Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs has been a favorite target of my abuse over the past few years. Besides what I viewed as mindless Apple worship by people who really didn’t understand how to use computers effectively –and I don’t just mean who didn’t understand command line tools, but the legions of Mac users who are simply unaware of the really cool keyboard shortcuts and GUI sugar that make using Macs so enjoyable–he came off as an arrogant, overbearing, egomaniacal manager, a guy who took credit for the good work of lots of other people. I think this view of him, which I’ve come to think is unfair, was skewed by a favorite book of mine, “Revolutions in the Valley”, which chronicles, per the subtitle, “the insanely great story of how the Mac was made”. There are many wonderful, inspiring little anecdotes in this book, and I’ll write more about it some other time. For now, know that the original Mac team was made up of a bunch of brilliant misfits, people with whom it’s easy to relate, and it was sad to read of the bruising of egos and useless internal competition they had to go through. That could have easily made the team less productive were they less talented or more high-strung folk – and even if the team didn’t suffer, certainly made Apple as a company a house divided against itself – so that side of Steve, the side that was a bully, doesn’t come off looking too good.
Which is why when Steve said that getting fired from Apple was ultimately the best thing that could have happened to him, it’s not just so much hyperbole. Nor do I mean that just in terms of Jobs’ personal enrichment as a result of having to leave, to the tune of over $6 billion.
I don’t think that Apple’s current ‘renaissance’ could have been achieved by the brash, arrogant Steve Jobs of the early 1980s. The new Jobs married the ‘reality distortion field’-creating maverick with a more down-to-earth guy who understood who to interact with people more effectively. With the possible exception of Jon Rubenstein, one of the co-inventors of the iPod, Jobs engendered more loyalty and less division on his second run at Apple, and that has made all the difference. Don’t get me wrong, singularity of vision combined with raw talent count for a whole heck of a lot – but it’s important not to underrate Steve Jobs’ humanity: being able to listen to people and to react to them with more respect than mockery by all accounts made for a better Steve.

Many never learn this lesson; we should all strive to.


a short remembrance.

Gemara class with rabbit rabbi bill-et (bum pum, ba-dum pum), 5th or 6th day of high school (e.g. I was a freshman), in Flatbush (Ave J area in Brooklyn). Rabbi Levy made an announcement after the first plane hit, and I was in hysterics for a second or two. I mean, what a dumb f*cking pilot!? The Twin Towers are really frakkin’ tall, I mean how do you miss that????
Of course, then the second announcement came. Some time before that I remember David Blumenthal, school ‘administrator’ and EMT, rush out of the building to get to Ground Zero… People were trying to get the TV to work in the library or in a classroom somewhere. My next class was on the 4th floor, from which the smoke and ash emanating from Lower Manhattan were clear; my classmates who managed to get into regular gemara with Rabbi Prag and were on the top floor saw the smoke earlier.
Everybody was dismissed early. My dad, thankfully, worked and works nowhere near Lower Manhattan, and eventually managed to get home, somehow. Rabbi Rosenblum’s brother, a trader at Cantor Fitzgerald, was not so lucky.
School was cancelled the next day, but soon returned. I remember giddy, foolish, idiotic 13-year-old Eli asking a somber Rabbi Billet the next day, with relish! “Are we gonna go to war with Afghanistan?” “Yakhol lih’yot” was all he replied.

What happened? Is it really 09/11/11 today? Where did all that time go?

