Life is a Mystery

5 October . Comments Off on sjobs


Today I was hunting for a box of winter shoes in our basement (yes, it is getting that cold in Minnesota). I didn’t find the shoes yet, but I did run across an old address book of mine from the mid-1980’s. Old numbers for my grandparents, Sally Bowles, even Peter Yarrow! Numbers for the Boston Computer Society, Foremost Computing, Bill Warner, and contacts at Apple and NeXT. Then I noticed what was tucked into a small pocket in the front of the address book.

sjobs business card

I love the handwritten “sjobs” below the email address. That made me feel so special.

Today, it turns out, is the anniversary of Steve’s death. This is being marked by a video on the Apple site and dozens of stories in the media. What fun it is to discover, totally by chance, this small memento of my own of a visit from Steve long ago.

30 July . Comments Off on Promises


There’s a lot of conversation in certain circles about Apple’s new “genius” ads. Are they good? Are they bad? I sense a danger for Apple in these ads, a change in the promise that Apple is making to its customers. This change has been underway since the iPhone 4S announcement, but these ads really highlight the shift.

Take a look at a typical ad from a while back, before the 4S (smart cover):

This ad describes Apple’s smart cover for the iPad without a single word. It is joyful and sparse. But most importantly, it promises something the customer can actually experience. In fact, it under promises, because the actual experience is even more fun and magical than the ad.

Apple’s ads used to do this a lot: under-promise. Then the company could delight the customer by over-delivering.

Look back at these older ads and ask yourself: how would a real-life experience compare to the story being told in this ad?

Now look at two recent ads from the past couple weeks (busy day and mayday):

While the humor and production values are arguable great, and the explicit stories are more or less on message for Apple, the customer experience will never equal what is seen in these ads. No customer is going to get anything like Mr. Scorsese’s speed or success rate with Siri and nobody on a plane is going to find their own personal Apple genius shuttled up to first class. Instead, Siri will frustrate as often as succeed and a genius is a lengthy wait away at the nearest Apple Store. Apple has over-promised.

The dangerous trend in these ads is that Apple is making its advertising more attractive than its actual user experience. It can only under-deliver. It can no longer delight in real life.

I think Apple should reconsider this course. It should refocus on ads that leave room for the customer to be delighted by the experience they actually have with the product. In this way, customers become evangelists for Apple’s products, rather than apologists for products that never quite live up to their ads.

15 June . Comments Off on It’s a mystery

It’s a mystery

Tonight will be opening night for Nate in his school production of Hairspray. He is playing Edna, mom of the heroine Tracy. Last night we say their first run-through as the cast and crew put the show on for families. It was wonderful.

I thought it was pretty gutsy of Nate to take on this role. He’s never been in a play before, he does not even like to sing in church, and he has to appear on stage night after night in a dress and curlers. And yet, on top of all the other things he does at his school, he took on this challenge. I couldn’t be more proud and impressed! That smudge in the spotlight of the picture below is Nate as Edna in the opening scene last night.

Over the past few days I’ve been arriving early and remembering why I love theater. The chaos reminded me of nothing more than this exchange in Shakespeare In Love:

Philip Henslowe
Mr. Fennyman, allow me to explain about the theatre business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster.

Hugh Fennyman
So what do we do?

Nothing. Strangely enough, it all turns out well.


I don’t know. It’s a mystery.

It is, indeed, a mystery. But the kids of Crosswinds are sure pulling off the miracle of theater tonight. If you are in town, join us for opening night or for one of the other performances over the next two weeks.

Crosswinds Arts & Science School
600 Weir Drive, Woodbury, MN 55125

Friday, 6/15, 7:30pm
Saturday, 6/16, 7:30pm
Sunday, 6/17, 2pm
Thursday, 6/21, 7:30pm
Friday, 6/22, 7:30pm
Saturday, 6/23, 7:30pm
Sunday, 6/24, 2pm

Tickets are $7 for adults, $5 for students.

Hairspray at Crosswinds

11 June . Comments Off on Passwords


I have a long history with passwords, but the latest LinkedIn compromise brings passwords to mind again and I’d like to share some thoughts on a simple method for creating complex, unique, memorable passwords that are hard for the bad guys to crack.

As this Gibson Research calculator makes clear, length and complexity add a lot of security to a password. But how can you get length and complexity and still remember your passwords, especially when it is essential that you give every site a different password? The best answer I’ve come up with is similar to the answer at Gibson: padding. But my padding is a bit more complex than theirs.

I devise a prefix and suffix that is complex but easy to remember. For example, the prefix “PW:” and suffix “;don3“. These provide the complexity and some length. They have upper and lower case letters, some punctuation, and a number. You should not use these (these are not even the ones I use), but come up with your own along similar lines.

