Dispatches, thoughts, and miscellanea from writer Jon Konrath

On the death of a New Balance customer

So Steve Jobs died, right on the heels of everyone taking a shit on the iPhone announcement and the new model not being able to read minds, turn straw into gold, or last sixteen weeks on a one-hour battery recharge.  Cause of death is assumed to be his pancreatic cancer, but this is a guy who was in the middle of a fierce legal battle with a company that uses PowerPoint for design documents, bug databases, legal briefings, and product mockups, so it’s possible he bought it from extreme eyestrain.  At any rate, the internet is swimming with heartfelt tributes from weepy Apple fans who are all remembering how Jobs invented the Apple II, Mac, and iPod, which is news to Steve Wozniak, Jon Rubenstein, and Jef Raskin, respectively.

I got started on the Apple II way back in grade school, although when it came time to actually own a machine, I got a Commodore 64.  That was a no-brainer; a C-64 cost $200, and a similarly-equipped Apple was about two grand.  And when it came time in college to gear up, a Mac Plus cost about $2500, while a cobbled-together PC cost a few hundred bucks.  By that time, Jobs moved on to bigger things, like the NeXT computer, and I took many a walk across campus to screw around on those high-end magnesium black cubes.

Even though I made a living helping people deal with their dying Macs over the phone (“shut down all of the other apps; reboot; zap the PRAM”) I never actually owned one. I did, however, identify as a Mac User.  Between a few long-term loans of old classic Macs and the hours spent in the Mac labs on campus, I did quite a bit of work on the machines.  I laid out my first zines in Pagemaker, and used the GUI-fied version of WordPerfect back when the 5.1 PC version was just a blue and white DOS box on a screen.  I probably identified with the Mac as some form of rebellion, of being different than all of the other masses of business school droids sitting in front of Windoze machines, plunking away at Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheets.  And back in the early 90s, if you wanted to edit images or record sound or cut movies or do page layout, you used a Mac.  PC people could whip out the virtual dick measured in kilobytes and megahertz and brag about how much more they got for their dollar, but at the end of the day, they were sitting at a C: prompt, typing in all caps.

I eventually bought my own Mac, and have since bought a bunch of different iPods and iPads and iPhones and other iStuff that has made life easier and more fun.  And Steve Jobs was somewhat responsible for that, or at least responsible for the company from not completely going into the shitter in the late 90s.  But it always irks me a bit when people say he “invented” the stuff.  I’ve always been more of a fan of the Other Steve and his hacking of hardware that eventually led to the Apple II, or the futurist (and former tech writer) Jef Raskin, whose ideas about different computing paradigms eventually transformed into the Macintosh.  I’ve always liked the design of the Mac, but that’s also not entirely his deal, either (Jerry Manock).

Jobs falls squarely into the schizophrenic relationship Americans have with CEOs.  They don’t deserve their high salaries, but when a company fails, it’s entirely their fault.  They don’t invent things, but they do.  I am not saying either of these is right or wrong, but it amazes me when people believe both of these things.  And in the case of Steve Jobs, it always infuriates me when people think a CEO should single-handedly be involved with every aspect of a company.

This management belief is the one thing that pissed me off the most about Jobs.  Not that he did this incorrectly, but that he led so many managers to believe that if you acted like an egotistical asshole and got your thumbs in every aspect of a product’s lifecycle, you would be treated like a goddamn genius and get fantastic results.  I’ve worked for several managers like this, the kind of people who are in charge of a billion-dollar company, but need to copy-edit every single page of a stupid user manual that nobody will read, and then waste all of your time insisting they know more about technical writing than you do.  Just because Steve Jobs did the same shit, doesn’t mean anybody that did that would get the same results.  It’s like suddenly becoming a Nazi sympathizer will somehow help you become a leading auto manufacturer.

Probably the thing that freaks me out the most about the death of Steve Jobs is that he was only 56, and I’m now pushing 41, and I’m not exactly making billions of dollars on any of my companies.  I’ve always hoped that by the time I got some form of cancer, the medical community would be able to inject cell-repairing nanobots into my veins and the whole thing would go away in less time than it would take for me to jet-pack over to the local Mars shuttle and catch some lunch on the red planet.  Of course, now 58% of the country believes that science should be banned from schools, and I realize I am fucked.  I should probably eat some more vegetables or something.

Anyway, Command-Option-P-R, Mr. Jobs.  Thanks for not making me spend a fifth of my life trying to figure out what the fuck copy of d011v109.sys I need to download every other time I need to read a CD-ROM.