Tag Archives: PCs
An occasional column about book reviewing.
I. Against the Wind
“What to leave in, what to leave out…” Bob Seger
One thing that all book reviewers have in common is that they do a lot of typing. These days, this means that the prime tool of the trade is not a portable Smith-Corona typewriter or an IBM Selectric but instead a computer – generally a PC Windows-based laptop or an Apple MacBook Air or MacBook Pro. In order to find the best of these writing tools, reviewers like me can spend many hours – sometimes an inordinate amount of time, reading laptop/notebook reviews.
Something that has been surprising to me is how much space in modern computer reviews is devoted to discussing what is largely irrelevant. For example, we’re often told that a particular computer screen is fine for most purposes but that the images on it quickly fade when the screen is moved 45 or more degrees – as if one might close it while still typing. Frankly, I never move the screen while I’m using my machine – I sit straight in front of it and never move either the screen or my body. Which brings us to the next so-called “issue” covered in the majority of these reviews – we’re told that the monitor images tend to detiorate if you’re sitting three or four feet to the left or right of the screen. Really? Who types while sitting a bench-length away from the screen?
Some of the reviewer’s comments are so silly that I wonder where on earth they’re going to end. I fully suspect one day soon I’ll read that a particular computer monitor does not offer good images when the machine is turned off; or when one stands to the back of the screen. Clearly, this is true of 100 percent of television screens but no one would be crazy enough to call it to our attention.
What relevance does this have to the book reviewer? Well, it brought home to me that fact that it’s key to leave in what’s important, while leaving out facts that the average reader would find to be irrelevant. Let’s say, for example, that I’m reading a book – a family novel – in which the female protagonist lives in Denver, Colorado. It might be relevant if I note that the protagonist’s brother is unlikable as he’s a violent womanizer and a drug abuser. It’s likely not so relevant if I write that I didn’t like his character because he’s portrayed as being a fan of the Denver Broncos… Yes, all information is not equally valuable.
Something else about computer reviews is that the reviewer often hedges his or her bets with some cheap disclaimer. Instead of recommending or not recommending a machine, their review might go like this: “The Emerson 15.6″ AMD dual-core laptop comes with a horribly glossy display, has an awful keyboard, a terrible trackpad, a battery that dies within 90 minutes, and is cheaply built. But, if you’re looking for the most economical thing on the market that you can use to surf the web and send e-mails, it may be just the thing for you!” The manufacturer, of course, will quote the last 7 words of the review, hoping that the prospective buyer doesn’t look up the full review.
Again, I think there’s a lesson to be learned here for book reviewers, which is to be true throughout the review. Don’t take a position and then run from it with a potentially face-saving “out”. Provide an opinion and stick with it – do the prospective reader-purchaser a favor by sticking with an honest opinion. Do not hide your recommendation in the weeds.
II. A New Issue
One new issue that’s popped up for me is that I’ll receive a book – actually an Advance Reader’s Copy (ARC) – weeks or months before it’s released and begin to read it. I’ll then communicate with the author’s or publisher’s publicist and ask if I may post a review when I finish reading it. Often the response is that they want me to hold off on posting the review until the release date or very close to it. So I’ll close the book and, unfortunately, often never get back to it. It becomes a lost book, an absent review because I could not write about it when I was ready.
I would love for some of these publicists and/or publishers to consider changing their stances. Whatever happened to the view that some publicity is better than none? And, confusingly, some publishers take the opposite stance – that all of the “buzz” about a book should come prior to the release date: “If a book is not being talked about before its release date, it will most likely be dead on arrival.”
It’s a confusing world out there, including for the lowly book reviewer. LOL
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson (Simon and Schuster, $35.00, 656 pages)
“When Steve Jobs speaks, it is with the enthusiasm of seeing the future and making sure it works.” Fortune magazine in the late 1970s
“I had a very lucky career, a very lucky life. I’ve done all that I can do.” Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs, the biography by Walter Isaacson (originally entitled, iSteve: The Book of Jobs) is an engaging biography that’s unique in that it allows us to get to know the man even more than the ultra-legend. This is the amazingly true story of the person who was given up for adoption at birth, and went on to run the most valuable company on the face of the earth. Although his contemporary and life-long rival Bill Gates outgained him in personal wealth, Jobs succeeded in earning the respect of both computer technology experts and the average consumer as the developer and producer of increasingly better, always innovative products.
