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The Committed Podcast Looks at the New Biography of Steve Jobs

The Committed Podcast Icon 1400x1400 01In this week’s episode of The Committed podcast, Ian Schray, Rob Griffiths, and I discuss the new biography of Steve Jobs. Well, Ian and I do; Rob wasn’t very interested in the topic.

Listen to The Committed, “It’s Not a Biography, It’s a Marketing Tool”.

If you like The Committed podcast, you can subscribe or leave a rating or review on iTunes, or with your favorite podcatcher.

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Royal Shakespeare Company’s Two Gentlemen of Verona Now Available on DVD and Blu-Ray

Two gents blu rayThe DVD and Blu-Ray of the RSC’s production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona is now available. It’s out now in the UK, and will be out in a few weeks in the US. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)

This was a brilliant production by the RSC; you can read my review of the opening night performance, as well as some thoughts on the performance the evening it was filmed. This was a wonderful production; somewhat surprising, as it’s not often performed, and the RSC didn’t really promote it much. It’s great to have it on film, and if you want to see a Shakespeare play on film, but don’t want one that’s too complicated, this is a great choice.

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How I Would Fix iTunes, Part 12: Fix Home Sharing

Home sharing icon(This is one of a series of articles looking at elements of iTunes that I think need fixing. I’ll choose one element for each article, and offer a solution. See all articles in this series. If you have any particular gripes about what needs to be fixed in iTunes, drop me a line.)

Home Sharing is a very useful feature in iTunes which allows you to share your media library to other computers and devices on your network. You use Home Sharing to access content on an Apple TV, but you can also use it, for example, to play music from a central iTunes library on another computer.

Home Sharing is notoriously unreliable from computer to computer, and from a computer’s iTunes library to an Apple TV. For some people, it works all the time, on certain devices; others have to constantly restart their devices, such as their Apple TVs, to be able to access their content.

You can also – theoretically – use Home Sharing to load an iTunes library on an iOS device. You can do this in the Music app, or in the Videos app. However, this feature is broken. While it works with small libraries, once you’ve got a fair amount of media in your iTunes library, it fails. I’ve not been able to find anyone who’s gotten it to work with a large library.

If you have a large library, and try to load it on an iOS device, it simply never completes. I’ve tried many times to do this on my iPad, to watch a video, and it always fails. When I have tried to load my Music library on my iPhone, to listen to something that’s not on the iPhone, that never completes either, as you can see below. (Dark Star is my iMac, with a music library of around 70,000 tracks.)


Home sharing ios

Home Sharing is yet another great feature that is broken. Apple should fix this, especially if they’re planning on expanding the capabilities of the Apple TV.

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Why Tidal Doesn’t Matter

Yesterday, musician Jay-Z and a number of other millionaire musicians announced the (re)launch of Tidal, a streaming music service. It had initially gained some small amount of traction in the audiophile market as a lossless music streaming service (under the name WiMP), notably with a good selection of classical music, before being purchased by Mr. Z. While it still offers lossless streaming – in a more expensive plan – the basic Tidal offers 25 million tracks for the standard price of $10 a month. What sets it apart is the fact that it is the fact that the majority of the company is owned by artists.

This ownership means nothing, though, in the broader scheme of things. Unless these musicians – and there are some big names, including Rihanna, Kanye West, Madonna, Nicki Minaj, Jack White, Alicia Keys, Daft Punk, and Beyoncé – have become Marxists, the company won’t pay out much more to artists than other streaming services. Even if they can increase royalties by 50% – which probably isn’t difficult, given the low royalties paid to artists by other streaming services – that won’t help fledgling artists very much. What it will do, however, is help continue to line the pockets of the artists who do sell lots of music. I find it suspicious that when launching a streaming service that is supposed to be fair to artists, they’re unable to say what they’ll be paying.

Mr. Z – whose real name is Shawn Carter – seems to have a flimsy grasp of economics. He is quoted by the New York Times as saying, “Water is free. Music is $6 but no one wants to pay for music. You should drink free water from the tap — it’s a beautiful thing. And if you want to hear the most beautiful song, then support the artist.”

Perhaps Mr. Z doesn’t realize that most people pay for water; perhaps that is not the case for him. But comparing music to water shows that his liquid-based business model needs a bit more fleshing out. Also, what music costs $6? An album? A download? Most CDs cost more than that, as do most albums sold as downloads. Mr. Z’s albums are certainly not $6 each.

I wholeheartedly agree that artists need to be paid more fairly, and that streaming music services are just another way for record labels to exploit artists. But there’s no way that Tidal will change that, at least not unless these millionaire co-owners – who, according to the New York Times, have not invested their own liquidity in the company, but have been “granted shares in exchange for their good-faith efforts to supply exclusive content” – are prepared to not take profits in order for smaller artists to be able to afford to pay their water bills.

