Afternoon Inquisition

AI: Steve Jobs

Before we start today’s discussion, I just want to encourage those of you attending the Texas Freethought Convention in Houston this weekend to look me up and say hello. I’ll be floating around there somewhere.

Ok, well it’s been a big news day so far in the US. Beloved country music star and 500 foot mountain fall survivor Hank Williams Jr. was fired from ESPN’s Monday Night Football because he’s very bad at making analogies; the groups protesting . . .um . . . protesting . . . uhh . . . corporate thingies, are now also planning rallies in New Jersey, where they will no doubt protest more . . . stuff; and we have thankfully been kept abreast of acquitted murder suspect, Amanda Knox’s, first day back in the US.

Whew! I know you guys were worried they were going to let those stories die, weren’t you?

But the news story that has monopolized the headlines, the Twitter-sphere, the Facebook-verse, and iPhone customer service calls is the passing of technology innovator and black, Deiter-esque shirt-wearer, Steve Jobs.

Jobs was no doubt a giant among the latter day garage inventors, and over the years became a pseudo-guru with Apple. But in addition to his innovations and business success, his illness and death have garnered a measure of attention for his use of alt-med remedies.

Now this Inquisition doesn’t have to be solely about that aspect of his life, but the floor is open to all topics. So feel free to discuss it.

What are your thoughts/memories of the man? Has he or his work changed your life? Our lives? How so? What are your thoughts on his experimenting with alt-med? Does that tarnish his legacy? Will the new iPhone be able to make phone calls?

Sam Ogden

Sam Ogden is a writer, beach bum, and songwriter living in Houston, Texas, but he may be found scratching himself at many points across the globe. Follow him on Twitter @SamOgden

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29 Comments

  1. Well, I’ll answer the questions:

    What are your thoughts/memories of the man?

    I remember old Macs as the cool competitor to my beloved Amigas back in the 80s. Then I remember Apple growing into a ruthless business which I disliked a great deal.

    Has he or his work changed your life? Our lives? How so?

    Not mine at least. I don’t buy Apple products. I likely never will. I strongly disagree with their business philosophy.

    Although … I did own an iPod some years ago. I intensely hated the limitations of it and iTunes, so stuffed it in a box somewhere and forgot about it.

    What are your thoughts on his experimenting with alt-med? Does that tarnish his legacy?

    Only seen second hand comments from skeptics saying he has been scammed by the alties … If it is true, it is very sad.

    Will the new iPhone be able to make phone calls?

    Last time I went into a phone store I asked for a phone that could make phone calls. They guy there just smiled and found a nice classic Nokia phone for me.

    Also … first! (unless anyone has posted in the meantime)

    1. “Has he or his work changed your life? Our lives? How so?

      Not mine at least. I don’t buy Apple products. I likely never will. I strongly disagree with their business philosophy.”

      He probably affected your life more than you realize. If you use an Andriod, it wouldn’t have existed without first the iPhone, for instance.

      I don’t use Apple products, either. But I do recognize that Job’s vision pretty much changed how people consider personal computing. Without him, we wouldn’t be living in a Star Trek world, and things like this likely never would have happened:

      http://www.csmonitor.com/Business/Latest-News-Wires/2011/1006/35-tablet-computer-Yes-from-India

      1. “He probably affected your life more than you realize. If you use an Andriod, it wouldn’t have existed without first the iPhone, for instance.”

        That is just plain silly. These technologies weren’t developed by Apple in a vacuum. They were long coming. The idea to incorporate PDAs into phones were a matter of the technology becoming compact enough and someone having the financial backing to do it first. Neither was it a quick jump as I already have said. If Apple never existed we’d still have smartphones, tablets and laptops and whatnot. Most of it predicted by SciFi decades ago.

  2. As a skeptic I am disappointed that someone with such a large cultural cachet and widely regarded as a bright guy should be so credulous when it comes to his health. Instead of being a role model he becomes another cautionary tale.

    I’ve mentioned in other forums how I find the hyperbolic lauding of his accomplishments peculiar and actually detrimental to his legacy.

    I owned an IPhone, thought it was pretty nice but chafed under the rather draconian constraints of Apple’s vision of how it can and should be used. (Shackling it to ITunes was particularly annoying) Other than developing some code on the lab’s Apple IIe in college, I haven’t had much of anything to do with their products.

  3. I really don’t care, and I say this as a Mac user.

    I didn’t know the guy personally, and I’m sure even if he didn’t exist, there would have been a lot of different people who could have filled his shoes.

