Inside Steve’s Brain by Leander Kahney

This book is a biography mostly focused on Jobs’ professional life at Apple. The following are a few of the topics discussed in the book which I enjoyed.

It is often mentioned that Jobs had an incredible reality distortion field. Andy Hertzfeld described it as follows: “The reality distortion field was a confounding message of a charismatic rhetorical style an indomitable will and an eagerness to bend any fact to fit the purpose at hand. Amazingly, the reality distortion field seemed to be effective even if you were acutely aware of it.” It’s amazing to read about how he was consistently able to get people to push themselves and accomplish the unimaginable.

Looking at the industry’s developments since his death, we can now appreciate his incredible accomplishments. From the PC era to the (and his heroic revival of Apple) iPod to the iPhone to the iPad, he consistently picked product winners. The fuel behind his distortion of reality was his vision and intuition of both new markets and the details that make an experience. He once told John Sculley (then Apple CEO) that “The Macintosh is inside of me and I’ve got to get it out and turn it into a product.”

A small example of his natural ability to understand the user are the color coded (red, green, and yellow) options for minimizing and maximizing a window on the user’s screen (in iOS). The challenge was to simplify the management of various windows on the computer screen. His idea was based on users intuitively associating these colors with their outcomes: red means close (the window), yellow-minimize, and green-maximize.

Unlike most companies, Apple chose vertical integration over horizontal integration. Early on Jobs decided that Macs would not have expansion slots (and would be shut physically), since the customization they enabled typically caused crashes and freezing. Critics decided that Apple’s (vertical integration) stance was due to his controlling ways. Although he was controlling, vertical integration was another way to preserve (and shape) the user’s experience. Apple’s tight control would ensure a reliable, stable, and controlled experience-one Jobs would be proud of.

If you missed the last post, no worries! Check it out here, it’s a book review of The Idealist – Jeffrey Sachs And The Quest To End Poverty by Nina Munk.

 

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The Idealist – Jeffrey Sachs And The Quest To End Poverty by Nina Munk

theidealistJeffrey Sachs is a world-renowned economist who went from the upper echelons of the economic world to an incredibly ambitious humanitarian quest in Africa. He was largely unknown by most (outside of the economic crowd) until his book, The End of Poverty became a best-seller.

This book  focuses on Sachs’ Millenium Villages Project (which spanned 14 villages and half a million people) its successes, failures, and the journey. Sachs sought to conquer a wide variety of problems contributing to an everlasting state of poverty (and death) in the Sub-Saharan Africa. He raised incredible amounts of money to improve medicine, malaria prevention, nutrition, and economic development.  He is an incredibly gifted man with the ability to explain and break down difficult concepts. He also has an amazing passion to change the world and does not care about public opinion (often dealing with potential donors in a very antagonistic and abrasive way).

Without question, Sachs’ program was a success, especially in health related matters (such as Malaria). The future success of this program’s has been heavily debated by people on all sides of the quest to end poverty.  An incredible increase in foreign aid is an essential component of Sachs’ long term plan . Many argue that there is really no way to ever get out of this perpetual state of dependence. They argue that as long as it remains a continual hand out, it seems unlikely that major changes will occur.

Due to some of these concerns, Sachs shifted his focus  to economic development.  However, this was one of the more underperforming components of his program.

I really enjoyed this book because it informed me about a topic and area of the world I knew nothing about. It is quite hard not to feel hopeless about the situation in Sub-Saharan Africa.It seems that throwing money at a medley of problems can truly only get you so far. I realized that not only is this region wholly undeveloped, the culture and beliefs make it even more difficult to impose a totally new way of life.

If you missed the last post, no worries! Check it out here, it’s a book review of Detroit: An American Autopsy by Charlie LeDuff.

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Detroit: An American Autopsy by Charlie LeDuff

dtr“I’ve always said, the only difference between Detroit and a third-world country is that Detroit doesn’t have goats in the street.” —Sam Riddle 

Charlie Leduff, a Detroit native moves back to the city to work as a journalist for the Detroit News. He throws himself into uncovering the vast amount of plight within the city.

