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October 24, 2011

Comments

Cian

There was a piece recently that pointed out lots of Sillicon Valley types send their kids to Montesourri, or other types of progressive, schools. As of course does Obama, another fan of factory style education.

And I shall probably never tire of pointing out until people pay attention. There is no evidence that technology makes any educational difference, and it may even make things worse. There is overwhelming evidence that paying teachers well, treating them well and training them well makes a huge difference. Go figure.

Barry Freed

I'm now sorry I didn't watch the 60 Minutes piece on him, I figured it was just week 2 or whatever of the ongoing hagiographical celebrations and thought that was more than a bit much.

Isaacson also recounts Jobs's fury when Jon Rubinstein, a key Apple engineer, left the company and later joined Palm, which was building a rival to the iPhone. Rubinstein was pushed out of Apple by Ive, who had clashed with Rubinstein and gave Jobs an ultimatum—he goes or I go. So Rubinstein left, and yet when he took a position at Palm, Jobs went ballistic, and even called rock star Bono, whose investment company, Elevation Partners, owned part of Palm, and asked him to intercede. Bono told Jobs to chill out. Jobs did, eventually, and later says, "The fact that they completely failed salves that wound."

Just knowing Bono personally would be bad enough, knowing his phone number far worse than that, but that he called on Bono just multiplies the asshole quotient by close to infinity. Bono: Chill out Steve, I'm ending world hunger and shmoozing with some dictators...

Strategist

To my surprise, Bono comes out of that story rather well.

"...suggesting, among other things... that the president should get rid of teachers' unions, and that schools should stay in session until 6 p.m. and operate 11 months out of the year"

That's an asshole quotient right up there at infinity. Stephen Fry should read this and then examine his own asshole quotient.

Barry Freed

"...suggesting, among other things... that the president should get rid of teachers' unions, and that schools should stay in session until 6 p.m. and operate 11 months out of the year"

And no pudding. Did he mention the part about no pudding?

You're right, that was reflexive Bono bashing on my part. What's Stephen Fry done though? (And do I want to know?)

Cian

Somewhere I've got a copy of a report which said that the best thing inner city schools in the US could do to raise test scores is provide breakfast. The lack of breakfast is probably the unions' fault.

Incidentally, its a very good rule of thumb that successful people in the tech business are arrogant arseholes. I realise this is true of business in general but, probably the tech business was brutally competitive, more so of the tech business.

ejh

True of success in general.

ajay

Cian: I think I've read the same report. Some startling improvement in performance just from giving the kids a muesli bar every morning.

There was a piece recently that pointed out lots of Sillicon Valley types send their kids to Montesourri, or other types of progressive, schools.

Well, yes. Gradgrindery makes good employees, they reckon, but they don't want their kids to be employees; they want them to be leaders.

Barry: having regular phone conversations with Bono is his crime. It is also his punishment, as Kryten would have said.

bert

On the cover, he's rubbing his thumb and forefinger together.

Barry, Stephen Fry.
The charge: smug and twee.
The verdict: very guilty.

Cian

Cian: I think I've read the same report. Some startling improvement in performance just from giving the kids a muesli bar every morning.

Yeah. A more damning indictment of both US society, and the sheer inanity of the education debate you couldn't imagine really.

Strategist

Barry, Stephen Fry was the lead eulogist for Steve Jobs in the UK media (or so it seemed to me, who wasn't paying much attention).

jim5et

He actually held back more than one would expect, prostrate with grief, but being pro-Apple has become as much part of his schtick as quoting Chesterton, so any revelations of bad behaviour from Jobs reflects badly on Fry (and quite right too...)

Barry Freed

Thanks all, I note that no one really seems surprised too which is too bad; other than some occasional writing of his I really only know him from his TV work with Hugh Laurie and in Blackadder all of which I've enjoyed greatly.

Phil

I think what you're missing about Stephen Fry is a kind of shiny high-achiever MENSA rationalism. I've been trying to compare him with Douglas Adams for the last ten minutes & am now starting to have trouble telling them apart ("the ex-Footlights DNA"? "the bipolar DNA"? "like DNA, only an effortlessly fluent hack writer"? "like DNA, but encyclopedically knowledgeable in a slightly choppy, self-taught way"? "like DNA, but with only four or five novels to his name"?)

