Dave the ThinkCap Stalker

So over at Design Matters, Lenovo’s first and only official blog, we ran a poll using the WordPress Democracy plug-in. Wild success. Over 800 votes, tons of comments, all over the question of which TrackPoint cap do you prefer? The cap is the red rubber thing in the middle of the ThinkPad keyboard which is the signature design point for the otherwise black and rectangular notebook. I love the things from an usability point of view, and have grown accustomed over the years to the rough “classic” version of the cap which has the texture of rough sandpaper.

There are other versions of the cap — smooth, pebbled, and with a rim. So we asked the simple question of the Design blog’s readers: “Which one do you prefer?”

Anyway, I carry a supply of spares in my backpack and hand them out to ThinkPad users I run into at airports, on the plane, in the park, at the Starbuck’s etc. I include my business card as well so the people don’t think I am like one of those deaf-mute pencil people at the airport.

Yesterday I was in NYC’s Bryant Park enjoying the sunshine when I saw a guy pounding away on a T43. So I unzip the back pack, pull out a bag of replacement caps, walk over, hand it to him with my card and he does a classic New Yorker and tells me to “F-Off.”
I can’t blame him. Any approach out of the blue in NYC is generally a prelude to a panhandle, a religious discussion, and an otherwise unpleasant situation. The guy looks at the little bag — like there were drugs in it — then he looks at my card. Then he looks at the dirty trackpoint cap on his machine, and it dawned on him that the ThinkPad Fairy just landed.

“Aren’t you in China?” he asked.

“Looks like Bryant Park to me,” I replied.

My colleague Matt Kohut spent a day in airport terminals up and down the East Coast last summer doing the same thing. He reported the hardest part of handing stuff out was approaching women, all of whom thought he was hitting on them.

R.W. Apple, Jr. — RIP

Sad news that Johnny Apple, legendary New York Times reporter, passed away at 71.

I admired his political writing back in the day when I aspired to cover Congress and was sitting in the Massachusetts State House press room for the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune, still idealistic about daily journalism and the possibilities after Woodward and Bernstein energized the profession during Watergate. Alas, I was more interested in elections than legislation and made the move to tech journalism.

Apple was characterized by Hunter S. Thompson in Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail as the single most connected reporter covering the Iowa caucuses, a reporter so attuned to the local political machines that other reporters went to him for insights and predictions. The Times obituary, which is magnificent as only the Times can do for one of their own, notes that many felt Apple deserved the Pulitzer for his coverage of the 1976 elections, especially his local knowledge during Iowa.

Apple was the best food and drink writer going. Not since A.J. Liebling’s writing about being a gourmand in Paris — Between Meals — has any journalist displayed as much passion and gusto for living well. Apple came close. The man travelled with his own personal pepper grinder.