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    • Chris
      Chris MacAskill

      Part 1: On a cold winter day in Calgary, a peculiar book stood out on the airport bookstore’s shelf: The Macintosh Way by Guy Kawasaki. I was a young geophysicist and I devoured the book on the flight home to Houston. The computer industry sounded thrilling compared to the oil industry I was working in.

      It seemed like a dream when, two years later, I walked into Steve’s office to ask him to give the keynote at Unix Expo in New York. It didn’t go well at first. I was nervous because I was new to the computer industry. Steve had a larger-than-life reputation. 

      His rapid-fire answer went something like this: “That’s INSANE! That’s a show for Unix weenies. They don’t get it. It would cost $25,000 to get me with desk and computer there. No!” And with that he pointed me to the door.

      My new friends at NeXT—my co-workers—laughed because they had overheard his reaction and the response was vintage Steve. 

    • Chris

      Part 2: My coworkers explained that Steve had to have a certain desk for his presentations because it was NeXT black. Steve was incredibly fussy about colors so NeXT machines and peripherals had to be that exact black.

      They said a Unix weenie was code for software engineers who hated what we were doing to Unix (the operating system we licensed)—putting a graphical user interface on it to dumb it down for grandmothers. They heckled Steve about his efforts to destroy it. His nightmare would be to speak to a crowd of them.

      I called the show organizer and said it was a no-go because we were afraid of a hostile crowd. He argued that no, in New York there would be Steve fans lined up around the block at the Javits center. He said he expected a capacity crowd of 4,000 rabid fans who loved Steve.

      I went back and told that to Steve. He was as intense as always but I could see the gears turn (pic from the Steve Jobs movie).

    • Chris

      Part 3: He called me in to help him prepare. At that time I was working in developer relations so I knew what software was close enough to being finished to demo.

      Ironically, a guy named Tim Berners-Lee at Cern had developed something he called WorldWideWeb on NeXT machines. I was trying to figure out what it was good for. It was kind of like Microsoft Word, except some sentences were blue and underlined and if you clicked on them you got a new document that came from a different computer. 

      Steve asked intensely the first time he saw it, “Is this cool?” I think that was his way of saying he didn’t get what it’s good for. I said I wasn’t sure.

      We had some pretty good desktop publishing software like Adobe Photoshop but Steve longed for something broader that would bring mass adoption. He had his eye on Lotus Improv, their new spreadsheet for NeXT, but Lotus didn’t want to intro it until it was completed.

    • Chris

      Part 4: It's funny how formal we were back then. Steve and I both showed up at the show in dark suits and white shirts. We thought that corporate IT heads were the buyers for our machines and we had to dress the part. I remember pitching NeXT machines to JP Morgan in their board room, and everyone including me was in a pin-striped banker's suit.

      One Saturday I was at work when we got a delivery at the front door. I went down to sign for it and it was case after case of white shirts that Steve had ordered from his favorite tailor in Florence, Italy, where he had spent the week. He loved hanging out in art museums. My memory could well be off, but I remembered it as 300 new white shirts. He wanted a new one each time he dressed up.

    • Chris
      Chris MacAskill

      Part 5: Steve had paid Paul Rand $100,000 to design the NeXT logo during the time Steve envisioned NeXT as a computer for education. He wanted to attract students and schools. The logo was tilted from the vertical at 28 degrees.

      At Unix Expo, Steve wanted his presentation desk to be turned at 28 degrees to the audience and the keyboard and monitor to be turned at 28 degrees to the desk. We brought a protractor to get the angles right. He also wanted a clear vase to the right of his mouse with a single red rose in it.

      I think for Steve this was performance art. His desk was in the middle of the stage and would be lit with a spotlight as if he were playing the piano. Someone would give an intro from the front of the stage, Steve would be behind the stage, and then a spotlight would follow him as he took his place at the desk.

      At about 7 minutes to showtime, with 4,000 seats ready, people were pushing at the doors. I said something then I've reflected back on 1,000 times that I wish I hadn't: "Steve, just to make sure, you're not demoing Lotus Improv, right? I don't think Lotus would like that."

      Steve had been testy and and some people had warned me that right before going on he's wound up and anything could happen. He said something like, "Then you do the demo!" And he left.

      I had seen this once before where he bailed on a demo at the last minute for a crowd of 700. The blood drained from my body as I ran through the demo I'd have to do in a few minutes, and what I would tell the audience.

