Turbotodd

Ruminations on tech, the digital media, and some golf thrown in for good measure.

Archive for the ‘obama’ Category

Golf Gate

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Listen up, I’m not going to get all bent out of shape over what we’re apparently now referring to as “Golfgate.”

The background: President Obama hopped a plane (actually, Air Force One, but “hopping a plane” makes it sound a lot more casual, which is what I think he was intending, a casual weekend where he could chill out away from the limelight) down to Florida for a long weekend of golf while Michelle and the kids went out west to go skiing.

The President’s team kept the press away from what was essentially a private golf course, and hence were unable to take any pictures of his swing the entire weekend.

Then, out of nowhere, Golf Channel correspondent Tim Rosaforte Tweets the following: “The President is arriving at The Floridian range. Awaiting is Tiger Woods and club owner Jim Crane. Historic day in golf. Their first round.”

Tiger Woods was in the house, and he was going to play golf with President Obama!

I’m sure the rest of the world yawned, but in the world of golf, this was a pretty big deal.

Looking at the tick tock, this was 7:52 AM EST.

By the time the evening news rolled around, the media were trying to make it a big deal that they hadn’t been invited to the Tiger/Obama foursome, missing the point that that would have turned the foursome into an eightysome, which can be quite disturbing on the golf course.

And still most of the rest of the country yawned.

But in the golf world, we wanted more details.  Lots of them.  Rosaforte, get your — out on that golf course and tell us what’s going on!

What kind of clubs does the president play with? Did Tiger give any tips to the Prez to improve his game?  If so, what???  Did he treat the rules with some casualness, as apparently did President Clinton, or did he play it straight and take no mulligans or without kicking any balls out of the rough?

This is the leader of the free world, man, we want to know what his game is like, how he swings the club, how accurate he is on the approach!

Tiger kept his lips sealed until yesterday when, I guess, he’d already arrived out west for the Accenture Match Play Championship. During an interview, he finally gave it up: The President, he said, has a good short game (chipping and putting), and that if he kept it up (after he left the Presidency) he’d be “a pretty good stick.”

Whoa…well, a good short game, that’s always a good thing, of course.  I aspire to a better short game myself, and many of we amateurs do.

But Tiger left out sooo much one can’t help but be distracted by the absence of any commentary about the President’s driving off the tee or his play from the fairways.

Is he long off the tee? Is he a complete disaster with some crazy left hook? What??! And what about his irons? Mid-irons can tell you a lot about one’s game? Both about their ball flight and tolerance for risk, never mind their course management skills.   Course management equals strategy equals possible insight into what he might do about Iran’s nuclear situation!

And what about the pace of play?  Does he time himself racing around the course like the former Presidents Bush, playing as if on deadline (which I could never understand…isn’t it kind of the point in playing golf to take your time and relax???), or did he play at a pace such that he might get threatened by Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem for hovering too long over his putts??

Nothing.

I suspect Tiger may be holding out more of the details because someday, after finishing the chase after Nicklaus’ record for the most majors, he is going to write a book about his experience playing golf with “Mr. President.”

I guess we’ll just have to hurry up and wait — kind of like the White House press corps.

Written by turbotodd

February 20, 2013 at 3:31 pm

IBM Impact 2012: A Q&A With Steve Jobs’ Biographer Walter Isaacson On Steve Jobs And Innovation, The Renaissance In New Orleans, And His Forthcoming Book On The History Of Computing

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The opportunity I had to sit down and interview Steve Jobs’ biographer Walter Isaacson last week at IBM’s Impact 2012 event in Las Vegas was a kind of career denouement moment for me.  Let me explain: In 1994, as I was finishing work on my Master’s degree in Radio/TV/Film (they hadn’t yet added “Internet” to the RTVF degree in 1994) at the University of North Texas, I distinctly remember sending my resume off to the new inner digital sanctum of Time magazine, “Pathfinder,” which had recently been started to put some muscle behind Time’s digital presence.  They didn’t hire me, but they did hire Walter Isaacson, who would be asked to run the groundbreaking digital media organization for a short period before he was later promoted to editor of Time and, later, chairman of CNN.  

