Archive | September, 2011

Tribute to Steve Jobs

17 Sep

About 2 /2 weeks ago, I got an iPad2. It, unfortunately, coincided accidentally, with Steve Jobs’ announcement that he was stepping down from Apple as the CEO. Clearly a sad moment as not only is he a great man and a transforming force in business but it is also sad to know that someone’s dad, husband, best friend, etc. is dying way too young of a terrible disease. Having lost my dad when I was only 30 and he was only 60, that news hit too close to home. I remember having to go to Maytag Dairy Farms to deliver the news of my dad’s diagnosis to his staff, and that for the time being, he would not be coming back to the office. The tears that staff shed were very real, and that was a very tough day.

So I decided that day that I got the Steve Jobs news, that I’d honor him by writing a blog post about him and my viewpoints of his products’ transforming impact on our world, by writing a post on my iPad. It has taken me about 2 1/2 weeks to become somewhat proficient at typing on this thing, although I do have to say that it is a very Sysiphis-like exercise. For every five or six words I type, I have to correct probably three of them. Nonetheless this post was written entirely using native touchscreen keyboard on my iPad. As my friend Collin, at work has on his iPhone’s email signature, paraphrased: Please abuse any hippos. Sent from hi iPad.

Even though my friend “1.1” (GASHM’s wife), would find this hard to believe, I was a very early adopter and fan of the Apple brand ages ago – like 1978. Back then my dad, as CEO/President of Maytag Dairy Farms in Iowa, came home from work one day to tell me that his “boss” – the man that owned the Dairy Farms, Fritz Maytag, had called him to say that he was going to send him a new computer – one of those “Apple” computers from that new company in San Francisco. For my beer swilling friends, yes, this is the same Fritz Maytag that is widely regarded as the father of the craft brewing/microbrewery movement as the founder/owner if Anchor Brewing in San Francisco, maker of Anchor Steam beer.

Fritz, by benefit of having been born very well, and being a good businessman besides, had invested in this little startup called Apple, and was friends with young Mr, Jobs and his sidekick Steve Wozniak, Fritz had bought a few Apple IIs and sent my dad one to use for the business,

For those that haven’t seen an Apple II, it was pretty ingenious. In a package about the size of an IBM Selectric typewriter, it was the first truly “micro” computer. It was built with a pop off cover that you could open to install push-in expansion cards for things like memory, floppy drives, tape drives, monitor video, modems, etc. All of which were external boxes around it. It really was pretty ingenious, even though by today’s standards, an iPod shuffle has more processing power, and all those cables and boxes made it pretty kludgey.

My dad’s Apple II used a 10-inch black and white TV as a monitor, had a dual external floppy drive, and a modem, He used it to run Visi Calc, the fossil DNA of which still can be found in Microsoft Excel. He kept the Dairy Farms’ books on it, and used the scorching 300 baud speed of the modem to connect to Fritz’s Apple II in San Francisco and pass the spreadsheet files back and forth. They also had a rudimentary database program that they dabbled with, and then in addition, my dad had a game called Apple Adventure that my mom would play. It was the original “situation” game and the interface was simply words. “You are standing on a road at the edge of a misty forest…”. My mom was obsessed with that game.

Fast forward a few years and I suddenly became immersed in the Apple brand. I was a Junior at University of Iowa, and was working at Team Electonics in the Sycamore Mall and we were an Apple dealership. At the time the Apple II and Apple III were the go to products, and Apple introduced the Apple IIc. This was touted as the first “portable” computeer. It was a repackaged Apple II with a built-in floppy drive, embedded modem and video card, etc. It wasn’t upgradable, but you could put it in a bag and lug it somewhere, it really was the first laptop. Of course it didn’t have a built-in monitor, which was external. I managed to win a IIc in a sales contest. I bought a daisy-wheel printer for it and used it for word processing. As a journalism major, it was transforming – no more typing articles and papers on a typewriter. I haven’t used one since,

While I was there at Team, Apple launched the Macintosh. January 1984. Remember the Superbowl ad? That computer was again transforming – mouses, icons, graphic user interfaces, drop down menus, icons, trash cans, windows, etc., every bit of our modern computer interfaces that we still use today were part of the original Mac experience. Talk about transforming!! It is hard to estimate the impact of that, I could have bought one for as little as $700 but since I already had the IIc, I didn’t. Still regret that decision!