Then for every site I come up with a simple but unique middle. So my Amazon password might become “PW:books;don3” where my Apple password might be “PW:steve;don3“.

The result is a unique password for every site with the length and complexity to fend off easy attacks. Some horrible sites force me to change my password every few months, for those I just add an number I increment, like “PW:silly2;done3“.

Unfortunately, some vendors insist on coming up with rules of their own and I inevitably have a few sites that rule out my method for no good reason (one awful example: a bank that limited passwords to eight characters!). This is why I also use a piece of password “vault” software to keep track of passwords. My preferred vault is 1Password, which exists for Macs, Windows, iOS, and Android devices.

Have fun out there, and use a long, complex, memorable, and unique password at every site you value!

23 March . Comments Off on iPhone screen oprions

iPhone screen oprions

Some rumors are flying about iPhone screen size today. Usually I ignore that sort of thing, especially since I agree with John Gruber that any sort of change to the iPhone screen size is highly unlikely for practical app development reasons. But today it suddenly occurred to me that Apple does have some flexibility built in here, flexibility I’d noticed a few years back when the first iPhone was released.

What I noticed back then was that though the iPhone has a 3×2 display (not quite the traditional 4×3), the dimensions of the phone itself could easily accommodate a 16×9 display. I thought Apple had probably been pretty deliberate about that.


The image above is the technical drawing of the current iPhone 4S. What if the rumors today are off by just a little. What if, instead of chasing Samsung’s absurdly large 4.6 inch diagonal display, Apple were to build a 4 inch or even 4.4 inch diagonal display. Would that work?


In this drawing I’ve just stretched the iPhone screen out to 16×9 dimensions. This actually fits very well. The home button would only have to shrink by about 1mm to accommodate the new screen. Of course, I’m sure the hardware engineering issues would be quite a bit more challenging than this drawing implies. However, the software challenge would not be so daunting. Legacy apps could run centered on the screen with black “letterbox” bars on the top and bottom (or sides, if rotated). Graphics would not need to scale to odd fractions. The screen would have a 1138×640 pixel display. Apple has shepherded developers through much more difficult transitions than this screen represents.


In this drawing I imagine the same 1138×640 pixel display enlarged just a bit to completely fill out the same handset size. This would create a 4.4in diagonal screen at 16×9 dimensions and greatly increase the hardware challenges. The home button would probably need a new shape and the speakers would have to be rearranged, for example. But note that this screen drop to a 296ppi resolution, well below the “retina display” mark Apple has now promised. I think this scenario is highly unlikely.

In fact, I still agree with Gruber that the most likely scenario is that Apple does not change the screen size at all. But if it does, I bet it goes to a 4 inch diagonal 16×9 display on (roughly) the same size handset, not the bloated 4.6 inch route.

12 March . Comments Off on New is not always better

New is not always better

Every now and then the Apple pundocracy really misses the boat. Mind you, I’m happy they do, it gives the company plenty of chances to surprise people anew. It is nice to be underestimated, and here we are underestimating Apple again. Rebecca Greenfield writes about “The Post-Steve Jobs Decline of Apple’s Genius Design Theory” at the Atlantic Wire today. She concludes:

Now we know: huge profits for not-so-new products. As far as revolutionizing technology goes, there is no post-Steve Jobs Apple.

The article notes that neither the iPhone 4GS nor the new iPad offer anything genuinely new to the user in terms of design. These are both last year’s designs reused. The case of the iPad, which actually grows slightly thicker and heavier, is worse than status quo, she argues.

Did she miss the fact that the iPhone 3 and iPhone 3GS looked much the same? Did she miss the fact that the MacBook Pro has hardly change in appearance in 5 years, and that the iMac’s evolution in design has been a subtle progression over those same years? The Mac Mini is pretty much as it was when it was first introduced. Internally all these machines have made great strides, but Apple does not vary the external design without a significant reason to do so. It is a classic misunderstand of design, especially as Jobs espoused it, to only pay attention to the outside of objects.

I am glad Apple does business this way. It is constantly innovating, but if it just threw every innovation at users year after year, I think we’d all get pretty worn out, or maybe worse, dependent on the design fix. Instead, Apple seems to give its innovations the honor of some time on stage, a chance to settle in. It does not panic or push, it takes a leisurely stroll (from the consumer’s perspective) though a chaotic market.

Remember that “antennagate” issue with the iPhone4? Not only did Apple not change the hardware back then, it didn’t even change it (much) a year later with the 4GS. Does anyone complain about dropped calls? Not much. Meanwhile, Apple lined up a long list of suppliers to build this phone and pretty much all of them can continue building the 4GS with very little retooling. This is how it piles up big profits. The new iPad will even be able to take advantage of some soft cases made for its iPad2 sibling.