Mr. Z is also quoted as saying: “I just want to be an alternative. They don’t have to lose for me to win.” Actually, they do. Because very few people subscribe to more than one paid streaming service. So the only way for Tidal to win is for them to attract users from other services. It’ll be a tough slog.

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Book Review: Becoming Steve Jobs

Becoming steve jobs coverBecoming Steve Jobs: The Evolution of a Reckless Upstart into a Visionary Leader, by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli (Amazon.com, Amazon UK).

It’s on page 392 that the penny drops. Tim Cook is quoted as saying:

“I thought the [Walter] Isaacson book did him a tremendous disservice. It was just a rehash of a bunch of stuff that had already been written, and focused on small parts of his personality. You get the feeling that [Steve’s] a greedy, selfish, egomaniac. It didn’t capture the person. The person I read about there is somebody I would never have wanted to work with over all this time.”

Much has been written, since the publication of Becoming Steve Jobs, about the way Apple’s senior executives not only disliked the Isaacson book – the only authorized biography of Jobs, by an author that Jobs chose himself, and with whom he gave more than forty interviews – and how much they stand behind this new book. The Isaacson book does, indeed, portray a Steve Jobs that I would not want to have worked with. I read much of the Isaacson book, but skipped over large parts of it, because the picture it painted was so negative.

Yet perhaps this is who Steve Jobs was. In Becoming Steve Jobs, the authors point out that they wanted to show the Steve Jobs 2.0, to explain how he became a better person after going through the many events between the founding of Apple and his return to the company. Yet they say, “Of course, he could be a difficult man, even late in his life. For some people, he was hellish to work for.” But they later say that “The cliché that Steve Jobs was half genius, half asshole is based largely on his actions during the nine years that constituted his first tenure at Apple.”

Skip ahead a couple of chapters. “Steve was as erratic and verbally abusive at NeXT as he was anywhere else during his career.” So that “cliché” wasn’t just based on the first nine years? Throughout the book, this thread is omnipresent, at Apple, then at NeXT, and again at Apple.

I found it perplexing to read this sentence: “Among other things, Buddhism made him feel justified in constantly demanding nothing less than what he deemed to be ‘perfection’ from others, from the products he would create, and from himself.” As one who has practiced Buddhist meditation for some 25 years, there is nothing in Buddhist teachings that justifies demanding perfection from others; quite the contrary. Buddhism teaches a “middle way,” where one learns to find the balance between too much and too little, too harsh and too lenient. While he claims to have practiced Buddhist meditation, and even had a regular teacher, nothing in Steve Jobs’ attitude fits with anything that could be called Buddhist.

But is that all one should take away from Steve Jobs’ life? He was a man with a singular vision, and the ability to hypnotize people into believing him; the famous “reality distortion field.” He ushered in three major revolutions: the first personal computers, the iPod, which changed the way people listen to music, and the iTunes Store, which changed the way the music industry works. Add to that his success at Pixar, and Jobs is certainly one of the defining people of the past fifty years.

The book is thorough, and covers all of Jobs’ professional life, but is riddled with small errors. MacWorld is not spelled like that (it’s Macworld). Microsoft’s little paper clip assistant was called Clippy, not Clippit. Jobs didn’t banish Flash from iPhones because of a grudge (at least not entirely), but because it was unstable and a memory hog. And Microsoft Excel was not “designed from the bottom up to work with MS-DOS and then Windows,” it was first designed as a Mac app. I stopped marking errors about halfway through the book, but anyone in the business, and especially those who follow Apple, will have found quite a few others. I’ve also been told that the audiobook narrator pronounces OS X as “O S ex.”

This biography suffers from an excessive amount of chumminess. One of the authors – Brent Schlender – had a long relationship with Jobs, both as a journalist, but later as a friend. As such, he calls his subject “Steve” throughout the book, not Jobs. He includes a number of personal anecdotes, which sometimes seem like this is more a memoir than an objective biography.

And there is one important thing missing from this book. Steve Jobs is known for the objects that he helped create, and that his companies marketed. There are no pictures of any of them. Most people know what recent Macs look like, but not as many have seen an Apple 1, a NeXT computer, the first iPod, or the old candy-colored iBooks. I think this book should be full of pictures – if only black and white line graphics – to illustrate what Jobs was working on over the years, as well as other products that are mentioned in the book like the eMate and Newton.

I found this to be an easy read, if not a page-turner. For those who don’t know much about Jobs’ career, this book is be full of interesting details. It explains how Jobs was instrumental in changing the computer industry, and gives a glimpse into the evolution of personal computers.

As to whether we need another biography of Steve Jobs so soon, that all goes back to the quote on page 392 that I cited above. I wonder if this project was initiated by Apple, and not by the authors. The picture this book paints of Steve Jobs may be honest and accurate, but it’s not that much better than what Isaacson wrote. Jobs remains a man who was demanding, yet difficult, who was undoubtedly hard to work with for all but a few of his top executives. He was a complex main, who made great products.

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