Confessions of a Steve Jobs Fanboy

This is a cross-post from James Altucher‘s blog Altucher Confidential. His previous appearances on the Freakonomics blog can be found here.

Photo: segagman

I saw the news this morning when I looked at my iPad. Whenever I wake up, the first thing I do, before even going to the bathroom, is turn on the iPad and check the news. My heart sank when I saw the headline: Steve Jobs, dead at 56.

From my first Apple product (an Apple II+), to doing all my homework in college on the first Macintosh, to reading this news on my iPad, to typing this sentence on my Macbook Air, so much of my life has been influenced and changed by this man. Very sad day. My question for readers (please answer in the comments section) is: what was your first Apple product?

And now, here’s an essay I’ve written about Jobs:

I was standing right next to Steve Jobs in 1989, and felt completely inadequate. The guy was incredibly wealthy, good-looking: a nerd super-rockstar who had just convinced my school to buy a bunch of NeXT computers, which were in fact the best machines to program on at the time. I wanted to be him, badly. In fact, I’d wanted to be Steve jobs ever since I had the Apple II+ as a kid; ever since I shoplifted Ultima II, Castle Wolfenstein, and half a dozen other games that my friends and I would then rip from each other and pretend to be sick so we could stay home and play all day.

I don’t care about Apple stock. Though I do think it will be the first trillion-dollar company. Or about Jobs’ business successes and failures. That’s boring. The only thing that matters to me is how Steve Jobs became the greatest artist that ever lived. You only get to be an artist like that by turning everything in your life upside down, by making horrible, ugly mistakes, by doing things so differently that people will never be able to figure you out; by failing, cheating, lying, having everyone hate you, and coming out the other side with more wisdom than the rest. That’s how Steve Jobs did it.

So, 10 Unusual Things You May Not Know About Steve Jobs.

1)      Nature vs. Nurture. Jobs’ sister is the novelist Mona Simpson, but he didn’t know it until he was an adult. Her first novel, Anywhere but Here, was about her relationship with her parents. Which, ironically, were Steve Jobs’ parents too. But since Jobs was adopted (see below) they didn’t know they were brother-sister until the ’90s when he tracked her down. It’s proof (to an extent) of the nature vs. nurture argument. Two kids, without knowing they were brother and sister, both having a unique sensibility of life to become successful artists in completely different ways. And, to me it was great that I was a fan of both without realizing they were related.

2)      His father’s name is Abdulfattah Jandali. If you had to ask me what Steve Job’s father’s name was, I never would’ve guessed that Steve Jobs was biologically half Syrian Muslim. For some reason I thought he was Jewish. Maybe it’s because I wanted to be him, so I projected my own background onto him. His parents were two graduate students who weren’t sure if they were ready for a kid, and so put him up for adoption; and then a few years later had another kid, Mona.

The one requirement his biological parents had was that he be adopted by two college educated people. But the couple that adopted him lied at first and turned out not to be college educated. The adoption almost fell through until they promised to send Steve to college. A promise they couldn’t keep (see below). Despite layers of lies and broken promises, it all worked out in the end. People can save a lot of hassle by not having such high expectations and overly ambitious worries in the first place.

3)      He helped make the game Breakout. If there was one thing I loved almost as much as the games on the Apple II+ it was playing Breakout on my first-generation Atari. This obsession lasted through playing the game on every version of my Blackberry since 2000. If Steve Jobs had never done anything else, and I’d met him and he said, “I’m the guy who made Breakout,” I would’ve said, “You are the greatest genius of the past 100 years!” Funny how things turn out. Jobs went on from Atari to form Apple. Nolan Bushnell, founder of Atari, went on to form the greatest restaurant chain in the history of mankind: Chuck E. Cheese. That’s right.

