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John Carmack: My Steve Jobs Stories (facebook.com)
1075 points by _mlxl on May 14, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 366 comments

John mentioning his NeXT computer in this post reminded me of his NeXT computer purchase story from Masters of Doom:

"On a cold winter day, Carmack laced up his shoes, slipped on his jacket, and headed out into the Madison snow. The town was blanketed in the stuff, cars caked in frost, trees dangling ice. Carmack endured the chill because he had no car; he'd sold the MGB long before. It was easy enough for him to shut out the weather, just like he could, when necessary, shut Tom and Romero's antics out of his mind. He was on a mission.

Carmack stepped into the local bank and requested a cashier's check for $11,000. The money was for a NeXT computer, the latest machine from Steve Jobs, cocreator of Apple. The NeXT, a stealth black cube, surpassed the promise of Jobs's earlier machines by incorporating NeXTSTEP, a powerful system tailor-made for custom software development. The market for PCs and games was exploding, and this was the perfect tool to create more dynamic titles for the increasingly viable gaming platform. It was the ultimate Christmas present for the ultimate in young graphics programmers, Carmack."

Thought of that very passage when I read this. It's not often you get to read a book that is so biographical about a person who is also still posting about their life on social media.

Not really. Tech is still very young. The home PC as a popular item is only around 30-40 years old depending on your criteria. Most of these guys are still around and active. I mean, you can email Vint Cerf today or read endless books about Apple, Woz, etc. You can tweet Bill Gates, etc.

The dead in this industry are the super old timers, many of whom you really never hear about, or the unfortunate souls who passed away relatively young. Jobs was only 56 when he passed away.

John Carmack was also successful at a relatively young age. He released Doom at age 23.

Your comment made me think of Robert Noyce.

Um, there are lot of biographies of influential people who still are alive.

I think you missed his point. This is like getting never-before-seen bonus material for your favorite book. It reads similar to the book as well. All in all, very cool.

i just finished masters of doom's audiobook a week or so ago. it was the most addicting story i've heard in some time, and elevated carmack even more in my mind.

the book was also strangely motivating.

have you (or anyone else) read anything else like masters of doom recently?

I'm a huge fan of the biography Jean Renoir (the acclaimed film director) wrote about his father, Auguste Renoir (the acclaimed Impressionist painter), Renoir, My Father - https://www.amazon.com/Renoir-My-Father-Jean/dp/B001MPDDME

For a gripping tale of technology and hacking, The Cuckoo's Egg never fails: https://www.amazon.com/Cuckoos-Egg-Tracking-Computer-Espiona...

And, as someone reminded me in the thread about Xerox and Fujifilm, Dealers of Lightning tells the story of Xerox PARC, the Alto, Steve Jobs' visit, etc: https://www.amazon.com/Dealers-Lightning-Xerox-PARC-Computer...

I have read Masters of Doom and both The Cuckoo's Egg and Dealers of Lightning and these recommendations are spot on. I'd love to reread all of these soon, especially Dealers of Lightning.

Something similar but perhaps a bit drier may be Accidental Empires by Robert X. Cringely about the personal computer wars. And yes, that's the same Cringely from the Triumph of the Nerds documentaries.

I also do not recommend David Kushner's Prepare to Meet Thy Doom and The World's Most Dangerous Geek audiobooks which I believe are anthologies of loosely related articles he has written over the years. The prose was a little too purple for me.

I'm a big fan of the book and got a similar feeling from watching Indie Game: The Movie. Good documentary about a few small indie game studios that makes you feel like you can start something amazing.

trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GhaT78i1x2M

Another book (also great audiobook) I'd suggest is Console Wars. I've listened to that audiobook just as much as Masters of Doom. It tells the story of Sega vs. Nintendo in the 80s/90s.


I just purchased it. Its nice that you felt motivated from an audio book! I definitely need it. I'll let you know how it is once I'm done.

i was taking walks just to listen to it! enjoy!

Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution, though it's a bit more dry IMO.

How many people will spend that money today? I see folks refusing to spend $10/$20 of their own money to get better. It's the weirdest thing. I told someone to spend $100 and run an experiment this past weekend, they looked at me like I lost my mind.

Most people wouldn't have spent that money during that time either.

The reason this story is told is because it's pretty unusual. Carmack's success is a result of him doing fairly exceptional things.

Developers outside of the machine learning PHD world don't make that huge an income, especially if you live in a high rent area and are single they tax the heck out of you in california today. Back then people could afford to drop these large amounts on projects because rent was like $125 a month and taxes were very low compared to say modern california. It actually goes to show how an economy that benefits the rentiers has a way of shutting down innovation and experimentation as all resources go to cover the basics.

There is a pervasive idea that developer salaries in sf and other tech cities only cover the rents, etc. Not at all true. Thousands and thousands of career developers making great wages. It’s not VCs driving real estate prices.

It is true, the salaries keep going up and the rent goes up to match it.

There's a saying that wage increases are absorbed by landlords.

Not everyone has rents that can rise.

Rent in SF has been going down a little last I checked.

My rent is high, but my cost of living isn’t that high relative to everything (not that different from pricier parts of the Midwest). My salary is high to keep the cost of living maintainable, so I don’t become tempted to move back to the Midwest where my rent was medium and my salary was high, and the cost of living was similarly medium.

Well he was the founder of the company. People are more comfortable doing this stuff if they feel like they have a stake in the company/their work. If you're just a code-money in a megacorp you don't care.

I spent $6,000 on a Mac back then, when I only made $60k. Spending on better tools for developers is a no brainer.

What was so good about the Mac back then?

Well, I was a Mac developer for one.

Most young people today are either massively in debt due to student loans or they don't see themselves earning high wages because they don't have a degree. Either way it's understandable that they're averse to speculating with the little money they have.

John Carmack is a very specific kind of person. You should be asking if he'd spend that money today.

I too fall victim to the don't pay for learning or improving skills. What was the experiment? if you don't mind.

> I see folks refusing to spend $10/$20 of their own money to get better.

And still many buy iPhone and Macbook

The entire post reminded me of the book. Very similar in tone.

What are these "Tom and Romero's antics" ?

You should read the book! I'd do a TL;DR but I can't really remember the specifics other than John really hated the distraction of pretty much anything.

IIRC there was a lot of smashing keyboards, and the occasional cutting down of office doors with axes.

> occasional cutting down of office doors with axes.

What? Who was cutting down the office doors? Job frustration? and , still survived getting fired?

Seems Google, Reddit (u/Ungard at [1]), and Amazon [2] have all the answers. Turns out it was Carmack with the ax. An excerpt from the book:

This happened after Romero accidentally locked himself in his office. Hearing the pleas, Carmack gave the knob a twist, paused, then deduced the most obvious and immediate solution. “You know,” he said, “I do have a battle-ax in my office.” Carmack had recently paid five thousand dollars for the custom-made weapon—a razor-edged hatchet like something out of Dungeons and Dragons. As the other guys gathered around chanting, “Battle-ax! Battle-ax! Battle-ax!” Carmack chopped Romero free. The splintered door remained in the hall for months.

[1] https://www.reddit.com/r/Doom/comments/4l1si4/questionstory_...

[2] http://amzn.to/1TE2lPV

> and still survived getting fired?

It was a tiny company and they were co-founders. Who was gonna fire them?

"I did think it was cool to trade a few emails with Steve Jobs."

Funny he should write that. Many, many years ago I wrote an email to John Carmack asking something about his .plan postings which must have seemed fairly mundane looking back on it now. He was nice enough to write me back. And I thought that was pretty cool too.

I guess it just goes to show that even the people you respect or admire have people they respect and admire themselves.

