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Meet Larry, the Man who makes the Computer less Studious for Everyone

COMPUTER

Rarzack Olaegbe

Larry played a central role in making computers accessible to everyone who does not possess a computer engineering degree like me. Larry made me fall madly in love with the computer. I didn’t even know it then. It is obvious each time I employ the shortcuts. You cut with X and copy with C. You paste with letter V while letter Z will undo your errors. These function keys have changed how the computer is used forever. If not for the hard work and tenacity of some men, many people including this writer would have difficulty using the computer. These men not only invested time and ingenuity into ensuring that the computer is not only available, it is simple to access. Many users of the computer are familiar with Bill Gates’ Microsoft and its windows operating system.

Others are attracted to Steve Jobs and Apple and Macintosh computers. Yet, others believe that Michael Dell is the genius behind the computer. Some folks have even said to me that Zinox boss Leo Stan Ekeh invented the computer! I know you understand that is incorrect.

However, these men have made their marks to ensure you and I have a computer we can call our own. But the man who simplified how to use the computer was Larry Tesler. But before Larry, there was Charles Babbage. Charles was an English mechanical engineer and polymath. According to research, Charles originated the concept of a programmable computer. Charles is considered as the father of the computer, as he conceptualized and invented the first mechanical computer in the early 19th century.

As the story goes, before Larry, the computer users had to interact with clunky programmes in different modes where the same commands meant different things depending on how they were used. I remember those issues correctly and navigating through the computer then was quite frustrating for me. Anyway, what are modes? Larry considered that to be a problem.

Well, the mode is the number that appears most frequently in a set. A set of numbers may have one mode, more than one mode, or no mode at all. Other popular measures of central tendency include the mean, or the average (mean) of a set, and the median, the middle value in a set. According to Larry most interactive programmes had modes, which always “tripped me up.” Larry wrote in 2012.

Larry gave his life and became a champion of eliminating modes from computer programmes. His personal web site is nomodes.com. Once Larry eliminated the modes, he opened the door to how computer users have interacted with personal computers for the last 40 years. Much of that work was done not at one of today’s tech giants, but at a computer lab at Xerox.

Today most people know Xerox only as a maker of copiers, but in its heyday the company developed much of the technology that led to the personal computer: the mouse, a graphical user interface that allowed for more than lines of text on a screen. The work was done at the company’s Silicon Valley-based Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, or Xerox PARC.

He pioneered personal computing and he is credited with creating the cut, copy and paste and the search and replace functions. The day I learnt how to use those functions keys marked the beginning of my deep love with the computer. In the newsroom then, instead of typing a long sentence all over, I would simply press Control A to select the text. Then I would press Control C to copy and control V to paste the text on the page I wanted. It was quite easy. Once I mastered the cut, copy and paste key functions, I shared the little “secrets” with everybody in the newsroom. Why do you need to re-type a paragraph? Simply copy and paste it.

The cut, copy and paste and search and replace functions are used millions of times a day without users thinking twice about how they were developed or by whom. The functions made typing so easy for me. At the time, I did not know who invested the function keys. All I know is that it made navigating the desktop computer very easy. It is unfortunate that Larry Tesler died last week at the age of 74. But his invention is alive. Larry is alive in our minds and millions of people all over the world are using his inventions to navigate the computer.

I am sure the majority of the “typists” in the newsroom then did not know about Larry. That is true because many people around the world did not know Larry. We know computing giants Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. But without Larry the work of Gates and Jobs would not be successful. Larry played a central role in making computers accessible to people without computer engineering degrees like me. Larry made me fall madly in love with the computer. I didn’t even know it then. Now, I know.

Until his death, Larry was a consultant to companies like Western Union and note-taking app Evernote on how to improve their user experience on desktop and mobile. He was dedicated to innovating, simplifying and improving. Larry was part of the team that designed the Macintosh computer. Macintosh and Lisa, one of the first personal computers to use a graphical user interface, popularised the now-familiar copy, paste and undo shortcuts.  So, if you are having challenges with your text messages, just cut it with X, paste it with V or undo it with Z.

 @psalmsonolaegbe@gmail.com