Category Archives: Memories

Empty toiler paper aisle of Target.

2020: The Warning

I dislike the unknowns of SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19, no treatment has yet proven effective, and—like putting on a seatbelt—it’s easy for me to mitigate a lot of downside risk until more data paint a clearer picture … I am constantly looking for such “seatbelts” in many areas of my life. Dead-simple ways to cap some or all of the downside risk.
— Tim FerrissSome Thoughts on Coronaviruses and Seatbelts

I’ve been a longtime reader of Tim Ferriss. His book, “The Four-Hour Workweek” reshaped how I do things in my career, although not to the degree as advocated in the book. His podcast has been excellent listening for me over the years, and his blog is often another wealth of information to pick from.

In February 2020, he wrote a blog post called “Some Thoughts on Coronaviruses and Seatbelts“. In that article, Ferriss linked to a post by Ben Hunt called “Body Count,” which gave me quite a jolt. Both posts warned of a newly-discovered virus called SARS-CoV-2, which we have now come to call COVID-19. Both posts highlighted some interesting aspects about this new disease:

  • There was no known effective treatment.
  • There is no known effective vaccine.
  • The virus can spread rapidly without showing symptoms in some people, making them “super spreaders.”

Ferriss’ posts goes on to ponder what might be needed to combat the spread of the virus. This got my wheels turning. Unlike it’s cousin SARS, the ability for this virus to be transmitted asymptomatically was concerning. With SARS, if you were infected, you showed symptoms. It was easier to fight. But with COVID-19, anyone could be a carrier; anyone could be infected.

After reading those articles in February, my wife and I talked about it. She is the coordinator of all grocery purchases in our household, so I told her, “Let’s start putting away a few things, just in case.” I didn’t want her to go crazy with purchases — just get some extra protein bars, canned goods we use, and peanut butter — but I did want her to go ahead and get a little extra in her runs to the grocery store. We began our meager stockpile, and then went about life as usual.

At the end of our conversation, I told my wife what concerned me the most.

“I don’t know that I’m afraid of this virus,” I said. “What I fear is panic. People get crazy when they’re afraid.”

It was time to make some plans. I wasn’t sure how long it would take for the virus to come to our corner of the midwest here in Missouri, but I certainly thought it was a possibility.

Hope is not a strategy.
— James Cameron

Several years ago, we were coming back from visiting family in western Kansas. It was snowing, and one of my children needed to use the restroom. We stopped at a trucker-oriented store on I-70 as we headed east back to home.

While my daughter was using the restroom, I struck up a conversation with a trucker. We were talking about the inclement weather and the cargo he was carrying, and then he told me this:

“There’s only three days worth of supplies in grocery stores,” he said. “After that, you’re waiting until the next load gets in. Most people have no idea how fragile the supply chain really is.”

I tucked that away in the back of my brain. It piqued my interest in prepping, but every resource I found at that time went deep into the rabbit hole of end-of-the-world scenarios, and that was a path I couldn’t follow. Although I entertained such scenario as a possibility, I weighed the likelihood against reality and decided the case for it wasn’t that strong. Rather, I was more in line with the Boy Scout motto from my youth: “Be prepared.”

In the years that followed, I went down that path, although in hindsight, not with enough vigor. But certain events kept the embers burning enough so that I was never fully unprepared. There was the Joplin tornado, ice storms two years in a row that dumped more than a foot of snow each year, and another tornado in my hometown of Baxter Springs, Kan., that kept me always thinking about never being caught with my pants down.

Or, so I thought.

By early March, the chatter about the spread of COVID-19 became something no one could ignore. There was debate on whether or not this was overblown, or if this was something we should all be really concerned about. I didn’t know for sure. The one thing I did know were the three items from the beginning:

  • There was no known effective treatment.
  • There is no known effective vaccine.
  • The virus can spread rapidly without showing symptoms in some people, making them “super spreaders.”

After work on Thursday, March 12, 2020, I went by some grocery stores on my way home. My two youngest children had been fighting off a difficult cold, and my wife wanted me to get some medicine for them, in addition to a few extra medicines that might be needed should there be a run on the grocery stores.

I had some difficulty finding the right meds. By the time I got to the store after work, most of the shelves had been picked clean of over-the-counter medicines. On social media, I heard there was a run on toilet paper, which seemed incredibly bizarre, but I my curiosity drove me to the paper products aisle. I was shocked. It was completely bare.

