Our Sense of Childlike Wonder
Some guys have all the luck.
Fake Steve Jobs has gotten more press than all but the tip of the long tail of the bloggers’ bell curve. He has a sharp wit, an easy target for his satirical posts, and probably a top-five Google PageRank score. But that wasn’t good enough! He’s also a senior editor at Forbes, which means he gets paid to write probably 6–8 feature articles a year, and lots of time to blog, too.
The real Fake Steve, it turns out, is Daniel Lyons, the aforementioned Forbes senior editor. He was revealed by New York Times reporter Brad Stone, who wrote of Lyons better than I could’ve:
The mysterious writer has used his blog, the Secret Diary of Steve Jobs, to lampoon Mr. Jobs and his reputation as a difficult and egotistical leader, as well as to skewer other high-tech companies, tech journalists, venture capitalists, open-source software fanatics and Silicon Valley’s overall aura of excess.
The acerbic postings of “Fake Steve,” as he is known, have attracted a plugged-in readership—both the real Mr. Jobs and Bill Gates have acknowledged reading the blog (fakesteve.blogspot.com). At the same time, Fake Steve has evaded the best efforts of Silicon Valley’s gossips to discover his real identity.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, Daniel Lyons, a senior editor at Forbes magazine who lives near Boston, has been quietly enjoying the attention.
There’s been a great deal of speculation over who Fake Steve really was. You may remember that I wrote last month about poor Andy Ihnatko, who has been insisting that he is not Fake Steve for a long time. He probably feels pretty good right now—although, considering that now Fake Steve’s blog is going to be sponsored by Forbes and will have a book tie-in, Ihnatko probably wishes he had been the keeper of the Fake Steve blog.
Fake Steve (as Fake Steve) wrote, “Now you’ve ruined the mystery of Fake Steve, robbing thousands of people around the world of their sense of childlike wonder. Hope you feel good about yourself.”
This leaves us, or at least me, to wonder: what will become of Fake Steve Jobs now that we know who it is? It’s not a Silicon Valley gossip, and it’s not someone with inside information at Apple, either. But will we continue to flock to his blog? What incentive do we have to continue to read his blog now that we know who he is—will the fact that we know that Fake Steve is Daniel Lyons affect how we perceive his writing?
It appears that there’s about as much agreement on that count as there was on the speculation about Fake Steve’s real identity.
In TidBITS, Adam Engst asks the question most eloquently, but he doesn’t have any answers. He thinks that Lyons’ writing is what made the blog successful—his “ability to uncork Jobs’s id into a stream of consciousness that seemed vaguely credible,” as he puts it—and that keeping it up will be the ticket.
John Gruber of Daring Fireball, who insists on finding his way into every single one of my columns, thinks that the mysterious identity of the blogger was nothing more than a distraction from the real message. “Is it that he’s so good—sometimes scathingly funny, sometimes deeply insightful, and, at his best, both? Or was it the fact that his identity was a mystery?” he asks. “If it were the main source of Fake Steve’s appeal, the novelty would have worn off months ago.”
Ah, yes. That distraction. Some bloggers did bite on it: Michele Capots, of the Buzz Bin, for one. She believes that the whole thing is a publicity stunt. She’s probably in a good position to observe, but she wrote:
Was it a marketing ploy? It may have been a very good one. But what does that say about bloggers, much less journalistic bloggers. I think they get carried away with the anonymity. It’s easier to say what’s on your mind behind a computer screen, especially when nobody knows it’s you.
Dan Gillmor and Anil Dash both take note of Lyons’ previous articles—in particular, one from November 2005 called “Attack of the Blogs.” Lyons interviewed Dash for the article, and Dash must’ve felt burned. He wrote, this month:
My initial temptation was to mark Lyons as a hypocrite. Upon reflection, it seems there’s a more profound lesson: the benefits of blogging for one’s career or business are so profound that they were even able to persuade a dedicated detractor.
The deliberate antagonism of the story was especially frustrating to me because Six Apart, more than any other company involved in blogging, has taken its lumps for its advocacy and efforts around accountability and responsibility…. At the same time, we’ve been maligned by stories like the Forbes cover for apparently not doing enough to encourage accountability…
Blogs are such a good business tool that Forbes has given its most valuable editorial promotion to announce their adoption of one. This, from the magazine whose cover touted that “They Destroy Brands and Wreck Lives.”
