A better Steve Jobs

I’m looking forward to the new book about Steve Jobs, coming in a few weeks. The Isaacson book was a disappointment, and this one seems (by reports) to do a much better job of capturing the man and the complexity of his story. As Tim Cook says in an interview with Fast Company:

II thought the [Walter] Isaacson book did him a tremendous disservice. It was just a rehash of a bunch of stuff that had already been written, and focused on small parts of his personality. You get the feeling that [Steve’s] a greedy, selfish egomaniac. It didn’t capture the person.

Read the whole article. Just this short piece gives a deeper view of the man.

Great Book by Biz Stone…

Things a Little Bird Told Me, Confessions of the Creative Mind

I’m enjoying this one. It’s a quick and easy read, but if you’re paying attention, there are many ideas worth pondering.

The nuggets of wisdom are dusted around on the amusing stories, so don’t miss them. Like when Biz is relating some stories about trying his best to talk about the “fail whale” downtime problems:

When you let people understand that you are people like they are, passionate but imperfect, what you get in return is good will.

Highly recommended, and I’m not even done yet!

Tim Cook on Human Rights and Dignity

In November 2013, Auburn University’s College of Human Sciences bestowed the IQLA Lifetime Achievement Award on Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple Computer. His acceptance speech is stunning.

“Never allow the majority to limit the rights of the minority. Never allow people who fear anyone different from themselves to limit others’ human rights or deny others’ human dignity.”

He talks about gay rights, discrimination, human dignity and human rights in a beautiful and passionate way.

Not only does he use an example, close to our heart at Square Pegs, of an autistic boy finding his voice through technology, but he makes this important point about the purpose of great products:

“We design our products so they surprise and delight everyone who uses them. And we never, never ever analyze the return on investment. We do it because it is just and right, and that is what respect for human dignity requires, and it is a part of Apple that I am especially proud of.”

This is the kind of leadership technology companies need. This is why many of us got into technology in the first place — to change lives.

Bravo, Mr. Cook.

Remembering Miles – The Big Man

Almost two weeks ago, Miles disappeared. Each day that goes by, we lose a little bit of hope that he’s going to stroll in and squawk at us until we shake his food dispenser for him.

Miles was ageless at 15 years old. Although Joell said she’d like to think he just walked off into the forest and lay down to die peacefully in a sunbeam, it’s more likely that something got him. Maybe a dog, but more likely one of the wild animals here in our forest — a bobcat or mountain lion, or maybe an owl or a fox.

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I called Miles “The Big Man.” He was a burly cat. He wasn’t one of those fat cats, or something oversized and slow like a maine coon. He was just a regular sized tabby, but when you picked him up he was dense and muscular. He was a handsome guy. He was cool and calm. A man’s cat.

When I got Miles from the pound, he was a stray kitten that the folks at the Humane Society of Santa Clara had named Ringo. I liked the idea of naming him after a musician, but he just wasn’t a Ringo.

My housemate Stephan and I both noticed that this kitten liked it when I played guitar. He would sit close and stare at me while I played. He’d come from across the house to listen.

My other kitten, Yoda, was much more interactive. He’d climb and jump everywhere, and play with your pant leg, or chase flies in the window. Yoda could dead-point the top of the door from a squat and pull himself to the top. The two got along but they were very different.

Miles was aloof for sure. Unless you were playing music, Miles mostly ignored you. He was a small buddha — like one of those kids that people call “an old soul”. He was observant and calm, and sometimes even snuggly. He would often pick out the person in a party who least liked cats and go sit on them, looking away from them at the rest of the room in a sphynx pose with a little cat smile. But he also had this other look. When directed at you, it seemed like he was deeply annoyed with everything, especially you. Stephan and I thought this was hilarious.

We were in the car one weekend, going somewhere, it doesn’t matter where, when it clicked. This kitten wasn’t Ringo. He was Miles. It was that look of disdain that made the name perfect.

Miles and Yoda were as different as two cats could be. But they were “brothers”, and even though Yoda was from fancy-cat parents (Ocicat/Bengal) and Miles was a tabby from the pound, both were gorgeous animals. Yoda is lithe and talkative and active, and Miles was stoic and cool and burly.

When Joell and I got our hound Cissy, we knew she had been around barn cats, so we were sure she was cat-broke. But the boys were not so dog-broke. They really didn’t trust this big hound, and her loud baying freaked them out.

Miles was the first to adjust. If Cissy bayed at the raccoons outside, Miles would twitch his ears and look annoyed. Yoda would dash for a high perch.

When we moved to our little place in the woods in Pescadero, Miles found home. He loved his yard and the woods around us. He hunted. He lay in the sun on the redwood duff, or curled up on his favorite tree stump “throne”. As always, he loved when I played guitar and was patient with me as I tried to re-learn the piano.

The computer fascinated him, especially when Joell would sit in the big brown chair and write, or when I would sit at the big screen and work with him in my lap. He loved stuff that moved — not action-packed video games, but little stuff: my twitter feed, editing a document, administering a website, writing and photo editing.


For years now, each night Cissy the hound jumps up in our bed and Yoda stomps across our chests and meows at us and grunts. But sometimes, Miles would curl up quietly against my back or above our pillows and purr. You couldn’t help but feel like you were somebody special when he would snuggle in.

Four pets is a lot in a tiny house like ours. But we all feel Miles’ absence – especially Yoda. He’s been ever-present and needs to be constantly touching one of us. But even the hounds know something is wrong; someone is missing. Cissy has been especially snuggly and Tucker is laying on my feet as a write.


On a rainy day like today, I find myself looking for him. He should be here, helping me write and warming the whole room.

