Thank You, Steve (Or, An Ode to Apple)

What a sad, sad day today is.

I found out just before I went to bed last night during my usual pre-lights-out Twitter check and there, right at the top of my stream, was the news that technological visionary Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, father of Pixar and inventor of the device I was holding in my hand, had died at the age of 56. this morning.

Such upsetting news. The funny thing is, I used to be a PC girl whose only Apple-related activity were the derisive snorts I threw in their direction.

The launch of Windows ’95 was the first time I remember anyone getting excited about something to do with computers, and it spurred me into a phase of reading every book I could about Silicon Valley. I was mildly obsessed with Gates and the origins of Microsoft and so, when our first home computer arrived in 1998 – I was 16 – I worshipped it like it was atop an altar, even though it was a Compaq Presario running Windows ’98 with a 2GB hard drive and a floppy disk drive. (Remember those?!) From there I progressed onto my own Dell laptop (for, ahem, schoolwork, of course) and then a Hewlett-Packard.

By that stage, Apple computers had become the psychedelic iMacs and iMacbooks, which looked to me like Fisher Price toys that were trying too hard. Why would you want to carry your laptop around like a bag, and why would you want it to be orange? And they were so expensive. I became convinced that Macs were just for Apple fanboys with too much money and too little sense, the kind who watched unboxing videos and camped out overnight just to be the first in the queue for a insignificant software upgrade. In fact, I became such a cheerleader for Windows PCs that I could’ve been in one of those awful “I’m a PC ads.”


In the midst of all this, I bought an iPod. I was in Holland in the summer of 2005 and for my birthday, I forked out something like the frightening sum of €270 for a pink iPod Mini – and then promptly discovered that it couldn’t run with my outdated version of Windows. Ugh – I’d been proven right! Mac products looked good, but in practice they were a pain in the arse. I liked that my iPod was pink and fit in my pocket and had a cool touch-dial thingy, but I couldn’t upload any songs to it until I got a new PC. ENORMOUS APPLE FAIL.

Then in March 2009, I somehow ended up buying a Macbook. (This Macbook.)  I needed a new computer, I had money and Apple had just dropped their prices; everything added up. So I melted my credit card in exchange for a sleek, white box – my first clue that something was very different. My Dell PC had arrived in a box the size of a small car; my Macbook was in packaging you’d barely fit a pair of ankle boots into. I opened it to discover the Mac, a power cable, two CDs, a cleaning cloth and a small, square booklet smaller than a CD case. Oh, and an Apple logo sticker. Um, just where was everything else? Where were all the leaflets, manuals, warranties, discs, partridge and a pear tree, hmm? I turned on the Mac and stared at something alien, foreign and unfamiliar: a blank desktop.


What IS this thing?

In fairness, my new Macbook and I were not without our teething problems – it took me a while to get used to no Start Menu, etc. and of course the commands were very different. But I liked it. Thing is, I didn’t realize how much I liked it – how I could now never live without it – until about three months in, when I had to, for some reason, go use a PC.

And sweet.



First there was the wait. You turn on the computer, but it comes on five to ten minutes later after a cacophony of whirrs and clicks and fan blades. Then there’s the messing with the Start Menu: just four easy clicks start your chosen program! And it second guesses every single thing you want to do – it’s like working with someone whose job it is to insult your intelligence. Are you sure you want to save this file? Are you really sure? Are you really, really sure? Really? This is your last chance… Well, okay, if you’re absolutely positively sure, select “Save” from this drop-down menu and then click “Okay.” And then maybe I’ll save it. We’ll see. I might just crash instead.

(And don’t even get me started on MS Word. Using it to do anything even slightly complicated is a battle of wills between you and the computer – it’s like you want to create one document and it wants to create another. You move an image from one side of the page to the other and BAM! Your entire document suddenly looks like bad impressionism. While I’m on the subject, people always say there’s no point using Mac/Pages because most of the world using MS Word. Well, do you know what? Pages has a “Save as a MS Word doc” option, and Pages will read Word. Yeah. That’s how clever it is.)