Empty toiler paper aisle of Target.

The empty toilet paper aisle of Target, Thursday, March 12, 2020.

What started at Target as shopping for cold medicine became a journey to see what this was really turning into. I went to Costco. There was no toilet paper. I stopped by a CVS, getting a few more meds and found a handful of rolls of toilet paper. I purchased a couple of packages for us, and left the rest for someone else to purchase.

I live very close to a very large Walmart, so I made that my last stop. And there, in the epicenter of middle-class capitalism, in the paper good aisle, I stood amazed.

It was empty.

Empty paper goods aisle of Walmart.

The empty toilet paper aisle of Walmart, Thursday, March 12, 2020.

Walking to the back of the aisle to take a picture, I stood by a man wearing a Vietnam veteran’s hat, much like my dad wears, doing the same. I thanked him for his service, and then said, “This is really something, huh?”

“Yup. Food’s next,” he mumbled.

In an instant, I thought about that trucker on the snowy road in Kansas. Three days of supplies.

I left Walmart empty handed, and almost crossed the road to head home. Then, I decided to head into Hy-Vee, a grocery store across the street. Walking back to the meat section, I purchased the largest tube of ground beef I could carry.

Walking in the door with a tube of beef, my wife looked at me with a bewildered look. I went past her, down to the basement, and threw the tube in our small deep freezer.

By the end of day on Friday, March 13, 2020, it seemed we had turned a corner in Kansas City. There were rumors flying at work that we would be told to work from home for the next two weeks, as the city moved toward a lockdown to try and slow the spread and not overwhelm the local healthcare system.

I waited around until 6 p.m. that day, waiting for the rumored email. I chatted with Bill, a co-worker with some past military experience, and we talked about how crazy all this was. Feeling like the official notification telling us to work from home wasn’t going to come soon, I asked my boss, Michael, if it was OK that I took my gigantic monitor home just in case. I was given his blessing, and I loaded things up in my car.

Before I left, I said goodbye to Bill.

“I’ll see you in a couple of weeks; three weeks tops,” I told him.

Home Depot was on the way home, so I stopped in. Social media chatter mentioned that toilet paper could be found there, and my drive to evaluate this unfolding situation kept pushing me to investigate. Perhaps it’s the ex-journalist that lives in me, or just my curious nature, but I had to see for myself.

There was no toilet paper in Home Depot.

“Oh, I’m not doing this shit,” I said out loud.

And after years of thinking about it, but never acting on it, I finally had my impetus: I walked over to the bathroom aisle of Home Depot and purchased the only bidet sprayer they had. I have often wondered why bidets were popular in other parts of the world but not in the United States, so I had researched them before but never bought one. But now, faced with the thought of spending day after day looking for toilet paper after our supplies ran out, I decided that wasn’t an acceptable option.

From there, I went to another home improvement store, Menards, and bought two more. And then I went home and collapsed on the couch.

Those two days were mentally exhausting. I was drained. There was roads of uncertainly ahead, and I wasn’t sure what to make of all of it.

Later that evening, I got the email I was waiting around for. We were to work from home for at least the next weeks.

As I sat down to dinner, I looked at the family and said, “Well, I guess we’ll be staying in for awhile.”

“Two weeks; three weeks tops.”

Read of a crashed Toyota Corolla.

Saying goodbye all over again

At the end of November 2018, I wrecked my Toyota Corolla. Of course, I did what any person in my situation would do: I went out and bought another Corolla.

Hey, the first one was a great car. Maybe the second one will be even better.

Some things just aren’t meant to last. Last weekend, my wife was rear-ended by a driver while she was stopped. I’m still navigating the ever-so-fun waters of insurance after an accident, but from the preliminary estimates, my car is totaled. I didn’t even make it two years with that car. In fact, I’ve barely driven it the last seven months thanks to the pandemic.

So much for the memories.

Thankfully, my wife and daughter who were in the accident, are mostly fine (the wife is still recovering, but isn’t 100 percent yet).

As for the car, it’s kind of a symbolic end for me. When I bought the car, I was a big mess. I was unknowingly severely depressed, still in shock from the death of my mom. I needed transportation, found it, and kept moving on.

Mom had a red van. Dad didn’t get rid of it until about a year after she passed away. At the time, I found it fitting that it was a red car. I realize I’m reaching in the symbolism department here, but it meant something to me. The red car came to me in a time of pain. And the red van stayed at my parents’ house for another year, and every time I saw it, I ached a little inside. I was so happy when I found out he had sold it, because I knew then it would be easier to move on.

