A Thought on Steve Jobs

7 10 2011

On Wednesday night the world lost one of its greatest visionaries, innovators, and advocates of the unknown with the passing of Steve Jobs, former CEO of Apple. He was truly a titan in the world of technology, and that is what everyone knows him for. He introduced the world to a user-friendly personal computer in the 1980s, and after being ousted from Apple, returned in 1997 to bring the company from the brink of death into its greatest – and his greatest – period of accomplishment, innovation, and design. He introduced the iMac, and then convinced the world of having digital music in your pocket with the iPod. As a result of the iPod, he began to revolutionize the music industry and how we buy music with the iTunes music store. Then came the MacBook Air, the iPhone, and finally the iPad. And while these were great achievements and milestones in technology design and popular culture, I write today to recognize not his success with Apple, but his slightly quieter, yet equally impressive and important achievements in the entertainment industry.

While his tenure with Apple is his claim to fame, he pushed boundaries in a quieter and less public manner at the pioneer animation studio Pixar. He believed in what then-former Disney animator John Lasseter had in mind; revolutionary computer generated animation and a feature length CG film. He funded and headed Pixar, pushing Lasseter and his team of animators to new heights and ever-better ideas. Eventually Jobs, Lasseter and the team at Pixar convinced Disney of a feature length CG film based on a young boy’s toys. Yes, Jobs was involved in the movie that sparked the popularization of computer generated animation in the feature format.

Toy Story was a hit, as we all know, and the rest, as they say, is history. A Bugs Life was next in a long line of Disney/Pixar partnerships for films. This culminated in Disney buying Pixar, which made Jobs the largest private shareholder in the Walt Disney Company.

Steve has since become a bit of an icon in the world of Disney in an unexpected if not odd way; he is seen by some as a true contemporary of Walt’s. He pushed people to create things they weren’t sure they could, and in the process revolutionized not only animation and entertainment, but also the technology behind it. Maybe even less recognized is the impact his Apple developments have had on how we consume the very content he pushed others to create, which is nothing short of historic and profound. If not for the insistence of Steve, we might not yet have arrived at the idea of carrying around a digital copy of a movie on our iPod, iPad, or laptop, at least, with the blessing of the studios.

Indeed, his impact on the entertainment industry is deep and multifaceted, and will be felt for many years to come. So today we have not just lost a technology titan, but also an entertainment titan; someone who many saw as a contemporary of Walt Disney, and in the same company as Thomas Edison, Bill Gates, and even Jim Henson. The world today is already a little less fantastical without him, and we eagerly await to see who the next great visionary will be that steps up to fill a pair of shoes that are quite large.

Oh, and one more thing…”Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

Have a great weekend everyone, and enjoy the Halloween events at the parks!


Segway Madness Resolved

5 04 2011

There is one specific issue that can cause a lot of headaches for any business, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA from here on), which lays out ground rules for making businesses handicap accessible for both their employees and consumers. Now, I say headache not because of the sensible things that the ADA lays out, but because of some of the absolutely ridiculous things that have involved the ADA; such as lawsuits and rather interesting, if not concerning, rule revisions. One such revision was recently made to the ADA’s rules regarding what can be considered a wheelchair/assistive device, specifically about Segways and their use in theme parks.

For a quick bit of background on all of this and to save you from the tiresomely long essay that would be sure to follow on all the legal mumbo-jumbo involved, I will simply refer you to an excellent article on the DIS Unplugged Blog, which contains links to relevant cases and facts as well as a link to the ADA revision (which will also be directly linked at the end of this post). If you have not yet guessed how I feel about the revision and the idea of using Segways in parks such as Disney or Universal from the tone of the writing so far, I find the idea of using a Segway as an assistive device in crowded theme parks rather untenable. To explain a bit better why I feel that way, here is a post I have made elsewhere on the issue.

“From personal experience, I can tell you that properly controlling a Segway requires both very good driving skill-sets (alertness, quick reactions, good sight, etc.), and understanding of your body’s balance and solid control of your muscle movements. While controlling a Segway is not necessarily physically demanding (you won’t be sweating like you were doing a workout), it does require very good muscle control and some balance. The Segway does not do all the work for you, you have to understand how your movements affect its reactions. Also, just like a vehicle, it will not stop immediately. It can stop in a very short distance, but you will not stop in time to avoid someone not watching where they are walking that would step out less than 5ft. in front of you unless you are moving slower than you would walk on the Segway.

Simply put, these things are not intended for use, and should absolutely not be used by anyone, regardless of training and familiarity with it, in any kind of significant crowd. In addition, I find it very hard to believe that in all but a few very special cases, a Segway would be a suitable transportation option for a disabled person. That view comes from operational experience with Segways, not simply a general opinion based on what I’ve heard. Regardless, use of a Segway in any significant crowd is, in my view, a safety issue waiting to happen and irresponsible.*

*I have heard and partially recognize the validity of the whole psychological aspect of being forced to be at a lower height than everyone else as a disabled person. However, I consider the safety of many to be of greater concern than elevating someone so they can feel good about themselves. I will not accept that argument in the Segway discussion, or similar device discussions.”

Just yesterday there was some progress made on the issue, and thankfully it seems that someone in the courts actually understands the issue. As this new article on the DIS Unplugged Blog states:

“The Justice Department also had argued that Walt Disney World could not adhere to a “blanket ban on Segways at all Disney properties” because Disney’s safety concerns were “bland and unsupported.” Judge Presnell disagreed, saying: “Disney would likely be able to maintain its ban on Segways in light of its legitimate safety concerns. Specifically, the evidence at the fairness hearing supports Disney’s position that unrestricted Segway use poses significant safety risks because Segways cannot be operated in accordance with Disney’s legitimate safety requirements.”

