Archive for October, 2011

The rip in time

October 31, 2011 2 comments

Remember Bill Bennett? Appointed by Ronald Reagan as Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, then Secretary of Education for George W. Bush, and later his Drug Czar. Today he’s a conservative pundit, a “distinguished fellow” at the Heritage Foundation, and is also known for some controversy over his multi-million $ gambling losses. His “Morning In America” radio show is carried on the Sirius “Patriot Channel”, and he’s written a bunch of books about morality. Yeah, that guy.

I think it would be fair to say he’s a Conservative role model. So here he is sharing a stage with Pat Robertson, and talking about the horrifying fact that IBM now has a female CEO:

Robertson: Well you know it’s interesting in the news today was the changing of the guard at IBM where Palmisano is changing off and a woman’s taking his position as head of this great corporation, IBM.

You like that? “A woman’s taking his position”.  She has a name, Pat. Her hame is Virginia Rometty. You should read up on her – she’s pretty darned impressive.  And he makes it sound like she walked in and opened up a can of feminist whup-ass on him.  Fact is, companies change CEO’s for lots of reasons.

Bennett: That’s right and there’s just a ton of that…fine all power to the women and the girls, as long as we don’t confuse roles and the differences in genders. Boys have to wake up! We got to wake them up!Robertson: What’s this going to do to society, if men don’t take their places as men and suddenly there’s a gap and women and we have a matriarchy. What will this do ultimately to society?…

Bennett: I think it can hurt society, maybe grievously. Interestingly the feminists are not celebrating this Pat, they want men too. They might want to rail against this and they may want to talk about stereotypes of man and male domination and so on, but women want men. They want men for that strong arm, they want men for that protection, they want men for a partner in marriage and so it’s something that has got very blurred and what I try to do in this book is remind people of things that are true. And to the boys, as you very well said, the array of things offered on TV and elsewhere is very confusing, from macho stuff to gay culture to all sorts of things. What I got here is a point of view that is time tested, based in tradition that will get boys to manhood.

Got that, ladies and gents? Women are delicate little things who need a big ol’ strong man to look after them. Try reading those words out loud and ask yourself if they belong in the current century.  Or the previous one.

Honestly, on issue after issue, whenever the facade falls off, modern Conservatism seems like a rip in time, leading back to the Victorian era, the Age of Empires.  Living in the past and denying the present won’t bring back the past – and why would you want to?  The past was objectively awful.

(h/t to my favorite bloggers and Tweeps who picked up on this story.)

Categories: Uncategorized

Our place in time

October 27, 2011 5 comments

There’s no particular reason we would have a native ability to visualize timescales longer than our lifetimes; our ancestors wouldn’t have gained any reproductive advantage from it.  But for whatever reason we wound up with oversize brains and the unwieldy things got us to wondering where it all came from and when.  And during the bronze age certain legends were set in cultural stone, which persist today.

But some people just weren’t satisfied with legends; they started taking measurements and excluding what they could falsify or whatever was un-falsifiable in principle.  And they calculated and compared and invented whole new ways to conceptualize what they learned.  What they discovered contradicted the toddler’s instinct that they are the center of the universe, and that’s where the trouble began.

Once my parents were visiting the proprietor of an antique shop in New England.  He said; “You want something old?  Pick up a rock; that’s old.”  And in fact science has revealed just how old, and the resulting figure beggars our evolved imagination.

On the scale of human lives, rocks are solid; permanent.  Well mostly.  Photography is one of the tools we have for visualizing change in our physical world, and Dana Hunter has a great post about eroding coastlines: And that, kids, is why you shouldn’t build on a bluff.  Take a look at the video she’s posted, and at her photographs comparing coastal-then with coastal-now.  Then consider that the Himalayas, just a scant 50 million years ago, didn’t exist… and that the summit of Everest, more than five miles up, is made of marine limestone.

I’ll just say that again: marine limestone, five miles up.  Continental plates moving a few inches a year pushed the sea floor up above the Earth’s livable atmosphere.  To even visit that frozen, windy place is a daring feat only a few ever attempt.