And yet …

I almost wish I could sit in that van again. Maybe I could smell the residue from her perfume. Maybe I could hear the laughter of the grandkids who got in that van for a weekend getaway with the grandparents. Maybe I could see her again.

It’s October. My first child was born in this month. My mom died in this month. A car, and all its symbolism has been added to the list.

I have missed mom so much lately; icing on the layered cake of a truly insane year.

So yeah, I think my days of small cars are out. I don’t have any real reason, other than it’s time to make a change. I’m in no rush. I can take my time with a clear head and a more-healed heart, and replace the vehicle when the time is appropriate.

As silly as it sounds, saying goodbye this car makes it feel like I’m reliving the loss of mom all over again. Thankfully, I think I’m in a much better spot to weather the storm.

Eric J Gruber standing to the right of Mr. Richard Massa.

Death of a mentor

When I was nearing the end of my college education, I was searching for the next steps in my journey. I was working for a newspaper in Joplin, Mo. My position was almost like a contractor. I had full-time hours but didn’t have benefits (namely, health insurance). My parents, who were both nurses, had drilled into me one important lesson: always have health insurance.

I was seeking guidance. My search led me to the house of a retired professor — Mr. Richard Massa, who was also the founder of the communications department where I was finishing college — who gave me a suggestion.

“You should look into the Lawrence Journal-World,” he told me.

Massa talked up the Journal-World with great praise. He said it was a fine paper, and it was doing interesting things. I should check them out.

I didn’t even know where Lawrence, Kan., was. I found LJWorld’s website, found an email address, and sent off an inquiry, which said something along the lines of, “Are you looking for any newbie journalists?” I got a phone call. They didn’t have anything at LJWorld, but the paper had just purchased two small newspapers outside Lawrence, Kan. — in Eudora and De Soto — and they were building a team. They asked if I could come up for an interview.

Those were different times in the publishing world. I made the three-hour trip from Joplin for an interview, and they put me up in a hotel for the night, took me out to dinner with the editor and the publisher, and told me to stop back by the office before I headed back to Joplin. I worked from around 4 to 11 p.m. at The Globe, and by the time I got back to the office I would need to get to work.

Little did I know, that by the time I had returned to Joplin, the fine people at LJWorld had called The Globe to check my references. I found this out because as I started my shift, my editor, Gary, wanted to talk to me. It turned out they were now ready to offer me some benefits.

“Does this have anything to do with my trip to Lawrence,” I asked? “Yes,” Gary said.

I knew right at that moment: I was going to move to Lawrence.

I grew up in a very small Kanas town the same size as Eudora and De Soto. The area where I grew up is filled with wonderful, loving people who seem to have known each other forever, at least with some passing association. There’s a beauty in a small town that you don’t often find in a bigger city, something that I struggle to articulate well for those who haven’t experienced that life. As a small example, let’s just say that when your mother dies, the community mourns with you. They stop by and bring comfort food. They offer their embrace for grieving. They are sad not only for you, but with you.

And because of this one man’s suggestion, I left all I knew in search a new adventure for myself.


I was never a pupil of Massa while he taught at Missouri Southern State University. However, he played a role in an international media seminar where communications students went to Paris, France for a week. He also helped coordinate a trip where I and two other students went to Central America for two weeks before my senior year began. While there, we covered stories about Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Honduras. Massa, along with and Dr. Chad Stebbins, Director of the Institute of International Studies at my alma mater, were instrumental in me seeing parts and people of the world that I may have never had the chance to see otherwise.

I got to know Mr. Massa (as he was most well known by those he was befriended, and simply “Massa” if you really cared about him), through one of my fellow students, Aaron Deslatte. Aaron was a brilliant writer, and loved to visit Massa. I loved hanging out with Aaron, and by default got to know Massa through frequent visits. Massa always welcomed us, and he and his wife, Teresa, gladly let students past and present drop in and chat away. The discussions about world events, politics and policy were always fascinating. Those discussions made me want to learn more.

Massa died Sunday, March 17, 2019.

Even after my move away from home, I didn’t stop learning from him. I would stop by on occasion, as many other students did, and catch up with him and his wife. Eventually, I got married, and then introduced my wife, Amy, to him. Massa made mention that my move from Joplin led me to my wife. He fully believed that me meeting Amy — not any career move — was my great achievement from that life change. He wasn’t wrong.

