(First published on 6/1/17 on 5ish Links, my newsletter)
Hello from Southern California where the Code Conference just wrapped. In general, I’m wary of tech conferences — hardly surprising given that I’ve been going to them for over a decade now — but there are a handful I still enjoy, Code being one.
Most conferences, of course, are boondoggles. You learn this pretty quickly after going to a handful. The good ones boil down to either a well curated attendee list, well curated content, or both. But very few offer either, let alone both. But it’s also hard to know that for sure without going to them first since, while word-of-mouth helps, the strength of audience and content are fairly subjective and depend on what you’re looking for, of course.
And, increasingly, content from conferences makes its way online — often now in real time. Many of the talks at Code were broadcast live on Periscope and YouTube, for example. This is great, because while Code is one of the few solid conferences, it’s both expensive and hard to get into.
Anyway, was just thinking about this while Code wrapped since I often get the question: which conferences are worth going to? It’s not a simple thing to answer, but I know the answer is very few of them. So kudos to Code for being solid year after year.
A little late to sharing this first look inside Apple’s new HQ by Steven Levy, but it’s just so, so good. So good, in fact, that it’s hard to pick even just a few things to quote. My own favorite parts:
We go upstairs, and I take in the view. From planes descending to SFO, and even from drones that buzz the building from a hundred feet above it, the Ring looks like an ominous icon, an expression of corporate power, and a what-the-fuck oddity among the malls, highways, and more mundane office parks of suburban Silicon Valley. But peering out the windows and onto the vast hilly expanse of the courtyard, all of that peels away. It feels … peaceful, even amid the clatter and rumble of construction. It turns out that when you turn a skyscraper on its side, all of its bullying power dissipates into a humble serenity.
And make no mistake whose baby this is:
The meetings often lasted for five or six hours, consuming a significant amount of time in the last two years of Jobs’ life. He could be scary when he swooped down on a detail he demanded. At one point, Behling recalls, Jobs discussed the walls he had in mind for the offices: “He knew exactly what timber he wanted, but not just ‘I like oak’ or ‘I like maple.’ He knew it had to be quarter-cut. It had to be cut in the winter, ideally in January, to have the least amount of sap and sugar content. We were all sitting there, architects with gray hair, going, ‘Holy shit!’”
Well, with the help of his favorite collaborator, of course:
During my tour, when we pass through an aboveground parking garage, Ive quivers with enthusiasm as he describes what we’re seeing. He points out how smooth the edges are on the concrete beams and how carefully molded the curves are at the rectangular building’s corners, like perfectly formed round-rects on a dialog box. Furthermore, infrastructure like water pipes and electrical conduits is hidden in the beams, so the whole thing doesn’t look like a basement. “It’s not that we’re using expensive concrete,” Ive says, defining what he calls the transformative nature of this parking garage. “It’s the care and development of a design idea and then being resolute — no, we’re not going to just do the easy, least-path-of-resistance sort of standardized form work.”
“This might be a stupid question,” I say. “But why do you need a four-story glass door?”
Ive raises an eyebrow. “Well,” he says. “It depends how you define need, doesn’t it?”
Which leads to:
Apple’s answer is that the perfection here will inspire its workforce to match that effort in the products they create, that the environment itself is meant to motivate engineers, designers, and even café managers to aspire for ever-higher levels of quality and innovation. (Francesco Longoni, the maestro of the Apple Park café, helped Apple patent a box that will keep to-go pizzas from getting soggy.) “We’re amortizing this in an entirely different way,” Ive says. “We don’t measure this in terms of numbers of people. We think about it in terms of the future. The goal was to create an experience and an environment that felt like a reflection of who we are as a company. This is our home, and everything we make in the future is going to start here.”
Last December, Cook, Ive, and Apple PR head Steve Dowling met with Laurene Powell Jobs, Steve’s widow. At the time, the campus didn’t have a name. One option was to brand the entire site after the company’s late CEO, but that didn’t feel right. A more intimate honor would come from lending his name to the 1,000-seat theater in the southeast corner of the campus. Not only had Jobs thought hard about what the theater should look like, but it will also be the stage for product launches like those he had so famously made his own. “It’s on a hill, at one of the highest points on this land,” Cook says. “It felt like him.”
