Steve Jobs set a precedent that I will not follow

Lester Earnest (les at



An Irregular Bounce. You may have heard that I might have pancreatic cancer, or that I don’t, or that I really do, or that I have the same kind of tumor that Jobs had and stupidly mishandled or that I plan to “Watch and Wait.” That was an odd and bumpy ride. Happily, in June 2016 I had a follow-up MRI that that showed the tumor to be stable, so I now plan to check up on it at one year intervals. That has an odd and bumpy ride but I’m winning so far.

     Malfunctions of body parts are a natural result of aging and, in order for sexual evolution to work, we all have to croak eventually. I accept that outcome without any concerns even though it means that a cost of having sex is that we must die. I also do not believe in the various marketing strategies of formal religions that pretend we will have an afterlife, nor the claims that the artificial intelligence singularity will protect us. If you believe in such things, perhaps I can sell you part of the Golden Gate Bridge!

     Having been born in 1930 and having enjoyed a stimulating life so far, my recent experience has made me rethink how best to use my remaining time, so I have recompiled my Bucket List, shown in the lower part of this note. As indicated there, I will be happy to pass away any time after age 112.

Description:     The media generally love Steve Jobs and keep making up stories about his many inventions even though he never invented anything. After learning that his pancreas was malfunctioning he sought no real medical evaluation or treatment until it was too late, apparently depending on his belief that he was in charge of the Universe. He was, of course, an outstanding marketer (i.e. distorter of reality) and had a great instinct for how to recruit real inventors as well as how to bully individuals but that didn't help his final days. Like most marketers he lived in a dimly lit fantasy world.

     Jobs and I first crossed paths in 1975 when the recently formed Homebrew Computer Club, including Steve Wozniak and others, held a meeting at our lab, SAIL. Most of us sneered at them because they were planning to build dinky and rather useless computers. Personal computers (PCs) did become popular a decade later but they were an inevitable result of Moore’s Law and were far less important than many people seem to think. Many people first experienced interactive computing on a PC and think it started there, which it did not. Interactive computing began in the mid-1950s in SAGE, initiated by MIT and which I helped design.

     General purpose interactive computing, then called timesharing, began in the mid-1960s, also at MIT, and general purpose networking, which I also helped initiate, began with ARPANET in 1971 (not 1969 as often claimed) and also was initiated by the MIT gang. It is now called “cloud computing” by the Marketers who pretend that inventing a new name is equivalent to making a new invention. So what did Steve Jobs have to do with any of that? Nothing.


     Unlike Jobs, I am an assertive pragmatist who lives mostly in the real world and, having accidentally discovered this tumor before any symptoms appeared, I will accept whatever comes and try to deal with it.  The version I have, the same as Jobs, is called a Pancreatic Neuroendocrine Tumor (PNET), which accounts for less than 5% of all pancreatic tumors. They may be benign or malignant and tend to grow slower than endocrine tumors. There is a Scientific American article on this that was published just after Jobs’ death. There is more documentation on this than you probably want to see.

     The photo at left is of me at age 74 and inasmuch as Jobs died at age 56 I have now outlived him by 30 years and aim to live another 28 years as explained in my Bucket List, cited below.


How This Scare Started. On 2015.11.04 I had a CT Scan of my enlarged prostate that confirmed it was not acting up but the radiologist noticed a blob on my nearby pancreas, so Kaiser Permanente sent me to their San Francisco facility to take a closer look.  On New Year’s Eve, I underwent a so-called endoscopic ultrasound, which involved shoving devices down my throat to look at my pancreas. I was sedated and after I woke up the doctor came in to tell me that there was no cancer and so, no problem. However he had taken a tissue sample to be biopsied for confirmation.

     On 2016.01.05 I received a phone call from a different doctor telling me that I have pancreatic cancer, which I expected would be promptly fatal. I then was scheduled to see a different surgeon in San Francisco on 2016.01.11 to discuss what more could be done. There I was told that a panel of surgeons had reviewed my case the preceding week and concluded that I had the same kind of the slow-developing tumor that Steve Jobs had. He went on to say that the best strategy would be to avoid the dangerous surgery by following a “Watch and Wait” plan, which I am now doing and am winning so far.

     Meanwhile, I decided to develop a Bucket List to make the most of the time left and, after two MRIs showing no further growth, with another annual one to be done in June 2017, things are continuing to look good.