My friend Rob has an excerpt of his recent column on Jobs here, and it’s a reminder that he may have gone gentle into that long night, but he didn’t go gentle into that prototype demonstration. I have the feeling he looked at the early drafts of the Apple.com homepage obit spread – he’d asked for the mockups last year – and threw a bedpan at someone over the picture. What the hell did you use to compress this? The thing Sarah Conner used to kill the Terminator at the end of the first movie? There’s artifacts all over the place.
I read a long big book about Apple many years ago, and it wasn’t exactly pro-Jobs. Woz talked to the author; Jobs didn’t. A perfectionist, a tyrant at times, a guy you dreaded getting into the elevator with because he wore the same damned turtleneck for days on end, that sort of thing. The book ended with his return to the company, and noted that it was a hopeful moment, but it probably wouldn’t save Apple. Its glory days were long past.
No! We said. It’s still the greatest! I remember reading MacAddict in those days, when we rejoiced over every new program (they’re still making them! Yay!) and vowed never to give up, to adopt a rogue mentality, us against the world, and so on. But the machines were ugly. The company’s attempts to come up with a radical new OS had splintered and foundered. What could Jobs do?
Perhaps he did this: he gathered all the engineers together. He said “here’s what we’re going to do.”
He laid out a manilla envelop with 25 sheets of paper inside.
“I want a laptop that’s this thin. No thicker. The processor speed will be ten times as fast as our fastest machine now.”
He took out a deck of cards. Cut them in half.
“I want a mobile phone this thick. It will be operated by touch. It will play music, movies, do email, connect to the internet.”
He took out an Etch-A-Sketch.
“I want a tablet half as thin as this. Like the ones you’ve seen on Star Trek, right? Also touch-operated, and it will do everything the phone will, as well as other things like music composition, video editing, and reading virtual books.”
He patted the big CRT monitor sitting on top a Performa. “We’ll still make computers, but I want the screen to be huge, flat, and oh – no box to sit on. The screen is the computer.”
He took the other half of the playing cards. “I want a personal music player, and it can start out this size. But it should get around to this.” He put down a postage stamp. “Also touch-operated.”
“One more thing. All these devices will talk to each other and share information, and store data in offsite locations that can be accessed anywhere through the air. Everyone else will be there in 15 years. I think we can do it in ten. So work backwards from these ideas, and have your ideas on my desk tomorrow. Start with a new Mac. For God sakes, the ones we have now are just an embarrassment. How about colored plastic?”
It makes sense, doesn’t it? It all seems inevitable in retrospect, but it wasn’t. It took a guy who could see several steps in the future. Beyond this to the thing beyond that.
And now he’s gone to the thing beyond it all. Thanks, Mr. Jobs. Every day: thanks.
I tweeted that it was, for my daughter’s generation, like the death of Walt Disney. Premature, too. The difference, perhaps, was that Walt seemed like a Grandpa when I was growing up; Jobs seemed to be in eternal that-friend’s-cool-dad phase.
At least I picked the right week to be sick; the weather has been spectacular, and there’s nothing like sitting in the sun to made you feel less sodden, as head colds are wont to make you feel. Too grotty to go out beyond the confines of the back yard, although yesterday, in a fit of early-cold enthusiasm (I can beat this! Yes I can!) I got up and drove to St. Louis Park to see if I could rent a cello. Hey, we’ve all had spur-of-the-moment ideas like that. I found the site online, noted that their terms were fair, and figured I could be there before they were open. In the back of my head something said “call first, to see if they actually have a cello,” but I knew if I did that the chains and anchors of the day would start to drape themselves around my shoulders. So I just hit the road.
To my surprise the store was next to the last surviving example of the Glass Tree Bank:
Sorry, I forgot; these things should be run through retro filters:
Midwest Federal put up several of these in the suburbs – there was one by Southdale, one by Rosedale, I know that. Perfect 60s modernistic whimsy, to use two words you don’t see in close proximity together. It’s a lamp store now. The slab out front still bears the sign of the Tree, the Midwest Federal logo that glowed green atop the building downtown most of you know as the Mary Tyler Moore building.
Here’s an old ad from 1960, with the tree fully anthropomorphized:
Anyway, they didn’t have a cello.
So I went back home. Got back on my laptop, checked out other places. There was one. Called it up. They had a cello.
It was ten blocks from the first place I went to. Sigh. See, befogged and cold-clogged; didn’t even think to check other locations on my phone. So I drove there and got a cello. While I signed up I looked at the wall, where there were many photographs of famous musicians. Perlman. Rachmaninoff. Benny. (Jack.)
So you had Rachmaninoff as a customer, eh? I said to the young fellow who took my order. He said he didn’t know. Have to ask the owner, and he’s not in. I figured it was unlikely they had him as a customer, this being the suburbs. Well, the inner-ring, which goes back, but still, I don’t think Serge popped in to St. Louis Park for strings and rosin.
While I was waiting for the order to be finished I looked at the picture of Rachmaninoff.
It was signed. To the owner, I believe.
Stood there feeling a curious sense of wonder: the things you find in the world. The things you never suspected.
Anyway. Drove home and got to work and did things, and later pounded out more novel. Home stretch. Two weeks to completion. Sequel already in my head, and that one may take the title “Skid Row Jack,” because it doesn’t fit this one at all. I’m actually considering “Tangle Town,” since a few key scenes take place in my neighborhood, specifically the Toast Castle up the street.
I’m in the pipe, five by five; novel done by Saturday night.
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