Years ago, my friends and I got drunk while celebrating my 20th birthday

As a joke, I emailed Gabe Newell and asked if he'd wish me a happy birthday

Much to my surprise, he actually replied! https://i.imgur.com/n0BvCPS.png

I can only imagine the amount of garbage he gets in his inbox every day. So to get that email back (on a Sunday for him, as well) was pretty heart warming

I once emailed Woz about some trivial question about the old Apple machines. He emailed me right back with an apology about how he was too busy to answer all these kinds of emails and then in the next sentence, answered my question anyway.

Different story. I once asked a question to the author of 7-Zip to include it in a software and received in return a link to the FAQ!

And even when Woz isn't responsive himself, it seems he makes sure his emails get answered. I emailed him once a few years ago -- I forget about what -- and his wife replied with a kind, detailed note.

When I was a kid, I was interested in game development & I found the e-mail address for someone at Infogrames that developed the Alone in the Dark game and said I was a young and learning game development and asked a bunch of questions. Surprisingly the contact whose e-mail address I found corresponded with me a few times about questions I had about developing video games. I somehow doubt that kind of thing would happen today but I'd probably be proven wrong. I then wrote it up as a Q&A and put it on my Geocities website :-)

I love stories like this. A few months ago, my daughter was born and was named after the main character in a Philip Pullman series. He tweeted a welcome message to her! https://twitter.com/PhilipPullman/status/946678534776516608 One of the weirdest, most amazing internet moments for me.

My wife (then girlfriend) got John Carmack to email me for my birthday in college.

That's a very considerate thing to do. Cute!

They’re busy people and in many cases very influential (and probably also wealthy), but famous people are still people at the end of the day. As a fan of few people in this world, when I do get the chance to meet them, I try to approach them as a human first and a famous person second. Another way to look at that is: great every stranger you’d like to make a connection with with the same respect you’d treat your heroes. If you go up to them and start freaking out because you’re actually talking to them...how do you think that feels for them?

I’ve always thought that it wouldn’t be that fulfilling to be famous, because you’d lose the opportunity to do things like go out to a normal restaurant with your family and have dinner without people acting weird around you constantly. Paparazzi are one thing, fans and stalkers another.

TL;DR don’t be the person who makes being famous suck, and you’ll probably get a lot more out of having an interesting conversation with someone you look up to vs just getting an autograph.

Reminds me a bit of the outer world experience of walking around GDC, where you'd see the big names just wandering around. Talking with lots of big names like Dustin Browder, Tim Schafer and Noah Falstein. Always a delight talking and hearing experiences of these people. Perhaps one day I'll meet Carmack.

I would imagine that with all the work that their jobs demand, they would be happy to do something not related to work.

For a little bit of a different type of story I wrote Leo Laporte back when I was a teenager and he was on Call For Help. I asked him a very specific question about getting video card drivers to work with a specific video encoder (which, looking back, is a terrible question to ask someone who is doing a TV show and can only give back sound bite answers).

To my surprise he actually read my question and answered it on tv! It was so freaking cool! But, my inner teenager kicked in when I realized his answer was something I already tried. I sent him an really awful email in response. I called him terrible names. I was a complete shit.

I felt so bad about my actions _for years_ that I eventually emailed him a, what I thought was, a heartfelt apology for being such a shit. I got an email back a few days later from his wife telling me she shared it with him and to not worry about it.

I still feel bad about writing it...

Funny, I felt very similar when this happened :) https://twitter.com/ID_AA_Carmack/status/993142700374462464

Wow that’s this haha!

On this very forum I had Alan Kay politely tell me I was a fool, and I thought it was great. I bragged to my developer friends, who also agreed that it was great. And that I was, indeed, a fool.

I once gave Marvin Minsky a headache by showing a video tape of bright blinking PostScript graphics! I apologized, and we had a nice conversation about how eye tracking interfaces tend to do the same thing.

What did you write that made him say that?

(I've written some pretty dumb things to him and he never called me a fooled. He was nice enough to try to re-explain things to me. I finally had to give up because I felt I was wasting his time.)

No he was polite. I suppose I should restate, he didn't call me a fool straight out but let me know it was foolish to comment on things I had no firsthand knowledge of. I think it was an article regarding Steve's visit at Xerox PARC.

But in the opening post, John Carmack said that is what Steve would do: "It was often frustrating, because he could talk, with complete confidence, about things he was just plain wrong about, like the price of memory for video cards and the amount of system bandwidth exploitable by the AltiVec extensions."

Alan is very smart and was a prodigy, but I think he put up with Steve Jobs' eccentricity to a larger extent than our eccentricity because he could influence people and got a few things right. (Although Alan has been said to call out CEOs for incompetence.) Murray Rothbard (economist) said all the billionaires he ever met were crazy. Probably because their colleagues and employees would put up with a lot of stuff they would never let anyone else get away with.

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15575389 - that didn't seem like 6 months ago.

I think this is a case where you didn't take the trouble to find out the facts and are instead projecting your beliefs on a situation at which you weren't present. I'm calling you on because there is much too much of this kind of commentary in most forums.

I bet dang saw that and wanted to remind him about the HN guidelines and then realized that the author of the comment was freakin Alan Kay and just said never mind.

He was giving a YC startup talk and asked for emails in his presentation. I did and he answered. He seems to genuinely enjoy talking to anyone that cares. He's answered pretty much all the ridiculous things I've asked him on HN.

To add one rung above that, I remember a quote from Jobs's biography to the extent of "I would trade all of my technology for an afternoon with Socrates."

For anyone wondering how a Steve-Socrates dialog might be like, I found this analogous bit of history:


Diogenes was in Corinth when Alexander the Great sent word through a messenger asking Diogenes to come see him in Macedonia.

Diogenes told the Alexander’s messenger, “Go tell your emperor that Corinth is as far from Macedonia as Macedonia is from Corinth. So if your emperor wants to see me, he can come and find me here.”

Irrefutable logic and infinite self-assurance. The last bit can only come from someone who really does not need anything from anyone however high and mighty.

Alexander surely was not used to being turned down. But I suppose being a warrior, he admired courage. So he went to Corinth to meet Diogenes. Diogenes was sitting in his tub and enjoying the morning sun when Alexander showed up on his high horse with a whole bunch of soldiers.

After a brief introduction, Alexander proudly offered to give Diogenes anything that he needed. “Is there anything I can do for you, Sir?” asked Alexander. Diogenes replied, “Yes, you could. You are blocking the sun. Please stand aside.”



This story was one of the first i heard back in high school during my first courses of philosophy. I still admire the courage and free-thinking spirit of those Greek intellectuals. Imagine some of our current "intellectuals" been called by the White House today. They will be in the hurry to meet the "President". During the visit they will make sure they get some selfies with M. President in order to show it as a life-achievements... Vanity is a common pattern among our modern days intelligentsia

I'm pretty sure this pattern was also common in Ancient Greece. Diogenes was exceptional.

Such a contrast with the people who used to live there before:


I sent an email to Jonathan Blow about Jai once, and I was surprised that he sent me a thorough reply.

Russ Cox never got back to me about having GUI apps take over the terminal window in Plan 9 from userspace, although my idea was fundamentally trash so I don't blame him

I emailed Jon about unblocking me on Twitter once and he did. Made me appreciate him as a person a lot more.

Speaking his .plan files. One heck of a trip down memory lane: https://github.com/ESWAT/john-carmack-plan-archive/

That's one of the things that I do think is neat about Twitter; there is actually a pretty reasonable chance someone whose book I admired, or whatever, will read and respond to my message.

Back in uni I emailed Andrew Tanenbaum asking some silly question about the Amoeba operating system.

This was around 97, and the Internet was still new to me. There was access in one lab 1 hour once a week or something like that, so the fact that he replied with some pointers to few ps files about the OS was really amazing.

