Yearly Archives: 2011

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

I’ve finally finished Walter Isaacson’s book on Steve Jobs. Having worked at Apple through much of the time covered in the book, I was curious how my view of the time and events matched up with this — the official — version, and to try to get some perspective on the man behind all of this.

I’m happy (and a bit surprised) to say that I found nothing in the book that was demonstrably wrong compared to reality as I remembered it; this is no sanitized, “remember me fondly” hollywood bio; Steve seems to have played fair with Isaacson, and Isaacson played fair with Steve.

You get Steve unfiltered. The book brings clear a complex man; not easy to work with, but not evil. Just — insensitive. I can speak to many people who cursed having to deal with him at times; and after, loved him for having brought out the best in them along the way. The Steve in the book matches up well with the Steve I came to know through living in Silicon Valley and working at Apple. He was an exceptionally intelligent person, but more so, an exceptionally intuitive man who could make that jump directly from point A to the end point, and wasn’t afraid to take those leaps without endless masses of data to justify them. He was also right often enough that he was allowed to do this, even though this can be a scary way of operating to people who aren’t strongly intuitive.

And yet I found myself fighting to get through the book. Unlike some of Isaacson’s other works, this book feels flawed and somewhat lifeless.

I don’t think this is Isaacson’s fault. Unlike some of his other biographies (I especially loved his book on Franklin), the material here is new, it hasn’t been given the benefit of time to smooth off the raw edges or any chance at perspective and consideration that helps us understand what really matters in the essence of the man. I also get the feeling that since so many of the other people involved in this book are alive, Isaacson stepped carefully through various minefields; it feels like there are punches being pulled, that people are being careful — but may not even realize it’s happening. The frustration that Bill Gates showed at some of the comments Steve made is one place where this breaks through, but even there, I think both sides watch their words, knowing posterity was watching, and I think that “carefulness” invades many of the relationships in the book.

That’s inevitable in a book like this, and I’m not criticizing Isaacson for it. I do feel like he was still grappling with the material, still really trying to get his head around the material and Steve and how to write the book, and the end result is that parts of the book, especially later parts, are missing the perspective and analysis I expect from this author. This is a book that would have been better suited to a year of incubation, giving him more of a chance to ponder and polish.

It is, however, a massive and fascinating source of material about Steve, Apple, and Silicon Valley at a seminal time where the people and companies here changed society in so many ways.

My criticisms here are minor — give the book a B-, maybe (where I’d give the Franklin book an easy A-). If you’re at all interested in what has gone on behind the keynotes and product introductions, then this is a definite read for you. But there’s a bigger, better book on Silicon Valley and Steve to be writen, but one that is going to need five or ten years for us to understand Steve in the larger context and let time help us see him after time salves some of the raw emotions so many of us have felt in the last few months.

This is a good book, but not a great book. It is, I think, the best book Isaacson could have written right now, and it’s definitely worth your time (but also go grab the Franklin book, to see Isaacson at his best).

(addendum, added later, but before publication:

One thing that struck me in reading the book was Jobs saying he wanted the book to exist so his kids could read about him and learn who he was. In similar situations, very few of us would think to call up Walter Isaacson and tell him to write our biography. Steve did (and Walter did, because he’s Steve, and this is an important book about an important person). But it seems to me there’s a deeper meaning to this; while most of us would solve this problem by sitting down with our kids and talking, at some level, Steve realized he couldn’t, that he just wasn’t wired that way. I also get the impression that because he insisted on this book being honest, and his flaws weren’t hidden or glossed over, that at some level this book was in Steve’s way also a way of acknowledging he wasn’t the greatest father in the world, and in the kind of act only someone like Steve would do, apologizing to his kids for being what he was, in public. And I think that sums up the Steve we’re seeing in the book: a very complex person who both had flaws and recognized them — but couldn’t overcome them. He was who he was. And he couldn’t just sit down with his kids and explain himself or say I’m sorry. But he could stand up in a very public display and do that — which if you think about it, is a very powerful way to show that you really mean it when you say “i’m sorry” for being what he was to them.)



Losing a Friend…

111105 114602 chuq

As if life hasn’t been — interesting — enough the last few months (gee thanks, Leo), a couple weeks ago we saw that Archie, one of the cats, was starting to lose weight and seemed to be sleeping more. We kept an eye on him, and a bit over a week ago got him into the vet to get checked out. The last week has been more or less an endless stream of talks with the vets, visits to the vets, tests, waiting for test results, and generally stressing out and all of the things involved with waiting and not knowing.

