The Real Genius of Our Age Never Was Obama

Mark Baisley
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Posted: Sep 18, 2011 12:01 AM
My appreciation for the remarkable design sense of Steve Jobs began around the time of the renowned 1984 Macintosh ad that aired nationally just once during Superbowl halftime.  At the time, my head was in the clouds as a cyber security engineer for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratories (JPL).  While my prime directive was controlling access within the JPL enterprise, my professional hobby was convincing the mainframe environment to be a friendlier place by writing intuitive user interfaces.

In early 1984, two techies from Apple Computer demonstrated the original 9-inch monochrome Mac to a handful of us NASA computer nerds.  It is likely that one of the presenters was Steve Jobs himself.  What I especially remember was the tennis shoe graphic that he was freely manipulating with a mouse.  My dialogue management code was suddenly put in its place.  I thought I was the bally table king.  But I just handed my pinball crown to him.

History books will undoubtedly record the artful influence that Steve Jobs’ ambitions have had on digital technology.  His engineering requirements for building instinctive machines not only created a cult following, but strongly influenced the competition; Microsoft Windows for example.

Somehow, there contains in every Apple invention a spark of amity that is never quite realized in rival products.  Daniel Turner of MIT’s Technology Review published a thorough discovery of the company’s engineering discipline in an article entitled, The Secret of Apple Design.  Turner quotes Apple’s cognitive scientist Don Norman as revealing that, “The hardest part of design, especially consumer electronics, is keeping features out."  Among the many legendary stories is that Steve Jobs would only give the go-ahead for developing the iPhone if his engineers could limit feature navigation to three screen taps.

The Apple product watershed has revolutionized how we use software, how we purchase music and movies, communicate using cell phones, receive help desk support in person at a retail store, and most recently, how we get portable with a tablet computer.

But, as Steve Jobs’ mind is made of star dust, his feet are yet made of clay.  Foreboding health problems have compelled Mr. Jobs to shift his full time focus from the logical to the physiological.  In a press release that simultaneously informed his board of directors and the rest of the world, Jobs announced, “I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come.”

Jobs steps down at a moment of impressive momentum.  A new full version of the Mac operating system, the next generation iPhone, and Apple’s version of cloud computing will all be available to us early adopters by next month.  And the future for the company is already framed to extend from consumers to the business enterprise.  With fully one third of all iPhone purchases now being made by the corporate world and business apps quickly developed for the iPad, affinity for the Apple user experience is increasing the call for a business systems infrastructure.  And Apple has already rolled out the product line.

Apple’s enterprise systems now include a mature server complete with group calendar, shared contacts, and file, mail, & wiki server utilities.  Their advanced storage technology with Xsan shared file system completes their back office capacity with something for everyone, from mouse movers to system administrators and even a UNIX command line interface for the geeks.

In his commencement speech to the 2005 graduating class of Stanford University entitled How to Live Before You Die, Steve Jobs exhorted the graduates, “You’ve got to find what you love.  ...  If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking.  And don’t settle.”

Now more than ever, Steve.  And, thank you.