Back in the day (~1989) when Minix was hot stuff I asked a friend who went to VU a question about Minix to pass on to Tanenbaum, next thing I knew I was invited to his flat next to the Amsterdamse Bos for tea and cookies. That was a very interesting afternoon.

There's always the risk that it'll turn out that you don't like your heroes when you meet them in person.

Tanenbaum certainly didn't disappoint.

I did this too! A question about how they were testing Quake. John responded with some detail about how to set up a simple proxy server. Very helpful and relevant to what I was working on at the time; thanks John!

Can't recall who, but I remember a famous actress saying she got star truck meeting another not far above famous actor. Must be weird to go from star to fan.

Was it Jennifer Lawrence meeting Jack Nicholson?

I see people I admire the most everyday at work. I never dared say hi to them!

You don't say 'Hi' to your co-workers?

Rapid switch between charming and aggressive. Creating an environment where you surround yourself with sycophants. Punch downwards at employees working for you to assert and maintain your power while projecting you aspire for "higher standards". Set unrealistic expectations to see which folks will work nights and weekends to your order.

^^ Managers take note. These are excellent traits to climbing the corporate ladder. Just be a dick without looking like a dick.

You can only do that if you're Steve Jobs. The chances of someone ever working on a product that's going to define an industry are infinitesimal.

If I got a chance to work on the iPhone in 2006, yeah I might put up with a lot of crap. If all I'm doing is writing yet another software as a service CRUD app and I have an insufferable manager - I'll jump ship so fast it will make their head spin.

On second thought, thier head won't spin, they will put out a rec the day I submit my letter of resignation and forget I existed in three months.

> You can only do that if you're Steve Jobs. The chances of someone ever working on a product that's going to define an industry are infinitesimal.

I don't think you have to necessarily be that influential to have at least part of the same power. In other words, I suspect there are mini-Jobs all over the place. The sad part is I think you can get a long way without much influence at all, as what keeps people around isn't how influential or amazing you are, but how much they perceive you to be, and some people are finely tuned producers of bullshit.

I read somewhere in a list of"ten ways to tell your manager is a jerk" that one of them was "your manager compares himself to Steve Jobs".

I try and remember that, though likely not often enough.

Does the rule work for Steve Jobs himself? Maybe it does, actually!

I worked for someone who had most of those traits. However, he wasn't Steve Jobs. When I last looked at his LinkedIn, he had a long string of positions which had lasted 12-18 months until (I presume) reality caught up with him at each.

The problem likely is that he can continue to do this basically forever, and probably even get promoted along the way.

I have seen just this happen. I don't know how someone as basically incompetent as my former boss could do it, but he was made an IT manager for a huge government department, in spite of the IT department at my workplace having the worst reputation in town.

In the case of the guy I worked for, he was charming in half-hour increments and technically decent, and good at seeing new project opportunities. But bad at planning, sharing credit, and basic decency.

> I'll jump ship so fast it will make their head spin.

Sure, you do. Many people don't. There was this thread on Amazon today which tells me people put up with many, many abuses. Fertile ground for others to follow Jobs example.

There's a book I remember reading - I can't remember, but it may have been The Dictator's Handbook - which talked about how this is a common management pattern in authoritarian dictatorships (although typically somewhat more extreme in its implementation). The dictator ends up weeding out most people of exceptional talent and competence, but it consolidates his personal power. Bad for the state when it faces a crisis, but good for him personally. Easy to see how this applies to senior management at a public company.

(See current US goverment for a worked example)

(For the convenience of people reading this thread decades later: geden was talking about Donald Trump and his government)

> Easy to see how this applies to senior management at a public company.

Or any organization I've been in, some non-profit some for-profit, none of them public.

True. Any organization in which the incentives for an executive to increase or maintain their own power within the organization trumps the incentives for them to work for the benefit of the organization as a whole.

So why did it work so well for Jobs? Perhaps because in the tech industry, you have a high frequency of the rare combination of incredible talent in a profitable industry combined with social/political non-talent, so people feel stuck where they are, or love their work so much they don't care if they are unfairly treated?

Look at open-source, for example. People with little money, often in poor countries, giving away software that generate $billions in profits for already wealthy people.

Jobs said that what he learnt at Pixar was to hire and trust great people.

I think there is a big difference between people who try to act like Jobs and Jobs himself.

> Jobs said that what he learnt at Pixar was to hire and trust great people.

Given what we now know about John Lasseter, Jobs' record on implementing this advice was decidedly mixed.

What do we know about John Lasseter now?

Most of the largest open source projects' contributors work for tech companies and are sponsored by the companies.

for benefit of other readers, I think that's https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17062782

It is, thanks for linking.

I've had 15 odd positions in my career. I have no trouble bailing and everyone who stays can continue being miserable. It's not uncommon to hear from past teammates that they should have left sooner. Best time to find a job is when you already have one.

When it smells like poop everywhere you go, look under your own shoe.

There's a lot of shitty companies. Particularly in sfbay.

My personal take is there's not a shortage of engineers, there's a shortage of not-shit workplaces.

It's not always about the environment being bad. It's often the environment being bad for you.

After awhile, most companies go from new and shiny to sticking with the same technology (it doesn't make business sense to always chase after the tech of the week) that is not where the market is going. You have three choices - either fall behind the market, learn on the side, or change companies. I choose to change companies.

Second issue is that wage stagnation is real and most companies don't do market adjustments and the meager yearly raises start getting out paced by the market. The easiest way to get a raise is by changing jobs.

...where you'll find you're walking across a field of cow patties.

I just get paid very well and like moving up.

I'm not blaming the victim. Yeah I can say that living in a major metropolitan area with an in demand skill set where it is easy to change jobs. But not everyone has that optionality.

Eh, I’ve seen it work well at the director level too, at least for a while until the VPs figure out that you’re the problem, not everyone under you. Sometimes that takes years though. Strategically throwing those who oppose you / see through your BS under the bus is elevated to an art form in corporate America.

One of the things that made Steve Steve is that he recognized and actively sought out influential products to be associated with.

It's portrayed very well in the movie Pirates of Silicon Valley. Wozniak says it's an accurate portrayal of personalities, unlike movies glorifying Jobs. One of my favorites is the scene where Gates and Jobs meet.


pirstes of silicon valley is in many ways a better movie than the ones that came later, and Noah Wile as Steve Jobs was phenomenal in my opinion.

100% agree! :)

Even Bill Gates in his AMA said its reasonably accurate.

Yes, it's a common pattern: "Steve Jobs was great! [anecdote about a time he was cool to someone he wanted something from]."

My reaction every time: Yeah, we already have a term for someone who's nice to those that they want something from, and who mercilessly leverages their power against everyone else. It's called ... "not nice".

CEOs happen to want something from some people quite often too.

I can tell you from personal experience that while it feels good and like the moral high ground, punching upward doesn’t work out much better.

Having read a few Jobs biographies I don't think the late Mr. Jobs surrounded himself with sycophants. I think he sought actual talent and capability to perform. The fact Apple didn't implode - rather the opposite - indicates this was the case.

Wait, are we talking about Steven Jobs or Elon Musk? Because, lets be honest here, they're both cut from the same cloth. And yet, the tech crowd reveres Musk but is pretty split on Jobs.

I think pretty split on both.

We just had someone leave our company because many people gave the person bad internal reviews because of this crap. And many left before that. You have to be delivering in spades for this to work.

Honestly, I think this is what it's like to be in an abusive relationship. You know he's abusive and yet you still stay in the relationship with him/her because of all the good times and you delude yourself into thinking that's OK ... I think this gives a rarely glimpse into the rationalizations that happen in the mind of people that are in abusive relationships. From the outside it is trivial to see that the relationship dynamic is abusive but when you're in it ... suddenly it's OK even for one of the most renowned programmers of all time?

