Archive | July, 2012
July 12, 2012

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

Steve Jobs was an asshole…and a passionate, visionary genius. That lifelong contradiction seems to be at the heart of this fascinating biography about him.

The book makes a running theme of Jobs’ “Reality Distortion Field” and the notion that the rules for the rest of the world simply did not apply to him. At the end of his life, however, there were some things even he could not change or ignore. This book provides keen insight into the life and career arc of someone who truly made a dent in the universe on many levels. It does not tell the whole story, but it is difficult to imagine how that would actually be possible.

Much like my experience working briefly for the company (I guess I can say Steve was my boss for a year), these contradictions can be extreme and infuriating. To Jobs, whether an employee, business partner, or competitor, you were either brilliant or a bozo – and many times both on the same day. I look back on my one year working as a part-time Specialist at the Apple store in Columbus with similar contradictions. It was easily both the best and worst job I have ever had, and sometimes on the very same day.  Those same contradictions came up over the course of Steve Jobs’ life repeatedly and, although not all of them can be easily resolved or dismissed, there are many lessons to be learned from them.

As a life long fan of Apple products and former retail store employee, I was excited to read the whole story from the beginning. Even though lived through it as a computer geek from an early age and, like Titanic, I know how his story ended; it was no less compelling to read about all the ups and downs. The beauty of his legacy and complex life is that it will still be written, shared, and revised for many years to come, probably on an iPad or iMac. That perhaps is the first key contradiction. Such complexity was at the heart and soul of someone who loved to embrace simplicity in design, stating that it was “the highest form of sophistication”.

(Please click on the images below to view full size)

Another huge contradiction that kept nagging at me throughout the book was his outrage over the way Microsoft would, after spending billions on research and development, simply copy ideas and innovations introduced and perfected by Apple. When Bill Gates announced plans for Microsoft to copy the GUI (Graphical User Interface) both he and Jobs had seen at Xerox, Jobs blasted him saying “I trusted you and now you’re stealing from us!” However, his logic was strangely flawed and highly inconsistent, as evident in one of his favorite quotes “We have always been shameless about stealing great ideas. Good artists copy; great artists steal”.

This was a favorite phrase of Jobs, but he is actually misquoting (stealing from) Pablo Picasso. “Lesser artists borrow; great artists steal” is a quote similarly attributed to Igor Stravinsky, but both sayings may well originate in T. S. Eliot’s dictum:

 “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different than that from which it is torn.”

I also found a great deal of irony in this when I came to the part of Apple’s history when they were developing iTunes. Jobs was extremely clear in his vision for music and the success of the iTunes Store and digital downloads succeeded way beyond whatever they had hoped or imagined. His negotiation skills proved that the idea was a win-win for him, the artists, and the record companies, who were either too stubborn or too stupid to embrace a true solution. Despite the enormous sales on the iTunes Store and legal and moral arguments made for it as an alternative to ripping CDs or using illegal download sites like Kazaa, Limewire and Napster, Jobs’ later confessed that his favorite music was the Bob Dylan “bootleg recordings” he and Steve Wozniak liked so much from their humble early days working in the garage.

A similar irony is the fact that an LSD-dropping hippie from the 70’s, who also pilgrimaged to India on a spiritual quest, later became one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in the world. His failings as a friend and as a family man coupled with the temper tantrums and wild mood swings at home and in the office also illustrated the contradiction between his personal and professional style with that of his Zen Buddhist philosophies. It never seemed to me that Jobs was ever personally at peace despite his enormous and influential professional success. Jobs was fiercely protective of his creation of the company he co-founded and loved, yet seemingly lacked this same passion and ownership for the children he later fathered. Frequently crying over the dramatic events in the office, Jobs could also seem callous and unfeeling towards his associates, family, and friends. Fortunately for us as consumers, I guess, great things happened as a result of this confounding discord.

Oh…and one more thing. He has challenged me to think differently, particularly with an awareness of my own mortality. I found this book to be not only the story of a focused, creative, and driven individual, but also the story of revolutionary transformations in the fields of personal computing, software, music, animation, telephones, entrepreneurship, management, and the advent of cloud computing in the digital age.  Individuals that set out to be nice people rarely make a big dent or change the world like that. Having never personally had those types of aspirations, it is difficult to understand the mentality that drives for success over substance.

