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Game of Clowns

CocoaConf Columbus was last week, and as has been the tradition for the last year or so, I participated in The CocoaConf Game Show, a take off on the BBC Radio panel show Just a Minute, in which panelists have to speak extemporaneously on an arbitrary topic, without pauses, going off-topic, or even repeating words not in the topic itself.

I’m not nearly quick-witted enough for this, certainly not as much so as regular panelists James Dempsey or Josh Smith, but I try to hang in there. Or maybe I’m just always tired at the end of the conference (this time from staying up late the night before with Janie Clayton-Hasz and Laura Hart watching Adolescence of Utena, because anime).

Anyways, point here is that I have to come up with something funny (and not pause or repeat any words) on an arbitrary topic. Turns out it’s better to just do something silly with it, but when you get a topic that really matters to you, that’s another story…

So I draw the question “If Scott Forstall were running Apple”. And it’s my turn to start, so I have to take this topic. Now, thing you need to know, I actually knew Scott long before Apple (in fact, I’ve never interacted with him in an Apple context at all), from going to the same college, in the same major. He and I were active in the student-run theatre company, though he was a few years behind me, so I primarily knew him through friends of friends. In fact, I’ve only kept up with him and his family through that group, such as the March Madness pool run by a mutual theatre friend, that he and his wife and kids have joined in (also in that pool: LucasArts/Telltale writer-designer Mike Stemmle, and Royal Pains / Frasier writer-producer Jon Sherman, who consistently beats us all).

So, knowing the guy, the gulf between the reality and the obnoxious caricature of the skeuomorphic-obsessed tyrant adopted by the developer community really bothers me. For one thing, it has little basis in reality: it’s pretty clear that it was Steve Jobs himself who had a thing for realistic textures (and rightly so, if the alternative is iOS 7’s borderless buttons that can’t be discerned from text labels). It’s a cheap, easy, joke that you can make when you don’t know any better.

And the CocoaConf Game Show is all about cheap, easy jokes. I’m on the spot, I don’t know what to do, so I go with it. Sure, I say, imagine the Apple offices redecorated in rich felt and fine wood paneling… but I’m not liking this, because it’s a stupid joke, and worse yet, a betrayal. Best thing that happens is that someone rings in with a repetition I’ve made, and gets control of the card.

But now that I have a second to compose my thoughts, I want to make this right. I’ve played into something I hate, bullshitted about someone I like, and I don’t feel at all good about it. So, with 40 some seconds on the clock, I’m determined to regain control of this card and, luckily, manage to do so.

So I get control back and, being unusually careful to avoid getting buzzed out, I tell a story: You see, Scott and I were in the theatre group in college, but lost touch. I heard he was working at NeXT, and then I’m told an anecdote some years later by a mutual friend in that group. Scott is responsible for NeXTSTEP software development, sort of a side-project to the company’s main business of selling computers. Except one day, he’s pulled aside and told: we are no longer selling hardware, so the entire enterprise now depends on your project.

This is where time runs out on the question (yay, I get a point!), but it’s a true story. And think of this happening to you in your 20’s: who would be able to make the most of such a situation? Well, Scott did. He did well enough that NeXTSTEP got NeXT bought out as Apple’s salvation, and it turned into Mac OS X and iOS. None of us who do this for a living would be here if not for Scott Forstall pulling that off.

So, hopefully, I was able to make this right and not betray a friend in public. Daniel Steinberg, host of the Game Show, was recording the event, perhaps to be used in some way as part of the CocoaConf Podcast, so maybe it’ll show up there, and you can hear for yourself if I was able to patch things up.

And next time someone makes a skeuomorphism joke to me, maybe I’ll just save time and slap them.

Comment (1)

  1. BZZZT! Repetition of “friends”. I love Just A Minute, so I’m sure I would enjoy the recording. I think I’ll ask Daniel for the raw audio.

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