Thank You, Steve Jobs

I was a late-comer to Apple. I was a PC fan and scoffed at the faintly elitist Apple nerds, but I eventually got tired of constant virus infestations on my PC, despite the fact I had the best virus protection money could buy. I also got tired of carrying a cell phone, a PDA, an MP3 player, and a camera in the same purse. Still, I wasn’t sure about going completely Apple.

Like an addiction it started with something small–the red iPod Nano (center of the picture above). I justified its purchase as being part of the Bono Red project, but never had it been so easy to download music. However, that didn’t eliminate anything from the purse, just swapped the iPod for the MP3 player.

The Nano was soon full to its 8gb capacity, so I upgraded to the iPod Touch, not pictured because I gave it to a friend when I bought the iPhone3 (to the right of the Nano above). Finally, the expiration of a cell phone contract coincided with the release of a new iPhone, and in 2009 I now had merged all my electronic devices into a single device. That wasn’t a leap of faith by Steve Jobs in my mind. Merely, it was the brainchild of a Trekkie like me who couldn’t wait for the day to hold Capt. Kirk’s communicator. To me, it was just natural.

After the 2008 virus-induced crash of my last PC and somewhere between the Nano and the iPhone3, I purchased a MacBook Pro (the laptop on the right of the picture) and gave away all my PC–towers and laptops. I was in love with computers again. When the iPhone4 (far right of the Nano above) came out I was almost first in line. For Christmas of 2010 I gave myself an iMac (background in the picture above), followed a few months later by the iPad1 (not pictured). The iPad1 went to my goddaughter when I bought the iPad2 (on the left of the desk in the picture above). The MacBook Air is on this year’s Christmas list.

As innovative as Windows was in the day, Apple succeeded because of Jobs’ concept of minimalism. Even the first MacIntosh was sleek and futuristic compared to the PCs of the day. The Apple OS was easier to use, more intuitive than Windows’ innumerable iterations. Jobs took an idea for his own personal user needs and made it accessible to the rest of us. You didn’t have to verge on being a programmer to operate Apple products.

Yes, I’m now an Apple geek, thanks to Steve Jobs. So, thank you, Steve Jobs, for making our Star Trek dreams come true, and thank you for the face of courage against that horrid enemy, cancer. Rest in peace, though I’d like to think of you as just plugged into cyperspace forever.

Staunton Jams

There are many positives to living in a small city, chiefly you have all the amenities you had in a larger one, just on a more manageable scale. I loved living in Alexandria, VA, where I was minutes away from all the dining and activities in Old Town and, when the traffic wasn’t a bitch, twenty minutes away from work and the Capital of the United States. Washington, DC, always invigorated me–still does–but the years of mismanaging traffic and growth made me seek something less complex for retirement.

Staunton, VA, fit the bill: a relatively stable population, a good local economy, magnificent views of the mountains, farmers markets where the food really is local, and plenty of cultural amenities. Several weeks ago, I decided on a whim one Thursday to go see “Hamlet” at the American Shakespeare Theatre right in downtown Staunton. I got a remarkable seat, within arm’s reach of the stage, which would not have been the case had I attempted the same at the Kennedy Center or even Arena Stage.

The area is also proud of its “roots music,” in fact, music of any kind. Staunton’s “main” street, which is really Beverly St., boasts many restaurants that feature excellent music. One restaurant has an outdoor concert area, which backs on condominiums in the old YMCA building. A few residents have complained, but I say they need to lighten up and enjoy the music. (Interestingly, the people complaining about the music, which is mostly bluegrass or folk, are “immigrants” to the area like myself. The difference is, I like loud music.) In the summer, in an area of the city called “The Wharf” because, I believe, there used to be a somewhat navigable river there, Staunton hosts “Shakin'” on Thursday evenings. These are all local bands or from nearby, and they always draw a crowd. Why, there are even carriage rides around Staunton–just like Old Town.

The unofficial end of the outside music scene in Staunton is “Staunton Jams.” Local officials cordon off a block of Beverly street, and from noon until ten at night bands rock the downtown. They range from headbangers (yes!) to new age to cover bands, and they are all good. Imagine blocking off a similar space in Old Town. When that is done for parades in Alexandria, the gridlock backs up miles on the Capital Beltway. In Staunton, that block was easy to circumnavigate, and there was no gridlock. I was able to park a block away, which wouldn’t have been the case in Old Town or DC.

