Friday, January 30, 2004

Today is Doug Engelbart's birthday. Best known for inventing the computer mouse, he and his team at SRI really created many aspects of the personal computer we take for granted. When he first did the Mother of All Demos almost exactly 30 years ago, he blew the minds of a thousand assembled engineers. And all this was merely a by-product, by the way, of his overall mission to give human beings capability to think deeply and creatively about the increasingly complex and dire problems we face. You can see video from the M of All Demos at : http://sloan.stanford.edu/mousesite/MouseSitePg1.html.

Doug's current project, Hyperscope is explored in a blog associated with the video http://www.invisiblerevolution.net/

The blog has entries by Doug, as well as a 12 minute audio interview http://www.invisiblerevolution.net/doug-hs-intro-filt-c-.mp3

Friday, January 23, 2004

Here's my summary and reaction to an interesting talk last night:

The Macintosh Marketing Story:
Fact and Fiction, 20 Years Later
Speakers: Mike Murray, with Mike Boich, Andy Cunningham, Joanna Hoffman, Guy Kawasaki & Steve Scheier
Thursday, January 22, 2004
Location - Computer History Museum http://www.computerhistory.org/

"It was the autumn of 1983. Business Week magazine had an IBM personal computer on its cover, with the ominous words, "And the winner is...IBM."

Apple Computer was in a world of hurt. The Apple II had lost its competitive edge. The Apple III was a sales disappointment and the Lisa, introduced in January 1983, was a financial failure.

Great expectations were being placed on the Macintosh, scheduled to launch on January 24, 1984. Yet there was skepticism both in and outside the company.

There was no hard disk support. The screen was too small and it wasn't in color. There was limited software. And the price was very high -- $2,495.

Yet this was indeed the computer for the rest of us. The engineers knew it. The software guys knew it. And Steve Jobs knew it.

The challenge for the Mac Marketing Team was simple: They had to establish and hold a beachhead. Or else they and the product would die.

The introduction of the Macintosh computer launched a comprehensive and integrated approach to high-tech marketing. Much of what was highly innovative in 1984 is now standard fare for all product introductions.

Join us as six key members of the Macintosh launch team tell the inside stories behind one of the most "insanely great" product launches of all times."

A number of the Mac engineers were in the audience, many of them getting big applause, especially Andy Herzfeld). The most common sentiment of all was "this was the most amazing time in my life," even "I owe it everything." Other interesting commonality was all were in their late 20's except the self-professed old man from the Apple II team, who was 32. Some had jumped ship from boring HP, for Hoffman (trained as an archaeologist) it was her first job, though she does not consider that she's ever had what most people would consider a job in her life.

Two inspirations and some luck/convergence/synchronicity: from Lucas, the first to get merchanidise pre-staged, so that when Star Wars came out, people could ally themselves with it through accoutrements, thus making in an instant cultural phenom (an instant happening, in the parlance of the day). This led to what Kawasaki termed the MacIntosh Product Cycle: Step One: make the T-Shirt."

Second, though there were many PC's on the market, Regis MeKenna understood that IBM was the only competition. As 1984 was approaching, ad agency Chiat/Day was pitching an Orwell concept to its big clients. Steve Jobs and moderator loved it immediately. For the first time a movie director did an ad (Ridly Scott, who made BladeRunner), and it was filmed in London. Many of the actors who looked like (neo-Nazi)skinheads actually were, sniffing glue in bags between takes and generally menacing everyone. The ad provoked 10 minutes of pandemoniumwhen previewed to the sales force. The board (except 1) refused to run it, and told them to sell their 30 and 60 second SuperBowl ad slots. The managed to dump the 30, but still had a million dollar slot left. The board went to archives for 2 Apple II ads, but none were usuable, so they relented. It's true the ad was shopwn only once (gutsy) but it was in fact shown in its entirely the next evening on all 3 networks as news. Three weeks later the board literally applauded those who had championed the ad.

Apple also tried to associate the Mac with celebs (eg having them make art that could ber published; Gary Trudeau"s satire on the Regean administration was unprintable). Jobs apparently met Mick Jagger at an Andy Warhol party, which led to the Mac for Mick (or vice versa) initiative. When the Mac was subsequently delivered, Mick had no interest (or apparently memory).

Another interesting attribute was the pirate mentality (they actually flew the skull and crossbones flag over the building). Guy K ok'd the giveaway, although he did not have the authority to do so, $750,000 worth of software (he claims it was only $745K, and that someone higher up had given the nod).

I see a number of parallels between the Mac and K-Web, and I got some ideas thast we can use (e.g., university consortium and support of user groups). Though I'm not sure we will be able to get the visceral impact that people got the first time they touched a mouse and saw the cursor move, but I think we will get a strong omygod when people "get" what they can do with K-Web. The other strong lesson I took away, and have seen in K-web as well, is that creative and commited people can do "insanely great" things together with relatively little resources ("IBM had 400 people working on colleges; we had Dan'l Lewin"). The other common sentiment was projects like the Macintosh are rare, and it's a priviledge to be a part of one. Amen.

Sunday, January 04, 2004

I'm re-reading Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel (Norton 1997 http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/search-handle-url/index=books&field-author=Diamond%2C%20Jared/103-3319405-0738208), which parallels and diverges from Burke's accounts, for possible inclusion of excerpt in course reader. I note he has a chapter on diffusion of agriculture, which is treated in a more selective but very readable way in Botany of Desire (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0375501290/103-3319405-0738208?v=glance ) by Michael Pollin. Amazon's blurb:

Amazon.com's Best of 2001
Working in his garden one day, Michael Pollan hit pay dirt in the form of an idea: do plants, he wondered, use humans as much as we use them? While the question is not entirely original, the way Pollan examines this complex coevolution by looking at the natural world from the perspective of plants is unique. The result is a fascinating and engaging look at the true nature of domestication.
In making his point, Pollan focuses on the relationship between humans and four specific plants: apples, tulips, marijuana, and potatoes. He uses the history of John Chapman (Johnny Appleseed) to illustrate how both the apple's sweetness and its role in the production of alcoholic cider made it appealing to settlers moving west, thus greatly expanding the plant's range. He also explains how human manipulation of the plant has weakened it, so that "modern apples require more pesticide than any other food crop." The tulipomania of 17th-century Holland is a backdrop for his examination of the role the tulip's beauty played in wildly influencing human behavior to both the benefit and detriment of the plant (the markings that made the tulip so attractive to the Dutch were actually caused by a virus). His excellent discussion of the potato combines a history of the plant with a prime example of how biotechnology is changing our relationship to nature...