    1. Most likely.

      It is a bit amusing with all the fans who seriously think no one would have invented these gadgets if it weren’t for Apple or Steve Jobs. I wonder what planet they’ve been living on …

      Nokia produced smartphones from the mid 90s, and PDAs were big among my friends 10 years ago. Sure, technology has evolved over these years, especially computational power, which is why these devices are more compact and powerful now.

      Apple is no less guilty in stealing technology than any other of the competitors. Just have a look of the list of patent lawsuits over the last few years. It’s hilarious. Apple have also actively been stealing ideas from the open-source community for years. Innovation my ass.

  4. To me, he was an innovator with unwavering vision. His business practices and notoriety as a hellish boss were the unfortunate byproducts of his drive to create a product, create it well, and let nothing get in his way.

    Did he change the world? Of course he did. Despite being a “PC” I have been an Apple user my whole life. From ancient SE and IIE which my father worked on to the iMac I use today for my job. Apple has become synonymous with “technology” and its products have driven the market, including competitors, to produce better products.

    His dealings with alt med? Also unfortunate, but as I have been saying all day, this is not the time to be walking up to his grieving family and saying, “Ya know, he might have lived if…” Let’s not be funeral protesters here. There’ll be plenty of time for cautionary tales

    As for the dig against iphones? Mine works great. No problems here.

    1. Not so sure about all this “driving the marked” thingy people keep saying. Sure, all competition drives the marked, but on the 80s there were several of them driving development of personal computers, and the worst solution won, IBM PCs and MS Windows.

      These days Apple is influential on gadgets. I don’t much care for pointless gadgets. I have a htc phone that does all the things I don’t use a computer for, and it does it without any annoying restrictions. Still, the transition to smartphones wasn’t that steep. My last “non-smart-phone” was still smart with web-browser and colour-screen. And my old PDA did all the stuff I now use my htc for except phonecalls.

      On the PC-marked it is gaming and computing that drives the technology, not Apple. On the OS side, there is OS X, Win7 and a host of Linux distros. they have all stolen from each other throughout their history, MacOS and AmigaOS being the early and innovative ones. I have always preferred Unix-based OSes, and Linux is vastly superior to the proprietary alternatives for everything I do except maybe whenever I want to play a computer game. But that isn’t the OSes fault.

      My point is, the importance of Apple is overrated. At least beyond the normal drive of competition.

      1. Using any smart phone and then saying Apple is overrated is endearingly comical ;) What made small, handheld touchscreen devices in vogue? You can’t look at a device without seeing a little bit of Apple lurking inside.

        Jobs put style into engineering.

  5. What are your thoughts/memories of the man?

    – I posted about this on my blog, so it’s kind of repetitive – but I think he was an innovative thinker and I really appreciated his straightforward speech.

    Has he or his work changed your life? Our lives? How so?

    – I think so, yes. Mac computers were the introduction to computers for thousands of people and many people were inspired by him and Apple technology to make even better products. They pushed to make gadgets and computing mainstream, even *desirable* things. That’s pretty sweet.

    What are your thoughts on his experimenting with alt-med? Does that tarnish his legacy?

    – It doesn’t really, to me. There comes a time in many people’s final years where they just want to be saved, and want to live. There is probably a lot that he still wanted to do, and it was probably a hellish, painful experience for him. I know I have seriously thought about alternative medicine for different problems – and I’m guilty of going to a chiropractor for my neck and back (and it helped, so, take that as you will), so I can’t judge him too harshly.

    Will the new iPhone be able to make phone calls?

    – Doesn’t matter to me, as I won’t be buying it.

    However, regarding the other news, WTF is Occupy Wall Street about, other than a deep desire to make a spectacle, very conflicting beliefs about what “freedom” is, and student-loan regret?

  6. First computer I had experience with (after my Atari 800) was with a NeXTcube. Had never been a fan of the old Apple OS, but OS X (while not quite as awesome as NeXTstep IMO) is pretty nice.

    I can’t criticize someone for seeking alternatives for pancreatic cancer. The outlook once your diagnosed is pretty bleak.

    I also can’t say I love the whole Apple experience, but I understand why he did things the way he did. At the very least he had better intentions than Microsoft, but a golden cage is still a cage.

  7. –Has he or his work changed your life? Our lives? How so?

    I’ve always thought of Apple as the company that invents products you didn’t know you needed. Before iTunes, I had no problem with my piles of CDs and digging through them to find a specific album to listen to, or specific composers to study. Before the iPod I had no problem keeping those same CDs in my car or making mixes to play on a discman. Sure there were other mp3 players and digital music programs before it, but I always found them a bit unwieldy and they didn’t hook me in the way iTunes did. But now, I can’t imagine going back to that.

