Is That Jobs in Your Pocket? By Leander Kahney
Story location: http://www.wired.com/news/mac/0,2125,64796,00.html
Sep. 02, 2004 PT
While Steve Jobs is out of action convalescing from a cancer operation, a 12-inch, plastic facsimile of the Apple CEO is up and about evangelizing the Mac.
Jobs' surrogate is the mini iLeader, a GI Joe doll dressed up to look like the famous CEO.
For the past 18 months, the mini iLeader has winged his way across the United States and visited several countries overseas as an emissary for the Mac community.
Clad in a mini black turtleneck and mini blue jeans, the mini iLeader even carries a mini water bottle -- a frequent prop at Jobs' keynotes.
The mini iLeader is the Mac community's equivalent of the Flat Stanley project. Inspired by the Flat Stanley series of children's books, high school kids all over the world mail Flat Stanley figures to each other. Recipients take pictures of Flat Stanley at their homes and schools before mailing them back. The project is a popular way of teaching about life overseas.
In similar fashion, the mini iLeader is dispatched every week to a new recipient, postage paid by the previous guardian. Using the accompanying digital camera, the recipient takes several pictures of the mini iLeader and posts them to the project's website.
"It's a community builder, a get-to-know-ya," said Danny La, a 26-year-old newspaper photographer from Salt Lake City who helped initiate the project with friend Pam Phillips.
The pictures tend to feature Macintosh setups, of course, but also highlight homes, workplaces, landmarks and events.
The mini iLeader has met Duran Duran, visited Apple's California HQ and been chased off the Microsoft campus by security.
The mini iLeader is currently in Massachusetts, having visited about 70 people in several countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Italy and Ecuador.
"He goes where the wind takes him," said La.
The mini iLeader has met a lot of Barbie collections, and posed with several Finding Nemo toys.
"People think it's funny for him to get loaded," said La. "There's lots of drinking pictures."
He's been to the Leaning Tower of Pisa, walked Hollywood Boulevard and communed with cows in Massachusetts.
La said there's a few rules: "Don't mistreat him and don't stuff him in any orifices," said La. "You don't want to be the next person who gets him. And no meat. Don't sit him down in front of a big steak because he's a vegan."
La explained that the project is part homage, part ridicule.
"I don't know the man (Jobs)," said La. "We don't go for coffee when I'm in San Francisco. He looks like he can be a real nice man. Other times he can be brutal. We're aware he's no saint, but he's a rock star in his own way. We're kind of mocking that, his tech-geek, rock-star status."
La said Jobs himself was asked, through his secretary, if he'd like to look after the mini iLeader for a week, but "he politely declined due to his busy schedule."
The mini iLeader came very close to meeting the Jobs at Macworld 2003, La said. The mini iLeader hung around Jobs' Mercedes parked outside San Francisco's Moscone Center, but was moved on by a security guard.
"It would be great to get a photo with (Jobs), but its pretty tough getting near him without getting arrested," La said.
No one has been arrested, but on a nighttime visit to the Microsoft campus, the mini iLeader was chased from the premises by security guards. The last picture in the series is of the ground, taken in mid-flight.
La is a longtime member of the popular forums at DealMac, a daily bargains newsletter.
After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, La was dismayed at the political infighting that began to dominate the forums. The rancor eventually prompted forum administrators to remove all posts about politics or religion, and many predicted the forums would die.
The mini iLeader, also referred to as the DealMac Project, was an attempt to show the naysayers the community would survive, La said.
La, the forum's resident camera expert, has been a member for about five years and made more than 6,000 posts, mostly advice to others researching digital cameras. He logs on almost every day of the week. "It probably qualifies as an addiction," he said. "It's a lot of fun. I like to help people."
Dan de Grandpre, DealMac's co-founder and CEO, said he was a little surprised at the project's longevity and continued appeal. "Some are pretty funny," he said. "Some are pretty boring, but on the whole it's pretty charming."
Photo: The mini iLeader meets Nick Rhodes and Simon Le Bon of Duran Duran during the band's recent reunion tour. The pair were delighted to meet the Steve Jobs doll. "They're big Mac fans," said said project co-founder Danny La. "They thought it was hilarious."
Photo: Courtesy of The DealMac Project