Friday, we finally got the results back from a test that gave us a definitive answer, although not the one we wanted; Archie had advanced intestinal cancer that had clearly started spreading. We made the tough call and said goodbye.

Archie’s been our companion for over 14 years; if we forged his kennel papers he’d pass for a Maine Coon, but he was a feral rescue and we know mom looked nothing like he did. He had that feral “run first” timidness, and wasn’t particularly friendly to strangers, but once he got to know someone, he was a helpless lap cat.

We’re now a one cat family, and honestly, that cat prefers that, so we won’t be bringing in a kitten now.

We are going to miss him greatly, but from what we can tell he was never in pain and never suffered.

So it hasn’t been a fun couple of weeks here in Chateau Plaidworks. if I’ve missed an email or been slow to reply, I apologize. Hopefully, with the holiday arriving, we’ll get our batteries recharged a bit and get back on it.



opening night

It’s opening night for the Sharks. I haven’t talked much about hockey leading up to the start of the season, mostly because I’ve had other priorities. Didn’t get to camp, watched some pre-season, but I won’t pretend to have studied the league or am remotely qualified to play pundit right now.

So, surprisingly, I won’t for the most part.

The big question if you’re a sharks fan is whether or not the Sharks are better this season, because last season wasn’t quite good enough. I think so, but the difference between where they were and where they need to go is more attitude and experience and chemistry (as well as luck and whether they stay healthy) that it is about “better players” — and so it’s really hard to judge until we see how the season plays out. In any event, this isn’t a question that’ll be answered in October or December, but in March and April.

But I like the moves Wilson has made. More importantly, I like the fact that he wasn’t afraid to make moves, wasn’t tentative, and didn’t make minor tweaks and hope for major improvements. I really like the Burns acquisition, not just because I really like Burns, but because it’ll help keep Boyle from wearing out.

I think the west is shaping up to be a three and a half team race: I will stand up and say the Sharks should win the west and the sharks should go to the stanley cup final. I think Vancouver will fight them hard for this; I always think Detroit will have to be reckoned with, and the LA Kings worry me. There are another five or six teams a step behind that make the west very competitive, and any one of them can get on a streak and knock off the favorite. It’s going to be lots of good hockey.

In the east, I don’t know the teams as well, but what I’ve seen of Pittsburgh impresses me. Boston is going to have to fight through the Cup Hangover problem, and I’m not sure they can repeat. The Rangers may well be turning into a good team, finally. And Washington has scary talent but hasn’t shown my much yet. I think Philly picking up Bryzgalov solves their big problem, at least this year, and they’ll make some noise. But I’ll pick the Penguins coming out of the east, and it’ll either be Pittsburgh or Philly winning the eastern conference.

A few other non-game notes on hockey this year.

I’m loving what I’m seeing out of Shanahan and the changes in rules and rule enforcement so far. I was a big proponent of “first, double the length of all suspensions” to get the attention of the players. He hasn’t done that, but the new suspensions are a good step in that direction. I see that this new direction has already pissed off Mickey Redmond and Don Cherry, and to me, that means the league is definitely doing the right thing; will it have the willpower to keep at it? I think it has, and I think this means we finally have a generational shift in power among the hockey governors that understand that Don Cherry hockey is not going to drive this sport into the future. Let’s hope the luddites don’t drag it back again.

• • •

Oh, a quick open letter to a man I respect greatly for what he does, when he doesn’t piss me off for what he is:

Dear Don: Please. Retire. It’s time. you’re embarrassing yourself. More importantly, you’re now embarrassing the game and the players you pretend to respect. So let them ride you off into the sunset in glory instead of disgrace, because if you don’t, you’re going to end up saying something that will taint your legacy forever, and I don’t want to see that.

But you won’t, so the circus on hockey night in canada will continue until you finally say the one thing you shouldn’t, and you leave on someone else’s terms with ridicule. Which is a shame.