[Does anyone else but me notice that the girl in this ad is dressed like a Hooters waitress?]

That was really the start of Apple’s transforming of our world. Every major category of personal technology we use today was either invented by or transformed by Steve Jobs and Apple. Personal music was sort of invented by Sony with the Walkman, but it was the IPod that kicked it to the level it is today. The first “smartphones” were the Blackberry prod
ucts, but the iPhone defined the category. And the iPad drives the tablet revolution.The world’s techies and pundits are wondering “what could be the next transforming revolution from Apple and Steve Jobs?”. What I hope he has left behind is a culture of “how could we think differently”. Because that, among every other achievement, is exactly what Steve Jobs did. He thought differently. It is a challenge I try to give myself every day.

 Transform your thinking, transform your world.

Thanks Steve Jobs!
As you were,

Stew

(full disclosure: the photos and media in this were added after I got done typing this on my iPad. But I did manage to type the whole thing on my iPad!)

Advertisements

Ch-ch-ch-Changes …

15 Sep

I have found over my life (as I’m sure all of you have), there is nothing more constant than change.  The world, and life changes every day and along with that constant change, you have two types of folks in the world, generally speaking – those that embrace change and those that fight change.  There is some blending of course, but … well … read on:

Those that fight change seem to be always asking “well, why can’t it just still be that way?”  There’s a new piece of technology out, but they say “Oh, my old [whatever it is] works just fine.   Why do I need a new one?”  There’s a new way of doing things that’s more efficient, and they say “but the way I was doing it worked just fine.  This is the way we’ve always done things around here.”  There’s a new dynamic in society and they say “but it was just fine when I … a few years ago, why is that wrong now?”

Now, that all sounds very negative.  There is some good to be found in keeping things “old school”.  The new methods don’t’ always work, there is certainly plenty of risk in being an “early adopter” of technology (hello, Betamax??), etc.  Change-adverse folks tend to be traditionalist as well, and that can definitely be a good thing.

People who embrace change tend to be serial early adopters of ideas and technology.  They embrace a new way of doing things and seek to adopt and refine it.  New technology comes out and they buy it early, rather than playing wait and see.  When social changes comes around, they eagerly embrace it and adopt it.

And of course, that all sounds very positive, but …  serial early adopters of tech, well, often get the Betamax effect.  Early adoption of social change can brand someone as a radical.  Early adoption of new ways of doing things often turns out with “oh, the old way WAS better.”

That all said, I love change.  I love it when the seasons change.  I love new technology (though admittedly it took me a year to buy an iPad and two years to buy an iPhone.  I’m sorry, Steve Jobs.), and generally am a serial early adopter.  I am always seeking a better way to do things that is either more efficient, more effective, or just more fun.   And, well, I am all about social change as long as it is for the common good.  Change is how we grow.  Change is how our country adapts to a the world and the world to our country.

What prompted this post is that fall is a classic time of change – new school year, Jewish New Year, company strategy/budget time, the changing of the seasons, leaves changing color, etc.  There has been much changing around me recently both in my company, in my work assignments, at home, in my spirtual life, and more.  And like always, I am recharged and rejuvenated by the change.

Onward …

Stew

Ahh … Friday

9 Sep

Is there anyone on the planet that doesn’t love Fridays?  Seriously … I can’t imagine that there is.

It is fun to think about what Friday means to different folks, but at the same time, the common theme is “ahh … end of the week.”

…  In elementary school, it’s no more pencils, no more books, no more teacher’s dirty looks.

… In high school, especially this time of year, it’s that plus, it’s GAME DAY!  I loved Fridays in high school – the football players roaming the halls wearing their game day jerseys, the cheerleaders in their cheerleading outfits.  Being in band, we’d start the day at 6:15 AM for marching band practice, which we’d end with marching into the school and down the hallways as people were arriving, playing the school loyalty song and other pump up music.  Usually a pep rally assembly during the day, and of course game night!  And perhaps a late date with the girlfriend afterwards for pizza and fun.