Not long ago I messaged him with a question I had been posting online. I was looking for his answer to the question, “Regardless of your age now, what advice would you give your 40-year-old self?”

“Go for it!” he replied, “The wisest decision I ever made was at the age of 40. I decided to marry Teresa and to find a job at MSSU. I had other options — some sounding much better, some making more money, but I had grown weary of change and uncertainty and I needed security and purpose.”

I must admit, right now, as I write this, I’m a little dumbstruck at something I have missed for years. When I sought out his advice about what to do those many years ago, Massa didn’t suggest I try and beg and plead with my employer to give me some health insurance. He didn’t tell me to wait it out and hope things would change.

No, Massa suggested I go out and choose a new adventure, and see what happens. Even all those years ago, he was suggesting I “go for it.”

My mind is blown. Hot damn.

Amy once asked me, “What was Mr. Massa? Was he your teacher?” I told her that I often referred to him as my mentor. While I stick with that assessment, I now realize it’s not the full truth. I was not his classroom pupil, but I was most certainly his student.

The teacher has given me the lesson, and the lesson is this: life is yours to embrace, so go for it!

Farewell, sir.

Mr. Richard Massa and Eric J Gruber.

Farewell, Massa. Farewell, good sir.

And …

Kansas City

Kansas City skyline at dusk

Kansas City has some amazing views.

When I was growing up, going to Kansas City was a Big Dealâ„¢.

I was raised in a small town in southeast Kansas called Baxter Springs. With a population of around 5,000 then, it was a typical small town. I did a lot of my early exploring in the city on my bicycle. If you had a car (and a driver’s license), you would cruise the main street on the weekends. “Dragging main” entailed driving up and down and then back again until you got tired of doing it. I’m not even sure kids do that anymore.

I remember coming to Kansas City for my senior trip, where the high school seniors came up and stayed in a hotel. We went to a Royals game and did … what else, I can’t remember. I do remember a couple of my fellow classmates getting high/drunk (called Roba-dosing) by drinking a large amount of Robitussin cough syrup. Sadly, the trip did not end well for me. I had fun, but while at the Royals game people were asking this one girl to borrow some sunscreen, not realizing we were actually applying sun tan accelerator instead. I turned my Irish-blood legs beat red; for days I could only sleep on my back.

Good times.

In July of 2015, I said goodbye to Lawrence, Kansas, my home of 16 years. It seemed like the logical thing to do. I had been commuting to Kansas City since the end of 2012, and commuting 50 minutes each way was sucking the life out of my soul.

It has turned out to be an excellent decision. I love the pulse of a big city. There are ebbs and flows of activity, not unlike the rise and fall of an ocean tide. The mornings and evenings are blissfully quiet, but the daytime activity in the downtown area where I work brings great satisfaction to me. I love seeing the different types of people, the large buildings as they reflect the sun’s magnificent rays, and the culture of art and style that weaves through the city.

I am certainly a long way from my small Kansas hometown.

When we lived in Lawrence, coming to Kansas City for the day was still quite an event. I live on the Missouri side, in an area called the Northland, and I’m around 20 minutes from anything I would want to do. As I drive to work each morning, my first automotive hurdle is to crest the top of a hill. When I pass over, I can see downtown Kansas City’s skyscrapers looking like mountains in the distance. As I draw near, my eyes tend to fixate on these wonderful buildings. Kansas City has a lot of character, and I love almost everything I see (even the parts that need some love and attention).

There once was some artwork in the gallery at my work that said, “I love KC well so far.”

I think that sums it up perfectly.

Kansas City and art go well together.

A photo posted by Eric J Gruber (@ericjgruber) on

When you realize you may be lying to yourself

In the last few years, I’ve been thinking about the possibility of moving back to my home (or close to it) in southeast Kansas/southwest Missouri. Every time I go home, there’s this strange siren song that calls to me: “Come back! You can make a difference here! You can share your vision to help rebuild and people will follow you! Come back, Eric! Come back!”

The thing is, we live far away from most of our family. Sometimes I think I’m doing my children a disservice by being so far away from our relatives. The kids are always talking about going for a visit, but it’s such a huge undertaking to get a family of five out the front door — let alone packed for an extended visit — that it doesn’t happen nearly as much as I’d like. When I was growing up, I was no more than 60 minutes (give or take) away from my furthest grandparents. I got to know my maternal and paternal grandparents very well. As an adult, our family is spread all over the state of Kansas. Currently, it is impossible to think my children will have the same type of relationship with their grandparents (and other family members) as I did with mine, and I find that unsettling.

