Weekend news roundup

1 Nov 2011

This weekend’s trawl through the papers for tech coverage reveals a touching memoir to Apple co-founder and former CEO Steve Jobs by his sister Mona Simpson, a study that asks if the success of people like Microsoft chairman Bill Gates is down to pure luck, and what impact will the arrival of Netflix have on Ireland’s broadband infrastructure.

A sister remembers

In The New York Times on Sunday, Apple co-founder and former CEO Steve Jobs’ sister Mona Simpson wrote an emotional and insightful piece about her brother. Steve, who was adopted, only met his sister Mona when they were both in their 20s and a strong bond was created.

“When I met Steve, he was a guy my age in jeans, Arab- or Jewish-looking and handsomer than Omar Sharif,” Mona wrote.

“We took a long walk — something, it happened, that we both liked to do. I don’t remember much of what we said that first day, only that he felt like someone I’d pick to be a friend. He explained that he worked in computers.

“I didn’t know much about computers. I still worked on a manual Olivetti typewriter.

“I told Steve I’d recently considered my first purchase of a computer: something called the Cromemco.

“Steve told me it was a good thing I’d waited. He said he was making something that was going to be insanely beautiful.”

Internet killed the video star?

The San Jose Mercury News carried an interesting article about the online video revolution, opining that the revolution has gone awry. Chris Ryan wrote: “Two years ago, it felt like I could almost reach out and touch the video Promised Land.

“This utopia was a place where I could watch any TV show or movie when and where I wanted on any gadget for a reasonable price. With Netflix streaming taking off, Hulu offering a growing catalogue of content, and Comcast upgrading its systems, choices were expanding at prices that felt like a deal. The growing number and power of smartphones and tablets combined with faster broadband connections just added to the sense of momentum.

“But in recent months, it has become abundantly clear that this revolution has been stopped dead in its tracks.”

The DNA of successful leaders

Has luck got anything to do with the success of people like Microsoft chairman Bill Gates? asked The New York Times, which published the results of a nine-year research study of some of the most extreme business successes of modern times.

“We examined entrepreneurs who built small enterprises into companies that outperformed their industries by a factor of 10 in highly turbulent environments. We call them 10Xers, for ’10 times success.’

“The very nature of this study — how some people thrive in uncertainty, lead in chaos, deal with a world full of big, disruptive forces that we cannot predict or control — led us to smack into the question, ‘Just what is the role of luck?’

“Could it be that leaders’ skills account for the difference between just meeting their industry’s average performance (1X success) and doubling it (2X)? But that luck accounts for all the difference between 2X and 10X?

“Maybe, or maybe not.”

Will video games kill off the novel?

What is the future of novels? asked The Observer, in a world where video games are becoming the top entertainment genre. Perhaps the two genres have a vibrant future together?

Charlie Higson wrote: “As an author who also plays games, and the father of three boys who read books and play games, I often get asked whether I think games will kill off the novel, and the answer is no, of course they won’t. Books have survived the coming of films and TV, rock ‘n’ roll and sudoku, and they will survive the coming of computer games. But they will be influenced by them, just as all those other media had their own impact and influence on books and, let’s not forget, were hugely influenced by them.

“The best games have taken stuff from books (where would computer games be without Tolkien, for instance?) and any novelist worth their salt should be taking stuff from games. What you don’t want are books that slavishly replicate the experience of playing a game because, well, why not just go and play a game instead? In the same way, you don’t want a game that gets bogged down with interminable cut-scenes and has only one, very rigid, way of being played. There are cleverer and more elegant ways of designing them, as demonstrated by the brilliant GTA series.”

The impact of Netflix

The arrival of online video service Netflix could impact on Irish broadband speeds, screamed The Sunday Independent.

The paper reported Irish internet users could face a nightmare scenario if “bandwidth hog” Netflix rolls out as promised in early 2012, as Ireland’s creaking broadband system is struggling with the amount of data it currently handles.

According to Miguel Ponce De Leon, chief technologist at the Telecommunications Software & Systems Group in WIT, Ireland’s consumer broadband sector is already perilously overstretched.

“If Netflix gets the same volume of customers streaming movies on their computers in Ireland as they do in the US, where it accounts for 32pc of peak downloads, everyone’s internet speeds would suffer.”

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years