… In college, Friday night was date night usually – when I had a girlfriend, which was my wife Robin during Jr. and Sr. year.  Otherwise, it was the night you went out with friends to the bars – several of the bars had live music or club-style DJ dancing.  During football season, we often laid low on Friday nights as we knew we’d be up early for game day fun and tailgating.  My parents would often come in overnight for games (they came to every Iowa home game and tailgated), and we’d go out to dinner and then hit the Iowa City bars together.

… After college, in our early marriage years before kids, it was the night we’d go out with friends to bars or clubs either in the suburbs or downtown.

… with kids, Friday night was always the “chill from the week” night – hang at home, catch up on TV or conversation, rent a movie, etc.  “Sitter nights” were usually Saturday nights.

… As a working stiff, though Fridays are always either really slow, or really frenetic.  There’s rarely anything in between.  If it is slow, it is because it’s been a pretty big week, client deliverables have been met, and it’s a day to get caught up – clear the inbox, do the expense report, set appointments for next week, plan next week’s work, etc. etc.  OR, it’s the opposite – it’s the day the clients call with 20 requests, a big project you’ve been working on for weeks is due by EOD (end of day), etc. etc.  Hopefully, in either case, you can knock off a bit early, and join friends for a beer or cocktail at the end of the day.  Or just hustle home and start the weekend a few moments early.

At my current workplace, iCrossing, it fits that pattern, though as an office, the Friday pace of the Chicago office of iC is usually quite slow.  Thankfully, our company has a great policy for working from home and supports a culture of that, at least for my department, client services.  There are a lot of folks that “WFH” on Fridays, so the office is pretty quiet and empty.    I happen to be going into the office today as I have meetings, but I know I’ll catch an earlier train than normal home today because I can.

For me now, Fridays are a combination of religious observance and relaxation.  In religious observance, it is Shabbat in my worship of choice, Judaism.  Most Friday nights, we will have a family Shabbat dinner – candles, prayers over the wine and bread, great cooking, food and conversation.  Occasionally, we will share that with friends – our good friends “Beavis” and his wife “The Other Robin” are coming for an adult Shabbat dinner.  When we were active in a synagogue, we’d go to services a couple of Friday nights a month, usually after having Shabbat dinner with friends.  Our current worship group meets occasionally on Friday nights for Shabbat dinner and prayer.

We have a great group of friends that we often get together with on Fridays for what we call “MOC” – that stands for “Martini O’ Clock” – as in ‘what time is it?”  The MOC group’s origin is interesting – back when our kids were little, I’d get together with my buddies after 9:00 PM at night on Friday nights or other nights for a late beer and cigar – often by the firepit.  My late pal, DP, was my most-often guest, as well as other friends like Greg, and in the last 8 years or so, “GASHM”.   DP passed away the week before we moved to our current place, and all our friends pitched in to help us pack that last week – coming by a 9:00 for Martini’s and packing and grieving.  That gave birth to the MOC group – as we didn’t want to let go of that gathering.

Now the MOC group consists of a decent sized group of friends that gather once a month or more at one house or another, after 9:00 PM for martinins, wine, beer, brown stuff, noshes and spirited conversations.  It is part religious (as we are all Jewish) – the “proscribed” celebration for Shabbat is to gather with friends.  I’m

sure when whoever was writing that portion of the Torah described Shabbat, they weren’t imagining what we do, at the same time, my Rabbi pal next door thinks what we do is a blessing – it is a chance to gather with friends, converse and relax.  Most of us do observe Shabbat – often folks are joining MOC straight from Friday night services, and so the gathering just helps carry the observance forward.

Whatever Friday means to you, I wish you an enjoyable one.  May your Friday Night Lights – whether they be stadium lights or Shabbat candles, burn brightly for you this evening.  Shabbat Shalom.

As you were,

Stew

Cover Band or “Old Favorite”? Does it matter?

5 Sep

In keeping with our favorite summer activity, live music, Thursday evening we went to see Lynyrd Skynyrd at Ravinia.  Ravinia, for those that don’t live in Chicago, is a wonderful outdoor concert venue with a Pavilion offering reserved seating to about 3000 people in the Pavilion (for a higher ticket price of course) and an additional 12,000 or so folks spread out on “the lawn” which is a beautiful wooded park – with speakers spread throughout.

