November 2015 Articles

Great set of notes taken by Cate Huston from a presentation by Jo Miller at GHC 2015 (which I assume is the Grace Hopper Conference) sponsored by the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing.

Big news last Friday regarding the Keystone XL pipeline:

President Obama announced on Friday that he had rejected the request from a Canadian company to build the Keystone XL oil pipeline, ending a seven-year review that had become a symbol of the debate over his climate policies.

Time to brush up your resume…

For the first time in four years, NASA is looking for more astronauts.

With crewed launchings of American rockets expected to resume and future missions in the planning stages, the space agency said the job openings would be posted on the federal government’s USAJOBS website on Dec. 14.

Reproduced below are Dieter Rams ten principles for good design. Reproduced according to the Creative Commons License and originally sourced from Vitsoe. This reproduction was inspired by reading an article by Don Norman and Bruce Tognazzini on Fast Company: Design titled How Apple Is Giving Design A Bad Name.

Back in the early 1980s, Dieter Rams was becoming increasingly concerned by the state of the world around him — “an impenetrable confusion of forms, colors and noises.” Aware that he was a significant contributor to that world, he asked himself an important question: is my design good design?

As good design cannot be measured in a finite way he set about expressing the ten most important principles for what he considered was good design. (Sometimes they are referred as the ‘Ten commandments’.)

Here they are.


Good design is innovative

The possibilities for innovation are not, by any means, exhausted. Technological development is always offering new opportunities for innovative design. But innovative design always develops in tandem with innovative technology, and can never be an end in itself.

Makes a product useful

Good design makes a product useful

A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy certain criteria, not only functional, but also psychological and aesthetic. Good design emphasizes the usefulness of a product whilst disregarding anything that could possibly detract from it.


Good design is aesthetic

The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products we use every day affect our person and our well-being. But only well-executed objects can be beautiful.

Makes a product understandable

Good design makes a product understandable

It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product talk. At best, it is self-explanatory.


Good design is unobtrusive

Products fulfilling a purpose are like tools. They are neither decorative objects nor works of art. Their design should therefore be both neutral and restrained, to leave room for the user’s self-expression.


Good design is honest

It does not make a product more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept.


Good design is long-lasting

It avoids being fashionable and therefore never appears antiquated. Unlike fashionable design, it lasts many years — even in today’s throwaway society.

Thorough down to the last detail

Good design is thorough down to the last detail

Nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance. Care and accuracy in the design process show respect towards the user.

Environmentally friendly

Good design is environmentally-friendly

Design makes an important contribution to the preservation of the environment. It conserves resources and minimizes physical and visual pollution throughout the lifecycle of the product.

As little design as possible

Good design is as little design as possible

Less, but better — because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials.

Back to purity, back to simplicity.

The following is my transcription of two videos of Tim Cook’s speech for the inauguration of the academic year at Bocconi University (Università Commerciale Luigi Bocconi) in Milan, Italy. Given November 10, 2015.


It is great to be here and here in Italy. Apple feels right at home here; how could we not? Within Italy there are so many places, so many people, so many companies where you find a passion for great design and craftsmanship; an artisan’s focus on detail. Throughout history this nation has proven the great value of design where form meets function and aspiration. This is a country that shows that excellence means making the best, not necessarily the most. Time and time again, Italy has changed the way we think, how we live, and how we structure our societies. You’ve proven that a great idea can truly change the world. At Apple, we believe that too. And every day I am reminded of the strong connection between Italy and Apple because I rely on something else from this great nation; Luca Maestri our CFO. Luca is here today with me and I know he’s glad to be home. Luca [gestures].

And I’m really glad to be here too. And I’m especially happy to join you at this great university. Being here with you makes me think when I was in business school at Duke University more years ago than I care to admit. It makes me remember how impatient I was to start making my mark on the world. And I guess most of you feel that way. In fact I hope you do. And I hope you hang on to that impatience throughout your entire life. What I loved most about business school, more than any specific classes I took, was the teamwork. The camaraderie. The culture of collaboration. Business school like business itself can be pretty competitive. But there was a mindset there at Duke that said we’d all be better if we worked together. And you know what? They were right.

My very first night at Duke I really lucked out. I happened to sit next to five other people who became some of my best friends. We formed a study group. A study group of six very different people, men and women, from different regions, from different ethnic background and very different political views. We each had unique skills and interests and varied goals for our careers. But we used our differences to make us stronger.

