Steve Jobs has died at age 56. Family said he passed peacefully in his sleep. This has sent shockwaves around the net, and I thought I’d throw in my own little tribute.
I became blind at birth. I always loved technology and done well with math. My parents used computers for their business, and could see their potential. They wanted me to have an advantage, so got an Apple II/e as soon as they learned that a blind person could use one. I think this happened while in the second grade, which would have made me seven years old.
Mom still remembers our trip to the Apple store. They hadn’t even unpacked yet. I remember the smell of boxes and new computers. I’ve always loved the smell of new computers, Apple products especially. I also remember some of the computers had puffy paper apples on top of them. I wanted to buy the computer with the paper apple just because I liked it. I also remembered feeling glad that the computers didn’t make any noise, something Steve Jobs insisted upon.
We took the thing home. I remember the family trying the discs which came with the computer, something called Apple Presents. I think it came with some games too. My brother and I enjoyed playing the simple games. But it couldn’t talk yet.
One Saturday, Mom and our friend Kristen put in the card. This meant opening up the computer, inserting a card, plugging in a speaker, probably connecting some jumpers, and who knows what else. They also had some beer, which seems to go well with hardware work. I didn’t know what to do, so just kept encouraging them. By the end of the day they had done it! They felt exhausted and I felt ecstatic. I knew something awesome had just happened! I could use a computer!
At first, I only knew a few commands. CATALOG gave a catalog of files on the disc. RUN would run a file with an A in front of it. I learned that stood for Applesoft BASIC. BRUN would run a file with a B in front of it, meaning binary, machine language. And with that I began my journey.
For a while I had fun running programs on the games discs, trying various demos, and I may have tried to use a word processor. I remember one or two games would not work. I couldn’t understand why. I thought computers just did things. My parents explained to me that computers don’t actually think, they just follow instructions, a program. I thought I understood, but didn’t know how to fix the problems, so felt frustrated. I wanted to play the games. Why won’t they work?
One day, I remember playing the classic Eliza program. This program has existed for years, and simulates a conversation with a psychiatrist. It does very primitive textual analysis to try to come up with the proper response, and sometimes it does quite well. Other times it doesn’t. Still it intrigued me.
Afterward, I sat and thought. I wondered about commands I might not know. I felt something more. I have no idea where this thought came from, or why I thought of it, but I thought to type the command LIST. I remember thinking it must list something, maybe a short list of files, or who knows. But I figured since computers deal with lists maybe it will do something. Sure enough it did.
The LIST command lists the code of the currently loaded program, Eliza in this case. I saw line numbers and print statements. Suddenly I understood perfectly. You type in these instructions and the computer follows them. I knew then and there exactly what I wanted to do when I grew up.
Since then, I have always loved computers, programming, anything like that. It all started with that moment. I remember feeling so proud when I fixed a problem in one of the games. I wrote tons of little programs of my own. I had endless hours of fun with that machine.
Time passed. The PC became popular and I reluctantly moved over. I felt very sad to say good bye to my Apples, but also excited about the future. Still I will always treasure those first days. MSDOS came and gave way to Windows. I just couldn’t take it so switched to Linux. I loved its open nature. You can explore anything and learn so much. The text shell makes a natural interface for a blind user. Still, I always had to find ways to do the things sighted users enjoyed. I got by as best I could, and had a nicely tweaked netbook as a notetaker.
Then last June I got an iPhone and my universe changed forever. It can do so many things, thanks to the endless selection of apps. I can identify currency and household items, check news, stocks, the weather, Twitter, even listen to the changing colors of a sunset. I cannot imagine life without my iPhone. I upgraded to the iPhone 4 when it came out, and loved the combination of glass and metal. Just so cool! After falling in love, I heard the call of the Apple family once again. I knew I had to get a Mac.
I went to the Apple store and had an exciting adventure. It certainly had changed since the first time we had gone. Now it had become a bustling marketplace. I told everyone there I wanted to buy a Mac, that I started on a II/e (which they probably didn’t understand), and that I felt overjoyed to rejoin the Apple family. The manager of the store told me that the accessibility didn’t start until Steve Jobs had returned. I thanked Steve silently.
I got my iMac last September, just in time for something amazing. My iPhone article went viral. I receive so much awesome feedback and attention from it. My Mac quickly proved itself, functioning beautifully within this chaos. It seemed so stable. Plus, it runs on top of a flavor of BSD, so I consider it two computers for the price of one. I just could not believe this new experience, a graphical user interface I could actually use. For the first time I could actually use a trackpad, something the sighted have enjoyed for years. I knew that Apple had created the cutting edge accessibility experience.
I felt very impressed. So impressed that I bought a MacBook Air as soon as they came out. I love my MacBook Air so much. It makes a perfect notetaker. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Plus, it has a tactile glowing Apple on the back! Sometimes I find myself just feeling the apple and admiring the form of the machine. The same holds true for the stunningly beautiful iPad 2.
Yesterday Apple announced the iPhone 4S. It will have the Siri assistant. As I wrote, this introduces the next paradigm of the artificially intelligent smartphone. Very soon, people will have conversations with their computers, just like on Star Trek! Apple has helped bring that perfect future closer.
Now I sit here surrounded by all of this incredible Apple technology. It amazes me that one man could help bring all this about. I feel especially appreciative. Steve had a vision of a computer which anyone could use. Apple Building accessibility into all of their devices means that a blind person can purchase a device from a store and use it immediately. We have never had this before. For the first time we can use the same devices as our sighted friends, family, and coworkers. Apple’s line of accessibility technology has opened the world up to the blind. No other corporation has done what Apple has done.
Thank you Steve. You have changed my world forever. You have changed the world of the blind forever. You have changed the world forever. May you live forever through your works.