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

 

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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

breakout

– 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.






Jobs and Wozniak take on Atari Breakout

– 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.

space-invaders

– 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.

retro-video-games

– 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.

pitfall

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.

commodore-cassette-drive

– 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).

220px-Archon_box

– 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.

discsoftron

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.

Some thoughts on Steve Jobs and Agile

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There has been a lot written and said about Steve Jobs over the last couple weeks.

As I watch Walter Isaacson on Charlie Rose this morning I am both inspired and shocked imagining what it would be like working for Steve.

There is a story of Steve Jobs telling Wosniak he had four days to write BreakOut for the Atari.

Woz said it would take two months to write this much code.

Jobs looked him in the eye with that unblinking stare, and said:

You can do it in four days.

And Woz did it in four days.

Now of course this is exactly the opposite of what we teach in agile.

You don’t go forward with a plan you don’t believe in.
You don’t ignore your team’s estimates.
And you face reality.

Except that in this case Steve was right. We we would have been wrong.

It’s an inspiring paradox.

All the people who survived his often brutal management style, were fiercely loyal to the end and said:

He made me do things I didn’t think I could do.

How so should we reconcile this with agile? Is this a management style we should emulate and recommend, or even strive to copy?

I don’t think so. There are a couple things I believe are very unique to Steve.

# 1 Passion

# 2 Drive

# 3 Uncompromising rejection of mediocity.

Most of us don’t have these qualities in abundance. Nor are most of us prepared to make the sacrificies it takes to do the things he’s done.

There are always going to be examples of heroic stories of people doing the impossible against all odds. And that’s good. We need to be inspired.

I just don’t think it’s a model that works for everyone. Nor should it.

Now I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find these stories inspring, or I didn’t get fired up every time I watch Steve’s Standford commencement speech.

But at the end of the day, I’ve got remember that what worked for Steve, won’t work for me.

And I’ve got to find my own way.

The 7 Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs

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This morning I listened to a this really good podcast by Phil Windley of IT conversation interviewing Carmine Gallo on his new book The 7 Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs.

I haven’t read the book. But here is a summary of what I gleamed from the podcast and this presentation I found on slideshare.






Principle #1 – Do what you love.

As Carmine points out in his book this doesn’t mean drop out of school and going surfing.
The sweet spot for doing what you love is finding that crossroads between:

  • what’s something you are passionate about
  • something you can be world class at
  • can you make a living doing it

If you can line up these three things, you won’t have to work a day in your life.

Principle #2 – Put a dent in the universe.

We all want purpose. We all want to leave our mark. Passion fuels the rocket, but it’s the vision that points it in the right direction.

We’re gambling on our vision, and we’d rather do that than make ‘me-too’ products. – Steve Jobs

Principle #3 – Kick-start your brain.

Take ideas from a broad set of experiences. Don’t just look inside your own community.

I learned this lesson with my first startup Cambrian House. For two years I didn’t write a lick of code. Instead I learned about a wide range of subjects I knew nothing about – marketing, sales, hiring, firing, pitching, raising capital, blogging, design, and how to be a customer (one of the toughest jobs on any software project).

This was by design. I wanted this to be my street MBA. But I am glad I did because The Agile Samurai and some other things I am working on would not have been realized if I had stayed 50,000 feet deep in enterprise application development.

It’s scary leaving your comfort zone. No one is more insular than the tech community. But going to other conferences, talking to people in other disciplines, is where true innovation comes from.

Innovation is about connecting things. For Steve it was realizing that the beauty of calligraphy and typesetting could be applied to computers (the first Mac).

Notice how the Apple Store doesn’t have a till or cashier displayed as soon as you walk in? That’s because Apple based their stores around the best retail customer experience they could find – The Four Seasons.

Part of what made the Macintosh great was that the people working on it were musicians, and poets, and artists, and zoologists, and historians who also happened to be the best computer scientists in the world. – Steve Jobs

Principle #4 – Sell dreams, not products.

This is to remind us that no one cares about our products or services. All they care about is what they can do for them. Sell the dream and you will win them over.

Another way of looking at this is to always make sure you are selling the benefits of your product and not the features (breaking safely over anti-lock brakes).

Principle #5 – Say no to 1,000 things.

This is probably my favorite principle of them all. It just resonates with the minimalist in me. If it’s not adding value or contributing to where you are going … drop it.
Don’t waste another second thinking about it.

Steve obviously takes this to the extreme in Apple products which is why you won’t find a USB connector on the iPad.

Principle #6 – Create insanely great customer experiences.

This is the principle I struggle the most with. Not because I don’t agree with it. Just because I find it hard.

If creating great customer experiences was easy everyone would be doing it. Yet there’s plenty of evidence in the software and products we use everyday that companies don’t take this to heart.

Don’t believe me? Try flying somewhere and tell me how much you enjoy the experience. This is an industry just waiting to be tipped on it’s head.

Principle #7 – Master the message.

This one I am probably weakest on. I don’t have a lot of experience mastering messages (except many when it comes to explaining Agile).

But messaging is more than marketing. It’s the whole package and experience. As Carmine points out in his presentation buying a Mac from the apple store is like going on a date.

When it comes to presenting there are a couple other rules of thumb:

  • no bullet points
  • more pictures less words
  • eliminate the clutter

Bonus principle – Don’t let the bozos get your down.

