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A Steve note

When I was 8 years old I got to use a computer for the first time. It was an old Apple II, the kind with the green screen and sloping keyboard, and it was shared with about 30 other students who got about 30 minutes a week on it in our classroom in San Jose, CA.

By age 10, I had learned how to do some simple programming in BASIC, the language the Apple II used. For those of you old enough to remember, there was a pretty easy code to get words repeating on screen:

20 GOTO 10

With that, the word TEXT would just appear over and over and over, line by line, until you hit the command to stop it.

Given this knowledge, of course, I did what any 10-year-old would do.

20 GOTO 10

The result:


…. and so forth.

I grew up in church environments where such things weren’t done. Repeating swear words via computer code, while juvenile, was one of my first acts of defiance. This sounds hokey to say now, but the computer was a way to express individuality about myself in ways I had not – or could not – do to date. What started as a juvenile bit of code turned into other forms of expression. I used the Logo program to draw pictures. My first was a castle, but rather than build a program that would build the castle in one shot I wrote tiny subprograms that built a tower, a base, a drawbridge, a moat. Then I wrote a larger program that combined those. My castle was a big program that assembled smaller programs.

I learned there was logic to the ways we assemble the world and I learned the language of programming, even if it was a simple form. It was architecture for my universe. I was hooked.

So when I say I’ll miss Steve Jobs, who died today at the age of 56, I mean it. I don’t miss celebrities. I didn’t cry at one of my grandfathers’ funerals. But I am a little teary-eyed tonight. I grew up in the Silicon Valley around the tech boom, and it was an amazing time. I loved everything about what was going on there and I gobbled up the San Jose Mercury News’ Science & Technology section every week to keep up with the latest. I was 10, mind you. Ten-year-old boys should be getting into trouble, chasing girls, getting dirty, playing baseball. I was just too curious at my age, wanting to know more about the amazing things going on in the Bay Area at the time. And I was inspired by them.

So I became a journalist. Yeah, not a programmer, but that’s not the point. I didn’t see it as a leap. The curiosity that led me to learn a little programming, teach myself HTML and make my first home page on the Web in 1993, use desktop publishing in the 1980s …. all of that was inspired by these wonderful machines Apple kept putting out. But it was that curiosity that made me want to be a journalist.

I tell my students this all the time. Most of the time, I fear, they aren’t listening. If you aren’t curious about the world around you, if you have no imagination to see stories without me holding your hand, then you’re studying the wrong thing. Curiosity is the one thing I can’t teach you, but I hope I can inspire it in you. Steve Jobs inspired that in me. He was always a bit mythical, a bit heroic. He believed in creating beauty, not destroying things. And he wanted to leave his mark on the world, to make it better.

He was no celebrity, damn it. And I cried tonight at the news. I don’t have many heroes in life, but Steve Jobs was one of them. And I don’t think I’d be who I am now without some of the products he made and the philosophy that guided their creation.I have learned a lot from his approach.

If you have an Apple device and love it, stop for a second and think beyond them. There is a logic and beauty to your Mac, your iPod, your iPhone, your iPad. The form factor, the interface, the look and feel are all part of a bigger effort to make something remarkable. You can’t make those things if you are just a programmer, just a designer, just a manufacturer. You need a good team, and you need to be curious about the world around you. In his Stanford commencement address, Jobs told the story of taking a typography class and how it influenced the way type was done on the Mac, and then I think about how bored our students get in typography these days. They are missing out. Those little avenues of knowledge are the pathway to bigger things, bigger dreams. I wish more of my students saw this, that success comes from smaller building blocks and you have to give those small things your attention and devotion before you can do something bigger.

Apple products are the It item of our time, but they are not the thing. We don’t need more Apple products. We need more people to be curious, work hard, and dream a little to give us the kind of world that gets us such amazing things. We need that in tech, in music, art, politics, and so many other areas of life.

I’m saddened by this news, sadder than I’ve been in some time. Thank you, Steve, for inspiring so many people. Including me. I hope we carry that forward.

Episode 7: Why don’t you go ahead and just write me a letter

We kick off talking about the #fuckyouwashington hash tag that Jeff Jarvis started.

Does the profanity bother us? No. Does Twitter censoring the hashtag  bother us? Yes.

We also delve deeper into Lion after using it for a week. We discuss AirDrop, the feature seemingly few are talking about. We go deeper into Lion’s new security features.

