Wednesday, October 5, 2011

So long Steve Jobs, and thank you

This afternoon I learned that Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Computer, has died.

The Apple Macintosh had a major impact on my life and career. I was in college when I first encountered the Mac, around 1986. The engineering lab at the University of Houston had all Macs, and a few Mac SE models. The killer Mac app that got my attention at the time was Hypercard and its Hypertalk scripting language. I was enthralled with the idea that ordinary people could create interactive applications that anyone could download and use for themselves. Those applications probably look quaint now, but they got me excited.

Before that I had little interest in computers, and even less in programming. I had learned other languages like Basic and Fortran, but I did not see programming as something that had much relevance to my life. I did not see the things that could be done with computers as cool or interesting. The Mac, and especially multimedia applications like Hypercard, changed that. I bought a Mac SE in 1988, and the rest as they say, is history.

As it turns out, I didn't use computers to make history. I didn't write a killer app. But I did use computers to make a career and a good living. That was pretty cool.

Thank you, Steve Jobs, for your part in the building the personal computer industry and the other innovations you played a part in changing the world. Big changes are the work of many hands, and yours was one of them.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A very musical vacation

Yesterday our family returned from our summer vacation at July Eliot. Eliot Institute is a camp and conference for Unitarian Universalists and their friends and families, held in Seabeck, Washington. This is the fifth summer we have gone and we had a wonderful time again this year.

The Eliot camps are unique, imagine 250 people of all ages spending a week together in a beautiful relaxed natural setting and sharing music, poetry, art, jokes, games, skits, conversation, outdoor activities, food, drink, and worship.

LeAnne enjoys working with the children during the morning program, and making new te-dye creations and knit crafts. This year she tie-dyed a set of taple napkins. Our girls enjoy seeing old friends and making new ones. Hailey's best friends are a pair of twins whose grandparents drive down from Canada to bring them, they become part of our extended family for the week. I enjoy taking my girls on boat rides, taking walks in the forest, and sharing my music as well as playing with other musicians who stay at the camp.

At the concert, I sang an original song I wrote during the past year, in front of almost 100 people. It was the first time I have performed in front of a crowd without being nervous. The song got numerous strong compliments, including from the guest speaker, who is an accomplished songwriter herself. I have been thinking of myself as more an instrumental player (I would not call myself a singer), but apparently I have a talent for songcraft. It felt really, really good to get that feedback. Not bad for a software geek and an introvert.

I left camp feeling tired but energized, and excited to develop my music and songwriting further in the next year. I have already started working on a new guitar tune that started coming to me while I was sitting by the lagoon at Seabeck.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

50 years in space

Today is the 50th anniversary of the flight of Alan Shephard who became the first American in space, only three weeks after the flight of Yuri Gagarin, the first human in space.

I do not remember those flights, of course, I would not even be born for another year and several months. But I do remember the excitement of the years that followed. The fact that humans could now travel into space was the number one fact of the time. Adults were talking about it. And my young boy mind soaked up that excitement like a sponge.

I did not have the mental tools then to put the achievements of space exploration in historical context. I understood that space flight must be expensive and dangerous. Still it did not occur to me that the progress of human space exploration was something that might plateau, or even reverse, that having achieved the moon landings, a nation or humanity as a whole might lose interest. I did not think that a discovery can only be made once, after all, that having journeyed to a place for the first time for reasons of curiosity or the political prestige of doing it first, different motivations were needed to return. If in my lifetime, humans were on the moon, surely that meant we would be on Mars in another decade or two, and I would be part of making that happen.

I realize now that my excitement about space was in part the normal excitement of a boy over things that were fast and powerful. But it was also a way of being connected to the vast space that is out there. Perhaps the word "space" itself was the problem. Space is everywhere the Earth is not. Space was up, Earth was down. In space you get to wear a special suit, in Earth you just breath. What is cool about that?

Today I like the word "universe" better. That which unites everything. If space is not here, the universe certainly is. It is part of me and I am part of it, always. The very act of breathing on Earth connects to me physically to every one and everything that lives here, or ever has. Not touching the moon myself is OK. Not visiting every continent is OK. I don't have to prove anything to the universe, like being the first person to do something no one else has done. If I can not touch space in my lifetime (and few of us alive today will ever get up there), I can touch the universe any time I want. In fact, I can not NOT touch the universe. Don't try this at home. Breathing turns out to be pretty cool, after all.

Still, some parts of the universe I cannot touch (in that which we call "space") are pretty cool to look it. And it is cool to think that some people I have seen with my own eyes (Buzz Aldrin, for example) have touched parts of the universe (the moon) I will never be able to touch while I am alive. I was alive when that happened. I shared the air with the people who went. That is pretty cool in itself.