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ATPM 4.06
June 1998



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Segments: Slices From the Macintosh Life

by Lincoln Donald,

My Particular Macs

I found a poem embedded deep in the Commands folder of Microsoft Word as I was sorting out the hard disk of Mac LC II. Wondering what 'Untitled 1' could possibly be, I double-clicked to reveal a short lament for an unrequited love. I printed a copy before consigning it to the trash. Perhaps it had been written or copied by the young university student from whom I had purchased the Mac, or by one of its previous owners. The Mac had been very cheap as the small monochrome monitor no longer worked, and I was really only interested in the extended Apple keyboard and the CPU with its 6 MB of RAM.

That's the great thing about Macs--everything seems to be interchangeable. The first computer I ever saw was back in the 60s. It was huge. Hermetically sealed into the whole of one fully air conditioned floor in the Head Office of a large insurance company, it was attended by young, white-coated acolytes clutching clipboards, who seemed oblivious to the breathtaking view of Sydney Harbour from the windows. I was a newly appointed regional manager with the company that was contracted to clean the building and computers, which could not tolerate even a speck of dust.

It has been more than 20 years since I had arranged the purchase of a Wang stand-alone word-processor for the Australian Government organization for which I then worked. It, too, was huge by present standards and required the operator to undergo extensive training even to produce a simple memo. I can still remember my total fascination when I first saw the daisy-wheel printer typing out every second line backwards. In a foreshadowing of things to come, it was also attached to a device which would punch a paper tape of a document, which was then fed into the nearby telex machine. Does anyone, anywhere, still have a telex machine?

Ten years ago, when I retired, it hadn't quite reached the stage where there was a personal computer on every desk--at least not in the Australian Government service--but there were plenty of them around. We--my singing teacher wife who declines to retire, and I--decided we should buy a word processor to replace our little finger-powered portable typewriter and my former secretary. After some inadequate research, we ended up with an Amstrad PCW. Designed in England and manufactured in South Korea, it came complete with everything, including a nine-pin dot matrix printer. The operating system was CP/M, which I believe was the precursor to MS DOS, and the word processing program was called Locoscript. The disks, the least floppy of any I have seen, were only 3.25" wide rather than the 3.5" ones everybody else used. They were double-sided; you turned the disk over to use the second side, at the risk of corrupting the data on the first. And it was so very, very, very slow. Saving two pages of text allowed time to make a cup of coffee--four pages, and you could drink the coffee as well.

The little PCW served us reasonably well after its fashion but, inevitably, we began to feel the need for something faster, with a better printer. We decided to buy a real computer. More extensive research convinced us that Apple Macintosh was the way to go--but they were so expensive. Almost by accident--in a store which sold a few computers as well as grand pianos, trombones, sheet music, and hi-fi gear--we found an LC 475 for less than half price. The CPU, they said, was one of several taken into stock to fulfill an order which had fallen through. The small monitor and the keyboard had been used in the store for demonstration purposes. We bought it, and it wasn't until we set it up and started to use it that we discovered the small keyboard had two of the same keys. This wasn't a problem because it still typed the appropriate characters and somehow made our Mac seem special.

All we needed now was a printer. I was able to buy a second-hand StyleWriter II at the local computer fair. I took it home, plugged it in, selected StyleWriter in the Chooser, and tried to print something. The Mac steadfastly refused to believe there was a printer connected. I concluded that either the printer or the printer cable was faulty, or I had a software problem. To check the hardware, I took it to the local branch of a large national company which proudly advertised it was an Authorized Apple Service Agent. Calling back a few days later, I was told, "We couldn't get it to work either. The technician reckons the logic board is stuffed. You need a new printer, Mate."
I dusted off my credit card, bought a brand-new StyleWriter 1200, and was surprised to discover there were several floppy disks with it. Having fed these into the Mac, I selected StyleWriter 1200 in the Chooser and was in the printing business. The 1200's first job was to print a fax to the man who sold me the one with the 'stuffed logic board' but, before sending it, just to be sure, I swapped printers without telling the Mac I had done so it printed. I now had two working printers, but my daughter soon took care of that!

Lois, my wife, was always threatening to learn how to use the Mac but found it easier to have me do whatever she wanted on it, until, at the beginning of last year, started a university research project. A crash course in word-processing was followed by the statement "I need to get on the Internet so that I can e-mail to people at universities and access library catalogues and data bases." There was fierce competition between local ISP's at the time, but it needed perseverance to find one which didn't rapidly loose interest when Macintosh was mentioned. Finally, with the aid of a young man named Scott and seven floppy disks, we were on the net with our current ISP. After another rapid learning curve--this time for both of us--we have become proficient at e-mail and finding our way around the World Wide Web.

While all this has been going on, I have been spending a lot of my time away from Canberra--the Australian version of Washington D.C.--at our house on the coast, where I write short stories and collect rejection slips. At first I used the Amstrad PCW, but this was both frustrating and incompatible. By keeping my eye on the "for sale" columns in The Canberra Times<>, I found a little Mac LC and a StyleWriter 1200 to replace it. The LC II, with some extra RAM and its untitled poem, later replaced the CPU from the LC.

My current project, when I get a modem problem sorted out, is to also connect to the Internet at the coast. For this, I was able to find a good used Quadra 605 and our first 14" monitor. When I was asked, rather pointedly, "Why is your monitor bigger than mine?" I was able to pick up another one from the same source. I now had enough bits and pieces left over to join up and make a fourth Mac which has an LC CPU, a keyboard, and a small colour monitor.

I have loaned this to a friend who is writing about his experiences with submarines in the North Atlantic during World War II. The LC II has returned to Canberra for use on those previously frustrating occasions when we both need the computer. It seems, once I get on the 'net at the coast, our computing needs will have been satisfactorily met for the present, but a few days ago I received a copy of Apple News which urged me to Think Different. Do I really have to buy a new Mac to help me think differently? I like to believe I do that already and that the Mac helps me put those thoughts on paper or on the 'net. But, hopefully, there will still be those who cannot live without the latest and fastest, and Mac users with simpler needs, like us, will still be able to upgrade to their castoffs.

Blue AppleCopyright © 1998 Keith Bogg [writing as Lincoln Donald].

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