I think people like Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods, whose personalities I passionately detest, would never have enjoyed their athletic successes had they focused on being well liked or well-respected humans.  Although there are exceptions to this rule of course, I think Steve Jobs can be included in that list. While I don’t personally agree with his methods, by composing this review on my MacBook Pro, I simply cannot argue with the results he achieved.

 

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
Hardcover, 1st edition, 630 pages
Published October 24th 2011 by Simon & Schuster (first published 2011)
ISBN 1451648537
For more reviews and recommendations, check out my profile at goodreads.com
July 3, 2012

Hong Kong – Departures

After an essential trip directly to the Apple store in the IFC Mall, I ventured down to the peer for a nice look at the city through the haze and clouds. The Hong Kong Apple store was impressive, to say the least. The store is less than a year old and is connected to the tallest building in the city, the HK Ritz -Carlton, overlooking beautiful Victoria Harbor. With tons of ferries and water traffic made up of classic junks to million-dollar yachts, the pier is a great way to take in the unbelievable skyline, day or night. I returned with the full tour group the following night for the laser light show at sundown and a ferry ride across the harbor from Hong Kong island.

Continuing my solo tour of the central district, more classic old buildings were dwarfed by modern skyscrapers in the impressive financial district downtown. The most distinctive (and least traditional) is the I.M. Pei designed Bank of China building. Pei is a Chinese American architect and designer born in Canton, China. His design flew in the face of many traditional Chinese proponents of feng shui, but according to Pei was specifically designed to reflect “the aspirations of the Chinese people”.

At its base I was pleased to find a wonderful inner city park populated with thousands of beautiful Filipino women in full costume. The were on hand to attend the Philippine Arts and Culture Festival and their warm smiles and laughter brightened the generally overcast morning. I felt like a rock star there as I seemed to attract the attention of more women in that afternoon than in any other time in my life. I thought it may be my new haircut and dashing western looks, but perhaps the allure of a green card is the true, more humbling reason? I headed back to the Y-Loft to connect with the ladies for the first time in 9 months and it was a relief and also highly emotional for my mother and Aunt Margo. It was great for me to see them again, too, as they we both so helpful and supportive in making my overseas adventure possible. The weight of losing Uncle Bill a few weeks earlier was still obvious, but both seemed to be enjoying their vacation in China and we were all invigorated by the reality of us finally connecting in Hong Kong.

Having never been a part of a formal tour group, I was impressed by our local tour guide, Christina, and by the non-stop daily variety of the guided tour experience. The 3 days with them were filled with visits to local markets, including souvenir shopping at Stanley Market and a knock-off watch at the Temple Street Market. The 40 plus members of the tour were wonderful and I was grateful they allowed me to tag along for the end of their trip. Starting early each day and going to at least 10 pm each night, we got in more sightseeing than I could have ever managed on my own. Save for a terrific lunch on the last day and a much needed steak and potatoes at Outback, the rest of the food was just average. Part of it was the selection and part was trying to organize meals for a group of our size. I did not get to visit any of the locations recommended by Anthony Bourdain on his terrific show, The Layover, when he was in Hong Kong. I will save the proper culinary tour for another time. The main highlight was being reunited with my family and seeing so many amazing sights, particularly of the endless skyline, together.

Highlights included our visit via gondola ride to the Po Lin Monastery,  located on the Ngong Ping Plateau on Lantau Island. We climbed the 200 steps to the Tian Tan Buddha, a giant Buddha statue built in 1993. The following day we took an old fashioned tram ride to the top of Victoria Peak for an amazing bird’s eye view of Hong Kong. Despite the foggy and overcast conditions, this was a great excursion and offered some of the best ways to see the city and Victoria harbor. We also viewed the city at night for the famous Symphony of Light, syncronized to music. Perhaps because of the overcast conditions or just high expectations, the show left a lot to be desired. The view itself, however, over the harbor, is unforgettable and should not be missed. We then took a ferry ride back across the harbor which, like our sampan boat ride the next day, is a terrific and inexpensive way to see the city from the water.

