The Apple of his eye

“In a desert land he found him, in a barren and howling waste. He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye” ~ Deuteronomy 32:10 .

Steve Jobs was “the apple of many an eye” for many who were initiated into his unique world of gadgets. I was one of them in the early 80’s who tasted a bit of that green Apple and still have nostalgic memories. My first “real” computer in the early 1980 was an Apple IIe, a machine that still has the reputation of being the longest lived computer – for 11 years – in Apple’s history.

Here is how I spontaneously recall my association with Apple with a sense of chewing the cud as I mourn the passing away of Steve Jobs – the legendary maverick and co-founder of Apple.

The early 1980s saw the Sinclair’s ZX80, ZX81 and the ZX Spectrum which were “home computers” with a cassette tape as the media and Sinclair Basic as the operating system. I acquired these at different times in a span of a couple of years when I was visiting London and took my early BASIC Lessons with help from my younger brother who in return got to dabble with “my machine”. This was indeed a good distraction for someone who was otherwise in a different world of computing at a Big Eight Firm then – Arthur Young. Hooked to a UHF TV, the video output was monochrome for the ZX 80 series and the Spectrum that came in 1983 had color capabilities. But the media was still a serial access through a cassette tape that made eerie and creepy noise as if someone from outer space was sending some weird message ! The Commodore 64, Atari, Amstrad and such machines were not any better than Spectrum. Soon I got tired with these machines with which you could do nothing but silly things.

But in those days many of us who were fascinated by the power of big American cars and gas guzzlers – Chevy Impala, Caprice Classic, Buick LeSabre, the Cadillac and all those V8 engines, we did not know what could be the power of speed in computing and were a very patient lot when we waited for those programs to load and deliver results. The IBM Mainframe were out of bounds for us accountants except those “techies” who could write programs and so were approached for running some CAATs ( Computer Aided Audit Techniques !!) for us or running some Report Writers (Easytrieve) to extract customised information from huge databases. One had to wait for days to get those reports sometimes to discover that the reports were inadequate because we did not have access to the structure of the file.

Then came Apple with its Apple II series that gave people the power of computing. The speed was comparatively amazing. It was an expensive desktop machine then. I finally bought the Apple IIe with two 5.25” disk drives from a shop in Twickenham near London because my friend and colleague John Rowland had by then bought this machine from this shop and was flaunting it – I think the shop was called Simmons & Maggie where I later went a number of times to buy more machines for my friends who were all being initiated into the world of computing ! In 1983 I paid some 800 Pounds including for a 80 Column Epson Printer. I would take the long train journey from London to this shop in Twickenham because those days I did not trust the fellows on Tottenham Court Road! Apple was a real and rugged machine. With a 40 Column display, it had a 6502 processor and its own operating system – the Apple DOS 3.3 and later the ProDOS. The documentations were good. Visicalc was the first really useful program on the Apple. This first electronic spreadsheet was far superior and no where anywhere near to the 7 column & 14 column ruled paper sheets that we were using in our profession then with an abundant supply of pencils and erasers. Visicalc was amazing and truly brought the power of Apple as a tool for business. Of course the later ones like Lotus 123 and Microsoft Excel were far superior. Then came a stunning word processing software called FORMAT-80 (from the UK) which would work on a 80 Column Display monitor which Apple did not have. Apple had a number of expansion slots. During a trip to Hong Kong, I got a glimpse of many cards that can fill all the empty slots in the Apple Machine. So I bought the 80 Column card so that I can use FORMAT-80 and get more columns and rows visible for the Visicalc, a CP/M Card and a Speech Synthesizer. Those were exotic possessions in those days. Programs written for CP/M were typically portable between different machines. So many other programs like Word Star, Word Perfect and dBase could be run on the Apple Machine with a CP/M Card. Then Apple came with its own Office Suite Application called AppleWorks – an integrated Word Processor, Spreadsheet and a Database. It was a cumbersome program and one always preferred to use standalone applications like Format-80, Visicalc and bDase II. So much water has flowed under the bridge and one still recall these with fond memories.

The later versions like the Apple IIc, Apple III, Apple Lisa, and especially Apple Macintosh were expensive machines. Macintosh which was both Steve’s glory and doom had become famous then through a dramatic television commercial that sneered at IBM which by then had realised the power of coming down to earth and deal with real people. So I stuck to the Apple IIe for a long time even after I returned to India where Shiva PCs launched by C. Sivasankaran were selling for Rs.29,000/- The Indian customs in those days were levying hefty import duties on computers but had a clause somewhere in a notification that exempted “professionals”. My Apple Machine was by then a great showpiece and I did a few orientation and demystification workshops for senior leadership teams, all using my Apple IIe and a suite of exciting applications. I soon switched to MS-DOS and PC DOS machines – when in Rome be a Roman. Apple machines were very rare in India in those days. Only in 1994, HCL delivered India’s first Pentium machines. And only in 1995, Apple Computer set up a fully owned subsidiary in India. Steve Jobs was not in Apple at that time.

Steve told Stanford Students after he was ousted from Apple in 1985 “I didn’t see it then, but getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me”. That forced him to learn new skills. In the 12 years that Steve Jobs was struggling to build his new venture NeXT, Apple Computers was by now floundering and had sacked 3 CEOs. As if by a conspiracy of happy accidents, Apple bought NeXT for US$400 Million and Steve Jobs came back to re-build the company. The pinnacle of Apple and Steve Job’s success came through the iPod music player in 2001, the Web-enabled iPhone in 2007 and the iPad in 2010. The ‘I” factor in all the Apple products after Steve came back to Apple is perhaps a subtle inference that one can mischievously deduce as a manifestation of his tough managerial style and his level of micromanagement. Alan Deutschman, in his book The Second Coming of Steve Jobs, suggests that Steve was both feared and all-pervading as if to jolt the company back to health. “It was as though everyone in the company reported to Steve himself.” he wrote. “People worried about getting trapped with him in an elevator for a few seconds, afraid they might not have a job when the doors opened.” I suppose you cannot make omelette without breaking some eggs.

Steve Job’s passing away set many thinking. Not only his transforming computers and cultures but the way he dealt with another frontier – death. Like millions of people around the world who are awed by what Steve Jobs did, I’m also one among them with a brand loyalty that has stood the test of tiime for 30 long years. People are somehow connected to the Apple in a way that is difficult to describe. Most of my artist friends – writers, designers and musicians – swear by the Apple. In the music industry I saw it’s amazing use in the Purple Studio in Bandra, Mumbai when I was with my friend Loy and Ehsaan ( Shankar Ehsaan Loy) while they were composing music for songs that I had written. I have closely followed Steve’s entrepreneurial life through his books and through his amazing products and a host of writings about him. But I was not fortunate to meet him.

Steve’s passing away at a young age of 56 has brought a sense of void. Look at the number of people mourning his death. It certainly can rekindle a sense of urgency in some people’s life. Just ponder over at what he said way back in 2005 at the Stanford University. “When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: ‘If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.’ It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today? Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It is life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.”. Jobs it seems knew of his pancreatic cancer in October 2003

I leave you with some of his pearls of wisdom. He surely was no ordinary man.

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart. … Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”

V V Ranganathan is the Chairman at Compassites. A successful finance professional, he was on the supervisory board of Ernst & Young. Mr. Ranganathan was the Country Leader for Strategic Growth Markets & Country Head for Quality & Risk Management of the firm. He co-founded the “Entrepreneur of The Year” award and was on the founding team of the “World Entrepreneur of The Year” at Monte Carlo. He also is a director on the board of Rural Shores and a trustee and member of the governing board of Bharti Foundation.

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