Abre los ojos

I made the effort to wake up at a sane time this morning and catch a ride into the city. The weather today is perfect, what I like to call ‘June weather’, but at the tail end of July: clear skies, no humidity, just a hint of a breeze rustling through the leaves of the oak trees. A lillywhite hipster’s leaning against one of them, plying his sax softly, melodious. A little robin is chirping sweetly nearby, and a mom just yelled at her kids for getting too close to the pigeons.
All is right with the world. (A pretty girl with red hair wearing red just walked up to the jazzman. He’s beginning to attract an audience.)
I’ve never been to this part of Union Square before. It’s not a big place, mind – I just don’t think I’ve ever treated it like a proper park, and never managed to wander to the center of it. There’s a huge bas-relief, pastoral, circumscribing a massive flagpole, celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Declaration. On the weather-beaten, green-accented copper, there’s a majestic but strange scene of the everyday, with toga’d masons, farmers, warriors, striding past a gnarled willow, an Indian chief with his buffalo, a young babe suckling at mama’s teat – all submissive to the Declaration, and liberty.
This scene is not tucked away in some obscure museum in an outer borough, but rests in the very heart of the city; in point of fact I lived right across from it for an entire year and a block away from it for two more without caring to notice. A few choice platitudes come to mind about life moving fast, seizing the day and struggling to see (or listen, feel, even smell) what is in front of one’s nose. I guess it’s like this everywhere: it’s easy enough to get caught up in life’s routine, resigning one’s self to the everyday. But I’ve got a particularly bad case: it feels almost strange to me, this city I love – or think I love. How well do I know it, really? Am I blinded by an non-existent ideal, by a lust for a place that isn’t real? What secrets are there, hiding in the slum underbellies of East New York and the lower Bronx, the upper echelons of the Upper East, and standing athwart me, screaming, in plain sight? I wonder.

game of thrones reax

I read most of George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series a few months ago, and it certainly lives up to its reputation as ‘literary crack’. I was pretty stoked for the HBO series based on it, “A Game of Thrones” but didn’t really get a chance to start watching it till earlier this week.

The attention to detail – costumes, settings, special effects, dialogue-coaching &c &c &c – are all phenomenal. The opening titles, which features a shifting map of Westeros and the other lands depending on where the episode takes place is both an ingenious way to convey the spatial relationships of important places in the story and awesomely beautiful in its own right. And the fidelity to the original story is impressive for a TV series: even when the original author is involved, adaptations rarely come this close to the source material.
That said, this version of the story is clearly abridged, as it needed to be. But in that way, the core magic of the series – the deep characters whom we love to see develop – is lost; everything is cut just a tad too short and simplified just bit too much for the boob tube: Daenerys is more of a frightened girl, Khal Drogo is more of a brute, Tyrion is sharper and less sympathetic, and we barely even got to know Rob, Caitlyn, or Eddard.
And this is an HBO show whose episodes run nearly a full hour. The limitations of the medium are a real shame. It would be nice to have a full, 22-episode season dedication to Martin’s first book, “A Game of Thrones”, but the economics of the business won’t let it happen.
Otherwise, the acting and casting are mostly first rate, even if It’s Not Like I Imagined It(tm). Still, there are a few exceptions: Lena Headey really doesn’t work for me as Cersei. They needed to cast her and write her to be both more cruel and more lascivious. Caitlyn Tully is not supposed to look so middle-agedly severe: she’s supposed to be as much of a MILF as Cersei is. (It’s especially hard to imagine ‘Lord’ Petyr Baelish pining after her; I wonder what they’re gonna do with that.) Tyrion Lannister and Arya Stark are wonderful, but are supposed to both be extremely ugly – especially Tyrion. I understand why they didn’t go in that direction – this is a visual medium after all – but it’s vaguely disappointing since their being ugly, and their being mocked for it ceaselessly, was central to who they are. On the flipside, I hated the unfairness of their situations in the book, so it’s nice to see that they’re not such miskeneem, for lack of a better word.
I’ve only read the books once, so going through the story again knowing what’s *really* going on behind the scenes is a fun treat: so far, prolly the equivalent of a quickie. But without having read the books at all – what are you waiting for!? – and having a version of the story in your mind to compare it to, this show is probably gonna knock your socks off.

