Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Resources for the MacTech Conference keynote "That’s amazing! Why Storytelling is Crucial to Tech, Business, and the World":

An Introvert's Guide to Better Presentations
5 Science-Backed Ways to Give Better Presentations
How To Give a Killer Presentation
The Moth
TED Talks

Thursday, August 1, 2019

The first performance of Adjacent to Greatness

I'm feeling lucky!

I've had an incredibly fortunate career in Silicon Valley. I spent 7 years at Apple in the '80s, a few years at General Magic in the '90s, and more years at Microsoft and Google after that. I'm a writer, not an engineer. I've loved watching, teaching, and describing the incredible work I've been lucky enough to see: Macintosh, HyperCard, Magic Cap, and other marvels.

Over the years I acquired a long list of stories about the amazing, bizarre, fun, and just goofy things I've seen in my work. A few years ago my boss at Google, the legendary Louis Gray, encouraged me to start writing some of these stories in blog posts. That was great! But then, in a shocking development, I discovered stage performance and fell in love with it. And it turns out there's a thing called solo performance, where one person gets on stage and tells stories, creating a narrative, typically for an hour or so.

Could I do that? It sounded hard and really, really fun. When I told stories to people, they seemed interested. So maybe it could work. I started listing my stories and then rewriting them to be delivered live. I found it very hard to rehearse, because I felt foolish without an audience, with no feedback to guide me. But I also realized I had been "rehearsing" all the time, whenever I told stories to a friend at lunch or a poor cornered family member. Eventually I was comfortable enough to do a test run with invited friends. It was terrible. Really bad! I got great feedback on what I needed to change, and I changed it.

I spent a lot of time planning, organizing, rewriting, procrastinating, and dreaming, but not performing. Last year I applied to a new works program at The Marsh, a legendary solo performance venue in San Francisco. They accepted me and I got to perform for 20 minutes several times, and again I learned a lot (and got better). I realized that the only time I really made progress was when I actually performed. So I got over my fears, talked to my friends at Playful People Productions, and scheduled a date in San Jose at the Historic Hoover Theatre. Then I actually invited people to come.

Last Friday night was my first full-length performance. So many dreams came true that night! I told my stories on stage in a theatre, for an hour, in front of a good crowd of people, with sound, lights, projected images, props - a real show. And it felt fantastic! And thanks to my great friend John A. Vink, it was recorded, so you can watch if you want. And if you want to see this or future shows live some day, you can sign up to get on my email list here.

Now I just have to figure out when I'm going to do it again!

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Technology, storytelling, Apple, and me

There's a long tradition of storytelling and theater in technology companies. You might be surprised to hear this, because a lot of people think of tech as mostly nerds and bros doing nerdy bro things. But tech companies aren't shy about talking of changing the world, making a difference, and so on, in addition to selling widgets or serving up websites. If you think your work is important - and it might well be - then you spend time in your companies telling stories to each other and to the world.

And if you doubt the importance of storytelling by companies to their customers, may I refer you to the latest Apple keynote. This keynote hasn't actually happened yet, but I know it'll be superb theater - sure, they'll be talking about world-class innovative engineering and design, but it's presented on a stage in a master storytelling fashion, complete with drama, humor, pathos, and tension. It's no accident that Apple spent $179 million dollars on its new theater, and then named it after Steve Jobs, the greatest storyteller in tech history.

There are many ways to tell stories: in writing, in small groups, from a stage. These ways further subdivide: you tell a story differently in a blog post than you do in a tweetstorm. There are different techniques for a solo stage show than for telling a story to your friend over coffee. I've become acutely aware of these differences lately. I'm blessed and cursed with a compulsion to tell stories, as my long-suffering friends are all too aware. It's not enough for me to experience something interesting, unusual, or funny - I have to tell other people about it or it feels incomplete.

I'm a writer, so I usually share things by writing them down in my blog, or on Facebook or Twitter. But recently I thought it might be interesting to tell my stories from a stage as a solo show. I've been working on this for awhile, and very soon I'm going to get up onstage at The Marsh in San Francisco and try it out. From a stage, I have to be bigger and bolder than when I'm just "performing" for a few friends. I have to add characters, really live scenes instead of just describing them. Because I've mainly been a writer, this is new for me. It feels uncomfortable and I'm sure I'm doing a million things wrong. But I'm compelled to get up there and tell stories this way. I hope eventually it's entertaining - even if it never changes the world.