"One time, [...] Steve [...] wanted me to do a keynote that happened to be scheduled on the same day as our wedding. With a big smile and full of charm, he suggested that we postpone it. We declined, but he kept pressing. Eventually my wife countered with a suggestion that if he really wanted “her” John so much, he should loan John Lassiter to her media company for a day of consulting. Steve went from full charm to ice cold really damn quick. I didn’t do that keynote."

Quite Machiavellian, asking somebody to reschedule their wedding for a keynote and being completely unwilling to return the slightest favour!

The dude got off on power plays. I wouldn't be surprised if the only reason Carmack was invited to that particular keynote was because it was happening on his wedding day.

A lot of people are in an abusive relationship with their employer or some important business partner i would imagine.

Having a relationship with the CEO of one of the most important companies in your field is a bit different from a plain frienship or sexual pairing.

Just knowing the guy and engaging with him time to time dilutes the concept of an abusive relationship.

I'm not so sure. Reading John Carmack's story (and others) it seems that Steve Jobs was able to convince people to enjoy the abuse and remember it with revery. That is a special kind of talent, but as others have mentioned it seems to attract and inspire the worst kind of corporate scum.

The places where it doesn't seem like an abusive relationship it most certainly seems like the way a feudal tyrant would be behave.

There is a difference between just being a douchebag, and actually sparring people.

Psychological pressure is not just a bad thing. Too much of it, yes, and used for selfish reasons, yes - but - there is a net positive effect of making people defend their position and holding them accountable for their views.

From what I've read Jobs combined the positive sparring attitude as well as negative I-must-have-my-catharsis-by-abusing-you as well.

An intellectually keen sparring partner is something most people cherish. Given this sparring partner is Jobs there is a random reward/punishment element involved - is he going to cherish me or banish me?

We all know this random reward system is the key to addictive interactions. Jobs was probably a keen intellectual sparring partner combined with an emotional game of chance.

No wonder people revered him.

I think the 'asshole steve jobs' reverence goes into the same pile with Gordon Gekko admiration. The problem with Jobs is he was a non-fictional character and people the lizard-people kind of types seem to completely misunderstand what was the good part in him as a leader.

I suppose I have a bias. I don't see the value in studying him, or in picking apart these postmortem campfire tales. Aside from (and I say this whimsically); to analyze and better understand the horror that we intelligent human beings are capable of allowing.

I don't envy titans of industry any more than I envy celebrity for this reason. They seem to be our social experiments. We are lucky to have them and luckier still that fewer than most become real devils.

Wish I had a point for this ramble. I just feel like there is a terrible _cost_ to being someone like Jobs, Musk, Tesla, etc. A cost that doesn't seem to be adequately explained to them _or_ the people who revere them. They are the milk producing cows of productivity that we happily take out and slaughter for meat once they burn out. That we seem to love them just makes it all the more strange.

On October 25 1988, I gave Steve Jobs a demo of pie menus, NeWS, UniPress Emacs and HyperTIES at the Educom conference in Washington DC. His reaction was to jump up and down, point at the screen, and yell “That sucks! That sucks! Wow, that’s neat! That sucks!”

I tried explaining how we'd performed an experiment proving pie menus were faster than linear menus [1], but he insisted the liner menus in NeXT Step were the best possible menus ever.

But who was I to rain on his parade, two weeks after the first release of NeXT Step 0.8? (Up to that time, it was the most hyped piece of vaporware ever, and doubters were wearing t-shirts saying "NeVR Step"!)

[1] https://medium.com/@donhopkins/an-empirical-comparison-of-pi...

I'll have to read the article. I'm a little surprised that pie menus never caught on even in the era of tablets, where they seem extremely well-suited.

They do see some use in games, where you have control over all the menu items. Long strings can break pie menu layout pretty badly, especially if you bring up the menu near the edge of the screen.

That's all true!

Here's an illustrated transcript of a video (and the video itself) demonstrating the pie menus (and SimAntics visual programming language) in The Sims!

The Sims Pie Menus: https://medium.com/@donhopkins/the-sims-pie-menus-49ca02a74d...

And this discusses the issues you raised and more:

OLPC Sugar Pie Menu Discussion: https://medium.com/@donhopkins/olpc-sugar-pie-menu-discussio...

Any thoughts on Microsoft's Surface Dial [1] radial menu?

[1] https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/uwp/design/input/wi...

Good question -- glad you asked! (No, really! ;)

Turning a dial is a totally different gesture than making directional strokes, so they are different beasts, and a dial lacks the advantages pie menus derive from exploiting Fitts's Law.


Even though the Surface Dial has a round dial, that is nothing like a pie menu, even though it's round, because you turn it. Pie menus aren't about turning around the center, they're about stroking out from the center.

Also a rotating carousel or rocker switch that you turn or nudge clockwise or counterclockwise to change between different items, and then click to select an item, is not anything like a pie menu.

You have to turn a dial or carousel more and more to select each subsequent item. (Just like you have to move the cursor more and more downwards to select each subsequent item of a linear pull-down menu).

With pull down menus, click wheels and carousels, selection is linear O(n), while with a pie menu you only have to perform one short directional gesture to select any item, so selection is constant O(1) (with a small constant, the inner inactive radius of the hole in the middle, which you can make larger if you're a spaz).

Also, the items themselves should never rotate around the menu (unless you're doing some quick transient snazzy spin-up animation), they should always stay in the same direction.

Here are some window management pie menus that spin up if you click them up without moving, and tilt up around the axis perpendicular to the direction of motion, if you move away from the center before they pop up:


Stallman likes to classify an emacs-like text editor that totally misses the point of emacs by not having an extension language as an "erzatz emacs". In the same sense, there are many "erzatz pie menus" that may look like pie menus on the surface, but don't actually track or feel like pie menus, or benefit from all of their advantages, because they aren't designed to optimize for Fitts's Law by being based purely on the direction between stroke endpoints instead of the entire path, minimizing the distance to the targets, and maximizing the size of the targets.

Another way to implement frustrating difficult to use erzatz pie menus that totally miss the point is to only use the small areas of the item labels as targets, not the entire huge wedge shaped pie slices extending out to the screen edge.

Yet another way to screw them up is to trigger them when you move a certain distance from the center (or pop them up when you roll over a target without clicking, or use time-outs without clicking), instead of when you click or release the mouse (or tap or release your finger, pen, etc). There should always be a kinesthetic delimiter like a click or tap at the beginning and ending of the stroke, but the stroke is free wander around any path or pause for any duration. Only the angle between the delimiters matters, to allow for browsing and reselection and error correction.

If distance or time is the trigger, the user has no way of reliably and directly controlling or sensing at which point the selection happens, or using the menus without looking at the screen, and it terribly interferes with navigating nested pie menus.

Any pie menu that does not initially pop up with the cursor (or your finger) in the center, or that is already showing before you start tracking from anywhere on the screen, is terribly broken, because the whole point is to bring the pie menu center to you, so you can select with quick directional gestures without looking at the screen, not for you to have to first look at the screen and then move to the center yourself. That would totally defeat the purpose of pie menus!

Handling the screen edge problem can get tricky, especially when combined with mouse-ahead display suppression. One way of handling that is to "warp" the mouse back to the center of the menu if the menu needs to be moved to fit on the screen. But you must be careful not to cancel out any motion away from the center that's already happened (which is why you should delay warping the mouse until you actually pop up the menu (if ever), so there is no mouse warping when you mouse ahead and the menu is not displayed).

Web browser don't directly support mouse warping (i.e. like XWarpPointer), and you can't tell if the edge of the browser window is actually the edge of the screen, but you can use the "Pointer Lock API" to implement a software cursor that you can warp anywhere in the window you want (but not outside).


There's a lot more discussion of screen edge handling and mouse-ahead display suppression here:


Also see the discussion of "gesture space" here:


Indeed, see here [1] for some examples.