EDIT: Just saw the third and fourth episodes. It gets far, far better 🙂

coding tip#2: absurd mongrel redirect error

In Mongrel (through the latest 1.2 beta; have not tried Mongrel2), redirection and database migrations are broken when used with Rails 2.3.8-2.3.10. (The story may be different with Rails 3.) The solution is this wonderful little monkeypatch:
This may or may not also fix database migration errors; I’ll know when I try.

coding tip #1

Due to changes in jQuery 1.4.3, you can no longer call :defaults when loading your js in your Rails 2.3 templates and expect your app to work in Internet Explorer 8, if you are using both jQuery and Prototype. You need to call ‘prototype’ directly and load ‘application.js’ just once, after you’ve loaded every other library. This is the best practice anyway, but now it’s, uh, the required practice. (FU M$…for making me a better coder!? OH NOES I LOSE)
In other news, I have blocked facebook in HOSTS at work, as an experiment.

election day shenanigans.

Voting today at P.S. 216 in Brooklyn was pretty straightforward – thank God I lucked out with the parking! – but of course, it wouldn’t be election day without a few shenanigans.
The last time I voted was in 2008, and since then, federal mandates have come into place that got rid of New York’s ancient cotton-gin style machines. Now, this is a good thing, since those machines were a bother, but the new system, which involves a scanner and with paper ballots that are bubbled in, certainly isn’t perfect. It makes for a much quicker voting experience – most of the wait was at the sign-in table, and there was only one person in front of us there – but the font on the ballots was *tiny*. I know the Board of Elections must have been hamstrung by budgetary constraints, but honestly, this was a long standing issue that probably was not going to ever get fixed without federal intervention. Fancy that, states-righters!
Still, many of the same problems outlined in the New York Times editorial I linked to above – which I remember reading ten years ago! – have not been solved. Short-staffing I don’t think was too bad, though things were a little hectic. The main problem was an almost complete lack of interpreters. I took my Colombian-born Spanish-only maid with me, and shockingly, in New York City of all places, there was no Spanish interpreter on hand at all! I ended up having to help her vote myself, which was very awkward for me. She told me that she wanted to vote for Cuomo and to confirm Obama’s agenda/Democratic across the board, so I did so for the federal elections, but ended up giving in to temptation and having her vote for Michael DiSanto in the State Senate race, even though I couldn’t really explain what the State Senate was. I’m not proud of it, even though DiSanto doesn’t have a prayer against Marty Golden; had I explained that DiSanto would help Cuomo though, I’d have a cleaner conscience.
But in any case, this experience is why having genuinely impartial interpreters is so important. The temptation to manipulate, even for a not-really-dishonest fellow such as myself, is very potent. I was told there would be Spanish, Korean, and Chinese interpreters there, but only saw one, who may have been Chinese or Korean. Frankly, lacking a Korean translator in this area of Brooklyn would be a complete disgrace, so I hope that isn’t the case.
Perhaps I put too much faith in the impartiality of the volunteers however. On the table walking in, I saw a handy-dandy little pamphlet, with blue text on a glossy-white background – font clearly chosen to evoke the actual ballot – imploring people to vote across the Democratic line. I was furious, and despite my better judgment, failed to make a scene about it. Instead, I ripped it up and chucked it in the nearest garbage can, where I saw several other such pamphlets. I can only hope that it was overzealous citizens leaving the pamphlets there, and that the volunteers had been throwing them out all day, and had just missed this one…I can only hope.
For the record, I voted Working Families or Democratic across the board – Mike McMahon was not nominated by Working Families, which tells you just how ‘liberal’ he is – and yes on reinstating the two-term limit and disclosure reforms. I encourage you all to do the same, but more importantly, to vote, period. Dodging jury duty, as the Board of Elections says, is no excuse:

Jurors are drawn from lists of state taxpayers and licensed drivers as well as from voter registration rolls. Do not give up your right to vote in the hope that you will avoid jury duty. Chances are, if you pay taxes or drive a car, you will still be called. Besides, serving on a jury is a privilege, one that permits you to personally stand up for all Americans’ right to a trial by a jury of their peers.

This is not ‘nam. This is the United States of America. We can vote.

Reports on your experiences would be much appreciated.