Come see me at Monday Night Marsh in San Francisco on June 11th and 25th

Thanks to Keith Rollin and Dave Mark for photo search support.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

On the “Steve Jobs” set, where 2015 was like 1984

A few weeks after visiting the "Steve Jobs" production office, I got to watch some actual filming. The Mac was introduced at Flint Center in Cupertino in 1984. In the movie, Flint Center got to play itself. The place was nicely dressed up for the occasion.
Lots of people were taking pictures of the 1984 banners with their iPhones
The crew needed 2500 people to come sit in the auditorium for hours, and they weren't sure how many would show up. But it turned out that thousands of people stood in long lines to get in, and some had to be turned away because there was no room, just like at the original event.
Thousands of extras were recruited to be the audience in Flint Center
There were actual non-actor security guards at the doors, but they let me in without an argument - much different security than an actual Apple event would have. There were actors dressed in '80s clothes and wearing fake old-fashioned Apple employee badges. I met the guy playing Mac software engineer Steve Capps, who wasn't wearing what Capps would wear.
Nerd on left, actor on right.
This movie had a code name.

I ran into Danny Boyle, the director, who I talked to on my first visit. He was very busy, but took a few minutes to chat. He remembered my story about how I was recruited by Steve at NeXT. He said he told Michael Fassbender that story as an example of how Steve never gave up and ended up getting something from me anyway.

An actor I saw backstage asked me if I was Andy Hertzfeld.

As filming began, they shot this scene from act 1 many times, with the actors trying different things each time. I was watching on a giant monitor with some of the crew.
This didn't exactly happen in real life
This was weird. It felt like I was watching actors play people I know in real life - which is exactly what was happening.

Here's a super-blurry photo taken while filming an outdoor scene of Jobs and Woz as they walked and talked, Sorkin style, outside Flint Center under the giant trees.
Jobs and Woz (Fassbender and Rogen)
Master Mac historian Tom Frikker got this wonderful souvenir.

And when I left for the day, I got this parking ticket. Which made me think: WWSJD?

I guess Steve would have ignored it

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

When the Steve Jobs movie came calling

Last January the Steve Jobs movie came to town and called me up.

I was leaving work one day when I got a phone call from a guy named Todd Marks. He said he was on the crew of a new movie about Steve Jobs. He said they're filming a scene that’s the public intro of the Mac in 1984. They heard I was there at the original event, and they wanted to talk to me about what was going on that day. Cool! I said sure, I’d come by.

Actually, I knew about this movie already. Aaron Sorkin wrote the screenplay. Danny Boyle was directing it. So it sounded like a big-time movie.

I went to the address they gave me in San Francisco. It was some crappy two-story building way out near pier 80.

It's bigger on the inside

Let’s just say it didn’t look like the office of a big-time Hollywood movie. But I went to the door and there was Todd. Inside, suddenly, it was movie world. Lots of LA-looking people running around. I felt like I found a secret S.H.I.E.L.D. base. Every office in the building was for a different department in the movie. Set design, wardrobe, props, visual effects, art, and more.

Todd was incredibly nice as he showed me around from office to office. It was like a maze. Every room had things taped up on the walls. Giant blown up pictures of the different events they were going to re-create. One entire wall was nothing but ancient Mac error messages. Another was photos of buildings where different Apple events happened. One wall had pictures from the Internet of random Apple employees from the '80s. I saw one picture that looked familiar, walked up to it, pointed at it and said "That's my wife".

Andy Hertzfeld, Burrell Smith, John Sculley, Barbara Knaster (arrow)

In Wardrobe, they showed me a couple of Apple shirts and asked me to “clear” them for use in the 1984 scene. There was a polo shirt with the Apple logo that I said looked right, and another shirt with “Macintosh: the power to crush the other kids” (too soon for that one, I said).

In every department they asked me questions about the original Mac intro event. Were people dressed up, or casual? How old were they? Did they bring briefcases? Did they drive, walk, bike to the event? How did the Apple employees wear their badges? What did it look like backstage? Which computers did they use to run the event? Were there tickets? Just everything. Everybody was friendly. They treated me like a VIP. I told old stories and they actually seemed interested!

As I toured around I noticed everybody had a copy of the script on their desks. Every copy had the name of the person it belonged to printed on the front. They told me it was top secret and I couldn’t look at it, so of course I really wanted to look at it. When I saw an open script I tried to read something from it (upside down), but all I could see was something about Dan Rather. I don’t know if that made it into the movie.