As for me, information technology, and the Internet in particular, would become central to Isaacson’s life, first at Pathfinder, later at Time magazine, and of course as the biographer of great figures ranging from Albert Einstein to Benjamin Franklin to Steve Jobs, all of whom were unique innovators in and of their own right.  What’s not as well known about Isaacson is that he is a Renaissance Man of sorts himself.  To read his biography (see below) is to witness the firsthand account of a personal witness to and participant in American life over these past forty years, one whose own accounts will be cherished for many years to come. I hope you enjoy reading the interview as much as I did conducting it!

(Photo by Patrice Gilbert) Walter Isaacson is the president and CEO of the Aspen Institute, a nonpartisan educational and policy studies institute based in Washington, DC. He has been the chairman and CEO of CNN and the editor of TIME magazine. He is the author of Steve Jobs (2011), Einstein: His Life and Universe (2007), Benjamin Franklin: An American Life (2003), and Kissinger: A Biography (1992), and coauthor of The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made (1986). Isaacson was born on May 20, 1952, in New Orleans. He is a graduate of Harvard College and of Pembroke College of Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. He began his career at The Sunday Times of London and then the New Orleans Times Picayune/States-Item. He joined TIME in 1978 and served as a political correspondent, national editor, and editor of new media before becoming the magazine’s 14th editor in 1996. He became chairman and CEO of CNN in 2001, and then president and CEO of the Aspen Institute in 2003. He is the chairman of the board of Teach for America, which recruits recent college graduates to teach in underserved communities. He was appointed by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the Senate to serve as the chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, and other international broadcasts of the United States, a position he held until 2012. He is vice-chair of Partners for a New Beginning, a public-private group tasked with forging ties between the United States and the Muslim world. He is on the board of United Airlines, Tulane University, and the Overseers of Harvard University. From 2005-2007, after Hurricane Katrina, he was the vice-chair of the Louisiana Recovery Authority. He lives with his wife and daughter in Washington, DC.

Turbo: First of all, thank you for taking the time to speak with me, I know you’re very busy. You’ve now written biographies across a range of iconic figures of American life — Einstein, Franklin, Kissinger, and now Steve Jobs — I’m curious across all of these if you start to see some common traits and characteristics?

Walter Isaacson: Yeah, well like I said in the speech today, curiosity, a passion for what you do, an ability to think different, an ability to be imaginative and to think out of the box. You know Steve’s great mantra was “Think Different.” He also loved “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish.” The fact that Einstein and Benjamin Franklin, even in their final years, were thinking different, being creative, being innovative….to me, that’s the goal of life.

Turbo: Were there other characteristics? Some not so positive?

Walter Isaacson: They were different in some ways.  Benjamin Franklin is a nice counterpart to Steve Jobs, because Steve was more of a genius, more creative…but Franklin was more collaborative, kinder to the people around him, and more open to different viewpoints. So, Benjamin Franklin was really great at collaborating with other people. Franklin tells a wonderful story in his autobiography of listing all the virtues you need to have to be good in business: industry, honesty, frugality…and after he has all twelve of the virtues and he practices them, a person in the club he’s formed, called the “Leather Apron” club, says “You’re missing a virtue.” And Franklin says “What’s that?” And the friend says “Humility, you might want to try that one.”

Turbo: (Laughs)

Walter Isaacson: And Franklin says, “I was never very good at the virtue of humility, but I was very good at the pretense of humility…I could fake it very well. And I learned that the pretense of humility was as useful as the reality of humility. Because it made you listen to the person next to you, it made you try to see if you could find common ground.” And that was something that was part of the nature of Benjamin Franklin.  It was not part of the nature of Steve Jobs.

But, that’s why biographies are not how-to manuals…they’re tales about real people.  And you have to extract the lessons from each character that you think might apply to you. So for me, I’ll never be a genius like Steve Jobs…I’ll never drive to the concept of an iPad, drive into existence an iPad…I’m just not that genius…but I try to think about Steve’s passion for perfection, and I also try to think about Ben Franklin’s ability to bring people together, and be very nice and kind to people of all walks of life.

