Friday, October 28, 2011

I'm Looking Through You....

I wrote on Twitter earlier that I wished that I could let the love of those who are kind get to me as deeply as the slights of those who apparently don't.    What brought it on was the very strange (to me, anyway) experience of having several people stare through me as though I didn't exist.

The first person is a coworker that I don't know.  This person seems personable enough to people who are his peer.   He leads meetings, talks and jokes with people, and has spoken in groups of people that I've been in without a problem.   But whenever he walks anywhere near me (even in the long hallways of the building I work in) his head and gaze shift somewhere opposite.  I found out he treats others this way, so it's actually become an amusing game to try to make him look my way.

Then today I was at an event for my daughter's school.   A parent who I have known for a few years (I'll call her Judy) was there.   Judy refused to make eye contact with me or say a word whenever I saw her, even when I spoke their name and said "hello" as we almost ran into each other while we were both working on cleaning up. I don't know Judy that well, but we've worked together PTA enough to at least be civil.     In fact, last year Judy had just started a new venture with a company and was very enthusiastic in sharing it with the people in the PTA.  When I started to talk about knowing a friend with experience in the same exact thing and offered to connect Judy with my friend, she got snippy and said that what my friend did was completely different that wasn't the same (or as good, apparently) as what Judy was entering into.   There seemed to be a resentment of me that I never quite understood.   Tonight just made it clear that what I thought might be my imagination apparently had some basis in fact.

The truth here is that I shouldn't give a rat's ass.   I know I've done nothing wrong and either these people are simply socially awkward (although I thought I was the king of socially awkward), or simply just a-holes.   I know I need to man up, but there is something that is soul sucking about having people not even acknowledge that you exist when they're right in front of you.   It's a strange type of invalidation that somehow hurts worse than people blowing you off or criticizing you. At least those people make it clear they see you as something worthy of speaking to.   And when you're relatively shy, it just reinforces the feeling that you're somehow below others and incapable of making contact.

I'll be over it tomorrow, but tonight it just made me feel for a bit like I didn't exist and I didn't matter.   Neither is true, but it still impacted me.  

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Reassessing Childhood

I wonder how many of my fellow parents view their children through their own childhood.  Does every moment of brilliance remind you of one of your own?   Do their successes take you back to yours?   Do their failures bring back the crushing failures in your own adolescence?  

And how many of us reassess our own childhood because of what our children go through.

Watching my daughter struggling with shyness, it brought to mind my own incredible social awkwardness, which seemed to start around 8 or 9, and continued until today.  

As I've mentioned before, I was a "gifted" child.   When you're little, everyone's learning so much new stuff that the idea of a smarter kid or dumber kid really doesn't enter your mind.  You all play with each other, hate each other for five minutes, then go right back to playing with each other.  

But as everyone starts to catch on, we start to realize our differences.   The kid who makes you laugh becomes the fat kid who dresses kind of funny.  The girl that you shared your lunch with is now the girl who is so much smarter than you.    The guy that was so much fun to play cops and robbers with is going to special classes because he's not bright.  

It was around that time that I started to feel alone.  I could tell a joke and make people laugh, but I didn't have the first idea about how to dress right, carry on a conversation where I actually sounded interesting, or talk to any girl I considered attractive with anything more than an adolescent urge to be funny, or worse a stony silence and my eyes averted away from her gaze.  

I always felt like I was smart enough to be with anyone, but I'd be damned if anyone found anything I could be into interesting.  How far would a joke take me?  What happened if I had to carry on a conversation beyond that? 

I spent my entire grade school career with one date, prom.  I rarely went out, and when I did, it was usually with a group of people that would wind up pairing off and leave me watching TV or sitting quietly observing them and desperately wondering what the hell I could do to fit in and then taking a perverse pride in not.  

At 40, I still don't fit in.   I could say being on the fringes was fun, but then I also wonder what would happen if I'd have just spoken up a little more, been a little more bold, or just given up worrying about what others think and done my own thing, would I have been happier?  Would I have been more social now?  Better prepared for life?  More able to carry on a conversation that I didn't feel awkward about?

We all just want our children to be happy.  And I won't say I was unhappy as a kid.   I just want to make sure that my daughter does her level best not to have any questions or doubts when she's my age.

And like every parent before me, I'm sure I'll screw that up. 