I love my new city, and I hope I don’t turn into an anti-growth NIMBY, but all the things that appealed to me about living in Alexandria and near DC are here, but I can actually enjoy them without battling traffic and crowds. I’d just like it to stay that way, so if that makes me a NIMBY, I’ll deal.

Here are some pictures from Staunton Jams.

This is the extent of blocking off the street. In Old Town or DC
this would mean saw horses, jersey barriers, police tape,
and SWAT.
The stage is ground level, easy for the acts to move in and
out, but also great for interacting with the bands, who didn’t
mind if you shouted requests at them.
Yes, you could get this close to the stage, and in
this picture you can see some of the great downtown architecture.
The children had fun with sidewalk chalk, in this case,
road chalk. The children had lots of activities, and in
addition to taking a seat on the curb, you could bring your
own chairs to sit on–that would never go over in security-
conscious DC.

To Boldly Go

To Boldly Go

I’ve always been a bit anal about split infinitives–just ask the writers who worked for me on the magazine I edited–but I’ve also always been forgiving of the particular split infinitive in the title of this post. Recognize it?

“Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange, new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man [or one] has gone before.”

I’m a child of the space age. Where Sputnik created fear among members of our government, I was utterly fascinated. My lifelong love of space and flying came from Superman comics. I knew there were other planets with people on them. After all, hadn’t Jor-el and Lara put little Kal-el into a rocket and sent him to earth where he became Superboy then Superman? When Yuri Gargarin, Alan Shepherd, and John Glenn made their flights, I was completely hooked on the space program. In third grade I announced, with enthusiasm, I was going to be an astronaut. My classmates and the teacher laughed and taunted me for the rest of the year about my ridiculous statement. After all, girls couldn’t be astronauts.

I’m certainly glad that’s not true any more, but it took years for me to discover that along with those hot-shot, male pilots who became the Mercury Seven, there were women pilots who underwent the same training and in some cases exceeded the performance of the men–the Mercury 13. I’ve had the privilege of meeting several of them, and they were and are amazing women. They were ready, willing, and able to go, until a single congressman’s sexism dashed their dreams.

When I learned to fly, it wasn’t farm fields and towns I flew over. I was hurtling through the universe to other worlds. Flying got me as close as I could to space, and it wasn’t very close, but I reveled in it. Flying led to my job on an aviation magazine, and that job got me a press pass from NASA. I was there on April 12, 1981, when Columbia, STS-1, made the first trip to orbit. I trooped around with the reporters to all the photo ops, including taking pictures of the STS on its launch pad at night. Though I got eaten alive by mosquitos, it was a sight I’ll never forget.

I felt much better about being in awe of everything when I saw veteran space reporters as excited as children when that ship left earth, carrying with it my dreams of mining asteroids, building bigger, faster ships in orbit, establishing a permanent space station, everything that had made my imagination reel. I can still hear the roar of those rockets, feel the vibration of the ground, and see how the bright sky was made brighter.

I was home “sick” from work on January 28, 1986, with my eyes glued to the television to watch Challenger, STS-35, carry the first “everyday” citizen into space, a history teacher named Christa MacAuliffe. In that moment the humiliation of a third grader faded. A teacher, a history teacher, which I had once been, was going into space, but my dream didn’t die with her.

On my day off on February 1, 2003, I was rushing back from the grocery store to get home in time to see Columbia, STS-107, land–I tried to watch as many of the launches and landings as I could–when the report came over the radio of Columbia’s break-up in flight as it passed over Texas on its way to Cape Canaveral. I had to pull my car to the side of the road and wait until I was no longer overcome.

On July 8, 2011, in Florida on vacation and amid all the talk of the last Shuttle flight, I was in a car on the way to the Auto Train station in Sanford. Had it not been a cloudy day, we might have seen the plume of spent fuel marking that last flight into space. The space age has given us many advancements, and so in a car with a Smart Phone that looked so much like the communicators on Star Trek, I watched the countdown and the launch live. It wasn’t the same, but I could say I was there, that my fascination with STS had come full circle to a reluctant closure.

