted. The whole open source thing was a fascinating experiment in itself (by design), and both a blessing and a curse, and deserves some discussion on its own; maybe later I will get to it.
What I didn’t know then, wouldn’t know for another six months, was that 95% of the problem I was having was sleep apnea. I’ve talked about that before, so I won’t go into detail, but in the 18 months before I left Apple I gained 90 pounds; in the 5 years since I’ve gained 15, ten of that in the last 9 months while we’ve been driving to get the TouchPad launched (and now I’m working to change that and pull that back). What I do know is when I got the apnea treated, my blood pressure dropped more than 25 points and a whole lot of problems in my life went away.
The last five years have been an interesting journey, in both the literal and chinese way. The executive summary of the last five years:
- Sleep Apnea — once I was diagnosed and treated, my blood pressure dropped over 20 points. It’d progressed enough I was falling asleep in meetings. But the first night I put on the CPAP, my life changed radically, and I’ve never looked back. But I was very close to falling asleep at the wheel, or snoring myself into a stroke.
- When I left Strongmail, it was with the intent of launching a site called Dare2Thrive, and try to break out onto my own. A secondary deal I thought I had with a friend blew up in my face, costing me a chunk of change, and then it became clear Dare2Thrive was dead on arrival (I really need to talk about that some day), so I took it out behind the barn and shot it. This, needless to say, did wonders both to my self-image and my pocketbook, but not as badly as if I’d launched the thing. I did, however, self-destruct in interviews for weeks, costing me a couple of really good jobs and probably guaranteeing I’d never work for Yahoo without a name change (not that, as it’s worked out, that this is a bad thing).
- I got my exercise program up to about 1 1/2 miles three times a week, which was making nice progress on my weight, and then stepped in a gopher hole, tearing the meniscus in my right (good) knee. Which didn’t heal, which is how we discovered the arthritis in both knees. Neither of which is operable, until we decide it’s time for replacements. Fortunately, 500mg of Relafin twice a day keeps them mostly functional and it hasn’t seemed to progress much. But that indirectly caused a serious case of tendonits in one ankle, which took nine months to get rid of. That made life interesting (and exercise impossible) for most of 2008.
- But 2008 was the year my dad got sick and died; it was a year of tests and hospitals and funerals and laywers, as I spent a big chunk of time in SoCal (or in transit: 12,000 miles on the subaru, just driving up and down the state) and helping mom get settled and things under control with the estate and her life. When I surfaced, it was October, and honestly, I remember almost none of it.
- Somewhere along the way — my best guess is around March — I went diabetic, but we didn’t diagnose it until 2009 when the simptoms got significant enough (significant enough: blood sugar > 400, tryglicerides > 600, blood pressure way up…). Fortunately, it all responded well to treatment and is well controlled and stable without a lot of fuss.
- And once I got that under control, I went and fired up the exercise program again — and fell down and went boom, going back on the shelf for about two months before I could even think of doing any significant exercise again (not that I wanted to; given recent history, it’s suprisingly hard to get up much enthusiasm to try again, although I’ve been starting slow and trying to build carefully…)
I mention all this not to whine or elicit sympathy, but to bring forward the thought. Sometimes life is good, sometimes it throws you challenges. It was Nietzsche who said that which does not kill us makes us stronger. It was in a hotel room on the road, with dad in the hospital and it increasingly seeming like he’d never get out, my ankle wrapped in ice so I’d have a chance of walking the next day (because i had no choice), Laurie hundreds of miles away, feeling very much alone and tired of it all.
And I had a moment that can only be described as howling at the moon. I found myself yelling at nobody in particular that if life would just leave me alone for a while, I could get this all under control and be happy again. That was the moment I realized that life didn’t owe me easy, that it was up to me to make it easy. And that I didn’t like who I was, and until I fixed that, nothing was going to change.Â Â I had no idea what it meant at the time, but I knew it was important to find out. And that’s been the journey since.
Five years ago I was in dream gig with a great team, awesome bosses for a company that was changing the world — and I was absolutely miserable (and really had no idea why).
Today? Much different gig — but a great group of people I enjoy being around even more than my team at Apple, which is something I never thought I’d find. Great challenges, lots of fun, lots of work to do. It’s hard to believe five years have passed. I feel like I’m a much different person than I was.
And I’m happy. With what I do, with who I am.
And isn’t that what really matters?
Whenever I end up talking about Apple with folks, there is one question that always pops up, so I figure since I brought it up myself, I might as well answer it.Â That question Â is “Would you go back?”
The answer is yes, with some qualifications. Apple is doing many good and interesting things, and in many ways, is changing the world (mostly for the better); there are lots of challenges there to take on in the right situation. but the implied question within that question is whether I miss Apple or feel some need to go back, and that answer is definitely no. I left at a time when it was the right thing to do, had a great run there, regret almost nothing, and enjoy what I’m doing now. I’ll admit that I’ve looked into a couple of positions there over time, but in each case, it was a position targeted at an internal candidate.
If the right situation came up, I’d do it. A lot of where my interest today is around photography imaging and how technology and people (i.e. this “social” stuff) come together. Apple still seems to me too afraid of losing control of its message to embrace social — just look at Ping (sorry, really qualified and talented folks who built that). That’s a social media for companies who are afraid to be social, and that’s just not that interesting to me, and not close to what I was encouraging people to consider even before I left.
But if you’re smart, you never say never.
I’m not sure what the five years have in store. Good times for sure, challenges just as surely. All I know is that I’m looking forward to seeing what they are…