Back when I was the editor of Smart Computing Magazine, it was my pleasure to work with a talented tech writer named Alan Luber. Alan wrote columns, feature articles, hardware reviews.... You name it, and Alan could write it. And he wrote on word-count and on deadline. He was an editor's dream; we knew that if we had assigned Alan an article, it would be in on time and that it would be very, very clean.
Not everyone knew it, but Alan was fighting what would turn out to be a losing battle with cancer. And yet, in the last year of his life, he worked harder than ever, churning out quality copy for me and for other magazines; he wanted to leave a legacy, he said. And I suspect that work was something of an escape for him.
When he passed away on November 23rd, 2004, I was struck dumb; even though I knew by then that his death was inevitable, I was in shock. I had lost a respected colleague and a dear friend, and I ached for his family, his wife and his children especially.
Now, 13 years later, one of those children—the youngest, Mallory—has completed a labor of love in honor of her father. The Cancer Chronicles: A Story of Transformation and Triumph is an eBook collection of Alan's thoughts about his journey toward death and his reflections on a life well-lived. You should get this book. It's sad, but somehow uplifting, and flashes of Alan's dry humor stand out against the stark reality of his pain and his sure decline.
At the time, I wrote a column about Alan's death, which—with the kind permission of Sandhills Publishing—I will include in this post. Don't forget to check out The Cancer Chronicles; it'll be $5 well spent. (As I write this, in fact, the book is actually free, but I don't know how long that'll last.) We don't often get to see this clearly inside the heart and soul of someone about to die. When you read the book, you'll see that Alan faced death with a heart more peaceful than that with which most of us face life.
Sunday, November 05, 2017
As a tech writer and a recovering software developer, I am naturally something of a technophile. I've already mentioned some of my favorite tools for writing (computer, OneNote, word processor, Skype, email, etc.) and also for camping (GPS, RV campsite apps, Wi-Fi and cellular boosters, etc.), and I have to admit that I'm a bit of a gadget hound. If it's shiny and has buttons and lights, I like it.
|Now this is a phone. It only did one thing, and it did it well. And|
it made a very satisfying noise when you slammed it down into
the cradle. Image used under the GNU Free Documentation
On top of that, I'm old—and getting older all the time! I'd like to think of myself as middle-aged, but I suppose that would mean that I'd have to assume I could live to be 120 or 130 . . . Not very likely to happen. But the thing about being a techie "of a certain age" is that I can remember what it was like before we all had computers and smart phones and GPS and The Facebooks and all like that. When I started writing news articles, we had to call people on the telephone to interview them! (And not on a smartphone, either; I'm talking clunky, corded phones with rotary dials.) If we wanted to check a date or a quote, we had to go to the library or local newspaper office. I mean, we had to physically go there! It was awful. All that moving around, speaking with actual people. Ugh. Very unsanitary.
Since I'm old enough to remember all of this, I'm still a bit awestruck by what the tech revolution has wrought. The idea that I can carry so much computing power in my pocket, that I can instant message someone on the other side of the country (or even the other side of the world), that my granddaughter can Facetime me to show me her newly painted room, that the little box on my dashboard (or the phone in my pocket) can tell me how to get to an exact location from 5 or 50 or 500 miles way . . . I'm still kind of shocked by all of this. I use all of these technologies daily—in fact, I'm rather knowledgeable about many of them—but they still sometimes astound me. I mean, our daughter Amy makes a living as an online fashion maven! That wasn't even a thing a few years ago.
So, yes, I do love technology: using it, writing about it, building it. And yet . . .
Sometimes I find that the low-tech approach works better. It's simpler. Often faster. Almost always less expensive. For instance, I tend to make a lot of notes. I tell my wife that it's because my brain is always whirring away, coming up with brilliant ideas for articles, books, programs, and the like—but mainly it's just that if I don't jot an idea (or name or task) down within about 15 seconds, I'll lose it. I'll remember that I had an important idea, but it'll be gone; I'll have no idea what that idea was. I can hear the Whooosh! sound it makes as it leaves my addled brain. So, lots of notes; it's the only way I can survive. And in spite of the fact that I've tried many note-taking apps, I keep coming back to . . . I'm a little ashamed to admit this . . . a pencil and a pocket-sized spiralbound notebook. Yep. Pencil and paper. (Preferably lined paper, and preferably a #2 soft pencil.) It just works better, and it's faster. With an app, I have to tap the icon to open the app, then open a page (or start a new one), then attempt to use the tiny onscreen keyboard with my fat, clumsy fingers, then I have to save the note and quit the app. Honestly, for me, a pencil and paper is better, faster, and easier.
|My favorite analog note-taking app. Complete with "stylus."|
But let's just concentrate on coffee for a moment. (I say "just," but that word does a serious disservice to possibly the most important liquid ever. More important even than bourbon. And that's not something I say lightly. I don't know why the inventor of coffee hasn't been canonized. Oh, wait . . . yes, I do . . . He was almost certainly an Ethiopian Muslim . . . At any rate, all I can do before my first cup of coffee is grunt, and it's generally a nasty, spiteful grunt, at that.) There are dozens of ways that RVers make coffee on the road, many of them pretty high-tech. There are French presses, AeroPresses, and full-blown Braun- or Mr. Coffee-type coffee-makers. Some people take their Keurigs camping with them! (That's just . . . wrong. Those Philistines! Not that I would judge.) Not surprisingly, Coleman (a company that’s been in the camping biz for over 100 years) makes a $70 propane-powered coffeemaker; this seems to me an over-engineered solution, but again . . . no judging. Some people like to use the old-fashioned stovetop percolator. I like that. It makes sounds that remind me of the way that my mother's kitchen sounded in 1958, and it smells wonderful. And really, there's nothing very complicated or high-tech about how a percolator works. (It's just physics. My friend Rick Brown could explain it to you, if you have a few hours.) This is an almost perfect way to make coffee while camping.
|Our little Melita, filter, and teapot, in our trailer, ready for business.|
Photo by Lesley Scher.
Lesley and I take the easy way out: We use a small Melita cone filter coffeemaker. You can get them in various sizes, but we just use the 1-cup size. Heat up some water on the propane stove, drop a filter in the Melita, add a scoop or two of ground coffee. Then place the funnel-shaped coffeemaker on your mug, pour the water in, and wait about one minute. Done. Decent coffee, no mess, nothing to wash (even the mug and coffeemaker can just be wiped clean), and no wasted water.
It's low-tech, simple, cheap, and fast. Although I'm sure that any day now, Melita will release a Wi-Fi-enabled cone brewer, and then I won't know what to do, especially if it has flashing lights. I can only be so strong.