Life is a Mystery

30 November . Comments Off on Nobody over 30 ever had a good idea

Nobody over 30 ever had a good idea

Monica Ertel spent 16 years at Apple. I met her when she ran the Apple Library Users Group in the 1990’s. I love this anecdote from a 1996 interview:

Steve Jobs–he was president then, and he had an open door policy and anybody could go and talk to him. Down the line I hired some people and this woman was about 32 years old I guess, and she went to talk to him. And you could just go in his office. And he made some remark about how nobody over 30 ever had a good idea. And he was like all of 24 years old. And she was just inflamed by this! So she came back to me and said we have to do some research. We have to put together a list of people over the age of 80 who had great ideas, so we found in the Book of Lists people over 80 who had revolutionary ideas and we sent it to him and we never heard from him again. But, I’ll never forget that because he was 31 when he started Next. And I never forgot it and I thought–I wonder if he remembers his arrogant youth when he said that no one over 30 ever had a good idea. You know, Next hasn’t been all that successful, so maybe he was right! Maybe it’s come around.

Monica left Apple in 1998 when Steve returned. Apple’s corporate library was one of the things that fell under his ax as he slimmed Apple into a fighting trim. Some might say he had a few good ideas left in him after 30!

28 November . Comments Off on What is $2000 worth?

What is $2000 worth?

I just got an email from the White House asking me to tell the President and Congress why it is important to keep taxes from going up on the middle class. They would like me to explain what $2000 is worth to our family. Here is how I responded:

$2000 is a month living in our home. It is the new computer for our high school student. It is a couple months of food on our table.

We are not even halfway to the $250,000 cutoff the President is considering for raising taxes, but we believe in our government and its ability to bring us together to do things we cannot do alone. As members of the middle class, we are willing to give up this $2000 right now if it goes toward health care for all, services for the poor, maintenance of vital infrastructure, and education for all our children. We are ready to pay the price of living in a vigorous society that builds a bright future.

So, please, take our $2000 and build a stronger America for all of us. We would rather start paying now, than saddle our children and grandchildren with a decayed America that has forgotten the price of freedom.

I welcome tax increases. I see our tax-sheltered society as a shameful abdication of responsibility to future generations. I hope we come to our senses and start building a stronger society together again, because I fear the one we are building as individuals is getting more ragged and divided every day.

Look at the image the White House presents as representing this cause. A family becomes shoppers. A house alone and isolated. Pavement and suburban grass. This is the ideal we are striving for? I think this vision is part of the problem, it separates us from each other, it encourages us to carry as much as we can into our mortgaged houses. Will we wake up?

A caring society is worth much more to me than $2000. Let’s build one! Tell the White House what you want to do with your $2000.


15 November . Comments Off on Fix the Filibuster

Fix the Filibuster

Two years ago I created the 51 is a majority campaign. It didn’t catch on and neither did filibuster reform in the US Senate. This time around I hope the Democrats in control of the Senate will realize that they have to fix the filibuster.

For the past few years the requirement to get any work done in the Senate has been 60 votes. This is so common that 60 votes is the new normal. But the Senate was designed to work as a body that, for the most part, respects majority rule. The filibuster is a tool for the minority to raise serious concerns, but was never intended to be invoked on nearly every piece of legislation that comes through the body.

We must reform the filibuster, and I want my Senators out front on this one. There is a proposal being put forward by Senators Merkley, Udall, Gillibrand, Harkin, and Warren to make sure the filibuster is a “talking filibuster,” one that requires Senators to actually stand up and say what they believe if they want to block the action of the majority. Why are Senators I respect, like Amy Klobuchar, Al Franken, Michael Bennet, and Sherrod Brown not out front on this. We must have filibuster reform to get anything done in the next two years.

Please, write your Senators and sign the petition to reform the filibuster. Here’s what I said to my Senators (write Amy and Al yourself if you are in Minnesota):

Dear Al and Amy,

I hope and expect you will support filibuster reform. Make the filibuster a “talking filibuster” that requires a Senator blocking a vote by arguing that more debate is needed to do so by taking the floor and making a case to the American people.

Abuse of they filibuster has crippled the US Senate for long enough. A talking filibuster will protect the minority with enough power to block truly controversial legislation, but it will ensure that the filibuster is reserved for only important cases.

Please, be swift and clear in your support of filibuster reform. Fix the Senate!


UPDATE (19 Nov 2012): Amy Klobuchar has signed onto the effort! Thanks, Amy. Now are are just waiting for Al.

9 November . Comments Off on Marriage in Minnesota

Marriage in Minnesota

Let me start by saying I support marriage for same sex couples. I think marriage, the public commitment to build a life together and support a family, strengthens our society whether it is between one man and one woman, one man and one man, or one woman and one woman. I am eager for the day Minnesota welcomes this commitment from all. I am particularly excited that this week Minnesotans rejected a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between one man and one woman. Now I’ll get to the harder pill to swallow…

I think Minnesota should move slowly to changing its law to facilitate marriage between same sex couples. If the DFL (Minnesota’s “democrats”) moves to legislate that change ASAP, now that it controls both the legislature and the governorship, it will come back to haunt us all too soon. The conversations opened by the beautiful campaign of Minnesota United need to continue, we need to continue to open hearts and minds to the coming change. We need some time to allay the fears of many friends and neighbors.

I fear some in the party are pushing to make marriage a priority in the next legislative session. I think we first must build a new budget, fund education properly, add some new revenue to the picture, then we will be ready to address marriage. This year should be a year of fundamentals: a year to undo damage done to us by leaders who refused to pay the cost of a vibrant modern society, to avert our slide into mediocrity.

I also note that the marriage amendment drove our voter turnout this year. More citizens voted on the marriage amendment than voted for president! I believe the marriage amendment made our new DFL lead statehouse possible. We will need that turnout again in 2014 if we are to keep the governorship and legislature facing the future. After a year of deep conversations on the issue and some practical accomplishments under our belt, 2014 will be the right time to take on marriage equality. I believe this change will spark joy and reveal the demons of the right as myths. It will be a very positive story for Minnesota. I want that positive energy as close to the next election as possible.

In order to build our constituency for change through respectful conversations, in order to get some important gritty work done in the legislature this year, and in order to place a positive story closer to the next election cycle, I hope Minnesota’s progressive community takes a deep breath, enjoys our recent victory, and targets 2014 as the year of marriage equity in Minnesota.


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.


Eric Celeste / Saint Paul, Minnesota / 651.323.2009 /