I ran back to my Mac, and promised I would never betray it again. Because now I understood. I had seen the light. (Or the apple…) Yes, Macs cost more, but it’s not (just) because they look fancier or come in nicer boxes.

It’s because they’re better, and infinitely so.

Imagine: you’re a PC manufacturer in competition with loads of other PC manufacturers, so you need to get your price down. An easy way to do this is to partner with software companies who will pay for the privilege of having their programs shipped with each unit. This means that the PC costs a lot less than the Mac (who don’t have to compete with anybody and so don’t get kickbacks from a boatload of people they let pay to come along for the ride), yes, but it also means that when you first boot up your computer, you are met with a desktop littered with icons for programs you don’t want or need, programs who will send you constant registration and/or upgrade reminders unless you delete them, and considering they have an icon and a place on the Start Menu and their actual program files, that’ll be a treasure hunt where the odds of success are stacked against you. If you do manage to delete them, you’re still left with a machine that was made by one company, an operating system that was made by another and software that was made by a whole bunch of other somebodies. How can they all possibly work harmoniously together? They can’t. And that’s why PCs take ages to come on, crash frequently and are generally a pain in the arse to use. If you don’t think this is true, I can only assume it’s because you haven’t used a Mac for any length of time. You don’t know yet – as I didn’t – that it doesn’t have to be this way.

Take fifteen minutes to watch Jobs’ Stanford commencement address from 2005. You won’t regret it.

I never turn my Mac off; I just close it and put it to sleep. It wakes right back up when I open it up again. My machine was made by the same company that made the operating system that made the software. I use only two non-Apple programs: Microsoft Office for Mac (which has a “Break Open in Case of Emergency” sign on it; I try not to use it) and the Kindle reading app. My Macbook has one button on it that isn’t part of the keyboard: the power button. The power cable is magnetic so if you do the old walk-into-the-cable-and-drag-the-computer-off-the-table trick, the cable will just give way and your Mac will stay where it is. (I laughed when I saw that cable this morning, pictured below – when I pulled it out of my Mac it didn’t even fall to the ground; the little clip under the head held it at the edge of my desk, ready and waiting for me when I come back. Jobs is in the details.) It never crashes and I can count on one hand how many times it’s frozen up on me. It’s brilliant, and worth every penny – or cent – of its price tag.

And best of all, when I tell it to do something, it says “Okay.”

A few weeks ago when Twitter was ablaze with news that Jobs had stepped down from his role as Apple CEO, one person in my stream asked, “What’s the big deal?” Well aside from the sad fact that this meant that Jobs was sick to a degree that he hadn’t been before, the sudden downward trajectory of Apple’s stock told the real story: it was a big deal because Jobs was Apple. He was the one with the vision, the genius; all the best ideas were his. If someone else had a great idea, it took Jobs to mold it and shape it and refine it until it became a new iPod, iPhone or iPad.

I read a tweet last night that thanked him for letting us live in the future, and I add my thanks.

Technology has been moving so fast in the last ten, twenty years that every three or so we completely forget what the landscape looked like before. We say things like iTunes, apps and iPhone like we’ve always said them, but they’re still so new they’re shiny. I often think back to the day I saw a Space Shuttle launch in Florida, about how once we left the hotel and the radio in our car, we knew no more about what was going on over at the Cape. We could only wait and see if it would go, or get someone who was watching the news at home to send us a text message. None of us had cell phones that did anything other than send and receive calls and texts, and maybe did a little bit of painful internet searching. It was October 2007. If that same event happened today, I’d be able to watch NASA TV live, record the launch on video and upload it to YouTube, post it on Facebook, tweet about it, etc. etc. and all from the one device, a device that sits in my palm: the iPhone.

