Preparing for the Jobs film

August 12th, 2013 7:36 PM
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Just a few weeks too late for a KansasFest outing, the Jobs movie finally debuts this week. To build hype, a second trailer has been released.

When I posted the video to Facebook, it received no replies — perhaps because the discussion was still active elsewhere in the group, where 35 comments reflected little enthusiasm for or faith in the film. "The clips I saw of how they portrayed Woz was enough for me to forget this film exists," wrote Paul Lipps. Similarly on Google+, Bill Loguidice wrote, "The poor Woz interpretation alone kills it for me." Added Brendan Robert, "I'll only see it if they don't screw up Woz." I agree — and so does Woz — that his character is poorly, stereotypically portrayed.

Yet I am inexplicably excited to see this film. Perhaps because it's a mass-media manifestation of the inventor whose most famous creation my fellow Apple II users and I have celebrated for decades. Too often I've been disappointed by people not knowing Steve Jobs co-founded Apple with "the other Steve". Even if our hero is poorly represented, won't it behoove us to educate the masses as to his existence?

Or maybe it's not just Woz but more broadly the history of Apple I'm interested in. I'm finally reading Walter Isaacson's Steve Jobs, the biography released shortly after Jobs' death in October 2011 and which I received as a Christmas gift that year. I'll never complete the massive tome in time for the film's release, but it's already refreshing my memory with details that I hope to see evidenced on the silver screen.

Or maybe I relish seeing the film because I know it'll be terrible. On the subject of ancient computers, surely nothing could be worse than my experience wanting to walk out of last month's Computer Chess. It's all about having proper expectation — though Apple Insider user Enigmamatic warns even that may not be enough:

I got to see this movie at a pre-screening this week and I don't know why they are letting people see it early. It's worse than one thinks and I went in with very low expectations. It's poorly written with ridiculous dialogue and no exposition. Virtually the entire movie takes place with no explanation as to why anything in the movie happens. It's just a parade of scenes that the viewer has to accept. Truly a horrible movie that was obviously pushed through production to get it out first and take advantage of Jobs' death.

Soon we'll all be able to reach our own conclusions of whether this film surpasses its predecessor, Pirates of Silicon Valley, or if it warrants its own RiffTrax. I hope to see it in time to provide a review to Computerworld. Follow me on Twitter, or follow my film blog, for updates!

First reactions to Jobs movie trailer

June 24th, 2013 2:59 PM
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There was an occasion last year where I wrote a blog post for Apple II Bits but, prior to clicking "publish", realized the subject had a broader appeal. The same thing happened today when I started writing about the new trailer for the Steve Jobs film. Previously we saw only a clip of the movie, resulting in mixed receptions. Now that a two-minute trailer garnered two million views over the weekend, has public reception to the movie changed?

Find out by reading my Computerworld blog — but you can watch the trailer here, or see the film in theaters on August 16.

Conflicting personalities in jOBS movie

January 28th, 2013 10:33 AM
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Last week, Gizmodo posted a clip from jOBS, a biopic of the life of Steve Jobs. In this scene, we see Ashton Kutcher of That '70s Show as Steve Jobs and Josh Gad of The Book of Mormon at Steve Wozniak.

Like Gizmodo reporter Jesus Diaz, I had an initially positive reaction to this clip. I liked his disparate the personalities were, with Woz taking the time to greet a co-worker while Jobs is more interested in furthering an agenda. I liked that only one of them had an inkling of the revolution they were about to launch. And I liked that Jobs appeared to be taking advantage of Woz, which struck me as consistent with what I know of Jobs.

With that in mind, I shared the post on Facebook. It wasn't long before other Apple II enthusiasts shared observations I'd overlooked. "Kutcher isn't trying to pick up any vocal mannerisms… I'm sure the script is great, I liked the dialogue I heard in the clip above. I just think the actors they got are sub par in their delivery," wrote Marty Goldberg of the Electronic Entertainment Museum. Added Atari historian Curt Vendel, "If they are going to do something based on real characters, then they should actually try to nail it down better… I think iJobs is going to crash and burn because of the lacking of strong character portrayal." Even Apple II veterans Mark Simonsen and Don Worth were unimpressed.

One of my favorite comments came from Apple II game reviewer and programmer Brian Picchi, who suggested the best person to play the role of Woz is Woz. Gizmodo must've agreed that Woz would have some insight into Gad's character, as they published a follow-up with Woz's thoughts on this one clip. He was quick to point out that the scene featured in this clip never happened, though he points out such factual accuracy is unnecessary — the film is a dramatization, after all. More important is how untruthful the personalities are:

Personalities and where the ideas of computers affecting society did not come from Jobs… A more accurate portrayal would be myself in the Homebrew Computer Club (with Steve Jobs up in another state and not aware of it) being inspired by liberal humanist academics from Berkeley and Stanford and other places speaking of these high social goals. I decided then and there to help them reach those goals by designing a computer that was affordable. I gave it away to members of this club to help them. My goal was not money or power. In fact, when Steve came down and came to the club and saw the interest, he did not propose making a computer.

Will the film fail as fully as Vendel suggests? Probably not, I think. As Jason Scott added in the Facebook thread, "Spoiler Alert: This movie is not for vintage computing nerds."

jOBS — which has official presences online, on Facebook, and on Twitter — comes out April 19 from Open Road Films. It is not to be confused with Sony Pictures' bigger-budget adaptation of Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs.

