Book Review – Steve Jobs

I borrowed this book from a friend in Perth back around Christmas-time last year, lugged it back to Melbourne, and I’ve been reading it on and off since then. I guess this shows it isn’t “un-put-down-able” but it was definitely compelling enough that I came back to it again and again, wanting to finish it. For example, I blogged about one of the many parts I found interesting previously. Having finished it now, I can say it was definitely worth it.

Steve Jobs

Insightful biography, leadership text and history of computing

I read the actual, physical hard-cover form of the book, which in retrospect was ironic since Steve Jobs made available the means to easily read the e-book form of his book on the iPad 2 that I own. The book – at 1125g – weighs-in at about twice that of the iPad 2, and hence I couldn’t easily read it during my usual work commute. This would normally be a severe impediment to reading, but the book was fascinating, insightful and a surprisingly easy read. However, I would recommend the e-book edition for those that have appropriate devices.

I’ve read a few biographies, and this stands-out as the one that I’ve come away from with the greatest sense of understanding the subject. Isaacson is a good researcher and writer and has produced a book that seems to effortlessly roll together a biography, a business leadership text and a history of the computing revolution that came out of Silicon Valley. On the one hand, it was eye-opening how badly Steve Jobs treated people – colleagues, employees, family – but there were many things that I took out as lessons for how technology products evolve and why they succeed.

Yet there is a problem in extracting such lessons from the life of Jobs. As Isaacson has commented elsewhere, Jobs’ “personality was integral to his way of doing business”. There is a similar problem in divorcing the value of his products from his own value system. Either one can accept that his success and his faults are inseparable, Apple Inc could never have been achieved by anyone else, and hence the delightful products are the result of bad treatment of amazing people. Or one can extract out the key lessons of his life, another person could achieve similar greatness in following them without treating others as roughly, similarly inspiring products could be created through other means, and hence Jobs’ treatment of people is inexcusable.

The book also touches on the lives of John Lasseter and Jonathan Ive, who are potentially the prime creative forces at Pixar and Apple, respectively, although somewhat overshadowed by Jobs in their day. Both are creative visionaries and leaders, yet neither seem to possess Jobs’ inter-personal flaws. This suggests that the latter view above is more likely. However, I eagerly await a similarly in-depth biography of Lasseter or Ive.

Rating by andrew: 4.5 stars
****1/2

Book Review – The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

This month I’ve already read the book club book. The actual book club get-together is still almost two weeks away, so I’m actually in some danger of forgetting all about it by then. I seem to have a talent for forgetting the details of a book, which can come in handy, since it justifies me keeping a copy of good books on my book-shelf – I know I can enjoy them all over again.

But this book was one that I nominated, so I really should try to remember something about it for the discussion. Hence, I’m going to note my thoughts down here, in easy-to-reference form.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

A personal tale masquerading as an ethics tale hidden inside a science tale

When this book was selected for book club, it was partly on the basis that it had over 1,000 reviews on Amazon.com with an average score of 4.5 out of 5. I think this is a fair rating – there is something in this book for everyone.

The author, Rebecca Skloot, takes us through her journey of discovery regarding the family and story behind the “HeLa” line of cells – cells still alive today and involved in important science. Her close connection to the family becomes an important part of the tale, both because it allows her to access the detailed history of the family but also because it provides a very human face for the abstract cells.

The absence of such a human face is part of the context for so many of the ethical issues that occur in the history of the cell line. Examples of racism, exploitation of the poor, the law trailing scientific advances, lack of informed consent, lack of compensation, industry profiting from volunteers, scientific denial, and many others. The book is long-ish and I feel like I should’ve taken notes of these issues so that I could remember them to discuss later.

The tale is at times amazing, horrific, uplifting and sad. For me, one of the saddest aspects was how disadvantaged the family has been. Their ancestors were exploited as part of slavery on a tobacco plantation and they never seem to have escaped the legacy of that. Although, the book itself promises to assist, so perhaps the family will have a happier future than their past.

Rating by andrew: 4.5 stars
****1/2

Escaping Container Hell

Over time, we have amassed a chaotic collection of plastic containers. I’m sure that’s not unusual, since stuff expands to fill available space, especially if it’s polyethylene.

Due to the sheer number of containers in our plastics cupboard, it became extremely annoying to find a matching container and its lid. (Again, something that’s not usual¬†according to the comic on this site.) We initially tried just buying a container system and sticking that in its own box in the cupboard, but it didn’t take long before it got out of hand, too. Then we struck upon the simple solution of just putting all the lids in one box and this has greatly improved the time to match a container with its lid.

I was going to post a proof of why this makes sense. But, then I figured, generalising  the Internet Rule 34, if someone can think of it, it will be on the Internet. So, I tried to find it. And failed.

Perhaps it’s out there, but the reason I was searching for it was to save myself the time to write up a proof. Eventually too much time had been spent searching that I had neither my own proof nor someone else’s.

However, I did find the following delightful video of someone who is clearly very passionate about organising things, and who espouses the same strategy of putting lids in a separate box.

YouTube Preview Image

So, this post has become really quite pointless. However, I have managed to link to all of Wikipedia, Urban Dictionary and YouTube, so I trust the deities of the Internet will give me a pass this time.