Some nice words from the opening of the Steve Jobs Theatre

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These words really resonated with me yesterday while watching yesterday’s Apple event.

There’s lots of ways to be. As a person.
And some people express there deep appreciation in different ways.
But one of the ways, that I believe people express their appreciation to the rest of humanity, is to make something wonderful. And put it out there.
And you never meet the people.
You never shake their hands.
You never hear their story or tell yours…
But some how, in the act of making something with a great deal of love and care,
Something is transmitted there.
And it’s a way of expressing ourselves to the rest of our species our deep appreciation.
So, we need to be true to who we are,
And remember what’s really important to us.

Steve Jobs

 

The Making of Karateka by Jordan Mechner – A Review

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When I saw that there was a book on Amazon about the making of one of my favorite childhood games – Katateka – how could I not click ‘buy’.

Just to be clear, this isn’t a book. It’s a journal. A short, sketchy stream of consciousness from a kid who, while taking Psych at Yale, created one of the Billboards top seling number one Apple games of the 80s – Karateka

That journal itself won’t appeal to use unless you are already a big fan of the game, or you are just really interested in the creative process. For me this was both.

I was fascinated to read how Jordan had to simultaneously deal with the frame rate limitations of the Apple ][, juggling a full course load, while hammering out a deal with Broderbund, while also watching a tonne of movies and considering becoming a full time screen writer.

It’s just a fascinating journey that does contain nugets of wisdom for those who are looking. Here are a few of my favorites:

Maybe what makes great artists — composers, painters, writers, filmmakers — different from competent ones isn’t so much raw ability or talent (although they help) as the willpower to continue refining a design until it’s really perfect.

I get this. I feel this when I write, draw pictures, or just try to come up with innovative ways of teaching people about computers. I know I’m not the brightest tool in the shed. But I also know what it’s like to spend hours on a single paragraph, until that very moment when you just get it right, and it glows!

You can’t do good work in an art form you don’t love yourself. I still do, sometimes, really get into a video game – Lode Runner, Dr. Creep – and it’s that part of me that I’ve got to aim at pleasing. If I can’t satisfy myself, I won’t satisfy anyone else.

Who are they? It’s us!

This perhaps my favorite quote of the book. It’s here that Jordan explains why some games are awesome, and some aren’t. Here is was referring to ports of Karateka to other platforms. None of them were as good as his on the Apple ][ because no one else was prepared to spend the 100s of hours it took to get the animations just right. No surprise. Just reassuring. That love, hard work, attention to detail still maker. And that people feel it when they use your product.

Anyways, I loved this book. And I just started reading the companion journal Prince Or Persia. I will post more then if I find something worth sharing.

Cheers – Jonathan

Digital Revolution – Stockholm Tekniskamuseet

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Just had an awesome tour today of a killer retro computer display at the technology museum today.

That had Mac, Next machines, Mac with the lid off where you can see the signatures of the designers, Altairs, Commodore PET, it was all so cool. They even had my old Garfield phone.

Anyway, checkout the picts and display text if you are intro retro gaming. And if this display comes to your city be sure to check it out. It’s very cool.

JR

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The Apple Watch in New York

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So this weekend I have the pleasure of seeing the Apple watch for the first time in two distinct iconic locations – Grand Central Station, and the flagship 5th Avenue store.

Grand Central Station

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First off, when I first walked into Grand Central Station (or Juncture here as they call it) I didn’t even know that hand an Apple store tucked away in the back.

Not thinking much, I walked over, and loe and behold – watches!

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This was the first day the watches had been on display to the public and needless to say people were excited.

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The watches come in all different shapes and sizes (completely different marketing from computers where there are very few models). And there was a watch for just about everyone.

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Speaking to a salesman I asked if the watches were for sale. He said no. You could only pre-order. And they were sold out till November! Woah.

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I don’t know if that’s true of not, but still. There seems to be a pretty healthy demand for these times.

I got to play with some of the watches on display. I have to say I am impressed. They feel good. The user interface works well. You can speak with Siri and it works. So I could see these things doing well.