Victoria Harbor from Matthew M. Vacca on Vimeo.

Overall, my trip to Hong Kong was amazing and highly memorable. I think my 9 months in Korea have acclimated me well to traveling and exploring a huge city on my own and now as part of a large group. The Chinese are not as service-oriented as the Koreans, but overall everyone we encountered was patient, friendly, curious, and for the most part, welcoming. After viewing photos of the time the tour spent in mainland China, I have to add the Great Wall and the terracotta warriors in Xian to my bucket list….somewhere behind Japan, Thailand, and Vietnam.

 

July 2, 2012

Hong Kong – Arrivals

Having never really been out of the United States in my life (except for two awesome trips to Guelph, Ontario, to visit the Dolynchuk’s), a huge part of the attraction of this overseas adventure was the idea of getting my passport stamped throughout the Orient and S.E. Asia one country at a time. To kickstart my travel to other countries outside of South Korea, I jumped at the chance to meet up with my mother and aunt while they toured mainland China in late June. They were on an EF Educational Tour with tour organizer, Margaret Lawson, my old neighbor from Jefferson Woods and now, somewhat legendary retired-Theatre Department Director at Pickerington Schools for many years. Margaret has led several successful and memorable tours to Italy recently with rave reviews, so Mom and Aunt Margo were also excited at the opportunity to tour China for the first time and hook up with The Rock Traveler on a 4-day extension in Hong Kong at the end of the trip.

Using my somewhat limited vacation time, I happily made arrangements to have my classes covered in my absence and I packed my bags bound first for Incheon Airport near Seoul. The first of 3 huge, highly-advanced (also highly rated) airports I would go through on this trip, I took the intercity express bus directly to the Air China gate from Government Complex here in Daejeon. The service is much cheaper than the KTX  train and is much less expensive. After a fairly quick check-in and customs queue at Incheon Airport outside Seoul, I was aboard a brand new jet bound for Beijing Capital Airport, in China.

The plane featured front and rear facing cameras during take-off and landing that I found fascinating. In addition to having the feed live on the heads-up monitor mounted in the seat in front of me, the display also indicated speed, temperature, altitude, and a flight progress on the radar that made the trip go really fast. Apparently this is not new technology, but to the novice international traveler like me-it was impressive. Beijing Airport was massive and brilliantly laid out to accommodate the huge number of world travelers passing through there every year.

The flight from Beijing to Hong Kong was not as technologically advanced, but the excitement of landing in Hong Kong and reuniting with my family after 9 months more than made up for it. Additionally, the service and punctuality of all my Air China flights left quite a bit to be desired. Both flights were delayed without notice and explanation, making the days travel much longer than scheduled. Perhaps this explains why the tickets were so cheap. I have since learned that Air China is also rated in the 10 worst airlines in the world for service at #9, just ahead of Egypt Air. Fortunately I had brought along a copy of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, which I was finally able to finish and review at goodreads.com.

Hong Kong Skyline from Matthew M. Vacca on Vimeo.

Taking the Hong Kong Airport Express was a smart move, taking me quickly and cheaply to central station in about 20 minutes. The Hong Kong Metro (MTR) is just as clean and efficient as their counterpart here in Korea, so I took the HK Island line to the last stop, Chai Wan. Having booked a room at the same hostel that the rest of the tour was staying at, I had printed directions in Chinese that proved to be useless. Cabbies and parking attendants alike were stumped in helping me find the Y-Loft, which turned out to be right under my nose. Once I found the Youth Square complex and the adjoining Y-Loft hotel/hostel, I quickly checked in and cranked up the A/C as the temperature and humidity had made me a hot, sweaty, tired traveler. The room was clean, modern, and about 20 minutes from the hectic central district, so it was also fairly quiet. After watching a few episodes of an amusing Chinese police/action/drama called “Pretty Police Woman” and “The Hong Kong Society for the Aged Special Good Time Buddies“, I drifted off dreaming of sexy Asian policewomen and thoughts of exploring Hong Kong on my own in the morning until the tour group arrived.