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Active Adap­tive Vigilance

An Inter­view with Samuel Litt

Active Adaptive Vigilance/whats new

As a pro-technology cre­ative I’ve never been shy about chat­ting with the IT depart­ment. So who bet­ter to pro­file next in this series then the smartest tech I know: author of the Mac OS X Bible and mul­ti­ple other tech pub­li­ca­tions my good friend Samuel Litt.

Q: What do you think of Google Glass, wear­ables and how IT depart­ments should deal with the grow­ing trend?

Sam: I’m open to any tech­nol­ogy that doesn’t impinge upon pri­vacy or leads to states dehu­man­iza­tion. I’m also a believer that tech­nol­ogy should be an equal­izer. I’m con­cerned that con­sumer wear­ables will cre­ate states of haves and have-nots, due to affordability

Q: You’ve done tech for ad agen­cies, gov­ern­ment, con­sult­ing firms, higher edu­ca­tion, and now for the New York Hall of Sci­ence. What’s been con­sis­tent? What’s been most different?

Sam: I think the com­mon chal­lenge is cul­ti­vat­ing orga­ni­za­tional cul­ture and behav­ior that pur­sues tech­nol­ogy invest­ments for busi­ness value. This would be defined as con­di­tions of rev­enue gen­er­a­tion, cost sav­ings, and cost avoid­ance, which includes the con­cept of cost of oppor­tu­nity. Of which the lat­ter, basi­cally boils down to whether or not you can afford not to do something.

Q: Syman­tec recently said Virus block­ing doesn’t really work any more. Instead they will focus on tools to min­i­mize dam­age. What do you think of this approach?

Sam: Fas­ci­nat­ing ques­tion, Peter. I recently read this as well. My prac­tice is active adap­tive vig­i­lance. Dar­win­ism at its best. I audit con­stantly and vig­or­ously, and employ a multi-vectored approach. The biggest exploits that I’ve wit­nessed thus far are behav­iorally tied. Noth­ing is infal­li­ble, how­ever there is a good amount of risk that can be mit­i­gated through smarter con­duct with regards to mat­ters of security.

Q: What do you make of Edward Snow­den and the media reactions?

Sam: Com­pli­cated. I only know what the media por­trays. I think the real­ity is, that there is no going back. Ide­al­ism can only be pre­served through prag­ma­tism, and at times though sac­ri­fice. It’s not a per­fect world. It will take bal­anc­ing. What­ever our imper­fec­tions are as a nation, or as a peo­ple, for bet­ter or worse, I’m still proud to be an American!

Q: The post Steve Jobs Apple so far? What are they doing well?
What would like them to do different?

Sam: Remem­ber Anya Major and her large brass-headed ham­mer? Does any­one at Apple? The mis­sion seems to have been for­got­ten. I also sense arti­fi­cially imposed con­straints more so than ever on prod­uct lines to pre­serve exist­ing states of rev­enue for as long as pos­si­ble until the unde­ni­able real­ity that change must occur. Don’t get me wrong, qual­ity wise and as end user expe­ri­ence, they can­not be beat. I’m a diehard.

From a tech­nol­o­gist per­spec­tive, Google seems to be inno­vat­ing more these days. Com­pany valuation-wise seems to cor­rob­o­rate this obser­va­tion. In gen­eral, I miss the won­der­ment from the early days of the industry.

Q: Peo­ple love to com­plain about Win­dows 8 — any­thing you like about it?

Sam: Sim­ply put, it’s an inco­her­ent user expe­ri­ence com­bined with too many iter­a­tions (ver­sions) of the prod­uct that con­fuses the con­sumer. I like the tiles. It will make for an excel­lent tablet expe­ri­ence sans the tra­di­tional Explorer dri­ven desk­top, when the apps are opti­mized for such. Clearly this is where they are going. But as a segue offer­ing to that, they dropped the ball with the Start Menu and Mod­ern Mix mode. Thank you Star­dock! Some peo­ple joke around that OS X makes a supe­rior upgrade for Win­dows 7 than Win­dows 8. Linux dis­tros Zorin and Mint cap­i­tal­ize on that. The hob­by­ist in me liketh the Reac­tOS project.