Miles was my friend. I love him and I miss him deeply.

Emotional Connection — Facebook and Instagram

People love photos. They always have. It’s the crappy snapshot of you and your sister at 3 and 5 playing on the new swing set in the backyard that is your favorite. It’s not the technical quality of that photo that makes it special. It’s the emotional connection.  The brilliance of Instagram isn’t just about 30M users taking photos. It’s the emotional connections they are making. Instagram figured out that people like their photos, they like to share them, and they like them to be better photos. So they made it very easy to take a photo, crop it and try a filter or two before sharing it — all from your phone in a few seconds. Instant emotional connection. Purchasing Instagram is a signal that Facebook understands that Instagram has something that they need.

Facebook is a dominant force in the way people connect on the Internet and have made it possible for millions of people to share their thoughts and lives. But Facebook’s position at the top is likely only temporary. Like Microsoft and AOL they will probably be around for many years, but they won’t be the juggernaut that they are now.  Facebook and Google both share this problem — both struggle to “get” emotional connection.

Apple gets emotional connection. They don’t know how to do web-based services, or at least somehow don’t put the care into them that they do into their devices, so they haven’t cracked the “Social Web” nut. But their computers and iOS devices have an amazing emotional connection. 6 years ago, who would have said that they LOVE their cell phone? How many non-nerds would have said that they LOVE their laptop? Who but a nerd would have even used a tablet before Apple invented iPad?

I think Mark Zuckerberg understands all this.  Maybe not — maybe he just saw 30 million users and crazy growth and an engaged community and said “that should be part of Facebook.”  But I think it more likely that he said, “These people really get this emotional connection stuff, and we need more of that.”

The Internet Is Worth Protecting

I’ve been on the internet more than half my life. I consider myself a digital native.

Today many people are protesting the SOPA and Protect IP Act legislation that threatens the internet. This threat is real, as this legislation breaks some fundamental things about how the internet works. If you are interested in the technical details and arguments against this legislation, many have written about them. Here’s an interview with my friend Elliot Noss on CBC Radio talking about why his business has “gone dark” today.

This is a big issue, so I’m going to share some of my thoughts on why the internet is so important.


The Internet Is Made of People

From my early days on “Usenet”, what drew me was real people and their ideas. Usenet was a big distributed forum for people to talk about subjects ranging from computers (comp.sys.sgi) to rock climbing (rec.climbing) the game of go (rec.games.go). People on computers all over the world, connected on the internet and with dial-up UUCP connections, would talk about these topics, and it fascinated me. There were THOUSANDS of people out there!

Fast-forward to the early-90’s and this new thing called “The World-Wide Web” came along. I was at SGI when I first saw it, on an Irix machine running a browser built by some guys at a university. The Web quickly grew so big that whole businesses were created just to index it all.

The internet grew all sorts of businesses, many of them crazy. But for me, it was still about people. When I came to Silicon Valley many years ago, I knew I was going to be surrounded by brilliant people. Now, with the internet I can find them wherever they are… no matter where I am — The people AND their ideas.

The Internet is Made of Ideas

My internet wanderings have always followed my interests. I found people out there talking about topics that interested me. It was wonderful! But no group of people ever stays “on topic”, so over time you get to know people and understand their ideas about the world. Exposure to new and different ideas makes your world bigger and richer.

My wife an I are aficionados of “Podcasts”. They are really just radio or TV shows, but packaged for the internet. But you don’t just watch what’s on, like we did back when there were just three channels on the TV. You get to pick! We love to listen to smart people talk about interesting ideas, so we listen to TEDTalks. I like computers and tech, so I listen to shows from the TWiT network and 5by5, and we both love good story telling, so we listen to The Moth and This American Life.

All over the world there are people with something to say. More than any other invention, the internet allows people with ideas to be heard; to spread their ideas. I believe this will make the world a better place.



The Internet is What We Make it

What we do, say, and look at on the internet makes it become what it will be.

Let’s use Google Search as an example. Google’s original search algorithms considered page linking structure as an indicator of value and intent. It was a way of measuring what people thought and what they valued. Google’s PageRank algorithm also considered that a link from a page with a high PageRank conveyed more PageRank forward to the linked page.

a page can have a high PageRank if there are many pages that point to it, or if there are some pages that point to it and have a high PageRank

http://infolab.stanford.edu/~backrub/google.html – Brin & Page,

In the intervening years, the Google algorithms have been improved and changed. Many of the changes are intended to reduce the influence of certain cynical forms of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) that seek to raise search listings artificially. Notably, the Google Panda update use machine learning algorithms to detect non-useful sites and reduce their search ranking.

At its best, SEO is about optimizing websites so that they are easy for search engines like Google to catalog and rank, and so that they earn the strong ranking and visibility they deserve. But there is a lot of SEO that is really just tricks to try to get attention. When the search engines fight back, the internet gets better. They all try. And when people choose quality content over link farms, they can succeed.

Quality content comes from real people. Whether they are making a funny cat video or writing an important essay, real people are behind the best on the internet.


The  Internet is Important, But…

What is really important is US. You and Me. The ideas we share, the things that make us laugh, cry, and think. For this, the internet is just a medium. But it’s a medium that connects us throughout the world in a new way, spreading ideas and culture and making the world a better place. (Yes, that’s a long video, but Joi’s talk is worth every minute.)

The internet is under attack by corporations that are trying to protect their failing business models. They want you to believe that the internet is a problem to be fixed. Don’t believe them.

The internet is for making people heard, for allowing us to connect to one another. Don’t let the non-people take that away from us.