Gillmor, at the Center for Citizen Media’s blog (as opposed to his personal blog), piles on:
The Forbes article in which Lyons trashed the blog world was such a bad piece of journalism that it was easy to discount. But let’s be generous and give Lyons credit for understanding that the new medium is worth trying after all.
And then there’s just plain distraction. Scott Karp, at Publishing 2.0, all but calls Lyons a sell-out:
What is surprising…is that Forbes, which employs Fake Steve’s alter ego Dan Lyons, thinks moving the blog over to Forbes.com can keep the dream alive—the front page of Forbes.com right now feels so deeply ironic I can’t even put it into words…I suspect Dan Lyons wasn’t given a choice in the matter—and maybe Forbes.com felt they didn’t have a choice in the matter either, to see whether they could milk the cow.
Lastly Debbie Weil, a corporate blog consultant who also runs a blog called BlogWrite for CEOs, turns her comments into a tacit business pitch. She writes:
So is fake blogging the same thing as ghostblogging? Well, no. Fake blogging is much funnier and, if well done, can be more effective at engaging readers. You can fake candidness much better than really truly being candid. And of course fake blogging is upfront about being “fake” which follows blogging’s best practice benchmark of being authentic. Ghostblogging is just…fake.
You might ask what I think. Honestly, I couldn’t have cared less whether we know who the real Fake Steve was (as long as it wasn’t Andy Ihnatko, after all). But I know that it can be dangerous to blog, anonymously or not, when you work in the news media—and I sure hope Lyons told his editor, even if it was supposed to be kept secret. After all, Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein, and Ben Bradlee kept Deep Throat’s identity secret for three decades, under much greater duress. If he didn’t, Lyons is lucky he kept his job.
Egg, Bacon, Sausage, and Spam
Now that the iPhone’s been on the market for a little while, it’s been interesting to kick back and see where the dust settles. So far, I’m not seeing any major complaints—other than the usual—about the device itself, but the service apparently sucks even more than I remember from when I was a customer of the Old AT&T Wireless.
My favorite: apparently AT&T doesn’t really understand how to send out bills for devices with unlimited data service. They’re using the same billing system that would at least make a little sense for limited-data plans, with a listing of all of the data downloaded and its size. But, as David Pogue found, they’re impossible to read (and literally useless):
But then—get this—I get SIX PAGES of listings of data tidbits that the iPhone has downloaded in the form of e-mail and Web pages—KILOBYTE BY KILOBYTE! Every graphic on every Web page, every message sent or received-it’s all carefully listed by date and time. Not as anything helpful like NYTIMES.COM HOME PAGE or EMAIL—no, no. Instead, every single one of the hundreds of listings says the same thing: “Data Transfer” of type “Data” at rate code “MBRF,” along with how many kilobytes it was (usually 1K or 3K).
You read that correctly. Ben Kuchera of Ars Technica excerpted his bill so you can see it, and it’s even more ridiculous than Pogue makes it sound. It would fit right in on the set of Brazil—maybe this is the elusive 26B/6 form!
Speaking of Brazil, Ed Felten at Freedom to Tinker ponders Apple’s apparent application for DRM for portable-device chargers, and whether it would benefit consumers. We don’t know a whole lot yet, but one possibility is that Apple wants control of the whole market for device chargers. This would be odd, because it would, at best, slow down the accessories makers who have helped perpetuate the iPod’s formidable market status. The other possibility Felten can think of is that it’s an anti-theft measure, designed to allow the user to authenticate the device with only his or her charger(s). Hmm, a world without iPod theft?
Last but not least on the iPhone front, Scott Gilbertson of Wired’s Compiler blog is concerned about iPhone-optimized Web sites. He writes, “[W]asn’t one of the promises of the iPhone that it offered ‘a real Web browser?’ If that’s so, why all the iPhone-optimized sites?” Gilbertson sees an analogue here: Internet Explorer 4.0, with its wide variety of proprietary tags and extensions. He provides a good explanation, and those who are worried about Web Standards above all else will be worried about this, too.