The origin of the logo

May 21st, 2012 10:09 PM
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Apple rainbow logoApple Inc.'s logo has been through three major revisions: from the early, cerebral scene of Sir Isaac Newton, to the rainbow logo we Apple II users identify with, to the modern, sleek, silver fruit. The shape of the logo has not significantly changed in more than three decades, its simplicity proving enduring. Such a legacy inspires questions to its origins, which designer Rob Janoff answered in a 2009 interview. Were the rainbow theme and the bite from the apple a joint reference to the fate of Alan Turing, the supposed "father of computer science" who committed suicide by biting a cyanide-laced apple, to avoid prosecution for homosexuality? It's a clever tale, but not one that holds up to Janoff's take on history — though supposedly, Steve Jobs himself refused to debunk the myth.

A recent article in Scientific American, "Hunters of Myths: Why Our Brains Love Origins", explains Jobs's reticence:

Jobs, it seems, understood intuitively an important facet of our minds: we like to know where things come from. We like stories. We like nice tales. We need our myths, our origins, our creations. It would be disappointing to know that the apple was nothing more than an apple—and the bite, a last-minute addition to clarify scale, so that it was clear that we were seeing an apple and not a cherry. And that rainbow? A representation of a screen’s color bars, since the Apple II was the first home computer that could reproduce color images on its monitor.

How boring. How much of a letdown. Far better to have a story " and the better the story, the better for us.

The article elaborates on this anecdote, using it as an example of why clever or secret origin stories are often preferable to the truth:

Psychologist Tania Lombrozo argues that such impromptu causal explanations are critical to our everyday cognition. They contribute to improvements in learning. They can foster further exploration and idea generation. They can help us form coherent beliefs and generalize about phenomena—and then use those beliefs to understand, predict, and control future occurrences and, in turn, form new beliefs.

It's a short but interesting article that demonstrates yet another aspect of Jobs's genius. His contribution to design may've been questionable, and his first tour of duty at Apple may've marked him as an irascible manager who failed to respect the humanity of his employees — but given the success of his products, Jobs did seem to have a keen understanding, if not of human nature, then of human desire. Even when it comes to logos:

Steve Jobs’s silence was truly perceptive. Sometimes, it's just better to let natural human tendencies take over and start weaving tales, true or not, that will help people understand and relate to you better than anything you say ever could.

The superior businessman: Jobs or Woz?

December 26th, 2011 10:56 AM
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The current state of the economy presents unique challenges, but also unique opportunities. As larger companies fold under the weight of their own bulk, new enterprises are small, nimble, and innovate enough to fill new niches and needs. What what better innovator and businessman to inspire budding entrepreneurs than Apple's greatest Steve?

Jobs? No — Wozniak.

So says Trevor Owen, founder of the Lean Startup Machine. In his essay, "Why Founders Should Emulate Wozniak, Not Jobs" he makes several arguments:

  • • Steve Jobs played a minor role in Apple’s early success with the Apple II
  • • When Steve Jobs created the breakthrough Macintosh he had immense resources & clout
  • • The Macintosh underperformed against the Apple II, essentially was a flop
  • • NeXT Computers released a series of product flops
  • • Jobs’s later success (as a CEO) is due to his failures

It's not unusual to question Steve Jobs' role in the design and success of Apple's products, but this is the first time I've seen his business acumen also fall under scrutiny. Unsurprisingly, not everyone is convinced. Over at Forbes, E.D. Kain has some objections:

… if Wozniak had been in charge, it’s doubtful Apple would have been much of a company at all. Wozniak wanted to open the whole project up to all-comers. His enormous skill was in making things tick – not in building a company from the ground up…

… it really helps to couple visionary businessmen with brilliant engineers. So what if Jobs got ahead of himself in the early years? Start-ups today shouldn’t just look at the early careers of tech businessmen; they should pay attention to the entire package.

What do you think? Could Woz have built the Apple empire without Jobs? Could Jobs, without Woz?

Steve Jobs '95

October 27th, 2011 12:24 PM
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When Steve Jobs passed away, a flurry of media was published about his life and times, his wisdom and accomplishments, his successes and failures. It's easy for any one piece to have gotten lost in that maelstrom — but one in particular deserves to not be missed.

In 1995, Steve Jobs sat down with Daniel Morrow of the Computerworld Honors program for a 75-minute interview, conducted in conjunction with the Smithsonian. The transcript of that interview was published the day after Jobs' passing — but something far more fascinating has since been unearthed.

As of this morning, the original video of that interview is now available. It's a fascinating and candid look at the man who was, at that point in his career (40 years old), still at NeXT and two years away from his return to Apple. Across the 16 chapters into which the interview has been divided, he talks about his early encounters with authority, the parallel between computing and artistry, and his hopes for NeXT, Pixar, and even Apple.

Steve Jobs in 1995

Steve Jobs in 1995. Screen capture from a Computerworld video.

The aforementioned transcript makes it easy to identify the passages where the Apple II is discussed. I could find only a handful of such moments, the first being in chapter six, where Jobs identifies the quality of his computers (both the hits and the flops) in which he held the most pride:

The things I'm most proud about at Apple is where the technical and the humanistic came together … The Macintosh basically revolutionized publishing and printing. The typographic artistry coupled with the technical understanding and excellence to implement that electronically — those two things came together and empowered people to use the computer without having to understand arcane computer commands. It was the combination of those two things that I'm the most proud of. It happened on the Apple II and it happened on the Lisa … and then it happened again big time on the Macintosh.

The next occurrence is in chapter nine, when he draws a comparison with Apple's competitors:

With IBM taking over the world with the PC, with DOS out there; it was far worse than the Apple II. They tried to copy the Apple II and they had done a pretty bad job.

One of the things that built Apple II's was schools buying Apple II's; but even so there was about only 10% of the schools that even had one computer in them in 1979 I think it was.

AFAIK, this Computerworld gallery marks the first time this interview has been made publicly available. I encourage anyone interested in a candid, unscripted, and in-depth conversation with Steve Jobs to take a look.

[Full disclosure: I was responsible for the layout of this gallery and participated in the editing, production, and promotion of it.]