Happy 2013! a.k.a the End of 2012 Steve Jobs News Roundup

Dear reader,

The new year starts as it should, with the continuation of one of my worst habits: the posting of news roundups that gather the equivalent of what should have been five or six separate, timely posts. Still, I will write such an article, because it does contain some interesting trivia that you might have missed.

 

Let’s start with the one-year anniversary of Steve’s passing. Although I did post on that sad day, it was only later that I found out the following anecdote: The favicon was at half mast during the anniversary of Steve Jobs’ death (from a great site, Little Big Details, which I recommend you check out).

Apple's favicon at half mast

That’s right, on October 11 2012, the favicon of apple.com was “flying at half mast”. Nice touch, and a reminder that the company continues to care about the smallest details (and to delight you when you happen to notice them). Of course, this was only the icing on the cake, and what a cake.

 

Another piece of news came from Steve Jobs’s “other” company, Pixar. The Disney-owned animation studios had the graciousness to name the newest addition to their campus “The Steve Jobs Building”. The building has a modernist look which SJ would probably not have disapproved of — it’s even possible he was involved in its design, like the rest of the campus, but this is speculation on my part (Source: Pixar Times).

 

PixarSJB

The Steve Jobs Building at Pixar in Emeryville

 

The day before the anniversary of Steve Jobs’s death came another piece of news that might be of interest to the “Steve Jobs community”: Chris-Ann Brennan, Steve’s high school girlfriend and the mother of Lisa, will be publishing a “memoir”, according to the NY Times blog. I wonder about its quality and content, since Chris-Ann has been known to be unstable and eccentric (this was confirmed in the Isaacson bio). It looks a lot like a get-rich-quick plan, but I won’t make hasty conclusions before I’ve read the book. While waiting for the book, you can still read the article she published in Rolling Stone’s commemorative issue after Steve’s passing: Jobs at 17: Nerd, Poet, Romantic (cached version, the actual article starts about 80% of the way).

This confirms the theory I have long held that Steve’s death would be followed by people untying their tongue, now that their fear of him (encouraged by the occasional threats) is gone. So far it has been mostly the usual suspects talking to the press or writing, but I do see a trend of former colleagues who begin to open up, too. Avie Tevanian in BBC’s documentary, or Tony Fadell, are two examples.

 

Chris Ann Brennan

My only confirmed picture of Chris Ann Brennan, from Facebook

I sincerely hope the trend continues, and that one day those who worked really closely with Steve start to speak up. Can you imagine a book about NeXT by former NeXTers, for example? I would be thrilled to see that happen. It would perhaps compensate for the usually negative image of Steve Jobs as a man, relayed by the people who had broken all ties with him and thus did not feel bound to respect him. Not to mention the shallowness of the Isaacson bio.

  

As far as pictures go, I’ve dug up a few interesting ones in these last weeks of 2012. Starting with this gallery of Apple I photos from Time Magazine’s Harry McCracken. ‘Wait’, you might say, ‘but I know plenty of pictures of the Apple I!’ And you’d be right, dear reader, but these are special. They come from Paul Terrell’s private collection. If that name rings a bell, it means you’ve done your homework: he was the owner of the BYTE SHOP, the electronics store (I daren’t say computer store) which was Apple Computer’s first client, back in 1976, before the garage — it was actually the order of 100 computers from Terrell which made the garage necessary, and made dollar signs flash in front of young-and-not-so-hippie-anymore Steve Jobs’s eyes.

The Byte shop

The first picture of the Byte Shop I ever saw, from the TIME gallery
(notice the groovy typeface for the logo) 

 

I will soon add those Apple I pictures to the site, along with a few I already added, from a few years later:

New pics of Steve Jobs

 

This batch of (too small) pics came from Vectronic’s Apple World (a treasure trove for old advertisement of the fruit company). They show Steve around 1980-81, when he was 25, a.k.a. The Moustache Years. The top left is from a series we’ve seen before, where he is riding his BMW motorcycle. All others are news to me: the top middle and right show him at a “PR agency” (perhaps McKenna’s, where he met his then-girlfriend Barbara Jasinski?) The bottom left and middle ones are probably in his ski destination of choice, Aspen. And the last one, the only large one, is obviously at a school. I will add more very interesting pictures of young Steve soon, so stay tuned!

