Elegance begets elegance

Steve Jobs blogMany great pieces will be written about Steve Jobs today, as his death becomes widely known while people watch or listen to the morning news. At least a few (if not many) will probably hit upon some of these thoughts, my thoughts.

Many things have inspired me. Some are obvious: my wife, my kids, my friends, my passions, my pains. Others aren’t quite so obvious, like the feel of a seemingly perfect pen gracefully marking seemingly perfect paper, as if my very soul was flowing through the tip. An outstanding piece a friend wrote late yesterday inspired me to write this post. It’s probably best you read his post now. I won’t do it justice rehashing it, yet this post will make more sense given the context of its inspiration.

When people talk about Steve Jobs they often talk about design. Some use the term to lionize the man, while others use it to dismiss him and his “so-called innovations.” For those who dismiss him, I wonder if they’ve ever held that perfect pen in their hands.

When people talk about Jobs today, they will often talk about Macs, iPods, iPhones, and iPads. Some will use these as examples of one man’s brilliance. Some will rightly say they weren’t the first of their kind to market, but the first of their kind done right, and again they’ll talk about design.

When I talk about Apple, I often mention my old PowerBook. For those who don’t know, PowerBook was the brand name for a line of portable computers Apple made until early this century – eventually replacing it with the “MacBook” when Apple changed the engine it’s computers ran on. It was a branding decision made due to the strong association the word “power” had with its old processors. My PowerBook was the smallest model: twelve inches measured from opposite corners of the screen. Everything about it seemed perfect at the time: it’s size, shape, keyboard, and build.

I wish I could give you a list of specifications and adjectives to describe it, but I’m not that good a writer. What I can say is my computer – a term not often associated with warm and fuzzy, or mythical muses – was my perfect pen. Writing was always simpler when my fingers graced its keys. Better words always came to mind. I was always more satisfied with the results.

The question is why?

The Apple trash talkers will insist I’ve been hoodwinked, a victim of the Jobs “Reality Distortion Field.” They might even tell you I’m the victim of what amounts to a cult.

But I have a different answer.

Design matters.

Thanks Steve.

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Minority shareholder

I’ll bet you didn’t know I owned Apple. No, not AN apple. This isn’t a post about an epic journey to the grocery store. This is the story of something I wanted to do for a long time: buy stock in my favorite computer company. This isn’t a story of buying low and selling high, of market savvy, or mad money.

This is a love story.

If you’ve been on Apple train for the whole Jobs reunion tour – you get it. If you’ve been on the wagon since ’84, when the first Macs rolled off the lines, you definitely get it. If you know who John Sculley and Gil Amellio are, you’ve got it bad.

If you’ve got more little white apple stickers than hobbies, you know. If you’ve got a few striped, rainbow apples sprinkled in your collection you’re pretty damn sure.

If you don’t, I’m not sure I can explain it to you.

John, it sounds like what you really need is a good deprogramming.

I admit it sounds fishy. The “cult of Mac” label rings with a hint of truth. But there’s another, simpler explanation: great products create strong customer loyalty and a great brand name. Great products can be addicting in a way. If you’ve ever bough something and six months later thought, “I don’t know how I got along before…,” you’ve got some idea what I’m talking about.

Some folks get the cool-great relationship mixed up when it comes to Apple. Some would have you believe Apple only exists because it’s cool or fashionable. I think the cool or fashionable part comes second, dependent on the first. In order to be around as long as Apple, you’ve got to have great products first, before they can be cool. In Apple’s case, great products combine good form as well as function, which undoubtably leads to the “fashionable” charge. There’s just one thing. The first computer running the Mac OS was sold in early 1984. Being cool, or it’s cousin – a fad – has a limited shelf life, and it isn’t 27 years. You’ve got to be good (dare I say great?) before you can be cool that long, while at the same appealing to more than one generation of customers.

There’s a darker side to this story though. There’s truth to what they say: “you’ve got to have money to make money.”

I bought into Apple right before the first iPad was sold. Like I said before, I wanted buy Apple stock for sentimental reasons, not necessarily to make money. However it did cross my mind that it would be more affordable before the iPad rather than after.

Well I didn’t (make money). Not much anyway.

Oh, the stock price has done great. It’s up around 50% since I invested, but I could only afford one share at the time. I’m only up a $100 or so.

On the up side, I still received notification of the stockholders’ meeting this year. That was pretty exciting stuff, until I figured someone just wanted my little piece of the vote by proxy. I don’t think they really wanted me to show up, let alone have a speaking role.

