Friday, October 7, 2011

So long Steve Jobs

It feels somehow strange writing about somebody I never met in person but that had a substantial influence in my professional career and on my personal and family's life.

Sure, we all knew that Steve Jobs was going through a challenging fight and his resignation as CEO of Apple, Inc. was a clear signal that his health was rapidly deteriorating. 

But many of us always wished for the iGenius to stay with us for much longer.

After reading some of the many testimonies, anecdotes, histories and messages when I learned about the sad news of Steve passing away, I started reflecting how much he influenced me and my family, and changed our habits and lifestyle forever.

I was about half way through of my career in electronics at a technical school when Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak founded Apple. I was already fascinated by digital electronics and microprocessors crunching code for a Motorola MC6800, entering every byte by hand on a hexadecimal keypad. In those days programming was kind of and art of black magic and 512 bytes of RAM were a lot!!. I didn't pay much attention to Apple until they launched the Apple II, which at that time I couldn't afford but loved the design and how they put it together.

It took me a long time to have the first Apple product in my hands, and old Powerbook laptop with the trackball, provided by the company I was working at that time. I really liked MAC OS, it was simple, intuitive, easy to use and reliable. I really regretted when Steve Jobs left Apple, while they continued to develop some interesting products, they lacked the WOW factor that Steve was so good to inject on them.

Meanwhile Steve was getting busy at Pixar and NeXT, Inc. About that time I was already deep into Unix and drooling to have a workstation with a Graphic User Interface, so I started following very closely what NeXT was doing in hardware and their NeXTSTEP operating system derived from Unix. After establishing the first international connection to Internet for Argentina via SURANet, in 1991 I had the opportunity to visit Glenn Ricart who was in charge of the Computer Science department of the University of Maryland and Principal Investigator at SURANet. It was a great visit, when we arrived at his home where he invited me to stay, I almost had a heart attack when I saw he had a NeXT computer on his home office !!! What a marvelous piece of hardware, the animated GUI was fantastic, the resolution of the screen, even black and white was formidable, and best of all, it was running Unix !!. So bad that commercially was a product that was way ahead of its time and to expensive to grab market share trying to compete with PCs and the other jewels of that age from Sun Microsystems.

What about Pixar?. If you didn't like Toy Story you are from another planet. Besides the history that was entertaining not just for the kiddos, the technology and creativity behind it was amazing.
Even at the end of the movies, one of my favorite things from Pixar, this original idea of adding bloopers for an animated film. Did you cry with Toy Story 3 ?

And then he got back to Apple, the iMac was born and NeXTSTEP mutated into Darwin and then on MAC OS X. Now with a good paying good and anxiously to have an iMAC I got my first generation iPod and the half dome iMac G4, which became our family preferred tool for managing pictures and videos. It later became the machine my daughter Veronica, not yet three years old, learned how to use a computer.
It was a lot of fun for her and also for my son (he is on the right on a Windows PC, bummer), MAC OS X was so intuitive and easy to use that they didn't have any problems using it.

Veronica always enjoyed using this computer, that we still have and still works. Five years later and few MAC OS X upgrades and she is having fun creating her own music with Garage Band.

Meanwhile I was listening to other music on my first generation iPod, which later got company of the first iPod Nano I purchased for my wife to avoid getting mine hijacked.

And then came the new iPod classic, my home office got the new iMac G5, and the iPod touch. When I purchased my first iPod Touch I was blown away, I did like it as a music player but much more as a small portable computer. I quickly installed ssh to have remote access to my Linux servers, and later the new generation with camera and Face Time, I was feeling part of the Space 1999 crew with an improved Commlock on my hands.

I truly believe that being able to run so many applications on the iPod Touch (currently I've more than 150 installed), particularly the Apps for Twitter, Facebook, etc., got me more involved in Social Networking. My son has his own iPod Touch and it is almost an extension of his body, it is his preferred gaming platform, his window for searching on the Internet (parental proxy in the middle) about subjects he is reading, news and school homework, and sometimes he also listen to music, including the Beatles !!

My wife loves Angry Birds and some other games like Glass Tower, several nights I went to bed to find her sleeping with the iPod on her hand with angry birds flying around.

With the iPod and iTunes I enjoy much more buying and listening to music, what a great deal being able to buy the track I like and not an entire album with songs I don't like, the music industry had it wrong, Steve Jobs was way ahead of the curve.

We don't have iPhones yet, not because of Apple, just because we are tied to our existing phone contract and I'm not willing to pay the exorbitant rates phone companies pretend for the data services. We are planning in the near future to add an iPad to our collection of iDevices, it will be a great tool for my wife to have her portfolio and presentations of her work and classes on an iPad.

We got sad when we heard the news, but my eyes got really wet when I saw this video of "The Woz" talking about his friend and partner.