And so his name will be on the theater. But anyone searching for Steve Jobs’ fingerprints on Apple Park will find them elsewhere — in the glint off the Ring’s curves, in the sway of the trees, and in the thousands of other details we can and cannot see.
James B. Stewart:
When I asked Mr. Baron to name one thing that has driven the turnaround, his immediate answer was Mr. Bezos — and not because of his vast fortune.
“The most fundamental thing Jeff did was to change our strategy entirely,” Mr. Baron said. “We were a news organization that focused on the Washington region, so our vision was constrained. Jeff said from the start that wasn’t the right strategy. Our industry had suffered due to the internet, but the internet also brought gifts, and we should recognize that. It made distribution free, which gave us the opportunity to be a national and even international news organization, and we should recognize and take advantage of that.”
But Mr. Bezos also seems to be a hands-off owner: Although Mr. Baron said they typically have a teleconference call every two weeks, Mr. Bezos hadn’t called this week, even after the Russia scoop.
There was obviously some trepidation when Bezos bought the Post, but it’s pretty clear that he not only saved it — which no less than Hillary Clinton gave him credit for on stage yesterday at the Code Conference — but has allowed it to thrive once again.
What if, just what if, the core problem with the newspaper businesses wasn’t just the internet, but really the management of said business in the age of the internet? And what if a new, savvy owner came in fully realizing that, and moved to take advantage of the internet, rather than wish it didn’t exist? One could imagine a paper that hasn’t been relevant in 20+ years becoming relevant again…
Walt Mossberg’s last column:
But, over time, the products have gotten more reliable and easier to use, and the users more sophisticated. You can now hand an iPad to a six-year-old, and, with just a bit of help, she will very likely learn how to operate it quickly. That’s amazing, given that the iPad is far more powerful than any complex PC I was testing in the 1990s. Plus, today’s hardware and software rarely fails catastrophically like PCs did so often in the old days.
So, now, I’d say: “Personal technology is usually pretty easy to use, and, if it’s not, it’s not your fault.” The devices we’ve come to rely on, like PCs and phones, aren’t new anymore. They’re refined, built with regular users in mind, and they get better each year.
I expect that one end result of all this work will be that the technology, the computer inside all these things, will fade into the background. In some cases, it may entirely disappear, waiting to be activated by a voice command, a person entering the room, a change in blood chemistry, a shift in temperature, a motion. Maybe even just a thought.
Your whole home, office and car will be packed with these waiting computers and sensors. But they won’t be in your way, or perhaps even distinguishable as tech devices.
This is ambient computing, the transformation of the environment all around us with intelligence and capabilities that don’t seem to be there at all.
This is a really good way to frame the current state of technology in our lives and where it’s heading as it continues to permeate everything. A great final column.
Aside: there was a fantastic send-off interview with Mossberg — with Dick Costolo interviewing him — on stage last night at the Code Conference. Well worth the watch when they release the video.
Absolutely a must-read by Garrett Graff. My favorite bit:
Yet even amid the stress of that time, Comey didn’t hesitate to force the issue of STELLAR WIND, standing up to the vice president. During one White House meeting, Comey said he couldn’t find a legal basis for the program.
“Others see it differently,” a scowling Cheney replied.
“The analysis is flawed — in fact, fatally flawed. No lawyer reading that could reasonably rely on it,” Comey said, his hand sweeping across the table dismissively.
Cheney’s counsel, the famously aggressive David Addington, standing in the back of the room, spoke up: “Well, I’m a lawyer,” he snapped, “and I did.”
Comey shot back, “No good lawyer.”
The room went silent.
Daaaammmmnnnn. While the first act is still being written, I already can’t wait for the movie.
I propose a counter-narrative. I put it to you that blockchains today aren’t like the Internet in 1996; they’re more like Linux in 1996. That is in no way a dig — but, if true, it’s something of a death knell for those who hope to profit from mainstream usage of blockchain apps and protocols.
This argument is far more compelling than I thought it might be. Worth thinking about at least in our latest wave of blockchain hysteria.
Yo dawg, I heard you like fast loading articles in your fast loading articles…
Is it weird to admit that I actually quite like Apple News? I find it pretty well done — both design-wise and in terms of the content it serves up.
These pictures are insane. California is actually, noticeably a bit bigger due to this landslide. This is so unfortunate for companies in/around Big Sur.
RIP Chris Cornell