Here are a number of put downs Steve has been on the receiving end over the years:

We don’t need you. You haven’t gotten through college yet.

Your problem is that you still believe the way to grow is to serve caviar in a world that seems pretty content with cheese and crackers.

There’s no reason why anyone would want a computer in their home.

Get your feet off my desk. Get out of here. You stink and we are not going to buy your product.

Don’t let these jerks get you down. If your intuition and gut are telling you something needs to be done, it probably does. Be the elephant. Get the think skin.

If you are already doing these things good on ya. I find following these principles like these an uphill battle every day. Probably for the same reason most of us don’t eat right or exercise.

But if you draw inspiration from icons like Steve Jobs, Carmine’s book may be what you are looking for this holiday season.

How to make really important life decisions

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You are going to face some pretty important decisions in your life time.

  • Should I take that job?
  • Is this the right partner for me?
  • Should I get the 13″ or 15″ MacBook Pro?

Now before we get to how to make these tough choices, understand one thing:

At the end of the day it doesn’t really matter.

Eventually we are all going to die.
A thousand years from now no one will really care.
And it doesn’t really matter all the much on the grand scheme of things.

So relax.

When faced with a sticky decision simply do this:

Imagine you are on your death bed, and ask yourself if you would regret not doing X, Y, or Z when you were younger.

If the answer if yes, go for it!

There is nothing worse than living a life of regret.
And, no, that doesn’t mean you should just go out there and do dumb things.
Especially if you have a family and it’s no longer all about you.

But as Steve Jobs would say, it’s OK to be a little bit foolish and this is how Jeff Bezos (founder of Amazon.com) makes important decisions too.

So the next time you are facing a life altering decision, simply cast yourself into the future, and die before you die.

You won’t regret it.

The Pixar Touch

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I just finished David Price’s excellent book titled The Pixar Touch.

Disney-Cars-McQueen

It is chalked full of great stories, interesting anecdotes, and is a testament to the shear will power, and creativity of folks like Ed Catmull, John Lasseter, and Steve Jobs.

Here are some little known facts about Pixar:

• Pixar, not Apple, made Steve Jobs a billionaire. Jobs bought Pixar in 1986 from Lucasfilm for $5 million. In 1995, the week after the release of Toy Story, Pixar went public and Jobs’s stock was worth $1.1 billion.

• Ed Catmull, Pixar’s co-founder, dreamed as a youth of becoming an animator, but decided in high school that he couldn’t draw well enough. Instead, he became an early visionary of computer animation as a graduate student in the 1970’s. “Computer animation was sort of on the lunatic fringe at that time,” remembered Fred Parke, a fellow Ph.D. student in Catmull’s class at the University of Utah.

• When John Lasseter joined Pixar—which was then the computer graphics department of George Lucas’s Lucasfilm—he had just been fired from his dream job as an animator at Disney. He became the first person to apply classic Disney character animation principles to computer animation.

ratatouille-remy

• To learn how to make a realistic French kitchen, the producer and first director of Ratatouille worked as apprentices at an elite French restaurant in the Napa Valley.

• Before it became an animation studio, Pixar went through years of struggle and multi-million-dollar losses. It started as a computer company and John Lasseter’s short films, such as Luxo Jr. and Tin Toy, were promotional films to help sell the company’s computers.

• Pixar was almost bought by…Microsoft? Yep: Jobs remained worried about the company’s finances even after Pixar made a deal with the Walt Disney Co. in 1991 to produce Toy Story, Pixar’s first feature film. The Pixar Touch details the effort to sell Pixar to Bill Gates’s company while Toy Story was in production.

• When writing Toy Story, to find inspiration for the relationship between Buzz and Woody, Lasseter and his story department screened classic “buddy” movies, including 48 Hrs., The Defiant Ones, Midnight Run, and Thelma & Louise.

• John Lasseter has instilled an intense commitment to research in the studio’s creative staff. To prepare for the scene in Finding Nemo in which the fish characters Marlin and Dory become trapped in a whale, two members of the art department climbed inside a dead gray whale that had been stranded north of Marin, California.

mr-incredible

• Pixar deliberately avoided making the humans in The Incredibles look too realistic. They knew that as animated human characters became too close to lifelike, audiences would actually perceive them as repulsive. The phenomenon, known as the “uncanny valley,” had been predicted by a Japanese robotics researcher as early as 1970. Thus, the details of human skin, such as pores and hair follicles, were left out of The Incredibles’ characters in favor of a more cartoonlike appearance.

• The signature of most Pixar feature films is characters who appeal to children (toys, fish, monsters…), but who have adult-like personalities and are dealing with adult-like problems.

• Prior to the acquisition of Pixar by Disney in 2006, Lasseter loathed the idea of Disney making sequels to Pixar films without Pixar’s involvement—as Disney’s contract with Pixar allowed it to do. “These were the people that put out Cinderella II,” Lasseter remarked.

• Pixar is more than an animation studio. Pixar’s innovations in computer graphics technology pervade movies today. Special-effects houses like Industrial Light & Magic (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) use Pixar’s software to create out-of-this-world places and characters.

(taken from amazon review)

If you want to learn more about the incredible journey this company underwent, you can read the book.

Or you can watch the equally good documentary : The Pixar Story.

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