Thursday, October 6, 2011

Steve Jobs, an American Legend

  It's hard to believe that Steve Jobs has passed away.  Tonight I was at an open house for inventors and entrepreneurs at the university where I work.  Much of our chit-chat focused on Steve Jobs and what he meant to the world, and to each of us personally. Many of the attendees expressed a feeling of personal loss.  We recalled the excitement of being one of the first Mac users, or the first I-phone users, or the first I-Pad users.  I bought a Macintosh when it first came out.  It was amazing to be able to produce publication-quality documents with imbedded pictures.  Up until that time, most documents were made on a typewriter, with photocopied pictures glued onto the paper.  
     Steve Jobs was truly at the forefront of a number of technology revolutions, not just one.
    It was hard to believe that at one time Apple decided to hire a guy (John Scully, aka the AntiChrist), who came from Pepsi Cola to run Apple Computer.  Now the key thing to remember is that in the soda pop business, the way to win is to find a winning formula, get a good brand, and never, never innovate.  So that's what that genius Board of Directors did, and they actually were stupid enough to fire Steve Jobs.  I'm sure young people would find that hard to believe, but it truly did happen.
    I also believe that Jobs and Steve Wozniak had a lot to do with America's emergence as the world's major superpower.  I used to work with technology specialists in Russia a lot, and I was always very impressed with their intelligence and capability in the areas in which I had personal experience, such as nuclear reactor design, and aerospace power and propulsion. In almost all technologies, the Soviet Union and the United States were about on a par.  However, the US left the Soviet Union behind in the area of microcomputers and digital electronics.  One of my friends who worked in an electronics institute in Moscow says that they used to buy 386 microprocessors from Mikroeletronika in the Soviet Union.  In theory it was the same device as the US version, but it would come in a little envelope with a note explaining which parts of the microprocessor worked, and which didn't!  Well, there was no way to mass produce a computer with electronics like that.  
   In the USSR, there was no such thing as a computer company that started in a garage, like Apple Computer. In turn, the presence of rapidly growing low-end microcomputers pushed the powerhouses.
    One of the reasons that the US was able to dominate military conflicts in Iraq and other places in the 1990's was that American avionics was light years ahead of the military systems used by Iraq and other foreign powers.   We had missiles that could be programmed with little on-board computers, and consequently they could seek out and find their targets and blow them up.   
    The ability of Jobs and Wozniak to innovate led to the birth of an entirely new industry, and perhaps validated the capitalist economic model.  
   Jobs was the driving force behind the mouse, the graphical interface, the personal data manager (not to mention the I-phone which put those out of business), the iMac, the MacBook, and jeez the list just goes on and on.  
   He will be missed.  There just isn't anyone out there like him.
   God bless you, Steve.  

Steve Wozniak's remembrances are available at this link:

This simple logo was designed by a student in Hong Kong, showing Steve Jobs' silhouette imbedded in the apple. 


  1. There is no doubt that Steve Jobs played a major role in the fundamental shift of American society and indeed, global society, in computers, animation, music, and communication; in short, in the way we live today. A large part of that was the i-Pod, which sold 100 million units in six years and solidified Apple as a commercial force to be reckoned with after it's brush with bankruptcy in the 1990s. So I'm a little surprised it wasn't mentioned.

    The US and the USSR had already emerged as world superpowers before Jobs and Wozniak started Apple. USA and USSR superpower status was cemented in the 1950s and solidified in the 1960s. In the 1960s and 1970s, the two nuclear super-powers implemented the doctrine of mutual assured destruction, or MAD: the ability of either superpower to annihilate the world's population many times over with its nuclear arsenal.

    It is possible that Apple contributed to the acceleration of the US technology that passed the USSR in the 1970s and 1980s, although Jobs was an innovator, not an inventor of applications useful to the military. Xerox PARC and DARPA are far more responsible for inventing computer technology than Jobs and Apple, Inc. But Jobs made computers far more user friendly to the general public and did as much as anybody to spawn the computer generation, and later animation, music, and communication. However, I think that it is only recently that Apple and the military have entered into any type of deal making (

  2. Hi Steven, thanks for your insights. I think that Jobs can take credit for inspiring the industrial base of the microelectronics revolution, and the military was able to take advantage of it. I'm told that the aircraft of the USSR were flying with vacuum tubes at a time when we were using microproocessors. This is not because they didn't want the same things that we did, but without the consumer-driven electronics revolution, there was no base for such products in the old USSR.