Q: No tech inter­view would be com­plete with­out some Sci-fi so let me ask you: Star Trek – What’s your favorite episode? Favorite series?

Sam: Oh, I am Trekkie… There I said it. A cou­ple years ago a com­pany was offer­ing Star Trek themed cas­kets. My buddy asked me Clas­sic or the Next Gen­er­a­tion? I said do you really have to ask? I wouldn’t be caught dead in any­thing other than the orig­i­nal series. The Next Gen­er­a­tion was great, and Patrick Stewart’s craft­work is supreme, but we owe it all to the sto­ry­telling of the orig­i­nal series that cap­tured the hearts and the imag­i­na­tion of the viewer through its explo­ration of the human con­di­tion; which in turn lead to every­thing that came forth there­after, and pro­pelled the fran­chise to one of the most valu­able of all time. As for favorite episodes, too many to chose from, I like the Dooms­day Machine, Bal­ance of Ter­ror, and City on the Edge of For­ever… there are so many!

Any thoughts on JJ Abrams direct­ing Star Trek and now Star Wars?

Sam: Mr. Abrams if you’re read­ing this please, please, please do a bet­ter job than “Into Darkness”.

Q: You’re also a suc­cess­ful tech author: How is writ­ing tech dif­fer­ent from doing/talking it?

Sam: Dad told me write as you talk. Peo­ple who know me say I talk as I write. — I miss you dad.The secret of a good tech writer, and for that mat­ter a good tech over­all is best summed up as what Har­vey Mackay says… “Details are not impor­tant, they are everything.”

Q: Tech­nol­ogy is mov­ing at neck-breaking speeds. How do you keep up with it all?

Sam: It’s a job in and of itself. Every tech­ni­cal pro­fes­sional has a shelf life. I’ve adapted and re-invented myself as neces­si­tated. It also helps that I have a true pas­sion for what I do, and that it feels nat­ural… I stay hun­gry. — I’m for­tu­nate in this man­ner. The song remains the same. When it comes to career, I’m also will­ing to take steps back­wards in order to go for­wards. Although I strive for per­fec­tion, I’m not mis­take adverse. My obser­va­tion is that suc­cess is pred­i­cated upon assim­i­lat­ing and har­ness­ing the power of failure.

In my time, I’ve come across many smart indi­vid­u­als who were inca­pable of par­lay­ing their men­tal cap­i­tal to the ben­e­fit of oth­ers. Lack of cus­tomer focus, lack of method­ol­ogy, lack of detailed ori­ent­ed­ness, poor com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills, and weak busi­ness apti­tude / acu­men. Addi­tion­ally, I have been under­es­ti­mated and mis­judge myself. To all of the above I say this… Expect me.

Q: The Inter­net of Things, Siri, and The Movie: “Her”Any thoughts on Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence?

If we’re talk­ing about arti­fi­cial machine intel­li­gence, it’s inevitabil­ity. I think we have a bit of a ways to go before we have real con­ver­sa­tions with syn­thetic intel­li­gence. It’s com­ing though. My pre­dic­tion 5 to 10 years out at the most. Though I will not be hav­ing a rela­tion­ship with one.

Q: What are some of your favorite resources?

Sam: Bloomberg Busi­ness Week, and the Week Mag­a­zine are infor­ma­tive effi­cient reads for busi­ness and world news. Goes good with Bagels, Lox and a cup of coffee.

Q: Dif­fi­cult tech sit­u­a­tion or dif­fi­cult peo­ple which is worse?

Sam: The chal­leng­ing peo­ple in this indus­try are those who can­not source the intel­lec­tual cap­i­tal of oth­ers. Often defined by stand­ing on cer­e­mony at the peril of oth­ers and the mis­sion. This form of hubrisleads to irra­tional oppo­si­tional behav­ior. Some­times man­i­fested as reac­tionary in nature, and at other times strategic.

Q: What guid­ing advice would you give to CEO’s, Cre­ative Direc­tors and other lead­ers involved in tech­ni­cal deci­sions but from non-technical backgrounds?

