What Steve Jobs meant to me

Today, Apple employees are honouring their late co-founder. I’ve no idea what they’ll be doing and it’s not a public event but figured I too could be part of the celebrations by writing and posting my tribute to him.

Two weeks ago I turned on the television while having breakfast and decided to watch the news. It’s not something I do daily as I find it depressing to wake up to news – it’s always bad and there’s hardly anything that’s positive and inspiring. How true on that morning of 6 Oct. As I watched the coverage, I cried.

I cried for a man who didn’t know I existed, a man whom I’ve never even seen in person. I looked to the web for comfort, reading every article about Steve Jobs that I came across, and its ensuing comments. Oh I felt silly for all the emotions that I felt that day and the days that followed – I didn’t know the man, how ridiculous to be grieving. It was only with distance from the sadness and online chatter that I was able to understand why Steve Jobs’s passing affected me so.

It was 1996; the time when the Internet crept into the minds of ordinary citizens in SG – ISPs were aggressively signing customers up and exchanging e-mail addresses among friends was all the rage. Once online, I couldn’t get off; I was enthralled by this new world. Feeling that I had to be part of it, I sent my resume to my ISP provider, never mind that I was no programmer or computer engineer.

There was no job for me at my ISP but its parent company had several others Internet companies that were hiring. I joined a media company that was building several lifestyle portals – imagine that in 1996! On my first day, as my editor gave me a brief orientation, he asked, “Can you use a Mac?”

“No. But I can learn.” came my confident reply even though I wasn’t feeling too sure.

Turns out I had little to be unsure about. From the get go, everything was a breeze. It was easy to use, programmes and the Internet looked beautiful, it never crashed on me, and on top of that, I was able to customise anything that I wanted. My e-mail app was a sultry Marilyn Monroe called (fe)mail. With all my colleagues on Macs, I saw beautiful personalised desktops and witnessed the production of amazing work. Perhaps all of this was possible on a Windows run PC but I’d never seen it before and certainly wouldn’t have been able to work it out on my own.

When I left the job eventually, I promptly bought my own Mac. They weren’t pretty looking in those days – more like a super deep dish pizza box – but there was something about it that drew me in and I couldn’t go back to a PC.

As my love affair with the Mac grew, so too my love affair with the company, and along the way, Steve Jobs became my hero. His vision, his ideas, his public persona spoke to me. He didn’t know this but he mentored me from a zillion miles away. Every presentation he gave made me realise how every one I gave sucked and I can do better. Every product and service he introduced made me conscious of how design shapes the world we live in and why it’s singularly the most important aspect of business, even life. Yet so many companies fail to see this, thinking they’re only providing telco solutions, selling books, manufacturing, delivering goods, etc. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve written into companies offering my thoughts on how they should structure their bill, their website, their feedback process, and the like.

Then came the Stanford commencement address. If I knew nothing about Steve Jobs, that alone would have won me over. To know his achievements was to add a new dimension to this already great man. I admired him even more. In fact, I think ‘hero’ isn’t even fitting. How would you describe someone who shows you how life – professional and personal – should be lived? I don’t know the word but Steve Jobs demonstrated that life should be, no, needs to be filled with stubborn desire to do what you love and to fill it with a passionate drive to change the world. (OK, in my case, my community.) Traits which I grew up believing to be unattractive and have suppressed were traits Jobs possessed and used to maximum effect. If I had known and learnt earlier how to harness them, I think I’d be much further along in my personal development. Above all, he told me (OK not directly) to trust myself and listen to my own instincts because I know what is right; to not give in to peer pressure, popular sentiment or rules; that I should live the life I want ‘cos my time is limited. It was comforting. Deeply comforting.

Several articles that were published following his death lampooned the grief people displayed and to them I say: how dare you. Some people are fortunate to have a parent, a senior colleague or a family friend to guide them. Others don’t and look to public figures to fill in the gaps. Jobs filled in those gaps for me in areas no one around me has been able to fill. He epitomised the life I hope and want for myself at the highest level, and that is worth a lot to me.

Steve Jobs was one of a kind and I’ll miss his genius.


Get well soon, Steve!

On Monday, a memo was released that Steve Jobs would once again be taking medical leave.