 

In echo of my previous post, there was also some more talk of Steve’s famed yacht, Venus, in the last days of December. The talk was really not that interesting, and Philipp Elmer-Dewitt made a great short summary of it (as he does) on his blog: Steve Jobs’ yacht: The anatomy of a news cycle. Basically, French designer Starck was paid a percentage of the cost of the yacht. But the boat ended up costing less than planned (which is noteworthy), and so Starck was paid less than he expected — €3 million short (€6m instead of €9m). Apparently, Laurene quickly settled the case with him and the yacht, which had been temporarily seized by the Dutch authorities, was released a few days later. Big deal.

PED’s analysis is interesting in that it stresses how such small events become hugely inflated by the blogosphere and even mainstream media, just because they give an excuse to have ‘Steve Jobs’ in the headline and attract click$. This is something I have observed as well, and it sometimes really becomes ludicrous. The article on Examiner.com Psychic makes contact with Steve Jobs, says things not well in afterlife certainly takes the palm in that category.

I can hear your voice – “But that’s not all! He forgot about the movie! … I mean, the movies!” No, dear reader, I will speak of those movies. But they deserve their own post, and it will come very soon.

Although the blog has been quiet lately, I have been paying close attention to all things Steve Jobs all along, and even updated the site silently. Just last week, I added 22 new anecdotes and 2 new quotes to my growing collection. Rest assured that this will continue: as I’ve written before, I have some great content coming up soon.

 

Oh, I almost forgot… Happy new year! 🙂

Steve Jobs’s yacht, Venus, now launched

“There’s no yacht in my future,” Steve Jobs declared to NY Times journalist John Markoff in November 1995, to illustrate his goal in life was not to make money. Had he not died last year, this phrase would be filed among the many contradictory statements Jobs made throughout his life —because two weeks ago, the yacht he spent the last years of his life designing finally launched. I just added a dedicated page about this boat under Steve’s Places (where it best fits, with the private jet).

We first heard about the Jobs yacht last year, when the Isaacson biography was published. It remained a mystery to me since then, especially because of my particular interest in ship design (albeit bigger ones) —but I somehow didn’t expect it to ever be revealed. I thought it would remain in the private sphere of the Jobs family, if it was finished at all. But the resolve of Laurene Powell-Jobs and the voyeurism of today’s media got the better of me, as the yacht (Hull #684) was launched very publicly on October 28 2012. The Feadship shipyard, where the boat was built, even released a note about it on their website (without mentioning the owner’s identity, though; but the rows of iMacs in the bridge leave little doubt about that).

Feadship Press release

The press release on Feadship’s website

The Venus —as she is named, after the Roman goddess born from the foam of Uranus’s genitals dropped into the sea (Wikipedia confirms)— is indeed very Jobsian in her aesthetics. The very clear-cut lines of her hull, the minimalist superstructure with its right angles and floor to ceiling windows, the lack of any visible mooring or radio equipment… all make for a surprising design that evokes more a floating modernist house than your typical billionaire yacht. Compare and contrast, for example, with Larry Ellison’s latest yacht, Musashi, which is way more traditional —and whose design Jobs supposedly hated (according to Isaacson) which inspired him to create his own, perfect ship.

The Jobses on a yacht

The Jobses on a cruise in the Corinth Canal, circa 2006

Isaacson writes:

Before his liver transplant, he and his family used to rent a boat for vacations, traveling to Mexico, the South Pacific, or the Mediterranean. On many of these cruises, Jobs got bored or began to hate the design of the boat, so they would cut the trip short and fly to Kona Village. But sometimes the cruise worked well. “The best vacation I’ve ever been on was when we went down the coast of Italy, then to Athens—which is a pit, but the Parthenon is mind-blowing—and then to Ephesus in Turkey, where they have these ancient public lavatories in marble with a place in the middle for musicians to serenade.” […]

After the joy of that cruise, Jobs had amused himself by beginning to design, and then repeatedly redesigning, a boat he said he wanted to build someday. When he got sick again in 2009, he almost canceled the project. “I didn’t think I would be alive when it got done,” he recalled. “But that made me so sad, and I decided that working on the design was fun to do, and maybe I have a shot at being alive when it’s done. If I stop work on the boat and then I make it alive for another two years, I would be really pissed. So I’ve kept going.”

