"I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple's CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come."
Which means that a much sadder day is coming, sooner than any of us would like. Steve Jobs is the Edison of the modern age. Edison turned electricity into a part of every household, and defined it. Steve turned computing and the Internet into ubiquitous personal accessories, and defined them (within that mode as ubiquitous accessories).
Neither Apple, nor our world, will be the same without him in it.
UPDATE: Steve's best quotes.
A couple of articles lately that really hit home. Brink's "How to mend a broken heart" is simply excellent. Turns out that drug addiction may actually be a byproduct of love's existing circuitry, that a broken heart can medically kill people with something that looks a lot like a heart attack, and that simple pain relievers like Tylenol can help dull the pain of a breakup. Plus, how can you not love "The Museum of Broken Relationships"?
"Olinka and Drazen are artists, and after some time passed [beyond their breakup], they did what artists often do: they put their feelings on display.... Their collection of breakup mementos was accepted into a local art festival. It was a smash hit. Soon they were putting up installations in Berlin, San Francisco, and Istanbul, showing the concept to the world. Everywhere they went, from Bloomington to Belgrade, people packed the halls and delivered their own relics of extinguished love: "The Silver Watch" with the pin pulled out at the moment he first said, "I love you." The wood-handled "Ex Axe" that a woman used to chop her cheating lover's furniture into tiny bits. Trinkets that had meaning to only two souls found resonance with a worldwide audience that seemed to recognize the same heartache all too well."
Another article talked about a more profound kind of heartbreak, and a very different problem of memory. The Washington Post's 2009 piece "Fatal Distraction" is about something that really can happen to any parent, though we really don't like to think about it:
"Two decades ago, [death by hyperthermia] was relatively rare. But in the early 1990s, car-safety experts declared that passenger-side front airbags could kill children, and they recommended that child seats be moved to the back of the car; then, for even more safety for the very young, that the baby seats be pivoted to face the rear. If few foresaw the tragic consequence of the lessened visibility of the child... well, who can blame them? What kind of person forgets a baby?"
Research suggests a very unsettling answer:
"Diamond is a professor of molecular physiology at the University of South Florida and a consultant to the veterans hospital in Tampa.... [he] is the memory expert with a lousy memory, the one who recently realized, while driving to the mall, that his infant granddaughter was asleep in the back of the car. He remembered only because his wife, sitting beside him, mentioned the baby. He understands what could have happened had he been alone with the child. Almost worse, he understands exactly why.
....Diamond says that in situations involving familiar, routine motor skills, the human animal presses the basal ganglia into service as a sort of auxiliary autopilot.... that's why you'll sometimes find yourself having driven from point A to point B without a clear recollection of the route you took, the turns you made or the scenery you saw.... "The quality of prior parental care seems to be irrelevant," he said. "The important factors that keep showing up involve a combination of stress, emotion, lack of sleep and change in routine, [emphasis mine] where the basal ganglia is trying to do what it's supposed to do, and the conscious mind is too weakened to resist. What happens is that the memory circuits in a vulnerable hippocampus literally get overwritten, like with a computer program. Unless the memory circuit is rebooted - such as if the child cries, or, you know, if the wife mentions the child in the back - it can entirely disappear."
With horrifying results, if the forgotten thing is your child's quiet presence in your now-parked car. Often made worse by prosecutors with too little sense, which is the secondary subject of the article.
"There may be no act of human failing that more fundamentally challenges our society's views about crime, punishment, justice and mercy. According to statistics compiled by a national childs' safety advocacy group, in about 40 percent of cases authorities examine the evidence, determine that the child's death was a terrible accident - a mistake of memory that delivers a lifelong sentence of guilt far greater than any a judge or jury could mete out - and file no charges. In the other 60 percent of the cases, parsing essentially identical facts and applying them to essentially identical laws, authorities decide that the negligence was so great and the injury so grievous that it must be called a felony, and it must be aggressively pursued."
There are times when it should be, if there is any suggestion that anything more than mere forgetting is at work, or if it fits a pattern of serious neglect. Otherwise, it just makes a bad situation worse, wasting money to achieve no deterrence. And really, no justice either.