Much as I know Apple will do OK without Mr Jobs in the house every day, and they’ve done their succession planning well, I couldn’t shake off the dreadful feeling.

So I’m sending my best wishes off into cyberspace and I hope it’s not too serious. I hope he recovers well because he’s still young and I’m sure he still has a lot more in him to give to the world.

Why do I need Mobile Me?

Today, I received a reminder that my Mobile Me subscription will be expiring soon and I need to renew it. The first thing that came to my mind, and this is the first thing that comes to mind every year when I receive the notice, was: Why do I need this? Unbeknownst to me, those words weren’t in my head. I had said it out loud and TH was within earshot.

“Because you love Apple,” came the reply I wasn’t expecting. I shot TH a dirty look.
Another dirty look.
“OK, let’s list down all the reasons then,” he said with a smug grin.

Every year, I go through this. The Mobile Me subscription isn’t cheap and the features aren’t mind-blowing for the price you have to pay. In fact, I hardly use any of them. Wait. That’s even a stretch. I don’t use any of them, except e-mail, and surely that is not sensible. After all, I have four other web-based perfectly free e-mail accounts.

I know TH is right. I love Apple. But I’m a rational, practical human being. I own less than 10 pairs of shoes and my clothes barely fill one wardrobe, I don’t need to fly the best airline, sleep on 500-thread-count Egyptian cotton or have the latest gadgets. I’m not one for excess, so why the need for the account?

Back in the early days, when I first signed-up for an Internet account, I chose a cute moniker; one that means something to me but is as difficult to figure out as 1 + 1. As the Internet exploded and spam became a way of life, my account became an open invitation to spam. It’s like all day happy hour in my mailbox. That’s when I realised I needed another e-mail account. Plus the fact that cute isn’t very credible when job hunting. I signed up for another Hotmail account, but couldn’t get one with my exact name.

Then came .Mac. I admit that my initial subscription was irrational – Apple had just announced the service and I was starry-eyed under Steve’s reality distortion field. I signed-up and scored my name! I was now a proud owner of a Mac account with my name! Over the years, as I’ve signed up with other e-mail services, my .mac e-mail address remains the only one with my exact name.

And I guess that’s the reason – vanity and pride (Hey, finally! Signs that I am a Leo). I like that my e-mail address is as simple as my name, without extra letters or numbers, without a hyphen or dot. It’s exactly me. Now, excuse me while I get onto ebay to look for a subscription pack.

TH, upon reading this blog, suggested that I check the various services again, as they recycle handles. I was in doubt but decided to look. It’s available on Hotmail. Holy cow! What do I do?? He is pushing me to let it go. I can’t! It’s my primary e-mail address, it gives me storage space for photos…and stuff, I can…errr…sync important dates with my iPhone, it allows me to…umm…it’s a .mac account!

No e-books for me

CES 2011 is over and with that came the report that around 80 tablets were introduced. 80! 80!! Wow…so much for all that talk a year ago that tablets wouldn’t have a big audience as they were not quite a netbook and definitely not a laptop. Do netbooks still exist? It brings to mind a hilarious conversation I had with TH two years ago about Nokia getting into netbooks. But I digress.

Tablets, the success of Kindle (to some extent Nook) and news that sales of e-books have surpassed sales of hardcover books on Amazon suggest…actually, indicate that we are on the cusp of tremendous change in the publishing world. Just yesterday, TH was telling me about a publishing house that’s on the verge of collapse.

“They’re still in traditional publishing,” he said.
“Huh? What do you mean?”
“You know, traditional publishing.”
I looked over at TH who was concentrating hard on the roads and wasn’t going to offer further explanations.
“Oh!!” It finally dawned on me. “No e-books then?”
“Nope. They’re going to have to innovate or fold.”

TH has worked in tech companies all his life so he’s pretty wired. Everything is about technology to him. When the Kindle was announced, his eyes lit up like a child on Christmas day sitting by the Christmas tree adorned with presents. He embraced the idea of e-books immediately and proclaimed a revolution.

