The man who inspired the world with his technology anonymously inspired one writer with the simple beauty of his home
A Palo Alto resident looks upon the flowers, candles, and apples placed on the sidewalk outside Steve Jobs's home / Reuters
The world is mourning the loss of Steve Jobs this week, and with him, the inspiration he provided to so many innovators, technologists, designers, thinkers, and everyday consumers. But in perusing some of the news coverage of his death, I came across one particular photo that stopped me in my tracks.
It was a picture of Jobs' house in Palo Alto, California -- a low-roofed, brick and slate cottage straight out of some English or French countryside -- with bundles of flowers and memorials piled up against its split-rail garden fence. And it stopped me in my tracks because I know that house. Really well. It was, in fact, an important source of inspiration for me, for the 7 1/2 years I lived in that neighborhood. It's just that, ironically, the inspiration it and its owner provided had nothing to do with technology.
I moved to Old Palo Alto in the aftermath of the dot.com bust, when rents in the area plummeted to merely expensive, instead of stupid, ungodly, unbelievably expensive. I rented a small writer's cottage a few blocks away from where Jobs lived, although I had no idea, until I saw that photo, that he (or anyone else I might have heard of) lived anywhere nearby. The cottage I rented had been built by Herbert Hoover in 1937, after he moved out to start the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, a few blocks away. He built four small cottages on a piece of property near the campus for writers to live in while they worked with the Institution. I'm even told that General Douglas MacArthur lived in my cottage while he wrote his memoirs.
It was, in other words, quite literally a writer's cottage -- which seemed appropriate, seeing as that's what I do for a living. But when the muse didn't speak, or some personal or professional setback got the better of me, or I needed to de-stress, or I just felt too unhappy to produce anything useful.... I'd go walking in the neighborhood. Because Old Palo Alto is one of the most beautiful neighborhoods the city has to offer.
I heard somewhere that the eclectic designs of the houses there stem from the fact that the professors and professionals Leland Stanford recruited to teach at the new Stanford University, at the turn of the 20th century, all built homes there that reminded them of the various places from whence they'd come. That explanation might or might not be true, but the diversity was certainly there. Strolling under a canopy of grand and leafy old trees, I might pass an English Tudor house, and then a Dutch Colonial, followed by a southern Georgian, which would be next to a California Craftsman, which might be next to a mission-style hacienda, which might be next to... well, a medieval English cottage, compete with tousled and carefree-looking shrubbery and gardens.
The corner where Jobs lived, however, was my favorite corner and block in the entire neighborhood. If I was really upset or stressed, I might walk up and down the two blocks that framed his house multiple times, just because it was so beautiful, and somehow so calming that I'd always leave there feeling better. Reminded, in some wordless way, of the simple beauty in the world that existed before, after, and beyond career or relationship mishaps. And on more than one occasion, freed of the writers' block that had driven me away from my desk in the first place.
On numerous occasions, as I walked around that block, I would also see a slender man moving around inside the house. Unlike many houses in the neighborhood, the windows of that house were, at least on one side, almost right up against the sidewalk. Close enough for me to admire the furnishings, anyway, and see anyone walking through the rooms on that side. I never did anything but glance that way, but I honestly used to wonder what that man did for a living, that he'd be there in the late afternoon, calmly going about his business in that lovely and soul-soothing cottage.
I'm actually glad, now, that I didn't know. Because if I had, I couldn't have looked at that cottage, or the man walking around inside it, the same. Even if I'd tried. As it is, I find it both ironic, and oddly fitting, that the man who inspired the world with his technology anonymously inspired me, instead, with the simple beauty of his garden and his home. After all, simplicity and beauty were the two trademark qualities Jobs brought to all the personal technology he designed. It makes sense that a man who valued those things so highly would surround himself with them in his home life, as well.
The seemingly calm man I glimpsed as I walked down that block might not match at all with how the people who worked with him remember him, of course. But that's okay. They can have their Steve Jobs. I have mine. And I like being able to remember him that way: quiet, calm, and anonymous, surrounded by simplicity and beauty that changed with the seasons, but were always, somehow, inspiring.
As I mentioned in this post in late November, and in this followup, and also in a discussion with Diane Rehm on her new podcast series yesterday, Donald Trump’s lies differ from those we have encountered from other national figures, even Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton during their respective impeachments. The difference is that Trump seemingly does not care that evidence is immediately at hand to disprove what he says. If he believes what he’s saying, at least in that moment, why shouldn’t we?
