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Steve Jobs
Reading:  Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson (Simon & Schuster, 2011)

Jim gave it to me last November.

I suppose that if Jobs & I had ever had the misfortune to meet, he would have called me a douchebag and I would have called him a son of a bitch.

He was an artist -- that is, a person with a compulsion to make nice things.  Traditionally, they are things that the artist can make with his own hands, and his main problem is to be able to spare the time to work on them.  Jobs, however, needed to make pretty electronic hardware, which meant that he had to go into business, which meant that other people were among his tools.  That is a dangerous situation for someone with a passion for control, but being a businessman made him beholden to employees, stockholders, customers, and so on, and they limited his control and thus the amount of harm he could do, while allowing him to do quite a lot of good.  In contrast, people of that temperament who become architects are sometimes empowered to be nuisances to the occupants & neighbors of their buildings for many years; and we are fortunate indeed that few such people manage to become politicians.

I do not know much about computers or about business, and I am actively hostile to mass entertainment, so a lot of the details passed me by.  However, one example of his notorious contempt for his customers is particularly vivid for me:  He wanted to leave the arrow keys off the keyboards of his computers, to force people to use the mouse for navigating on the screen.  He was beaten back on that one, but continued to be furious about his defeat.  Now, mice are excellent tools for some purposes, and Jobs deserves credit for making them widely available.  (I remember, when the first Apples came out, seeing one on display in the Harvard Coop, and being impressed with how quickly children taught themselves to draw & edit pictures.)  But going back & forth repeatedly between mouse & keyboard is a pain, and if you mainly use one, you may very reasonably prefer to be able to forget about the other.  Some years ago I toured a company that sold fonts, and had provided its designers with beautiful workstations.  I watched one of them tweak a character on his screen, using the mouse.  When he needed to insert a label, he called up a little QWERTY grid on the screen and danced on it with the mouse.  I asked him if he had a keyboard, and he wheeled one out from under his desktop.  It was too much trouble to use it.

With me, it is the other way around.  My main reason for buying a computer in 1986 was editing, and tho my Sun 3 came with a mouse, I regarded it as something for emergencies only.  Later on, when the Web appeared, I used the mouse more, tho recently I have acquired a browser (Conkeror) that allows me to use the keyboard for most browsing as well.  And indeed, I could probably live without the arrow keys without recourse to the trackball, because I spend most of my time in Emacs, which has Ctrl & Alt codes for cursor motion, and they are readily accessible from the home keys on the Kinesis keyboard.

Of course, there are times when chutzpah is much to be applauded.  On a sales trip to the Soviet Union in 1985, Jobs expressed admiration for Leon Trotsky -- first, to his personal KGB agent, and then, when that had proved objectionable, in a speech to university students.  God bless America!  I also enjoyed the following:

The chief financial officer of Lucasfilm found Jobs arrogant and prickly, so when it came time to hold a meeting of all the players, he told Catmull, "We have to establish the right pecking order." The plant was to gather everyone in a room with Jobs, and then the CFO would come in a few minutes late to establish that he was the person running the meeting.  "But a funny thing happened," Catmull recalled.  "Steve started the meeting on time without the CFO, and by the time the CFO walked in Steve was already in control of the meeting."

The biter bit!