Monday, March 13, 2017

"Insanely Great" - The Apple Computer Design Philosophy of Steve Jobs

I presented this talk to the Philosophy Club of The Villages, FL this past Friday afternoon (10 March 2017) to an enthusiastic audience, followed by a great cross-discussion in which my wife, Vi, and grandchild Alex (a first-year student at Bryn Mawr) participated.

Jobs was born in 1955 and died in 2011, at the comparatively young age of 56, of pancreatic cancer. Despite his relatively short life, he had an inordinate effect on computer-related technology. From the original 1977 Apple II to the 2010 iPad, Steve Jobs’ design philosophy of obsessive focus, extreme simplicity, and products that just work, has enriched my life and the lives of my wife and family. Even if you never used an Apple product, he has changed your life as well. 

Much of the information in my talk is from the excellent biography of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson.

In 2004, a year after he was first diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, Jobs asked Isaacson to write his biography, but Isaacson didn't start the job until 2009, when Jobs' wife, Laurene Powell told him of the extent of Jobs' illness, and thus the urgency of the task. The book was published in 2011, shortly after Jobs' death.

According to Isaacson, Steve Jobs revolutionized six industries: Personal Computers, Digital Publishing, Animated Movies, Music, Cell-Phones, and Tablet Computers.

In 1977, when the Apple II was first marketed, I was working for IBM's Federal Systems Division which specializes in computer and computer-based systems for military aircraft and spacecraft. In 1978, with the enthusiastic support of my wife, we purchased Apple II serial number 14,102. The purchase price was about $15,000 in 2017 dollars, including disk drives and a floating-point card we purchased later. (When we first took it home, our Apple II was limited to a tape drive and integer arithmetic.) Eventually over 5,000,000 Apple II's were sold, so we were definitely "early adopters".

Our Apple II (photo above) is over 38 years old and has been in storage for 25 years. I recently removed it from the plastic tub in which it has spent over two decades.

Today, of course, $15,000 will buy you more than a dozen top-end laptops or tablet computers. Indeed, for a few hundred bucks you can have a wonderful Windows 10 laptop that is nearly infinitely faster, more capable, and better than our original Apple II. Also, a heck of a lot smaller and lighter, AND with a better display.


However, I credit that $15,000 investment in 1978 for helping me in my career with IBM, for motivating my wife into going back to college and adding a Masters Degree in Computer Science to her previous Bachelor of Science in Chemistry. She taught Computer Science at Binghamton University and then became a Software Engineer at the IBM Federal Systems facility in Owego, NY, where I was employed as a System Engineer. Prior to IBM introducing the first Windows Personal Computer (PC), I used my Apple II to learn programming. I also lugged it to work and demonstrated the capabilities of the Apple II personal computer while teaching system engineering classes at IBM.

Due to my experience with the Apple II, when IBM Owego obtained its first IBM PC in 1981, I was chosen to be the first employee to get one in his office! That helped build my reputation at work as being something of an expert on how a PC best fits into an engineer's office.

Our children also benefited! In May 1980, when computers were first introduced into the local school system, our oldest daughter, Lisa, was selected to demonstrate the Apple II. Her photo was published in our local newspaper (Binghamton Press and Sun-Bulletin) along with the story. [See Photo below]

A month later, in June 1980, our middle daughter, Rena, and our youngest, Sara, were shown using our Apple II at home in the same newspaper. [See Photo above. NOTE: The "Computers 'R' Us" images in this posting are from: one of our 2014 50th Anniversary postings on this Blog. Click the link for more information.]

All three of our daughters went on to earn advanced degrees (two PhD's and a Masters) and they married wonderful young men who are also highly computer-literate and well-educated leaders in exploiting computer power to enrich our lives.

I also went on to add a 1990 Masters Degree in System Science to my 1961 Bachelors in Electrical Engineering. My PhD in System Science was added in 1996.


Vi and I also purchased an IBM PC for home use as soon as they became available under an employee purchase plan in 1982.

At that time, I was leading an Independent Research and Development project at IBM Owego in preparation for submitting a bid for a Helicopter Avionics System. My "Rational Cockpit" design concept featured a dual-redundant data bus, two Mission Computers (MC) and four Multi-Purpose Displays (MPD). I used our home PC, along with my office PC, to develop a demonstration of display formats for the MPDs, which, at that time, were a complete departure from traditional dedicated display devices for each subsystem and function.

When we wrote the proposal, I was the Lead Engineer for the Technical Proposal volume. We provided a PC-based working demonstration of the MPDs to our customer as part of a mock-up of the cockpit. That helped us win the contract, which resulted in a nice award for me, as well as membership in IBM's 1983 Golden Circle, celebrated by us in Hawaii! [Photo below]

Vi later became the Lead Software Engineer for the Avionics System for two different Special Forces helicopters. The dual-redundant, two MC system architecture and four MPD display concept I pioneered, and the software that Vi built and perfected, were utilized, in a later version, for the helicopters that captured Osama Bin Laden! [Photos below]


Steve Jobs had a very peculiar upbringing and youth. As depicted in the graphic below, he dabbled in a stew of COUNTER-CULTURE, FLOWER-POWER, ZEN BUDDHISM, and MARIJUANA, among other questionable pursuits. He was also interested in ARTS and the HUMANITIES. Given that combination of youthful pursuits, you might think he'd end up with a job where all you have to say is "You want fries with that?"