I got this Macbook in March 2009 which means that everything I’ve done in my writing career to date has been done on this machine. I wrote all my books in Pages; I blogged and self-published through Safari; I made all my book trailers with iMovie. When it comes to making decisions about what to write and how to sell it, I always cite my favorite Jobs quote: “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

When you insist on pursuing a path that’s deemed risky and unlikely to lead to success, like making a living as a novelist, it’s tempting to give up. When everyone around you says “This isn’t going to happen,” the easy thing to do is to believe them. Jobs is a shining example of why you shouldn’t. As he said in his Stanford address, referring to how dropping out of college led, through a calligraphy class, to changing the landscape of word processing forever, he said:

“If I have never dropped out [of college], I would never have dropped in on that calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course, it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college, but it was very, very clear looking backwards, ten years later … You can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards, so you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something: gut, destiny, your life, karma, whatever. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well-worn path. And that will make all the difference.”

A headline I read just before I started writing this said, “World mourns Steve Jobs” and it’s true, and justified; what other individual, what other single person, can claim to have changed our world so much with his life as he has? No one in recent memory. Jobs was the best example of what happens when you align your profession with your passion and, in his words, “stay hungry.” Not only did he spend his life doing a job he loved, but what that produced enabled us to do the jobs we loved as well, and do them better, and do them without spending half an hour each morning tearing out our own hair while we waited for Windows to boot up.

The word “inspiration” just doesn’t seem like enough.

Neither do the words “thank you.”

But thank you, Steve.

For iEverything.

(Okay, okay – I’ll admit it: I watched an iPad unboxing video. Happy now?!)

Special Guest Star: Scott Pack/Steve Stack with 21ST CENTURY DODOS

This morning I’m delighted to play host to Scott Pack (writing as Steve Stack, just to confuse us all) as he embarks on a blog tour to promote his new book, 21st Century Dodos: An Endangered List of Inanimate Objects. You may know Scott as Me and My Big Mouth on Twitter and on his blog of the same name, and as a publisher (The Friday Project), but did you know that he’s also, in his words, the author of “moderately successful toilet books”? To introduce us to 21st Century Dodos, he’s stopped by with a video of his daughter, Martha, (beautifully) reading an extract about newspaper-wrapped fish and chips.

Welcome to Catherine, Caffeinated, Scott (and Martha)! 

Well, Catherine has kindly invited me to gatecrash her blog in an attempt to convince some of you lovely people to buy my book, 21st Century Dodos. In it, I bid a fond farewell to the many inanimate objects, traditions, cultural icons and, well, other things that are in danger of extinction. Some have vanished already. I suspect emotional blackmail might work on you lot, so here is a video of my daughter, Martha, reading the entry about fish and chips wrapped in newspaper. If you don’t by my book today, she gets no dinner tonight.

21st Century Dodos is available now in hardback and (bargain-priced!) e-book on To find out more, why not check out yesterday’s blog tour stop, Follow the Thread, or look out for tomorrow’s, which will be at The Blog on the Bookshelf. And if you want to hear some more from Scott’s talented offspring, I suggest you have a look at this

Why You Should All Go Watch JURASSIC PARK

Regular readers of mine will know that I am in love with all things Jurassic Park. For some reason, the combination of extinct predators, techno-thriller and Michael Crichton – who’d become one of my favorite authors – held an irresistible appeal for me, and has done for all these years. I first read the book (or attempted to; I had to skip some bits!) back in 1993 when I was just 11, and I’ve re-read it at least once a year since. I even still have my tattered and battered movie tie-in paperback which I’d show you if it wasn’t packed away somewhere with the rest of my books. I think it was the first time, for me, that fiction really took something extraordinary, something impossible, and not only made me believe that it had really happened, but that it was happening to me as I tore through the pages.

