“The meaning of Steve” – Josh Bernoff

Fantastic post by Josh Bernoff here.

The stuff I want to really share: 


You can admit that Steve is out of all of our leagues. But what is the meaning of Steve? What can we learn?

One. Strategy – see the whole board. The content companies, the carriers, the hardware manufacturers, the engineers, the patents. Jobs saw not just what was possible, but what industries would be affected and how to bully, cajole, sweet-talk,and persuade them into working with him.

Two. Timing. As I mentioned, Jobs, was often not the first. But he saw what technologies were on the verge of being possible — and what technologies consumers were ready to accept. There could have been no iPhone without the habits created by iPods and Blackberry, no Mac without Apple and IBM PCs embraced by those who came before. Timing is crucial.

Three. Supply chain and differentiation. Apple doesn’t make flash memory, microprocessors, touchscreens, or, for the most part, Web sites. It just puts them all together. Profit margin comes from assembling commodities in a fantastic, must-have package.

Four. Design. Apple’s products are the first family of computing devices that tell people about your style. The other ingredient is lots of advertising. Design plus advertising equals lust. Lust is good for an entrepreneur.

Five. Audacity. Imagine the impossible, possible. Persuade with showmanship. Make people believe.

Nice flashback: Baudrillard, Global Debt, and the Continuous Future (1996) // cc @nouriel, @timharford, @umairh



An electronic billboard in Times Square displays the American public debt, an astronomic figure of some thousands of billions of dollars which increases at a rate of $20,000 a second. Another electronic billboard at the Beaubourg Center in Paris displays the thousands of seconds until the year 2000. The latter figure is that of time, which gradually diminishes. The former figure is that of money, which increases at a sky-rocketing speed. The latter is a countdown to second zero. The former, on the contrary, extends to infinity. Yet, at least in the imaginary, both of them evoke a catastrophe: the vanishing of time at Beaubourg; the passing of the debt into an exponential mode and the possibility of a financial crash in Times Square.

In fact, the debt will never be paid. No debt will ever be paid. The final counts will never take place. If time is counted [si le temps nous est compte], the missing money is beyond counting [au-dela de toute comptabilite]. The United States is already virtually unable to pay, but this will have no consequence whatsoever. There will be no judgment day for this virtual bankruptcy. It is simple enough to enter an exponential or virtual mode to become free of any responsibility, since there is no reference anymore, no referential world to serve as a measuring norm.

The disappearance of the referential universe is a brand new phenomenon. When one looks at the billboard on Broadway, with its flying figures, one has the impression that the debt takes off to reach the stratosphere. This is simply the figure in light years of a galaxy that vanishes in the cosmos. The speed of liberation of the debt is just like one of earth’s satellites. That’s exactly what it is: the debt circulates on its own orbit, with its own trajectory made up of capital, which, from now on, is free of any economic contingency and moves about in a parallel universe (the acceleration of capital has exonerated money of its involvements with the everyday universe of production, value and utility). It is not even an orbital universe: it is rather ex-orbital, ex-centered, ex-centric, with only a very faint probability that, one day, it might rejoin ours. That’s why no debt will ever be paid. At most, it can be bought over at a bargain price to later be placed back on a debt market (public debt, national debt, global debt) where it will have become a currency of exchange. Since there is no likely settlement date, the debt has an incalculable [inestimable] value. As long as it hangs like that over our heads with no reference whatsoever, it also serves as our only guarantee against time. Unlike the countdown which signifies the end of time, an indefinitely deferred debt is the guarantee that even time is inexhaustible… And we really need a virtual time insurance since our future is about to dissipate in real time.

Clearing the debt, settling the accounts, cancelling the payments by the Third World… Don’t even think about it! We only live because of this unbalance, of the proliferation and the promise of infinity created by the debt. The global or planetary debt has, of course, no meaning in the classical terms of stock or credit. But it acts as our true collective credit line, a symbolic credit system whereby people, corporations, nations are attached to one another by default. People are tied to each other (this goes for the banks too) by means of their virtual bankruptcy, just as accomplices are tied by their crime. Everyone is certain to exist for the other in the shadow of an unamendable and insolvable debt for, as of today, the total amount of the global debt is much larger than the total amount of available capital. Thus, the debt no longer has any meaning but to unite all civilized beings to a same destiny served on credit. A similar thing takes place with nuclear weapons whose global capacity is much bigger than what is needed to destroy the entire planet. Yet, it remains as a way of uniting all of humankind to a same destiny marked by threat and deterrence.

