Just gonna cut and paste this

It's a feature we all use. Here's who invented it. Also: 7 other things worth a click.

In the early 2000s, when I was a lawyer for a big government agency and I had to write briefs in scores or even hundreds of similar cases, I often relied on an old friend.

Copy and paste. Control C and Control V. (Maybe Command C and V if you're on a Mac, as I am now but wasn't then.)

Basically, I used big chunks of the same documents, the same arguments, the same filings—over and over and over. A few facts would be different; occasionally someone would raise a new argument. But otherwise, it was pretty much Groundhog Day.

My work friends and I shared our briefs with each other, too.

At times, it seemed the whole court system would be more efficient if we could just file one brief, and then refer various judges around the country to it, in case after case.

That wasn’t going to happen. But, I just learned Wednesday that there's a single individual who deserves my thanks for making my life a bit more manageable back then.

The man who invented it

His name: Larry Tessler. This is the guy who came up with the idea of "cut, copy, and paste" in word processing in the first place.

Tessler worked for Xerox PARC in the late 1970s, where two experiences stand out:

  1. His aforementioned development of "cut, copy and paste," which came about while he was working on an early, 1970s word processing program called Gypsy. (More details on this from Andrew Liszewski at Gizmodo.)

  2. His encounter with Steve Jobs, during the latter's now-legendary tour of the Xerox PARC labs in 1979. This is when Jobs supposedly first was introduced to things Xerox was working on, like graphical interfaces and the mouse, that wound up in Apple products a few years later.

Not long after that visit, Tessler left Xerox and headed to the much-smaller Apple. As Luke Dormehl of Cult of Mac recalled him saying years later:

“It’s funny because Apple was really the trigger for me wanting to leave Xerox, but I’d never seriously considered it as a career option.

Even though I had been pretty impressed by the people who attended the PARC demo, I still thought of them as primarily being a hobbyist computer company.”

Tessler was at Apple from 1980 to 1997, working mainly on two products that are now known more for being groundbreaking than for being successful themselves: the Newton and the Lisa.

Like they say, "pioneers get slaughtered; settlers prosper."

Typical Apple

Today, Dormehl holds up Tessler as having been typical among the fairly early recruits at Apple: equal parts tech visionary and bearded hippie.

He'd studied computer science at Stanford before working at Xerox. But in between, he'd also helped to found a commune in Oregon.

As you might gather from my use of the past tense in this newsletter, Tessler died this week. He was 74.

We take things like “copy and paste” for granted. Heck, I've probably used it 10 times while writing today.s newsletter.

A few years ago I joined a digital media startup. The founder had already recruited a young but highly talented developer named Morgante Pell.

One of the first things Morgante set out to do was build the world's best proprietary content management system — basically, the software that writers use in order to write and publish their articles.

Can you guess what turned out to be among the hardest features to build into this?

You guessed it: Cut, copy and paste.

Rest in peace Mr. Tessler.

Everybody else, keep working.

7 other things worth a click

  1. Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch spent five years on the market but didn't sell. Final asking price: $31 million. (Business Insider)

  2. Here's the listing for Neverland. Pretty amazing photos (all exterior, but it almost looks like a bargain at $31 million). (Compass)

  3. Speaking of expensive, this isn't exactly the key political issue of 2020, but: why does it cost so much money to ski? (New York Magazine)

  4. I turned on the TV to watch the fights last night, so to speak, and a Democratic debate broke out. (The Washington Post)

  5. Yet another study shows that the states where I chose to live and work are the two states nobody wants to live in anymore. (Zippia)

  6. A hero Kansas City crossing guard, 88, gave his own life to save two children from a car. (Fox 4 Kansas City)

  7. A musician played the violin during brain surgery, so surgeons could be sure they avoided affecting her ability to play. (CBS News — video)

Ideas and feedback actively solicited. If you haven’t subscribed, please do so! (You can also just send an email to signup@understandably.com.)

Share Understandably

If you liked this post, please share it!


One-click review and feedback:

  1. 1 star ⭐

  2. 2 stars ⭐⭐

  3. 3 stars ⭐⭐⭐

  4. 4 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐

  5. 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