    • Chris
      Chris MacAskill

      Part 6: I told the show organizer to wait, not let people in at 1:00 as planned, but to give us a few more minutes. No matter who demoed in place of Steve, this was going to be a crushing disappointment. Nobody that I've heard of has ever been able to demo like him. And he was still a celebrity then.

      At something like 7 minutes after 1:00, we let them in. The show organizer had been right: people were lined up around the block and we couldn't take them all. They were rabid Steve fans. As I watched that audience pour in and thought about breaking the news that Steve wasn't able to do the demo, I wanted to vomit.

      But somehow I glanced behind the curtain where Steve would have entered and there he was. He smiled and I didn't have to say anything except "ready?" He nodded.

      He took the stage and I took a reserved seat on the front row. I was pretty much shaking, my hands were clammy, and I felt sick. I was worried about his machine crashing, worried about apps that weren't fully baked, worried about hecklers.

      And then Steve showed why he was Steve Jobs. He had the crowd adoring everything he said, even though I knew where the exaggerations were.

      30 minutes in, he looked at me and gave one of his mischievous smiles we all miss so much, then looked at the crowd and asked, "Who wants to see the most revolutionary spreadsheet ever developed?!" 4,000 hands immediately went up high. Steve looked back at me with a big grin.

    • Chris

      Peter Drucker, the famed business book author, gave the advice that you should always hire for strengths, not absence of weakness. Steve had so many weaknesses. Sometimes it seemed like he could see what nobody else could, but he couldn't see the obvious that everyone could see.

      But those strengths. I don't know where they all came from. Intensity? Drive? Quickness? Passion? A deep frustration with anything that wasn't insanely great? All of them?

    • yaypie

      Amazing story.

      I wasn't lucky enough to ever meet or work with Steve, but one thing I've seen during my time in the tech industry is that there are a lot of people who try to emulate him. Unfortunately it's a lot easier to emulate Steve's weaknesses than his strengths, so the result is that some people are just whiny entitled jerks without much else to offer.

      The thing that always impresses me when I read about Steve is that he allowed people to convince him he was wrong. He was a stubborn jerk about it, but if smart people argued with him strenuously enough, he would listen and eventually (sometimes) come around. I think that's where a lot of his magic was.

    • slamdunk406

      Thanks for sharing, Chris! Awesome story! It's really neat you got to know Steve Jobs in such an up close and personal way. My dad's company was responsible for making the chips that went between the memory and microprocessor for the first geration of iMac and iBook in the late 1990s. He saw more of the ruthless side of Steve Jobs, haha.

    • slamdunk406

      As a matter of fact, my dad's company was actually in some hot water because a distributor of the chip was delaying production. Steve Jobs didn't hold back, calling my dad and a few other guys a certain obscene name. They got themselves jackets to commemorate this special name, putting stars on their jackets for each time Steve Jobs called them that name. My dad was part of the 4-star club, lol.

    • Chris

      That's so funny. 😁We had a certain dark humor about that and wore it as a badge of honor too.

      One of my friends & coworkers at the time, David Grady, read this thread and responded with this email. I print it by permission:

      :-) excellent! 

      My favorite Steve story is Improv centric. In its beta it came up on the screen as what I started calling the simplest form of spreadsheet life, a one-celled spreadsheet. He’d talked them into demoing at NeXTworld but they were nervous about that one celled thing so they showed it to him coming up as a 10 by 10 array. He literally left the floor. 

      “NO!!! If you want people to do something different you have to pull them through the pain of making the change! Want to see the scars here? (reached across his body to point at his left shoulder blade) no letter quality printer for the Mac! Want to see the scars here? (other arm other shoulder blade) no cursor keys on the Mac. Why do you think we made it a cube?

      Because it looks different!!!”

      I still miss his presence in the world.

    • DanSolarMan

      I can’t even imagine the fear of something happening with the machine. Everytime I do a keynote I am petrified of something going wrong and sometimes it does.

      Back then it must have been terrifying.

    • Pa

      That's what I had surmised. Cross pens were so widely used and marketed. Do Cross pens even exist anymore other than as a Chinese copy?

    • Baker

      Using the track pad now, I have 1 button or no buttons depending on how you count. Most people would know know that a proper mouse in 1988/89 was supposed to have 3 buttons. Some 'really important' things turn to dust which no one can even remember.

    • Baker

      Chris, shall we collaborate on story tied to when I handed off to you at the IBM function in Dallas? The 'no show' Steve event ...

    You've been invited!