I walked in having no desire for owning an Apple watch. But after playing with one for a while. I was beginning to think these things were pretty cool. Maybe I was just getting swept up in the moment.

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Anyways. After that it was off to me real destinatation. The iconic 5th avenue store.

5th Avenue Store

This is the store that Walter Isaccson talked about in the Steve Jobs biography. Clear cube on top. Spiral stair case going to the bottom. It is simply beautiful.

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And over course they had the watches on display too. So things were getting busy in there.

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I just stood back and marvelled at the place. It was truly a beautiful store. It’s located right on 5th ave. Right beside Central Park. And is definitely iconic not only it’s exterior design, but on that day what it was selling inside too.

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I don’t know whats going to happen to the watch long term. I suspect Apple will iterate on this and it will improve over time.

But I bet you this store won’t be quiet until after Christmas. And I suspect more than one person will be finding a new Apple Watch.

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And I just love that staircase!

Copy with care

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I understand the desire to copy others. I do it all the time. I read an article about Facebook having no QA department, or see first hand how Spotify delivers projects with no Project Managers, and I can’t help but wonder how if they can do it, why can’t we do it here?

There’s just one problem. Copying others is never that simple.

When we see or admire what one company is doing, we are only seeing it through the lens of the end result. And not the underlying foundations that were setup to get them there.

Facebook can get away with not having a QA department because of the huge level of accountability they place on their engineers. Not to mention the insane level of talent.

Spotify doesn’t have formal Project Managers. But it empowers, and gives a level of autonomy and independence to it’s teams, so that teams are inspired to manage themselves.

For fun, this is the conversation I imagine trying to have with the Oil and Gas executive back home.

“OK. For next year we are going to try something new. No annual budgets. When Toronto asks us how much we are plan on spending, we will simply say we are going to spend whatever the cost is for us to work here this year. Our burn. That’s our budget. And in exchange for that they will empower us to do whatever it takes to meet the goals we have jointly agreed upon and laid out before us.”

Needless to say this wouldn’t fly.

But that’s my point. It wouldn’t fly because most companies won’t give the trust and accountability necessary to get the level of commitment and passion they see and read about in others. For their employees it will always be a job.

So am I saying we should give up, stop looking to others to inspiration, and just accept that we work for companies that will never give us the levels of autonomy, accountability, and independence we crave.

Hell no. Just remember. Not everyone wants this level of accountability. For many people work IS just a job. And trust is something that needs to be earned.

So keep reading. Keep studying. And keep looking to others. Just understand. What works at Apple, or Google, won’t necessarily work out of the gate at yours. Don’t get discouraged, keep trying to make where you work a better place, because at the end of the day, what other choice is there.

Joining Spotify

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Well, after a whirlwind summer, I can proudly announce I have joined Spotify as an Agile Coach here in Stockholm Sweden. I just completed my first week, and before entering bootcamp I wanted to share some thoughts, observations, and comments from week one.

Surface observations

Spotify, for those of you who don’t know, is a music streaming company founded in 2006 which today has about 40M active users and 10M paying customers.

The best way to think about what they do is to imagine having access to all of iTunes for free. You don’t download the songs. They are streamed to you in real time on whatever device you happen to be listening. Then for $10/month you can get rid of the occasional add – this is called the premium service. Spotify competes with Google and Apple in the music service industry.

Being a music tech company Spotify has some pretty incredible engineering talent. They have music players, iOS/Android clients, embedded hardware in speaker systems, not to mention some enormous scaling issues for when it comes to streaming music to people anywhere, anytime around the world. Very strong engineering.

They are also the most mature Agile shop I have ever had the chance of working with. They have been innovating in the Agile space for some time. Most of their challenges are organizational. Like how do we scale this thing.

For a good video on Agile at Spotify watch this.

http://vimeo.com/85490944

Sweden

This being Sweden, there is a strong culture of building consensus (similar to Japan). But different also in that there very little formal hierarchy. Spotify stress autonomy, and empowerment at a level I have never seen before in a company of it’s size. Every team here truly is a startup and empowered (and expected) to make their own decisions and follow through.