[1] https://www.google.com.au/search?q=battlefield+command+menu&...

You sometimes see them in 2D/3D content creation software, where there's a good chance the user is holding a stylus.

Many modern 3D design systems have layered pie-style context menus and mouse gestures.

I think I saw one as a music control in the Amazon Music app on the iPad.

I just posted a lot more stuff about pie menus here:


It's the 30 year anniversary of CHI’88 (May 15–19, 1988), where Jack Callahan, Ben Shneiderman, Mark Weiser and I (Don Hopkins) presented our paper “An Empirical Comparison of Pie vs. Linear Menus”. We found pie menus to be about 15% faster and with a significantly lower error rate than linear menus! So I've written up a 30 year retrospective:

This article will discuss the history of what’s happened with pie menus over the last 30 years (and more), present both good and bad examples, including ideas half baked, experiments performed, problems discovered, solutions attempted, alternatives explored, progress made, software freed, products shipped, as well as setbacks and impediments to their widespread adoption.

Here is the main article, and some other related articles:

Pie Menus: A 30 Year Retrospective. By Don Hopkins, Ground Up Software, May 15, 2018. Take a Look and Feel Free!


I find it a bit hard to parse the pie menu. My eye has no obvious place to start or end in reading the options, so i try to pick one quickly. Vertical menus have an explicit order (if not alphabetical, an intentional one) which helps I can scan quickly. Also, when I go into a sub-menu, I don't lose the context of the parent (which is also avoidable in pie, but not in the x10 demo shown).

We've been trained from an early age to process lists. Lists are cool.

Im all for giving the dead their rest, but Steve was in my honest opinion more asshole than legend.


Registration funds important things like police, fire, and public education. Rolling around town as a tightwad billionaire who thinks hes too good to pay for public services is beyond the pale.

>Im all for giving the dead their rest, but Steve was in my honest opinion more asshole than legend.

Because he didn't pay registration fees? How well do you know people? The average person has done much worse than this.

Besides, "more asshole than legend" goes to some random asshole, not to a person that, asshole or not, still inspired millions, was several times "person of the year", and built the most valuable market cap company in history.

All that, and the worst that they say about him is that he was mean and petty sometimes, and didn't recognize his daughter at first. There are tons of major figures of history that have done way way worst things than that.

>Registration funds important things like police, fire, and public education. Rolling around town as a tightwad billionaire who thinks hes too good to pay for public services is beyond the pale.

As if he did it to avoid paying registration funds. And as if his fortune haven't been used to pay tons of charity and public taxes and build jobs.

> Because he didn't pay registration fees?

Because he used his plates, or lack thereof, to park in disabled parking spaces [1]. That speaks volumes about what kind of person Steve Jobs was.

[1]: https://www.folklore.org/StoryView.py?story=Handicapped.txt

Someone who sees through the "disabled parking spaces" BS in the US, where everyone can get their doctor to mark them as "disabled" and park there, mocking the actual disabled?

It's not doctors who are "mocking the actual disabled" here.

Why do you feel the need to defend him ?

I'm interested in accuracy, not in defending or offending.

That answered, why do you go into BS psychological questions instead of giving actual counter-arguments?

Is this considered an easy "winning strategy" / cheap cop out from actually discussing: painting the other commenter as having some kind of psychological need / personal issue for saying what they say?

Tightwads don't lease a new car every 6 months (and an expensive one at that). Also, the registration fees would have literally been a rounding error compared to state income+property taxes he was already paying. I think you could easily be right on the asshole vs legend thing but I'm having a hard time seeing how this example supports that opinion.

> Tightwads don't lease a new car every 6 months (and an expensive one at that).

He only did that because he wanted to drive around without a license plate. And tightwads can be tightwads when it comes to spending their money on other people but splurge on themselves.

This wasn't him being a tightwad. This was him proving to everyone that he had enough money to not have to play by the rules.

In my opinion, folks who say they're being "honest" about something are kind of begging the question. That said, I doubt he did it to save money, although I'm surprised he allowed a dealer plate frame on the car. I think he thought they looked ugly. It may even have been a bandwidth issue — he simply didn't want to decide _which_ license plate to get and it was easier to avoid the issue altogether.

He famously didn't own much furniture (at least when he was single) because he couldn't find any he liked, not because he was cheap.

Huh, when I first heard this story I assumed he was interested in added privacy, not (a very very small amount of) tax-dodging. The tax-dodging explanation doesn't make much sense here.

We live in a different time now, where people are professionally offended as a form of virtue signalling - like what you're doing now. Steve came from the 70s, a time where being a bit of a rebel, a misfit, anarchist - and sticking it to the man was considered cool.

His cars were registered, he paid the taxes, he just didn't put the license plate on.

That's a real arrogant assshole move.

This man who had advanced pancreatic cancer wouldn't have qualified for a real handicapped tag? People are getting bent out of shape over nothing here.

He did this when he was young and healthy.

You pay reg and taxes when you buy (or lease) the car. He just didn't want to run plates on the car. Many people I know go as long as possible without plates.

For all thinking along these lines I'd recommend to read the "The Steve we knew" section in Ed Catmull's "Creativity Inc." for a bit different perspective. Actually, read the whole book.

In comparison to Microsoft's behavior?

>seven years ago, Microsoft opened a small office in Reno, Nev., to collect the money it got from PC manufacturers that installed Windows and Office on the computers they sold. In the years since, Microsoft has sheltered more than $60 billion in royalty revenue in Nevada, a state with no corporate income tax, costing Washington an estimated $327 million in unrealized tax revenue.


>Registration funds important things like police, fire, and public education

Jobs paid his taxes and registration, he just didn't put his plates on the car.

Microsoft has intentionally dodged paying hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes to the state where they are located.

Steve Jobs is not dead and certainly not resting in peace aka RIP. The man was a Buddist believer. He is reborn as a bird or a stone or whatever. At least to me its inportant what after-life definition he believed in and gave it my respect.

"After the public cleared out and the rest of us were gathered in front of the stage, I started urgently going on about how web apps are terrible, and wouldn’t show the true potential of the device. We could do so much more with real native access!"

Where was Carmack when everyone was forcing us to listen to "web apps are the future of mobile"?

He could have ended that HN debated instantly.

It was quite obvious to us at the time that Apple was planning to provide a native SDK but hoped to mollify third-party developers with "web apps" while Apple got their house in order (having barely managed to get the phone done on schedule).

As it happened, the reaction to web apps was so negative they ended up releasing their SDK hastily (which anyone who went through the pain of using it for the first couple of years can attest to).

One of the common mistakes people have when discussing Steve Jobs is mistaking what he said for what he believed. (We see this confusion constantly in the news, where "The Whitehouse believes" is used to describe something in a press release.) He knew how to stay on message, and he knew that saying "our SDK will probably be released in alpha form in a year and be somewhat stable in two years" was off message.

It's also fairly clear that if he had had a bunch of arguments about something and reached some provisional conclusion, he wasn't going to have much patience with an argument he had previously encountered and beaten to death from someone random.

He knew how to stay on message, and he knew that saying "our SDK will probably be released in alpha form in a year and be somewhat stable in two years" was off message.

Reminds me of “we couldn’t get the fingerprint sensor under the screen working, so we had to quickly come up with an alternate authentication method, and that required this hideous notch” vs “Face ID is the newest, best thing ever.”

They still try to hide it when things don’t go their way.

Spoken like a true 'never used an iPhone x' user

> we couldn’t get the fingerprint sensor under the screen working, so we had to quickly come up with an alternate authentication method, and that required this hideous notch

I think you should try using iPhone X before you comment on it.

> Where was Carmack when everyone was forcing us to listen to "web apps are the future of mobile"?

> He could have ended that HN debated instantly.