Yet there are people who look at this staggering fact and wonder; “How can I fit it into my bronze-age flood myth?”  And they get right to work putting stickers in high-school biology textbooks to undermine the teaching of evolution.

Earth’s biosphere is hardly a coat of lacquer on a classroom globe.  Earth itself is a tiny fraction of the volume of a sphere defined by the orbit of the moon.  You get into huge negative exponents comparing it to a sphere defined by the orbit of Neptune, and the distance from our system to the nearest star… well it’s just too much.  And then you start getting into some really big distances.

And we’re so important that our species has only existed at all during the latest five hundredths of one percent of our dust-mote’s existence.

It isn’t a pretty thing to look upon our own insignificance, but as long as life is so fleeting, must we really use it up trying to believe that our place in space and time is somehow the focal point of it all?  Why miss out on knowing that in all that space and time, we’re here? And the joy there is to find in the life we actually have.

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Things we used to say: “If you can’t stand the heat…”

October 26, 2011 5 comments

“If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen!”
- Harry S. Truman

The original context related to candidates for public office, but there’s a lesson in it for the rest of us too.


I remember being shocked that Spiro Agnew was blaming the media. He called them “nattering nabobs of negativism” and “an effete corps of impudent snobs who characterize themselves as intellectuals.” Even after resigning from the Vice Presidency as a condition of his plea-bargain for taking bribes, he never took personal responsibility. It was always someone else’s fault; he really was sorry, but only for getting caught.

Fast-forward to Sarah Palin. She was giving her first unrehearsed media interview to Katie Couric. On the basis of her complaints about “activist judges” Couric asked her if there were any Supreme Court cases in particular that bothered her. The only one she could name was Rove v. Wade. Somehow even Alaska v. Exxon Corp escaped her, as did “Bush v. Gore”. It seemed absurd for a candidate for national office, who had just talked about Supreme Court decisions, to be able to name so few of them. Her 15 minutes of fame began to drag from that moment and we’re still waiting for it to end.

Setting the pattern for the rest of her public life, she blamed Couric for “gotcha questions”. Which would be “Any question that reveals the candidate as a big fat phony.” To be honest, it’s exactly the kind of questions I like to see candidates answer; they’re the media equivalent of Lisa Simpson stealing all the teacher’s edition textbooks. In that story none of the teachers were able to function without them; we would be impressed by those who do.

George W. Bush didn’t exactly revel in the marketplace of ideas either, famously surrounding himself with people who avoided questioning him. Even during his campaigns, people wearing questionable T-shirts were ejected from speeches. Contrast that style to Obama, who pressed the flesh so consistently we wound up afflicted with “Joe The Plumber”.

(Hmm… maybe avoiding criticism has some merits. No, damn it, on balance, even with JTP, I want to see candidates face opposing ideas.)

Rick Santorum blames Google for the social opposition to his homophobia. Really! He wants the algorithmic search engine to be artificially tweaked so his name won’t be associated with anything frothy. Donald Trump thinks Obama should put a stop to Occupy Wall Street protesters. “You shouldn’t let that kind of thing go on too long,” he says.

Remember Ron Rand Paul’s endless exchange with Rachel Maddow in which he tried every rhetorical evasion in the book to avoid admitting he simply wasn’t in favor of the Civil Rights Act? When she had him on video saying just that? If candidates can’t even face questions, will they end hiding under the bed for three days when the nation is attacked? And then go invade the wrong country?

I’ve noticed a certain pattern to the distribution of whining about “Gotcha” questions, or opposition in general. Questions about their personal life, their religion, or what they said in a book published last year (lookin’ at you, Rick Perry) , are out-of-bounds. How dare you question their faith-based flag-waving?

It’s odd that they would expose themselves to the dangers of full agreement. If you silence opposing voices, and surround yourself with sycophants, you just get dumber. Perhaps Conservatives view that as a feature, rather than a bug.

