Liz Swain 4:24 p.m., May 24
Worth Watching: Interview with Steve Jobs in Exile (Two Nights Only!)
File under "Why you should never throw anything away." In 1995, Robert Cringely made Triumph of the Nerds, a miniseries for PBS about the birth and growth of the computer industry. As part of the project, he filmed a 70-minute interview with Steve Jobs, then in exile from Apple.
Cringely used 10 minutes of the interview for the miniseries and then managed to lose the other 60. But recently, one of the show's producers found a VHS copy of the interview in his garage. Tonight and tomorrow, you can see that interview (cleaned up but not cut up) at Hillcrest Cinemas.
Yeah, it's a lot to ask -- buying a movie ticket to watch Jobs sit in a chair and talk. But you know something? It just might be worth it. I'm not a Jobs disciple -- though I do own a bunch of Apple stuff, I never cared much for his showbizzy performances at the company's the big product release events. But this, this is good.
Jobs, looking positively robust and not terribly unlike John Lennon 1968, comes off as at once controlled and candid. I got a huge kick out of the story of his first collaboration with Steve Wozniak, with whom he would eventually found Apple.
The two read a 1971 Esquire article about "Captain Crunch," a man who had figured out how to make free phone calls by producing certain sounds that sent a certain message to AT&T's computers. The practice was called blueboxing, after the device used to produce the sounds. Jobs and Wozniak set about to build their own blue box.
The article warned them that it would be difficult: "'You see, a few years ago the phone company made one big mistake,' Gilbertson explains two days later in his apartment. 'They were careless enough to let some technical journal publish the actual frequencies used to create all their multi-frequency tones. Just a theoretical article some Bell Telephone Laboratories engineer was doing about switching theory, and he listed the tones in passing. At ----- [a well-known technical school], I had been fooling around with phones for several years before I came across a copy of the journal in the engineering library. I ran back to the lab and it took maybe twelve hours from the time I saw that article to put together the first working blue box. It was bigger and clumsier than this little baby, but it worked.'
"It's all there on public record in that technical journal written mainly by Bell Lab people for other telephone engineers. Or at least it was public. 'Just try and get a copy of that issue at some engineering-school library now. Bell has had them all red-tagged and withdrawn from circulation,' Gilbertson tells me."
Apparently, not all of them. Jobs and Wozniak found an AT&T technical journal in a Stanford library, and they were off. They called L.A.. They called the Vatican, pretending to be Kissinger, but cracked up when someone went to wake the Pope. "We learned we could build something that could control billions of dollars' worth of infrastructure," recalls Jobs. "I don't think there would have been an Apple if there hadn't been a blue box."
It's a fun anecdote, but also a revealing one. The interview is full of stuff like that. I was fascinated despite myself. My favorite bit came at the end, when Cringely asked Jobs if he was a hippie or a nerd. Jobs went with hippie.
"To me, the spark of [the hippie movement] was that there was something beyond sort of what you see every day. There's something going on here in life beyond just a job, a family, and two cars in the garage, a career, there's something more going on. There's another side of the coin that we don't talk about much. And we experience it when there's gaps, when we kind of aren't really, when everything's not ordered and perfect, when there's kind of a gap. You experience this inrush of something. And a lot of people have set off throughout history to find out what that was...and the hippie movement got a little bit of that and they wanted to find out what that was about...There was a germ of something there. It's the same thing that causes people to want to be poets instead of bankers, you know? And I think that's a wonderful thing. And I think that that same spirit can be put into products...If you talk to people that use the Macintosh, they love it. You don't hear of people loving products very often."
A lot to think about there.
Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview shows Wed, 11/16 at 7:15pm & 9:00pm and Thu, 11/17 at 7:15pm & 9:00pm at the Hillcrest Cinemas.