Friday, October 07, 2011

Macs I have known

It was coming - we all knew that. It was just a matter of when. But knowing someone is terminally ill doesn't really lessen the impact when the end comes, not even when one has been with the person almost to the end. So it was, I think, with the death of Steve Jobs. And though my only connection with the man was the tenuous one of knowing that my #1 son had interviewed him once, I have been using Macs more or less from the start.

In the latter half of the 1980s, the teacher who had started the latest incarnation of the Dunoon Grammar School magazine left for another post, and the then pupil editor, one Neil McIntosh, decided it would be efficient if I were to take over from him. After all, I could check copy accurately, and I had a car - as well as being sufficiently malleable to run down the road in said car to retrieve any important kit forgotten by the editor. At that time the school had two Apple Macs sitting in the maths classroom that was the hub of computing in the school, and as I took over the pupil editorial team had decided they would start in-house publication of the Pupils' View instead of taking copy down to the local paper. Somehow they learned/taught themselves how to use Macs instead of the BBCs that had previously reigned, and the empire was born.

As these machines were, in theory, portable, and had custom-made carry-bags to facilitate carriage, we tended to have one home at the weekends, and gradually I became familiar with a mouse and such things as hypercard. When #1 son left school and started on a journalism course, he acquired his own - by now a Mac 2 Classic - which we still have, in its box, in our loft. Later, we substituted a Mac LC for the Amstrad we had at home and the ZX Spectrum on which the budding journo had started at the age of 10, and in the fullness of time connected it to the Internet.

The Pupils' View eventually made enough money to purchase its own computer, and a shiny blue bubble of an iMac appeared in my classroom. So desirable was it that we chained it to the desk with steel cables, and life was never quite the same again. I learned to use Adobe Pagemaker, and was able to teach other non-geeky types - literary, but non-geeky - to use it. The empire grew, as did the collection of Mac Classics, discarded by Business Studies and the like, along my back wall - still functioning well enough for the juniors to produce copy and my senior students to type their RPRs on.

Currently, we own two iMacs - one each. Still sitting ready but disused in the loft is the LCII. I have a 6 year old laptop that saved my sanity recently when my iMac needed a brain transplant, and I have an iPad. I have used PCs - they were issued to staff for registration in my last years in teaching, and I used a friend's to upload photos and Skype home when I spent a month in New Zealand. I was able to make them do my bidding - but they seemed unfamiliar and clunky and on one occasion I and the owner of the PC were unable to locate a bunch of photos after I'd downloaded them.  I was not impressed, and had not the slightest desire ever to own one.

People much cleverer than I at this sort of thing seem devoted to their PCs and don't like Macs at all. But I have never had to struggle, never even had to use one of #2 son's much sought-after Mac Guides (produced about 1990). I've found that once I'd seen something work on a Mac, I've been able to do it - or even to work it out after a word at a Teach Meet or whatever. Nowadays, I don't know how I could live as I do without the communication I enjoy with people all over the world. I'd be an increasingly grouchy pensioner stuck in Dunoon with an increasingly useless passenger ferry unable to cope with travel three seasons out of four. (Don't say a word).

So, for my life as it is, I have one person to thank. That person is Steve Jobs.


  1. I like to think that I am bi-lingual. I started on an Apple IIe with strings of code and lots of syntax errors!

    I would take the school one home for weekends and bend it to my will but for 'real work' I used the PC.

    When I moved to my new school they were Apple and making a decision as to which fork in the road to go down.

    I made an impassioned presentation to the Board of Trustees to go with PCs. I lost the argument because they didn't want to spend the money buying new gear when the old stuff worked.

    How pleased I am now that I lost that battle.

    I won my first Apple laptop in a radio competition and have never looked back.

    Being an Apple Distinguished Educator has a much better ring to it than being an Android Distinguished Educator.

    Here's to the crazy ones.

    RIP Steve

  2. Horses for courses my dear!

  3. Rob Rhodes5:24 PM

    Ah! Pupils' View - fond memories of desperate photocopying and stapling against a deadline...

    I think "non-geeky" is the key. I wouldn't consider myself a terribly computer literate person, but those Apple Macs we put the PV together on were the first time I'd used a computer that was *designed* to be easy to use. And the first time I'd used a computer that was designed to create non-computery things. Up until then, it had been all learning to use BASIC and COMAL on the BBC Micros, but the Macs - you didn't need to know *how* they worked. They just did. Which meant we could just get on with the fun stuff. Like writing the paper (unfortunately Mr. Jobs hadn't invented something that could do all the photocopying and stapling...)

    I didn't need to use computers again for a long time after I left school, but I won an iPod in a competition shortly after they were released, and... well, it changed the way I listened to music. And it was a thing of beauty. And that thrill, of having something in the palm of my hand that could play more than a fortnight's music... that's still something I get every time I use an "i" device and they do something that would have been unimaginable 15 years or so ago. And Steve Jobs is the man I have to thank for that.