This is going to be difficult to hear, but online debates are essentially for entertainment purposes only. Arguments had on the internet rarely affect our industry as a whole. Arguments had in person between people of power and influence are far more effective, time efficient and can affect entire industries (even countries!) in profound ways.

No amount of technology beats face to face communication. No amount of technology replaces individual power and influence.

Of course they don't affect the industry as a whole, however they do affect the people who read HN. Reading a debate on the dangers of over-reliance of DOckers today made me realize that I should consider alternatives for my next project.

Reading about a new awesome technology, might make someone go out and do a project with said technology. While that doesn't affect the industry as a whole, the debates sure are useful for the people reading and participating in them

I can attest to this, having spent a great deal of effort here and on a W3C list arguing against EME. I was aware of the "online argumentation is entertainment" rule but hadn't appreciated the rule's broadness until then.

A good rule of thumb is that a "consultative process" is a smokescreen unless the people being consulted have voting rights amongst those doing the consulting.

> Where was Carmack

He was in the debate at the origin, speaking firmly and directly to the key players, as your quote shows.

Web apps are the future, how many more stupid native apps must I install to get basic textual and photo information? The only right answer is universal apps(the web).

>how many more stupid native apps must I install to get basic textual and photo information?

You're conflating the web with web apps. Those are two separate things.

If web apps are to be the future, bloating up the browser to the size of an OS to get native-app level functionality sounds like a dystopian future to me. I don't want my browser to access my GPU, I don't want by browser leaking my LAN IP, I don't want my browser communicating with USB devices on my machine, etc, etc...

Also, nobody (yet) has been able to create a GUI/Client App standard for cross-platform delivery that performs well across different hardware architectures and operating systems which are designed and optimized for completely different things. That makes sense because the "one size fits all" way of doing things is terrible for performance among other things.

>The only right answer is universal apps(the web).

The only "right" answer is that we should tolerate specific web apps only when the benefits outweigh the costs.

Any absolute answer is wrong here.

Native apps will likely always have a place when OS/UI integration are paramount. But web apps will become a lot more prevalent than they have been previous as more and more hooks are exposed to the native core. Which is a good thing for everyone.

I'd argue the issue is that a lot of "native" apps are basically a webapp in a native wrapper on mobile (and desktop now - thanks Electron!).

I don't really know the best way to delineate what should and shouldn't be a web app, beyond a vague notion that my daily news rotation should be in the browser.

Yeah, there's certain things that native apps make a lot more sense for (e.g. messaging apps like Facebook Messenger where you want notifications to come up similar to text messages), but certain things really don't need anything more than the mobile website you look at (for example, at least for some people, mobile Wikipedia over the app).

> (e.g. messaging apps like Facebook Messenger where you want notifications to come up similar to text messages)

Actually I'd argue the web is great for that too. On Android you can already implement a messaging app, complete with notifications, on the web.

I wish people like my bank used it. I don't want to install their native app because I barely ever use it, but would I like to get urgent notifications from them every now and then? You bet I would.

I personally don't like relying on my browser for notifications. I like having native apps because usually fine tuning notifications for them is easier in that respect, things that while I imagine are possible through the web browser, probably aren't going to be done on a web app. It's also just an organizational thing since I don't like to have a list of a bunch of tabs, but having a handful of apps isn't too bad to navigate through.

Just because there's been a lot of progress in making web apps do things that were more natural for native apps, doesn't mean that it's the best way to go about something.

I get the wish for more support for web apps, though. I just switched over from a near 4-year-old phone that was replete with security updates and other un-removable stuff in the storage which prevented me from having a lot of apps installed (especially as so many insist on a large footprint in internal storage), so I increasingly used my web browser to access things. After the switch, though, you can bet I downloaded a bunch of apps I had deleted.

What's "basic textual and photo information"? You have already installed one called the browser, to get some information.

Yes, and the browser should be enough in many cases, but the holder of that information tries to force their app on everyone.

One of the most annoying examples of that for me is accepting a new connection on LinkedIn from my phone. I want to tap on the link in the email and be done. Instead it redirects me to the store, I close it, try again. Sometimes it works, sometimes I give up and do it later.

Another example is Facebook. :)

Do I need to explain what text, and photos are?

How many websites are you gonna have to "install" to get basic textual and photo information, whatever that means?

Zero? Websites don't ask to install when I visit them.

I think the current course, which is making decent web APIs that open the "potential of the device" to web apps, is going to get us the advantages of both.

depends on the team, a web app can still run, 32 bit apps like the one Carmack built are deprecated

Not necessarily true. Given source code, it's often possible to create binaries that run on modern computers, and it's often the case that web apps stop working because something they depended on disappeared or someone broke backwards compatibility.

You know, until the server for the app is taken offline, which is far more frequent of an occurrence than a big move like taking your app from 32 to 64-bit which has been spread over literally a decade.

This is a pretty touching story. John has definitely been one of my heroes for a long time in the field as has Steve. At the end of the day, they're human. It sucks that he regrets not getting back in touch with Steve before his passing. We can't turn back time unfortunately. I guess the lesson here is we can get focused on the hero worship and the little details and forget we are dealing with someone's ego and feelings. Some constructive criticism from John and a declined phone call broke up their relationship. :(

Steve could be rough to work with but they obviously had respect for one another, so it is sad to see in the end there was some bad blood. At least John tried to get back in touch. I think the line at the end really says it all, "...but elements of the path that led to where I am today were contingent on the dents he left in the universe. I showed up for him."

Edit: If you're reading this John, thank you for all the gaming joy you've given the world over the years. I remember asking you programming questions and you were always responsive. You've left dents for others too.

Edit: Regarding the snide comment Steve made that you could write your own OS. He might have secretly feared you would. He knew you could.

I think it's weird how Apple, even to this day, took some of Jobs's "darker" traits as if he still runs the place.

For example, a couple of years ago, I remember a game dev saying that they made one of the top selling game on iOS and received plenty of attention/help from Apple's engineers at WWDC, but when they made an Android version of their game, suddenly it was radio silence with Apple.

This is the kind of thing Jobs would have done, but now that he's gone, I'm disappointed that Apple did not evolve past this kind of behavior.

Would it be any different had he not released the Android version? Or was the expectation to be invited to the every WWDC from then on?

I'm sure it would have been different, yes. I don't know if they expected to be invited to every WWDC, but I remember the developer saying he had good access at Apple because they loved his app so much.

When he announced his Android version, Apple kinda stopped returning his calls and engineers would not give him as much time for questions and help. He went from VIP to nobody.

The impact that John Carmack has on the industry is just ridiculous. Apple, NVIDIA, Facebook. As a teenage software engineer, he was a revered figure to me (and I wonder to how many others). I've had an opportunity to work with his source code for a few months - it was a thing of beauty. If you want to learn from him, read his source code and essays. They are full of brilliance.

A question from someone who has never seen a NeXT computer:

How is it possible that Doom was developed on NeXT?

As far as I know, Doom was first released for MS-DOS. Wouldn't be really hard to develop a MS-DOS game from another operative system and another CPU architecture? Specially at the time without engines abstracting platform details?

It is not that big of a deal, although there was extra work required.

You need to remember that Doom had a software renderer only. It only needed to be able to write to a color framebuffer for display. It also needed access to a keyboard, and sound. As long as you do it properly and carefully (and this is John Carmack we are talking about), it is not too difficult to abstract. You need to be careful not to paint yourself into a corner (endianness, pointer sizes, properly isolating platform-specific code, etc). That way you can develop most of the game without even touching the target hardware.

Doom did have what would be nowadays called an "engine", only it was designed for that particular game. Id Software was probably one of the first (if not the first) company to sell a generic "3d Engine". In any case, the abstractions were there.