So it seems that, at least for now, common sense and safety have prevailed in the consideration of this issue. For everyone’s safety, hopefully that continues to be the case, as I’m sure this will be brought up again/appealed and make its way up the court ladder.

Articles and Links:
ADA Revision
Initial DIS article
Followup DIS article

Edutainment vs. Entertainment: An extended rambling

1 04 2011

For those of us that feel like we’re getting old (20-somethings that look back on the 1990s like they’re the 30s and 50s, like I do), and those that are actually older, what are some of the moments, activities, and places that make you feel like a kid again? I know that for me, almost every single instance has happened during some form of “edutainment.” In case you haven’t heard that word before, it is a combination of “education” and “entertainment,” something meant to stimulate our thought process while entertaining us at the same time.

There are many places that attempt to pull off “edutainment,” some more successfully than others. Within the amusement industry, it seems to me that edutainment is now often overloaded on the entertainment aspect with a very minimal amount of what might be considered “education” which is thrown in really as a dog bone to get it into that classification. Instead of trying to make learning fun and interesting – which can take a lot of work for some subjects – we have moved to making it fun first, and then trying to make sure the information doesn’t ruin the fun. If it sounds like I am describing a particular park, I am…but not completely, because the issue goes beyond the park itself, to you and I, the people asking for the entertainment.

As I said above, I am describing one particular park, EPCOT at Disney World, which also happens to be my favorite park that I have ever visited. I’ll tell you why it is my favorite park, because of the fantastic edutainment aspect of it. Now, you might be a bit puzzled as to how EPCOT can be my favorite park because of the edutainment aspect while I criticize the loss of that very aspect to pure entertainment, and I can certainly understand your confusion. Even though EPCOT is starting to seemingly be overrun by entertainment, it has still managed to retain a few key edutainment aspects that are some of the best out there. The biggest of these is the World Showcase, which allows you to experience a world of cultural experiences in one day. Another part of the park that has managed to keep its strong educational aspect is the iconic Spaceship Earth. Unfortunately, the rest of Future World has largely been lost to entertainment with the exception of three holdout attractions; Living with the Land, Universe of Energy, and the Circle of Life (formerly Symbiosis in the Land Pavilion).

For those that may not be familiar with EPCOT’s Future World before it became what it is today, the Future World name fit the nature of the area, and it was one of the highest forms of edutainment around. Communicore was a showcase of new and developing communications technologies, many of which we now use without a second thought. Instead of Communicore we now have Innoventions, which is an unseemly collection of partner attractions consisting of educational games that don’t really create a cohesive environment. Around the edges, one pavilion has been completely replaced, and two have received large-scale interior changes that have resulted in a much more entertainment focused experience; The Living Seas is now The Seas with Nemo and Friends, and World of Motion has become the GM showroom and ride Test Track. Thankfully the transformation of Living Seas into the Nemo-themed pavilion did not affect much more than the Omnimover ride, but Test Track created a virtual sales floor for GM while providing a marginally educational experience.

As you can see here (and have experienced if you have visited recently), the focus has appeared to start shifting much more strongly towards an entertainment experience with education becoming more of an afterthought. Here is where I let loose and start bashing EPCOT and Disney, right? Actually, that would be wrong, and here is why.

Disney is reacting to a change in its consumers, a change that has shown that, by and large, instant gratification and mindless entertainment is what most of us desire. The result at EPCOT in Future World is exactly what we have asked for, and while I still find the experience immensely enjoyable, I cannot experience the attractions without the thought of how the technologies that were showcased and explained in those very buildings has resulted in the mind-numbing entertainment that has become so popular. It really is ironic when you think about it. What made the park so cool, fun, and interesting in its beginnings has started turning it into entertainment with an afterthought of education, a complete 180 from what it was originally; education that was entertaining.

You have probably heard similar rants before, certainly about how our society has become an instant gratification society, filled with mindless entertainment thanks to the Internet. Considering that, if you have gotten this far, thank you for staying with me, and I would be very surprised if anyone reached this point. If you have, please continue to stay with me for just a touch longer.

As much as I have experienced that feeling of being a kid again at Disney and EPCOT in particular, I always find myself having much stronger experiences at places like SeaWorld, the Columbus Zoo, and the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. As my girlfriend can confirm, I turn into a little kid the moment I walk into SeaWorld and see the animals. She has to practically drag me away from the dolphins and orcas. I’ll crouch down in front of the glass wall of the tiger exhibit at the Columbus Zoo and stay there watching the tiger pace back and forth right in front of me for a half hour or more. When I visited the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry I was interested in everything, even if I had fallen asleep in classes attempting to learn about them. Education is fun at these places; they immerse you in the environment and experience in such a way that makes you want to learn. This is what is starting to disappear from Future World, but thankfully remains in the World Showcase.

If I have a point I want to make in writing this; I wish we could find a way to pull back from the ledge of instant gratification and mindless entertainment, and I hope we will. I have contributed and continue to contribute to the mess (and future articles will likely prove as much), but every time I have one of those “kid moments,” I realize how entertaining education can really be. I’ve had a few “figments of imagination” about a re-imagined Future World, and more than most, I think one particular Figment would be the “spark of imagination” to really push it along. The only way that will happen, though, is through a demonstration that we no longer seek the mindless entertainment as the majority of the experience.

Thank you for tolerating my overly long ramblings, and hopefully a little spark of inspiration will inspire a figment of your own.