My 20-year high school class reunion was last year. I took my family and we had a good time. At some point, the conversation turned to how the area really wasn’t like it was when we were growing up. It’s not just the fog of nostalgia; long-term data shows the area I grew up in is one of the poorest in the state. The county I grew up in often lands on the top five of least healthy counties in Kansas. Jobs are scare, cities are dying, and to really put the icing on the cake: the Walmart in my hometown closed this year. When even Walmart can’t do business there anymore, then you know things are bad.

Or as one of my former classmates who lives in nearby Kansas City said, “I’d love to move back here, but I like making money, too.”

trampolineTo put things in context, outside the True Value hardware store in the city of my birth (the hospital there closed decades ago), hangs a trampoline. Rather, it’s half of a trampoline weathered from years of exposure to the elements.

There was a time when it had a sign on it with a price. I presumed they didn’t want to take the whole thing down because it was at least showing they had the item in stock if someone wanted one in a box (you definitely didn’t want the “floor model”). During one visit, my wife and I were discussing the trampoline, and she said it had been in that condition for at least the entirety of our marriage — to date, 12 years. She even believes it looked like this when we were dating.

That stupid trampoline reminds me every time I come home of the siren’s call. I could show these people how to regain a sense of pride in their hometown. “I could bring my plan (yes, I have a detailed plan in my head) about how to fix a broken small town and restore it to some sort of greatness. I could people find the dignity they lost in a world that has forgotten them.”

I can hear my speech in my head: “True Value, tear down this trampoline!”

For years, I’ve had job search websites looking for openings around the Joplin, Mo., area with the thought that I would pack up the family and move back home. Those searches have mostly come back empty, a testament to how few jobs in the tech industry there are down there (at least any that I would be competent at). For a time, I thought that I would try another approach: I would get a job somewhere that would allow me to work remotely, and then make the move. But I found problems with that plan. “If that job didn’t work out, could I find another remote job? What if I couldn’t find another remote job in a reasonable timeframe? With not many tech jobs in that area, what would I have to do in order to make a living?”

And yet, it was a recent conversation that made me realize a hard truth: perhaps I had been lying to myself. I was talking about most of everything said in this post to a friend. The reply? “If you really wanted to move back home you would have found a way to do it by now.”

Wow. Smack me upside the head with a shovel.

I have been thinking about this a lot, and I still haven’t came to any conclusions. But the question is starting to eat at me: Have I been lying to myself?

I’m reaching a point in my life where I want to make some long-term plans for my future. I have dreams and ambitions and goals, or so I think I do. Maybe my ideas aren’t really legitimate. Maybe what I think are dreams, are instead me pining for a past that is long gone causing delusional visions of what could be.

Maybe it’s time to really re-examine a few things. This would be the week to do it. Soon we’ll pack up the kids and a minivan full of clothes for a visit to home once again during the holiday break. We’ll eat too much food. We’ll spend time with some of our extended family. I’ll even go to yet another funeral for the dad of a friend from the area (this will be the second “funeral for the dad of a friend from back home” this year). After it’s all over, I’ll think about all these things yet again during the three hour drive to where I live now.

And I would bet a crisp Benjamin that stupid trampoline will be waiting for me when I get there.

Just wanted to say thanks

When I was just a young pup, I grew up in a town that loved baseball.

I got my start in the local Little League, but a problem with my knees forced me to sit out all of middle school from playing any sports. Then, as a sophomore, I was granted a clean bill of health.

By that time I was too late in the game to be good at any sport, but I did still enjoy watching baseball. That is, until the strike. Then my taste soured for baseball for a very long time.

How long? Until this year, when the Royals rallied and got all of nearby Kansas City fired up. I have really enjoyed watching the games and was heartbroken when they lost last night. But, they did well. They should be proud of their accomplishments.

And so, Royals, I just wanted to say thanks. You made baseball fun to watch. I look forward to next season.


A few years ago, my grandfather passed away.

He died from all the horrible complications associated with dementia, and it was incredibly painful to watch him deteriorate.

My grandfather was a master craftsman. He was a builder, spending most of his life building houses all around Kansas. My uncle has said he could frame a house taking only a couple of measurements.