• • •

With the opening of the season, a few reading suggestions

  • Kukla’s Corner is the best place to get a wide view of hockey and the league, with writers on each team and on many subjects around the sport. It’s a great place to get a broad survey of what’s going on without having to track down 93 different news feeds. It’s also where Laurie is writing on goalies this season.
  • If you are a Sharks fan, you should be reading Working the Corners, the blog of beat writer David Pollak (and his trusted sidekick backup writer Mark Emmons). David knows and loves the game, knows the Sharks, and has created a nice dialog with the fans here on his blog and gets beyond the 300 words a night summaries we used to live with back in the “old days” of traditional newspapering.
  • Tom Benjamin has been writing about hockey online longer than Laurie and I have, which says something. He knows the game very well and reading his blog will make you think about the game and teach you about it. It matters not one bit that I disagree with him on many of his opinions, his views are still something you ought to be paying attention to and then making up your own mind about. It looks like he’s starting the season in good form as he takes apart Cherry’s fighting rant better than I could. Read him, he will teach you.

• • •

A couple of words on the off-season. The hockey world lost some people in tragic ways with Derek Boogard and Rick Rypien and Wade Belak, and before that Tom Cavanagh’s suicide. It’s brought to the surface some issues that have been around for a while but can now no longer ignored or swept back under the carpet the way Don Cherry tried to with his bullshit. The information about the analysis of former player Rick Martin’s brain, which showed clear signs of CTE makes it clear this is not a new problem for the league (and is not a problem specific to hockey, either, since football and boxing also have this issue to deal with, and when baseball takes a close look at catchers, I’ll bet you’ll find some of them, will suffer from it as well).

In the Don Cherry world, hockey players are gladiators and fight the glorious fight for our entertainment — and when they can’t, they go offstage and get replaced by a new gladiator.

In my world, I have real problems enjoying a sport that leaves those entertaining me this damaged; it’s tough enough to see what ex-players deal with in terms or orthopedic challenges later in life, but now we’re talking about damage to the brain; permanent damage that affects their lives and how they interact with life.

I first wrote about concussion issues in the NHL back in 2003 and I’ve talked about it a number of times since. It’s a bit sad that it’s taken the league eight years to get this serious about dealing with head injuries, but I also understand that the medical science of understanding all of this is just catching up to the problem as well.

And it looks like the league really is taking this seriously, and I hope they find some solutions. The changes I see this year are a good start. It’s going to take the players some time to retrain themselves, so I hope the league keeps it up and doesn’t back off under the inevitable whining of the Cherry Cabal.

I struggled during the off-season with the idea of being entertained by people who will end up like Derek Boogard and Wade Belak; whether it was Jay More or Paul Kariya or Sydney Crosby or Nick Kypreos, watching these players struggle simply to have a life while fighting to recover from serious concussions made me wonder whether I wanted to continue as a fan of the sport. I now think the league is on the right track — I won’t pretend we have all of the answers, but we seem to have started, and are helping the players learn and understand. I watched an interview with Matt Cooke on the TV last night, and Cooke has been the poster child of “what we don’t want in the league” for years — and he honestly sounded like he understands and gets that it’s time to change his game. time will tell, but if it got through to him, I think the league will sort this all out.

This isn’t something simplistic “fix it now” solutions is going to solve. It doesn’t help to “fix” the game by screwing it up. Those people are just as wrong as the “leave it alone” crew. I feel like the league now has the right people and the commitment to figure it out, and I think the tragedies of the last year has the players attention. It’s sad that we needed to lose some good people to get this kind of focus on the problem, but in reality, that’s human nature. I do hope the league keeps pushing on this and figures out how to keep the game what it is — while making it as safe as possible for the people who entertain us by playing it.

• • •

One final note; as I’ve mentioned a few times, Laurie and I gave up our season tickets after 20 years; a combination of wanting to back off and go to fewer games and not wanting the hassle of syndicating them. We’ve talked a few times about it to make sure we had no regrets, and we don’t. Going to the arena 35-37 times a year was turning into an obligation, not an entertainment. Tonight we’ll be sitting on the couch watching — the last opening night we missed was season 1, because we didn’t convert to full season until year 2.

A lot of hockey — we’re well over 700 games attended in the last 20 years, when you count in road trips and our jaunts through the WHL and BCJHL and the year with the Spiders where we did 30 Sharks games and 35 Spiders games in one season (THAT was a lot of hockey).

It’s definitely nice that the season is firing up. I’m ready for some hockey. But I also find it nice that I’ll be watching it from the couch and not worrying about the drive and parking and turning 3 hours of hockey into six hours of expedition. We’re talking over what games we want to see this year. Still not decided, but we probably won’t actually get to the arena until January. Or maybe sooner — we’ll see how it goes. But definitely, just because we’re not butts in seats 35 nights a year doesn’t mean we’re not as interested as we were. it’s still the sport that we love…

So, shall we drop the puck already?