4)      He denied paternity on his first child, claiming he was sterile. The mother had to initially raise the kid using welfare checks. I have no judgment on this. Raising kids is hard. And when you have a kid you feel like this enormous energy and creativity you have for the world is going to get misdirected into a … little baby (Jobs’ parents must’ve felt that way as well. Like father, like son). But people change, mature, grow up. Eventually Jobs became a good father. And that’s what counts in the end. Much worse if it was the reverse. I didn’t know this either: that the Lisa computer (the “Apple III”) was named after this first child.

5)      He was a pescetarian. In other words, Jobs ate fish but no other meat. And he ate anything else a vegetarian ate (including eggs and dairy). Turns out if you compare pescetarians with regular meat-eaters, according to Livingreenonthedot, they have a 34% lower chance of dying of heart disease. And if you compare vegetarians with meat eaters, they only have a 20% lower chance of dying of heart disease. I think from now on I’m going to be a pescetarian, just because Steve Jobs was one.

6)      He didn’t give money to charity. And when he became Apple’s CEO, he stopped all of their philanthropic programs. He wanted to wait until they were profitable. Now, they are profitable, and sitting on $76 billion in cash, and still no corporate philanthropy. Nor a dividend. I actually think Jobs was probably one the most charitable guys on the planet. Rather than focus on which mosquitoes to kill in Africa (Bill Gates is already focusing on that), Jobs put his energy into massively improving quality of life with all of his inventions. People think that entrepreneurs have to some day “give back.” I disagree. They already gave at the office. Look at the entire iPod/Mac/iPhone/Pixar ecosystem and ask how many lives have benefited directly (because they’ve been hired) or indirectly (because they use the products to improve their life). As far as I know, Jobs never commented on his thoughts on charity. Good for him. As one CEO of a (currently) Fortune 10 company once told me when I had my hand out for a charitable website, “Screw charity!”

7)      He lied to Steve Wozniak. When they made Breakout for Atari, Wozniak and Jobs were going to split the pay 50-50. Atari gave Jobs $5000 to do the job. He told Wozniak he got $700 so Wozniak took home $350. Again, no judgment. Young people do selfish things. Show me someone who says he’s been honest from the day he was born and I’ll show you a liar. It’s by making mistakes, having fights, finding out where your real boundaries in life are, that allow you to truly know where the boundaries are.

8)      He was a Zen Buddhist. He even thought about joining a monastery and becoming a monk. His guru, a Zen monk, married him and his wife. When I was going through some of my hardest times, my only relief was sitting with a Zen group. Trying to quiet the mind to deal with the onrush of non-stop pain that was trying to invade there. The interesting thing about Jobs being a a Zen Buddhist is that most people would think that serious Buddhism and being one of the wealthiest people in the world come into conflict with each other. Isn’t Buddhism about non-attachment? Didn’t Buddha himself leave his riches and family behind?

It’s normal to pursue passions and outcomes, but just not to become overly attached to those outcomes. Being happy regardless of the outcome. A great story is the Zen master and his student walking by a river. A prostitute was there and needed to be carried over the river. The Zen master picked her up and carried her across the river and then put her down. Then the master and student kept walking. A few hours later the student was so agitated he finally had to ask, “Master, how could you touch and help that prostitute! That’s against what we believe in!” And the master said, “I left her by the river. Why are you still carrying her?”

9)      He didn’t go to college. I actually didn’t know this initially. Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg are the famous college dropouts that I knew about. But apparently Steve Jobs went to Reed College for one semester and then dropped out. I guess you don’t need college to be successful. But you probably already know how I feel about that.

10)   Psychedelics. Steve Jobs used LSD at least once when he was younger. In fact, he said about the experience, it was “one of the two or three most important things I have done in my life.” Apple’s slogan for many years was “Think Different.” Maybe using a drug which tore him from the normal frame of reference taught him how to look at problems from such a unique perspective. I don’t think LSD is for everyone, but when you combine it with the innate genius the man had, plus the many ups and downs that he experienced, plus the Zen Buddhism and all of the other things above, it’s quite possible that it aided his thinking process, and contributed to the many inventions he was able to produce.

