Steven Paul Jobs February 24, 1955 – October 5, 2011 Requiescat in Pace

How do you fly your flag at half-mast metaphorically in cyberspace?

I was profoundly saddened to hear of Steve Jobs’ death Wednesday evening. Ironically, the news came to me on my old-technology television set rather than onan Apple product, but I’m sure vast numbers were or will be made aware of his passing via one of the devices that would not exist, at least in the form we know them, had it not been for Jobs’s vision.

Steve Jobs charged the world – serially.

Apple Inc.’s co-founder and iconic figurehead Steve Jobs, who died yesterday, was extraordinary in manifold ways, one of them being his having had the opportunity of reading what amounted to the first draft of his obituaries while still very much alive with a tsunami of eulogizing that came in reaction to Jobs’s resignation as Apple CEO two months ago. Jobs had battled pancreatic cancer since 2003, underwent radical surgery known as the “Whipple Procedure” in 2004, had a liver transplant in 2009, and had appeared dismayingly gaunt and physically wasted in his most recent public appearances.

The proverbial writing was also on the wall in a letter addressed to Apple’s Board of Directors and the Apple Community upon his resignation as Apple CEO in August. Jobs wrote: “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.”

“Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated,”Jobs quipped in 2008, channeling Mark Twain after Bloomberg News accidentally published, then retracted, a Jobs obituary that it, like other major news organizations, keeps prepared in advance for the demise of notable and newsworthy personae. However, following his resignation it seemed like world + dog was trotting out canned obits for Jobs, driven by financial markets’ anxiety over what effect his departure would have on Apple’s stock valuation, while Apple aficionados worried about prospects for future development and innovation of the Apple products they use and love.

These concerns were by no means groundless, and apprehension about Mr. Job’s health was amplified by his alarming appearance in a photograph published by TMZ, claimed to have been taken last summer.

While I thought that at least some of the premature eulogizing was in questionable taste, it was not inappropriate to mark the milestone that Steve Jobs’s stepping-down as Apple CEO represented. Not many people can lay claim to having profoundly changed the world, and among those who could, even fewer have lived to witness the full effects of revolutions they launched. Steve Jobs did both, not just once, but serially, one of the attributes makes him a truly extraordinary visionary phenomenon.

There was the formation of Apple computer with Steve Wozniak and ephemeral partner Ronald Wayne. Then the Apple II — the first really user-friendly personal computer, followed by the PC landscape-altering Macintosh, whose graphical user interface and mouse input came to be adopted by virtually every personal computer on the planet. Job’s NeXT Computer, developed during his 11-year hiatus from Apple, was arguably the best PC on the market at the time, but also nosebleed–inducingly which made it a commercial failure, but the UNIX-based NeXTStep operating system Jobs developed to run it, and sold to Apple in 1996, lives on in Mac OS X and the iOS that runs Apple’s iPhones, iPads, and iPod touches.

There was also Pixar, another Jobs startup that revolutionized film animation, and Jobs’s reboot of the Mac brand after returning to Apple in 1996, with the original iMac in 1998 and the iBook in 1999. Then came the iPod, the iTunes Music Store, Metal-skinned and later solid metal laptops, the iPhone, the Apple App Store, the iPad, and Apple’s imminent iCloud online service to debut this fall. Jobs lived to see all of that come to fruition.

Even for a longtime Mac-enthusiast and Apple-watcher like myself, it boggles the mind when I stop to review and think about it. Over the past couple of months I’ve seen Jobs compared to Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. That’s a bit extravagant, since Jobs was inarguably a conceptual visionary but not really an artist or inventor. He was probably more a combination of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, who took existing technological ideas, refined them, and made them commercial successes, along with a heavy helping of P.T. Barnum’s hucksterism.

Even Jobs’s apparent defeats had a way of turning into triumphs. John Sculley, his hand–picked Apple CEO arguably did Jobs a favor by firing him in 1985. As noted, Jobs went on to found NeXT Computer and Pixar, the former paving the way for his return to Apple in 1996 to become the eventual architect of Apple’s ascendancy and emergence as the most valuable corporation in the world.

In a Commencement address he delivered to Stanford University graduates on June 12, 2005, jobs commented directly on the topic of death.

“When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

“About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn’t even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor’s code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you’d have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.

“I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I’m fine now.

“This was the closest I’ve been to facing death, and I hope it’s the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:

“No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

YouTube video of the entire address:

I had hoped, as I’m sure we all did, that Steve Jobs would be able to once again overcome his most recent health setback. Sadly he wasn’t, but he did succeeded in his goal of changing the world, in several ways, in the span of a too-short lifetime. We won’t see his like again soon. To say I will miss him isn’t nearly adequate.


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