new jobs/apple movie — “the da vinci of our generation”

jobs-poster-ashton-kutcherhi all, the new Jobs movie with kutcher is out this weekend. this post collects some commentary & many cool links. reviews, behind-the-scenes buzz, profiles on jobs, jobs/apple’s dark side, stuff on kutcher, etc.

in my opinion, this movie has a very strong CS angle. it is not every year that there are CS-related movies, and Im really enjoying that two CS-oriented movies came out this summer, the other on that other massive engine of innovation Google [see earlier blog on that].

there is a dichotomy that seems to occur with computer based companies. you tend to get two founders, one possibly more technically-focused, and one more business-oriented. an exception seems to be Gates who had extraordinary technical and business focus at the same time although even in that case, Allen served as a counterpoint, and also Ballmer.

in apple the dichotomy was with Wozniak and Jobs. Wozniak has the strong geek flavor. legendary among geeks. Jobs looks something like a “geek tamer” next to Wozniak [as in an old classic EDS commercial, somewhat similar to “cat-herder”, but at times more sharp and punishing…]. Wozniak is a certifiable genius, possibly both in EE and CS, and was worth tens of millions in his younger years, but he seems to have blown much of it on some frivolous yet enjoyable pursuits such as rock concerts. in some ways a cautionary tale. his occasionally-outlandish quotes in the media have a unmistakable edge of “crankery”…

so the synergy and symbiosis between a tech-master like Wozniak, and a tech-sales-master like Jobs seems necessary to build a corporation, and rarely are these two at-times complementary skills found in the same person, like Gates. one likes to build machines, and the other likes to build empires. the psychological inclinations of these two types are not always aligned and compatible and its not always a pretty picture when they’re in conflict. in an old movie on Jobs, Pirates of Silicon Valley, I will never forget the scene where Wozniak plaintively wails to Jobs to pay the overworked engineers [Wozniak’s friends, but probably not Jobs’] more in stock options out of fairness, but Jobs acts as if he does not even hear Wozniak—maybe he truly didnt. “fair” is not a word in the vocabulary of empire-builders.

at times it seems the dichotomy boils down to someone who manipulates devices, vs. one who manipulates people. this is a at-times very striking double edged-sword. “manipulating people” is not nec. a inherently/inevitably bad thing. people need to be organized into larger structures [like teams, groups, corporations, governments, etc] to achieve great things, such that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. visionary leaders like Jobs are quite rare, and come along only a few times in single generations, and are somewhat like human hammers! lets try to keep it in perspective & remember they are human and have flaws, sometimes glaring. yep, “a dark side”.

in my younger years I studied and disliked Jobs and Gates as figures who seemed to obsessively, sometimes fanatically monopolize the cash associated with building their empires. in business there is no room for sympathy for the competitor, it can be quite ruthless and figuratively bloody. how many companies failed to compete effectively with Microsoft and went down? its a trail of bodies, a scorched earth [with in some ways apple being one of the bodies!]. one starts to wonder if its really about the technology and innovation or if, for them, its really about the money and all the rest is just window dressing.

as I grew older I began to realize they personified the “values” of capitalism, to the degree it can be said to have any values [and often, it seems that unrestrained capitalism veers towards demolishing rather than embracing any “values”]. they are the manifest embodiments of their times.

speaking of values, somewhat counterintuitively Jobs had some connection to spirituality and buddhism. he was never very overt about it, but eg he went on a spirituality quest to india when young, and had a buddhist minister at his wedding. there is definitely some similarity of zen buddhism to his design phillosophy. which reminds me of a great book, “the zen of computers”. the zen aspect can be seen in his design philosophy of near fanatical insistence on shearing away all superfluous aspects, simplicity.

so, today I have both strong admiration but some remaining degree of reserve with respect to Jobs and Gates. supposedly public figures yet I do think the true nature of their personalities is somewhat concealed from the public. they both did seem to soften in their older ages, possibly as their apparently high levels of testosterone declined! or does anyone have any other plausible explanation?

* * *

anyway, the birth and history of Apple is nothing short of miraculous in some ways. in its early years Id say it personified the great promise of american ingenuity, innovation, and enterprise. it is a monumental entrepreneurial milestone that will surely be studied for decades at least.

I can remember the heady, funky mix of awe, wonder, confusion, and promise and yes some fear that accompanied the first computers in the schools. in my schools, somehow the local schools didnt seem to buy computers with their own budgets, it seemed that a higher authority gave them some budget to buy the computers, and even the highest-level employees such as teachers and the principal looked at them with some uncertainty and perplexity.

it was a brave new world, nobody knew what to do with them! at my junior high school they decided to give it to my dad, the mathematics [algebra] teacher, because after all computers were based on mathematics, right? there did not even exist lesson plans for them. how does one teach about computers? the media stories on them contained mixtures of mundane truth and breathless science fiction.

if one had any kind of insight into them, and even more substantially and amazingly, *program* them, it could turn one into a mini-celebrity at a local school.

apple in its middle or later age as a company is a much different formulation. yeah, inevitably some of the soul and humanity has to be lost in the scale of such a massive corporation focused on the bottom line. small companies are accountable to customers, large companies are accountable to stockholders. the phase change happens somewhere around the IPO.

* * *

something else I want to add about apple. it has always had some harsh corporate policies that are kept from the public eye. jobs is legendary for overworking his top engineers and designers. but, it seemed that some collective realization dawned right around the period of Occupy Wall St about 1.5yrs ago that Apple as a corporation embodied some of the darker aspects of american capitalism. eg utilizing chinese sweatshop factories, primarily Foxconn.

what followed was a rare period of public introspection that Ive rarely seen in the mass media. even the New York Times was covering the story and editorializing, although in my opinion the Foxconn story largely originated more in the independent, blogging-type media which is less reverent and more skeptical of corporate structure and power.

and not long later, some alarm over the tax policies of Apple that seem to embody some of the worst practices and instincts of american corporations, that put their CEO in the hot seat in front of the american congress and also world attention.

with Jobs at the front, apple went through one of the most amazing strings of corporate innovation ever achieved in the history of business in the 1st decade of the 21st century. ipod, iphone, ipad, all incredibly gamechanging and techologically disruptive. does anyone recall that only a few years ago Angry Birds had not even been written yet? today Rovio [Angry Birds studio] is like a miniature Disney with its own 100-person animation studio cranking out weekly episodes!

but, to my eye apple’s luck is showing signs of running out. once in a lifetime innovations unfortunately only happen once in a lifetime! I suspect apple will go through a dominance-sliding period for years now. somewhat similar to Microsoft with Ballmer after Gates. possibly years of wandering/directionless limbo, at worst.

and the history of IBM vs the clone makers of the 1980s seems to be playing out with Apple as IBM and Android manufacturers playing the role of clone makers this time around. how can a single scrappy company compete with multiple corporate juggernauts working in parallel? the answer is that it cant, and what is transpiring/playing out before our eyes is, admittedly, one of the cases where capitalism is working in favor of the consumer and intense innovation. Android has the momentum and market share now.

what does the future hold? crystal balls in the tech field are especially cloudy. or full of swirling sand? we’ve all lived through staggering changes with PCs at the epicenter of the maelstrom. about all that can be said for sure is that the maelstrom will continue but the epicenter will shift.

a. jobs movie

b. jobs

c. apple

d. reviews

e. kutcher

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