Active Adaptive Vigilance

An Interview with Samuel Litt

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.

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.