Wednesday 6 October, 2021

Remembering Steve Jobs

Photo credit: Matthew Yohe, CC BY-SA 3.0,

He died 10 years ago today. The following day Dave Winer wrote a lovely piece about him.

I wish Jobs had been a blogger, had written about his design process, so I could quote something. But he was the opposite of a blogger. Jobs was a mass communicator. No one in my generation has mastered the art as Jobs did. Today, with the outpouring of feeling on the net, are people mourning the man, or the phenomena he could unleash, just by saying “One more thing.” #

And he was a designer, even though people seem to be overlooking that in their remembrances, calling him more of a visionary. He got down in there and made small but very important design decisions about his products. Ones that had wide impact, for better, or worse. And often they weren’t things his products did, rather things his products didn’t do that defined them. #

The Mac was full of them. No cursor keys, so you had to use the mouse to navigate. I doubt if money was the reason, though leaving out the cursor keys probably saved a bit, and allowed the other keys to be bigger. It also meant Apple had to design its own keyboard, because they all had cursor keys. #

No hard drive. No expansion slots. No fan. #

And, of course, a standardised user interface — which puzzled and annoyed developers like Dave. But which also led to Umberto Eco’s wonderful essay on why the Mac was a Catholic machine, and the IBM PC a Protestant one.

Dave’s piece is very insightful. Do read it.

Quote of the Day

”If God had been a Liberal, we wouldn’t have had the Ten Commandments — we’d have the ten suggestions.”

  • Malcolm Bradbury

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Keith Jarrett | Over the Rainbow | Tokyo 1984


Long Read of the Day

 Another World Is Coming: Liberals, Socialists and the New Right

Interesting off-piste essay by Chris Horner arguing that capitalism and the nation state are undergoing one of their periodic metamorphoses.

Here’s where we’re headed, in Horner’s view:

It is a much more authoritarian tendency in politics, with the national-popular-leader and state at its heart. It is often headed by a faux populist ‘strong man’ – think of Trump, Bolsonaro and Johnson. National borders are emphasised, the limits of demonstration and dissent underlined, the fringes of the far right, with its racist suprematism and violence moves from the margins to the centre. Groups are demonised as a way to get the ‘real patriots’ focused on an external threat, or on the ‘enemy within’ – immigrants of all kinds, asylum seekers, anyone who doesn’t fit the national image, very much including the political left.

Public spending may be increased, selectively, partly to shore up an electoral base among certain groups, but crucially as the state is seen as essential in helping the economy out of the problems the last 20 years of neoliberalism left it with: rampant inequality (which suppresses demand in the economy), massive private debt, a bloated finance sector etc. To be clear, conservative fiscal policies, for instance, haven’t gone away, but a new attitude to using the state, and to spending, definitely has emerged. And so has a turn to harsher, more repressive politics. An illiberal time has come, and it may be that worse is on the way, particularly in view of the worsening climate crisis. All this has led to some recent discussion of the common roots of liberalism and socialism with a view to seeing how they can better oppose their common enemy. How might that proceed?

Gone in Minutes, Out for Hours: Outage Shakes Facebook

Useful NYT roundup on the screw-up.

Within minutes, Facebook had disappeared from the internet. The outage lasted over five hours, before some apps slowly flickered back to life, though the company cautioned the services would take time to stabilize.

Even so, the impact was far-reaching and severe. Facebook has built itself into a linchpin platform with messaging, livestreaming, virtual reality and many other digital services. In some countries, like Myanmar and India, Facebook is synonymous with the internet. More than 3.5 billion people around the world use Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp to communicate with friends and family, distribute political messaging, and expand their businesses through advertising and outreach.

Facebook is also used to sign in to many other apps and services, leading to unexpected domino effects such as people not being able to log into shopping websites or sign into their smart TVs, thermostats and other internet-connected devices.

I’ve had email from readers wondering why other (non-Facebook) services that they use had apparently been slowed down. Various possible reasons, not the least of which is that many people (foolishly, IMO) use their Facebook id to sign into other services (as the NYT piece mentions). Another partial explanation is that when 3 billion people continually try — and fail — to connect to Facebook it has implications for key DNS servers on the network — as this piece implies.

Also, Josh Taylor had a good informative piece in the Guardian.

And the big takeaway from all this?

“Today’s outage brought our reliance on Facebook — and its properties like WhatsApp and Instagram — into sharp relief,” said Brooke Erin Duffy, a professor of communications at Cornell University. “The abruptness of today’s outage highlights the staggering level of precarity that structures our increasingly digitally mediated work economy.” Yep.

A Commonplace booklet

(For an explanation see here)

I’ve always thought of September/October as the beginning of the year — a side effect of working in universities, I suppose. Which is why the Autumn of 2020 was so upsettingly weird — no new students, away from home for the first time, wandering around dazed by the new world opening up to them. But walking through Cambridge yesterday on my way to lunch I found myself sharing pavements with throngs of kids. And remembered my own first day at university way back in the 1960s. It was — as PG Wodehouse put it in another context – like having died and gone to heaven without the trouble or expense.

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