by Jonathan Mak Long
I had meant to write this when Steve Jobs announced his departure from day-to-day operations at Apple, but life, as it tends to, intervened, and I never quite found the time. Now that he's gone, I'm compelled to get this out while it's still fresh in my mind.
I learned about Steve's passing on my iPhone.
Music is an integral part of my life, for years before and after my time as a radio DJ, and it's a large part of how I process the emotional ebb and flow of my life. After I put my phone down, I picked up my iPad, fired up the Remote app, and in seconds I had Lisa Gerrard and Patrick Cassidy's Immortal Memory going on the AppleTV, while a smart album of my favorite photos--of my wife, of my daughter, of vacations and adventures--scrolled by.
I felt the urgent need to type, reached into my backpack, and drew forth my trusty unibody MacBook, felt the familiar keys under my fingertips, activated the Python virtualenv that houses my writing, fired up vim.
It's worth a moment of pause to realize that in a matter of minutes, I've had a personal interaction with four devices that wouldn't have been without Steve's vision of personal computing. Reflecting on these magical, science-fictional devices--I still maintain that the iPhone plus Wikipedia is the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy made real--I am dumbstruck with the realization that I don't just owe Steve my thanks for my favorite shiny toys.
I literally owe him everything.
Once upon a time, my parents bought an Apple II+. Must have been about 1981. That wonderful machine, connected first to a fairly awful '70s TV, was my introduction to computing. We played games on it at first; my parents and I took turns reading aloud from the text output of Zork and all the other great Infocom games, to which I credit my precociously early literacy, my goofy vocabulary, and my love of puns and puzzles. Then I discovered BASIC, and the die was cast. I loved typing in programs from magazine code listings, seeing what they did and how they worked, and even more fell in love with writing my own programs. From that moment, the die was cast--while I excelled in many subjects in school, I was always happiest when tinkering with computers.
Over the years, the Apple II+ gave way to the IIe, and eventually to a long series of Macintoshes. I got into BBSes, and that eventually got me into a (ahem) borrowed VAX account at the local college, where the natural outlet for my text adventuring was playing MUDs, which I turned into class credit by landing an independent study project on writing code for MUDs. When it was time to pick a college, I knew that I was looking for a computer science program. A long-distance friend that I kept in touch with via VargonMUD got me introduced to Case Western.
Case got me to leave southwest Colorado, arguably the most beautiful place on earth, for Cleveland, Ohio. Not only did I survive the grueling computer engineering curriculum, but I came out on the other side with a job at IBM and a fiancée.
The IBM travel schedule and its impact on my personal life drove me into the arms of American Greetings and its spunky internet startup, AG.com, just as the first bubble was beginning to burst. We had some rough years on the road to profitability, but I hunkered down, got stuff done, and thankfully held onto my job, where I became increasingly enamored with our primary language, Python. Python's "it fits your brain" feels a lot to me like Apple's "it Just Works", and I see easy parallels between Apple's design aesthetics and Python's Zen. Is it any wonder that the number of Macs at PyCon has exploded over the past five or six years? Working with Python led me to helping David Stanek start up a local user group, and then to attending PyCon, which in turn brought me to speaking and volunteering at PyCon, which have been some of the most satisfying experiences of my life thus far. Moreover, PyCon is responsible for getting me serious about quality and craftsmanship, and has rewarded my risk-taking with friendships, self-confidence, and composure under pressure.
Thanks in part to this earnest desire to grow in my craft, the growth from my speaking experiences, and that Infocom-kindled love for tinkering with a puzzle until solved, I've come to a pretty awesome place in my career--basically I go where I'm needed most, to get hard things done, to shake things up, to band people together, to transform, to raise the bar. On good days, it feels like being Doctor Who in a Kurosawa movie, all flashing swords and sonic screwdrivers and the triumph of intellect and romance over brute force and cynicism. It definitely never gets boring--I'm coming up on twelve years at AG, and in some ways I feel like I'm just getting started.
And on the home front? Things have been good; house, cars, cats, good food, great travel adventures, some of the best friends I could ever ask for. Liz and I have been married for almost eleven years.
Our daughter is four and already enchanted by computers and iPads. Her entire concept of what a telephone is will be rooted not in rotary dials and POTS but in a kind of mobile computing that was science fiction when I was a kid. She may not remember it, but I used to read Learning Python to her as a baby, and I've got the photos on my AppleTV to prove it to her. But that's not what's really amazing about her--it's that she's been so instrumental in overcoming the depression that plagued my 20s; she blew into my life like a fresh breeze and swept away so much garbage. Sure, parenting hasn't been easy, but when I stop to take a breath, I'm struck by how much better I've become for the experience.
Education, career, friends, family, community--literally my entire world--all because of that Apple II and Steve's vision. Surely in some alternate, Steveless universe, similar patterns might have emerged, but this one, these friends, this path, this wife, this child, I can trace very clearly to his influence.
Words seem useless to express my gratitude for the profound effect Steve has had on my life. My sadness that this titan is gone. My regret that we'll never know what other transformations he would have brought to the world.
So, how then to cope with this sudden absence, the sinking of the rock that has so rippled the waters of my life? My inner child will hold to the illusion that Steve's gone to the same tropical island paradise as Jim Henson, Isaac Asimov, Richard Feynman, and Carl Sagan. My outer adult will try, even if it's only in small ways, to make the world a better place, to touch the lives of those around me, to encourage them to grow, to become, and to help them in turn shape the lives of others. And hopefully that will be all right.
Thank you, Steve.