What I want to know is: Can we just stop taking candidates seriously the moment they start complaining about having to answer questions? When they have people with opposing views systematically ejected from rallies, or arrange “Free Speech Zones” blocks away from their motorcade routes? When they only appear on FOX news? As voters can’t we just write them off when they start doing stuff like that? Shouldn’t someone who wants to lead in a free society be able to at least deal with questions of fact? Shouldn’t they be able to demonstrate some working knowledge, or is leadership all about ideology?

The rest of us

It’s not really fair to lay all of the blame on politicians for their cowardice though, because we carefully train our children to avoid demonstrating knowledge outside of school, or ever to grapple with ideas. My own children were the subject of phone calls from school administrators for no other reason than that they chose to address controversial ideas. Satire, in particular, seemed to throw the little dictators off-balance. I don’t know if our district schools are representative but they seemed more interested in district test results than in the fire of democracy.

The result is that many children grow up without knowing how to handle ideas and facts. It means that society incorporates some really awful features – homophobia, regressive economic structures, racism, to name three – and we can’t even talk about them because it isn’t “polite”. Pressure builds until there’s a protest movement and then we dismiss the protesters as “radical”. Perhaps if we were in the habit of grappling with opposing ideas, it wouldn’t be so hard to correct injustices or adapt to new discoveries.

Online discussions are a weird hybrid of private persona in public space, and the social rules are still being worked out. But it really bugs me when someone responds to criticism by saying “I didn’t mean to offend anyone, I was just giving my opinion!” Or when they make a bizarre complaint about “censorship” as if they couldn’t go start their own blog.

It’s been said patriotism is the first refuge of a scoundrel but politeness isn’t far behind it. When you give somebody a substantive counter-argument, you ARE respecting them; it’s when you tiptoe around being “polite” that you’re being condescending. I have the most respect for people who can say “OK, I hadn’t thought of that” or who can give me their reasons why my reasons aren’t compelling to them.

Everyone’s limit is different, of course, and I don’t expect anyone to bloody their rhetorical knuckles over issues they don’t feel very strongly about. Nor do I expect anyone to let arguments go on endlessly – I’ve been in a few of those and they aren’t productive. But for gossakes at least if someone asks you, say what you really think. In doing so, you make space for others to do the same. Coming out of whatever closet you’re in helps open all kinds of closet doors for everyone.


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Invasive species in Normal – unexpected learning

October 16, 2011 3 comments

During a long round-trip between Normal and St. Louis, I stopped frequently to stretch my painful legs.  At one such stop I studied an educational display about the ash borer insect, an invasive species that causes a lot of damage in Illinois.

Ash borer display at Illinois highway rest stop

Ash borer display at Illinois highway rest stop. Click to embiggen.

Row of damaged trees

Row of damaged trees. Click picture to visit series in photo album

A few days later MrsDoF and I were having breakfast at a restaurant near our home. I got to looking at a tree in front of the restaurant. Crown dieback? Check. Epicormic shoots? Check. Fissures? Check. Exit holes? Check. Sinuous excavations in the exposed wood? Check. There were a whole row of these trees. On the way home we rode through the gas station lot. They were selling firewood.

In Illinois we say; “DON’T MOVE FIREWOOD”. I don’t know if it was the vector for the bugs that destroyed these trees, but it could be. On the other hand, the diner is near the highway so a hell of a lot of pickup trucks and trailers come in and out.

Borer insect's exit hole

Borer insect's exit hole. Click to embiggen.

Firewood on sale at nearby gas station.  Might be the vector, might not.  Click to embiggen.

Firewood on sale at nearby gas station. Might be the vector, might not. Click to embiggen

Invasive species are a real problem of course – but I do enjoy that moment where you pick up some information and then see it line up with the real world.  As Gregory House said; “Me, I just like knowing stuff.”

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Occupy BloNo – the local Occupy Wall Street group

October 15, 2011 3 comments

In response to the Occupy Wall Street movement, there’s a local Occupy BloNo (for “Bloomington-Normal”) movement. I’ve been riding past them on the way to and from work, and stopped by last night to talk to some of them where they are camped out on the ISU Bridge.

