Did 1995 Change Everything?

1995: The Year of Monica Lewinsky, O.J. Simpson, Timothy McVeigh... and the Internet.

1995: The Year of Monica Lewinsky, O.J. Simpson, Timothy McVeigh… and the Internet.

Twenty years (and some change) ago:

Netscape Navigator was a browser created by a group led by a twenty-four-year-old named Marc Andreessen, who was described in Newsweek as “the über-super-wunder whiz kid of cyberspace.” The company’s I.P.O., on August 9, 1995, was a huge success. Five million shares went on sale on Nasdaq, at twenty-eight dollars a share; they closed the day at $58.25. The Times called it “the best opening day for a stock in Wall Street history for an issue of its size.

 

A little more than two weeks later, Microsoft released Windows 95, backed by what was reported to be a three-hundred-million-dollar marketing campaign, along with its own browser, Internet Explorer 1.0, and the browser wars were on. Netscape, of course, was quickly and easily outmuscled by Microsoft. In 1998, Netscape was acquired by AOL, and it faded into insignificance.

In the midst of Netscape’s I.P.O, which W. Joseph Campbell contends woke the world up to the Internet, I was happily ensconced on campus at The University of Chicago, spending my time reading, attending screenings and workshops, and, on occasion, shivering in the computer lab (curiously reachable only through Harper Library if memory serves) exploring the nascent world wide web, but more likely checking email, the most used “app” by far at the time. Thinking back on the “browser wars,” I don’t agree that Netscape faded into insignificance so quickly, though I do remember acknowledging their impossible odds. That said, I recall well into 2003 still contending with the vagaries of Netscape and IE while designing and coding (i.e. grappling with javascript) websites. Though, by that point, the seeds of change certainly had been planted. On January 7, 2003, Steve Jobs announced Safari (Apple’s fork of KHTML), helping to set the stage for improved cross-browser standardization which is still largely the trend today.

Apple Watch and the Benefit of the Doubt

Apple Watch

On the eve of Apple’s “Spring Forward” event, I thought it would be worthwhile to revisit Robert Cringely’s prediction for 2015 as the year “when nothing happened” and, particularly, his take on the significance and reception of the Apple Watch:

The Apple Watch is Cupertino grabbing mindshare and early adopter wallets, nothing else.

Even those who are typically bullish on Apple seem to be restraining their enthusiasm and predictions of massive success for the Apple Watch. All except the stock market itself, with AAPL up over 14% YTD. The naysayers are hedging a bit too. If you widen the view on Cringely’s comment, he isn’t exactly dismissing the Apple Watch to the dustbin of history, instead pointing to 2016 as the year to watch.

I am hopeful he’s wrong. I personally find even the most fanciful aspects of the Apple Watch experience intriguing, at least as they have been described up to this point, and applaud Apple for the tact they have taken as they methodically enter the nascent wearables market. I expect many recent enhancements to the iOS experience like Touch ID and the application extensions framework will be all the more relevant once the Watch is in the wild.

Critically, though, unlike the release of the iPhone in 2007, there isn’t an obvious problem begging to be simplified and redefined. We aren’t dissatisfied with our time pieces in the same way that so-called smartphones left much to be desired eight years ago. The Apple Watch is a much harder sell because of this; it is trying to extend, and ideally in many situations, replace the iPhone experience itself (which obviously is a bit thorny for Apple, though they have been famously comfortable with product cannibalization before) rather than displace something already taking up space on everyone’s wrist.

Will the convenience and attempt at a kind of naturalness by situating tech on your arm rather than in your pocket, be as obvious when we look back on 2015 as portable touch screens appear now, when we reflect on the dark ages of 2006?

It might just come down to the distillation Apple is promising with the interface elements pictured in the photo above: the new pressure-sensitive screen, the much-fetishized Digital Crown, and, simply, the Button. While much has been written recently about the attention Apple is paying to the fashion-related aspects of the Apple Watch (e.g., luxury options, extensive customization compared to previous products), perhaps the obviousness and must-haveness of the device will emerge in its everyday use, where routine things will get done faster and information will be transmitted with less friction and without the encumbrances of even the most modern of smartphone interactions. And that is to say nothing of the integration of Apple’s Siri personal assistant and speech recognition tech, which Tim Cook boasts using “all the time.” Will Apple Watch be Siri’s debutante coming-of-age?