But I think Gilbertson misses a key difference, so I’ll note it here: in 1998, Microsoft’s intention was to force people to use IE 4, not Netscape and not IE 3 either. In contrast, “iPhone-optimized” just means “designed for any mobile device with a relatively low-resolution touchscreen, vertical orientation, and full Web browsing capabilities.” There’s no reason future Treos or Windows Mobile devices or BlackBerrys couldn’t use these “iPhone-optimized” sites. Most of them will even work in your desktop Web browser; if you ask me, the iPhone version of Facebook is better than the desktop version. Being able to use any Web site is great, but it seems silly to insist that iPhone users pinch and scroll on sites they visit regularly, when providing a mobile version of the site could be as simple as a different CSS stylesheet.
Spam, Egg, Spam, Spam, Bacon, and Spam
All right, guys. I’m having a hard time caring about the iMac refresh this month, since about all Apple did was make them thinner, bump up the CPU speed, eliminate the smallest size, make the case 100% metal and glass, and change the handle/stand…again. Nothing revolutionary.
You know what I do care about, though?
The new keyboards for the iMac, and, presumably, any other desktop Mac.
Lately I’ve been noticing a curious drive, in some corners, for more low-profile desktop keyboards. You know, laptop-height keys, less slant, the whole nine yards. It never made much sense to me—six months of using just my laptop keyboard gave me finger and wrist pain while typing like I’d never experienced before, and switching to using an external keyboard and mouse made the pain go away almost immediately.
I must be the only one, though, because Apple’s now selling the Apple Keyboard as a low-profile, MacBook-style keyboard. When Engadget first leaked photos, a few days before the new iMac release date, my reaction was pretty much the same as Erik Barzeski’s:
I’d give this, oh, a 75% chance of being a developmental version of the new Apple keyboard. I’d say there’s very little chance this keyboard will ship in this form.
Garrett Murray picked up on most of the changes, including some of the ones that I missed, so I yield my time to him:
First, Apple has decided that the wired version of the keyboard should be full size, but the Bluetooth version isn’t. It’s missing the delete, insert, home, et cetera island, and the number pad. In fact, the Bluetooth version looks exactly like the MacBook keyboard, but with aluminum backing. The wired version has the whole keyboard layout. I’m not sure why they decided on this, and I don’t think I agree with it. Sure, making the BT version smaller makes it more portable, but I don’t think people are moving them around quite enough that it’s worth shorting them the ability to input numbers conveniently.
Second, and far stranger, is the new layout of function (or F) keys. The wired keyboard now has up to F19, and no dedicated volume controls. Instead, it moves the volume controls to special functions on F10, F11 and F12. You might remember those as two Expose keys and the Dashboard key. Well, not anymore. In fact, F9, the other default Expose key, is now fast-forward/next track. And the eject key, which has nearly always been the last key in the upper right of the keyboard is next to F12….
And here’s where it gets fun: you can, much like on a laptop, disable the special functionality of the keys and switch to regular function key use using System Preferences, after which you can assign things to the keys you wish. That is, except the volume keys. Because when you turn off the special functions, there is no way to bind the volume keys to, say, the F16–18 keys which are useless on the keyboard otherwise. So if you want to use the keyboard the way you’re used to, you won’t be able to control volume without holding the “fn” key, which allows you to use the special functions temporarily when they’re disabled.
On the other hand, Twisted Melon’s Bruno Fernandes notes that Apple surely did research on ergonomics and function-key usage—he thinks the idea was to make these keys more accessible for right-handed mouse use.
Don’t look at me to be indignant about the key-layout changes. I’m still upset that the old, traditional-profile keyboards are going away. But you might find that you could try it and like it.
Spam, Spam, Spam, Egg, and Spam
There’s a new kid on the grid: iWork ’08 has a spreadsheet, Numbers, now. In addition, the suite can import XML documents from Office 2007 (oddly enough, before Office 2008/Mac, which hasn’t been released). Pages also has separate word processing and layout modes, which makes it a lot more useful than the old Pages—it’s a little like Galley mode in PageMaker or InDesign.