Together we found we were kind of unstoppable. We took some pretty tough classes and we found that among our group there was always someone that brought a different strength to the subject area. The alliance we formed lasted throughout our two years of school and we’ve stayed in touch ever since and we continue to support each other, to push each other in both our lives and our careers.

[Break in Video]

Apple is open to everyone, and always will be. I’ve been fortunate to join a company that shares my values. And my great hope for you is that you do the same because the rest of us are counting on you. You have before you an incredible opportunity. I would actually call it an obligation. You owe it to yourself and to the rest of the world to be a part of something that serves a noble purpose, however you define it. And you can do that through your work because now, more than ever, businesses are in a position to help societies solve their greatest problems. The responsibility should not rest on governments alone. Whether we’re talking about climate change or equal rights, the challenges we face are simply to great for businesses to stand on the sidelines; especially today when companies have more capacity to do more good in more ways for more people than at any point in human history.

Push the boundaries. Reject old assumptions because you really can do business differently. You really can lead with your values and your passion to change the world. Bocconi of course was founded on this very idea more than 100 years ago. The idea that business at its best serves the public good; that idea is as vital today as it was a century ago.

So what will your success look like? As you consider that question, understand that the whole world has a stake in your answer. The world has a stake in how you do business. Milan is a global city. Bocconi is a global university and you are citizens not only of Italy, or your respective countries, but you are citizens of the world and you have a voice to be heard across continents. Use it. Speak up. You are better connected to the rest of the globe than any generation has ever been. And I hope that’s exciting to you. It’s incredibly exciting to me. The lessons you’re learning here at Bocconi, the knowledge you’re building and the connections you’ll make can help you truly change the world and improve the lives of many people.

[Break in Video]

If you serve through your work a moral purpose, if you insist on business that serves the greater good, then you will leave the world better than you found it. and you will succeed by any metric that matters. Best of luck. And thank you, thank you all.


Two parts used for transcription:

  1. Tim Cook: discorso alla Bocconi di Milano

Official video from Bocconi University, not available to United States users of YouTube.

Originally posted by John Gruber:

Marijuana is legal in Colorado, but because it is illegal under federal law, and even state-chartered banks fall under federal regulations, the completely legal weed dispensaries must operate as all-cash operations. Here’s a great little 10-minute documentary from The New York Times showing just how onerous – and dangerous – this situation is.

Jessica Livingston

Paul Graham ·

Paul Graham on a key person at Y-Combinator, Jessica Livingston, and why she hasn’t gotten much attention. Paul also touches on culture and personality of startups and founders.

A few months ago an article about Y Combinator said that early on it had been a “one-man show.” It’s sadly common to read that sort of thing. But the problem with that description is not just that it’s unfair. It’s also misleading. Much of what’s most novel about YC is due to Jessica Livingston. If you don’t understand her, you don’t understand YC. So let me tell you a little about Jessica.

The latest rumored venture into Amazon shipping has a name: Aerosmith.

An air cargo operation by that name launched in September of this year in Wilmington, Ohio on a trial basis. The operation is being run by the Ohio-based aviation holding company Air Transport Services Group, or ATSG, out of a state-of-the art facility. It’s shipping consumer goods for a mysterious client that many believe to be Amazon.

A handwritten review of the new Apple Pencil by Horace Dediu.

100 years ago tomorrow, Einstein presented his field equations to the Prussian Academy of Sciences:

…So Einstein went back to the blackboard. And on Nov. 25, 1915, he set down the equation that rules the universe. As compact and mysterious as a Viking rune, it describes space-time as a kind of sagging mattress where matter and energy, like a heavy sleeper, distort the geometry of the cosmos to produce the effect we call gravity, obliging light beams as well as marbles and falling apples to follow curved paths through space.

This is the general theory of relativity. It’s a standard trope in science writing to say that some theory or experiment transformed our understanding of space and time. General relativity really did.

Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos’ space company, has — for the first time — launched and landed a space rocket; a feat SpaceX has been trying to master in order to reuse the rockets they launch. Historic.

Google has been taking its street view technologies “off-road” over the past few years. Most recently, to Petra. Wow. From Dan Moren’s commentary:

“Street” View this is not. Google’s created a virtual trek through Petra, a 2000-year-old city carved into the mountainsides of Jordan. It includes some brief narration by Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan, and lets you explore the ancient site.