    I didn’t need an iPhone when I bought one, but now I can’t imagine going back to a regular cell phone.

    –What are your thoughts on his experimenting with alt-med?

    I’ll be honest, I didn’t know anything about it until I watched the coverage last night. On CNN though, Dr. Gupta talked about that but also mentioned that even though he tried various alt-med treatments for his cancer, Jobs said they didn’t work. So, if true, isn’t that ultimately a good thing? Isn’t it better that a extremely high-profile person like Jobs tried alt-med and found it useless, as opposed to not mentioning alt-med at all?

    –Will the new iPhone be able to make phone calls?

    Man I hope so. My three year old iPhone 3G is on it’s last leg. I know this is purely anecdotal, but I was in the north woods of Wisconsin two months ago for a family vacation. We all had cell phones of varying types and carriers. It was a good sampling. My fiance and I, with our iPhones on AT&T, were the only ones able to make and receive calls.

  8. I admire Steve Jobs. (I am also very happy I never worked for him if half the stories of his personality were true.) He was undoubtedly a success at Apple first giving birth to it then later raising it from the dead. Clearly he was doing something right. I also admire the uncompromising attention to quality that he brought to Apple. Sadly this made the products too expensive for me to buy, but I admire it just the same. American business needs more leaders like him.

    I hadn’t heard anything about his fondness for alt-med. Given the typical prognosis of pancreatic cancer is certain death soon I’d cut him some slack on this.


    A guy goes to the doctor for an exam. The doctor says:
    “I have some bad news for you. You don’t have long to live.”

    Guy: “How long, Doc”

    Doc: “10”

    Guy: “10 years? 10 months?”

    Doc: “9”

    Guy: “Seriously. How long?!”

    Doc: “8”

  9. – What are your thoughts/memories of the man?
    None, I hardly knew who he was until one or two years ago.

    – Has he or his work changed your life? Our lives? How so?
    Probably, indirectly. I don’t know.

    – What are your thoughts on his experimenting with alt-med?
    He was desperate, probably the drive to make new things blurred the part of reality that has to do with his personal health at best hard.

    Does that tarnish his legacy? Will the new iPhone be able to make phone calls?
    No, usually great people are remember by their accomplishments and not failures.

    iDontcare if it can make or not call, I do not use one, I use an actual mobile phone without the fancy computerization.

    I do hope that on his tomb stone it will read:
    Steve Jobs
    iDied
    (damnlol, such a coincidence to see that the other day and now he’s dead.)

  10. Interesting guy, cool products, good salesman, but the level of gushing, lauding, and comparing Jobs to Newton, Edison, and Ford has left me wondering how well many news folk know their history. And I don’t buy Apple products because I don’t like over spending for short term technology. Also I can certainly understand why some people take the woo exit when death is clearly the next stop on the road.

  11. I have no opinion on Steve Jobs (other than to say ‘respect and condolences’ to his family and loved ones) and I would be more impressed with Apple’s supposed genius for design if they made stuff that wasn’t destined for a landfill within 2 years of purchase, but I was a little concerned with your phrasing regarding the Occupy Wall Street protests:

    “the groups protesting . . .um . . . protesting . . . uhh . . . corporate thingies, are now also planning rallies in New Jersey, where they will no doubt protest more . . . stuff”

    Are you seriously falling into the mainstream media meme about the protesters being a bunch of spoiled kids who don’t know what they want, or was this a sardonic observation about the mainstream coverage? I assume that your link to the Wall Street Journal implies that it was the latter. If not, shame on you.

    1. Thanks for the comment on the Occupy Wall Street protests. I was going to post something similar. The movement is at least as focused as the Tea Party movement, and obviously the latter has had a tremendous (in size, not quality) effect on public policy. Say what you want about agreeing or disagreeing, but you can’t dismiss either group merely because they lack a clearly delineated set of demands. It’s a movement, after all.

      1. But, people dismiss the Tea Party for that (and any number of other reasons) very often. Should we not expect people to have goals when they cause disruption in thousands of people’s lives?

  12. The two people who have affected my life the most (outside of family and teachers) have been Carl Sagan and Steve Jobs.

    I owe much of my livelihood to him, my career, my hobbies, and all of my post school friends.

    Every person I’ve become a friend with since graduating college I have met through working directly or indirectly for Apple. Some have been coworkers, others clients, but the common thread for meeting them has been Apple.

    I even found this site because of him.