Occupy BloNo 2011 on the ISU Bridge

One of 15 pictures - click to view

“We’re opposed to the increasing concentration of wealth and power in the hands of just one percent of society,” said a young protester.

Seems clear-headed enough to me. Funny how FOX News said the OWS message was “muddled” and mocked them as a hodge-podge of “left-wing causes put into a blender”. Even Ronald Reagan said he was opposed to the concentration of power in the hands of a few. Of course, he was busy doing just that, removing power from the government of the people and moving it into corporate hands, but it illustrates that the concept isn’t exactly new.

They’re staying on the bridge for an “open-ended” period of time, and from what I saw will decide as a group when to leave.  Unless someone gets heavy-handed and kicks them off, which would be unfortunate.  Basically you have a bunch of protesters in favor of societal cohesiveness and ethics, which is certainly a good thing.  I saw mostly college-age people, but also a few older folk who have been at the protest game for a long time.  After all, the issues affect every generation.


  • Couple movies I must recommend to everyone: Inside Job and Smartest Guys In The room, the Enron Story.  Both present complex information on gigantic financial fraud in a clear, compelling fashion.
  • Paul Krugman; The Panic Of The Plutocrats ”So who’s really being un-American here? Not the protesters, who are simply trying to get their voices heard. No, the real extremists here are America’s oligarchs, who want to suppress any criticism of the sources of their wealth.”
  • Business Insider: Four charts that explain what the protesters are angry about.
  • Seriously, how hard can it be to figure out what the protesters want?  Mike the Mad Biologist asks; Is our media learning?
  • There are different ways of expressing this, but it all comes down to business ethics.  You want to get rich – fine.  But don’t leave a trail of poverty and environmental destruction in your wake.  Good business strengthens the society around it;  parasites get stronger by weakening their host.
  • Over the past few days the cops have kept a close watch on this group (possibly to be sure of their safety), but have not interfered.  Which makes sense, because these protesters are on the side of wage-earners with pensions, which includes the cops.
  • I took 15 pictures which are up on Picasa – help yourself.
  • And has a post on the bridge occupation.
  • In both sets of pictures… you notice something? Make fun of them all you want, but unlike the Tea Party rallies, these people can spell.  And no weapons or even a hint of violence.  I guess when the facts are on your side you don’t need to threaten people.
  • Here’s Alan Grayson defending Occupy Wall Street on the Rachel Maddow show.  ”Doing the last one human thing left”, he says.
  • “Left-wing causes” now seems to refer to stuff like universal health care, a clean environment, peace, gender equality, business ethics, a transparent government, science, a strong middle class and a safety net for the poor. You know – all those horrible, oppressive things.
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Why we are doomed, OWS version

October 10, 2011 4 comments

Overheard on a blurb for the 11:00 news:

“Occupy Wall Street has come to Bloomington-Normal, but not everyone’s on board.  Hear why some are worried that Occupy BloNo could ruin this year’s Homecoming Celebration, on News 11″

(Clutches pearls) Merciful Heavens help me to my fainting couch!  Better yet, get my broker on the line!

I’m not sure about the exact wording or the name of the news program but that’s the gist of what I heard.

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Yammer in Adobe update hell

October 10, 2011 Comments off

Yammer is like a corporate version of Twitter; it has a lot of potential to replace the clumsy back-and-forth that happens on email about projects, meetings, etc.  It works off a web browser and there’s also a stand-alone application.  Which apparently uses Adobe Air.

The application has been hung up for a week or so, so I investigated and found it was begging for an Adobe Air update.  I tried updating Adobe Air but it wouldn’t install because Yammer couldn’t close, and Yammer couldn’t close because Air wasn’t working.  I finally had to use Task manager to find that yammer.exe was running, and kill it.  Five or six administrative clicks later, Air was updated.