They wanted to re-create the original Mac intro event in great detail. But they also said "it's not a documentary". Not everything in the movie would be true to the way it really happened. They have a story to tell. But they were going to be accurate wherever possible about the visuals and the technology. That’s why they called people like me.

Pretty much everybody working on the Steve Jobs movie had iPhones and Macs.

After talking to all the different departments, Todd said the director wanted to meet me. Cool! That would be Danny Boyle, who has a pretty great resumé including a Best Director Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire. So Danny Boyle came by. I figured he’d say hi and bye. But we talked for half an hour, and he was wonderfully friendly. He enthusiastically sold me on the movie. He said it’s not a blockbuster special effects movie. It’s about the mind of Steve Jobs, and there’s redemption in the end. About how Mac was the start of computers being friendly enough for regular people. It has a great Aaron Sorkin script. The studio wanted to film in Georgia because it’s cheaper, but he fought to make it in the Bay Area where it happened. He invited me to come to the shoot in Cupertino that was happening a few weeks after. He was incredibly polite and gracious.

I expected to spend 20 minutes or so talking to the movie people. I ended up spending 2 hours. It was surreal. Think about it: I was summoned to a secret headquarters disguised as an ordinary building. Pictures from my past were printed out and blown up on walls, including a photo of my wife. People asked me about old events in great detail, and were very interested in the answers. And then at the end, I met the mastermind, and he turned out to be a nice guy.

Then I left movie world and returned to ordinary San Francisco 2015.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

How you sign your work in Silicon Valley: About Boxes, Easter eggs, and computer cases

Sometimes in Silicon Valley we make stuff. Like any makers, or really anyone who wants a bit of fame and immortality, we like to sign our stuff. There are many ways to do this.

Even in ancient, pre-Mac times, software usually had credits buried in it somewhere. With the advent of graphical user interfaces in the mid-1980s, the About Box became the standard place for credits. The About Box was easily accessible to users and was always found in the same place. This box was in the original Finder and was one of the first About Boxes many Mac users ever saw:

Through the 1980s, most companies were OK with this practice. Apple was schizophrenic, keeping some teams from announcing themselves while encouraging others to sign their work. The original Mac team literally signed the case mold, ensuring their names would appear on the inside of every Mac produced.

As technology progressed, About Boxes got fancier. One version of MultiFinder for Mac got out the door with this epic About Box:

Click the images for big-enough-to-read versions
I was Apple's Developer Support Manager when this About Box shipped, and I got an email complaining about it. Specifically, the writer didn't like that the About Box included a reference to Jim "The" Lord (Jim Lord was a real person on the team) and also objected to the line Thanks to Satan for C Language brace style. You can't please everyone.

The folks who made the Macintosh SE managed to hide photos of themselves in ROM.

Soon the Secret About Box (which is a particular form of Easter egg) was well-established. The Secret About Box technique was useful for 2 reasons:

1. It lent an air of mystery to About Boxes because you had to know how to invoke them.
2. Teams could semi-plausibly hide About Boxes from management because they weren't obviously visible.

One of the best-known Secret About Boxes shipped with System 7.5.3. After following the secret instructions, which involved typing the phrase Secret About Box and dropping it in a certain place, you got a cool picture of a fake flag waving over Apple's real campus.

Windows XP had a credits screen that was Internet-based. (I forget exactly how it worked and can't Bing the answer. Maybe one of my old Microsoft pals remembers?) Because many Windows customers, especially governments, don't like hidden surprises in their software, Microsoft fully disclosed how to find this About Box and what it contained. Not much adventure in that approach.

Some software, like Hypercard 2.0 and BBEdit, puts the user's own name into their About Boxes. That's very nice of them.

About Boxes and the inside of a computer case are not the only places to sign your work. Sometimes companies publish books about how awesome they are, like Apple and Microsoft have done. In those books they sometimes like to do crazy things like list every employee they ever had, in teeny tiny type (much enlarged here):
From Inside Out: Microsoft In Our Own Words
From So Far: The First 10 Years of a Vision (Apple)
This is how a guy who mainly wrote documentation and helped developers got some fun credit. And yes, this is reminiscent of Apple listing employee names on posters for the Mac's 30th anniversary.

There are zillions of examples of great About Boxes. If you have any favorites, please bring them up in the comments.