This Day in History (October 5)

Oct 5, 2011: Apple founder Steve Jobs dies

History.com

On this day in 2011, Steve Jobs, the visionary co-founder of Apple Inc., which revolutionized the computer, music and mobile communications industries with such devices as the Macintosh, iPod, iPhone and iPad, dies at age 56 of complications from pancreatic cancer.

Born on February 24, 1955, in San Francisco, California, to unmarried graduate students Joanne Schieble and Abdulfattah Jandali, a Syrian immigrant, Jobs was adopted as a baby by Paul Jobs, a Silicon Valley machinist, and his wife Clara. After graduating from high school in Cupertino, California, in 1972, Jobs attended Reed College, a liberal arts school in Portland, Oregon, for a single semester before dropping out. He later worked briefly for pioneering video game maker Atari in California, traveled to India and studied Zen Buddhism.

In 1976, Jobs and his computer engineer friend Stephen Wozniak founded Apple Computer in Jobs’ parents’ garage in Los Altos, California. As Bloomberg News would later note about Jobs: “He had no formal technical training and no real business experience. What he had instead was an appreciation of technology’s elegance and a notion that computers could be more than a hobbyist’s toy or a corporation’s workhorse. These machines could be indispensable tools.” In 1977, Jobs and Wozniak launched the Apple II, which became the first popular personal computer. In 1980, Apple went public and Jobs, then in his mid-20s, became a multimillionaire. Four years later, Apple debuted the Macintosh, one of the first personal computers to feature a graphical user interface, which allowed people to navigate by pointing and clicking a mouse rather than typing commands.

In 1985, Jobs left the company following a power struggle with Apple’s board of directors. That same year, he established NeXT, a business that developed high-performance computers. The machines proved too pricey to gain a wide consumer audience; however, British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee developed the World Wide Web using a NeXT workstation. In 1986, Jobs acquired a small computer-graphics studio founded by filmmaker George Lucas and rechristened it Pixar Animation Studios. In 1995, Pixar released its first film, “Toy Story,” the first-ever feature-length, computer-animated movie. It became a huge box-office success and was followed by such award-winning hits as “Finding Nemo” (2003) and “The Incredibles” (2004). In 2006, Walt Disney Company purchased Pixar for more than $7 billion, making Jobs the largest Disney shareholder.

In late 1996, Apple, which had floundered without Jobs, announced it would buy NeXT and hire Jobs as an advisor. The following year, he became Apple’s interim CEO (the “interim” was dropped in 2000), and under his leadership a nearly bankrupt Apple was transformed into one of the planet’s most valuable corporations. A charismatic, demanding perfectionist, Jobs was said to possess the ability to intuit what customers wanted before they knew it themselves. In his trademark jeans and black mock turtleneck, the tech titan turned product launches into highly anticipated events, and Apple introduced a series of innovative digital devices, including the iPod portable music player in 2001, the iPhone in 2007 and the iPad tablet computer in 2010, that became part of everyday modern life. (In early 2007, Jobs announced that Cupertino-based Apple was dropping “Computer” from its official moniker to reflect the fact the company’s focus had shifted from computers-only to mobile electronic devices).

Despite a series of medical issues, including surgery in 2004 to remove a pancreatic tumor and a 2009 liver transplant, Jobs continued to lead Apple until August 24, 2011, when he stepped down as the company’s chief executive. Six weeks later, he passed away at his Palo Alto, California, home. At the time of his death, Jobs, a father of four, had a net worth estimated at more than $7 billion. According to biographer Walter Isaacson, Jobs “was the greatest business executive of our era, the one most certain to be remembered a century from now. History will place him in the pantheon right next to Thomas Edison and Henry Ford.”

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This Day in History (July 14)

Jul 14, 1995: A revolutionary new technology is christened “MP3”

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Representatives of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) were not in attendance at the 1995 christening of the infant technology that would shake their business model to its core just a few years later. Known formally as “MPEG-1 Audio Layer 3,” the technology in question was an efficient new format for the encoding of high-quality digital audio using a highly efficient data-compression algorithm. In other words, it was a way to make CD-quality music files small enough to be stored in bulk on the average computer and transferred manageably across the Internet. Released to the pubic one week earlier, the brand-new MP3 format was given its name and its familiar “.mp3” file extension on this day in 1995.

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The importance of MP3, or any other scheme for compressing data, is made clear by some straightforward arithmetic. The music on a compact disc is encoded in such a way that a single second corresponds to approximately 176,000 bytes of data, and a single three-minute song to approximately 32 million bytes (32MB). In the mid-1990s, when it was not uncommon for a personal computer to have a total hard-drive capacity of only 500MB, it was therefore impossible to store even one album’s worth of music on the average home computer. And given the actual connection speed of a then-standard 56K dial-up modem, even a single album’s worth of music would have taken literally all day to transfer over the Internet. In this way, the nature of the CD format and the state of mid-90s computer and telecommunications technologies offered the music industry a practical barrier to copyright infringement via Internet file-sharing. But then came MP3.

Over the course of the late 1980s and early 1990s, several teams of audio engineers worked to develop, test and perfect the standard that would eventually gain the blessing of Motion Picture Experts Group (MPEG). Their approach took advantage of certain physical and cognitive characteristics of human hearing, such as our inability to detect the quieter of two sounds played simultaneously. Using a “perceptual” compression method, engineers were able to eliminate more than 90 percent of the data in a standard CD audio file without compromising sound quality as perceived by the average listener using standard audio equipment.

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Suddenly, that digital copy of your favorite pop song took up only 2-3 MB on your hard-drive rather than 32MB, which in combination with the growth in average drive capacity and the increase in average Internet connection speed created the conditions for both the rampant, Winamp- and Napster-enabled copyright infringement of 1999-2000 and for the legal commercial distribution of digital music via the Internet. In the eyes of the RIAA, those are the conditions that also explain the 29 percent decline in the sales of music CDs between 2000 and 2006.

iPhone Charging Station

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