Cary Lu

Paul Andrews[hidden]

USER FRIENDLY column appearing in The Seattle Times Personal Technology section, Sunday, Sept. 28, p. C1.


Anyone who ever called Cary Lu for help, and there were lots of us, would recognize his characteristic foreshortened salutation. It is one of the many Lu-isms we will miss in the wake of Cary's death last Tuesday from cancer.

You could call Cary any time and know that, even if he was busy, he would treat you as if he had all the time in the world.

"In the end he had less time than any of us could have imagined," noted Stephen Manes, Seattle-based computer columnist for The New York Times and a longtime friend.

Cary was known throughout the computing universe for his incisive expertise on a broad range of topics, everything from video displays to telephone switching systems. Macintosh fanatics the world over consulted his columns and reviews in Macworld magazine for their definitive and clear-headed advice. His 1984 work for Microsoft Press, "The Apple Macintosh Book," was the one you turned to for the final say on how to do something.

Cary was a huge resource for dBUG, the downtown Macintosh Business Users Group, where he regularly gave talks and appeared on panels. In a room among his peers Cary always drew an immediate circle of admirers and associates hoping to catch his latest nuggets of wisdom or wry observations.

Cary was one of the few Macintosh authorities who knew IBM-compatible PCs inside out as well. In his Kirkland home's basement office crammed with electronic gear of all kinds, Cary kept a lone PC at the ready to test Microsoft's latest software upgrade.

He was proudest of a 486 PC that cost him all of 99 cents -- the amount he paid for a crystal chip. Everything else, including the case, Cary rustled up from friends, discards and spare parts.

"Cary was the first to admit, `I'm cheap'!" recalled Manes. "Part of his cheapness was that he could fix anything. In a day when most things are thrown out because nobody knows how to repair them, Cary could fix a TV, computer, stereo, you name it."

Two years ago, Cary wrote an article for the Personal Technology section comparing the Macintosh with Microsoft Windows -- a tired subject to which he brought strikingly fresh insights. The piece was reproduced in e-mail and soon made its way around the world via the Internet. Cary heard from users in Australia, Europe, Japan and elsewhere.

It was a fitting example of Lu's willingness to share his knowledge with the global village.

"He was a great explainer," Manes said, a talent Lu drew on for shows he produced for Sesame Street and other children's programs. Cary seemed to know everything, to the point where "you almost felt proud on those rare occasions you told him something he didn't know," Manes said.

His vast storehouse of knowledge is the quality many of us, from purely selfish standpoints, will miss most about Cary. We journalists on deadline in need of a few facts or quick insights shamelessly drew on Cary's expertise.

"He almost always answered the phone, something people don't do much of these days," said Adam Engst, who with his wife Tonya produces the electronic TidBITS newsletter specializing in the Macintosh. If he didn't answer, he called back promptly.

Cary's sense of humor was another unique Lu quality. "He had a really dry wit you'd never pick up unless you knew it was there," Engst said. It often came through in his writing, if you knew to look.

Before he became ill Cary was hard at work on a book, "The Race for Bandwidth," concerning a vitally important subject clouded by hype, misinformation and confusion. In recent weeks he had been revising the manuscript with help from friends.

"The book kept Cary going," said Manes. Microsoft Press will publish it early next year.

In one of the wiser uses of the Web, the Engsts put together a commemorative Web site at <>. Within hours postings from friends and colleagues began appearing on the site. Anyone with a reminiscence can post it by e-mailing <>. The Web site will carry details on a memorial gathering to be held next month.

This is one link that will never go dead.