Turbo: I know you conducted 40-something interviews with Jobs, and I know you spoke with a lot of his friends, his family members and even his rivals…Was there anything that they all consistently said when they talked about Jobs as a person?

Walter Isaacson: I think that they consistently said that he was on the surface, very impatient and petulant. But once you got to know him, the important thing to understand, was that the petulance, that brattiness at times, was connected to a passion for perfection, and that’s what the narrative of the book is about, which is anybody can be a jerk.  It wasn’t that Steve was a jerk, it was that he had a passion for perfection and that’s why by the end of the book, you should be admiring him.

Turbo: We got to speak with Steve Wozniak at our IBM Pulse event earlier this year, and I asked him…and I’d like to ask you the same question I asked him, which is what do you think the world lost with him leaving us so soon?

Walter Isaacson: I think Steve was a person who reinvented at least seven industries: Personal computing, the music business, retail stores, digital animation, tablet publishing, journalism, phones…he would have reinvented more industries — digital photography, textbooks, television — we lost with Steve somebody who, because of his ability to think different, was able to transform industries. And that’s what the book is about: Sometimes you have to have a driven, intense personality in order to have the passion it takes to change industries.

Turbo: Okay, thank you for that.  I wanted to now take a step back in time to 1995-1996…I don’t know exactly what year it was, but I believe it’s when you took over the Time digital arm, Pathfinder.

Walter Isaacson: Yeah, actually it was a couple of years before that…when I took over Time, the magazine, at the end of 1995…

Turbo: Could you just describe for me that time at Time?

Walter Isaacson:  It was very interesting during that period.  In the early 1990s, there was a sea change happening. The Internet up until then had been based on community and networking and chat.  It had the BBS boards of the original Internet, you’d had the communities like The Well, and you had online services like CompuServe and AOL, where people gathered in chat rooms and on bulletin boards.

In the early 1990s, there was a shift from that type of Internet to a web-based Internet. That had some great advantages, but a few disadvantages.  The Web became a place that we could put all of our content up on Web sites, but it was more of a publishing medium than it was a community medium. You know, comments got relegated to the bottom of the page, as opposed to the smart bulletin boards and discussion groups, and Listserves, we used to have before the Web dominated the Internet.

Secondly, the business model for putting up your content online with a service like CompuServe or AOL, you would make money because people paid to be on those services, and people shared the money with you, if you were Time magazine. But once you started to put stuff on the Web, it sort of became free, and it undermined to some extent the business model of having journalists and bureaus around the world.

Of course it had much more of an upside than it had a downside, because it opened up reporting and journalism and commentary to everybody, not just those who owned a magazine.

Turbo: What are your thoughts on the greater impact of not only the commercialization of the Internet, but some of the trends it has enabled.  If we look at some of the workforce dislocation, and creating new market opportunities in countries like India and China, because of this wonderful connection via first satellites and later the Internet…When we’re looking back 100 years from now, what do you think historians will be saying about this time?

Walter Isaacson: They will be saying that the Internet was, like every information technology starting with the invention of papyrus and paper and Gutenberg’s movable type, that it empowered individuals. The free flow of information tends, over the course of time, to take power away from authorities and elites and empower individuals. The Internet’s role 100 years from now will be this transformation that not only did it take power away from the elites and mainstream media, but also the people running authoritarian regimes around the world.

Turbo: So, in looking at some of what we’ve seen with the Arab Spring….and China now trying with this recent situation (the social media crackdowns by the Chinese government)…

Walter Isaacson: I don’t think that it’s a simple process where free flow of information automatically leads to democracy. Because you’ll have a lot of back and forth. But, it does bend the arc of history towards empowerment and democracy and, eventually, whether it takes 10 or 50 years, what’s happening with the Arab Spring, what’s happening in China, what’s happening in many places, will be a trend towards more personal freedom and more democracy.

Turbo: You were chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, and for people who don’t know them, they oversee Radio Free Europe and the Voice of America.  What’s the changing role of the Board and the VOA in this increasingly Internet connected world?