None of that really matters though. The important thing is I’ve got my MacBook and my stock.

One share of Apple I’ll cherish forever.


MacBook first impressions

The spacebar makes too much clicking noise, but I like the illuminated keyboard more than I thought I would. I do most of my writing after dark, and while I can type, it’s still nice to be able to see the keys.

I’m going to miss the PB keyboard overall though (dark or not).

The trackpad is simply huge. The scheme of making the back half physically clickable (the whole thing pivots slightly), is a great idea in practice so far. Just that allows the thing to have at least a third more trackable surface, and it’s wider and deeper to boot. I never got used to used to track pads, despite logging a lot of ours on a lot of different laptops (from vendors other than just Apple). This one is about as close to getting it right of the lot.

I might have thought of it eventually (put as much stress on the “might” as you like), but Cheryl put me on to a great idea concerning Beth’s old, hand-me-down, eight year old iBook and the dying PowerBook: swap the good (if smaller) drive on the iBook for the failing drive on the PB. That way Beth gets a “new” computer too, and my beloved PB lives on.

I love this woman.

*Note: this whole thing was possible due to the settlement from the accident finally coming through. We were finally able to pay off the debt we had accumulated. Plus, I don’t remember if I mentioned this before, but to give you an idea of Cheryl’s progress (both physically and emotionally), she thinks she’s ready to get behind the wheel again.

Things are really starting to look up. Well, in terms of the accident anyway. She’s still having trouble sitting up in front of a desk, but I’m hoping it’s just a matter of muscles in her neck that need to get stronger (after a long recovery).

A butterfly sneezes in China and my back hurts

The Mac turned 25 this week. I’m one of the privileged few to have one all this time. I was twelve when my father came home from Ray’s Connecting Point with the first Mac. I didn’t buy my own Mac until my freshman year at UF – a sweet Mac Plus with a full MB of RAM, an external hard drive, and an ImageWriter II – a set up that only set me back a few grand of graduation money.

Ah, but I digress. This post isn’t about computers. I only bring it because the media coverage set my mind in motion.

Somewhere this week I heard the story about the first issue of MacWorld magazine, released at the same time the original Mac went on sale – without a date on it. Apple wasn’t clear on when the first machines would hit the shelves, so the the magazine was printed and stored for that eventual, magic day.

My father has a thing about magazines. He keeps most of them – for years. It drove my mother crazy (no pun intended). To this day you can find boxed old copies of Byte, Scientific American, MacWorld, and various others stored at the house.

It occurred to me that my father still has that first issue of MacWorld, in a box, in one of our old rooms.

Beth has been begging me to get the telescope out, but clouds and homework got in the way. Friday night we finally got it out to look at Venus and a crescent moon. They were both stunning. I’d been thinking about dad’s old magazines, and I remembered some of them had breathtaking images from the Hubble Space Telescope. Then I thought of another thing I inherited from my father – a tendency to keep old magazines.

Before we moved to Florida, we used to visit my grandmother in Danvers (MA) at least once a week. Every fourth trip (give or take a trip or two) I’d thumb through the pages of my grandmother’s National Geographic. A little more than a year after we moved to Florida I got my first card from the National Geographic Society, announcing a gift subscription from my grandmother. My first issue was January 1981: the Mount St Helens explosion issue. It’s still at my parent’s house, along with every other issue I got before graduating from college. Cheryl and I moved to Orlando after graduating from UF in January of 1994. Every issue I received from then until my subscription expired in early 1999*, has been here at my house. They’ve been in a box in the garage, waiting for someone to take an interest.

Criminal, I know.

So the Mac turned 25, which led to a bit of Mac trivia being told in the media: the story about MacWorld Magazine. That reminded me of my father’s magazine collection, which reminded me of my own collection in the garage, which I thought Beth might find interesting (lots of space articles, including some cool 3-D images from the first Mars rover mission, not to mention the Hubble). That led to me hurting my back Friday night, which led to me spending a lot of time with my current favorite Mac, which led to the new theme of this blog. It may look completely uninspired, but I’ve been fiddling with it for two days.

I asked Cheryl what she thought and she said, “I told you I didn’t like the last one and you used it anyway, so why do you bother asking?”


Hey… this one loads a random header image from a half dozen or so I set up from my library. Woo Hoo! The next project will be to use a little more compression. I didn’t realize until just now each one weighs in around 200k. (I suppose it’s not that big, with most folks using broadband, but it still seems wasteful.)

