When Elegance Can Wait

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Here’s the problem: You and your snugglebunny are staying with friends, and in your room there is no TV to be had.
A demand is then heard for TV in your room. A loud demand.
You cannot fail.

The solution? Improvisation! Combining an iPad pre-loaded with TV shows and movies with a few found artifacts yields a very serviceable TV, high enough to be viewable over the foot of the bed. Yes, the screen is a bit small at 10”, but think of the alternative...

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What fruit will the Apple tree bear now?

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I am not an expert on Apple. I say that right up front because there's no special knowledge or insider relationships I'm hoarding, no reason that people should keep asking me these Apple questions. Yeah, I have an Air and an increasingly dodgy iPhone 3GS with iOS5 (see sarcastic tweetstream to match), but that's about it. So I am at best another fool on the hill, watching suns rise and fall and thinking about them in the context of what I've learned over the years in spite of my best efforts.

The number one question I get, after "does the 4GS really fix the antenna," has been: what will happen without Steve? Will Apple continue to be innovative, to prosper, to preserve those margins and grow its market?

My short-form opinion is that sadly, I doubt it.

It's not a shortage of creativity. Apple has some of the most brilliant, innovative, creative people on the planet. Steve brought his own additional light here, but the loss of his specific creative contributions is made up by a surfeit of really clever stuff struggling to rise to the top and get implemented.

What is now missing is the integration of intense vision, leadership, and the power to make them happen. We will see, I fear, a slow succumbing to the quarterly pressures of an ongoing business. What Steve brought was a core belief that success would follow excellence, and the willingness to gamble a company on that model of causality. Putting that attitude at the helm spread an innovation-protecting umbrella over the whole company, giving the organization confidence that doing the right thing for the users would be an attitude supported from the top down.

Do you think that a normal, established company would even dream of developing something like the iPhone or iPad? Nah, that's nuts. There's no proof that it will sell and it will cost a fortune to find out. Instead, they'd either buy a startup who did it already, or they'd dump the idea and work on normal day-to-day projects like lowering costs, growing disk drives, and doing all the other conventional things that companies do. It needed a leader with the power, track record, and charm (well, whatever Steve used as his kind of charm) to muscle these absurdly unproven, expensive programs through development, and then through the endless polishing to make them right. A leader who also had the vision that it was worth doing.

Apple retains extraordinary strengths of vision, leadership, and power, but they're unlikely to be housed within a single leader again. This multi-billion-dollar company is going to be hard-pressed to retain its ability to steer against the constant winds of quarterly targets and conventional knowledge without that unique guidance.

Tim, please prove me wrong.

Typing on the iPad

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When I was a kid, my secretary-organist mother taught me to type early enough that I was able to compose my fifth-grade Abraham Lincoln report on the family’s old Royal manual. I’ve worked on everything from a Smith Corona electric, to a classic Teletype machine (with paper tape reader on the side, of course) to the astonishing IBM Selectric. I can hit 80 words per minute with a good tailwind and a good typewriter or laptop.

The iPad is neither of these.

I checked out typing before buying, and concluded that I could type, and probably get better with practice. The first turned out to be true, but not the second. It is possible to type on it, but the lack of tactile cues makes it almost unworkable for me. I probably average 10-15% error rates when trying to let it flow, and have to slow down to maybe ten or twenty wpm, constantly looking, to reach any kind of accuracy.

If you want to seriously write on an iPad, get a Bluetooth keyboard (see blog below). It’s really freeing, like having the traffic police take the boot off your car.

Kashgar Butterflies

Just bought a pack of ten cute clip-on butterflies in an open-air Kashgar market.

Bill of materials for one butterfly:
  • Two wings, stamped and plated, each approx 2.5 x 4 cm
  • Two 4-cm long coil springs, for wing mount
  • 2mm dia, AWG30, bright plated
  • 15 glass beads per wing, 30 total
  • Clip top piece, 5 cm long x 4 mm wide, stamped, formed and plated
  • Clip bottom, same size but different shape
  • Coil spring for clip
  • Clip hinge pin
  • Wingwire for bead stringing, approx. 12cm/wing
  • AWG34, bright plated
  • Butterfly body, stamped and plated, approx 3cm x 5 mm

The assembly procedure is something like this:

  • Prepare each wing by wrapping it with wire, one turn at a time, and stringing three to five beads on each turn. Solder the end of the wire to the wing.

  • Thread 4cm spring through two body holes, solder ends to wing

  • Repeat wing attachment for the other wing
  • Solder body (wings attached) to top clip piece
  • Combine hinge pin, spring, and lower clip piece, with dexterity.

  • Repeat ten times.

The card, with ten butterflies clipped on and wrapped in cellophane, was on offer for ten yuan without negotiation. That's about 18 cents per butterfly.