I knew Detroit was in a bad place. I knew that the ONLY reason it’s not in worse shape (however, maybe you could make the argument it would be better starting over entirely) is because “the big 3” begged Washington to intervene. I knew it was dangerous and literally empty/vacant, but this book really opened my eyes and blew my mind (I still can’t fathom it).

It was scary and strange to read about a well sized American city plagued with arsonists, murders, unemployment, (city-wide) corruption, poverty and a vacancy rate of nearly 40%. Leduff discovers an entire eco-system running on corruption-from an imprisoned Mayor (Kwame Kilpatrick), to a police department altering murder statistics (to make the situation appear better), to judges involved in bribery.

For a large portion of the book, Leduff is in close quarters with the fire department. Firefighters in Detroit are often combating the work of arsonists (one of the highest rates in the country) who enjoy the cheap entertainment of setting a vacant house or property on fire. The firefighters don’t have adequate equipment to do their jobs properly.

Early on in the book, he makes a really interesting and moving point: what has happened to Detroit is really symbolic of what happened to America at large. Detroit is the birthplace of mass production, high paid blue-collar jobs, and home ownership/credit. The American way of life (the “dream”) was what Detroit stood for. The city’s demise is not just about Detroit, it’s about the future of America and its people.

If you missed the last post, no worries! Check it out here, its a book review of Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple’s Greatest Products by Leander Kahney.

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Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple’s Greatest Products by Leander Kahney

JonyIve“What people are responding to is much bigger than the object. They are responding to something rare — a group of people who do more than simply make something work, they make the very best products they possibly can. It’s a demonstration against thoughtlessness and carelessness,” – Jony Ive  

Jony Ive is not a household name like Steve Jobs, likely less than Stephen Wosniak as well. However, Jony’s role in Apple, the design world, and the technology industry, has been remarkable. Jony Ive is Apple’s creative head, in charge of both product hardware and software.

Jony’s design education was shaped by renowned English design schools and his father’s passion for industrial design. At a very young age, many were blown away by Jony’s sophisticated design taste and ideas. Jony left his agency and homeland for Apple and the opportunity to work on projects that would be driven by his ideas and creativity (not just what clients wanted to see).

It is incredible to read about the evolution of Apple’s emphasis on design and how it practically became the driving force of the company.  Upon Steve Jobs’ return to Apple (and seeing what Jony was capable of), the IDG group’s role changed dramatically-design would drive engineering. The design group would essentially run the show at Apple.

It is no coincidence that Jony and Steve were such close friends (Jobs called Ive his spiritual partner at Apple)-they both shared a passion for design and user experience. The details and nuances mattered to them-even the parts that were not visible to the user. They both had this knack for deeply understanding the features and design necessary to make products intuitive, simple, and elegant. Jony was incredibly passionate about bringing personality to the industry and its products. He felt that these products were very anonymous and just functioning devices with skins slapped on them. They were not created with a vision of the product’s essence and the user experience in mind.

Jobs stated at one point that he was the only person Jony had to answer to.  While Jobs was sick, he handed the company over to two men: Tim Cook and Jony. Jony would run the products and core of apple. Cook, the operations magician, would man the ship.

Apple’s designs and products had an enormous impact on the design community both inside and outside the tech industry. One example is how the iMac – inspired all kinds of products to be sold in transparent and varied colors. They changed how products are viewed and showed how the user’s experience/story should shape the design and feel of the product or service.

Oh, and Apple’s widespread use of the color white, that’s Jony too 🙂

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Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by Joshua Foer

moonwalking2Moonwalking with Einstein is the incredible journey of a regular guy becoming the U.S. Memory Champion. Joshua Foer’s interest in memory exercises begins while covering the same championship a year earlier as a journalist. He takes you through this journey-the memory experts he consults, the tactics he uses, and the training he undergoes.

Through his experience and other findings (based on research), he shows that “memory athletes” rely on “storage techniques” (memory palace is an example) and are not born with photographic memories. Joshua cites research (based on the part of the brain they use in contrast to amateur players) that reveals that expert chess players seem to have the instinctual ability to sum up situations and know the right move. They get to a point where they are playing on an instinctive level.

After only a year of training, Joshua wins the U.S. Memory Championship and places thirteenth/winning bronze in the “Names and Faces” event in the World Memory Championships.