*My subscription lapsed when my grandmother’s health started to fail and my interest started to wane – with a young child in the house and lots of things competing for my waking hours.

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A test of the iPhone

Here’s a picture of tonight’ dinner (sort of blackened salmon and brown rice).

Picture and post come to you courtesy of the new toy (thanks again Annette, if you’re out there reading).

A warning to the uninitiated, or preaching to the chior

Syncing my iPhone with two different macs produced disastrous results. It all may have worked out if I hadn’t cancelled the sync on my PowerBook prematurely (having originally done all the sync work on the iMac).

Chalk number one up to the idiot user.

The second issue is a serious failing on Apple’s part. NO syncing of tasks from iCal… and no native task organization tool on the iPhone AT ALL! There are plenty of free apps to do the job, many of which don’t sync with a remote server (which is unacceptable to me… I CAN’T lose my tasks). The “enterprise” folks (and no, Kirk ain’t walking through that door) surely have their bases covered with oodles of options to sync with Outlook and Exchange servers. In the mean time, Apple has frakked over the faithful with no support for one of their own apps. (Full disclosure: it syncs iCal calendars really well… just not the tasks, or “to-do” lists.)

Third one may be a bit controversial (for all I know), but me love the landscape keyboard. It’s nice and wide for my fat fingers. It doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for screen above it, but hell, you only have the keyboard out when you’re entering text, then it disappears. The keyboard in portrait mode (which is the only option in most apps) is usable but frustrating… knowing there’s a landscape keyboard I love with all my heart and soul.

Don’t get me wrong though. The time I haven’t been in physical contact with the new phone can be counted in minutes (and not very many of them).

My wallet smells danger

Cheryl’s been making a lot of noise about our Verizon contract, and the ten months* left on it. She’s been making even more noise about the iPhone, and how she’d like one.

Damn woman! Can’t you see my fiscal restraint is hanging by a thread?

There’s real trouble on the horizon too: we’re about to walk out the door – to go to the International Plaza in Tampa (supposedly to pick up a little reward for Beth at the ‘Build-a-Bear store’)… home of the nearest Apple Store.

Danger Will Robinson, DANGER!

*From the day when I typed this entry, three months ago. I was going through my drafts, saw this one, thought I’d already published it, and had no idea why I didn’t. Maybe it seemed like one to many Apple fan-boy posts at the time?


One of my favorite anecdotes from Apple lore is the story of the system sound called “Sosumi.”

I’ve tossed it into a few posts, but I never offered any explanation – in case you don’t already know this important piece of American corporate history.

First, the all important backstory: Apple (the computer maker) and Apple Corps (the music company founded by the Beatles) have a lot of bad blood between them. Apple (the computer maker bestowed on mankind by the almighty Steves*) could have avoided it all by picking a different name when they started. Of course, then they wouldn’t be Apple (that’s not supposed to be funny, by the way). Their disputes go deeper than names though. Apple’s computers kept making too much noise (the kind that sounds suspiciously like music), and Apple Corps cried foul (perhaps rightly so).

Anyway, here’s the story about sosumi – on the off chance you haven’t figured it out already (from Wikipedia):

When new sounds for System 7 were created, the sounds were reviewed through Apple’s legal department and they objected that one of the new system sound alerts as having a name that was “too musical”, as per the recent settlement. The creator of the new sound alerts for System 7 and the Macintosh Startup Sound, Jim Reekes, had grown frustrated with the legal scrutiny and first quipped it should be named “Let It Beep”, a pun on The Beatles’ “Let It Be”. When someone remarked that that wouldn’t pass legal’s approval, he remarked “so sue me.”

Sosumi was born.

*… in the name of Jobs, the Woz, and the holy Mac… amen.

Ten months and counting

Steve announced the iPhone SDK today (if that doesn’t ring the bell for the Pavlov dog in you, I feel terrible for your loss).

Machinist – Salon.com:

Last June, a day after buying Apple’s much-hyped iPhone, the first thing I noticed was that the thing wasn’t a cellphone. The iPhone was revolutionary, I wrote then, because it was the first fully-mobile general-purpose computer. It was a Mac you could carry around with you, and that was a very big deal.
Except for one thing: By preventing third-party developers — programmers not working at Apple — from creating software for the phone, Apple was limiting the revolution…

The iPhone, now that it’s open, could really be huge.

Looks like the iPhone may be a fertile land of milk and honey when we’re ready to buy… sometime around 1/1/2009.