Barry Freed

They both really like(d) their Apple computers too.

bert

The Apple Douglas Adams loved was unarguably better. It was a niche player, and kept its creative-type users happy by understanding their needs and treating them with respect.
Today's mass market Apple by contrast treats its consumers as halfwits. That's proved a very profitable approach. If you want to be both condescended to and ripped off, visit your local Apple store.

bert

And another thing.
Douglas Adams created Hitchhiker - a lasting work of art. That's something most of us will never do, and likely never attempt. Kind of horrified to see him compared to Stephen Fry, who belongs alongside Henry Blofeld in the file marked irritating alleged national treasures. QI makes me want to put my foot through the telly.

Phil

Douglas Adams created Hitchhiker - a lasting work of art

Well, maybe - I think of it more as a handful of really good gags & conceits stretched over the length of a radio show (or two novels, or a towel). Certainly there's an identifiable Adams worldview, which you couldn't really say of Fry (although I suspect his would turn out to be equally gloomy). But the number of points of similarity is rather startling.

bert

Interesting link, Phil.
Not sure I agree, though. Adams' galaxy is the world as it is, absurd, arbitrary and fundamentally meaningless. But maybe you need a depressive temperament to have that strike a chord.

I like the comparison to C.S. Lewis.
Pratchett would be Tolkein, then.

Cian

Douglas Adams created Hitchhiker - a lasting work of art

Its a bit early to make that claim don't you think? I've never liked his books that much. The radio dramas were brilliant, mind.

The Apple Douglas Adams loved was unarguably better.

Hmm. The Apple I remember was one which grossly overcharged for its products, stopped seriously innovating and which by the mid 90s most creatives had fled to PCs for one reason or another (including Apple's treatment of some of the big software companies).

Oh how I remember Apple Zealots saying that you just don't want preemptive multitasking...

Which is not to say that Windows was particularly good, just that the Apple zealotry was from the mid 80s onwards increasingly detached from reality.

Chris Williams

If we are going to talk about the semiotics of the Apple, it's obviously that time of year again: time for me to issue my ritual appeal to everyone to read Neal Stephenson's _In the Beginning was the Command Line_. It really is worth a couple of hours of your time (or 20 mins of JamesP's)

bert

Adams' Mac love was an eighties thing, at least that's my impression. Kind of like the lyrical descriptions of Mark Knopfler's guitar solos that made it into one of the later Hitchhiker books.

If you were doing magazine layouts, up to the early 90s you'd prefer to be using a Mac. Not the case now of course, things have moved on. The one constant remains that if you choose Mac, you pay for the privilege. I don't know which software companies you're thinking of, Cian, but to me the final symbolic severing of ties to that earlier era came with the shafting of Adobe over the use of Flash.

Cian

Adobe had given up on Apple as their main platform sometime in the early 90s. At some point they started selling more on the PC, got fed up with Apple dicking them around and never really looked back (the Mac has not been their priority for a long time now). I think at one point they stopped releasing software for the Mac entirely, or at least stopped upgrading it. As for other companies I'd have to ask my dad. But he was doing desktop publishing (magazines and books) during the early 90s on a PC without any problems - and at least one of the pieces of software he used was originally an Apple product, which had abandoned the platform entirely by the early to mid 90s.

A lot of people were still using Macs due to inertia, fear of change or genuinely not liking Windows (fair enough). But it was an inertia thing, which cost you quite a bit of money and which limited your options.

There wasn't a whole lot left by the time Jobs came along, and by that state Apple needed desparately to reinvent their hardware and OS if they were to survive, let alone prosper. People forget quite how bad Apple products were just before he arrived.

Cian

Chris read it. Use Linux, use emacs, don't use a desktop and have a system so customised nobody else can use it. Which is not something you're really supposed to admit to if you're an interaction designer.

But professionally, I still do have to admire aspects of Apple products, even if I don't particularly want to use them. And I think Stephenson overstates the case. A well crafted GUI can be more efficient.

Phil

I was writing shell scripts, although they weren't called that, within a year of getting my first programming job. In my second job (different platform) I built an entire library of the things, which I printed out when I left; shame my next job was on a different platform again. (This was in the 1980s.)

I switched from PC to Mac six years ago, and I still get seriously annoyed by all the things that need three separate mouse-clicks when you could do them with a single line of code without even taking your hands off the keyboard. (My only consolation is that I have to use Office 2007 at work, and that's even worse.) But I still feel like I couldn't go back to a CLI.

