In Memoriam

I got quite the shock, this morning, when my wife looked at the paper and told me that Steve Jobs had passed away. I must admit, despite the health warnings over the last few years, and despite the recent retirement, I was still shocked. Obviously, I shouldn't have been.

His life is kind of amazing to me, in a way. His life's work has been defined by technology, but he was never technical. I've even heard people describe him, recently, as a gadget person (as in, he makes cool gadgets). There's a kernel of truth there; he was certainly intimately involved in the design of those gadgets (and computers), but never did anything towards the implementation.

I did, at one time, sneer at Bill Gates because he (I heard, and maybe even correctly) hadn't written any of the code in DOS since writing some of the code for FAT disks. I'd like to think I've since gotten over the arrogance that made that a sneer, rather than just recognizing an interesting aside, but the point is that it was looking down because he wasn't technical. I later found out that he was pretty intricately involved in the technical parts of things, despite not writing any code, but I didn't know that at the time.

And I think I wondered about Jobs, when I found out that he wasn't a technical guy. But I've since come to appreciate his contributions more; he might not have been the technical guru, but he was certainly the artistic, driving force behind the designs.

There's an old saying along the lines of, "A design isn't finished when there's nothing left to add, but when there's nothing left to remove". And that's true, for many reasons. When a design is minimal, there's less to modify and maintain, and it's easier to use. So it's a vital thing to keep in mind, engineering-wise. But very few companies do this. Microsoft, for instance, has always believed in throwing the kitchen sink at products, and seeing what sticks. There is some good to that; if you know, intimately, what you want, and don't, then you can get exactly what you want. But you need to know things to an incredible level, and it takes a lot of work.

But the minimal way is much better for 99% of people (even a lot of technical people don't want to need to know their OS that well, for instance; they'd rather focus on what work they're doing).

And Apple, under Jobs, has followed that minimalist mantra better than any other company of which I know. I hope that they will continue to do so.

Steve really has been the master of the intersection of technology, art, and functionality. I don't know who will pick up that mantle, but I sure hope someone does.

I want to finish with a link to the commencement address Jobs gave at Stanford in 2005. I've sat through four commencement addresses in my life (two of my own, plus two for friends of mine), and this was far better than any of the ones I've seen, live. I must admit, he talks about living every day as if it's your last, and I have never lived my life like that. I've mostly lived it like I'd be working for some time (probably 20-30 years), retiring as soon as I could afford to do so, and then doing what I want without worrying about that supporting me. But I think I really should figure out how to change that.

Because life really is much too short. So long, Steve. I'd like to say, "Resquiescat in pace", but I suspect you'll find something to keep you busy, wherever you are. Good luck in Act V.

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