One thing is certain: as my father-in-law reminded me tonight, given Apple’s recent history, it would be foolhardy to categorically dismiss anything they aspire to do with the Apple Watch. For perhaps the first time in the company’s history, it seems Apple has earned the benefit of the doubt.

View from Chicago Tribune Tower, 3:08 PM

View from Chicago Tribune Tower, 3:08 PM, 2014

View from Chicago Tribune Tower, 3:08 PM, 2014

We are moving the company’s downtown Chicago offices to a larger space closer to Union Station; both good things. We invited Eastlake Studio to help make the new location awesome and I recently visited their offices in the Chicago Tribune Tower. I’ve walked and driven past the 1920s landmark countless times before but never had the opportunity to go inside.

The above photo is the view from Eastlake’s offices looking west-southwest. Not bad, right? How wonderful to have such inspiration just outside your window every day.

A couple of technical notes

1) This capture was taken very quickly with an iPhone 5S. A snapshot. Nonetheless, I am thoroughly impressed with the detail and resolution the 5S pulls off — from street-level sidewalks to the distant top floors of the Willis Tower to the weathered stonework of the Wrigley Building and the shadow detail of IBM Plaza (now AMA Plaza). Perhaps I’ve just grown accustomed to digital aesthetics, and a future print likely will be the true test, but I’m not sure I would have been able to produce anything like this with my 35mm gear, certainly not without preparation.

2) If you peek at the metadata, you will find that I used Adobe Lightroom 5 to post-process the image (monochrome conversion, lens correction, and perspective adjustment). As a long-time Apple Aperture user and evangelist, this marks my first tentative steps toward an all-Adobe workflow. It’s no small decision and part of me is holding out hope that the mere thought of ditching Aperture will have some cosmic effect resulting in the announcement and release of Aperture 4.0 at WWDC next month, delivering all the goodness of Lightroom and more. But I am doubtful. Despite my deep (some would say non-rational) reservations about Adobe generally, for anyone looking to get more serious about photography today, I would be hard-pressed to recommend Aperture. I wish things were different.

Since one cannot easily move one’s work and time invested in one tool to the other, perhaps the best choice is to rely on them as little as possible. There are likely alternatives out there which I am not aware of, but it seems to me that photo file management and lightweight image post-processing is an area begging for innovation, including cross-platform support, long-term scalable network storage, and auto-curation beyond map views, face recognition, and “on this day” flashbacks (as provided by the now-defunct Everpix).

Timed Comments and a Call for Blog Side Notes

The most impressive thing about social media site SoundCloud is its signature feature: to graphically represent in spatial terms what is usually experienced non-graphically in time, the waveform of an uploaded audio clip. By laying out the amplitude of the audio recording, SoundCloud emphasizes duration of experience, pointing to its peaks and valleys, and, most important for my purposes here, allows for the insertion of time-coded feedback.

As consumption of web-based media has evolved over the past decade+, we’ve grown accustomed to eating whole this or that bit and then, when offered the opportunity, provide feedback at the end and participate in a comment thread. Granted, one can excerpt the relevant content (or time stamp in the case of audio or video) for which the comment is addressed but this localization is still displaced temporally. With SoundCloud, we are given the opportunity to attach one’s commentary to a specific moment within the audio stream so that it can be part of the initial experience, as one is “reading” the audio stream. The site provides a visual representation of the referenced clip time stamp, a feature called “timed comments”. It seems pretty simple and obvious in hindsight but I haven’t encountered a precedent.

One risk of this approach is fragmentation, a letting go of the way in which a comment thread as it exists today coheres disparate voices into a kind of dialogue. Perhaps localizing commentary also runs the risk of losing context, of misinterpreting an argument by pressing too hard at the sentence or word level. It also isn’t immediately obvious how best to encapsulate visually a myriad of localized comments within the current blogging paradigm. A blog post could easily be overwhelmed with side notes demanding equal attention. Perhaps for this reason especially, we’ve not yet seen its adoption, SoundCloud notwithstanding. Still, I find the prospect compelling, a means to engage web writing with greater specificity and intimacy.