    It’s true. I was looking at iTunes for things to listen to at work at an Authorized Apple Service Provider, and I found the Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe Podcast (another thing that probably would’t exist without him – podcasts I mean). The SGU introduced me to Skepticism, and to Skepchick.

    I feel very proud to have worked even tangentially for him.

    Love him or hate him, he changed your life.

  13. My family was the first on our block to own a personal computer. It was an Apple II. My mother, an astronomer with a degree in physics/astronomy (unheard of for a woman to posses at that time), spent hours learning how to program, spent a great deal of time translating programs from TSR80 to Apple Basic.

    Steve Jobs and Apple changed the world and continue to do so now.

    My mother died from pancreatic cancer as did Steve Jobs. If Mr. Jobs pursued alternative medicines as treatment for his horrendous disease, I don’t blame him. It’s fast, it’s a leading cause of cancer death, and it is often fatal in months, not years. Besides, since when is a liver transplant ‘alternative’ medicine? Mr. Jobs did whatever he could to beat a disease that is often and quickly fatal. The fact that he lasted as long as he did speaks volumes about his resolve.

  14. Apple makes shiny things but what they mainly sell is identity – an identity that promises you are better and brighter than those other poor people who don’t have shiny things. They also sell false competence to people who want to feel like they’re technologically sophisticated without having to, um, deal with any of that confusing computer stuff. That said, Apple do excel at design and make pretty consumer objects, they’ve got some good people working hard to make Star Trek real (but there are geeks all over the world working on that ;-). The thing is, Apple also takes a great deal from the Open Source community and never gives anything back. They’re also not actually very big supporters of artists of any kind, despite their early association with the graphic design industry (advertising isn’t art, though I suspect that’s a distinction that Steve Jobs didn’t make or understand).

    Pancreatic cancer is indeed shitty and usually very deadly but from what I understand (which could be wrong), Steve Jobs had a rarer kind of treatable pancreatic cancer but chose to use woo instead of getting conventional treatment. When the cancer had progressed to the point where he needed even more drastic medical intervention, he was convinced to start conventional treatments (whether his life could have been saved if he hadn’t delayed effective treatment, we can only speculate). Apparently many people around him tried to get him to use proven treatments early on but he refused. I never saw him speak out against alt med or advise others to accept (or not delay) real medical treatment, though he start promoting organ donation after the public outcry regarding how he manipulated the system to get his transplant. So, he didn’t really do anything to speak out against cancer woo and may even have gone to his grave believing in it. Apparently it was a side effect of his Buddhist beliefs (there’s a lot of cancer and anti-medicine woo that’s heavily promoted within Western Buddhism). Whether you believe that Jobs was a genius or not, he clearly wasn’t a skeptic and was prone to woo (not surprising since much of his own magic was smoke and mirrors). Technology is not another word for science and there’s plenty of woo amongst techno utopians/visionaries and in Silicon Valley. In fact, as a “visionary” Jobs was very much the opposite of a skeptic

    I’m somewhat fascinated by how people – even those who self identify as science buffs and skeptics – can fall for the hyperbole around Steve Jobs that promotes him as the biggest genius evar. War is peace…oh the irony of Apple’s 1984 commercial never ends. Steve Jobs was certainly talented but not in the ways that the marketing suggests. Ultimately what he was really, really great at was the marketing of both Apple and himself. He was a great product manager/developer who was good at exploiting other people’s talent (and exploit seems to be true, so much so that The Woz has been written out of the Apple’s history in much of the public mind apparently!) but he’s no great inventor. Don’t mistake the patent-wars going on for anything other than monopoly building business practices.

    People seem to want to desperately believe in heroes/saviours and that “one man changed the world” but the reality of technology (and science) is that technological (and even theoretical/thought) innovations emerge from a diverse number of sources when the context is right and the collective knowledge is ripe for new fruit to fall. Electricity, the telephone, even most medical discoveries are built on the work that has gone before and were being invented simultaneously by different people in different places. Jobs and The Woz didn’t invent home computers, they just put the first pre-assembled one on the market. A savvy business move that paid off on the way but also partly a matter of being the right person at the right time at the right place with the right partner. He was a man, he didn’t build Apple alone (in fact, the business was taken away from him at one point), and it’s a corporation that has both a positive and a dark side. Just as he was neither all good or all bad, like most of us humans. He’s undoubtedly more famous than most of us and apparently a lot of people did look up to him as some sort of superhuman figure. Whatever he was (and whoever he was as a person and not the heavily promoted public/commercial image), he wasn’t a skeptic and he sold his own brand of woo (very successfully).

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