Dating myself

First, a little background.


I’ll keep it quick.

Beth is a smart, 15 year old kid who has been using computers at home for most of those 15 years. When she was a little over one we bought an original iMac. ‘Twas the day after Thanksgiving (in 1998) and all through the store, folks were swinging mice like weapons, crying the holiday motto: MORE! Then, like now, folks were questioning the wisdom of selling a consumer computer without a critical piece of hardware.

The current scene: Kauffman Household (v2.2) family room, earlier today. A father and his daughter are admiring a Mac Plus on the wall of fame.

Beth: What is that slot looking thing under the screen?

Me: That’s a floppy drive.

Beth: (not kidding) What is a floppy drive?

I know floppies are (mostly) gone, but somehow I wasn’t quite ready for them to be forgotten. I’m not sure why. Most of my experiences with them were bad. I’d just as soon forget them myself.

I’m afraid I was too tired to explain why those (mostly) rigid, little plastic squares were “floppies.”

When good drives go bad

My first computer with a hard drive of any kind was an original 128 Macintosh in 1984. It was my dad’s, but I was only twelve and a regular user (programing, school projects, etc), so I use the word mine with a clear conscience.

If you only consider that and the computers I’ve owned since, not the parade of PC clones assigned to me at the office, I’ve suffered the effects of ONE hard drive failure in my life.

Until today.

I started having trouble fixing up our old iMac from the living room for Adam. I was freeing up space and rehabbing the HD from years of creating, moving, and processing large video files on WAY too little free space (the Mac OS is pretty good about managing space on the HD unless you abuse it like I did). Anyhoo, long story not so long… I traced the problem to my external (LAN) backup drive.

Three different disk utilities are telling me it’s suffering a mechanical failure and I should back up my data, by any means available… DAMMIT JOHN, RIGHT NOW!!!

Disk utility software is getting awfully touchy these days, eh?

So that brings us to hard drive failure number two. Times are tough at the Kauffman household, but this too shall pass :-)

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.

1 Comment

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.

It’s 5:19 and I still have my MacBook

My MacBook wasn’t well. Its trackpad wasn’t quite right. I made an appointment with the folks at the local Apple Store to give it a look. That was at four this afternoon. I was expecting I’d have to leave it there – possibly for days.

I did have to leave it there, after talking to the Apple tech and diagnosing the problem (and the solution: replacing the trackpad) – but it was less than an hour.

Oh my, I think I’m gonna swoon…


The cash stampede

I didn’t even know it had a name. I’d never seen it before my Beth’s PowerBook started having problems last month.

Apparently there is a screen of death on a Mac, the dread blue-screen equivalent: the GSOD, or grayed-out screen of death. I can’t blame you if you’ve never heard of it. It’s rarely seen in the wild, confined mostly to secret labs, under highly controlled circumstances, with experts trained in the clandestine arts of infiltration and subversion.

But sometimes it does find it’s way out. Even the experts don’t know how.

Anyway, I’ve run hardware tests and software tests. I’ve run multiple diagnostic programs. I’ve even gone where few Mac users have gone before: I did a clean reinstall of the OS.

“No you DIDN’T go there!”

Yes. Yes I did.

You know what happened the minute the install completed and it rebooted? Yep, the damn GSOD.

I think I finally know the pain, regret, anguish, and envy that come as a standard options with every copy of Windows.

I think this is a sign my beloved old 12″ PowerBook is starting to die. This presents a few problems, besides the obvious, emotional ones. One of my favorite computers of all time is slowly dying. (sniff) It means there will be one less computer in a house that’s come to depend on many. It means Beth will start asking to squeeze in on my time with the MacBook. It means I may have to learn how to share again.

Cheryl, bless her heart, saw this for what it was: disaster on the horizon. You’ll take my Mac from my cold, dead hands.

She immediately sought out options. She looked at iMacs, MacBooks, MacBook Pros… and looking over her shoulder my heart started to heal… to hop and skip with a little excitement even (with a pinch of survivor’s guilt though). Then reality set in: the financial ruin we’ve come to call our checking account. We thought about an iPad, but we decided it probably wouldn’t fill Beth’s needs for a computer to do school work. Plus, until many of the sites she visits stop using Flash (I’m not holding my breath), an iPad would likely find little use… by Beth.


by… Beth…?