Day has Come

Steve Jobs by Lea Suzuki for The Chronicle

Photo: Lea Suzuki for The Chronicle

First, let me say, I hope that Steve Jobs’s no doubt difficult decision to resign as CEO of Apple allows him to focus his energy and strength on a speedy recovery from illness and return to good health. That is job number one. Yesterday’s announcement, delivered by personal letter to the Apple Board and Apple community at large, has generated considerable reaction in the tech and media communities, for good reason I think. Even though we’ve all known about Jobs’s health issues,  I think we’ve held out hope that it wouldn’t have to come to this, that it was something that could be willed and managed into permanent remission, part-time. Acknowledging this is not the case, that Steve is human, we all are, is difficult but also liberating.

Much of the talk has circulated around the fate of Apple. After the initial flutter, I think most folks are concluding that the company has a “deep bench” and with Tim Cook at the helm in particular, there is little risk of execution flagging in the wake of Jobs’s transition to Chairman. Cook appears to be cut from the same cloth when it comes to restraint, quality, and attention to detail. We will have to wait and see how cultivated a sense of whimsy and invention he has, the “hacker” pedigree which has also been an important strand of Apple’s DNA under Jobs.

Apple Macintosh (1984)

Apple Macintosh (1984)

I basically grew up with Apple gear: Apple II in high school, original Mac 128K in college (nicknamed the MacMelt due to a faulty power supply), my first laptop the Powerbook 140, a Performa(!) desktop during my (lean) days in graduate school, and of course numerous devices over the incredible run during the past decade after a brief Apple-free stint in the late 90s. These things have helped shape my thinking, have helped me express who I am. And for most of that history, Jobs has been a significant part of the buy-in, especially when Macs were dismissed as toys at best. There has been a trust in his vision, his passion, his origins, and a reassurance in knowing that he is dreaming in California of the next thing and sweating the details too. I can try to convince myself that nothing changes much with this announcement, and maybe that is largely true in the immediate day-to-day, but, naturally, I will also have to adjust my attitude about Apple. It isn’t business as usual on a gut level.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. There is no question that Apple is in the best position it has ever been, and it is a testament to Jobs on down the line that they’ve created a nice cushion to weather this transition. And it just might be a wonderful opportunity, a time to double down on the team that Jobs has assembled and now trusts with his baby. Those same reasons that have kept me loyal, the memories of wonder and amazement when first using Apple computers, have also framed my expectations to some extent. Those are big shoes to fill and a tremendous responsibility, no doubt, but what a prize Cook has been handed! I welcome getting to know him better and seeing where he and the rest of the management team take the company next.

And in the meantime, get well Steve and keep us posted.

Launch

Hello world! I’ve decided to return joecarey.com to its roots as a personal website, a place to share and promote my photography, recommend articles and other items of interest, and sketch ideas.

It’s been an interesting journey since I shuttered the site three years ago. I tried various hosted, sometimes social, venues (e.g., Facebook notes, MobileMe, Flickr, Posterous, and, most recently, Tumblr) to publish my photos and infrequent notes. In each case, over time these services fell a bit short of my particular requirements, which is not to say they all don’t excel at what they do for their target audience(s). So, I’ve turned to a relative newcomer, Squarespace, in hopes that their approach will strike the right balance between convenience and flexibility. So far, I’ve been impressed with the features and speed of the platform, the company’s close attention to detail, and the obvious thought that has gone into the design of their UI/dashboard. All good stuff.

In migrating the blog archive from previous incarnations (for a good stretch, managed using Movable Type), I’ve spent some time tidying things up (not least, link rot), excising a few entries, and adding or updating supporting material where it seemed useful. The availability of new software tools and APIs, the mass of content available online, and the pervasiveness of the web now in the guise of social media and mobile devices have changed the landscape of options available to experiment with here. Happy to be back.

“Book Lovers Fear Dim Future for Notes in the Margins” by Dirk Johnson for The New York Times

Preservation blues:

“People will always find a way to annotate electronically,” said G. Thomas Tanselle, a former vice president of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and an adjunct professor of English at Columbia University. “But there is the question of how it is going to be preserved. And that is a problem now facing collections libraries.”