So how much Steve Jobs and Apple have impacted our lives ?

Much more than I expected and ever thought, he was truly a visionary, a doer of things that never being done before, a true believer of "Think Different", a genius.

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” 

Steve Jobs, 1955-2011

So long Steve Jobs, God Speed and Rest In Peace, God bless your soul and your family and friends, you will be missed and remembered.


Monday, October 3, 2011

Books and more books ...

Lets see if this works ... It has been a while since I wrote my last post and the Blogger UI changed, kind of nicer than the old one but I've to get used to the new one now.

In our family we love books, actually we are book freaks, if there is something we anxiously want to know or understand what do we do ? we buy, get it from the library, read at the bookstore, or steal a book !! (just kidding).

Besides loving books, I really love my Amazon Kindle (I'll write a separate article about it), what a great device and awesome service, and we the new Kindles, Ohhh My. My son is anxiously waiting to get one, and he already gave me the speech that at school the Kindle is an exception on the electronics gadgets policy (good try son!).

Adding to the real tangible dust collecting old fashion paper books, we have started our digital collection of eBooks. Over the past few days I spent some time (and a some bucks) taking advantage of a great offer from O'Reilly and Associates. If you own one of their titles on paper, for some of them they offer you to get the eBook version, DRM free, for few bucks, so I did it.

Given that our digital media library is getting hard to manage, iTunes became our default tool to manage our Music titles. Couple of weeks ago I finished to suck up and digest into iTunes more than 400 audio CDs, that together with the tracks and albums we purchased on iTunes, take about 50GB for about 6,200 songs.

That took care of one part of my digital clutter.

I'm not quite sure how many books in total we have in the house, the easy answer is A LOT. My son has a bookshelf on his room, but also shares with my daughter another two bookshelves upstairs, my wife has her own large bookshelf in her studio with art and jewelry books, and obviously I've my own collection in my home office. Add few more in the family room, our bedroom, here and there. and I'm sure we may be able to start our own little library for the neighborhood.

On the digital side the current number is much lower. I've a directory in my desktop machine where I drop all sorts of stuff, the current count for eBooks is about 160 taking 1.5GB, but that's very small compared to a total of about 98,600 files taking more than 43GB, which includes manuals, application notes, papers, reports, electronic components datasheets, schematics, journals, brochures, catalogs, etc., etc., etc.

Sometimes it gets hard to find something and most of the time I rely on my memory and doing search of directory trees. So I started my quest for tools to help me getting all this sea of knowledge and digital clutter somehow organized.

I always like to share with my friends what I've been reading, both in paper and electronically, I've been trying to keep the Reading List on my LinkedIn profile, but that application is really ugly and hard to maintain, so early this year I switched to Shelfari that now is part of Amazon, and lets you embed the code to share your bookshelf on your blog or web page.

It takes time to update, but since now it is part of Amazon it is quite easy to transfer your Amazon purchases to your Shelfari collection, still does not have a lot of integration with other Social Media tools besides Facebook, and I'm a little bit pissed-off with Facebook to re-enable the connection.

For local management of my digital library and keep track of what I send to the Kindle, I been relying on having things organized on directory trees but it was getting out of control, adding that for the same eBook I may have different formats such as PDF, mobi, epub, etc. Searching for how to organize collections on the Kindle I stumbled on Calibre. At first I was kind of hesitant to install it, but after reading some reviews and comments and decided to give it a try,

It is a free and open source eBook management application, it's still under development and may have some glitches but so far seems to be working fine for me. It creates its own directory structure and database of objects you add to its library, nice feature is that you can download and edit the metadata for each object including the image of the cover, and for pdf files it takes the first page of the file as the cover.

Another nice detail is that you can browse your library collection as you do in iTunes with coverflow. I recently organized a large number of papers and reports related to "Internet of Things" and took this shot of how they look on Calibre.

An extra plus for Calibre is that it recognizes when you connect an eReader device such as the Kindle to your computer and lets you quickly find what objects are in the Library and in the device. One thing I don't know how to handle efficiently is creating and managing collections on the Kindle from the PC, there is a plug-in for Calibre but since the collections file is part of the "system" for the Kindle, every time you make a change you need to restart the Kindle which makes it a cumbersome procedure. So for now after I send the stuff to the Kindle then I manually organize it into collections on the Kindle.

So far I'm happy with this new way of keep things organized, for sure there is room for improvement and it is subject to change in the near future as new tools pop up and I try different schemes, I can surely say that my productivity increased since I don't have to spend too much time to find articles, books, etc.

For those guys looking to develop application to increase integration, it would be very nice to have something where you can add your notes, comments, references, etc., I didn't spend any time yet searching for a tool that provides that functionality.

Time now to stop writing and start reading !!!