They probably could not do the entire development using the NeXT workstations. At some point they would need real PCs to finish the port, and check how it worked on the target hardware. That was even more of an issue back then: although the C code could be cross-compiled (to solve the different CPU architecture problem), they did have lots of assembly code for performance.

Nowadays, we are spoiled. iOS developers do exactly the same thing day to day as they did, only they don't even notice for the most part. Click a button on their Macbooks (which run amd64 arch), code get cross-compiled to ARM and linked with ARM-specific libraries. Android developers do the same, and they even have a fully emulated environment.

If you're writing code in a language that compiles to multiple CPU architectures, it's not hard to get 90% of the way towards supporting all those CPU architectures without trying much. The remainder certainly requires some effort (much less if you think about it up-front) - this is where standard types like int, long, even char, and pointers, have different sizes - and where you can't just write out the memory format to a file if that's the same file you're loading on a different platform (even with the same type sizes, because of endianness).

Writing cross-platform code, especially for early games where you're using a fairly restricted set of the platform code (and even less if you're doing a software renderer), is similarly not that hard in the common case if you've thought about it/have experience with it. There are a few different approaches, but even just having a single file that has POSIX and DOS compatibility functions (ie, above the stuff the C standard provides) and some macros could probably get you 90% of the way there.

I don't mean to downplay how hard it is to, say, support multiple renderers, which is a problem that came later, or porting code that was written without any thought given to future portability. But given they knew they were supporting two platforms, it's not that hard to do (compared to the other, actually hard, stuff they did).

That's called porting. And whether or not it is a lot of work depends on how much foresight you had about doing that at some point in the future. If you didn't then it would be a very large amount of work because platform assumptions would be baked in all over the place. If you did - and you were a disciplined programmer - then it could be reasonably quick. I've written software that ported cleanly between Windows and SGI Irix, the original was built for the SGI and when windows capabilities caught up it was relatively straightforward to port, I tried very hard to keep all the platform dependent stuff in a single file so I knew exactly which bits to leave untouched and where to use the chainsaw.


From my memory of reading Masters of Doom, they developed for where they expected the consumer PC hardware market to be at the time of release. If you wanted that hardware at the time they were developing, $10k Next workstations were your best bet.

When Doom came out, I (and most other folks) needed a new PC.

Ports to multiple platforms were pretty common in those days with games and that's something the team had a lot of experience with from their years at Softdisk. Having looked at the game code, it's not really terribly difficult.

I don't think so. It's just that the development environment was so much more productive on NeXT.

After having a very recent encounter with developing software on NeXTSTEP 3.3, I'll have to agree with you. For how old it is, it held up pretty well!

Nah, it wasnt about raw speed, Doom doesnt even run all that well on next, its slower than 386DX40 on emulator trying to approximate NeXTcube Turbo speed.

>Wouldn't be really hard to develop a MS-DOS game from another operative system and another CPU architecture?

Nope, fortunately someone invented C!

Probably just as important as developing the game engine, NeXT's programming environment also let them quickly and easily build tooling like level editors https://doomwiki.org/wiki/DoomEd https://pbs.twimg.com/media/B3O6oJmCIAAGMi0.png:large

@John Carmack,

My biggest question is, why now? I mean what trigger you to post this / share this pieces about Steve Jobs?

The reason I ask was because only a few week ago I posted a few comments about the state of Mac, Gaming on Mac and Gaming as iOS App Revenue. In the age of E-Sports and Gaming is the sole segment that is pushing / slowing / stopping the decline of PC sales, I wonder if Apple would take gaming a little more seriously, since Steve Jobs deleted all Gaming DNA in Apple once he returned from NeXT. And I said I wish John Carmack would comment a bit on Steve Jobs given he has been on Stage a few times in Keynote, and has surprisingly never shared any stories since he passed away.

But I think this confirms my suspicious

>Several things over the years made me conclude that, at his core, Steve didn’t think very highly of games, and always wished they weren’t as important to his platforms as they turned out to be. I never took it personally.

And it is a little strange since Steve worked at Atari.

I came across this HN comment that might answer your question: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17069109

or you can see Carmack's original tweet here: https://twitter.com/ID_AA_Carmack/status/993142700374462464

The Steve Jobs "hero / shithead" rollercoaster was real

That's funny. I had a boss at Apple when I did some contracting there in 1999 who told me that Jobs asked him, "You wanna be a hero?" before giving him a project. My boss told me, "Yep, one day you're a hero, the next day you're a shithead."

I suppose its inevitable that we dissect the lives and actions of "great" people like Steve Jobs. The fact is that no one is perfect, and those who usually accomplish great things have fascinating lives and personality flaws. At the end of the day, you take the good with the bad, its a package deal, and call it Human.

Every time I see one of his posts on facebook.com I cringe and think wistfully about the .plan days.

This pretty much confirms my suspicion that Apple is|was not a company I'd ever want to work at. Making cool stuff might be cool, but I don't want to sacrifice large chunks of my life for it.

It seems pretty likely to me that Steve Jobs was a high functioning sociopath. The line about how his demeanor changed dramatically when Carmack's wife asked for a favor was indicative to me.

"One time, my wife, then fiancée, and I were meeting with Steve at Apple, and he wanted me to do a keynote that happened to be scheduled on the same day as our wedding. With a big smile and full of charm, he suggested that we postpone it. We declined, but he kept pressing. Eventually my wife countered with a suggestion that if he really wanted “her” John so much, he should loan John Lassiter to her media company for a day of consulting. Steve went from full charm to ice cold really damn quick. I didn’t do that keynote."

I find sociopaths fascinating, but I would sure never want to work for one. It must take an incredible amount of calculation and self discipline to keep a semblance of normality for an incredibly high profile sociopath like Jobs.

On a side note, the late Pieter Hintjens of ZeroMQ wrote an excellent book about psychopaths available online for free here.


Also want to disclaim that I am not a psychiatrist and my opinion of Job's sociopathy is only my speculation.

If psychiatrists generally frown upon diagnosing people who are not their patients, as a non-expert, I would be fairly careful in labeling now deceased people based on anecdotal data. Especially if I was not familiar with the person. Jobs had obvious pathological facets in his interactions with other people - but inventing labels on top of the anecdotes really does not add value in any way.

Mr. Hintjens was not a psychiatric expert either. That he wrote a book on the subject, is not entirely to his credit. As such, he could have just described "predatory behavior".

There is popular material available on psychopathy and socipathy written by subject matter experts. For example "The Psychopath Inside: A Neuroscientist's Personal Journey into the Dark Side of the Brain" by James Fallon is written by a neuroscientist who accidentally discovers he is a psychopath.

Generally I agree with you but there's a really, really clear pattern in everything anyone's ever written about an encounter with Steve Jobs. Over the space of decades he was unpredictably charming or abusive, a consummate manipulator and user, completely untrustworthy and seemingly without a conscience.

It's not a clinical diagnosis and should never be treated as such. But after you've run into a couple of people in your own life with those same attributes and that same pattern of behaviour, that's plenty to go on.

Yes, some people have a pattern of behaving badly. Respectively, I still don't think it's a non-clinicians place to make armchair diagnoses based on anecdotes, especially since,

a) Not every pathological behavioral pattern has some underlying psychiatric or neurological condition to explain it. Some people just behave badly.

b) Often diagnosed psychological conditions don't really manifest in how people think they manifest


c) Completely dissimilar conditions can create similar behavior in some situtations.

Of c) especially: For example aspergers and narcissists can behave exactly the same in some situations. They both can lack in reciprocity, but for completely different reasons.


"...after you've run into a couple of people in your own life with those same attributes and that same pattern of behaviour, that's plenty to go on."

I agree that it's really critical to understand that there are people who don't engage in reciprocal relationships and can be abusive.

> I find sociopaths fascinating, but I would sure never want to work for one.