However, partially due to his early friendship with Steve Wozniak, Jobs combined all that stuff with TECHNOLOGY, Steve Jobs was  AT THE NEXUS - a UNIQUE  FUSION of FLOWER-POWER and COMPUTER POWER. 

Jobs and Wozniak ("Woz") were best friends. Around 1971 they built and sold “BLUE BOXES” to hack Into Phone System.

Summary of Jobs' early life:

Born 1955: Birth Father: Abdulfattah Jandali, Muslim, Syria; Birth Mother: Joanne Schieble, Catholic of Swiss and German descent, Wisconsin. He referred to them as merely: “My sperm and egg bank.”

He was adopted in 1955 by Paul and Clara Jobs. He calls them “My parents 1,000%”  

Father - Paul Jobs: From a Calvinist household, Wisconsin. HS dropout, mechanic, WWII Coast Guard machinist. Later, a “repo man”, car repairman. Mother - Clara Hagopian: Daughter of Armenian immigrants in San Francisco, widow.

In 1972 he took up with his girlfriend Chrisann Brennan. She has said he was enlightened but could be cruel. In 1977 they had a baby (Lisa Brennan) who was raised by Chrisann, but later accepted into the Jobs' household.

Jobs was powerfully affected by the Vietnam Era Meme of “turn on, tune in, drop out”, LSD, marijuana, … and Buddhism. He said he believed that “Intuitive understanding and consciousness more significant than abstract thinking and intellectual logical analysis.” 

In fits and starts he was a vegetarian, fruitarian, went on extreme diets and purges, ... Jobs spent time in a commune, noticed that members were secretly stealing each other’s food, and their leader was selfishly running it as a business.

In 1972 he was admitted to expensive Reed College (Portland OR). Woz (then a student at Berkeley) visited Jobs at Reed College. Jobs complained about required courses and said he only attended courses he liked. Bored, he dropped out, did not pay tuition. But Reed College allowed him to attend classes he desired and live in dorms with friends.

Jobs visited India in mid 1970’s. Worked at Atari 1974-75. He was arrogant, brash, had b.o. and was banished to the night shift. Woz (then at HP) did the arcade game Breakout for Jobs in  record time and with a minimum number of computer chips. This is an early example of REALITY DISTORTION, Jobs' ability to get other people to believe and do unreasonable things and achieve unexpectedly good results!  

The image below includes photos of some of the unique products and services brought to fruition via Jobs' incredible REALITY DISTORTION powers. 

Note that Jobs was forced out of his company (Apple) in 1985 and did not return until 1997. During that time, he developed the NeXT computer (not a financial success, but with some innovative software features) and lead Pixar into major advances in Computer Animation, used for Toy Story and other classics that grossed hundreds of millions. 

When he returned to then-struggling Apple, he helped them get back into their innovative mode by introducing the iMac Personal Computer, the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad, as well as the Macbook Air laptop.  

I was an early adopter of only two Apple products, each purchased within a year ot their introduction: Our Apple II (1978) and iPad (2011). Due to our employment at IBM, Vi and I did then, and still do, all our serious work on IBM/Windows PCs and laptops. Our cellphones are Androids! However, we credit Steve Jobs for introducing similar products, later copied and further innovated and produced by other corporations, that make all our lives richer.

The above images are what I call "mirror selfies". Using an iPad to take a photo of myself using an iPad to take a photo of myself and the iPad! At the left, my iPad in 2011 (the year after the first iPad was introduced), and, at the right, my iPad in 2017 taking a photo of our ancient Apple II (which we purchased in 1978, a year after it was introduced).

I use my iPad almost every day for my "fun" computer tasks because it is light, convenient, and turns on instantly. However, almost all my "serious" computer tasks, such as PowerPoint presentations and Blog posts, are done with Windows laptops. My Android cell-phone is my ultra-portable camera as well as my multi-purpose alarm clock and Web Surfer. Oh, and I sometimes use it to make phone calls are send and receive texts!

STEVE JOBS Product Philosophy: 
Technology must be joined with great design, elegance, human touches, … quality. Graphical user interfaces, varied fonts, stark simplicity ...


“The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”

“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

"It just works."

“Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.“Quality is much better than quantity. One home run is much better than two doubles.”

“When you’re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you’re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will see it. 

You’ll know it’s there, so you’re going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.”

“That's been one of my mantras - focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple.But it's worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

“Of all the inventions of humans, the computer is going to rank near or at the top as history unfolds and we look back. It is the most awesome tool that we have ever invented. 

I feel incredibly lucky to be at exactly the right place in Silicon Valley, at exactly the right time, historically, where this invention has taken form.”

… it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. 
"The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. 
"It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.”
In 2003 he was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer and he chose  alternative treatment for 9 months
In 2006 he was “thin, almost gaunt” presenting at Apple Conference
Up until and including 2008 misleading health statements were circulated
In 2009 Jobs received a Liver transplant
In 2011, on October 5th, Jobs died at his Palo Alto home due to relapse of pancreatic cancer. 

Ira Glickstein

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