We had lawn seats for Lynyrd Skynyrd – we were directly off the Pavilion so the sound we were hearing was straight off the stage sound system versus the lawn sound.  But sitting in the lawn, I could have been listening to a very good cover band versus the original – which of course got me to thinking:  All the touring bands under the names of the old faves are often just that – cover bands.  Which of course gets the next thought – “does that matter”?

Lynryd Skynyrd is probably less of a cover band than most these days – it stars four original players including Gary Rossington and Johnnie Van Zant.  We all know this band’s story – back in the late 70s, there was a tragic plane crash that killed three of the band’s original members, including lead singer Ronnie Van Zant – who really was the star and “sound” of the band.

We’ve seen lots of other “old fave/back in the day” touring acts in the last 8 years since this phenomena took hold including:

– Foreigner – one original member left:  Mick Jones:  That said, Foreigner is probably the best sounding of them all – and Mick Jones, while looking like father time himself, still riffs like a 30-year old and the band’s sound is stunning.

– Styx:  Two original members, Tommy Shaw and James Young, joined on stage by Chuck Panozzo on bass for a few numbers.  Tommy and James were the rockers of Styx, while Dennis DeYoung wanted to take the band into operatic “prog rock” back in the early 80s, which broke up the band.  These guys are the heart and soul of the Styx that I loved and the songs they play are primarily from Tommy Shaw and JY’s catalog, versus DDY songs.

– Boston: Only original member is Tom Scholz.  Still scorching.

– REO Speedwagon – two original members, Kevin Cronin, and the bass player (can’t remember his name).

– Kansas  – two original members

– Journey – two original members and a vocalist that was auditioned via You Tube and he is a Filipino guy who was a Steve Perry impressionist doing Karaoke until the band recruited him to be the Steve Perry impressionist doing live band Karaoke in front of a big live audience.  I haven’t heard them but I hear they are great.

And more …

And that’s the first tier.  These folks are still playing bigger venues, commanding decent ticket prices, and it still feels like a real rock show.  The second tier is where the cover band thing really starts kicking in.  Generally these acts are playing places like community festivals (Foghat played Buffalo Grove Days a few years ago and the year after was Starship – the smoking ruins of the old Jefferson Airplane/Jefferson Starship, etc.).   Most of these bands feature just one original member and it is usually only someone that was sort of part of the band’s soul.  Foghat’s original member was the bass player.  Starship’s was vocalist Mickey Thomas, who was the band’s front man in the 80s, but without the incredible vocals of Grace Slick, that band was pointless.

Of late, we’ve seen many good  cover acts as well – tribute bands to the Beatles including Chicago-based and nationally-touring American English, tribute bands to Pink Floyd, Journey, Foriegner, Kiss, etc. etc.  And all are great – and it is great fun to hear the music of your youth performed live.

Which of course brings me around to the point – are these cover bands or are they originals?  And, does it matter? Certainly, in the case of bands like Styx, Lynyrd Skynyrd, etc., you can make the point that they are current versions of the originals.   All businesses and let’s face it, rock bands ARE businesses, change out personnel, so it goes in music.  Foreigner, with Mick Jones at the helm, and considering he wrote most of their catalog, isn’t a cover band so much as a better version of the original.  While I’m no expert in contract law and intellectual property, clearly all these bands have a member who still owns rights to the band name and the music catalog and so they go.

On the subject of “does it matter”?  Well, depends on your perspective.  If you’re a music purist, I suppose it does.  But, if you’re like me, a music lover and a nostalgic soul, instead these bands are a walk through our youth.  And a damn enjoyable walk it is.

And while those first huge, loud chords of “Feels Like the First Time” by Foreigner slam through you, or you’re fist pumping your way through “Blue Collar Man” or “Fooling Yourself” with Tommy Shaw of Styx, savoring the incredible guitar solos of Boston, or yelling “Free Bird” with thousands of Lynyrd Skynyrd fans like I did Thursday night – you’re simply transported back to an earlier time.  And that’s all good.

Go see live music and support these touring 60 year olds.  Re-live your youth.  It’s good for the soul.

As you were,

Stew

%d bloggers like this: