Tag Archives: Technology

Thoughts on Steve

On April 1st, 2011, I walked out the doors of The North Michigan Avenue Apple store as an employee for the last time.

My fellow employees were lined up from the glass staircase to the doorway leaving me no choice but to walk down the middle between them. As I approached they began to clap and cheer at full intensity. I had been a part of this ritual countless times in my six and a half years with the company so I knew it was coming. Still it took every fiber of my being to stay composed. I bolted for the door and when I finally got there I turned around, looked back at my friends and threw my arms in the air to wave goodbye one last time.

Seconds later I turned the corner. Once I knew I was out of the view of my colleagues I let loose and full on wept.

I couldn’t hold it back. Working for Apple was more than job, Apple was a family. Apple still is my family. I have met some of the most important people in my life through Apple. Mentors, friends, lovers… you name it.

Apple allowed me to put my creative energies to use. It enabled me to move halfway across the country to start over; and it inspired me to strike out on my own.

I learned more working for Apple than I did through all of college and high school combined. I grew more as a person than I could have possibly imagined. Apple filled me with memories and experiences that I will cherish until I die. All of that, those people and memories are a part of me, many of them mean more than anything else ever will. I wouldn’t trade any of it, the good or the bad, for anything.

This morning I woke up in a hostel in Bruges and heard the news. I looked at Twitter and it was filled with loving, thoughtful comments and not a single one in poor taste. I then looked through Instagram and it was flooded with photo tributes. Every news site was filled with articles and comments regarding his passing.

And I wept.

I never met the man, I never even saw him in person (though I apparently stood right next to him and didn’t know it), and yet there I was standing on a picturesque bridge in the middle of Bruges on a dreary, cold day openly weeping.

My friend Nick today posted on his Facebook regarding Steve’s death. He mused on how people feel like they know someone in the public eye when really they don’t know their internal person and said that he hopes Jobs was as good in person as we all like to think he was. I would like to counter that point.

That one man who Nick claims I didn’t know, whom I never met and who probably didn’t even know I existed, profoundly changed my life for the better. For that I am eternally grateful.

When I heard of his retirement I did something that I swore as an employee I’d never do.

I emailed him.

It was just a simple thank you, basically saying a lot of the things I’m saying here. I have no idea if he read it and I never will. And thats okay. I didn’t need anything from him. I didn’t need to know him personally. The Steve I knew… the Apple I knew gave me more than enough.

Thank you Steve.

iRobot understands that sales and support are one.

In recent weeks I’ve been working hard at cleaning my apartment, throwing things out and simplifying constantly. My hope is that if I really manage to throw out stuff, organize and streamline I’ll be able to keep the place in better shape consistently.

So far, so good.

That said a big part is just general cleanliness. To which I owe much of my help on my Roomba 530 cleaning robot.

I’ve had the little guy for around 3 years and have gotten used to doing routine maintenance to clean it and keep it running smoothly. However, recently one of my brushes broke. It’s completely removable so I decided I could just order a new one and install it myself.

However when I went to the site they didn’t have the brush I needed (6 bristles for a 500 series). I figured it had to be there, I was just missing something. Confused, I called their sales line to attempt to order the proper part.

When I got the rep on the phone he immediately introduced himself and asked for my name. I explained to him that I was having this issue with my 530 and I couldn’t find the proper part. He apologized and informed me that it was a common issue and that the part had actually been redesigned to a stronger three brush design and knew exactly which part I needed.

A few moments later I had ordered the parts I needed (and some extra filters) and I was off the phone with the receipt in my inbox.

Sounds pretty simple right? Here is what stood out for me:

  • The employee lead with a friendly greeting that did not at all seem forced. He didn’t at all seem annoyed that I didn’t know what part I really needed.
  • I was calling sales with what was essentially a support issue and he was able acknowledge my concerns, tell me why I was having trouble and offer me a solution in a matter of moments.
  • The transaction was fast! I spent no time on hold, I was on the line, speaking to someone and had everything resolved in less than 5 minutes.

Too often these days companies separate their sales and support to a degree that one department cannot assist you with both without transferring you. In my experience today it was no trouble at all. The employee was clearly spoken and genuine. You could tell he was not reading from a script, he had his own friendly personality showing through. The experience did a lot to impress me with their company, obviously so much so that I felt to write a blog entry. I will happily recommend them to friends and family now too. Other companies could learn a thing or two from iRobot.

Thanks iRobot!

"nofollow"? …I Don’t Follow

Example of nofollow on flickr

When Google announced it would support the “nofollow” HTML attribute back in 2005 I was pleased. Blog spam was (and still is) a major problem. The invention of “nofollow” took a lot of bite out of the usefulness of comments for spammers. It really seemed like the right move at the time and looking at it now it still makes a lot of sense. I can’t image how bad things would be without it.

For the uninformed, “nofollow” is an attribute that can be assigned to links on websites. This is recognized by Google and then subsequently ignored in Google’s index, thus not allowing sites to raise their “PageRank” on Google. Therefore, in theory, leading to more relevant search results.

Here is my gripe, when Google announced this feature they did so under the stated guise of “Preventing Comment Spam” but it’s turned out to be abused. There are those who would argue that “nofollow” has become a tool that creates an unfair balance where higher trafficked sites don’t share traffic with lower ranked ones. Now I’m not saying that “nofollow” should go away but that it should be used less. Why am I complaining? Because three of the sites I use most often implement “nofollow” in places that, while well intentioned, work out as unfair. These sites?

TwitterFlickr and Facebook.

For starters, Facebook’s usage makes no sense. Facebook has several checks to prevent spammers from joining the service and multiple ways to report it when it happens. I am not saying they are perfect but they very much maintain a strong and effective walled garden. When you factor in that the site has pushed its users to make more of their content public and had major issues with privacy. It’s downright unfair that if they are going to push me to make my content public that they aren’t going to allow me to get a PageRank incentive for this.

At first glance however, the inclusion of “no follow” does seem logical for Flickr and Twitter. The ease of access to these sites makes them obvious targets for spammers. In the case of Twitter, it’s no secret that they have a large spam problem, so in the short term “nofollow” seems like a practical solution to de-incentivise spamming.

Despite this reasoning I still believe it to be the wrong solution.

Flickr is a publishing system and there are those who use their Flickr accounts as blogs with very long written posts to accompany their photography. Yet Flickr automatically attaches “nofollow” to any link posted anywhere on their site, even on the user’s own written content.

With every photograph I post on my Flickr account I include a link to a related blog entry whenever possible. These things directly relate and semantically should be linked. My analytics also clearly show this is an effective tool for increasing my readership and traffic as a significant portion of my traffic comes from these Flickr links. Yet, Google ignores them because of the “nofollow” attribute. The same with Twitter.

Doesn’t this go against the whole spirit of “nofollow”? If you ask me it’s lazy and unfair. Especially in Flickr’s case when you consider that many users are “Pro” users like myself who pay for a Flickr account. I’m paying for a service that is going out of its way to prevent me from getting PageRank from it. That’s a bunch of crap.

There is another way to look at this though. One could argue that PageRank is actually doing the opposite of it’s intention and hurting Google’s relevance. The three biggest traffic sources to this site are Twitter, Facebook and Flickr, in fact these account for almost 50% of my traffic, however Google’s mysterious PageRank algorithm ignores these sources, thus making it harder for my site to gain relevance in search results. Isn’t this leading to an inaccuracy in what’s “relevant?”

“nofollow” is used almost ubiquitously by any service that has an easy sign up system, therefore it is creating a tiered system on the web that takes away power from user generated content and gives more strength to those who have a greater technical knowhow. There are many out there who will never understand how to setup a blogging platform such as WordPress or MovableType but can easily get a Twitter, Flickr or Facebook account. Why should their voice matter less to PageRank? And on the flip-side, why should a major media outlet matter more? Isn’t this working against the democracy of the web?

How do we decide what is signal and what is noise? Surely just because something is easier to do doesn’t make it less relevant, does it? Can’t we come up with a better technological solution that empowers users not punishes them for their lack of tech savvy?

"F#¢k Thomas Edison. Seriously." OR Death, Humor and Subism

Lightbulb on Flickr

This got me thinking last night, especially when contrasted with this. Tesla’s letterhead is striking, artistic and thought provoking. Edison however goes for a more distinguished look that I think is boring, unoriginal and uncreative even for the time.

Those who know me will tell you, in additon to being a design nerd, that I’ve got a quirky sense of humor. This is often misinterpreted and rubs people the wrong way because I tend to appear like an opinionated jerk. In reality, I like to challenge people’s ways of thinking, I enjoy arguing strange or absurd points and do so with a passion. I don’t always agree with the point I’m making but I enjoy provoking someone sure of their beliefs out of their comfort zone.

I’ve been known to joke about the concept of death and I am fascinated by people’s seriousness around the topic. Whether you’re religious or not, (I’m not) death to me has always seemed like just another phase of life. I’ve lost people I love and in some pretty tragic ways, and I don’t make light of that. However, when I talk of my own death I want people to chuckle, I don’t want to be mourned, I’d much rather there be a big party in my honor than a grieving. I want my sense of humor to be reflected, normal is boring.

I’m very fortunate to have made some amazing friends who, thankfully, appreciate my antagonistic behavior and sense of humor. In the event of my death I’ve made two of them, Dan and Christine, responsible for certain things.  Dan, I’ve asked to eulogize me but only if he leads off with the following:

“John was not a great man, he wasn’t even a good man, but he did have a really sweet setup for his Sega Dreamcast

Thing is, I’m not kidding, he thinks I am but I’m not. I’ve made him promise to say that under penalty of haunting. IE: If he doesn’t say it, and there is a way for me to do it, I will haunt him from the afterlife. And believe me, I will, he knows it too, and assuming he outlives me, Dan has reluctantly agreed.

The other ritual in the event if my death is my headstone inscription, for which Christine is responsible. To explain that, you need to understand something else.

I hate Thomas Edison.

Yeah, I know, pretty random. That statement has a tendency to piss off or confuse people. Especially coming from someone who works in technology, claims to be a Buddhist (it’s called “practicing” for a reason) and really tries not to use the word “hate” anymore.

But seriously, fuck Thomas Edison.

I’m not discounting his impact on the world at large, I just think the man was an asshole. We grow up being taught a lot of things in elementary school that we accept as truths that later in life we often learn the horrible reality about. Need an example? Christopher Columbus was a brutal murder who discovered nothing, Gandhi beat his wife and Sylvester Stallone is not that tall in person.

People tend not to know the truth about Edison. The more I learn about him, the more respect I have for him as a businessman and the less respect I have for him as an actual human being. It doesn’t take much research to learn that Edison is a thief who ripped off the bulk of the work he is credited for and employed thugs to do his dirty work.

However, when I tell this to people (especially those from New Jersey) they often don’t believe me, “How could you seriously speak ill of ‘The father of invention?!'”

Then I show them this:

They usually get it then.

Yes, Thomas Edison electrocuted an elephant in an effort to show the superiority of his direct current vs. Nikola Tesla’s alternating current. Edison’s rivalry with Tesla is extremely well documented and the man went to outlandish lengths to prove himself right, to discredit Tesla and to destroy his life.

In the end, Edison was wrong but he managed to nearly erase Tesla from the popular vernacular. To this day most in our society while most have no clue who Tesla was and think of Edison when they think of electricity.

Learning of this made me rethink much of what I thought I knew. I love occurances like that, stuff that subvert and disrupt the status quo and evoke thought. That, to me, is what subism is about.

It’s because of my beliefs as a subist and these enlightening truths that I want my death to not be taken seriously, I’d rather make someone laugh at society or think than cry for me. This is why I’ve also made Christine responsible inscription on my headstone, which will read exactly as follows:

“Fuck Thomas Edison. Seriously.”

If that offends you, good. If it makes you smile, even better.

Berlin Day 4 – Technological Anarchism

Mouse, Vanesza and Aki.

Berlin is an interesting place. We spent all of last night at Fischladen where I left off last night. When we left it was morning. While Aki worked furiously on her work for Johnson Creek; Vanessa, Mouse and I discussed the merits of Wi-Fi, Twitter and technology in general in political movements, in particular the leftist “Anarchist” movement here in Berlin.

The German leftist movement has a fear and misunderstanding of technology. Wi-Fi in many places is not allowed and approached angrily. While 78 is legally owned and inhabited many individuals here are very much afraid of being identified for their political actions. Their fears, of course, are justified, many could and would be arrested if identified. However the group fails to mobilize and grow beyond it’s existing circles from what I can tell, most don’t even have cell phones either because they can’t afford them, or they believe them to be the tools of the establishment. Their numbers, while supported internationally are not as strong as they were right after the wall fell, and they likely won’t be again unless this group embraces technology. Aki and I cited examples of Mumbai and Iran to explain the values of it but the consensus is that it will fall on deaf ears.

Now please, do not interpret this as an endorsement of the actions of this movement or their beliefs, nor do I mean disrespect to their beliefs either. I am merely a guest here and these people are putting me up and treating me as one of their own. I believe that nearly any political movement has merits and from what I can tell, these are good people who want to life their lives free of political oppression and generally mind their own business, I cannot speak for all of their beliefs, only that I can say they feel very justified in them and truly believe themselves to be doing good to help society, as they see it. It’s sad to me to see their message and beliefs get lost or downed out because they refuse to adapt to modern technology.

An interesting side note, you’ll see that most of my photos from this trip do not contain people… weird seeing as I tend to focus on portraits quite often. This is because the men and women of “78” refuse to be photographed and the ones who don’t know me react angrily to me walking about with my camera at all. While I respect and understand this concern it saddens me as many of them are amazing, beautiful, interesting people who should have their voices heard and choose to hide their face so that they can fight another day, a concern that I’m not entirely sure how realistic it is.

New photos are up, check them out…

Until tomorrow.