David Gelphman's Blog


Steve Jobs Changed My Life

I simply cannot imagine how my life would have turned out had Steve Jobs not lived the amazing life he did. I would not have met my wife Leslie, would not live where I do, would not work where I work, and would not have met almost every friend I have in my life today. Of course he changed the world but he also changed me.

I wrote most of this originally when the Macintosh computer turned 25 years old in January 2009. Everything it says here relates to why I say Steve Jobs changed my life.


Without a doubt the introduction of the Macintosh changed my life.

In 1984 I was nearing the completion of an advanced degree in a field I decided not to pursue. My interest in the personal computers of the day was non-existent. In January 1984 I was out of the country so I missed the introduction of the Mac. But a colleague had a friend who worked for Apple and that friend brought a Mac over to show us. It seemed like magic.

I was totally hooked. Stanford had some Macs that you could go and spend time with, playing with MacPaint and MacWrite. When Apple offered Macs through the university at $1000 (a huge discount from the $2500 list price) I scraped together money I didn’t have and bought one.

In the early days of Macintosh the internet was just a bit different than today. 🙂 A couple of people at Stanford started the “Info Mac Digest” which was a daily mass mailing that went to thousands of people. It was an incredible information source and consisted entirely of postings from people who shared excitement about this sea change in computing. For a period of time I was moderator of info-mac and through that got to meet many people in the Macintosh community, many of which are colleagues and friends today. I have to take at least partial credit for organizing the “netters dinner” that took place annually around MacWorld. I still remember the year that about 70 of us gathered at MacWorld and walked from Moscone up to Chinatown and overtook the Hunan Restaurant. (See Netter’s Dinner.)

Stanford had a users group, SMUG, that met regularly. Gus Fernandez started a developers group associated with SMUG and he seemed to have every Apple superstar come and talk about Macintosh. I don’t remember everybody but I do remember Andy Hertzfeld, Larry Kenyon, Bruce Horn, Chris Crawford, and Bill Budge coming and blowing everybody away with stories, demos, and more. I still remember Andy saying that even though the LaserWriter had a 12 MHz processor (instead of the 8 MHz of the Mac), running PostScript brought the processor to its knees!

I don’t remember the timing (but I’m sure Ric Ford and Rick LePage of Macintouch do!) but Macintouch was on the scene very early with a periodical that was a fantastic resource. I was lucky enough to meet Ric at the netter’s dinner at MacWorld Boston in August 1987. I remember the year well because it was my only trip to MacWorld Boston and my only trip ever to Fenway. Even though the Sox fell (just) short in 1986, Dave Henderson of the Sox was still getting standing ovations at Fenway for his heroics in the 1986 playoffs and World Series.

All this motivated me to go to the Stanford library where they had a loose leaf copy of a draft of Inside Macintosh and I started reading. Everything was totally new and exciting but completely foreign to me. I’d only done programming in Fortran previously and Pascal was literally a foreign language. It was nothing like the computing I’d done on mainframes! On July 13, 1985 I went to the “MacAfrica” one day class taught by Dave Wilson (see MacAfrica) and learned a ton.

When I finished grad school and started looking for jobs I had a couple of opportunities with high tech companies doing computing work that didn’t really excite me but they were good opportunities nonetheless. Then by chance I met Dave Gustavson at SLAC who was looking for a Mac programmer to do Mac programming using FORTH on a project to control a piece of hardware. I ended up working for him in the Computation Research Group at SLAC programming the Mac using the fantastic Mach1 programming environment created by Rick Miley and others at the Palo Alto Shipping Company.

One bonus of that job was that Dave got one of the first Apple LaserWriter printers. I got a serial cable and started to learn the PostScript programming language. Since it was syntactically similar to FORTH it was a breeze to get started. This was my real first experience with computer graphics and it was a really easy way to learn. This was helpful when a friend at SLAC, Kathy Dager, put me in touch with Dick Sweet at Adobe Systems.

At Adobe I got the opportunity to do a wide range of things, including teaching PostScript programming classes to a wide range of people, working with a number of high profile software developers, including Apple, Aldus, and Quark. While Adobe was in development of a second version of the PostScript programming language (PostScript Level 2) I got to be part of the design of the language.

When Adobe decided that they needed to write a new LaserWriter driver for the Macintosh, I met Rich Blanchard and he and I co-designed and (with a team of talented people) wrote a new PostScript printer driver for Macintosh. That project became a joint project with Apple and became Apple’s LaserWriter 8 printer driver.

This led to my direct involvement with Apple Computer. Over time I worked with Rich and others from the LaserWriter 8 team at RBI Software Systems where we did contract work for Apple, Adobe, Sun, IBM, and others. After 5 years of working with Apple as a contractor, Apple decided they wanted us to work exclusively for them and our team at RBI became Apple employees.

That is where I work today and it has been an exciting ride from 1984 to now.

So I mean it when I say the introduction of the Macintosh changed my life. Without Steve Jobs, my life today would not be recognizable to me.

I do have two fun memories of direct (or almost) contact with Steve:

Sometime in probably 1989 or 1990, Leslie and I were out for a walk on the dish hill near Stanford. That is a fantastic place to get exercise and see a wonderful view of the bay area. When we were near the top of the hill, coming the other direction is Steve Jobs and a little girl who must have been his daughter Lisa. Leslie and I were amused and of course that started a conversation about Steve and Apple. After our walk we went to a popular cafe in downtown Palo Alto to have coffee or tea. Soon after, in walks Steve Jobs and the little girl and they sit right next to us. It was spooky!

Soon after, I did have a direct interaction with Steve. While working for Adobe, I got a chance to go to a several day NeXT developers training in Redwood City. One of the nights had a dinner with the other developers and when I heard that Steve Jobs might show up I had to go. When I arrived I sat down at a table of four with a couple of other developers. Steve walks in and pulls up a chair and sits down right next to me! He asks me what I do and why I’m there and what I’m interested in. He quickly lost interest in talking with me and spent most of the evening talking with someone who came with him to the dinner. Nevertheless it was a memorable experience for me.

RIP Steve Jobs