November 29, 2011

The Greatest Feature of the LISA

I just realized that as I'm writing this 'biography of Steven Jobs from my side' I'm sort of going through my personal history with personal computers.
Anyway, I think I saw the LISA in Israel in the spring of 1983, that is a few months before I had my own personal computer.
At the time going to industry fairs to see computers was one of the best ways to interact with them.
So I was hanging out at this fair, like I did many times before. That is me and a bunch of my friends were asking sales reps all kinds of questions, and watching product demonstrations.
It was basically us, say two ogr three kids from the Seventh Grade, and several dozens of 'serious business people'.
I think none of the sales reps had any hope that we would buy these computers (the LISA sold for something like 10,000 dollars at the time...), but in our defense I could say that the reps liked talking to us better than to the 'srious business people' because:

1) We were really excited about their computers.
2) We sort of understood them, which was not true for the 'srious business people'.

Anyway, I was watching this gray suited woman (highly unusual in Israel at the time, because of the suit, not because of the woman), giving a demonstration of the LISA. All the 'Serious Business People' were excited only about the fact that there was this garbage can, and you could throw your files into it (that's right...).
I distinctly recall her being slightly exasperated (after all she was trying to sell a 10,000 dollar Machine), when she said: 'look, the garbage can is NOT the LISA's greatest feature'.
I don't know if she was right though. After all it is all that is left of the LISA.

November 22, 2011

Apple ][ Clone Impressions

I know that the Apple I was first manufactured in 1976, but we didn't get any personal computers in Israel till 1982, or maybe late 1981. At least no one I knew got them before that.
I got my first personal computer when I was nearly 14, in the summer of 1984. It was a ZX Spectrum. The story of my personal computer is interesting, and maybe I'll tell it some other time, but today I want to talk about the computer my Friend Eldar Fischer got in early 1983. That was an Apple ][ clone.
If you followed the link above, there is quite a list of these clones, not sure which one he had, or even if it is on this list, but it did say 'Pasania' whenever you turned it on.
Eldar, who is now a professor of Computer Science at the Technion, was really into computer programming even when we were both in grade 7. He sat with another kid from our class for nights on end programming their own versions of games such as Moon Landing.
The Apple ][ (and all of its clones) had a Graphics Mode (actually it had two Graphics modes), and it had, somewhere in the recesses of its RAM memory, something called the 'Shape Table'. The only way to access that Shape Table was through direct changing of memory addresses (the POKE command in BASIC, not related to Facebook).
Eldar and that other kid made their own Shape Table BASIC program that took graphic instructions and made them into something that really created the shapes they drew!
Sure it was a little buggy, but we had our Lunar Lander!
What am I trying to say with all this?
That the first and most lasting effect that Steven Jobs had on my life, and I guess on the life of many other Israelis, had to do with a buggy program written on a buggy clone.
Man that was powerful, but no way was it as well designed as say the Mac!
PS I also tried programming with Eldar. We worked on something called Three Dimensional Monopoly. Nothing came of it, but I'm still interested in the project, any takers?

November 15, 2011

Steven Jobs - The Book Review

Steven Job Died, and for a (not so short) while, it seemed like everyone had something to say about the matter.
Naturally I wanted to say something about it too, and this blog seemed like the perfect platform to say it.
But then I heard that there was this 600 page authorized biography, so naturally, I had to read it.
So here's what I though of it:
First, I think it's important to state how you read a book (especially if it's an Ebook), so I read this one on the Kindle software. That would be both on my Iphone kindle, and on Kindle for the cloud, which is the only version that works on my Linux PC.
I bet some of the readers can infer my opinions about Steven Jobs and the book from these facts alone.
Anyway, I thought it was a really interesting book. As an aspiring writer, there is enough stuff in there to write something like thirty novels. Just as an example, there is a story there about a Xerox employee who insisted on NOT telling Jobs about all the worderful ideas they had in the late 1970s. I bet her life story is novel worthy, and really, there is just so MUCH in this book.
Another good thing about the book is how it tidied everything I knew about Steven Jobs. I mean the guy was a feature in my life since at least 1983, when one of my friends got an Apple II clone, but the book really explained how eveything worked from his side (Apple I, Apple ][, LISA, Mac, NeXT etc.) now I think I really know this guy's life story.
Also, I think Walter Isaacson (the writer of the book) really got a rounded view of Jobs, by talking to people like Bill gates, and Eric Schmidt and Steven Wozniak. I'm sure some day when someone sits down to write a biography of say Schmidt, this will be really useful, but even now, we get a picture of silicon valley that goes way beyond Jobs.
So isn't there anything negative I can say about his book? I think its down side is actually the down side of almost any biography. We get a clear picture of Jobs, but not of the effects of the things that he did downstream (such as apple II clones we had in Israel in the early 1980s, I'm sure he was not a fan!).
But even this minor gripe is a good thing. It lets me get in and give you my two cents!
Starting next week.

Steven Jobs biography

November 8, 2011

It's Not About Greed

I'm going back to late 1993 now, and my second year as an undergrad at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
I studied Economics and Mathematics back in the day, and because of the odd nature of the aforementioned university, that meant I had to study in two campuses. Luckily there were a few other students on that program and so I hitched rides with one of them who had a car.
Whenever we got to Mount Scopus (Economics) he used to say: "I don't like the smell here. It smells like greed."
Funny thing, the guy is now a professor of Economics. but not greedy.
Anyway, since at least the 1970s there have been a profession called Business Administration in most US colleges and universities. The aim of this endeavor is explicitly making money.
The interesting fact is that many US undergrads went on to become millionaires since then, but most of them were computer scientists. Same thing happened in Israel on a smaller scale.
I think people like Bill gates, or even Steve Jobs are greedy to an extent, but that is not the prime motivator of their actions. I think the prime motivator was creating something useful or nice (yes, I even think that of Bill Gates). Money was just a (huge) byproduct of that.
So in the next few weeks I plan to air my personal views on at least four people: Steve Jobs, Bill gates, Eric Schmidt, and Jeff Bezos.
See ya'll next week!

November 1, 2011

Look at this TED lecture - seriuosly

I know I said this blog will move on to discuss matters having to do with technology and computer science, and it will, starting next week, I promise!
But for this week I've watched this really amazing TED lecture, and it ties so nicely with everything discussed in this blog in the past few weeks, that I have to recommend it now.
The video is here:
And to give you the really short version; for developed economies, growth and GNP per capita are far less important than the equitable distribution within the society.
More equitable distribution lowers crime, improves health, and happiness and many more important life variables.
Now go watch the real lecture!