Jurassic Park at Universal Studios in Orlando

(Of course, this may have had something to do with the fact that my reading prior to JP consisted mainly of things like The Babysitters Club, Point Horror, Christopher Pike, Sweet Valley High and Virginia Andrews…)

As for the movie, it’s definitely in my Top 3 of all time. In fact if you made a rule that my all-time favorite movie list could only include movies for all cinema-going ages, it would be No. 1 without a doubt. But on the two occasions I went to see it when it hit cinemas here in the summer of 1993, I didn’t see any of the good stuff because my fingers were in the way. I was terrified. And even though I’ve seen it countless times on VHS, DVD and TV since, I always wished I’d been brave enough to appreciate Jurassic Park in its full cinematic glory.

So when I heard a couple of weeks ago that it was coming back to cinemas for a couple of weeks to mark the trilogy’s release (and digital remastering) on Blu-Ray and special edition DVD, I nearly squealed with delight. (Okay – so I actually squealed.) I went to see it last Wednesday and it was even better than I’d hoped it’d be. Amazingly I even managed to notice a few things I hadn’t before, and I realized how utterly fantastic its screenplay really is.

There isn’t a single wasted word in Jurassic Park, let alone a wasted scene. If you’ve read the book you’ll know that a lot happens before anyone steps foot on Isla Nublar, but it’s all effortlessly taken care of in a few minutes on screen. Dr. Alan Grant tells us everything we need to know about him with a single line delivered amid the dust of the Montana desert: “I hate computers.” Denis Nedry explains why he’s breaching JP’s security to steal dinosaur embryos after handing his lunch bill to the man who’ll buy the stolen goods: “Don’t get cheap on me… that was Hammond’s mistake.” The scariest moment in the movie doesn’t even involve words – it’s just a shot of the velociraptor fence, chewed through. And the whole movie is summed up in two “bookend” shots – when Grant and friends arrive at Jurassic Park, the door of the jeep swings open right in front of the camera, showing us the Jurassic Park logo properly for the first time. Everything is new and exciting and, as Hammond says repeatedly, built with no expense spared. At the end, when the same group is fleeing the island and a pair of T-Rex jaws, we get another close up of the jeep door but this time the logo is obscured with mud and dirt, and the atmosphere has turned to panic.

It really is a master class in movie-making, burying exposition and Show, Don’t Tell, and with the possible exception of the Raptors in the Kitchen scene, its ground-breaking special effects stand the test of time and technology.

Go see it if you can. And if you like a bit of techno-thriller, the late Michael Crichton is your man. (Also, he created ER so if you’re a fan of that, you’ll probably enjoy his books too.)  Jurassic Park is an obvious stand out and a good place to start, but there’s also The Andromeda Strain, Timeline, Congo, Airframe, Prey and the surprisingly good sequel to Jurassic Park (and not at all like the movie), The Lost World. Crichton left a wealth of good reading behind. Try some of it if you haven’t already.

What to hear something strange? Writing this post I couldn’t remember the name of State of Fear, so I looked it up on Wikipedia, where I found out that a new Crichton novel, Micro, is scheduled for release in November of this year. Crichton was about a third of the way through it when he died, and so his agent and publisher hired a writer to finish it, relying on Crichton’s notes and files. And do you know who they picked to do it? Richard Preston, author of The Hot Zone. The author of my favorite non-fiction book is finishing the novel left unfinished by the author of my favorite fiction title. Weird, right? Great too, but weird.

And if you want to feel utterly unproductive, he’s a fun Crichton fact for you: he regularly wrote 10,000 words a day. A day!

Thanks to everyone who entered Friday’s giveaway for a chance to win a copy of Tweet Treats. The winner (by random number generator and the order in which you commented) is… drum roll, please… MARIE! Congrats Marie. Pleas check your inbox for a message from me. 

The Results Not Typical blog tour is in full swing. Today I’m over on soon-to-be-published author Maria Duffy’s blog, Write Now Mom, writing about the single best thing you can do to make your writerly dreams come true. You can also now enter the Goodreads giveaway for a chance to win one of five copies of Results. Click here for a full list of all blog tour stops