I think it would be very difficult to not work for one since they're at the top of pretty much every successful company.

There is a ton of truth to this:


great article

Or just maybe getting hit by that kind of counter offer when you were bothering someone by pushing to move their wedding date hits you like cold water and you are like right, I'll leave this person alone and avoid making it weirder.

There is also this book - "Confessions of a Sociopath by M.E. Thomas" which seemed to be popular a few years ago. It's unclear how reliable the narrator is but I remember it had a jarring effect on me: https://www.amazon.com/Confessions-Sociopath-Spent-Hiding-Pl...

It appears your link is invalid.

I was just giving back the "steve jobs" manga biography (yes..). I know 90% of it but ... I still read the 200 pages. He's such a special character for someone who grew up with nascent personal computer era.

By all accounts (and I have no personal knowledge here) Steve could be a jerk, or at least very demanding. Steve was definitely successful.

Being a jerk != being successful!

Having a great product eye and good design sense are excellent traits to emulate. Having "strong opinions, loosely held" is another great trait to emulate. Being honest and direct when something isn't good is also a great trait to emulate. Demanding people do their best is another great trait to emulate.

Being a jerk (at least under certain circumstances) is orthogonal and unrelated.

Unfortunately far too many people mistake correlation for causation and think being a demanding jerk is the key to success. First: you are no Steve Jobs. Second: that isn't what made him successful.

(Being direct and brutally honest can also come off as being a jerk. We have lots of pressure to be positive / supportive and avoid social conflict. It is always easier to say "that's great" or "nice job" than give actual constructive feedback, especially when the recipients are likely to be defensive about it. It is critical for startups to avoid this and be brutally honest with themselves about the product!)

Being successful does not excuse being a jerk and people behaviours/relationships are not to be mistaken with statistical behaviours/relationships (like correlation and causation).

Don't defend him while trying to separate the fact that he was the king of jerks because you have spent big money on his products. Does not work that way. Sorry.

"One time, my wife, then fiancée, and I were meeting with Steve at Apple, and he wanted me to do a keynote that happened to be scheduled on the same day as our wedding. With a big smile and full of charm, he suggested that we postpone it. We declined, but he kept pressing. Eventually my wife countered with a suggestion that if he really wanted “her” John so much, he should loan John Lassiter to her media company for a day of consulting. Steve went from full charm to ice cold really damn quick. "

You have to consider his background when you say this. He is super amazing as is, and 10x more compared to how he started.

> Don't defend him while trying to separate the fact that he was the king of jerks because you have spent big money on his products. Does not work that way. Sorry.

You sound like a jerk.

Does it help if I show you how successful I am ?

You are my hero :-)

Sorry, not very productive, but you made me smile

TBH, yes. Being direct and abrasive is much easier to handle when it is also combined with usually being right (and a willingness to change when not right).

If I put all my charm on and ask you to postpone your wedding to work for me without giving you anything in return I am not being direct and abrasive. To be clear, steve jobs was not direct and abrasive. He was a jerk.

Or a SOB if you prefer.

success is irrelevant :P

But only to the successful.

It's like the asshole boss version of 'Sexual Harassment and You'[0].

    - Be Charismatic
    - Be Successful
    - Don't Be Unsuccessful
[0]: https://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/tv-funhouse-se...

Many people seem to love to look up to jerks. Look at the current resident of the White House for example. I've seen it in academia as well and I don't understand it. There was someone in the department I got my phd from that I saw be a total jerk to people for no reason and some people still worshiped him.

I suspect you are right- this is actually what's at work. If you are willing to be a jerk you can get people to follow you. It's been a real eye-opener learning this, and I've been alive for a while.

Prolly why I always finish last lol.

Probably some primitive instinct that looks up to the alpha of the group.

I don't know. That alpha male stuff is mostly bull. And It isn't like all people who are assholes and have people look up to them are actually good or "alpha" in any way. And why do some people look at people like this and say, "fuck that guy?"

Agree- maybe for protection?

Thank you for this. Getting lost in ego is a common trap for smart people in powerful positions.

One can be brutally honest in a nonpersonal way, with non-sarcastic humor, with lightness and friendliness.

Including appreciation for already existing effort, adding reasoning, logic, and vision in the communication go a long way.

Edit: added appreciation :)

Indeed. Diplomacy is worth a lot.

Yes, I think he was successful even though he was a jerk from time to time. That trait surely cost him some years. But it also shows how smart he must have been to compensate for that.

I think his success gave him a shield from consequences, so it was easy for him to become a jerk. It's the same theory as the reason that the most attractive people are often jerks. No one is willing to push back.

From what I've heard, he was always a jerk, even during his Atari days.

> It's the same theory as the reason that the most attractive people are often jerks

Not true. Attractive people tend to be treated nicer and think that’s the norm for behavior.

I don't know what you're referring to, but here is an study that supports my belief: https://example123456789615.files.wordpress.com/2016/06/holt...

The Steve Jobs “hero / shithead” rollercoaster was real, and after riding high for a long time, I was now on the down side

This doesn't sound so much like an admirable quality as much as it sounds like a symptom.

Disclaimer: This is an opinion and I’m not purporting this as fact, since folks don’t know the difference these days.

Based on his reactions to social situations, I truly believe he was on the autism spectrum, and that he suffered from lifelong reactive attachment disorder. To some degree, I can understand the disdain others feel for him, but I also can’t fully understand it either. It’s not like anyone was suckered into Apple not knowing how he was. I feel that if you signed up to work there, you were signing up for his uncompromising vision. People with uncompromising visions are a lot like him from my observation.

Why is anything you just asserted any more valid than someone claiming that being a jerk is useful trait in becoming successful in business? Just because you used 'orthogonal' in a fun context doesn't mean you've given evidence that your assertion is valid.

It might well be useful. You'll get challenged a lot less if people fear you and your power. But that doesn't mean it's necessary, or even that it's not counterproductive to greater success. Even in the post, Carmack alludes to a couple battle he lost with Steve where Carmack's view was eventually vindicated.

By the way, you criticize the previous commenter's assertion, but you haven't provided any rationale on why they might be mistaken.

Not OP, and even though I agree with them (that it _is_ orthogonal), I think the burden of proof should be with the original claimer, rather than the refuter needing to prove a negative.

I kind of agree, but it's really just a discussion, which I feel has a lower bar than a formal debate. If the refuter thought the argument was weak, they could have simply responded with their point of view and some evidence, rather than complaining. It's not like the OP was making claims on hidden truths.

Unfortunately comment sections usually don't work like that :(

>By the way, you criticize the previous commenter's assertion, but you haven't provided any rationale on why they might be mistaken.

Fine. John Rockefeller, Henry Clay Frick, Steve Cohen, Bill Gross, LBJ, Larry Ellison, Pablo Escobar, Donald Trump, Bo Xilai, Harvey Weinstein, Vladamir Putin. And those are just a small fraction of the HUGE assoles. Not even run of the mill assholes like Jobs.

Recent history (and ancient history) is filled with successful assholes. So, my rationale that it's not something that can be asserted without evidence is simply the prevalence. Which, to be honest, probably didn't need to be said. This is common knowledge.

The difference is that Linus actually knows what he's talking about and the buck stops with him.

I wonder if it has something to do with stress and being highly involved in a subject.

Let's say I get involved in a pet project, put lots of bloody time on it, and get involved on it mentally. I can become a jerk when someone criticize it.

Taking critics is good. But it is very hard when you put lots of effort. Steve Jobs did put lots of work into Apple. That could made some of his reactions a backfire that people perceived badly.

I don't think its so much that he's a jerk - it's just that he did not try to hide it. He's a smart guy - he could have covered it all up - and there are plenty of people who do.

Maybe a better word to describe Jobs is honest.

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