How exactly most corporate users would navigate this administrative chess game is beyond me.  I’d love to know what the IT support cost works out to be, but another cost is that promising applications wind up not getting adopted or accepted, resulting in a hidden cost of lost opportunity.

Someday Adobe will create an application whose only function will be to fail to update itself.  Oh wait; that’s all of them.

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Lenovo ThinkPad Android Honeycomb tablet – after 1 week

October 8, 2011 5 comments
Click picture to see more images of ThinkPad Tablet in my Technology album

Click picture to see more images of ThinkPad Tablet in my Technology album

I like iPads a lot, but there are already two guys in our office who can support iPads.  So I opted for an Android Honeycomb tablet to broaden the range of devices we can support. I had handled a Motorola Xoom and liked it very much, but after learning about the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet (TPT) at a Lenovo roadmap meeting (roast beef sandwich, cookie, chips, Diet Coke) decided to order one.  Then from mid-August to the end of September got updates on why the damn thing hadn’t shipped already.

Now that it has arrived, all is forgiven.  It’s a good fit for the industrial style that I prefer in IT hardware (I’ve used ThinkPads for years).  It feels super-sturdy, with great connectivity options – HDMI, SD and mini-SD, USB and mini-USB, headphone, microphone and 2 cameras.  And a stylus.  It’s a premium device and feels like it will be in use long after it is ludicrously obsolete.

I’m new to tablets and also new to Android (which was the whole point after all) so this was a good test case of how intuitive (or not) it was.  The first thing it did when I turned it on was ask to log in to my Google account and synch to it.  I had a moment of; “Huh!  Good choice!” because I already use Gmail, Google Reader, Google Documents, Google Calendar, G+, and Picasa.  This might be a bit of a conceptual hurdle for people accustomed to drive letters and Microsoft Office, however.

The calendar displays my Exchange and Google Calendar items in the same screen, color-coded so I know which is which.  When I try to email something, it asks me if I want to send it with my Gmail account or my Exchange account. It also came with Documents To Go for handling Microsoft Office docs, and a utility for reading a jump drive.  This last got LOTS of attention from others but since it’s really a cloud device, I’m not sure how useful a USB connection really is.  For that matter, I only use Microsoft Office at gunpoint so Google integration is more important to me.

It took me quite a while to figure out how to install apps, move icons around and get rid of the sillier ones.  For instance I have no interest in ill-tempered birds but really need Evernote, Twitter, Google Docs, etc.  The initial hangup was that the Lenovo AppShop simply didn’t work.  And to buy anything in the regular Android marketplace, Lenovo made me agree that any terrible applications I loaded would be my own damn fault, and they wouldn’t be held responsible.  OK, fine (rolls eyes).

For the Android “desktop” I chose a picture from my Picasa albums, of a Kanon vernier caliper, in keeping with the industrial esthetic of the device.  It downloaded the picture (which is high-res), asked how I wanted it cropped, thought for a moment, and – the picture was in place.  Pretty slick.

I don’t think the screen is quite as good as that of an iPad, but it’s Gorilla Glass, which fits my bicycle-centric lifestyle. Also because of the durable glass and the rubberized back, I didn’t bother getting a case for it; I just slip it in my shoulder bag with whatever papers, books etc.  Without a case, it is about the same thickness as an iPad with a case. All the corners and edges are rounded for comfortable handling.

The cameras are for record-keeping and video conferencing purposes – the forward camera takes way too long to focus for any sort of action capture.  But image quality is OK for a camera the size of a pencil eraser.  It maintains an internal album and makes uploading to Picasa easy too.

Where the iPad has one button, the ThinkPad Tablet has four across the bottom of the vertical screen: Rotation-lock (Yea!), Web, Return and Screen Home button.  These buttons, along with the rim around the tablet, seem to be enameled metal, and the back of the tablet has the trademark rubberized black surface characteristic of ThinkPads.  The buttons pivot around a horizontal axis along the outer edge of the tablet, which is super-smart design.  Certain actions cause a brief internal vibration in the tablet, as a tactile feedback.

