Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programmers

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Tuesday, November 17, 2020

The Silent Network

People say that the internet, or maybe specifically the web, holds the world’s information and makes it accessible. Maybe there was a time when that was true. But currently it’s not: probably not because the information is missing, but because the search engines think they know better than you what you want.

I recently had cause to look up an event that I know happened: at an early point in the iPod’s development, Steve Jobs disparaged MP3 players using NAND Flash storage. What were his exact words?

Jobs also disparaged the Adobe (formerly Macromedia) Flash Player media platform, in a widely-discussed blog post on his company website many years later. I knew that this would be a closely-connected story, so I crafted my search terms to exclude it.

Steve Jobs NAND Flash iPod. Steve Jobs Flash MP3 player. Steve Jobs NAND Flash -Adobe. Did any of these work? No, on multiple search engines. Having to try multiple search engines and getting the wrong results on all of them is 1990s-era web experience. All of these search terms return lists of “Thoughts on Flash” (the Adobe player), reports on that article, later news about Flash Player linking subsequent outcomes to that article, hot takes on why Jobs was wrong in that article, and so on. None of them show me what I asked for.

Eventually I decided to search the archives of one particular blog, which didn’t make the search engines prefer relevant results but which did reduce the quantity of irrelevant results. Finally, on the second page of articles from Daring Fireball about “Steve Jobs NAND flash storage iPod”, I found Flash Gordon. I still don’t have the quote, I have an article about a later development citing a dead link story that is itself interpreting the quote.

That’s the closest modern web searching tools would let me get.

posted by Graham at 07:59  


  1. Took me a few minutes to find quite a few references to this. I restricted my search in Google to a time period (Useful because it cuts out a lot of issues) so from 1995 – 2005. Then, I searched for “steve jobs flash end up in drawer” (No quotes) because that was the pertinent bit from the quote above. The search page was (Apologies for long link)

    This then gave me the following pages:

    That referenced MWSF 2004, and there are videos online where you can see Job’s keynote and (probably) find the point where he discusses this.

    Hope this helps :)

    Comment by LazerFX — 2020-11-17 @ 11:24

  2. Right, so to conclude even if you build on top of the hours I put in, there was still significant legwork to do.

    Comment by Graham — 2020-11-17 @ 12:18

  3. Yep, and the results are never the same.

    Comment by David File — 2020-12-26 @ 16:07

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