After our omelets at the café, we went back to his house and he showed me all of the models and architectural drawings. As expected, the planned yacht was sleek and minimalist. The teak decks were perfectly flat and unblemished by any accoutrements. As at an Apple store, the cabin windows were large panes, almost floor to ceiling, and the main living area was designed to have walls of glass that were forty feet long and ten feet high. He had gotten the chief engineer of the Apple stores to design a special glass that was able to provide structural support.

By then the boat was under construction by the Dutch custom yacht builders Feadship, but Jobs was still fiddling with the design. “I know that it’s possible I will die and leave Laurene with a half-built boat,” he said. “But I have to keep going on it. If I don’t, it’s an admission that I’m about to die.”

The scenes described by Isaacson lets my imagination run wild. Can you imagine being shown models and drawings of the yacht of Steve Jobs’s dreams… by the man himself? It reminds me of the famed models of a hypothetical modern house for Woodside, dating back from the late 1980s, but which never materialized. It seems that the prospect of a nearing death must have pushed the Apple CEO to stop refining (some would say procrastinating) and actually turn his plans into reality. I find it interesting that he chose to spend the limited time he had on the yacht (and the Apple Spaceship) rather than his family home. Perhaps it is because of the greater liberty and challenge that is peculiar to naval architecture; a ship is its own universe, it must be self-sufficient when on water. Not so with a house. Or perhaps it was only because he could see the Woodside teardown taking too long to happen, who knows.

This first, exciting yet mysterious reveal was in October 2011, just two weeks after Steve’s passing. But another one came some six months later, when my fellow countryman designer Philippe Starck announced in a radio interview he was working on a “revolutionary” project with Apple that would come out “in eight months”. I assumed he was drunk or suicidal —the former option was probably the most likely, because after Apple denied his claims, he admitted he was in fact working on a personal project with the Jobs family: “I’ve come to visit him once a month for seven years in Palo Alto, and I’m actually going there next Monday, because now that he’s dead, I’m working with his wife. We enjoyed exchanging about interesting things” (translated from the French by yours truly).

Philippe Starck

French designer Philippe Starck who partook in the Venus design

The anecdote aside, I thought it was another Jobsian move to use the services of Starck. This is because I’ve come to believe the theory laid out by Alan Deutschman in The Second Coming of Steve Jobs, according to which Jobs was insecure about his taste in his personal life (not so much in his work, obviously) and liked to take advice from renown taste makers to shape his own. It’s possible he couldn’t decide when you know he spent the better part of his youth living in empty houses. And it’s also true that he used world-famous architect I. M. Pei’s services to design not only the staircase of the NeXT offices, but also the remodeling of his Manhattan apartment (not that he ever lived there) and supposedly some early projects for Woodside, too. That he would call on Starck for the design of his yacht fits well within this trend.

The last Jobsian touch was actually from the Jobs family —maybe Steve had planned, or maybe Laurene did something she thought he would have done. They sent a thank you note to all the workers of the Feadship yard stating “Thank you for your hard work and craftsmanship – from the Jobs family” with a stylized silhouette of the Venus at the bottom. (The note came with an iPod shuffle which, to be honest, did remind me of one of the earliest Fake Steve Jobs pieces…)

Cadeau

And so it is one year after her reveal, and apparently eight years since her inception, that the Venus starts sailing the seven seas. I really wonder what she will be used for. Will the Jobses actually use it and sail across the globe? Or did Laurene insist on finishing one his husband’s late projects? This might stay secret as it is part of the Jobses private life. But my appetite for more details is really not about that. Indeed, many more questions have sprung in my mind from these first photos of the yacht: what is it like inside? Where and how is the equipment hidden? How does the superstructure hold? How are the navigation computer systems designed? What’s the engine room look like? (I imagine it’s neat knowing Steve’s love for machines)… The mystery of Steve Jobs goes on.