Steve Jobs made technology cool

Steve Jobs passed away on Oct. 5 after a long battle with cancer. He hung in until the end, only stepping down as Apple's CEO over the summer while keeping a raft of other titles and responsibilities with the company. He was sicker than he ever admitted in public, which was sensible - even a rumour of illness was enough to trigger a mass sell-off or devaluation of Apple stock, as if he were the only person in the entire company who mattered.

In a way he was, though. Jobs was a large part of the reason Apple was successful. When he was there, it was good. When he left, Apple floundered. He understood better than anyone that commercial technology is nothing without design, the form factor that turns a computer or gadget from a mere "cool" to "I will wait in line for a week in order to be the first one of my friends to own one."

That will be what he's remembered for. Someone had to care about the details, about how things actually felt and worked, to make Apple's "user friendliness" the standard by which all other technologies would be judged. Computer programmers and designers, while talented, are a shockingly uncreative group - and fair enough, what they do is closer to math than it is to art (if math was about knowing the answer in advance and then rearranging the parts of the equation until the question fit). Jobs was the cipher, the visionary who stood between the technologists and the consumers and made it work. He is the genius behind the computer's graphical user interface, the all-in-one PC, the iPod, and a host of other innovations that literally changed the world.

There have been criticisms of Jobs. Some have accused him of stealing ideas over the years and giving them the "Apple" treatment, and there is some truth to this. However, I think it was more innocent than that - Jobs would see a poorly executed idea and figure out a way to make it both better and more useful.

And he wasn't perfect. He had a temper. He boasted. He made mistakes - like stubbornly sticking with his one-button mouse, his G5 chips and his decision to give AT&T exclusive rights to sell the iPhone (which let Google Android take over). For the record, he also thought the Segway scooter would be "bigger than the Internet."

The company has also had serious issues with making its own products and software obsolete, and for some reason Jobs and Apple completely missed the importance of gaming to computer users.

There was also a certain arrogance to everything that Apple did under Jobs that you either loved or hated. Other phones and laptops let you replace your batteries or upgrade hardware yourself, while Apple's portable devices are generally closed systems. Other hardware manufactures welcome third-party software producers, while Apple manages its app store like a tyrant.

Jobs did everything but say "Nyahhh!" to hackers while bragging about Apple's security, even though security experts said the only reason Mac's were safe was the fact that Apple represented too small a market for most hackers to bother with. A well-known hacker who makes a pile of money at a contest every year by compromising Macs in mere seconds described Apple OSX as a house in a good neighbourhood with the front door unlocked, and Microsoft Windows as the basement apartment in a bad neighbourhood with iron bars across the window.

Whatever your experiences with Apple or opinion of Jobs, the tech world won't be the same without him. Apple may continue to make products in his image, but it may be possible that his shoes are just too big to fill.


Finally, a hard video game

I haven't played Dark Souls yet (Xbox red ringed on me and I haven't bought a new one yet) but I'm going to. Its predecessor was the 2009 release Demon Souls, a PS3 exclusive that was hailed, in a good way, as one of the hardest games of all time. Dark Souls continues this tradition, creating a world where your survival is constantly in question and the only way to advance is through trial and error. It's also a single game that's meant to be played online, cooperatively with other players that are suffering through the same things you are. When one of the players defeats a boss the bell tower rings out, giving you some hope that you'll be able to succeed as well.

The world is beautiful and filled with a variety of dangers that can make it terrifying at times. Sometimes the only way you can beat a challenge is to summon the souls of other players that have gone before you (literally, other players in the game) to see what they did.

Sometimes it's a matter of picking the right weapon and armour, other times it's about using the right spell at the right time. You might think that you've hit on the right pattern, then your enemy will simply change its tactics, forcing you to adapt as you go.

It sounds like the challenge I've been waiting for.




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