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ATPM 12.06
June 2006





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by Mark Tennent,

Make Mine Black

It has come as a great relief that one of those life-changing decisions has been settled. This was one that I’d avoided, put aside as “more important” things got in the way. And now it’s finally decided ­ that part of my life is behind me, allowing me to move on. The next car for me just has to be a Mercedes Benz 320CLK. It has to be in black so it looks like the one Agents J and K drove in Men in Black 2. A black suit and shades will complete the ensemble, but not a hat, as that would be too Blues Brotherish.

The Merc was in the supermarket car park the other day. And just like a sad bozo, I had to drive round again to get a second look and see what model it was. There is one little problem. Online road tests—frantically scoured on reaching home—showed quite clearly it’s a car beyond the limits of my pocket money. Plus, my wife says it looks very similar to my black Honda Accord, so what’s the point of swapping? She just doesn’t understand. Sigh!

Never mind, at least my next car is decided. And a new laptop. I Need both desperately, and that is Need with a capital N. My old laptop was bought as the last of the late, great G3 Pismo PowerBooks—even though the white iBooks were in the shops. The G3 PowerBooks were the first laptops able to run Mac OS X—which conveniently arrived the day after my PowerBook. So it ran OS 9 for only a single day. It has never crashed or caused problems, and it has been running non-stop since March 2001.

At the time I bought it, my legs had fresh, meter-long scars running down each, courtesy of England’s superb National Health Service, which probably saved my life. Walking was near impossible, and a desktop Mac completely out of reach. The PowerBook became a window on the world for nearly a year, along with 50 meters of Ethernet cable and a half-megabit ADSL connection to help it along. Since then, it has doubled as a DVD player, a TV set (with CyTV and EyeTV), a cookbook, and a general-purpose second computer. It gets lugged from room to room and spends most summer weekends in the garden showing Michael Schumacher demonstrating his driving prowess each Grand Prix. Thankfully, it now has a wireless connection. Dragging a mess of 50 meters of Cat 5 wrapped around an old cable drum was definitely uncool and a hassle to deal with.

I Need a new laptop just like I will Need a new desktop Mac when the Intel ones arrive sometime later this year. What matters, in all this needfulness, is there is no use for any extra speed. In the case of my PowerBook, it already does everything asked of it and more besides, seldom showing the spinning beach ball. The desktop Mac was ordered the minute after Steve Jobs announced the first of the twin processor G5s. Then he made me wait while “my” Mac was diverted to make the world’s third fastest supercomputer. That was OK because the bragging rights were worth every day extra it took to arrive.

My wife has an even faster G5. Hers is liquid-cooled. So when it arrived, I stoked it up with lots of hard-to-do tasks and sat with ear pressed to its case, trying to hear if it gurgled. It doesn’t, just like it doesn’t do anything different from my old, slow dual 2 GHz G5 that I Need to upgrade. About the only time it shows a turn of speed is when iTunes rips MP3 tracks from CDs. My wife’s does it at a gazillion times playback speed, while mine is a mere million, give or take a complete overestimation or two.

Then the new black MacBooks arrived in Apple’s shops. One would go very nicely with a new Mercedes and, come to think of it, my iPod is a bit long in the tooth, being of the first generation. It weighs so much that if someone tried to mug me I could swing the iPod like a shot put and hit him on the head. Except that a mugger probably wouldn’t want it and might even leave a better one behind out of sympathy. However, a black iPod would make a matching set.

Is black Apple’s new white? Will it make desktop Macs available in black? It all seems a bit retro and away from the company’s more modernist pure whites. Is it coincidence that Apple’s head of industrial design, Jonathan Ive, who was made a Commander of the British Empire by the Queen of England, started out as a ceramic bathroom suite designer and now only appears to wear black T-shirts?

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