We also discuss how Patrick may get a new computer setup, and we spend a long time debating Macbook Airs vs. Macbook Pros.

And we had several other topics that we wanted to touch one, but this podcast aims to dig deep into topics. So that’s all we got to.

We’d also like to thank Alan Smodic for joining us during our Google+ Hangout before the show. Each week before the show we have a public Google+ Hangout where we go over what we’ll talk about on the show and try to get some early thoughts out. We’ll tweet out the link and share it on our Google+ accounts.

Listen to this week’s podcast:


Show notes:

Google+ no longer just a dude party and now has 20+ million users

Perhaps most fascinating is how Google+ is taking over internationally:

Only 5 million of those users are from the U.S., according to the data. The next biggest audience for Google+ is in India, which is closing in on 3 million visitors.

Google+ is now just 63 percent male, which is probably explained by the site’s international leanings. Facebook has more male users than female users, but not in the US. The US has always been skewed female. I wonder if this has something to do with better equal rights or access to the Internet?

OS X Lion is significantly more secure than older versions

There are a lot of reasons to upgrade to OS X Lion, and Jeremy and I do believe it’s the right choice for most of you, but Lion’s better security should be at the top of anyone’s list.

The new security enhancements are something that all computer users will appreciate and, frankly, need. Sandboxing in particular is big — BIG:

Running an application inside a sandbox is meant to minimize the damage that could be caused if that application is compromised by a piece of malware. A sandboxed application voluntarily surrenders the ability to do many things that a normal process run by the same user could do. For example, a normal application run by a user has the ability to delete every single file owned by that user. Obviously, a well-behaved application will not do this. But if an application becomes compromised, it may be coerced into doing something destructive.

In Lion, the sandbox security model has been greatly enhanced, and Apple is finally promoting it for use by third-party applications.

iOS and ChromeOS are both sandboxed OSes, which is major reason they are so secure. Essentially a sandbox keeps an application in its own little playground where it can’t hurt anything outside of itself. Apple is ramping up its sandboxing efforts in a major way, and by this Novemeber, all apps sold in the Mac App Store will have to be support sandboxing.

It’s not hard to imagine a future where Apple has a toggle switch that allows users to prevent non-Mac App Store apps from being installed on their machines. I can’t wait until everything I run on OS X is sandboxed.

Companies such as Adobe and Microsoft may be slow to move to sandboxing, which is one reason I’m switching away from their products. Apple updated its iWork suite to support all of the new features of OS X Lion, and it should be updated this fall to support iCloud. So while Word and Excel may have more features than Documents and Numbers, I prefer the modern features, security and syncing that I can enjoy with iWork (autosave versions and resume are huge features that every user will love and in a year will wonder how they ever lived without).

We’ll be talking and writing more about security and some of the other new features of Lion this week and next.

ISPs form new Copyright Alert System that will alert users of copyright infringement

This is a step in the right direction. Instead of just randomly suing people when a music label or movie studio suspects copyright infringement, ISPs will notify people that a copyright holder believes a copyright infringement has occurred:

The entity announced today that AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Cablevision have teamed up with the RIAA and MPAA in order to agree upon a six-stage notification system that’ll electronically alert internet users whenever their account is used for wrongful downloading.

Under no circumstances will this system result in your Internet being cut off. The UN considers Internet access a human right, and it shouldn’t be shutoff just because a company believes copyright infringement may have occurred. This new system is a lot more user friendly, and hopefully it will lead to less litigation and more education and awareness of what is and isn’t legal.

A very soft launch

Hello everyone. This is Patrick Thornton. I do a mixture of journalism, blogging, social media and Web work. I’ve always been fascinated by how and why people use technology, particularly computers and the Internet.

I’m also interested in making technology more usable and easier to use. While I am a geek myself, technology isn’t just for geeks.

I ran NYU’s BeatBlogging.Org project, which studied how journalists used social media and other Web tools. Many of the lessons I learned from that project will help me with this one.

The core of this project is our weekly podcast, where we discuss what is happening in the world of technology and the liberal arts. We’re really looking at how technology, media, information, usability, design and the social sciences intersect and interplay together.

This is a very soft launch. We’re still using the default WordPress theme. That will be changing in due time. We’ll add new features, have a better design and have more content for you.

But we want you to be a part of the process of building this project up. Your feedback is most welcomed.