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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Grey Album: Danger Mouse's mashup of The White Album and The Black Album.

Danger Mouse created this awesome mashup of The Beattle's and Jay-Z. Note that mixing  the White Album and Jay-Z's Black Album makes for the title.

The Grey Ablum by Danger Mouse

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Book Review: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

First off, this is a biography meant for the masses, i.e., it's not scholarly, so it's easy reading. Isaacson achieves this by making the book more of a character study of Jobs than a historical account, though it is both. Thus the descriptions of his relationships with family, friends, colleagues, and competitors are all told in order to illuminate the man, and the same is true about the descriptions of the creation of Apple's most famous products, all heavily influenced by Jobs.


The details are light on Jobs childhood, though the main points are hit: he was given up for adoption by a young graduate student, then taken in by a middle class family and raised in the Silicon Valley of California. But there are blank spots in this early narrative. Very little is written about his childhood home life, and I for one am curious to know what kind of home environment helped create such an intense and difficult personality. The book makes clear, however, that he deeply loved and respected his dad.

In school, he was gifted but untameable. In high school, he came to embody the hippie lifestyle, living it fully through his early 20's: he was a student at the uber-liberal Reed College in Portland, where he experimented with LSD and meditation, before dropping out to live in a commune and take a year long spiritual pilgrimage to India. 


His interests in electronics started young, encourage by his father, and then he met Steve Wozniak (a compelling and lovable character) while still in high school. Jobs didn't last long at Reed College, so he returned to his home, and started Apple in his parent's garage with 'Woz'. Woz built the Apple I and II computers, while Jobs designed the exterior and ran the business side. This would remain his role through the rest of his career at both Apple and Pixar.

After the immensely successful Apple II, the company went public, making Jobs and Wozniak millionaires. Jobs then took over the development of the Macintosh, which was to be the first computer to make use of a graphical user interface, now standard in basically all operating systems.

But despite this high water mark, Jobs' difficulty as a person got him fired. So he cashed in his Apple stock and bought (and became CEO) of the animation department of Lucas film, which becomes Pixar. After many classic animated films (Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Cars, ... the list is long) Disney buys Pixar, making Jobs the largest Disney stock holder and a billionaire.

Jobs returns to Apple in 1997, when it's on the verge of bankruptcy, and he turns the company around through an amazing string of great product successes: iMac, iPod, iTunes, iPhone, and iPad. And then he dies in 2011 after battling cancer for several years; through his battle, he stops working only when he absolutely must, and then returns as soon as he can.


In fleshing out the details of his life and career, Isaacson reveals Jobs the man: his intensity, volatility, and driven, controlling, and opinionated nature. He also reveals how remarkable he was: he never stopped pushing; he had extremely high standards and would give brutal criticism, but was also a gifted leader; and he was truly passionate about the products his companies created, making each his own.

His relationships with his family is also treated in detail, and through this the reader realizes that nothing comes for free. Greatness comes at a cost, and is often supported heavily by loved ones. This is the case for Jobs as well; his family let him be himself, which was not an easy task.

And I was also struck by the relationship between Jobs and Bill Gates, who appears throughout the story. They were really each other's only comparable contemporaries, and it becomes clear that there was a deep respect between them, despite Job's outspoken criticism of Microsoft.

It's a great book. Jobs was an extreme and complicated individual. In learning about him and his life, I feel that I learned a little about myself, which is why I love biography.