Not only is Joshua’s experience fascinating, it is inspiring as well. It shows how with the right motivation, a person can really elevate themselves. Additionally, I think his growth in the area of memory (something we view as untouchable) is especially inspiring. We have all heard about or know someone who lost a significant amount o weight. How often do you hear of people trying (let alone succeeding) to expand their mental capabilities in a manner like this? Our mental abilities are certainly not untouchable and the possibilities are endless.

If you missed the last post, no worries! Check it out here, its a book review of In Defense Of Food by Michael Pollan.

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In Defense Of Food by Michael Pollan

Veggies

“Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Vegetables.”

It was really nice venturing into a genre I had never dabbled in before-food and health. In Defense of Food is essentially an attack on most of our eating habits and tendencies.  A large chunk of the book is devoted to explaining Nutritionism (the prevailing scientific food theory that the identified nutrients in foods determine the value of individual food items) and his problems with it. He also goes on to provide some tips and guidance for how to eat in a more healthy manner.

I am not sure a food expert would enjoy this book, as it is certainly written for the complete novice (such as myself). This book got me thinking more about my dietary tendencies. I particularly enjoyed two of his off road (yet related) insights when contrasting our diets to those of different cultures: Weston Price’s findings and the habits of the French.

Weston Price (a dentist) devoted a portion of his life studying isolated populations that had not yet been exposed to modern foods. He discovered that these populations (eating a wide variety of traditional foods) had no need of dentists at all. He believed that the quality of the soil was a key to health. He also found that the vitamin levels in foods produced from animals eating more healthy (natural) diets were higher and thus the people eating these animals (and their products) were healthier as well. I found it to be absolutely incredible that less developed people living in the far corners of the world could be as healthy as us.

Pollan cites different findings regarding the eating habits of the French. The French people have a completely different relationship to food than we do: They have smaller portion sizes (both in restaurants and supermarkets), a far more enriched food experience, and dont snack. They spend more time eating than us and enjoy the overall food experience. He goes on to explain that it is no surprise that they are healthier than us despite all their consumption of wine and cheese.

If you missed the last post, no worries! Check it out here, its about getting the most out of your digital experiences! Feel free to chat with me on Twitter @mayerseidman.

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The Case for No Case

iphone51“It’s like wearing a helmet while biking. Sure, it’s safe — but it just doesn’t look as good,” –Ryan Matzner

My first smartphone, the Palm Pre, was not a popular one and unheard of by most. While it had a lot of great features and exposed me to the world of smartphones, I was beyond excited to upgrade to the next tier (the big league) of smartphones-Android or iPhone.

It was a difficult choice, but ultimately I chose the iPhone. My excitement was two-fold: 1) I was getting an amazing phone 2) I was joining the Apple/iPhone cult (and it’s culture). It was a big moment-perhaps life changing (okay-maybe not that much, but close). The day finally arrived and it was everything I had imagined it would be. Hours later, the iPhone had been nearly dropped a handful of times. It was too slick and too slim-I could barely hold on to it.

After this traumatic event, I immediately bought an ugly and semi-bulky case (nearly doubling it in size). I now felt that the iPhone’s future would be secure. I went through numerous cases over the last year and a half-all types of sizes and styles. It was a great ride. However, not only was my phone beginning to wear me down (due to its bulkiness), it had been reduced solely to its functionality.

One day, for no particular reason, I pulled it out of the case and literally couldn’t believe how small, sleek, and gorgeous it was. I began using it without the case and found it to be an entirely new and amazing experience. It felt like I had just gotten a brand new phone (suddenly I could cope with another 8 months till my next upgrade). It was now a joy to carry, look at, and hold. The contrast truly blew my mind! I am still “case-less” and loving every minute of it.

This experience made me realize that some products are bought for functionality and some for design/aesthetic appeal (and in some awesome cases-both). Admittedly, I hadn’t appreciated the iPhone’s (or Apple’s focus on) gorgeous design and build. Thankfully, it hit me and I will never again devalue or ignore a product’s design and user experience (at least not one from Apple :))

If you missed the last post, no worries! Check it out here, its about my “Journey to Web Development Land.”

(This post was inspired by my personal experience and this Mashable article: http://mashable.com/2013/10/28/no-iphone-case/ )

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