Jobs and Gates were two of the individuals – along with Steve Wozniak – who were more or less present at the creation of the personal computer (PC) age. Jobs and “Woz” were original members of The Homebrew Computer Club, an informal association in Menlo Park that had a hundred or so members; a club that heard a presentation by a young Gates from the Seattle region. The Whole Earth Catalog was then popular (some of you will need to ask your parents about it), and Jobs was to adopt its motto as one of his guideposts in life, “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”
As Isaacson finely illustrates in this account, Jobs was never afraid to make mistakes with his early and later Apple Computer products – he was to learn and absorb valuable lessons from each of his mistakes right up to the time of “Antennagate” with the iPhone (“Has Apple’s Self-Destruction Begun?” was one of the headlines critiquing Jobs’ decision-making early this year). If Jobs had been a college football coach, he would likely have been one that rarely called for a punt on fourth down; he would have often elected to go for post-TD two-point conversions. When it came to beating his competitors, Jobs wanted to “leave no doubt.”
“The journey is the reward.” Steve Jobs
While this book is not intended to be a comprehensive account of the PC and Silicon Valley, it gives us just enough information to understand where Apple fit in among its hardware, software and search technology alternatives such as Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Compaq, Google, Oracle, Adobe and others. If you’ve read numerous histories of the era, you will likely be surprised to see how both Larry Ellison and Bill Gates come off as nothing less than gentlemen in this telling. Ellison was especially close to Jobs, even offering to buy-out Apple Computer after Jobs’ ouster. But Isaacson is not afraid to show us that Jobs was a human with flaws. In addition to possessing a temper which he claimed to be unable to control, Jobs “tended to be generally dismissive of philanthropic endeavors.” This was the case even though his wife founded College Track, an organization making efforts to help economically disadvantaged kids get into college. Jobs never visited College Track’s after-school centers in the poor high schools where the program was (and is) located.
Like a hammer that sees everything in sight as a nail, Jobs also tended to view technology as the solution to every one of society’s difficult problems… A very ill Jobs was to personally lecture President Obama on his view that all education should be digital and interactive (physical classrooms, teachers and whiteboards arguably being obsolete); though, in fairness, Bill Gates has made similar comments – some of which are quoted in Steve Jobs.
Isaacson clearly and comprehensively makes his case that Jobs belongs up there with Edison and Ford as one of the greatest business leaders in American history. He was a visionary, a big picture guy who could also master the smallest details. He was a technological artist who was to identify with both fuzzy inventor-creators and detail-oriented engineers. And he always understood that a sharp focus is the basic key to leadership, “Jobs insisted that Apple focus on just two or three priorities at a time.”
“…he was a brilliant guy with great design taste and great engineering taste.” Bill Gates
One of Jobs’ ultimate victories was the knowledge that his adopted father had become enormously proud of his successes and achievements. This fine and detailed account, an initial draft of history, well makes the case that Jobs (creator of the most successful ever consumer product launches) was a man of whom the entire world was proud. What he sought as his own less than humble legacy was to come true; he sought “…a legacy that would awe people. A dual legacy, actually: building innovative products and building a lasting company.”
Steve Jobs – the man who saw the future and built it for us.
This book was purchased by the reviewer as a Nook Book download. It is also available in hardcover form, as a Kindle Edition download, and in abridged and unabridged audiobook versions.
Note: According to this biography, Steve Jobs once met in the late 70s with a class of Stanford University students and showed them a prototype of a laptop computer. He informed them that this was the type of PC that Apple would be building and selling in the 1980s. And Apple did so. Years later, he told a different class at Stanford that they would one day be using PCs “the size of a book.” And now we have 7″, 8.9″, 9.4″, 9.7″ and 10.1″ tablet PCs.