May 30, 2007

Are You a Programmer or Are You an Artist?

Steve looked up from Phil's email about Apple cafeteria policies and the unfair treatment the lunch lady had given him and looked at the clock on his menubar, realizing he'd forgotten his meeting with Chris. Reaching over to the telecom, he buzzed his secretary. Phil's important matter would have to wait.

Steve took a bottled of water out of the mini-fridge next to his desk and kicked his feet up just in time to hear a knock from the door at the other end of his cathedral-like office.

"Enter," Steve called.

The door opened and in shuffled Chris McKillop, thin and pasty. He was wearing a wrinkled grey polo and a pair of creased jeans with stains all over the thighs. His eyes were bloodshot and sunken in dark, hollow sockets and his hair was matted to his forehead.

"Steve," he called back form the other end of the hallway, walking toward Steve's desk. "It's about time you were actually here for one of our meetings."

"Hey, Chris, what's up? How can I help you?" Steve said, pushing his wire-frame glasses up.

Chris eyed Steve's bottle of water and licked his dry, cracked lips.

"I just– I can't do this anymore," Chris said, his eyes visibly watering. "This isn't working out at all."

Clearing his throat, Steve shifted in his chair and placed his right ankle atop his left knee, folded his hands behind his head, and looked Chris in the eye.

"Actually, Chris, I think everything is working out really well," Steve chimed. "In fact, we're all really excited about the work you're doing on the kernel."

"You don't understand, Steve," Chris said. "You hired me as a consumer electronics programmer and all I've been doing since I got here is optimizing Mach. I haven't touched an iPod, an AirPort station, nothing. Not even the iPhone. I'm one of the last guys left on Leopard until July."

"Well, that's why we called you. Avie recommended you for Mach because of your experience with Neutrino," Jobs said, his voice a major key full of bright colors and encouragement. "We're really excited about the work you're doing–"

"Fuck your being excited, Steve!" Chris shouted. "Trying to optimize Mach is like trying to train a gorilla to tap dance. It doesn't fucking work. And then you switch archs and work me eighty fucking hours a week without overtime!"

Steve, unflinching, waited for Chris to finish before he spoke.

"We take good care of you for all of your hard work," he said. "We give you everything you need."

"Did you know I'm stuck in a broom closet without a light?" Chris shouted, waving his arms wildly. "You give me cafeteria vouchers for curry and a Core Solo mini with half a gig of RAM. That is not treating me well! That piece of shit beach-balls all day long!"

Steve continued looking at Chris and smiled.

"Chris, are you a programmer or are you an artist? he asked, standing up and opening his mini-fridge. "Would you like a water?"

Chris blinked, surprised by Steve's offer. "Sure, thanks," was all Chris could mumble. He was thirsty.

Steve tossed Chris a frosty bottle of pure, natural spring water.

"It's been ten years since I returned to Apple," he began as he pecked a few keys on his top-secret 24" MacBook Pro. "And all that time was in preparation for this Summer." A Keynote glowed on the large white wall behind them.

Chris tore into the bottle and poured the ice-cold liquid down his parched throat, eyes locked on the display. He drank in glugs, snorting here and there as the water chilled his mouth, his throat, his stomach. He felt the blossom of chill in his gut and relaxed.

"After this Summer, Apple will have the world's best music player, the world's best computer, and the world's best phone," Steve said, now at his podium. "And they'll all be running the same operating system."

Steve pressed his Apple Remote and the keynote continued, showing a confusing array of bar graphs and numbers.

"The work you're doing on Mach is making it possible for the same OS to run in thirty-two megabytes of RAM on a single eighty megahertz ARM core," Steve said, clicking the presentation to a new graph. "And still take full advantage of thirty-two gigabytes of RAM on eight three gigahertz Xeon cores."

Steve paused, took a sip of water from his bottle, and pushed his glasses up again.

"This is really exciting stuff!"

Chris slumped. The rumors of Steve's private keynotes were true; Phil Schiller hadn't been lying after all. Chris's head began to swim.

"But to do this it takes more than just a programming degree or even a few years' experience," Steve said. "It takes vision. That's why the people behind this massive undertaking are artists who express their vision through the code they create."

Chris had just finished his water and felt a light, dizzy feeling in his head. He sat down in nice comfy chair, position perfectly to watch the dazzling Stevenote.

"The ultimate expression of their creative venture is Mac OS X," Steve continued. "Not only is it wonderful to look at, but it's functional art. You can use it to get things done! No one else in the industry does this."

The keynote switched from a checklist of operating systems, each lacking the "functional art" feature Steve was talking about. He fixed his beady eyes directly on Chris's. "No one."

Chris was reeling now, something overpowering him, making him feel as if his head were smoldering and his brain struggling to escape. Was it Steve's Reality Distortion Field? The Stevenote? Months spent in the dark trying to get Mach to fit on a wristwatch? Or was it… the water?!

Noticing Chris's reaction, Steve walked over to the MacBook Pro and stuck the mouse cursor in the lower left corner, activating the screen saver. A brilliant display of hues, each morphing into the next at breakneck speed, painted the interior of the office in a multihued orgasm.

Chris chucked the water bottle down. His brain was on fire, purple and pink flames consuming it, warping light and space and time. The walls were melting, slimy pools of white plastic revealing radio waves and x-rays bounding to and fro in the ether, communications from civilizations long since dead and forgotten. Steve had a halo around his head, a messianic vision of the godhead.

"Chris," Steve called, the words flowing like violet lightning from his mouth. "Chris, do you see my point yet?"

Chris stood up straight, staring at Steve, all sense gone from his eyes.

"Steve, I–" Chris said, cold and emotionless like a robot. "I totally get why I haven't been working hard enough. I can be a good artist or I can be an insanely great artist. I want to be insanely great, Steve. I want to work one hundred hours a week. Can I sleep in my office?"

Steve, pleased that his "reality distortion field" had worked, smiled back at Chris. "Yes you can, Chris" he said. "Yes you can."

Chris's eyes glimmered, hope shining in them where there had only been darkness. He was having his own vision now.

"Steve," Chris said slowly and deliberately.

"Yes, Chris?" Steve asked.

The colors of the screen saver and the power of Steve's Reality Distortion Field were at full force now and Chris's mind was processing it all at a fantastic rate. He felt he was one with the godhead.

"I have an idea."

Steve leaned forward on his podium, wondering what his acid-drenched zombie programmer was thinking. Independent thought within the Reality Distortion Field was unusual and always suspect.

"Yes Chris?" he asked. "What is it? What do you see, Chris?"

Chris lolled, his skeleton like putty within his bones. "I have an idea to– to unite everyone at Apple, make us all one. Just like your plan to make everything one with Mac OS X."

Steve smiled at the altruistic hippiness edging its way out of Chris. "Yes, Chris? And what is that?"

"Steve, an idea to reward the artists for their vision, to recharge the creative collective subconscious."

Steve was impatient, used to other people swaying to his will while he tripped and dictated company policy, not the other way around.

"Please tell me your idea, Chris," he said.

"Everyone, just everyone," he began, staring at something a million miles away through Steve's head. "Get them together, let them flow together."

"Okay, Chris, what do you mean?" Steve asked, on the edge of his podium.

Chris looked at Steve and said, "Let's have a ding-dong."