On the Resignation of Steve Jobs

By Mike / On / In Personal

I knew the day would come when Steve Jobs would retire, and I could have predicted that I would blog about it, but I didn’t expect to cry. The feeling of tears welling up in my eyes took me by surprise. It wasn’t the shock of the announcement, or the soonness of it, but the implication of it.

It would be one thing if Steve got up on stage, said, “We’re richer than Europe. I think I’ve proved my point,” dropped the mic, and walked into the sunset. Instead Steve said, “I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come.”

I’m crying because I never got to meet Steve Jobs, never got to shake his hand, never got to suffer his direct criticism. I’m crying because I’m afraid I never will.

My personal relationship with Steve Jobs, like most people’s personal relationships with Steve Jobs, means all the world to me, and nothing at all to Steve Jobs. When I needed a ticket to the first WWDC to ever sell out, I was told to appeal to the man himself. I didn’t even know you could email Steve. It just didn’t even occur to me that was something one could do.

My first email to Steve was lengthy, giving a full accounting of myself, my career, my history with Apple, and the value of having me, my company, and our little music game, at the conference. It took most of the day for me to write it. The response: “Sorry, we are truly sold out.” Terse poetry, worth not getting the ticket just to own that little piece of classic Steve.

That wasn’t the only time I wrote to Steve Jobs. Years ago I had a premonition that he was sick again, and wrote him a letter about it. I never sent that letter. I thought he would find it intrusive and creepy, especially if it was true. And it was true, sadly.

When I outgrew Wil Shipley as my mentor, I made Steve my mentor. I didn’t actually propose this to him. That would be absurd. I just started studying him, reverse engineering his techniques, learning to perform his tricks, on stage and off.

When I went to work for Apple, I went to work for Steve. To be inside Infinite Loop is to have the rare privilege of hearing Steve Jobs speak off the cuff. I would see him around, but I never approached him. He is always extremely busy. And extremely skinny.

Legend has it that when Apple sends retail employees to Infinite Loop for training, they warn them not to look at Steve. I guess there was a serious problem with people getting caught in him like deer in headlights. They were probably blocking the sidewalk. He hates that.

I never talked to Steve at Apple. Not once. I would talk about Steve. I was appalled at how little people at Apple knew about him for all the time they spent worrying about what he was thinking. “He’s not an unknowable entity,” I would say, exasperated. “There are books you can read about him.”

After my shift at the sausage factory, I would go home to continue coding in my Silicon Valley garage, get ferociously stoned, and email Steve.

Mike Lee and Steven Wozniak, standing in line at Valley Fair for the iPad launch.Woz signed my iPhone

I emailed him before camping out at Valley Fair for the iPad launch (sixth in the door, behind Steve Wozniak). I was so excited about it, and I wanted him to know how excited I was. I told him about going to the Star Trek Experience and how all the tablets ever envisioned for Star Trek look like crap compared to the iPad.

I emailed him to tell him that I had to choose between being in the same room as Steve Jobs or a naked woman, and chose the woman, because I thought that’s what he would do. I wanted to let him know that bmf@apple.com was a pirate. I hoped that would make him smile.
Mike Lee's Apple Badge
I emailed Steve for the last time before leaving Apple and Silicon Valley behind to ask a question: when I was a kid and I thought of the future, it wasn’t as good as my life is now, so what am I meant to think of now when I think of the future?

Like the other late night missives, Steve never responded, which made me realize the answer was obvious: the future is ours to invent.

Thanks, Steve.

Refuting the Daughter Law

By Mike / On / In Personal

I’m a big fan of Freakonomics, but the latest entry on their blog is just silly. It’s like someone noticed a deadline looming and spat an idea onto the page without giving it a second thought.

The essay is about the U.S. government’s recent crackdown on online poker rooms, which rubs the author the wrong way. This leads him to muse on the nature of his reaction, coming up with a “daughter law” which goes like this: if you wouldn’t want your daughter doing something, the government should probably make it illegal. Conversely, if the government unduly limits your daughter’s choices, that’s bad law.

The essay gives several examples, which boil down to this: you wouldn’t want your daughter to be a prostitute, so that’s out, but you’d want her to have access to a safe, legal abortion, so that’s in. You don’t want your daughter to be a drug addict, so that’s out, but you don’t mind her being a poker champion, so that’s in.

Those decisions really seem bound to the way you phrase the question. I would want my daughter to have a safe way to deal with menstrual pain, so I want pot to be legal. That’s easy. What about hard drugs? I don’t want my daughter to be a drug addict, but if, heaven forbid, she became a drug addict, I would want to know her supply was safe, and that her downward spiral would lead to treatment and not prison. So in that sense, I want all drugs to be legal.

On the other hand, I don’t want to have my daughter spend her study time and tuition money playing online poker. I definitely don’t want her flunking out of school while racking up a huge debt to some overseas crime syndicate, who might force her to pay it off with her body. So, clearly online gambling should be illegal.

If that did happen, though, and your daughter did become a prostitute, wouldn’t you want that to also be safe and legal? On the other hand, you definitely don’t want her to become a traffic fatality, so we should probably talk about banning cars. You also want her to have clean air to breathe, which brings us back to banning cars.

Of course, that’s crazy, because it would impact a lot of people who are not your daughter. That’s why law is not based on what’s right for your daughter so much as what’s right for everyone. We call that idea the categorical imperative, which is what the daughter test is a wrongheaded version of.

I expect a lot of back-pedalling in the promised follow-up.