Walter Isaacson: I think that if, sixty years ago, when VOA and Radio Free Europe were being created, if they had had the ability to sketch out on the whiteboard what would be the perfect technology to help their cause, they would have invented the Internet. Something that doesn’t respect national boundaries that well, that allows people to find proxy servers to get through to information they need. So there will be a big shift towards digital information. And I hope towards community and discussion, not just handing down information the way Edward R. Murrow would have done when he ran Voice of America but creating communities and discussions that can be facilitated by the Internet.

Turbo: A couple of other quick questions…You have deep roots in New Orleans: You grew up there, you went to school there.  And after Hurricane Katrina, Governor Kathleen Blanco appointed you vice chairman of the Louisiana Recovery Authority.  We’re now seven years on — how do you feel New Orleans is doing?  Have you been back recently?

Walter Isaacson: I go back all the time.  And New Orleans has not only come back, but in most ways, it’s better than before the storm.

Turbo: How so?

Walter Isaacson: We have a better school system. More choice for kids in the schools.  More than 70 percent of the kids are in charter schools which allows innovative, entrepreneurial people like KIPP Academy to create schools that stay open until seven in the evening, eleven months a year, which is the way we should have education in our society. Likewise, there’s more entrepreneurship in New Orleans.

I think Forbes magazine called it maybe the best city for startups and entrepreneurship because so many young people are coming in. There’s a brain magnet in New Orleans.  Teach for America has almost tripled in size in New Orleans since before the storm, bringing young people in who want to be part of the educational renaissance there.  Tim Williamson has created Idea Village, which is an incubator for start-ups right in the heart of New Orleans. Tulane University has three times as many applicants as it did before the storm because eager, adventurous, entrepreneurial people want to be part of a city that’s rebuilding.

Mitch Landrieu is a great mayor — we have a political system that is much better than it was before the storm. There are even more restaurants than there were before the storm, probably more bars. So, for those of us who were worried that New Orleans would never come back, it is a great case study not only in resilience, but in reinvention — to say, if we were to build a school system from scratch, would we build it the same way we had it before the storm? No.  Let’s start a more entrepreneurial school system where the schools are open later, they spend more of the year where they compete for students, and you’ve had double-digit test score gains, every year for the past three years.

So, these are the types of things that keep me coming back to New Orleans, but also make me glad that so many young tech and web entrepreneurs have moved to the city to create this vibrant start-up community there.

Turbo: That’s great.  My ears perked up in your keynote when you talked about how you’re working on this new book about the information revolution.  Any themes you’re starting to see in your research that you can share with us in advance of its publication?

Walter Isaacson: One major theme, which is the theme of the Steve Jobs book and everything else I’ve written, which is innovation comes where there’s an intersection between the arts and the sciences. When there’s an intersection between poetry and microprocessors. Where a great feel for beauty and design is connected with a great feel for technology and engineering. That’s what Steve Jobs is all about, that’s what Ben Franklin was all about, that’s what Einstein was about.

So it starts with Ada Byron Lovelace, the daughter of Lord Byron, who becomes a great mathematician, because her mother doesn’t want her to grow up to be like her dad. And, she also has within her the poetry of her genetic code, of her heritage. And so she works in the 1830s with Charles Babbage, who creates the first prototype of a computer, and she helps describe and envision how computers can become universal machines, and not just mathematical calculators.

And then it leaps forward from that chapter to Alan Turing, who also has a great feel for beauty, but helps invent the first computers at Bletchley Park when they’re breaking the German Enigma codes in England. And then to places like IBM, which is doing the Mark I computer at Harvard, and the University of Pennsylvania where they’re doing the Eniac, and the University of Iowa where John Atanassof is creating in the basement of the physics building an early version of the computer.

The computer and the Internet are the two most important inventions of the modern era. And yet most people don’t know how poetic, ingenious, and creative the people who invented those things were. In fact, most people don’t even know exactly who invented them.