Steve Jobs’ story is filled with nuance and ambiguity. People study him by looking at his straightforward business successes. Yes, he started Apple in a garage. Yes, he started Pixar and almost went broke with it. Yes, he started and sold NeXT and was fired as CEO of Apple. But none of that will ever explain the man behind the genius. None of that will explain all the products he invented that we use today. None of that will tell us about the iPad, Toy Story, the Mac Air, etc. A man’s successes can be truly understood only if we can count his tears.

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  1. Ryan says:

    To paraphrase Public Enemy: ‘Steve Jobs was a hero to most. But he never meant s**t to me.’

    This is a man who took the world’s greatest underdog story and turned into into a nightmare:

    Apple’s mobile software and hardware strategy has seriously harmed the very idea of openness in technology and in internet application development.
    Apple is currently involved in lawsuits over 250,000+ thousand patents in the US and EU.
    Apple is sitting on $85 Billion dollars in CASH, that could have been used to pay their employees better both engineers at home and factory workers abroad.
    Apple could have let the App Developers who make the Apps that make their devices popular keep a larger and fairer share of the profits of their own labor and creativity.
    Apple could have sold their products at a lower price, giving more people access to technology.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 52 Thumb down 53
    • JumboJigga78 says:

      Free market.

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 34 Thumb down 5
    • Tim says:

      How angry you are.

      How have they hurt openness? HTML 5 is supported on all devices. There are options outside the App Store. Also, I LOVE having a device that I don’t have to worry about viruses and related performance issues due to the App Stores screening process. I can download a program without worrying if it’s going to ruin my device or steal my information or expire after 3 days and ask for money, while simultaneously intentionally making itself difficult to uninstall. This is one of the main reasons I love my iPhone.

      I agree that the current patent system stinks. Write to your legislators.

      Apple operates as every publicly traded company does, just more successfully. They’ve successfully used their cash horde to lock down prices and availability of key components for their devices. As a stock holder, I’m thrilled by this. Keep your dividend.

      What market was there for independent App developers before the App Store? How successful were they? Apple stores and distributes their apps for them – and offers an immense audience. Looking at the number of Apps developed for the iOS system, I think a 30% cut for Apple is quite fair. Study after study has shown that developing for the iOS platform is more profitable than the other options out there – even after the 30% cut. Sounds like a win-win.

      Again, Apple is acting the same as any publicly traded company. This is an indictment against Steve Jobs?

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 18 Thumb down 5
      • Ryan says:

        If Bill Gates had asked for a 30% cut of every Windows desktop application’s sales, the tech industry, nevermind the government, would have put his head on a pike. Ditto if Bill Gates had been able to personally dicate which programs can and cannot run on a Windows PC. It’s only because iPhone is such a luxury device that no one seems to care about the disastrous implications of the App Store paradigm.

        Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 30 Thumb down 12
      • KenC says:

        You don’t really understand the concept of a retail store do you? In Apple’s Store, retail or online, everyone agrees it can charge for that privilege. It’s the retailer. You don’t expect the Window’s Store to sell boxed software for no margin, do you?

        Apple does not limit what software can run on a Mac. It can even run all of your Windows apps.

        Tell me when your Xbox 360 can run apps from the PS3, before you give me your “disastrous implications”.

        Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 4
      • Ryan says:

        Not talking about Macs. Macs are brilliant consumer computers, honestly. I’m talking about the iPhone App Store paradigm, where no competing store is allowed for iOS. Steve Jobs did nothing but brilliant work with the Mac, but the way they’ve treated the mobile market is nothing short of Orwellian.

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      • Neil (SM) says:

        I’m not saying I agree with disastrous implications, but you missed the point — it’s about the iPhone & iPad, not the Mac. There’s a huge difference. Some third-party company could create an XBox 360 game and distribute it themselves on a DVD if they wanted to.