You’ll probably hear about it plenty in this month’s issue, but I’ve gathered together a little of what you probably won’t see anywhere else in this magazine.
If you’re an entry-level user of Excel and Word, you should be plenty happy with iWork ’08, Walt Mossberg says. After all, it’s got much better presentation, it’s cheaper, and it’s certainly easier to use for ordinary tasks. He adds that since Numbers lacks many Excel functions, power users will probably find it disappointing. Mossberg notes that Pages requires many clicks to show formatting marks and word count—but this runs up against one of my pet peeves. Print journalists are the ones who need those features, so we can see the exact fit and make sure all of the copy is exactly as we need it. (My mom’s probably never used the word count feature, and one time I had to walk her through how to turn off those invisible formatting marks.)
Paul Kim, of Noodlesoft and his blog, Noodlings, wishes that Numbers were a little more revolutionary. More specifically, he wants to know why it doesn’t support three-dimensional spreadsheets. Now, I have to confess that I have absolutely no idea how these things work, but Kim says they’re pretty revolutionary. I’m not surprised that a company as focused on the ordinary consumer as Apple is didn’t try something really complex, but I can understand his disappointment.
The guys at Microsoft think that Numbers will be good for Microsoft, too. David Weiss works in MacBU, and he notes that Apple has proved that there is still room to innovate in the office suite market—and that this will help Office as well as iWork. Why? An open file format! (Imagine that: you mean monopolies stifle innovation? Quelle horreur!) Weiss writes:
What Apple has done with Keynote, Pages and Numbers is [compete on features rather than lock-in]. With each one of their applications, they’ve created a user interface that reflects how they think people want or should want to act when building a presentation, document or spreadsheet… If someone else has what they think is a good solution for building Office documents, I think that’s great.
With all the hubbub over iWork, no one noticed that one of the things that is gone is AppleWorks, née ClarisWorks. Once iWork got a spreadsheet, that was it for the venerable suite. Peter Cohen, in Macworld, penned a fond farewell to AppleWorks this month.
Lobster Thermidor Aux Crevettes With a Mornay Sauce Garnished With Truffle Pâté, Brandy, and With Fried Egg on Top, and Spam
If you have a new portable Mac and had one of the older models, too, have you ever wondered why the Book takes a few seconds to go to sleep? The answer, it turns out, is Safe Sleep, which I’d forgotten existed until this month. Joe Kissell wrote a great how-to on disabling Safe Sleep, for those of us for whom it is not useful (or who just find it annoying and preferred the old sleep mode). He also has a follow-up on situations where you might want it, and how to use it with an encrypted disk.
Tim Bray didn’t just write an ode to his black MacBook. He has some useful advice to potential upgraders: “I gather the Pro line is due for a refresh soon; it better be good, because at this point anyone who buys a silver Mac is making a big mistake.”
It’s no secret that Apple doesn’t really compete in the enterprise sector. Ars Technica’s John Siracusa takes a look at the why, rather than the how, and comes to an unsurprising conclusion: the requirements for what makes a successful enterprise device are completely unlike the attributes that have made Apple an innovative success. Siracusa adds:
Maybe around item two hundred in this list [of attributes of a dream “enterprise” iPhone] there might be a bit about the people who will actually use these enterprise dream phones tolerating the things. Really, as long as they don’t openly revolt, it’s fine. The people you have to please in the enterprise market are the ones purchasing and supporting the products, not the poor schmucks who actually have to use them.
I hate my Internet connection. You probably do, too, if you live in the United States. Almost every US resident I know does. (ATPM managing editor Chris Turner can shut up now.) The reason, says Robert X. Cringely, is that our telcos have managed to change the definition of “broadband” so that offering 768K DSL is the moral equivalent of that FiOS service that Chris is so fond of. Cringely takes a good, long look at the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which was supposed to “improve” our national digital communications infrastructure and seems to have had very little impact at all. Why should you care? Well, for one, your connection sucks; and for another, the telecommunications companies now want to leverage their own failure into destroying the Internet as we know it, with their proposals to eliminate Net Neutrality.
And that’s the month that was, folks. Have a great September!