This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

October 20, 2011 - he made the toys we wanted

The first computer I ever used was an Apple ][+.  It only displayed 40 characters per line, and didn't understand upper and lower case. Mostly I used it for spreadsheets, which was a revelation.

Then I used an Apple //e (Apple loved using idiosyncratic typewriter characters back then). And with that, I wrote a comprehensive computer catalog manual for a library in Springfield IL. After that, I knew I had to have something that made the writing process so much easier.

Briefly, I considered a new machine from Apple, called the "Lisa." It was the precursor to the Macintosh.  But it was very pricey.

So I bought a Kaypro II -- a machine running the CP/M operating system, then the dominant business platform. It was the first loan of my life ($2500 for computer and printer). I paid it off in two years, mostly through writing about computers. 

My next computer was an MS-DOS machine, also from Kaypro. 

When Windows came out, I found it really confusing, contradictory, and thoroughly inelegant. Then a friend lent me an Apple Powerbook, a Macintosh laptop. I gave it a hard and thoughtful look. 

And it grabbed me. I saw what Windows was TRYING to do (which was "copy Apple"). The Apple operating system was a brilliantly executed, paradigm-shifting way to think about interacting with a computer. I shifted platforms.

Later came the other fascinating devices: the Newton (in that brief period when Steve Jobs was ousted from Apple by John Sculley), then (after Jobs returned) the iPod, the many interesting Mac designs, the iPhone, the iPad.

Most of the folks in my family use Apple computers, although later I shifted again to the Linux operating system, mostly to explore the Internet. But I do have, and use, an iPad.

After hearing about the death of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs on Oct. 5, I listened again to his famous 2005 commencement speech at Stanford. He talked about how he dropped out of college, then did things that didn't seem important at the time. 

For instance, he took a calligraphy class. 

Later, he even got fired from the very company he founded.

But he came to realize that those experiences became the foundation of his character, and his life's path. 

Jobs was not an engineer or a programmer. He was a designer, with a passion for the subtle touches that mark the difference between something that works and is serviceable, versus something that not only works, but is also an engaging sensual delight. 

And he rediscovered the freedom of new beginnings.

He was that extraordinary phenomenon, a visionary. He had a passion for the future, a belief that something "insanely great" was not only possible, but urgently necessary. 

His management style was often acerbic, confrontative, and disruptive. But he shipped the products that people wanted.

A few weeks ago, I read that Apple was, briefly, the most valuable company in the world. Even after it fell back behind Exxon, it still remained the unchallenged tech company, surpassing not only early rival IBM, but the company that once seemed unbeatable: Microsoft.

There's a cynical phrase. "He who dies with the most toys wins." Jobs created some of the most compelling toys the world had ever seen. And as someone else noted, poignantly, millions of people heard about Jobs' death ON a device that he created. 

And now he's dead, a man a year younger than I am, the kind of detail one can't help but notice.

There are never enough years, I suppose, at least not if we have our health and the joy of translating dreams into reality. Money, based on all the psychological research to date, doesn't seem to have anything to do with happiness.

But here's something that does matter. One man turned his restless imagination into a fountain of creation. That's the big reward. He made things. He changed things.

So my tribute is just two words, finally, the two words so hard to earn, and so rare to hear from those we ourselves admire. 

Well done.

LaRue's Views are his own.

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