Me? Not so keen. I know how e-books will change my life – less clutter around, less need for shelf space, lighter load when travelling, ability to make / change notes (not that I do that now). In fact, travelling is where I see it all coming together. But, but…

I love the world of print. Printed books and magazines. The graphics on the cover that hope to capture your attention and summarise the edition, the feel of the cover – embossed, debossed or a smooth printed surface, the smell of paper, the weight and texture of the paper, the font. The tactile experience of the book/magazine per se. Have you ever held an antique book in your hand and turned the pages? It’s a spiritual experience!

So I’m not ready for e-books and I dread the day the entire publishing world turns digital. Right now, I’m doing my part – buying books and magazines at bookstores and borrowing books from the library. I don’t hope to start a revolution but I’d like to prolong a tradition.

Apple vs Porn

I’m a little late posting about this topic but I just started blogging. Anyway, I want to have my 2 cents worth ‘cos:

1. I’m an Apple fan. Have been one since I first used a PowerMac 6300 in 1996. A very strange time to be using a Mac and certainly not a proud period in Apple’s history but I fell in love with that grey pizza box that allowed me to customise everything and didn’t hang.
2. There is no way one can legally buy or view porn material in Singapore (not counting the Internet. You can’t access Playboy but Hustler works and so do tons of other sites. Different story for a different time maybe). No mags on sale, no adult cable channel, no DVDs, nada. Porn is simply a no-no. It’s off limits and there’s nothing to debate about. So this is interesting ‘cos it’s happening at a moment I can have a say.

It’s a familiar story now – Apple takes a stand against porn and wouldn’t allow any of it on their app store. Mr. Jobs said that if people want porn, they can buy an Android phone. And last week, there was a heated e-mail exchange between Steve Jobs and a reporter from Gawker. No PR stunts, no co-ordinated approach, just a personal exchange. Godly-Steve said the Apple platform offers “freedom from porn”.

I think it’s great Apple is keeping the app store porn free. Many kids today are familiar with using the app store and it wouldn’t be difficult for them to navigate accidentally into an adult section. The iPhone and iPod Touch are portable devices, unlike a computer, so they could be doing this anywhere and all the time. Gift cards are also a common present which means kids could easily purchase porn. Maybe Apple could write parental controls for this. But they don’t have that now so I can see why they want it porn free. In a general store, there is at least the cashier who could stop a child from buying porn. Incase I’m accused of being anti-porn, I’m not. If the porn-gates open in Singapore, yay for those who like it. But like cigarettes and alcohol, there should be restrictions and this is the case everywhere.

What I find most fascinating about this issue is the comments from the public, the pro-porn group. It almost doesn’t make sense. I’ll paraphrase them:

1. If Apple is so uptight about porn, what about Safari? The browser is the gateway to porn.
That’s like saying there shouldn’t be roads and sidewalks so people can’t get to stores to buy porn magazines or DVDs. Infrastructure is built so people can go where they want to go. A shop is built so its owners can sell what they want to sell.

2. It’s taking away freedom
I don’t know about America’s declaration of rights but if consumers are crying the freedom song, how about Apple? Don’t they have the freedom to choose what they want to sell? And how is it different from Target, Walmart and the likes? They don’t sell porn too. And the big picture is that Apple isn’t controlling the Internet or telling developers what they can and can’t develop. Developers can still go about writing their apps for porn. Just peddle it elsewhere. No one accuses McDonald’s of stifling and controlling the spirits industry because it doesn’t sell beer (in US). And what is more ubiquitous than old McD?

3. Steve Jobs shouldn’t be imposing his moral values on others
He’s not. Consumers have a choice. The iPhone isn’t the only smartphone around and neither is the Apple app store the only one around. Don’t like it, don’t buy it. Again, Apple doesn’t control the Internet or Internet content. I think it’s also interesting that the head of a company is called all kinds of names for running a company according to his values. Why is it so horrible that Steve Jobs doesn’t want to sell porn so he can sleep better at night? As a father, maybe he really feels strongly about it. Many other companies have ethical values and stick by them too. No problem there.

Who knows at the end of the day where it’ll all go. If Apple starts losing serious share of market ‘cos everyone’s buying an Android for porn, maybe they’ll peddle backwards. Or if they develop parental controls, they could allow for porn apps again. I’m standing by Apple and this move should be highly applauded especially since Steve Jobs is willing to leave lucrative money on the table for what he believes in.