Cian

I think one of the things that got lost when the world moved to GUIs was efficient keyboard shortcuts. I still use a CLI based email client, not because I particularly like it, but because it would just take me too long to process email with a mouse.

And I've yet to be convinced that Microsoft Word was an improvement on Wordstar.

des von bladet

I'm sitting here at home behind a Linux netbook with a shell window connected to three different computers at work; one tab with my email (Pine), and two just running shells.

At work I mostly use a cast-off Mac Mini, but apart from switching to Chrome (from Netscape) I still spend most of my time in Emacs, shells, Pine and the browser, just like I did a million Internet years ago in the late 90s.

And the piesporter I'm drinking is in memory of Dennis Ritchie and John McCarthy, without whom my world really would be a different place.

Cian

Yeah two guys who really did change the world. Lisp, C, Unix. Not bad.

Des have you discovered org-mode for Emacs? I swear that thing is the best application I have ever used. Pretty much anything else I could do without, but they will pry that thing out of my dead fingers.

hellblazer

In the Command Line is well worth reading, even if one doesn't agree with all the points. (Speaking as someone who's never learned to code beyond school BASIC and a few hand-held-throughout student doses of PASCAL.)

Hasn't Stephenson since admitted he went over to Mac OS X or similar?

hellblazer

Regarding Macs and DTP - I got the impression, from people I briefly worked for/with c.2011, that they were still the system of choice for those needing to do layout. Not sure if this was inertia as Cian suggests, or a case of locked-in-by-training, or just convenience.

Tried using one recently and had to ask on Twitter for how to pull up a command line as soon as I wanted to do some typing...

des von bladet

Cian: yes, such coherence as my working life attains is largely due to org-mode. M-x all-hail!

ajay

Regarding Macs and DTP - I got the impression, from people I briefly worked for/with c.2011, that they were still the system of choice for those needing to do layout. Not sure if this was inertia as Cian suggests, or a case of locked-in-by-training, or just convenience.

Definitely true. Not many sub editors work on anything but Macs, in my experience. Not sure why, though.

bert

My inexpert knowledge of this was picked up along the way, but my understanding is that for a decade or so Apple machines were vastly superior at two crucial things - font handling and vector graphics.

If there's a technological edge that accounts for the widespread use of Apple now, I don't know about it. Perhaps it's simply the advantage of standardisation. A pc could have any components inside the box, running proprietary and possibly buggy drivers. With Apple, you pay to have those headaches taken care of for you. Otherwise, the explanation will be along the lines hellblazer suggests: "locked-in-by-training", or maybe "first mover advantage", or "institutional inertia". One of those.

ajay

Locked-in-by-training seems unlikely, because there are quite a few different software packages being used by subs - Quark, Indesign, etc - and it's not impossible to switch a publication from one to another (a hassle, but not impossible; it happens).

des von bladet

Friends of mine work in magazine publishing and they are dyed-in-the-wool Mac people. I had always assumed it was mostly cultural/ideological.

Neil

I'll never forgive them for dropping the Windows version of (Emagic) Logic the moment they got their hands on it: Precisely the kind of thing MS would have been dragged over coals for, but somehow Apple got a bye.

ajay

I'll ask a passing sub and get back to you.

Cian

Quark, Indesign, etc are all available for the PC. For a while they tended to be released first on the PC as well, which tells you where the money was.

I think Macs are preferred partly due to inertia, partly a kind of snobbery (they're /designed/) and partly because that's what people learn at school. There is a difference in how they handle fonts. Macs make them look more like they look on the printed page, whereas Windows optimises them so they look better on the screen. I'm skeptical that its a meaningful difference in practice though.

They were definitely better than anything else in the 80s, but at some point the distinction wasn't a hugely important one as basically it was Adobe anyway.

Neil: Yeah its always amused me that if anything Apple are worse than Microsoft, and yet seem to get a free pass on it. Apple used to treat app developers on their platform in a way that Microsoft would never have got away with.

Cian

Hasn't Stephenson since admitted he went over to Mac OS X or similar?

I think so. The allure of a pretty UNIX. I know quite a few hardcore UNIX types who did have Macs for a while, though they all seem to have drifted back to Linux for whatever reason.

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