But I couldn’t watch today when Atlantis, STS-135, landed for the last time. I know we as humans will go on to explore space both in government ventures and private ones, but the thought of that incredibly beautiful glider never breaching the atmosphere again then returning to make a pinpoint landing was too much. The Shuttles were first and foremost aircraft, and, unlike the awkward but perfectly engineered Mercury and Apollo capsules, the Shuttle was something I could relate to as an aviator. It, too, was complex, one of the most complicated pieces of machinery in the world, but when I studied its controls and systems, I could see myself in the cockpit.

The 135 flights of STS resulted in innumerable accomplishments. Satellites placed in orbit have opened our eyes on the universe and shown us the toll we humans have taken on our planet. The Shuttle systems themselves, notably fly by wire and satellite navigation, are now standard on modern transport aircraft. Space medicine has led to improved patient care and treatment of diseases.

For those who think space flight is a waste of resources, I ask you, how can you limit our desire to explore? People have tried, like those who warned Columbus he’d fall off the end of the earth, but we persist as a people, as humans “to boldly go.” Every exploration on this world has resulted in casualties, and to stop exploring dishonors those who sacrificed. We have to look forward and outward.

I won’t see it, but some of the children who watched STS’ last flight will walk and live on Mars. Not long after that, cosmologically speaking, their children’s children will see a planet outside our solar system with their own eyes. And that’s something to look forward to.

Godspeed to Enterprise (the test vehicle that never made it to space) Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavor. You will always fly in my dreams.

They Call it “Magic Kingdom” for a Reason

When I was a kid, my Sunday night ritual was to watch The Wonderful World of Disney. I begged to go to Disneyland, but for my family, going to California was the equivalent of interplanetary travel. I didn’t get to Disneyland until I was an adult in the mid-1970’s, and, boy, I took advantage of being at a conference in Anaheim. Back then you had tiers of tickets, and each tier would let you into progressively more rides. I went all out and got a ticket for every ride. And there I was, the only adult without a small child on all the rides (even the tea cup one), but, damn, I had the best time of my life.

Disneyland was, and is, compacted into a relatively small space compared to the sprawling Disney World complex outside Orlando, FL. In that way, Disneyland is cozier and doable in a day. Disney World is almost crass in comparison, reachable only by bus or other transportation if you stay at one of their “resorts” (Disney doesn’t use the word “hotel.”), and even taking one park a day, you can’t do it all. I know. I just spent the better part of six days there.

Disney World, to me, has always represented commercialism, tacky souvenirs, and overpriced everything, not to mention a Pollyanna-ish view of the world that’s stuck in the 1950’s. When Disney bought up a bunch of land near my hometown with the plan to build an American History park (complete with slave auctions in the 19th Century section), I was among those who lobbied against it. Of course, the Disney company had the last laugh. After abandoning the project, they sold the land to developers, and now about a gazillion cookie-cutter houses occupy the space, and the traffic we worried about is 10 times worse.

My previous experience with Disney World consisted of brief visits on weekends while I attended my agency’s management school in Palm Coast, FL. My training schedule put me there each year usually in mid-December or early January. (I know. The sacrifices.) That meant no lines. At all. So, when I decided to accompany the “grandkids” and friends to Disney World the week before the July 4 holiday, I had pretty much decided the time in Disney World was penance to make me appreciate St. Augustine Beach more.

But watching two-point-five year olds’ faces in the “It’s a Small World Ride” or seeing them hug the characters (sorry, “cast members”) with abandon, all my disdain fell away. (Me to Ollie: “Do you think we’ll see Mickey Mouse today?” Ollie: “Mickey is ebrywhere!” I mean, how freaking adorable is that?)

Oh, I hated the crowds. I hated the heat. I hated, detested, abhorred the lines. Maybe Disney pumps psychotropic drugs into the air you breathe to make you conform, but I had a good time. I had a great time. I spent too much money (Disney brainwashing), but it was a once in a lifetime occasion because those three kids will only be two-and-a-half and five months old (respectively) once; this was their one and only “first visit.” I know they’ll be back, probably multiple times, but the first time was, well, magical.