        Someone who creates iPhone and iPod Apps has to distribute via the Apple App Store and must get it approved. Any other form of distribution is possible but requires users to modify their devices (and lose support, warranty, etc). This has both benefits and drawbacks.

        As a repeat iPhone owner this is only a minor annoyance to me. Folks who simply can’t stand it can — and do — buy Android phones much for that reason. Which is why I don’t agree about the “disastrous implications.” Another company found a market for users who want more of those freedoms.

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      • August says:

        Bill got to ask (demand rather) what he wanted because the product speaks for itself, and is head and shoulders above Microsoft. Does anyone complain about the price of a Mercedes over a Kia? No.

        Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1
    • KenC says:


      You wrote, “Apple’s mobile software and hardware strategy has seriously harmed the very idea of openness in technology and in internet application development.”

      You do realize that virtually all mobile devices use WebKit? Android does, Adobe AIR does, Symbian S60 does, Kindle Fire’s Silk does, etc., etc., etc. And, yes, WebKit was made and supported by Apple, and is free to use by the Open Source community, and virtually everyone uses it. Also, Apple was one of the earliest and loudest proponents of HTML5. Strangely, a company you probably like, Google, still supports proprietary solutions by Adobe.

      As for lawsuits, every large company is involved in numerous lawsuits in the US and EU.

      You wrote, “Apple is sitting on $85 Billion dollars in CASH, that could have been used to pay their employees better both engineers at home and factory workers abroad.” All the large tech companies are sitting on lots of cash. Apple pays its engineers extremely well. Do you see any Apple engineers protesting? As for Apple’s factor workers abroad, they don’t have any. They do hire contract companies like Foxconn to make their products and Foxconn pays its workers extremely well, compared to comparable companies in China. Workers at other Chinese companies, have protested their low pay relative to Foxconn.

      You wrote, “Apple could have let the App Developers who make the Apps that make their devices popular keep a larger and fairer share of the profits of their own labor and creativity.” Do you see any app developers complaining? Before Apple’s AppStore, the split between store and developer was worse. Apple raised the bar, and do you see any of the companies you prefer offering better splits? Have any of them paid $3,000,000,000.00+ to its developers?

      You wrote, “Apple could have sold their products at a lower price, giving more people access to technology.” Ah, you’ve got a point that I agree with, but you know what? Apple is already supply constrained. It can’t make products fast enough to meet demand as it is, lowering the price will only increase complaints by people whining that they have to wait.

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 5
      • Ryan says:

        “You wrote, “Apple could have let the App Developers who make the Apps that make their devices popular keep a larger and fairer share of the profits of their own labor and creativity.” Do you see any app developers complaining? Before Apple’s AppStore, the split between store and developer was worse. Apple raised the bar, and do you see any of the companies you prefer offering better splits? Have any of them paid $3,000,000,000.00+ to its developers?”

        Plenty of developers complain about the App Store all the time. The fact that Apple doesn’t allow a competing App Store on their products or even a competing signing authority to sign code for free Apps is absolutely ridiculous and would never be allowed in any other market other than the ‘luxury’ handheld market. Economists should be all over this, consumer choice is at the heart of Economics and Apple gives neither the developer nor the consumer any, besides not buying an iOS device in the first place. As the Smartphone becomes people’s primary computing platform over the next decade, locking people into a single store for the platform is almost akin to Communism in economic terms.

        Thumb up 3 Thumb down 6
      • pawnman says:

        There are plenty of app developers who have complained, including Pulitzer-prize winning cartoonist Mark Fiore.

        Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
    • Doug M says:

      What are you whining about?

      Apple offers the iPhone on a closed platform. There is nothing “Orwellian” about it. As a private company, this is their choice. They’ve done pretty damn well with this business model.

      As a consumer, you do not have to buy the iPhone. Google is doing very well with the Android, an open platform. Buy an HTC if you want to support the open platform “paradigm.”

      Or, there is some genius teenager (can’t remember his name, google it) that brilliantly reverse engineers and opens up the iPhone platform. Use his iPhone jailbreak if you’d like.

