Wednesday, October 12, 2011

…something touched me deep inside, the day the music died...

I have (had) a (very) few things in common with Steve Jobs: we were born within a year of each other, we were both adopted, we were both cancer survivors (until last week), and we both worked in the computer industry.

We differed in so many different ways: Steve dropped out of a liberal arts college, embraced the counter-culture, and peppered his career with daring moves. I conformed: starting at the U.S. Naval Academy, transferring to an established (if somewhat innovative) engineering school, married young, and moved between "safe" software jobs over the years.

I had been working in software for seven years, mostly in CAD and computer graphics, when I first encountered an Apple computer — a pre-release Macintosh — as an employee at Lotus Development. I was skeptical for a short time (a few weeks), but I eventually concluded that the Mac represented a compelling vision of the future of computing, and embraced it; or, as some would say, started drinking the Kool-Aid.

I had the privilege of "meeting" Steve twice, in small-group situations. The first time, he and John Sculley met Mac developers at Lotus, shortly after Sculley had been hired by Apple. The second time, Steve visited Lotus as CEO of NeXT (with Conall Ryan, an ex-Loti who was NeXT's VP of Marketing). During that visit, Steve expressed an interest in seeing the product I was working on (Lotus Agenda) implemented for the NeXT platform; I was hooked. I eventually landed a job working on Lotus 1-2-3 for Mac at Lotus, where I was able to pursue this passion, and it was one of the most satisfying projects of my career.

After those experiences with Apple and Steve at Lotus, the Mac (and NeXT, to the extent that I understood it) became my personal reference points for how software should work for users. This orientation was not always conducive to career development. I did land a position with Symantec developing Symantec C++ for PowerPC (a descendant of THINK C for the Mac, which I had used for years), which was probably my dream job of all time; but the Mac tide was ebbing, and I had to find work in domains where my Mac experience and values were not, well, valued.

Four years ago, I landed a job to lead the implementation of a Mac version of a successful Windows product. The project was not a spectacular success, for various reasons, but I was back to the Mac, and anxious to stay. As corporate interest in that product waned, I moved on to a similar situation (a company with a successful Windows product and a desire to succeed on the Mac). I am back in my element, and determined to implement something Steve would approve of.

I am crushed by Steve's passing; in private, I have cried, uncontrollably. We have been deprived of years of his masterful guidance. I have great confidence that Apple can continue to execute as well as it has in the past, but it is undeniable that something is lost without Steve's oversight. Nonetheless, I cast my lot with Apple. (Literally: I have Apple stock I bought in 1997, and I'm still holding.)

I have only a few years left to work in this industry before retirement (I hope), and Steve's advice (as expressed in his Stanford commencement speech) rings in my ears: "Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life".

I am not going to waste the time I have left.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

"Our Banana Republic"?

In the New York Times this weekend, Nicholas Kristof asserts that the USA has become a banana republic. The piece is typical of what I see on the Gray Lady's op-ed pages lately, and why the opinions expressed in what is regarded as our "newspaper of record" have become so meaningless to me.

To me, a "banana republic" is defined by a corrupt political system, typically run by a dictator for his own benefit, where elections are rigged, and government policy is manipulated to enrich the people in power, usually leaving much of the populace in abject poverty.

Kristof chooses to define banana republics on the basis of relative income; by his standard, in the BRs, "the richest 1 percent of the population gobbles up 20 percent of the national pie".  By that standard, the USA, where "The richest 1 percent of Americans now take home almost 24 percent of income, up from almost 9 percent in 1976", we are even worse than a typical "banana republic". And we're told that the rise of the Republicans is likely to make it "worse".

Oh, where to start?

The disconnect, for me, is the assumption that our country has a corrupt political system designed to enrich anybody, let alone the ruling clique.

Yes, a few people do get madly rich in this country. People like Oprah Winfrey, George Clooney, Barbra Streisand, Warren Buffett, the Kennedy's, the Kerry's, Barack and Michelle Obama, Steve Jobs, etc. Yes, this list is selective, to make a point: these particular people are on the opposite side of the political spectrum from the Republicans who are supposedly driving us into BR status.

Government policy did not enrich any of these people, or anybody else, for that matter. Most of them went into business, took risks, and were rewarded. (Even the Obama's got most of their wealth by selling books; nobody was forced to buy them.) Kristof's complaint seems to be that the government did not take enough of their additional income away from them. This is not "enriching"; this is, if anything, the absence of "deriching", i.e., confiscation of income and/or wealth.

Let's look at the other end of the spectrum. Oh, wait, Kristof didn't. How are working American's doing vis a vis their standard of living? This wasn't addressed in the column. It's a treatise on wealth, not of the supposed deprivation of the non-wealthy.

I say "supposed deprivation" because I am not yet convinced that the middle, or any other, class, is being deprived on behalf of the wealthy. I have not seen a careful assessment of the challenges to the middle or working classes. Certainly housing and medical expenses are up, but the quality (and presumably the cost) of both is greatly improved, mostly as a result of government intervention in building codes and required coverage. There may be more at work, but I'm not convinced that it's a simple case of a particular class being excluded by policy.

The standard of living for the "working class" in this country -- cell phones, cable TV, housing, sanitation -- would be the envy of the working class of  any country otherwise considered a "banana republic". I don't think we have to hang our heads in shame.

Having said all that, I have an open mind with respect to adjusting tax policy. But I am mindful of the difference between current income and pre-existing wealth. Whenever someone writes a column that conflates the two, I smell demagoguery, and tune it out.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Four and a half to five years ago…

I speculated that Apple's Boot Camp would (OK, could; I hedged) help Apple boost market share significantly. My rationale was that Mac hardware was suddenly potentially useful to Windows users, as part-time or even full-time Windows machines, and that even a small percentage of Windows users buying Mac hardware would represent a substantial increase in Apple's market share, even if it added only a couple of percentage points to Apple's roughly 4% market share.