My memories of him and his big red Ford pickup include a camper filled with tools. One time I got to drive the truck, and he had me drive a little faster than normal on the backroads of Montgomery County to “blow out the cobwebs.” It wasn’t until after he passed that, upon telling my father this, dad told me blowing out a supposed accumulation of cobwebs from a truck’s exhaust wasn’t really a thing. My grandfather gave me an excuse to speed with a little help of plausible deniability.

He intentionally sent me out thrill-seeking and I didn’t even realize it.

That big red Ford came with all sorts of memories. He would take my sister and I fishing in it, and we’d sit forever (to a kid that probably 45 minutes) and hope for the big catch. I remember the sound of those tools rattling around in the back, his glasses that would get dark in the sun, and his cowboy boots pressing on the gas pedal.

I miss my grandpa (thankfully his wife – Grandmama as my girls know her – is still alive). I miss my other grandparents, too. I pull such sweet memories from my 36-year-old brain sometimes. At times I can’t help it – a certain smell, or a stroll through an antique store might bring back memories of the past. Sometimes it seems like those I’ve lost are right beside me; like I could reach out and talk to them.

But of course, I cannot. Those days are past.

Now I delight in my responsibility to provide wonderful experiences, so my children will have something to take with them on their journey. While gifts and things can be fun, those things fade and become faint in the mind. But experiences and everyday little things can become etched in stone. That is my duty; ensure the good memories overcome the bad ones.

And someday, when the time comes, I’ll make sure my girls get the chance to blow out the cobwebs … just like I did.

Thank you, Steve Jobs

My backyard lawn has become the bane of my homeownership.

As new homeowners we weren’t real educated on how to properly maintain a lawn and by the end of the first summer in the home last year it was looking pretty bare. In the spring of this year, we seeded, fertilized and watered, but the excessive heat this summer, coupled with tons of kids relentlessly playing in the backyard because of my wife’s home-based preschool, eventually brought the lawn to the same condition.

We read up on what we needed to do. I aerated the lawn last Saturday, covered it with seed, fertilizer, and hay, and we’ve been watering the lawn every day since then.

And so, there I was manually hosing down the backyard when I heard Tweetbot update noise emanating from my pocket. I whipped out my iPhone and at the top of my stream was an update that made my heart sink.

Apple says former CEO and founder Steve Jobs has died.

I stood there, motionless, glaring at the tiny screen. It took a minute before I realized I hadn’t moved, watering the same spot that whole time.

I knew it was coming. Everyone knew. My parents are both nurses, and after the WWDC in June when Steve gave what would become his final keynote, my dad commented on how poor his appearance was.

“It looks like he’s dying,” dad said.

When he stepped down as CEO in August, it seemed pretty clear the gig was up. As I commented today on Hacker News, “Steve Jobs needed Apple as much as Apple needed Steve Jobs.”

John Lennon, Elvis, Martin Luther King, Jr., John F. Kennedy – these were ghosts of history. I had heard of them, knew of their impact, but I was never personally impacted by their presence in a tangible way.

No so with Steve.


I was in the room when a kickball hit the Apple //e.

It was a freak occurance; the kickball managed to make it through the open window and hit the monitor, which then fell, hard, to the linoleum tile floor with a thud. I was sure it was broken. I didn’t even use it then – it was pretty much a teacher only device in that classroom – but the school district in my small town had made some investment in Apple’s computers, which began my love affair with that wonderfully thick beige hardware.

Someone came to check out the computer and much to my surprise, it worked perfectly.

I’ll never forget how amazed I was that it actually turned back on. I was nine years old and knew this thing was special.


Just two years later, computing got a lot more hands on. In middle school we were allowed to go to the library and learn to use the computer. Green text, black screen, blinking cursor.

It was awesome.

In the early days of end user computing, there were few rules in play regarding the copyrighting of software, or at least the strict enforcement of it. I remember pecking away on the keyboard, typing a sentence or two at a time and then printing it on a dot matrix printer.

Kids these days have no idea how much printers used to really suck.

One of the coolest things I discovered, which our school librarian of all things educated us on, was the copying of data from one floppy disc to another. Back then it was called copying, but today they call it pirating. The librarian told me and a few other guys we could purchase blank floppies for $.25 each.

School-sanctioned pirating. Giddy up.

I only copied a few things, but one was my favorite game of all called Montezuma’s Revenge. Holy crap I loved that game. I kept that floppy disc with me for a long time. It stayed in the little white sleeve in my backback until I could get a chance to get back to the library and play some more. What fun it was.