There's a simple technology fix, mind you. Unfortunately, it can't get manufactured, because no manufacturer can afford to be sued if it fails. So babies will die after pulling all of their own hair out, and we can all thank the damn tort lawyers for one more thing.
The other thing that was interesting about this cheap device, developed by some NASA scientists after a local tragedy, was the poor test-marketing results. Seems that very few people thought it could happen to them.
But it could. There are things like broken loves, that you want to forget, but can't. And there are things you must remember - but can't guarantee you will. The universe is an amazing place. Just not always a friendly one.
Absent technology, my recommendation? Make the autopilot work for you instead. Every time you get out of the car, even if your child isn't in it, open the door and physically feel the child's seat. Do it without fail enough times, and it becomes an autopilot sequence of its own, associated with the presence of that booster seat. Once the seat disappears, it will eventually extinguish, though you might feel kind of foolish for a while.
Then again, consider the possible alternative.
Very interesting Daily Mail article about Britain's Electron Model of Many Applications (EMMA) ring accelerator, and its potential in both energy generation and medicine:
"One ton of thorium can produce as much energy as 200 tons of uranium, or 3.5 million tons of coal, and the thorium deposits that have already been identified would meet the entire world's energy needs for at least 10,000 years. Unlike uranium, it's easy and cheap to refine, and it's far less toxic. Happily, it produces energy without producing any carbon dioxide: so an economy that ran on thorium power would have virtually no carbon footprint.
Better still, a thorium reactor would be incapable of having a meltdown, and would generate only 0.6 per cent of the radioactive waste of a conventional nuclear plant. It could even be adapted to 'burn' existing, stockpiled uranium waste in its core, thus enormously reducing its radioactive half-life and toxicity."
The technical catch?
Particle accelerators like the "'non-scaling, fixed-field, alternating-gradient' (NS-FFAG)" EMMA must continue to become better, smaller, and cheaper - because without those accelerators working, a Thorium reactor can't run and starts to cool off.
That's the good news, of course. In a Fukushima style disaster, the reactor just turns off.
It's also the bad news. Improved accelerators that combine small size and reliability are not a trivial technical advance. Until we really try, it will be hard to even know where the alligators are, let alone get it down to an economical level. It's wise to expect some unexpected difficulties along the way, as well as unexpected costs, and not see this as some kind of near-term fix. Or even a certain fix, in any time frame.
The ray of light? A 400 MeV relative called "Pamela" (Particle Accelerator for Medical Applications) promises new possibilities in treating heretofore untreatable cancers, and the demographics of cancer and aging are likely to make Pamela-style accelerators reasonably popular public projects. As long as a steady trickle of good news results, and the setbacks are manageable, a path is laid for continued improvement in the underlying technology.
This is definitely one of those technologies we'd all love to see succeed.
See also the Thorium Energy Amplifier Association's 2010 report, "Toward an Alternative Nuclear Future" [PDF].
Very interesting presentation from South by Southwest (SxSW) 2011. He's pretty candid about the longer-term threats embedded in a data-as-a-platform world, but also very interesting rewarding the opportunities for creating businesses out of data streams. For me, it's been worth multiple playings, even though it's almost an hour (but it works fine as background audio).
Beyond tech, I quite liked his general point about "It wasn't that the future [predicted in the 1960s/70s] wasn't magical, it was just sooner and stranger than we think." The crack about "I flew here on an airplane, courtesy of the Wright Brothers, and customer service, courtesy of Darth Vader" is also a keeper.
But the rest is equally worth your attention. Feel free to discuss among yourselves.
Like an insurgency, PowerPoint has crept into the daily lives of military commanders and reached the level of near obsession. The amount of time expended on PowerPoint, the Microsoft presentation program of computer-generated charts, graphs and bullet points, has made it a running joke in the Pentagon and in Iraq and Afghanistan.