Anecdotally, I've seen this happening. At my last two employers, Macs, usually laptops, have regularly been purchased with the intent of running Windows at least part of the time, even by IT types who profess to hate the Mac. Many of these Mac owners started using Mac OS, sometimes for the first time in years, others for the first time ever. I haven't done a comprehensive survey, but it's my informal observation that many are "switching" to Mac OS.

Quantitatively, my expectations have been wildly exceeded. This week, some reports put Apple's market share at over 10%, making it the third largest PC vendor in the US. Apple's share price is nearly 10 times what it was in June of 2005, its market cap puts it at the top of the S&P 500, and it has more cash in the bank than (almost?) any other company in the world.

To be sure, the Mac is not the only driver of this growth; the iPod, iPhone, and iPad are all game changers. But I assert that they are all inter-related; there has been much talk about the iPod (and later iPhone) "halo effect", but it all adds up to Apple's tight focus on their product line.

I see more upside. The iPad is in its first generation, and I expect it to follow the same kind of trajectory the iPhone did. The Mac (and OS X) are back on Apple's agenda next week, and I see a lot of potential there. Mac OS X is way ahead of its developers; mainstream applications that need to support OS X 10.4 (Tiger) are still unable to exploit much of the potential that Apple built into Leopard (10.5) and Snow Leopard (10.6). I have high hopes for OS X 10.7, although I don't have many predictions to offer. A new file system seems like a possibility: ZFS was rumored for Snow Leopard, and it wouldn't surprise me if Apple has something new here this time around.

And there must be something for the new datacenter in North Carolina to do...

Saturday, June 12, 2010

A Few Short Observations About WWDC '10 (one hint: don't sell Mac short)

Of course, I'm under non-disclosure, so I'll be brief (and careful):

- The conference was light on Mac OS X, but most app developers haven't adopted some of the most powerful aspects of Snow Leopard yet: Grand Central Dispatch and OpenCL to name a couple. There is a lot of goodness yet to be extracted from OS X by developers; Apple doesn't need to rev it yet.

- Apple is investing big-time in Dev Tools (Xcode), to the benefit of both iOS and OS X. All Apple devices (and OS's) are positioned to take great advantage of emerging technologies.

- Having seen Apple's development and debugging tools for iOS devices (iPhones and iPxds), I can't see how Android can its multiple manufacturer's can keep up. Sure, they can build a lot of devices and throw them at the wall to see what sticks, but will they ever be able to fine-tune these resource-constrained devices to the same extent that Apple can, with it's tightly-managed platform and well-matched tools? We'll see...

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Apple, Flash, and Platform Control

Gruber @ DaringFireball, as always, has already nailed this on the head, and Mark Bernstein (whom I've never encountered before), has driven it home, but I think I have $.02 and a little history to add.

Monday, December 14, 2009

From dual diagnosis to partial hospitalization to...

It turned out that the second dual-diagnostic unit, at a facility specializing in substance abuse, was a "high point" in our story, even though they were more restrictive about visitation. Our son's case supervisor, Rose, who we never got to meet personally, was a caring, patient individual who spent as much time as we needed on the phone, advising us on what to expect and how to advocate for our son. We were allowed a visit with our son in the presence of another case supervisor (Michael), who clearly knew the background of our son's case and facilitated a conversation about how we could secure the best future for our son. I can't thank these people enough; Rose has been a valuable resource even after Greg left their care.

The "plan" was to move our son into a residential facility; e.g., a group home. He seemed to be looking forward to that, inasmuch as it represented a path to less restrictive setting and eventual employment.

Unfortunately, the insurance company seemed to have different ideas; the result was a move to a "partial hospitalization" program in a facility much further away from our home. In this program, our son receives therapy for six hours a day, and lives in housing on the hospital campus the rest of the day. He is able to sign himself out of the facility at will; in fact, he was required to do so, because he medication was prescribed by the facility but he was responsible for having it filled at a local pharmacy, even though he had been transferred there without his wallet, which had been taken from him much earlier in the custody chain. Fortunately, the pharmacy accommodated him until we were able to deliver his wallet, and even give him a ride to fill the prescription.

The "ride" was our first opportunity to spend unsupervised time with our son since he was arrested and subjected to the emergency evaluation. In a way, it was disappointing: he seemed very "down" on himself and unwilling to accept the diagnosis. But I think we were able to communicate to him how much we care, and much we don't blame him (any more) for our past crises.

Our major frustration with the current facility is that they seem to be insisting that our son be the point person in arranging the next stage of his own care, and, frankly, we don't think he's up to it. He's never been well-organized in arranging such things (after all, he has a thought disorder), and his communication skills are also lacking. He has been emphasizing his (history of) substance abuse as his dominant problem, mainly, we think, because it enables him to ignore his other diagnosis.

We were recently informed (by our son) that his insurance coverage for his current facility will lapse on December 22nd, before we have had any chance to discuss what the next stage of his treatment should be. We're reluctant to bring him back home without substantial support services (which we haven't been able to line up, yet). We have an appointment to talk with him and his case supervisor in a couple of days (almost a week after he arrived at this facility); we're hoping we can establish a plan for well-supervised care when and if he comes home with us.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Moving from dual diagnosis to... dual diagnosis

Our son is being moved today from a dual-diagnostic unit in a psychiatric hospital to a dual-diagnostic unit in a facility that specializes in substance abuse (which we do not think is our son's primary problem), but which offers relaxed levels of care that we can hope he will move into sooner rather than later.

All I know is that the rules will change for us; stay tuned...