So overall, a very high-level of self awareness, a great deal of maturity, but an understanding that they haven’t got it all figured out (despite the number of daily tours and requests they give to other companies visiting the office, and asking them how they do it). They answer of course is there is no one way – this just happens to be the Spotify way.

Great challenges

Working here is also like having a front row seat to one of the greatest battles our industry is going to see – who is going to dominate music. Going up against the likes of Google and Apple is no small thing. And Spotify is well aware of the challenges they face.

Organizational scaling, reduced friction, iterating fast, and discovering the future before others have real meaning here. There are going to be some real challenges. And I feel very fortunate to be a part of that.

Coming soon

For my friends and family back in Canada stay tuned. Spotify is coming! There were some regulations from the Canadian government that needed to be sorted out before Spotify could launch, that that being complete Spotify should show up sometime I hope this year.

So stay tuned. Sign up. And listen to the music.

Cheers – Jonathan

Links

CEO Daniel EK Charlie Rose Interview

Personal blog of family life in Sweden

iMessage Not Delivered

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If you get this error message on your childs iPad try the following:

Goto Settings -> General -> Date & Time

And turn on ‘Set Automatically’. If it’s already on turn it off and on again.
If you are still stuck go

Settings -> Messages and logout and log back in again.

For some reason this has fixed my kids iPad problems multiple times.

Links that help
http://support.apple.com/kb/ts4268

The Ultimate History of Video Games Review

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book-TheUltimateHistoryOfVideoGames

Video games are special to me. I fondly remember first seeing Pong as a 7 year old at my uncles New Year Eve party. Years later I became enamoured with digital worlds like Tron.

That’s why it was with great anticipation that I picked up Steven Kent’s The Ultimate History of Video Games.

I loved this book. I got to relive Atari, Intellivision, and Colecovision as a child but this time seeing it through the eyes as an adult. It felt a bit like reuniting with some old friends.

Here are a few notes I highlighted as I was reading:

Atari

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– Atari got it’s name from the Japanese word for ‘check’ in the game of Go.

– Within ten years of it’s inception, Atari would grow into a $2Billion a year company making it the fastest growing company in US history.






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– Because of repair costs and reduced circuit board space, Atari saved approximately $100,000 for each chip removed before production. Nolan Bushnell (founder) wanted his engineers to reduce the number of chips in Breakout – but got no volunteers.

– Enter Steve Jobs. Jobs was working with Wozniak on the Apple ][. Jobs convinced Woz to give it a go, and Woz did it in 72 hours non-stop, all in his head. Bushnell set a target to get it down to 75 chips (down from 100). Woz got it down to 20.

– Don Valentine, the founder of Sequoia Capital, was one of the first investors in Atari. He only stayed for 2 years, but later on Steve Jobs and Wozniak asked Valentine to help start Apple computer. That year Valentine invested in Apple and Cisco. Not a bad year for a VC.

The Golden Age of Arcade Games

– Space Invaders was so popular when it came out that it caused a national coin shortage.

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– Pac-Man, invented by Toru Iwatani, was originally called Puck-Man but was changed to prevent any Americans from vandalizing the name.

– Defender was a huge breakthough in gaming. 3 ½ screens and scrolling.

– Nintendo is a 100 year old company

– The same guy, Shigeru Miyamoto, created Donkey Kong, Mario Brothers, and Legend of Zelda

– Tempest took a year and had about 21K of code. It was also revolutionary for it’s vector based graphics.

– Toru Iwatani, the Namco employee who designed Pac-Man, was not involved with the creation of Ms. Pac-Man. It was created, instead, by nine college students, led by two MIT students, Doug Macrae and Kevin Curran.

– Midway sold 100,000 Pac-Man machines and more than 115,000 Ms. Pac-Man machines in the United States. Other than these, no arcade game has ever sold more than 100,000 units in the US.

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– Though ColecoVision had only the standard 8-bit processor, 8K of RAM, with an additional 16K of video RAM, it was cheap enough that COleco could afford a chip with the memory mapping and frame buffers that Atari had left out.