And so this is a tale of inventiveness that will take us from Ada Lovelace all the way to, I hope, people who are doing social networks, mobile computing, and artificial intelligence today. It starts with Ada Byron Lovelace concluding that machines will never think, they will never originate their own creative ideas, and that’s certainly something that Alan Turing explores, but now it’s something that with Watson at IBM, and with the notion of artificial intelligence, is still something we look at and wonder will it ever happen?

(Blogger’s Note: I wanted to extend, as always, a special thank you to the consummate professionals with Drury Design Dynamics, a family business whose primary focus is nothing less than excellence. In particular, I’d like to thank Chris Drury and Mark Felix — they always keep me on my toes and are integral to making these Q&As happen at IBM customer events.) 

Man On The Moon

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TGIF.

My Google Wave beta invite finally appeared in my in-box last evening.

Just in time for President Obama to receive the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, and also just in time for NASA to complete its successful bombing mission of the moon around 6:30 E.S.T. this A.M.

In honor of the occasion (the moon bombing, not the Nobel), I wore the NASA T-shirt I bought at the NASA store in the Orlando airport and watched the “delivery” of the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) as it slammed into the bottom of a crater at 5,600 MPH.

According to The New York Times, the LCROSS excavated about 350 metric tons of the moon and left a hole 65 feet wide and 13 feet deep.

I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a pretty good Texas-size swimming pool to me.

Wait a minute, that’s it, that’s what this is all about!

NASA’s building a swimming pool for the astronauts, who will eventually be heading out from Moon Base 1 and who need a place to relax before they head further north to look for the little green men on Mars!

Now, if we could just find some water up there so we can fill up the swimmin’ hole.

I watched this whole thing unfold, of course, on television, just as I watched Armstrong step down the lunar ladder a couple days before my birthday in 1969.

And I have to say, after all the buildup, it was about as exciting as watching the Google Wave beta freeze up when I first tried to log on last night.

Fortunately, Google Wave unfroze itself…as for the moon, well, I’m not so sure that  Texas-size swimming pool now in Cabeus crater is going away anytime soon.

I don’t know about you, but I was expecting long plumes of smoke and an explosion of hydrogen and ice and…well, major stuff…shooting into outer space.

But no.  That little satellite sucker just disppeared into the Cabeus crater like the moon done gone and had wolfed down itself a midnight snack, never to be heard from again.

According to the Times’ account, though, NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter had already confirmed the presence of hydrogen deep within permanently shadowed craters near the Moon’s poles.

“There is hydrogen down in that crater, and we’re going to go dig some of it up,” Anthony Colaprete, the mission’s principal investigator, said.

Well, heck, why didn’t we just piggyback ourselves a Caterpillar backhoe on the LCROSS so we could not only get started looking for the H20 but also get a head start on digging out a foundation for MarsMoon Base 1.

If we’re gonna get to finding those little green men, we need to get a move on…I ain’t gettin’ any younger, and I was a very wee lad when Armstrong stepped on the Moon, and I hope to be around when we unearth (uh, “unMars”)  Marvin the Martian!

Of course, we have to prepare ourselves for the art of the possible.

What happens if, Heaven forbid, we don’t find any water on the moon?

Perhaps we can leverage some of that massive momentum behind Google Wave?

As the moon passes by, at just the precise orbital moment calculated with a new and very precise Google algorithm, we can swing the earth out of her orbit and send some of Google’s water crashing from the earth to the moon and into Cebeus crater, thereby filling up the lunar swimming pool and giving us enough water to get a boost on to Mars.

I can see it all.

The little green people impatiently wondering when the hell we’re going to figure out a way to come visit; the Coke machine outside the lunar base (sorry, Pepsi, Coke won the bidding war and is “it” on the moon); the Richard Branson, Virgin-sponsored Moon Buggy race track (packages available in limited packages for 2 for only $2M U.S.), the Google Moon Base Jamba Juice and Sushi Bar; Obama’s Nobel medal ensconced in glass outside White House Moon Base 1.

I saw it all in my “Flash Forward.”

Mission accomplished.

Written by turbotodd

October 9, 2009 at 2:21 pm

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