Sam: Approach tech­nol­ogy like a sculp­tor rather than a painter. Don’t add paint to the can­vas; rather carve away to the most effi­cient state (image) as pos­si­ble. Or as a men­tor of mine who was a Grum­man Lunar Mod­ule (LM) engi­neer once said… “Take parts out, don’t add in. When build­ing a con­veyance to go from one inter­plan­e­tary body to the next, do not add the Kitchen sink; rather you should build the most effi­cient rocket you can.” — Ted Dunn

Speak­ing of rock­ets I remem­ber you used to build hobby rock­ets — what’s the high­est alti­tude you’ve reached?

Sam: Ramped that down after the ATF started reg­u­lated the engines. Good times though. Most likely 3 miles up, per­haps higher. These things have a propen­sity to be attracted to expen­sive auto­mo­biles upon descent back to Earth.

I’ve noticed techs often buy inter­est­ing cars — true?

I’m born and bread from the petro­leum refin­ing state of New Jer­sey. Cars are a pas­sion. Top Gear from the UK is a favorite show. As for myself. I’ve owned Euro­pean exotics, Japan­ese tuners, and Amer­i­can mus­cle. My first car was a Chevy Nova. A small block 350 with a positronic trans­mis­sion. Today I drive Dodge Charger. The diag­no­sis is that I suf­fer from a form of arrested development.

Q: Tell us a lit­tle about what you’re work­ing on these days:

Sam: I  define strat­egy, archi­tec­ture, over­see sup­port oper­a­tions, and imple­ment sys­tems for the New York Hall of Sci­ence, as well as, man­age pro­cure­ment and ven­dor rela­tions per­tain­ing to mat­ters of tech­nol­ogy. The lead­er­ship at the museum is excel­lent. I enjoy work­ing there immensely. I have great boss, and extremely tal­ented col­leagues. Some­times I even par­tic­i­pate in the devel­op­ment and deliv­ery of the vis­i­tor expe­ri­ence. That’s fancy talk for exhibits.


As of the moment, I’m imple­ment­ing a new point of sale (POS) box office solu­tion, a phone sys­tem, and net­work secu­rity and opti­miza­tion infra­struc­ture. The museum is approach­ing its 50th anniver­sary. Major things are hap­pen­ing. We are launch­ing 2 sig­nif­i­cant museum goer expe­ri­ence, that embody Sci­ence, Tech­nol­ogy, Engi­neer­ing, and Math­e­mat­ics deliv­ered via our Design Make Play (DMP) method­ol­ogy. There is also a whole host of other improve­ments ongo­ing for this most impor­tant date. http://dmp.nysci.org/

Lastly, let’s not for­get World Mak­ers Faire New York, where we host nearly 75K vis­i­tors across 2 days (Sep­tem­ber 20 & 21, 2014). Maker Faire show­cases the amaz­ing work of all kinds and ages of makers—anyone who is embrac­ing the do-it-yourself (or do-it-together) spirit and wants to share their accom­plish­ments with an appre­cia­tive audience.

Q: If you could beta-test any new tech­nol­ogy what would it be?

Sam: What I’ve learned over the years is that beta test­ing is as much work, if not more so than fun. I like try­ing new things and such would love a go at Space Tourism… Vir­gin Galac­tic or Sierra Nevada Cor­po­ra­tion. Knock that off my bucket list.

Q: What’s the sin­gle most impor­tant take­away from our dis­cus­sion today?

Sam: “I’d rather be a fail­ure at some­thing I love than a suc­cess at some­thing I hate.”
– George Burns

Pete: Great quote, one more quick question.

Q: What’s your favorite Key Command?

Sam: Com­mand + Tab

Peter: I assume by that you are ref­er­enc­ing the abil­ity to cycle through open appli­ca­tions on the mac and not “Hey, Pete – go get me a soda’.

As a cre­ative with a wide pas­sion base I’m always on the look­out for peo­ple I can learn from and pass on those key insights to my fol­low­ers. If you are a thought leader, trend­set­ter or just have an inter­est­ing view­point please con­tact me to be part of this inter­view series.