The music teacher in middle school was really getting into digital music. He had an Ensoniq keyboard, and was all into this thing called “midi,” which I never fully understood.

But I understood the Newton. It was a handheld device that you could put notes on, store names and had basic handwriting recognition software built in that would (try to) convert handwriting to text. It’s hard to understand if you’ve grown up with touchscreen devices, but this thing was mind-blowing.

I loved the glowing green screen of the Newton and how its design almost begged you to interact with it. There was even this detail given like that of its counterpart the Macintosh where a little tiny trash can would look full with garbage until you “emptied” it, thus deleting the data you had in there.


I was far removed from any type of computer education in high school. There was a computer class, but it was on PCs. I wasn’t interested. It’s funny to think of that now, because apparently I was establishing myself as part of the Apple camp to the point that I wasn’t even willing to touch a Windows-based computer.

Instead I learned to type in what would come to be the last class that offered typewriting, of all things, on actual electric typewriters.

Next up was college. My mom and I went to campus, checked things out, and I liked most of what I saw. There was only one thing missing: the Macintosh. I went from building to building to see if I could find an Apple anywhere on campus.

I didn’t.

Everywhere I went, Windows was showing just how strong it had become. It was 1994. Steve Jobs wasn’t at Apple and Microsoft was kicking tail.

I was discouraged.

Performa 575

But my parents, who knew I was frustrated, gave me a new hope. They spent a large chunk of cash on an Apple Performa 575.

To say I was elated would understate what this meant to me. It wasn’t technically mine, but they really didn’t touch it. I did, though. I learned about something called email from a company called AOL. I used the encyclopedia from a CD-ROM. I began my college career as a music major, and wrote sheet music for class using that Mac. I got really, really hooked on a beautiful game called Myst.

That machine was a huge chunk of my life until I switched majors three years into college. I decided that I liked playing music, but didn’t want to teach it. I almost got into radio, but a required news writing course led me into journalism instead.

That led me to walk through the doors of the student publication The Chart, and I instantly knew I was home.

There were Macs everywhere.

Since that Apple Performa 575, I’ve not been without an Apple computer in my life.

The Store

In 2004, Apple opened a store on the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, Mo. I was one of the employees that opened that store. The experience was great: the people were fun, the environment was a well-oiled machine and the products were spectacular.

Country Club Plaza Store Opening

In this image from, the back of my (then slightly balding) head can be seen to the left of the guy with the blue ballcap on the left of the image.

From day one, it was clear Apple knew what it was doing in the retail market. All the computers worked like they would at your home. I had been to plenty of computer stores where the displays were crippled. Apple realized that flaw, and made it so every computer worked without the typical paranoid restrictions.

You could actually try before you buy and ask questions from people who truly loved the products they were selling.

I only lasted six months. I ended up quitting because I liked being a fan of Apple and using Apple’s stuff, but working there took a lot of that away. I wanted my kid-like love back (and the commute was getting to me, plus it was a part-time job after my full-time job was done during the day).

It was the right choice for me to make. But oh, how I would have loved to have been there when the iPhone came out.


When I decided to learn about the web, I would read HTML books in my car during my lunch break while working for The Ottawa Herald, then come home and work on my Mac to apply what I had read.

Eventually, that led me to a full-time gig, and I’ve kept freelancing and building side projects on my Mac ever since.

The Macintosh and Apple’s other products have been with me through a lot of major events. I recorded music with friends with my iBook, which also served as disc jokey at my wedding reception. I’ve edited home movies and pictures of my wife and kids, enlightened myself with audiobooks on my iPod on long commutes, took some of the first pictures and video of my youngest with my iPhone, and my wife and I each have businesses and projects we run on the Mac.

Apple is part of my existence. It’s part of my history.

One more thing …

As anyone who knows me is aware, I started riding motorcycles last year and have fallen in love with it.
So imagine my surprise when I stumbled across this picture of a young Steve Jobs, riding a motorcycle. It’s easily one of my top favorite pictures of him.
Steve Jobs on a BMW Motorcycle

Thanks, Steve

The man who co-founded the company that made such an impact on my life is dead. For that, I’m incredibly sad.

And I’m also eternally grateful for his gifts.

It almost seems silly to become so attached to these machines. But these machines are more than bits, bytes, plastic and silicon. These machines have helped catalog my progress. These machines have helped me create. These machines have helped me learn. These machines have helped me love.