Polyester number sticker affixed to make home button easier to find

Black is great; I like black.  But when your eyes are adjusted for the screen, you can’t really see the row of buttons, and they’re marked with icons that are printed in dark gray ink (on black, remember).  I put a silver sticker on the Home button so I could find the damn thing.  It’s a polyester film-processing sticker from a roll I acquired working in a photo lab thirty years ago.  Interesting to contemplate the changes in technology that have taken place since that sticker was made.

The TPT does a great job of finding and connecting to wireless networks, including the rather complex authentication on campus.  Setting up Exchange mail was really easy once I figured out what icon to use; all I had to do was put in the server name and my email address, then my password, and it was ready to go.

The Nvidia Tegra processor seems not to be too power hungry, so I’ve had no battery life issues.  But then, I’m not prone to watching movies on portable devices.  At the end of the day, it has about 60 or 70 percent battery life left.

Lenovo TPT stylus

Lenovo TPT stylus docks in the upper-left corner of the tablet when held in vertical position. Only the red button at top remains visible. It does not have a push-eject, so there's no tendency for it to eject accidentally. Simply pull it out to activate.

The stylus allows interacting with more precision-input applications, and the device seems to read my handwriting correctly.  I can also input sketches, and it is very helpful when accessing websites that have very tightly-grouped links as well.

There’s a button on the stylus – powered by an AAAA battery – whose function I have not really figured out yet.  And figuring out is the operative word because the user manual is an impenetrable 111-page black-and-white PDF written in jargon.  Surely Lenovo could make something more interactive but it’s their first-generation device.

By Friday of the first week I was using it routinely for email, calendar, web interaction and note-keeping.  I’m pretty sure I’ve just scratched the surface of what it can do but that isn’t bad for just a few days with a new kind of device, running an Operating System that I’ve never handled before.  (I do have an iPod Touch that I use as a shirt-pocket computer, so an iPad couldn’t really be that unfamiliar).

Also, I took it to a meeting full of iPad users; it was like introducing a powerful magnet in a room full of iron filings.  Everyone wanted (in the words of Stephen Fry, describing the iPad just 15 months ago) to see it, touch it, handle it, fondle it, and lick it.  So the race is on, but Apple has about a thousand-mile head start.  The winner, of course, is you and me; we’re using science-fiction devices in our daily lives now.  It’s like a bicycle for the mind.


  • In case you want some less-disorganized blathering about the device, with actual facts and stuff in it, here’s ZDnet’s ThinkPad Tablet: Ready for the board room
  • Update March 2012 – the power button is broken, tablet is in for repair. No idea when i’ll get it back. And the iPad III just came out. Or whatever they’re calling it.
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Retrieving medical data from a foggy brain

October 6, 2011 8 comments

I may not be at my sharpest, mentally, right now. It’s been 36 hours since I’ve had anything but water, coffee or tea, and I’ve had minimal sleep for the last two days, so I’m a bit hungry and not a little grumpy. Worse, I am filling out a form. I hate filling out forms.

The form asks lots of nosy medical questions, like; “HIV positive” and “Surgical history” and what medications and vitamins I take and whether I’ve ever had an allergic reaction to a medicine. All so they can shove a camera down my throat and maybe grab a little piece of esophagus for someone to look at.

Yeah – there’s some antibiotic I’m allergic to, but I don’t remember which one. Somethingacillin, I think. Is that close enough?

I recognize that maintaining medical databases is a non-trivial problem, but I have to fill out this information every damn time I walk into a new doctor’s office. In my case, that’s a lot of times. And news flash; my memory isn’t that good. Of course Amazon knows what movies I looked at five years ago, even if I didn’t buy them, but here I sit, filling out tiny squares in ball-point pen on a piece of pink paper.

Where’s all that database technology I keep hearing about? Buried under a mountain of insurance-company forms, probably. Do they have better records in countries with single-payer insurance? Anyone?


