Thursday, October 06, 2011

On the Death of Steve Jobs and 改善処理

I have long admired Steve Jobs from afar; I might have been near the Cupertino campus of Apple once upon a time, but I really don't remember.   At any rate I never met the man, though I have met engineers from Apple in a professional setting a few times. 

Jobs epitomized why a lot of us went into electrical engineering at the time - though to be honest, not really me.  Instead, I was fascinated by math.  But what he did do is show the potential of an American company to create things people wanted to buy the world over.  He showed that products could be produced by an American company - one even led (at the time at least) by a famously egotistical and dictatorial man.  But his products were just right.

I still have my Mac SE-30.  I did my entire doctoral thesis on it.  It had 5MB of RAM; yes you read that right.

Apple's iPhones use some of my inventions; so  the admiration is not entirely one-sided here.  Then again, they pretty much have to, because all 3G phones use one or two or several of my inventions.

But there's one other thing Jobs was a part of which he should be honored for: Jobs promulgated an ethic of continuous perfection in the products he produces, much in the same way as the Japanese introduced 改善処理 (kaizenshori) - process improvement - as a continuing feature of their product development and manufacture. It's - to use the cliche - all very Zen; just like your Zen practice can always be improvement what and how you do your job can always be improved.  Despite the (apparently slightly tamed in his later years) legendary arrogance of the early Jobs - he once fired somebody in his NeXT computer project because the industrial design was hundredths of an inch off or some such thing - he was humble enough to seek continuous improvement.  He was a demanding guy to work for though; and I had to slightly reword the bits in parentheses above, since I remember the situation of "Mobile Me" and its morphing into "iCloud."

I could say he'll be missed by me, but I never knew him, and most  of those things for which I admire him which I try to cultivate in myself aren't really the result of him..  My own personal  改善処理 isn't the result of Jobs influence, though I was happy to see a successful man who embodied its practice.  But I will say this: Jobs presence made me better appreciate good industrial design. Apple's products have good industrial design, in that they marry form and function quite elegantly which is why they have spawned so much imitation.

Well, I have a lot of  改善処理 to practice today; I'm running late already.


J said...
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J said...

Jobs promulgated an ethic of continuous perfection in the products he produces.

According to...Jobs. Really ,much Apple gear was cute, decorative and "creatives" liked it--but as workstations, or in business contexts, awkward..and slow(atleast until OS X)--and overpriced. Is the normal user after some deep aesthetic experience on a computer? Check email ,chat,blog,etc. The cheesy stoner-decorated Apple GUIs are not exactly...VanGogh. And Macs of the 90s-- the old drag and drop-- were...lame, useless for networking--and that left a bad taste for some of us. Compared to PCs, ridiculously slow.

There are other reasons--one might say normative-- one should oppose Apple (tho Id include MS ,and corporate computing as a whole)--their labor practices, the exec salaries, the costs of the gear, the i-tunes i-pod rip off of musical artistes (no bleeding heart am I--but..Apple and GuruSteve helped destroy the music business,and CD sales).

Finally Jobs wasn't a scientist or programmer, or even a "techie ". He was a sort of designer. User-friendly just isn't that revolutionary. About any bright-boy --or bright bimbo-- can choose colors,shapes, forms,etc. And he had no real technological education. Another normative point. Isn't there something wrong--if not obscene--to uneducated billionaires who more or less hit it big in the silicon valley casino, by being in the right place at the right time? I think so, grasshoppah.

Apple might seem sort of countercultural--but in reality it's still..corporate plutocracy. That some hipsters around the bay (like these simpering morons and philistnes) have GUIs festooned with Dead stickers, pot leaves, beer, and/or ZenCo icons,etc doesn't change that. Henry Miller--or Kerouac-- would agree, IMHO

Mumon said...


I chuckle at your post.

1. Apple gear, though it was slower than PCs, was fast enough by far for the generation of its hardware. I forgot to mention: I did a 300 page thesis, replete with equations often taking up 2/3 of a page in 5MB of my MAC's RAM AND I did a variety of simulations - in FORTRAN - on the same device, IIRC, at the same time.

Even then, Windows was bloatware.

2. Apple's US employees never really complained about their labor conditions. Re: China, or should I say Foxcon, that is an issue indeed, but they're definitely not the only source for Apple's parts. And some of those companies are way more than benevolent, and I know this from personal experience.

3. The music business? The record companies destroyed the music business! Suing Napster destroyed the music business!

4. No, not everyone is born a genius industrial designer. Trust me, I know. Jobs had his problems, to which I've alluded, but the Mac was as different a tool from a Windows PC as my Feather All Stainless Steel razor is from a whatever-the-hell piece of junk Gillette sells today. I'm not talking about Feather blades - see my earlier posts. I don't have the talent myself. The Shakers and Zen monks had the talent. But spend $300 or so and buy a Feather razor and you'll know what I'm talking about.

3. Countercultural is not an end in itself. The 60s taught us that. I'm sure you'd be surprised at Henry Miller's kitchen if you could go there.

J said...
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J said...

Anyway did Jobs make the Feather blades? No. He told his crew of techies what he wanted,and they made it. Or else. Nearly sort of ...corrupt, dictatorial guru-like. He issued orders about design--not involved with programming end at all. That was his masonic pal Wozniak.

Check the link I included above--the "New Worlds" gang are typical Apple-types--stoner-nihilists,right-wing actually (like "Max"'s queer hero sullivan--Bush supporter and libertarian before he changed to BO), into cheesy old rock, with some superficial Carl Sagan-ish dyslexic pop-science. perps, really. Like ..autistic Ayn Rands, with bongs.

Then normativity's a problem for ZenCO