Meanwhile, the innovations are there, and they are incredibly significant. The iPhone 4GS brought forth Siri and has sold better than any iPhone to date. Pretty good for last year’s design. I believe the new iPad’s “retina” display and faster graphics will also be massively popular.

Apple’s competitors litter the streets with their meaningless iterations of products. Quick: what’s the latest Samsung phone or the most powerful Android tablet? Not sure? Neither is anyone else. Apple’s customers get a calm and reassuring message from Apple’s approach to the market: you know you will get the best from us, we won’t let you down. It just works.

In an article in today’s London Evening Standard, “Sir Jonathan Ive: The iMan cometh,” Jony Ive talks a bit about the competition:

… most of our competitors are interesting in doing something different, or want to appear new – I think those are completely the wrong goals. A product has to be genuinely better. This requires real discipline, and that’s what drives us – a sincere, genuine appetite to do something that is better. Committees just don’t work, and it’s not about price, schedule or a bizarre marketing goal to appear different – they are corporate goals with scant regard for people who use the product.

Apple respects the customer using their products. This respect shows up in a myriad ways, from the low-key branding (put a case on an iPhone or iPad and event he Apple logo goes away) to the fierce simplicity (one button!) to the reuse of external designs that are getting the job done. An Apple product is not new for the sake of being new, it is new for the sake of being better. And guess what? People, real people if not the pundit sort, recognize better when they see it, even when the package is quite familiar.


18 January . Comments Off on A letter to my four favorite senators: Drop support for PIPA

A letter to my four favorite senators: Drop support for PIPA

I was distressed to learn that all four of my favorite senators are co-sponsors of the Protect IP Act, or PIPA. This is a terrible bill that does more to threaten the technical and philosophical foundations of the internet than it does to actually protect intellectual property. Please, encourage your own representatives to oppose or withdraw support for this legislation.

Dear Dear Al, Amy, Michael, and Sherrod,

I am writing you, my four favorite senators because I hope I can get your attention. You are all four co-sponsors of the Protect IP Act and I believe you are making a grave mistake. I hope you take the time to read this letter personally, and reconsider your co-sponsorship.

You all know that I am a life-long Democrat. Amy and Al know that I have been an active DFL organizer in Minnesota and campaigned hard for their election here in SD64. Though I’ve never lived in Colorado, I’ve known Michael since we could count our age on our hands and campaigned for Sherrod long before he became a senator. I am more proud than I can say of all of you, and your presence in the US Senate gives me hope for our country.

However, Protect IP is fatally flawed. I have worked with technology for over 30 years, I’ve built tools on the web since 1993. While we all tend to imagine that the code supporting the internet is deep and robust, let me tell you, it looks a lot like the code that holds together our country, vast and contradictory. Protect IP assumes that some simple tweaks can solve the problem of piracy: that is a lie. Piracy will stay with us, what Protect IP will actually break is the foundation of the internet.

Al, you wrote to me that “We must protect American jobs from piracy, which has become rampant on the Internet. We don’t tolerate shoplifters in stores and we should not tolerate them online.” I agree that piracy and shoplifting are bad. But I ask you all to consider consequences. When someone shoplifts from a store, do we shut down the store? Do we require that all stores prevent all theft? What would our society look like if we did? Visualize this for a moment. Metal detectors or full body scanners at every entrance? Customers always treated as potential thieves? Stores that have “sponsored” shoplifting cut off from their bank accounts? It is hard for those who are not technologists to imagine what Protect IP looks like to those who would have to implement it, but it is a lot like a world where shoplifting is treated with such disproportional harshness.

Yes, we have to protect jobs. But consider how many jobs depend on the internet as a whole. Consider how many jobs are created by the open network that is easily accessible to all inventors and investors. Consider the chilling effect of Protect IP on legitimate commerce and expression. Consider the ease with which it will be abused.

I understand the entertainment industry is important, and their concerns about piracy are well founded; but Protect IP is a terrible abuse of government power and a vast overreaction to the problem. You are being hoodwinked by an industry that will do well enough without this “protection.” You are sponsoring an internet that will at best encourage the development of tools to facilitate repression around the world and at worst be the germ of an American repression we will all live to regret.

I am so proud to have you all in the Senate. But I can’t tell you how sad I am that all four of you are co-sponsors of this dreadful bill. This one is a show-stopper for me, if you can’t see past the lobbying of the entertainment industry to the truth of what Protect IP does, then I am afraid I will have to question the role of my party in the protection of freedoms that are so much more vital than intellectual property.

Please, reconsider your co-sponsorhip of this bill. Please do everything you can to make sure it does not actually see the light of day. See that it gets tied up in committee, or suffers some other face-saving demise. Please, make sure Protect IP is never actually the law of this land.