  • Yes, I am transcribing the contents of this form to EverNote.  Hope the information is right.  And even so, it isn’t like I could just print out my Notes and give them to the next doctor: they’ll want it on their pastel paper in their tiny squares.
  • This visit was both upper gastric endoscopy and colonoscopy.  Doctor assured me he’d use a different camera for esophagus than for colon.  Must be a standard joke for him.
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The revolutionary and his revolutions

October 5, 2011 2 comments

We are moving creatures. Our eyes move, our bodies move – we shift around, we walk, we climb, we make sandwiches, we collect into groups and then disperse. Fixed objects are a strain to use – they affix an unwanted anchor to all our natural movements.

This morning it occurred to me that when you use a desktop computer, and to almost the same extent when you use a laptop, you orient your body to the computer. It is more or less fixed in space and your movements and focus belong to it. But when you use a tablet, you orient the computer to your body. This is the reason smartphones are so popular, but they simply aren’t big enough to handle tougher information-handling jobs. The iPad is, by design, just right.

The announcement

I didn’t believe him back in April of 2010. It sounded like sales hype:

After months of rampant speculation, Apple Wednesday announced a touchscreen tablet computer, the “iPad” for consumers who want to take their movies, TV shows, music, games and reading with them, be it around the house or on the go. Pricing starts at $499, and it should be available in 60 to 90 days.”We want to kick off 2010 with a truly revolutionary and magical product,” CEO Steve Jobs told a packed audience at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco on Wednesday.

“Revolutionary and magical”? It just looked like a giant iPod to me. But in 15 short months the iPad has gone far beyond “movies, TV shows, music, games and reading.”  It has become an educational tool, a scientific instrument, a portable theater, a communications’ center, and a creative platform. It opened up whole new possibilities in the information handling of practically every industry you can name, from manufacturing to medicine to sales to law enforcement.  It could fill all these needs because it was light enough for a human to carry, easy-to-use enough for a human to master, had enough battery life for a normal human workday, and was cheap enough for a human to buy.

Steve Jobs - image from "Joy Of Tech" comic

Steve Jobs - image from "Joy Of Tech" comic

The individual technological pieces didn’t add up to any device at all.  Yes, we knew how to make fantastic touch-screens with indium-tin oxide coatings. Yes, we had low-power processors and advanced batteries. Yes, we could CAM up heat-dissipating single-piece aluminum bodies. Yes, we could in principle create an operating system optimized for touch instead of retrofitting an old, bloated one created for keyboard entry and then retrofitted for a mouse. But it took Steve Jobs’ vision of a new customer experience to push all these elements to their limits, and then pull them together into the iPad.

The magic

In his lifetime Steve Jobs created a string of iconic products, revolutionizing computers, telephones, the movie industry, the music industry, printing technology, desktop publishing, manufacturing, product development, technology integration, and public awareness of the importance of design in the technology we use. In doing these things he popularized high-power creative tools for millions of people.  His secret?  Focus on the user:

“You can’t start with the technology and figure out how to sell it. You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards for the technology.” – Steve Jobs at WWDC 1997

The only Apple computer I have ever owned is an iPod touch. But every single computer I have ever owned was shaped by competition with a revolutionary genius.  RIP, Steve Jobs.  You actually did change the world.


  • Hard to believe that announcement was only 15 months ago.
  • Other companies may never catch up. I read about Jobs’ death on my new Lenovo Android-based tablet, which has been shipping now for all of one week. Today I used it in a meeting full of iPad owners, and they were like iron filings to a magnet.  But my new tablet would not exist at all  - or not for several years – if Jobs had not created the iPad.
  • Early tablets were just laptops with touch-screens.  They weighed 7 or 8 pounds, had 2.5-hour battery life, ran Windows, and cost over two grand. Lot of unusability thresholds there.
  • Amazon builds on the iPad with its amazing new Silk browser.
  • The concept of a tablet does not originate with Apple or Steve Jobs; It has appeared in fiction for decades.  Creating the reality, that’s something else again.
  • Insights into the usability of the iPhone from a phone-support professional: Steve was all right
  • Jobs at 2005 Stanford graduation, explaining…
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