– Dragon Slayer, a game combining arcade play with full on animation, looked like a Disney production because it was animated by a former Disney animator who worked on films such as Robin Hood, the Rescuers, and Pete’s Dragon.

– In 1982 Activision replaced Atari as the fastest-growing company in the history of the US riding high with hits like Pitfall and River Raid.

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Commodore

– Commodore International was founded by Jack Tramiel – possibly the most complex person ever to enter the computer industry. He was a Polish Jew, a survivor of Nazi concentration camps, who worked his way from poverty to fortune.

– In 1981, Commodore release the VIC-20 that sold for under $300. It had 5K RAM and 16-color graphics, and was a pricing coup for it’s time.

– In August 1982 Commodore launched the Commodore 64, a personal computer that company executives claimed rivaled the $1000 Apple ][ in power but sold for $600. By the following January Commodore was shipping 25,000 computers a month.

– In 1983 Commodore surpassed Apple in overall sales and became the first computer company to report a $1-billion sales year.

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– Coleco licensed a guys concept for dolls and renamed them ‘Cabbage Patch Kids’.
– In 1986 Coleco acquired the company that published Trivial Pursuit. They missed the fad, and in 1988 filed for bankruptcy.

Electronic Arts

– The biggest and most successful game company that emerged during the Commodore 64 run was Electronic Arts, a company that did something no other video game company had done before – it promoted it’s game developers.

– EA was founded by Trip Hawkins, a Harvard, Stanford MBA graduate who was opportunistic and persuasive. Was Apple 68th employee and was involved in many strategic decisions there.

– Hawkins is attributed for coming up with the albumn cover concept form video games

– EA created one of my favorite childhood games – Archon (chess where you fight the actual battles).

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– Sega is not a Japanese word. It is an abbreviated form of Service Games founded by Americans that has it’s roots in a US military base in Japan.

I could go on and on. The book goes into great detail talking about the rise and fall of Sega, Nintendo (these guys were huge but I didn’t play a tonne of these games). I more enjoyed the Atari, Intellivison, and Coleco Vision.

If you are looking for a thorough, indepth, light read on Video Games. This is definitely the book for you. It’s not the most well written piece of prose, but if you like history and nostalgia on one of the worlds biggest pop culture events, you won’t be disappointed.

My favorite video of all time – Disks of Tron.

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History of Cocoa

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Some good history of Cocoa from Aaron Hillegass’s book Cocoa Programming.

The window server on Mac OS X is like the X window server on Unix. It gets events from the user, forwards them to the application, and puts data on the screen.

NeXTSTEP came up with a set of libraries to enable programmers to deal with the window manager in an elegant manner. These frameworks were originally called OpenStep, which was later renamed Cocoa.

Programmers loved OpenStep. Tim Berners-Lee developed the first Web browser and the first Web server on NeXTSTEP.

Apple selected NeXTSTEP as there next operating and bought the whole company in December 1996.

NeXTSTEP became Mac OS X. It’s Unix underneath.

Cocao Touch is built on top Cocoa (many of the classes are identical). Most importantly, the principles and design patterns are essentially unchanged.

Life after Steve

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Having Steve Jobs return to Apple was both a blessing and a curse.

A blessing in that Steve revitalized the company, turned it around, and brought it back from the brink when it was 90 days from bankruptcy.

A curse in that Steve became such a big part of the company, that it’s future is uncertain without him.

After reading Walter Isaacson’s biography on Steve, I am not sure Apple can survive without him.

It took a passionate, hugely successfully dictator, who fired his board immediately upon returning, to save that company.

Public companies have a way of ‘going the way of the bozos’ as Steve would put it. Who is going to carry on that legacy with Steve gone?

I love Apple. I love what they stand for, how they’ve raised the game, and how they make people give a damn in a world swimming in lowered expectations and mediocrity.

I just fear for their future. I’m not convinced Johnny Ive’s or anyone else there will have the power, passion, conviction, and sacrifice Steve did. And I am afraid of Apple once again going the way of the bozo.

I am cheering for you Apple. Prove me wrong.

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