With deepest respect and thanks for all you do,

Eric Celeste

2 December . Comments Off on Less than Zero

Less than Zero

As the financial crisis of 2008 hit us squarely in the gut, I was telling Mary that it would be interesting to see how the Fed would get interest rates below zero. They swung rates to zero so quickly that it was clear if interest rates had to go below zero they would have to invent some new excuse. It would be odd to hear on the new that interest rates had gone “negative,” but I was looking forward to something like that.

Let me say a word about negative numbers: they don’t exist. Or, more correctly, they are a fiction we invent to help us do math, but in the real world, they don’t exist. If you see a negative number in the real world, it simply means zero was put in the wrong place. Is the temperature -20 degrees? That just because we put zero in the wrong place on the F scale.

Today I finally realized how the Fed did it. Watch this piece by John Stewart…

How did the Fed create negative interest rates? Through the secret beyond-TARP program they loaned banks 7 trillion dollars at -3% interest! To create a negative interest rate you have to pay someone to take your money, right? That’s just what they did! By giving banks $7,000,000,000,000 at 0.01% interest, and then borrowing that same money back from banks at 3% interest, the effectively gave money away to the banks: that 3% is the negative interest rate. It is the payment for taking our money.

I’d have to do more digging and math than I have time for right now, but I think we now see how the Fed was able to get the lending rate below zero. I am not so upset about that, but I am incredibly upset that they did this in secrecy. Why not let the public know this was going on? Why not let congress know how big a hole we were in? No wonder this depression is taking so long to crawl out of, it was (is?) nearly a black hole!

13 October . Comments Off on Goodbye, World

Goodbye, World

As the luminaries of the computer world leave us, we will recognize more and more of those who live on in our machines. Dennis Ritchie created the C programming language. This was work first done with his partner Brian Kernighan from 1969 to 1973. Along with Ken Thompson and a number of others, Dennis also gets credit for creating Unix at Bell Labs during this same period. C and Unix lie at the heart of almost every electronic device you carry today. Whether it’s your iPhone with Apple’s iOS flavor of Unix or your Android phone based on a flavor of Linux. Most software on your computer or phone or pad is written in a derivative of C still today. Ritchie died this past weekend.

I learned to write code for my first Mac with the book he and Kernighan wrote: “The C Programming Language” often called K&R C. I still refer to it when writing iPad apps, the first edition, no less. It is still relevant. The first example code in the book is a charming model that virtually every programming language since has used since, the “hello, world” program. Here is my variation for Dennis today:

    printf("goodbye, world\n");

Thank you, Dennis, for all you gave us.

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11 October . 1 Comment

Remembering Steve’s Visit

Last week I wrote about a visit by Steve Jobs to the Governor’s Residence. A couple people wondered about the source of the story, so I thought to search my email and I dug up the 2006 message that has a few more details. Here it is “for the grandkids.”

Date: Wed, 12 Jul 2006 13:41:56 -0500
From: Eric Celeste
To: [various family members]
Subject: Remembering Steve’s Visit

I just got a call from an associate of a 15 years back, Deac Manross, who ran into Dick in New York this week. Deac had a story to tell about Steve Jobs’ visit to the Governor’s Residence that I thought you might appreciate.

Some of you may recall that Steve visited us for just one brief evening while Dick was Governor. I was a bit starstruck, so I don’t remember much more that Steve at dinner and Steve shooting hoops in the driveway, maybe some of you remember more. This was in the NeXT days before Steve’s return to Apple.

Anyway, Deac (who was a regional sales rep for NeXT) and Bob Longo (another NeXT muckity muck, though I don’t recall his title at the time) picked Steve up the morning after his stay. Steve apparently started talking about the “most incredible” experience he’d just had. He described how at dinner and then again at breakfast the family he’d just visited actually gathered around and talked with each other. Talked about what was going on in the world and in their lives in a way that was, I guess, novel for Steve. He then got quiet, and as Deac describes, got a bit of an “engineering” look on his face. Then he turned to Bob and said, “Bob, how did you find your wife?” Within six months Steve was married! (Note, he had a child earlier in his life, but not been married before.)

As Deac put it… “It would be a crime if your family wasn’t aware of how your ‘family values’ changed the heart of a Silicon Valley icon !! 🙂 Who knows, maybe that’s what got Steve to do such great family films with Pixar !!………….and almost become chairman of Disney!! All because of the Celeste family ………gives you something to tell the grandkids, eh?” A bit overstated, but it does make you think, eh?

So, I just wanted to share that story. As warped and twisted as life gets sometimes, and as much as our family has journeyed since then, we may have had a butterfly wing of effect on at least one life back then. Kinda nice!



Eric Celeste / Saint Paul, Minnesota / 651.323.2009 /