      It seems to me you should channel all the negative energy towards Apple in a different direction. You could buy an HTC or one of the other brilliant Google phones, or spend some time jailbreaking your iPhone.

      Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1
  2. cs says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

    Disliked! Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 12
  3. Erik says:

    That’s right, he MASSIVELY improved quality of life by making consumer electronics cooler and easier to use for the 5% of the world that owns them, and he did it out of the goodness of his heart and expected nothing in return. Except a few billion dollars.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 48 Thumb down 7
  4. Viv says:

    This article was going fine until the completely unnecessary, ungrateful, privileged, and ignorant dig at Bill Gates. Oh, he is the world’s single largest philanthropist and dedicates his life to improving impoverished nations and providing aid to billions of people? How uncool and lame! Absolutely ridiculous and offensive.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 72 Thumb down 4
  5. Brennan says:

    You don’t have to give money to charity, but I think everyone should play their part on donating something of value to charity, whether it be time, clothes, food, or money.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 22 Thumb down 3
  6. anon. says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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  7. jonathan says:

    All people are flawed. I have never understood the fascination with origins, though I see they are sometimes the easiest things to grasp and talk about. Lots of people share substantial aspects of Jobs’ life – or the lives of any great achiever or tremendous evil doer – and yet these people happen so rarely.

    It is difficult to describe the effect Jobs had and is having on the world.

    Rather than talk about Apple, think of Pixar. I saw Toy Story 3 with my daughter last year just before she went to college. The main human, Andy, is her age and at the end he goes to college too, but only after he passes his beloved toys to a young girl who will now use her imagination with them. It was deeply moving. John Lasseter, Brad Bird, Lee Unkrich, the entire structure of Pixar mirrors what Jobs did with Apple: emotional connection through technology that enables you to do and experience. Pixar might have died if Jobs had not bought it from George Lucas for $5M, if he had not funded it and empowered its creative people to make great films using fantastic technology.

    Technology connected to you through design and function.

    Steve has moved on but the toys live.

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2
  8. MJP says:

    About the charity point: I don’t think it’s right to call Jobs one of “the most charitable guys on the planet”. Comparing him with Bill Gates shows the difference: SJ may have been an icon in product development and design, but iPhones and iPads do not really count as “massively improving quality of life” for the world. These inventions touch the lives of very few people (yes, VERY FEW when compared to the world’s population). Of course, certain inventions can improve the world more than any charity, but the iPods are not the same as an AIDS vaccine or a cure for cancer.

    What Bill Gates has been doing on the other hand is really admirable. He spent the initial part of his life building a company that made great products, and now he is spending the fortune he earned doing that to improve the lives of hundreds of millions of people on a much more fundamental level. SJ may have built better products and gadgets than BG, but in my opinion, what BG has done in the past few years has proved that as a human being, BG >> SJ.

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    • anon. says:

      Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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      • another anon says:

        “giving away iPads to every african child”: really? That’s your idea of charity?

        Take a look at the range of activities Gates’ foundation is involved in.

        Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 0
      • pawnman says:

        I do know that if you are starving or dying of malaria, being able to play Angry Birds on your idevice is small comfort. Especially since you probably can’t afford said idevice, or the electricity to charge it, or the network access to download Angry Birds.

        I’m a big fan of corporations focusing solely on profits…I’m a big fan of the Milton Friedman school of thought. But don’t try to play off your corporation’s innovation in technology as “charity”. Certainly don’t ascribe it as charity because one of the richest men in the world does not give to charity because he is “innovative” and “improving lives through his products”.

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    • KenC says:

      Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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      • NF (@HandNF) says:

        Really? So Steve was the first person who started a foundation? The 80s was when charity wasn’t cool?

        I don’t care if Steve Jobs or Bill Gates gave anything to charity. They both made valuable contributions in the field of technology.

        Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1
      • pawnman says:

        How about ongoing commitment to your charity?

        Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0