Steve Jobs, engineering hero?

June 16th, 2011 4:33 PM
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Filed under Mainstream coverage, Steve Jobs;
6 comments.

Last month, Steve Jobs was declared in a survey of 900 engineering undergraduates in the UK as one of the third greatest engineers of all time, taking credit for the Apple II and iPod.

Not to undermine the unbelievable heights to which Mr. Jobs has brought his fruit company, but is his engineering prowess really the quality that brought about those successes?

Steve Jobs is a salesman, for sure. But has been examined and debated on this blog, his role in the creation of many popular Apple products is questionable. Steve Wozniak (who was not on the list) invented the Apple II, and many other concepts that Apple Inc. has since popularized were first proven by other companies. It was Jobs who came up with the packaging and pitch that made these concepts into products, but he's no hands-on inventor.

But let's step back and see if this complaint is warranted. By definition, an engineer is "a person trained and skilled in the design, construction, and use of engines or machines" I think it's fair to say that Jobs is familiar and perhaps responsible with both the design and use of Apple's runaway hits. As for the construction, could he disassemble an iPhone, identify its parts, and then put it back together? I sincerely doubt it. Is two out of three qualities enough to label Jobs an engineer? Did the UK students in the survey even care, or was this more a popularity contest?

I cannot find an official publication of the survey or its methodology, but the validity of the students' results must surely be questioned, regardless of Jobs' presence or absence. The Apple co-founder ranked higher on the list than Nikola Tesla, Bill Gates, Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, and Thomas Edison. Those pioneers were working with truly revolutionary ideas; Steve Jobs, they were not.

(Hat tips to Ben Camm-Jones and John Brownlee)

Baby Boomer inventions that changed the world

December 23rd, 2010 10:26 AM
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Filed under Mainstream coverage;
3 comments.

Many amazing technologies have been invented over the past hundred years, allowing humanity to travel and communicate in ways and at speeds unprecedented. Yet the people behind these developments have not yet made it into our history books. While today's students learn about Eli Whitney and the cotton gin, they're more likely to know pop culture stars like Steve Jobs than they are modern inventors like Steve Wozniak.

The Web site SecondAct.com recently compiled a list that offers long-overdue acknowledgement to 25 such geniuses and their inventions. The list includes not only geek icons such as Sir Tim Berners-Lee and the World Wide Web, and Dean Kamen and his Segway transportation device and his portable dialysis machine, but also lesser-known heroes such as Gail Naughton and her synthetic skin products, and Sally Fox's Foxfibre naturally colored cotton.

It should be no surprise that the Apple II, considered by some to be our last technological revolution, made the list, as did its responsible parties:

Steve Wozniak, who was born in 1950, and his future partner Steve Jobs, born in 1955, both grew up in the San Francisco area and got to know each other as summer interns at electronics manufacturer Hewlett-Packard. Though neither finished college, they helped launch a technological revolution that transformed our culture. In 1977, they created and marketed the Apple II personal computer, which included color graphics, a sound card, expansion slots, and other features that made it the earliest machine to resemble today's PCs. It arguably did more than any other product to usher in an age in which computers would become as ubiquitous as TVs and telephones.

It's an honor just to be nominated — though had SecondAct.com presented these inventors and inventions in order of importance instead of seemingly randomly, the inclusion of the Apple II would be questionable, or at least laughable: it's sandwiched between bacterial cement and Sildenafil (not named here by its more common moniker so as to not trigger spam filters). I suppose all three keep people indoors, and a few may've even prompted some late nights.

Most of these inventions had humble beginnings; many have since become household names. Few of its creators have enjoyed similar fame. Thanks to SecondAct.com for its steps to rectify that situation.