I first learned of Petra, as I’m guessing many others did, when it was used as the location of the climactic showdown in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and while it would be an amazing site to see in person, it’s very cool that Google has made it virtually available to people everywhere. (There’s even an Indiana Jones easter egg in there.)

I recently read an article in The Washington Post titled “My white neighbor thought I was breaking into my own apartment. Nineteen cops showed up.” The link to the article had come from a blog I follow, Daring Fireball, written by tech and Apple commentator John Gruber.

The timing of the article was coincidental. The same evening I was reading the Washington Post article I was socializing in the courtyard of my apartment complex with my neighbors, one of whom is a college student at a local community college and happens to be black. I shared the article with him — the article is by and about a woman who lives and works an hour from here in Santa Monica — to get his reaction. He then told me a story that shook me.

It was daytime and he’d been walking to a local park via local streets and then a main thoroughfare here in Long Beach, Second Street and Belmont Shore. Evidently, somewhere along his walk a resident had called the police to report a suspicious character who was “canvasing houses” potentially with the intent to burglarize them. The description of that person was a match for my neighbor.

While walking down second street, two Long Beach Police offices on patrol saw him and stopped him. He was detained on the street for half an hour before being released. The officers questioned him, searched him and had him sit temporarily in the back of their car according to his report.

At the end of his story, he said he didn’t blame the police. They were just doing their job. I was having trouble comprehending that feeling; I would have been upset to say the least.

Then today I read Police Chief Jacqueline A. Seabrooks, of the Santa Monica Police Department, response to the Washington Post story.

…As a Black woman born and raised in South-Central Los Angeles, I empathize with Ms. Fay Wells and how this experience has made her feel. On the other hand, as an experienced law enforcement executive, I understand the Police Department’s response and the need for that response. This seeming dichotomy may be difficult for some to accept, particularly given the national dialogue. From my perspective, the 9-1-1 caller was not wrong for reporting what he believed was an in-progress residential burglary. Put yourself in his place. Ms. Wells is not wrong to feel as she does. Put yourself in her shoes. And, the Santa Monica Police Department’s response was not wrong. Put yourself in the officers’ shoes…

This incident is reminiscent of those Rorschach-style images where it depends on your perspective whether you see a blob of ink, the image of an old woman, or you see the beautiful woman’s profile. Some will see this circumstance as an indictment of law enforcement while others will see it as further proof of the breakdown in police-community relations. For me, I don’t see this incident as either of those things. Instead, this incident presents a clear and present opportunity for all facets of our community and this Police Department to continue to work together, to engage in on-going conversations about the realities and myths of the protective function inherent in policing, and to emphasize the importance of community, particularly in terms of knowing one’s neighbors. I hope we can all be more thoughtful before we rush to condemn the actions of a group of police officers who were doing their best to keep our community safe. I welcome the opportunity to engage our community in these all- important conversations.

Well said Chief Seabrooks.

Selling Feelings

Ben Thompson · Stratechery ·

More broadly, the fact remains that business is difficult – it was difficult before the Internet, and it’s difficult now – but the nature of the difficulty has changed. Distribution used to be the hardest thing, but now that distribution is free the time and money saved must instead be invested in getting even closer to customers and more finely attuned to exactly why they are spending their money on you. Any sort of software – or writing, or music, or video, or clothing, or anything else – has never been purchased for its intrinsic value but rather because of what it did for the buyer – how it made them feel (informed, happy, relaxed, etc.). Create the conditions where the need might manifest itself and then meet that need, and not only will your business succeed, it will, in all likelihood, succeed to an even greater extent than the physically-limited lowest common denominator winners from the “good old days.”

Big technology infrastructure transitions and big software projects are hard.

The story of how it could take 28 years to install clocks that tell you when the damn trains are coming turns out not to be about some dinosaur fixed-block signaling system and the gleaming new technology here to replace it. It’s simpler than that: It’s the story of a large organization’s first encounter with a large software project.

I was very excited about the new web comic from Randall Munroe on xkcd. It’s a game where you take one of his famous stick figure characters and fly on a hoverboard across a scene to pick up gold coins. You can easily loose 30 minutes playing this little game.

I decided to write a script an a webpage that allows you to scroll through the entire scene of the 1608 Hoverboard comic using your browser window — makes it easier to see the comic and things he has drawn.