Monday, October 10, 2011

Why Kindle Fire Will Succeed -- How it Could Fail

  1. PRICE -- I keep hearing that the Kindle Fire will not steal people away from Apple, and I think for the most part that is correct.   People who love Apple products or who have a previous investment in iPhones, iPods, or iPads are not going to necessarily find a lot to love here.   Many of the things that the Fire can do, the iPad will do, faster and better.    But what I think Amazon has done that may ultimately hurt Apple is making the tablet market accessible to the masses.   $499 is a hard price to swallow in a tight economy, especially for people who have a hard time understanding why an iPad is of any value if they have a smartphone, iPod, laptop, and/or e-reader.  And the Android based competitors that cropped up in the wake of the iPad have mostly been underwhelming, combining prices that are two high and tablet software that's not quite ready for prime time and has too few apps.
  2. SIZE -- Steve Jobs criticized the seven inch size of tablet computer, and many critics agreed.  7 inch seems an odd gray area between a smartphone and a tablet, seemingly providing the least of both worlds.   But in handling a few 7 inch tablets and seeing how much easier they were to hold comfortably and type on, I think that the 7 inch size's portability will ultimately be a winner.  The iPad is easier to carry than a laptop, but for a device that is $499 and up, it often feels dangerous and heavy using it on the go, or even carrying it in your bag.  Using my wife's iPad, I'm always afraid of dropping the thing.    With a lighter $199 device, I'll feel safer taking it on the go and be able to drop it in a bag and take it with me.  
  3. AMAZON.COM -- The Google Appstore has always felt lawless in terms of security.   Apple's iTunes has always felt like you're signing up for a timeshare.   Amazon's App Store, web presence and familiarity with shoppers will help drive Android app purchases forward, as will Amazon's customer service (which has been excellent for Kindle).    Additionally, Amazon's Kindle store provides a much better experience and much more reading options than iTunes.     
  4. TIMING -- Apple's recent lackluster iPhone announcement coupled with no iPad 3 on the horizon makes the Kindle Fire seem new and exciting, even if the hardware is off the shelf.   With nothing else competing for Christmas dollars, the Kindle Fire may be THE electronic item on everyone's wish list.  
  5. USERS -- Android tablets have failed to catch on like iPads have in part because of lackluster apps.   And if people aren't buying the tablets, there's little incentive to program apps for them.   That should change with hundreds of thousands lining up to buy the Kindle Fire.  App developers will have a rich user base to tailor their software for and the store itself promises a simple and safe way of purchasing apps.     
  1. BAD HARDWARE OR OPERATING SYSTEM -- It is troubling that Amazon refused to let any journalists have a hands on experience with the Kindle Fire, and watching the demos, you have to wonder if the scripting included the way the hardware was used.    It's possible that Amazon simply wanted to not encounter any issues common with all new devices, or there are some bugs associated with the rush to market that are not yet ironed out.   But if Amazon ships outs a high percentage of lemons among the hundred of thousands scheduled to ship, Amazon could find itself with a fiasco on its hands and little hope for recovery, not to mention a reason for Cupertino to gloat. 
  2. AMAZON VERSION OF ANDROID  -- Amazon created its own version of an Android App Store, presumably to compliment the Kindle Fire.  However, the Kindle Fire apparently runs a modified version of Android based on an earlier version.   As Google continues to develop the Android mobile platform while Amazon branches off on its own, one has to wonder if developers won't soon have to be writing separate apps for each, and if Amazon's own platform development skills will be able to keep up with those of Google's.   If the Kindle Fire users suddenly find themselves waiting for apps or worse, seeing inferior apps pop up on the Fire platform, the Fire could wind up being simply an entry level tablet that encourages people to upgrade to better tablets by other companies.   
  3. PRIVACY ISSUES -- The Kindle Fire's Silk Browser works by using Amazon's own servers to feed you the web pages you want to surf, in a bid to provide more speed.   Given that the tablet works on WiFi networks, this seems like an odd addition to the Fire.   There are concerns that using Amazon's servers to surf the web will give Amazon too much access to your web surfing habits and allow them to potentially invade your privacy.   This remains to be seen, of course. 
  4. STORAGE -- I have an Android phone.  One of the biggest complaints I have with the phone is the poor way in which storage is handled.  Too many apps store themselves on the phone itself and NOT the phone's storage card, which leads to making decisions about what you REALLY want vs. what is nice to have on your device.   The Kindle Fire is supposed to have 8GB of memory and access to all of your Kindle ready content via the cloud.  This may create problems for people that use the Kindle Fire while travelling, where WiFi access won't be readily available, especially if they want to watch movies or listen to their music collection.   Hopefully Amazon will figure out a way in which apps can be seamlessly installed and uninstalled via the cloud so that infrequently used apps are still handy.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Steve Jobs Legacy -- He made Geek cool