At least, it is easier now to understand why the Americans are so eager to advertise their domestic debt in such a spectacular manner. The Times Square initiative is designed to make the state feel guilty about the way it runs the country, and intended to warn the citizens about the imminent collapse of the financial and public spheres. But, of course, the exorbitant figure deprives the billboard of any meaning (even figures have lost their credit line). In fact, this is nothing more than a gigantic advertising campaign and, by the way, this is why the neon “billboard” is made to look like a triumphant stock exchange quotation that has gone over the top. And people stare at it, fascinated by the spectacle of a world performance (in the meantime, people rarely look at the numerical time clock at Beaubourg to witness the gradual ending of this century). People are collectively in the same situation as that Russian test pilot who, until the very last second, was able to see his airplane drop and crash on the video system of his Tupolev jet. Did he have the ultimate reflex to look at the image before dying? He could have imagined his last living moments in virtual reality. Did the image survive the pilot, even for a tenth of a second, or vice versa? Does virtual reality live on after the catastrophe of the real world?

Our true artificial satellites are the global debt, the flows of capital, and the nuclear loads that circle around the earth in an orbital dance. As pure artifacts, with a sidereal velocity and an instantaneous capacity of reversal, they have found their true place. This place is even more extraordinary than the Stock Exchange, banks, or nuclear stockpiles: it is that of the orbit, where they rise and set like artificial suns.

Some of the most recent of these exponentially developing parallel worlds are the Internet and the many worldwide webs of information. Each day, in real time, the irresistible growth (or outgrowth perhaps) of information could be measured there, with numbers representing the millions of people and the billions of operations that they cover. Information now expands to such an extent that it no longer has anything to do with gaining knowledge. Information’s immense potential will never be redeemed and it will never be able to achieve its finality. It’s just like the debt. Information is just as insolvable as the debt and we’ll never be able to get rid of it. Collecting data, accumulating and transporting information all over the world are the same thing as compiling an unpayable debt. And here too, since proliferating information is larger than the needs and capacities of any individual, and of the human species in general, it has no other meaning but that of binding humankind to a destiny of cerebral automation and mental underdevelopment. It is clear that if a small dose of information reduces ignorance, a massive dose of artificial intelligence can only reinforce the belief that our natural intelligence is deficient. The worst thing that can happen to an individual is to know too much and, thus, to fall beyond knowledge. It is exactly the same thing with responsibility and emotional capacity. The perpetual intimation of the media in terms of violence, suffering, and catastrophe, far from exalting some sort of collective solidarity, only demonstrates our real impotence and drives us to panic and resentment.

Caught in their autonomous and exponential logic, all these parallel worlds are like time bombs. It is more obvious with nuclear weapons, but it is also true of the debt and capital flows. The smallest intrusion of these worlds into ours, the least noticeable encounter between their orbits and ours, would immediately disrupt the fragile equilibrium of our exchanges and economies. This would (or will) be the same with the total liberation of information, which could transform us into free radicals desperately searching for our molecules in a scanty cyberspace.

Reason would probably insist that we include these worlds into our homogeneous universe: nuclear weapons would have a peaceful use, all the debts would be erased, all the flows of capital would be reinvested in terms of social well-being, and information would contribute to knowledge. This is, no doubt, a dangerous utopia. Let these worlds remain parallel to ours, let their threats hang up in the air: their ex-centricity is what protects us. For, no matter how parallel and ex-centric they may be, they are in fact ours. We are the ones who created them and placed them beyond our reach, as an ersatz of transcendence. We are the ones who placed them on their orbits as some sort of catastrophic imaginaries. And it is perhaps better this way. Our society was once solidified by a utopia of progress. It now exists because of a catastrophic imaginary.

Originally posted here. ca. 1996.

David Foster Wallace on Deconstruction

Not much of a DFW fan — prefer him as an analyst to a writer — anyways, stumbled across this excerpt from one of his books. Makes for an interesting, quick read: 

The deconstructionists (“deconstructionist” and “poststructuralist” mean the same thing, by the way: “poststructuralist” is what you call a deconstructionist who doesn’t want to be called a deconstructionist) . . . see the debate over the ownership of meaning as a skirmish in a larger war in Western philosophy over the idea that presence and unity are ontologically prior to expression. There’s been this longstanding deluded presumption, they think, that if there is an utterance then there must exist a unified, efficacious presence that causes and owns that utterance. The poststructuralists attack what they see as a post-Platonic prejudice in favor of presence over absence and speech over writing. We tend to trust speech over writing because of the immediacy of the speaker: he’s right there, and we can grab him by the lapels and look into his face and figure out just exactly what one single thing he means. But the reason why poststructuralists are in the literary theory business at all is that they see writing, not speech, as more faithful to the metaphysics of true expression. For Barthes, Derrida, and Foucault, writing is a better animal than speech because it is iterable; it is iterable because it is abstract; and it is abstract because it is a function not of presence but of absence: the reader’s absent when the writer’s writing, and the writer’s absent when the reader’s reading.