For the record, the latest entry of this sort is the repeated insistence by Trump and his associates that he won a “landslide” or “major” victory. For instance, this was his transition team’s response to reports of Russian attempts to swing the election in his favor:
Should you drink more coffee? Should you take melatonin? Can you train yourself to need less sleep? A physician’s guide to sleep in a stressful age.
During residency, Iworked hospital shifts that could last 36 hours, without sleep, often without breaks of more than a few minutes. Even writing this now, it sounds to me like I’m bragging or laying claim to some fortitude of character. I can’t think of another type of self-injury that might be similarly lauded, except maybe binge drinking. Technically the shifts were 30 hours, the mandatory limit imposed by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, but we stayed longer because people kept getting sick. Being a doctor is supposed to be about putting other people’s needs before your own. Our job was to power through.
The shifts usually felt shorter than they were, because they were so hectic. There was always a new patient in the emergency room who needed to be admitted, or a staff member on the eighth floor (which was full of late-stage terminally ill people) who needed me to fill out a death certificate. Sleep deprivation manifested as bouts of anger and despair mixed in with some euphoria, along with other sensations I’ve not had before or since. I remember once sitting with the family of a patient in critical condition, discussing an advance directive—the terms defining what the patient would want done were his heart to stop, which seemed likely to happen at any minute. Would he want to have chest compressions, electrical shocks, a breathing tube? In the middle of this, I had to look straight down at the chart in my lap, because I was laughing. This was the least funny scenario possible. I was experiencing a physical reaction unrelated to anything I knew to be happening in my mind. There is a type of seizure, called a gelastic seizure, during which the seizing person appears to be laughing—but I don’t think that was it. I think it was plain old delirium. It was mortifying, though no one seemed to notice.
The personality test isn't perfect, but it plays to people's desire to understand themselves and others.
A group of young adults shyly meet for the first time on the second floor of an empty Manhattan shopping mall. The stores are all closed for the weekend, and other than a man stopping in the lobby to read his phone, this group is the only sign of activity.
“I actually really like clubbing,” shares one guy.
The group goes silent.
“Get out of the circle,” a woman whispers.
Everyone in this group took the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), a personality test. They all tested as the same type (one that tends to be introverted), joined an online group for others who got the same result, and decided to meet up.
Which explains why they’re meeting in an empty food court: It’s perfect for a group of people who like quietude. In this crowd of 20-something New Yorkers, the clubber is, truly, an oddball.
How Vladimir Putin is making the world safe for autocracy
Since the end of World War II, the most crucial underpinning of freedom in the world has been the vigor of the advanced liberal democracies and the alliances that bound them together. Through the Cold War, the key multilateral anchors were NATO, the expanding European Union, and the U.S.-Japan security alliance. With the end of the Cold War and the expansion of NATO and the EU to virtually all of Central and Eastern Europe, liberal democracy seemed ascendant and secure as never before in history.
Under the shrewd and relentless assault of a resurgent Russian authoritarian state, all of this has come under strain with a speed and scope that few in the West have fully comprehended, and that puts the future of liberal democracy in the world squarely where Vladimir Putin wants it: in doubt and on the defensive.
A profanity-filled new self-help book argues that life is kind of terrible, so you should value your actions over your emotions.
Put down the talking stick. Stop fruitlessly seeking "closure" with your peevish co-worker. And please, don't bother telling your spouse how annoying you find their tongue-clicking habit—sometimes honesty is less like a breath of fresh air and more like a fart. That’s the argument of Michael Bennett and Sarah Bennett, the father-daughter duo behind the new self-help book F*ck Feelings.
The elder Bennett is a psychiatrist and American Psychiatric Association distinguished fellow. His daughter is a comedy writer. Together, they provide a tough-love, irreverent take on “life's impossible problems.” The crux of their approach is that life is hard and negative emotions are part of it. The key is to see your “bullshit wishes” for just what they are (bullshit), and instead to pursue real, achievable goals.
The same part of the brain that allows us to step into the shoes of others also helps us restrain ourselves.
