The folks over at the Thoughtbot agency wrote a timely (for me) post about the risks of organizational reformers wanting to tear down code, business processes, etc. without fully understanding (or perhaps not even investigating) the history or prior reasons for existence. In G. K. Chesterton’s own words:
There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”
I remember when Wired ran their May, 1997 issue, focusing on the downfall and imminent demise of Apple with this striking (and to some, controversial) cover. Most of their “101 Ways to Save Apple” suggestions are in hindsight nonsensical (merge with Sega to make games!), a few were prescient (build a ~$250 PDA phone that can do email!), but one definitely stands out as the prize winner:
50. Give Steve Jobs as much authority as he wants in new product development. … Even if Jobs fails, he’ll do it with guns a-blazin’.
He definitely didn’t fail, by anybody’s standards. It’s hard to think of many individuals out there who have had a bigger impact on popular computing and technology, not to mention who have led the charge for design and innovation as still-relevant business ideals in the 21st Century. RIP Steve Jobs.
From the NY Times review of the updated 2011 “digital” edition of How to Win Friends and Influence People:
The following sentence, which appears on Page 80, is so inept that it may actually be an ancient curse and to read it more than three times aloud is to summon the cannibal undead: “Today’s biggest enemy of lasting influence is the sector of both personal and corporate musing that concerns itself with the art of creating impressions without consulting the science of need ascertainment.”
I don’t think they like the book’s modernized language.
Speaking of the Seattle behemoth, here’s an interesting history of Microsoft Adventure, the first output of the young company’s “consumer products division” in 1979, an early early example of the not-yet-there retail computer game industry:
The story of Microsoft Adventure provides a good early illustration of both the very real technical and marketing acumen of Gates’s company and its genius for ignoring ethical considerations while still staying on the right side of the law. It provides an early example of what was already becoming the company’s modus operandi, one guaranteed to piss off idealistic hackers as much as it would delight its financial backers. And, not incidentally, it also represents a very important moment in the continuing evolution of adventure games. …
But now we come to the elephant in the room: the question of credit. At no place in the Microsoft Adventure program or its accompanying documentation do the names of Crowther and Woods appear. We are told only that “Adventure was originally written in FORTRAN for the DEC PDP-10 computer,” as if it were the result of a sort of software immaculate conception. Needless to say, Crowther and Woods were never contacted by Microsoft at all, and received no royalties whatsoever for a program that by all indications turned into quite a nice seller for the company; it was later ported to the Apple II, and was one of the programs IBM wanted available at day one for the launch of its new PC in 1981. Because Crowther and Woods, immersed in old-school hacker culture as they were, never even considered trying to assert ownership over their creation, Microsoft violated no laws in doing this. However, the ethics of cloning someone else’s game design and lifting all of their text literally verbatum, and then copy protecting it (the irony!) and selling it… well, I don’t think that calling it “ethically dubious” is going too far out on a limb.
The article also has some tech discussion about how Microsoft coder Gordon Letwin managed to squeeze all of the classic Adventure gameplay and text into that newest of new mediums, the floppy, a revolutionary move away from the slow-loading cassette tapes common at the time.
Why is it so much better that the name Jelly Belly can refer to either the brand of fancy jellybeans or the horrific disease pseudomyxoma peritonea, in which a tumor causes excess mucus production that swells the abdomen and compresses and endangers the various torso vital structures?
David Klein, the creator of the Jelly Belly (the candy, not the stomach cancer…), responded to the above post with the trivia that the bean’s name was inspired by the name of blues musician Lead Belly, which he’d heard on an episode of Sanford & Son. I’ll go one step further down the trivia chain: I assume he’s referring to the episode “The Blind Mellow Jelly Collection” (YouTube straight to the clip)!
This almost seems poetic: Klein named his candy business after watching a TV episode about a man unwittingly selling his valuable record collection, and later he himself met a similar fate, forced to sell his rights to Jelly Belly early on, for a significantly low value.
The handsome logo for Segagaga, one of my absolute favorite video game concepts: you run a fantasy RPG version of Sega, the ailing game console company, fending off rival electronics behemoth SonyDOGMA (at the time, the Sega Dreamcast was facing its untimely demise). A surrealist, sarcastic, postmodern metafiction of the Japanese game industry from the inside, satire on a shoestring budget with a bit of loving apology for what was about to happen with Sega and the business in general.
“The Japanese bubble burst in 1993 – that was the start of the recession and the economic downturn. At the very same time, the gaming industry was keeping going just as if it was the boom time. In 1999, it was becoming clear that the boom was fading fast for the industry. Coincidentally, we were making SGGG at this very turning point. Near the end of the game, the hero is fired because his company closes, and he finds refuge in a game store near Sega that actually existed! The store manager is Alex Kidd – he was also fired from Sega, when Sonic arrived. The message to the hero is that no matter how bad things look, there is no point in crying over the industry. You have to carry on – just like Alex Kidd, who is working hard.“
“When Alexander the Great came to see Diogenes in his barrel, he was so impressed by the philosopher that he offered him money. Diogenes scornfully pointed out that he had no need of money, to which Alexander replied, ‘Have you no friends?’ I’ve always thought that Alexander had the better of this encounter. His awareness that even when your own needs have been met you can work for the betterment of others has helped me to understand that being a successful businessman can be a powerful way to contribute to society. In building a business, it’s important to remember that you aren’t just acquiring wealth for yourself, but creating value for your employees, your customers, and others whom you may never even meet. This is the principle behind one of the mottos we use at O’Reilly: ‘Create more value than you capture.’”
Good advice, and ties in nicely with today’s announcement of the United We Serve initiative.
[Slot machines] are indeed a software chimera, the tail of a serpent attached to the head of a lion. It combines business graphics with the Internet, cinematic memory, remote-control systems – and banking, franchise capitalism at your fingertips.