That’s when inspiration struck. Neither of us could rely on an iPad alone for our computing needs. However, I find there are evenings when I don’t pick up my MacBook – sometimes not even to write (my thumbs got skillz).

When I got my first laptop, desktop computers felt bulky and constraining. Who wants to sit at a desk when you can work on the couch, or better: under your cozy blanket in bed? Not surprisingly, the same thing happened when I got my iPhone. I found I never had to go further than my pocket for a computer… and it is a computer… a computer that also happens to be a phone. The miracle I discovered with the iPhone is this: I can do 80% of what most people use a computer for (the internets, in various ways), plus a few things most people don’t (read a good book).

And here’s the kicker.

Wait for it…

I can do it all comfortably with one thumb. (Caveat: I use the remaining four fingers on the hand to cradle the phone, and my left hand lends an assist if I decide to write something). In fact, there are some things I prefer to do on my iPhone, like checking my news and blog feeds on google (with a slick app that syncs with google reader), or wandering through twitter and Facebook.

Since the iPad will talk to a bluetooth keyboard – and I just happen to have one of Apple’s shiny aluminum beauties – some of my longer writing moods could conceivably be satisfied by an iPad. The software I use to keep a journal is about to release a companion app for the iPhone, there are already apps for my WordPress blog, and iPhone apps will supposedly work on the iPad (until dedicated apps are written). So, between my iPhone and an iPad, I could go days without feeling the need to pick up my laptop.

This sharing thing could actually work.

Bless you Cheryl.

Keyboards, revisited

A while back I questioned the wisdom of the redesigned Apple keyboard, shipping with the (then and now) new iMacs.

The Aluminum Apple Pro Keyboard

If you’ve been with me for a few years and you’ve got a keen mind (allowing you to remember the most pedestrian of posts from a mediocre blogger) you may recall this post – post chemotherapy. Well since then Apple has gone all bluetooth, all the time… but the look, and more importantly – the feel – has remained the same. I picked up one of the bluetooth beauties to use my MacBook as an occasional “Media PC” in our family room.

Well, a funny thing happened on the path of querty snobbery. Now I can’t stand typing on anything but the laptop like keyboards. Everything else feels mushy – like my fingers are pushing on keys made soft, sugary beach sand. Take my Dell keyboard at work… please! By contrast, my fingers feel like they take flight on my keyboards at home. My MacBook is a delight. The iMac keyboard (even with the 7 key pried off/broken by a fidgety kid who will remain anonymous – though the name rhymes with death) is crisp. The keys activate with little more than intention. Thoughts become words effortlessly. I love it.

So I did something I’m not really supposed to do. I connected a personally owned peripheral to a state owned machine. Then the heavens opened and the wrath of God befell my suddenly penitent soul.

Well, not exactly.

By the way, I just love the warnings you get working with Windows… like: “Hey but-head! Are you sure you want to use that USB 1.x hub? Your devices would work a lot faster on a USB 2.x port. I know you wouldn’t know a USB port from your a–, so would you like me to hold your hand and show you where your superior ports are?”

All right. You got me. That’s not a direct quote. This isn’t journalism class. However, I think I’ve captured the attitude written/read between the lines.

In these cases I like to talk back to my computer. Yes, I know it’s not listening. Fortunately my coworkers and family are. I have quite the reputation to uphold, you know. In this case I replied, “You arrogant piece of plastic garbage, I know damn well what I’m doing. I’m just plugging in my keyboard (Apple’s keyboards often don’t live far from the small footprint of their CPU companions). Just how fracking fast would I have to type to take advantage of that extra bandwidth from USB 2.x? It may feel like my fingers are flying, but no one is that fast, so leave me alone. I know what I’m doing, damn it!”

Whenever I swear at one of my Macs I feel bad. There are no regrets when it comes to the dark knight of personal computing. Its got it coming.