You’ve likely seen the video before: a stream of kids, confronted with a single, alluring marshmallow. If they can resist eating it for 15 minutes, they’ll get two. Some do. Others cave almost immediately.
This “Marshmallow Test,” first conducted in the 1960s, perfectly illustrates the ongoing war between impulsivity and self-control. The kids have to tamp down their immediate desires and focus on long-term goals—an ability that correlates with their later health, wealth, and academic success, and that is supposedly controlled by the front part of the brain. But a new study by Alexander Soutschek at the University of Zurich suggests that self-control is also influenced by another brain region—and one that casts this ability in a different light.
I traveled to every country on earth. In some cases, the adventure started before I could get there.
Last summer, my Royal Air Maroc flight from Casablanca landed at Malabo International Airport in Equatorial Guinea, and I completed a 50-year mission: I had officially, and legally, visited every recognized country on earth.
This means 196 countries: the 193 members of the United Nations, plus Taiwan, Vatican City, and Kosovo, which are not members but are, to varying degrees, recognized as independent countries by other international actors.
In five decades of traveling, I’ve crossed countries by rickshaw, pedicab, bus, car, minivan, and bush taxi; a handful by train (Italy, Switzerland, Moldova, Belarus, Ukraine, Romania, and Greece); two by riverboat (Gabon and Germany); Norway by coastal steamer; Gambia and the Amazonian parts of Peru and Ecuador by motorized canoe; and half of Burma by motor scooter. I rode completely around Jamaica on a motorcycle and Nauru on a bicycle. I’ve also crossed three small countries on foot (Vatican City, San Marino, and Liechtenstein), and parts of others by horse, camel, elephant, llama, and donkey. I confess that I have not visited every one of the 7,107 islands in the Philippine archipelago or most of the more than 17,000 islands constituting Indonesia, but I’ve made my share of risky voyages on the rickety inter-island rustbuckets you read about in the back pages of the Times under headlines like “Ship Sinks in Sulu Sea, 400 Presumed Lost.”
When you’re alone in a cabin in the Alaskan wilderness, the simplest question becomes the most complicated: How do you fill a day?
A couple of years ago, I woke to three birds circling over my body, barking. I’d been sleeping in a bivouac, a kind of raincoat for a sleeping bag, camped in the tundra of Alaska’s Kantishna Hills. I unzipped the bivouac and popped my head out, peering up as the eerie silhouetted birds swooped toward me. The moon was a low and yellow sliver in the eastern sky; clouds to the northwest stacked in electric oranges and dark purples.
The birds' bodies stretched wide, their faces were flat. I could see faint stripes on the undersides of their extended wings. One of them landed on my food canister nearby and hissed. The other two circled about fifteen feet above the ground. They rose, then dove toward me, then rose and circled once more. They kept a rhythm: every few circles, one of them plunged toward me again. They eyed me from above, barking all the while like angry watchdogs. When one came close enough to claw at me, I flung my arms overhead and screamed, “Stop! What’s wrong! Go away! Please!”
His paranoid style paved the road for Trumpism. Now he fears what’s been unleashed.
Glenn Beck looks like the dad in a Disney movie. He’s earnest, geeky, pink, and slightly bulbous. His idea of salty language is bullcrap.
The atmosphere at Beck’s Mercury Studios, outside Dallas, is similarly soothing, provided you ignore the references to genocide and civilizational collapse. In October, when most commentators considered a Donald Trump presidency a remote possibility, I followed audience members onto the set of The Glenn Beck Program, which airs on Beck’s website, theblaze.com. On the way, we passed through a life-size replica of the Oval Office as it might look if inhabited by a President Beck, complete with a portrait of Ronald Reagan and a large Norman Rockwell print of a Boy Scout.
A professor of cognitive science argues that the world is nothing like the one we experience through our senses.
As we go about our daily lives, we tend to assume that our perceptions—sights, sounds, textures, tastes—are an accurate portrayal of the real world. Sure, when we stop and think about it—or when we find ourselves fooled by a perceptual illusion—we realize with a jolt that what we perceive is never the world directly, but rather our brain’s best guess at what that world is like, a kind of internal simulation of an external reality. Still, we bank on the fact that our simulation is a reasonably decent one. If it wasn’t, wouldn’t evolution have weeded us out by now? The true reality might be forever beyond our reach, but surely our senses give us at least an inkling of what it’s really like.