For a deconstructionist, then, a writer’s circumstances and intentions are indeed a part of the “context” of a text, but context imposes no real cinctures on the text’s meaning, because meaning in language requires a cultivation of absence rather than presence, involves not the imposition but the erasure of consciousness. This is so because these guys–Derrida following Heidegger and Barthes Mallarme and Foucault God knows who–see literary language as a not a tool but an environment. A writer does not wield language; he is subsumed in it. Language speaks us; writing writes; etc.

Hewlett Packard to Apple: You Win (via @techcrunch)

Let’s look back at what Steve Jobs said last March when unveiling the iPad 2:

I’ve said this before, but thought it was worth repeating: It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough. That it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our hearts sing.

And nowhere is that more true than in these post-PC devices.

And a lot of folks in this tablet market are rushing in and they’re looking at this as the next PC. The hardware and the software are done by different companies. And they’re talking about speeds and feeds just like they did with PCs.

And our experience and every bone in our body says that that is not the right approach to this. That these are post-PC devices that need to be even easier to use than a PC. That need to be even more intuitive than a PC. And where the software and the hardware and the applications need to intertwine in an even more seamless way than they do on a PC.

And we think we’re on the right track with this. We think we have the right architecture not just in silicon, but in the organization to build these kinds of products.

And so I think we stand a pretty good chance of being pretty competitive in this market. And I hope that what you’ve seen today gives you a good feel for that.

What’s perhaps most noteworthy about HP’s move today is that they, more so than any other company attacking the tablet space, seemed to have a grasp of what Jobs was talking about — undoubtedly thanks to Jon Rubinstein, the longtime Apple general leading webOS. The Post-PC device is about the combination of hardware and software all built and integrated by one company. Google doesn’t get that. RIM can’t execute. But with the Palm/webOS purchase, it seemed that HP had both the vision and resources to possibly compete with Apple.

More here: http://techcrunch.com/2011/08/18/apple-wins-without-throwing-a-punch/

On Dieter Rams, Braun, Apple and “Austere Design”

Stumbled across this article via @malbonnington. (Finding the common themes of Braun and Apple)

There’s a quote from Rams in there, saying: 

Rams put it like this: “I believe that the product should play a secondary role in the relationship with the user; that it should not permanently vie for attention, that it should leave the user freedom and leeway for his own self-assertion as an individual.” “This is why we do our utmost to give Braun products this austere beauty which remains appealing for years. We are convinced that a well-balanced, quiet, clear, neutral and simple design corresponds best to the real needs of the users.”

Just brilliant.

Hunter S. Thompson, Harley Davidson, the feral and the werewolf



Saw this ad in the paper yesterday, reminded me of one of Hunter S. Thompson’s notes:


“So it was always at night, like a werewolf, that I would take the thing out for an honest run down the coast. I would start in Golden Gate Park, thinking only to run a few long curves to clear my head, but in a matter of minutes I’d be out at the beach with the sound of the engine in my ears, the surf booming up on the sea wall and a fine empty road stretching all the way down to Santa Cruz … not even a gas station in the whole seventy miles; the only public light along the way is an all night diner down around Rockaway Beach.


There was no helmet on those nights, no speed limit, and no cooling it down on the curves. The momentary freedom of the park was like the one unlucky drink that shoves a wavering alcoholic off the wagon. I would come out of the park near the soccer field and pause for a moment at the stop sign, wondering if I knew anyone parked out there on the midnight humping strip.


Then into first gear, forgetting the cars and letting the beast wind out .. . thirty-five, forty-five … then into second and wailing through the light at Lincoln Way, not worried about green or red signals but only some other werewolf loony who might be pulling out, too slowly, to start his own run. Not many of those – and with three lanes on a wide curve, a bike coming hard has plenty of room to get around almost anything – then into third, the boomer gear, pushing seventy-five and the beginning of a windscream in the ears, a pressure on the eyeballs like diving into water off a highboard.”


– Hunter S. Thompson

The Laughing Heart by Charles Bukowski

“your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is a light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you chances.
know them.
take them.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
in you.”
– Charles Bukowski


/was reminded of this in a Levi’s ad I stumbled across today:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iLKFp8hm6NM?wmode=transparent]

On Bretton Woods, Nixon, and the de-coupling of valuation from value

Was discussing Bretton Woods earlier today, and went over to the Wiki to brush up on the subject.

One bit that stood out was the line: 

On August 15, 1971, the United States unilaterally terminated convertibility of the dollar to gold. As a result, “[t]he Bretton Woods system officially ended and the dollar became fully ‘fiat currency,’ backed by nothing but the promise of the federal government.”

Would this be the first instance where the notion of “value” becomes … “notional” — i.e. de-coupled from a “real” benchmark — i.e. gold? Any economists around willing to chip in with a POV?

Full wiki here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bretton_Woods_system