(classical Hellenic: beautiful and good)
When I started dealing with computers, I learned FORTRAN for a crystallography project (this was still the era of perforated cards), then VMS, a UNIX cousin. I got used to bulky cuboids the color of chewed gum, trailing wires like tentacles of beached jellyfish. The language within them matched their appeareance – one made by and for computer geeks (though the alphanumeric version of Rogue was terrific). Late in my postdoctoral stint, however, these sleek, fast apparitions started appearing in the lab: the first Macintoshes, with such exotic capabilities as point-n-click and drag-n-drop.
Ever since then, I and almost all the scientists I know (with exceptions dictated by specific demands) have cleaved to our Apples. The machines were ahead of their time when they first came out, and have been worth every extra penny. They work flawlessly, install and run new applications seamlessly, never crash or munge data – and, yes, they’re beautiful, a feast for the senses. In short, they’re for people who want well-crafted precision instruments and don’t have the time and stamina to endlessly reboot Windows. I’m not starry-eyed about Apple’s business practices but I’m glad they stand against the Microsoft monolith, an alternative to the monoculture that threatens to get humanity conditioned willy-nilly to cynically shoddy work.
Steve Jobs was my age – I turn 56 today. A reminder that we have finite time to realize our aspirations, though he started early and did spectacularly. Few people are as fused to their work as he was to Apple, to the point where people worry about the company’s future after his death. He deserves the tributes that are pouring in and I’m grateful he persevered in his vision of excellence, not just cobble together something that lurches around sort of getting the job done. Although I feel obliged to point out that a woman with his idiosyncrasies, no matter how inspired, driven and charismatic, would have lasted all of half an hour – in Apple or anywhere else.
For my birthday present, I got one of those elegant iMacs that have the CPU incorporated in the back of their slightly curving screen and look like a starship control console. Like Steve Jobs, I too have been checked by cancer – but for as long as I can travel, his Apples will be companions on my journey.
Images: Apple logo modified by Cory Cole; Apple-inspired Eve of Wall-E (from Pixar, another visionary move by Jobs)