...As someone who periodically works for organizations that have PowerPoint embedded in their DNA, and who is pretty handy with a bullet list, this terrifies me. It's part and parcel of a kind of institutional thinking that is 180 degrees from what's needed in a dynamic, complex decisionmaking environment where information should be organically structured and encourage thinking instead of snappy five-word summaries of thought.
Commanders say that behind all the PowerPoint jokes are serious concerns that the program stifles discussion, critical thinking and thoughtful decision-making. Not least, it ties up junior officers - referred to as PowerPoint Rangers - in the daily preparation of slides, be it for a Joint Staff meeting in Washington or for a platoon leader's pre-mission combat briefing in a remote pocket of Afghanistan.
Last year when a military Web site, Company Command, asked an Army platoon leader in Iraq, Lt. Sam Nuxoll, how he spent most of his time, he responded, "Making PowerPoint slides." When pressed, he said he was serious.
"I have to make a storyboard complete with digital pictures, diagrams and text summaries on just about anything that happens," Lieutenant Nuxoll told the Web site. "Conduct a key leader engagement? Make a storyboard. Award a microgrant? Make a storyboard."
Despite such tales, "death by PowerPoint," the phrase used to described the numbing sensation that accompanies a 30-slide briefing, seems here to stay. The program, which first went on sale in 1987 and was acquired by Microsoft soon afterward, is deeply embedded in a military culture that has come to rely on PowerPoint's hierarchical ordering of a confused world.
As information gets passed up an organization hierarchy, from people who do analysis to mid-level managers to high-level leadership, key explanations and supporting information are filtered out. In this context, it is easy to understand how a senior manager might read this slide and not realize it addresses a life-threatening situation.What's true in NASA is equally true - if not more so - in the military.
At many points during its investigation, the Board was surprised to receive similar presentation slides from NASA officials in place of technical reports. The Board views the endemic use of PowerPoint briefing slides instead of technical papers as an illustration of the problematic methods of technical communication in NASA.
"PowerPoint makes us stupid," Gen. James N. Mattis of the Marine Corps, the Joint Forces commander, said this month at a military conference in North Carolina. (He spoke without PowerPoint.) Brig. Gen. H. R. McMaster, who banned PowerPoint presentations when he led the successful effort to secure the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar in 2005, followed up at the same conference by likening PowerPoint to an internal threat.But from everything I hear, the PowerPoint culture is deeply embedded in the military.
"It's dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control," General McMaster said in a telephone interview afterward. "Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable."
In General McMaster's view, PowerPoint's worst offense is not a chart like the spaghetti graphic, which was first uncovered by NBC's Richard Engel, but rigid lists of bullet points (in, say, a presentation on a conflict's causes) that take no account of interconnected political, economic and ethnic forces. "If you divorce war from all of that, it becomes a targeting exercise," General McMaster said.
From John Mauldin's investment newsletter. I thought this rang true (link added):
"One participant [at the 7-day Singularity University event] suggested that in the future, as we get closer to true AI, computers should be tasked with designing the next generation of AI and computers. I pointed at that if we were to do so, then the Turing Test might not be the best way to determine if we had true artificial intelligence rather than just extremely sophisticated programs. I proposed the Mauldin Test. When a computer tells us that it no longer wishes to program a smarter computer, we will have arrived at the point of self-awareness and survival instinct. I suggest that is true AI. Just a thought."
UPDATE: Winds reader "Piercello" has been thinking along similar lines, into a full-blown theory that links intelligence to emotion.
There's been some speculation that some of Toyota's braking problems may stem from software interaction issues, and lack of mechanical backup. That's nothing, however, in comparison to what seems to have happened to Air France Flight 447, an Airbus A330 bound from Rio to Paris. Der Spiegel has the report, in "The Last Four Minutes of Air France Flight 447":
"The sheer complexity of the Airbus' systems makes it difficult to control in critical phases of the flight.... Could it therefore be that the flight computer, which is hard to manage in emergencies, actually contributed to the loss of control by the Airbus pilots? Air-safety experts Hüttig and Arnoux are demanding an immediate investigation into how the Airbus system reacts to a failure of its airspeed sensors."