I think that’s what Steve Jobs was after all along. He help bring a spiritual quality to an industry that could be as soulless as we’d let it. But Steve Jobs wouldn’t have it. He had ideas. He had vision. He had passion.

And like the seeds in my backyard, he watered those ideas to help lead a company of incredible people to bring incredible products to the world and in turn, change lives.

So with that, I celebrate the life of Steve Jobs.

“I’ve looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself, ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I’m about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘no’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.”

– Steve Jobs, 2005 Standford Commencement Address

Sent from my MacBook Pro

On Borders

Borders bookstore has hit hard times. On Wednesday it was announced the company was filing for bankruptcy, and in turn will close its Lawrence store at 700 New Hampshire Street.

Despite my growing distain for corporations, Borders has held a special place in my heart for a couple of sentimental reasons.

March 21, 2003: It was a Friday night and I and my lady friend were out on a date. We stopped for some coffee (I’m sure she had cocoa) at whatever shop was at 745 New Hampshire (it’s now Mirth of this writing) and stopped to see the show on our way to Borders to peruse the stacks.

The show? Oh, did I not mention? Some girl had planted herself atop a lone tree in the lot south of Borders and was protesting its imminent chainsaw dismemberment.  The tree was the last thing to be removed before construction of the Hobbs Taylor Lofts could begin, but this is Lawrence, and we do things differently around here, so of course there was a protest. (Related video)

I love Lawrence.

We left Borders … yadda, yadda, yadda … a few hours later we were engaged.

2003 to present: Borders was the place I went to get books to learn about web design and development. I tried the library, but the books were out of date and terrible, so I invested a little cash and taught myself enough to leave journalism and begin working on the web instead of print. When asked how I learned web design, I would tell people I “graduated from Borders University,” my supposed witty way of saying I got my educational materials through the local bookstore.

Lawrence’s workers are really taking it on the chin. Most recently it was Knology’s “rightsizing,” then the shutting down of Jefferson’s Restaurant, and now, Borders. That’s a good chunk of jobs being lost in the last three months alone. I feel deeply – to my core – for the employees of those businesses. And there have been others that have closed, too.

I’m thankful for the memories something as seemingly inconsequential as a chain bookstore has been to me. I’ve enjoyed going there, my daughters have enjoyed picking out books and Christmas shopping there, and now it seems the final pages are being written for Borders, at least locally.

My heart aches.

Are you killing time or is time killing you?

In the spring of this year I was in my parents’ backyard when I suddenly smelled cigar smoke wafting over the fence.

I knew that smell meant Mr. Miller was out on his porch again. Mr. Miller and his wife had, for most of my life, been the next-door neighbor. About equally as long – 25 or 30 years, I don’t know – he would head out to his porch in the evening to smoke his cigar.

These days he gets to smoke a few more.

“Hello” I called out. “How’s retirement treating you?”

“Not very well,” he said.

A little taken back by his answer, I probed some more. Things hadn’t been going well since he had recently retired. He was having a few health problems. A scary thing happened the week before when he temporarily lost his eyesight. Yeah, one day he was out with his wife and then he couldn’t see. He told me that everything was really dark and blurry. It got better, but not without giving him quite a jolt.

Me too.

There were countless times I’d see Mr. Miller leaving for work and returning later in the day. He commuted as far as my dad does so there was nothing really that striking about his work.

What got to me that day was this: Mr. Miller put in his hard time, working faithfully for a company for decades, commuting the whole time and then finally got to retire. Now he has all the time in the world to do whatever he wants.

But, he can’t. With failing health, his most capable physical years were spent working. This event has impacted several decisions I’ve made this year such as buying a home, supporting my wife as she started her business and learning to ride a motorcycle.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting we all quit our jobs and go unbridled crazy. There’s a difference between risk and calculated risk.

I’m a big fan of calculated risk. Isn’t there something you’ve always wanted to do?

  • Weren’t you going to start that business and give it a go?
  • Was there someplace you’ve wanted to go or something to learn?
  • Do you need to resolve a friendship or forgive a family member?
  • Weren’t you going to have that one book read (or written) by now?
  • Didn’t you always want to get a pet?

Whatever it is – start making plans, now, for how you’re going to make it happen and follow those steps to make it reality.

Because one day you’re going to realize you’ve let time kill you slowly, or you’ve owned it.

So, which is it? Are you killing time or is time killing you?