August 10, 2011. The Crystal Serenity, the cruise ship on which I was serving as a lecturer, was anchored in the French Riviera, off the coast of Cannes. Late at night I wandered into the computer lab where a roomful of 27″ iIMacs (68 cm) were fast asleep, their screen savers creating an eye catching piece of abstract art, streaks of colors dancing to a quiet tune, or perhaps revealing their dreams.
On October 5, Steve Jobs, the immensely creative co-founder of Apple Inc., passed away. He had made it a practice to marry the best of form and function, indeed better than anyone else had done since the Renaissance genius Leonardo. I use an iPhone, an iPad, a Mac mini, and an iMac computer, routinely downloading music by ITunes. They are all so brilliantly integrated that I can show slides using my IPad, with the IPhone as a remote. And I marvel at how all of his inventions have worked their way into my marrow, as they have into our society’s collective marrow. He introduced technology that we have come to take so much for granted that we do not know how we can ever do without it. It was his computers that introduced the mouse, and the dark print on white screens, mimicking typed paper, unlike PCs that used to feature light print on dark screens, akin to viewing carbon paper.
The Mac is my computer of choice, and at home I have a 24″ iMac (61 cm). In working on a manuscript, I can easily view two pages at the same time, and I love it.
After I started receiving royalties for a book a few years ago, I purchased a laptop, the 17″ Mac PowerBook-G4. A few days later, a friend sent me an essay by the Italian writer Umberto Eco, who claimed, “I am firmly of the opinion that the Macintosh is Catholic and that DOS is Protestant … [The Macintosh] is cheerful, friendly, conciliatory; it tells the faithful how they must proceed step by step to reach — if not the kingdom of Heaven — the moment in which their document is printed. ”
I sent the essay to a friend, the 1997 Physics Nobel Laureate William D. Phillips, who I knew also preferred Macs. Bill fired back, “When the girls went away to college, we sat them down and admonished them, ‘Date within the religion. Stay away from boys using PCs.’”
Bill Phillips and his collaborators, Steven Chu and Claude Cohen-Tannoudji, developed the technique of ‘super-cooling’ by trapping and cooling atoms with laser beams. With this technique they achieved temperatures approaching absolute zero to within a nanoKelvin (a millionth of a degree Celsius), and were awarded the Nobel Prize. Supercooling led to a new theoretical framework for understanding laser cooling, it also helped to confirm some earlier theories that were hitherto untested. In 1995, a team of scientists from NIST and the University of Colorado used supercooling techniques as a first step to create a new state of matter that had been predicted in the 1920s by Albert Einstein, using some new ideas from the Indian physicist Satyendra Nath Bose. This new state of matter — a new kind of gas called a “Bose-Einstein condensate” — occurs when the gas is very cold and dense and a large fraction of the atoms essentially stops moving.
Steve Jobs was a creator-rebel, in the mold of Einstein, and also in the mold of Newton, Beethoven, and Leonardo — all creator-rebels and all quite simply the best in their fields. Whatever Steve Jobs touched he left infinitely richer.
The originality of Steve Jobs is seen in every aspect of his company’s endeavors, from the design of fonts to the design of the stores. The Apple Store on the corner of Central Park South and Fifth Avenue in New York City is a transparent glass cube. For a tribute, Matt Maniano provided the lines, ”Three apples changed the world: 1st one seduced Eve, 2nd fell on Newton, and 3rd was offered to the world half bitten by Steve Jobs. R. I. P.”