Last night I was trying to figure out how many years I'd been using a PC.  If memory serves, I started using one in 1979 or 1980 when I first touched the TI 99/4.   From that point forward I was enamored with these wonderful typewriters that played games and my gadget love began.    A few years later I actually sold a program to my school, a simple math game that caused a rocket to blast off your screen every time you got a math problem right.  

I was in fifth grade.  

Although my programming skills never progressed much, my gadget love did.  I soon progressed from my TI 99/4A to a Commodore 64, where I first started writing on a word processor and first went online on several local BBS.    The Commodore got me through college where I touched my first Mac.  In college, computers were still considered a luxury, and Macs were the pinnacle of that luxury.   I admired my friends who had those sleek machines that my parents and I couldn't afford.    They were simple to use and elegant.  

In the age of the Internet, Apple products created a geek version of the redneck Ford vs. Chevy war.  Apple lovers appreciated their design, functionality, the fact that they simply worked and their snob appeal.   PC lovers appreciated the PC's flexibility, lower cost, openness, and, truth be told, the fact that they were so complex and hard to keep running.   It helped keep the stuff they loved from becoming too accessible.  

And this is where Steve Jobs won the war. Ironically, not with the personal computer, but with the portable devices Apple didn't create, but helped make usable.  

Apple realized not too long ago that there was tremendous power in a device that could go with you everywhere you went.   Unlike the first iterations of smartphones which essentially tried to replicate the desktop experience in smaller form, Apple's genius was to create a mobile platform in which the device and the applications used on it were integrated together to provide a uniquely mobile experience.   Five or ten years ago if someone told you that you'd be able to use your phone to find a new restaurant, a coupon for it, notify your friends you were there, write a review (complete with picture of your entree), and then facebook and tweet about it immediately following, they'd have laughed at you.   Now we can't imagine life without it.  

And what about our music listening habits?  When I was in college, my backpack was always stuffed full of CDs and my portable CD player that got about an hour's worth of listening before the batteries died.   Others were still using cassette Walkmans.    Can you make it to your desk at work without encountering someone plugged into their iPod or their head buried in their iPhone? 

Steve Jobs took technology and made it accessible.  He looked at what existed and questioned "what would make this better?"   He took geek out of the world of geek and gave it to the rest of us.   For all of his faults and missteps, Steve Jobs left the world a better place.   It's sad there are too few waiting in the wings to take his place.  

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

RIP Steve Jobs

Perhaps it was sheer coincidence, but last night I was watching a video from Sesame Street and saw a link to a video of Big Bird singing Bein' Green at Jim Henson's memorial service.  As tears streamed down my face, I thought of how much connection I had to a man who I didn't know and rarely saw.   Jim Henson's very essence was excellence, portrayed in the hours of television and motion pictures he helped create and the indelible characters he brought to the screen that kids 8 months to 80 years old embraced.   Jim Henson loved his work and it showed in every thing that he produced.   He surrounded himself with dedicated people who created the best and the world was better for it.

I sit here today with much the same feeling upon hearing Steve Jobs.   We'd lost a talent, a visionary, and a one-of-a-kind presence whose vision showed in the work his company produced.   I've never owned an Apple PC.   Truth be told, I've probably spent less than 30 hours working on one in my 40 years of existence.   But I always admired and wanted one of their machines, from the Apple II of my youth to the latest and greatest Macbooks of today, there is a style, elegance, and grace that my TI, Commodore, and multiple PCs have never captured.  

I learned of his death on my smartphone, a device Apple didn't invent, but one that Apple made better.  Only a few minutes later I got into my iPod ready car and rocked out to one of 20,000 tunes housed on a device Apple moved into the mainstream.   I came back and I type this on a PC inspired in part by the visions of Apple.  

Steve Jobs was only 56.    He was just learning to drive when I was born.   You can't say he didn't pack everything into those 56 years, but I am saddened that the world lost another 44 more.  

RIP Steve.