What is known, is that the pilots were trying to reboot the flight computer on the way down. Meanwhile, what's the recommended procedure?
"The responsible pilot now had very little time to choose the correct flight angle and the correct engine thrust. This is the only way he could be certain to keep flying on a stable course and maintain steady airflow across the wings if he didn't know the plane's actual speed. The co-pilot must therefore look up the two safe values in a table in the relevant handbook -- at least that's the theory. "In practice, the plane is shaken about so badly that you have difficulty finding the right page in the handbook, let alone being able to decipher what it says," says Arnoux."
As we hand over more high-powered mechanical devices to software operations based on thousands or even millions of lines of code, with limited auditability given the number of potential interactions, these kinds of question are going to surface more and more often.
I'm talking about ads for mass spectrometers, genetic sequencers, and other stuff that leaves your "4G smartphone hacked to run Linux" huddled in some corner, crying over its basic inadequacy.
My favorite might be the boy band takeoff, for its oh-so obvious send up.
I would never in a million years have guessed that these kinds of creative approaches existed in that sphere. I'll take that as a signal to stretch my imagination a bit in future.
"What if you were having a house built, and the builder sent you a text message: "Should we put your floor joists 16 inches on center? I need an answer immediately, or my workers are going to another job." Would you know how to respond, without asking any questions back and risking losing the day?
How about if you tried to visit a web site, and your browser responded with a popup that said, "There's a problem with the site's certificate. Should I accept it anyway?" Oh, you say that last one happened to you just this morning..."
"...why on Earth are we programming these things this way? Why do our computers persist in asking questions that 99-point-some-number-of-nines percent of the users have no hope of understanding, much less answering correctly?
"What should I do with this certificate?"
"Program XYZ wants to access the Internet on port 3271. Should I let it?"
"There was an error reading the preferences for this program. What should I do?"
We should never ask a user a question that most users are not qualified to answer.... We're at a point where we ask the users a million questions, and the "correct" answer is almost always "yes". But the consequences of saying "yes" when it's the wrong answer are serious.... We need to get to the point where we ask the users very few questions, and the correct answer is almost always "no". We teach people that, and get them used to saying "no" if they aren't sure what to do. And then the system fails safe: the consequences of saying "no" when it's the wrong answer are that you remain secure."
Well, this was interesting. Active, broadband, exterior cloaking devices... but not for light:
"University of Utah mathematicians developed a new cloaking method, and it's unlikely to lead to invisibility cloaks like those used by Harry Potter or Romulan spaceships in "Star Trek." Instead, the new method someday might shield submarines from sonar, planes from radar, buildings from earthquakes, and oil rigs and coastal structures from tsunamis.
"We have shown that it is numerically possible to cloak objects of any shape that lie outside the cloaking devices, not just from single-frequency waves, but from actual pulses generated by a multi-frequency source," says Graeme Milton, senior author of the research and a distinguished professor of mathematics at the University of Utah."
Some of you may have seen the stories about Robert Elwood's research, which makes a pretty good case that crabs, lobsters, and prawns can feel pain. Hermit Crabs also remembered it later, and changed their behaviour. That second bit is key, as it takes it out of the realm of a mere reflex response. There go our rationalizations, and even reflex responses may deserve attention:
"It was also thought that since many invertebrates cast off damaged appendages, it was not harmful for humans to remove legs, tails and other body parts from live crustaceans. Another study led by Patterson, however, found that when humans twisted off legs from crabs, the stress response was so profound that some individuals later died or could not regenerate the lost appendages."
The good news is that there is a new alternative to boiling lobsters alive, approved by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals no less, and it has a number of benefits to chefs in the bargain. The "Crustastun" is a shoebox-sized device that uses salt water and electric current. Its approach reduces the cortisols and adrenaline that stress can create in boiled critters, resulting in tenderer and tastier meat. The voltage also kills bacteria, which means the dead crustaceans can safely be stored for up to 48 hours - a bonus for restaurants, which reduce their throw-away losses.
Looks like a win solution all around. Hat tip to inventors Simon and Charlotte Buckhaven.