Friday, October 14, 2011

RIP Steve Jobs

If it weren't for Steve Jobs, you wouldn't be reading this, because I wouldn't be typing this.

Many, many years ago, perhaps back in 1970, I took a computer course in college. It was actually a 'computer graphics' course. That's in those little quote marks because to do computer graphics in the early 70s you first had to learn how to program. So I was also taking a course in Fortran and flow charting as well. I can't remember if they were the same course; I think they were, but it was very, very long ago, and it was very, very painful.

The object of the computer graphics course was to write a program that drew a little tetrahedron - on a CalComp plotter - that could send the tetrahedron spinning across an XY grid. This would be drawn in black on that white weird paper with the perforated edges. Not only did one have to write the program - which frankly was beyond me - but one had to punch the little cards that were used to tell an IBM 360 to tell the CalComp plotter what do do. It involved hundreds of cards, at least in my memory.

I not only proved completely incapable of writing the program, I couldn't, for the life of me, punch the damn cards right. This was not surprising, really, as I didn't know how to type at the time. It took every ounce of conniving, wheedling and ingenuity I possessed to copy someone else's cards and take them over to the basement of some science building where the 360 resided. And there, walking in the through the doors, I bumped into somebody. My cards flew into the air and came down like leaves around me. Lovely disordered leaves, floating all about, unnumbered and so impossible to reorder. I had to borrow another student's cards and run them to get the little drawing of the little tetrahedron poised on one edge of the little grid getting ready to jump forward into the future.

This was NOT cheating, at least not in our department, the Design Department. We were being trained to be generalists who interacted among specialists, and I, along with several others in the CG class had quickly figured out that computer graphics was a specialty... And not one any of us were going to be taking up anytime soon. As generalists, it was our job to find out who could do things and to get them to do it, so running someone else's cards was a perfectly viable solution to the problem. A few people in the class were able to write to the program. Many of us could not, and so we formed a club - the only club I officially belonged to in college - called the Fraternal Order of Computer Fuck Ups, better known by its acronym: FOCFU (pronounced FOCK PHU). We took a solemn vow not to touch a computer until they could talk to us.

All thru the 70s, I waited.

In the early 80s, I waited.

I had told the FOCFU story to many people, people who seemed to be able to use IBMS to do things, but, even though doing things no longer involved those stupid cards, it still involved programming... Or at least writing 'commands,' which is not my style.

It's not like I was holding my breath or anything. Frankly those computers, with their black screens with the green or blue or amber monospaced fonts didn't interest me in the least. They didn't SPEAK to me.

Then one day, I think in the spring of 1984, my friend John Salik came over to my house. He said, "I have something for you. I have a computer that will talk to you." And he put a Mac 128 down on the table and started to leave the room. "But, John," I said, "I don't know how to use it!"

"You'll figure it out," he said and walked out of the house.

How hard could it be? It only had one button on it. I pushed the button and a black and white, low-res screen came up with two icons on it: a word program and a paint program. Of course at the time, it wasn't a low-res screen, and I didn't know those little things were icons. I used the weird little thingy attached to it by a cord to move a pointer around the screen - the mouse, as I later found out it was called - and touched one of the little icons.

When John came back an hour later I was painting happily away.

A computer had talked to me. Thank you, Steve Jobs.

The first computer I got was not that one, but a used Mac 512. The second was the only non-Apple computer I've ever had, an Atari Mega STE. It was great, actually, because it could switch between Apple and Mac platforms and had a great desktop publishing program. The next computer I got was the iMac in August of 1998, one of the Bondi Blue ones. I got the iMac G3 in tangerine a year later, and have been hooked ever since.

They talk to me. In my own language.

No punch cards, all love.

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