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ATPM 12.03
March 2006



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The Candy Apple

by Ellyn Ritterskamp,

Just Because We Can Do a Thing, Does Not Mean We Should Do a Thing

I signed up to review a piece of software this month. Usually I pick the card games and the easy puzzle games, leaving the more complicated stuff to the more adventurous staffers. I downloaded the game and cranked it up. The music was nice, but the game took forever to load. Once it did, the menu items and graphics were fuzzy (wayyyyy low-resolution), and when I put the cursor over the window to click anything, it left shadow images of an exaggerated cursor. I trashed everything and started over, but the result was the same. Finally, I went to the developer’s Web site and checked the requirements for the game.

Turns out I needed an OpenGL video card, whatever that is. I wrote to tell the ATPM bosses I wouldn’t be reviewing that game, which is no big deal except for the developer (sorry folks!), but we have tons of stuff submitted for review that we don’t look at. Not for any particular reason either. We have lives and real jobs, and not everything gets reviewed. For you developers, it doesn’t mean we don’t love you. We do. Keep developing.


This not having a particular video card has got me to pondering, with the prodding of the staff. I have a seven-year-old computer. How is life for me with a G3 tower and no modern bells and whistles?

I’ll tell you up front, it’s great. If I wanted something newer and fancier, I’d get it. But it seems silly to me to buy something just because it’s there, when what I have works well enough. I was dragged kicking and screaming into OS X, and only so I could use the iTunes Music Store.

I know some of you will leap to tell me what I’m missing: “Oh, everything is so much faster with a new machine!” “Your files are better organized!” “The whatever-it-is will keep track of that for you!”

Here’s the deal. I don’t want anything to be faster. I am not making stock trades that depend on split-second timing. I am reading a message board and posting replies to other people’s comments. If I could post faster, I would say stuff I might regret. I am reading news stories; it won’t make so much difference to me if they load in 0.2 seconds instead of 2 seconds. I have to stand up and stretch, anyway.

I don’t know what better organized would look like. I make folders; I put a few photos and written things in them. I understand why folks who use their Macs to create big projects would need tools to help with that. My projects are an occasional piece for this e-zine, an occasional exam for the courses I teach, and that book I wrote a couple of years ago and haven’t gotten published (so yeah, there are also some letters to publishers in there). But everything has a folder, and when I’m done with it, it goes in the Done folder. Every year or so I clean it out. This does not have to be a big deal.

As for the software or OS keeping track of something for me, as long as the virus protection software does its thing, that’s all I want. I grudgingly update a few things when the OS says I should, but I got along fine without it for years and am a little suspicious of it now.

It’s Time For the Philosophy Part

When publisher Michael Tsai asked me how it is, using an older machine and not doing some of the contemporary stuff, I realized I had been being a certain way. I had been being someone to whom it did not occur that I might buy a newer machine, or a newer OS, or a video card. I had probably considered some of those options and rejected them. But that was part of the person I had been being.

What we tend to forget is that just because we have been being a particular way, doesn’t mean we have to keep being that way. We can be some other way. I understood that intellectually years ago, but had forgotten to live it until a recent experience with The Landmark Forum. I am not specifically endorsing the program; it’s not a great experience for everyone, but for many it provides some language to reshape the way you think about things. If you want. After doing the program, I remembered I could be any way I wanted and did not have to stay stuck in a path because of inertia. Inertia is powerful: sometimes it means we stay at rest because we’re already at rest.

I considered my not having bought a new computer in so long and decided it was not a blanket resistance to change, or anything childish. I have decided to stay where I am because there is no good reason to change. One day the tower will die or the apartment will catch fire (or something like that) and I’ll have to buy a new computer. It is likely to be a 15″ PowerBook, or I may splurge and go for a 17″. But that is $2,000 I could spend on something else right now.

It’s like trading in your car. The Honda people keep sending me stuff saying they want to buy back my car, so I’ll buy another new one of theirs. And one day, my next car will probably be a Honda hybrid. But that day is far away. The way you win with cars: pay cash if you can or pay off the loan quickly, then drive it until it dies. If I buy a new one every couple of years, it is just renting. My car is seven years old, like the computer, and has 49,000 miles on it. I may still be driving it when I retire. I may never get that hybrid.

I have made the choice to rent housing, for now, but one day I will own the place I live in. I will not buy a new house every couple of years, when a newer, nicer one becomes available. I will pick something I like that works well and keep it. That’s what I did with the car and the G3. The G3 has an extra 40 GB drive on it, plenty of room for the little storage we need. The cable connection is speedy enough; we’re watching movies on the TV and not the computer. The $30 speakers are fine for what we need. It would be foolish, and even irresponsible, to buy something new.

I am not saying any of you should stop buying fancy new products. It’s your money—and your work. But this is what works for me, and if you’re in the same place, stay where you are. It’s peaceful here.

Also in This Series

Reader Comments (9)

Stanley Jayne · March 3, 2006 - 04:01 EST #1
You are right. I still use a G3 for my "real" work... writing music. I don't put notes on paper or write notes on the screen with blazing speed so OS9 is still my music world. Recording and manipulating MIDI doesn't take a dual processor or a monstor storage. No way am I going to trash it all and update everything to run on OSX. Not only would the computer cost a few thou, but to upgrade all my very expensive MIDI software for X+ would also be in the thousands. I bought a 12 inch Powerbook which I attach to the 17 inch screen from G3 and use Photoshop CS to do my photos. That is what I call an "upgrade". I will wait until I am dragged into the dual-processor future feet first before I leave my MIDI behind. It's been 2 years now and I haven't yet even opened Garage Band.
Ralph Sanchez · March 3, 2006 - 10:32 EST #2
My Beige G3 is going on 8 years old this year and I can still get done what I need to get done on it, and its impressive to me and my neighbors that a personal computer can just keep on going and going, but:

Using a Dual 2.5 G5 at work reminds me of how much more time I'm spending at home getting things done than I would be with a faster machine. When I get home I want to sit at the computer and do the things I need to so that I don't have to spend any more time at the computer than necessary. For me there is definitely life outside of computing, and for me, a faster computer can add up to a savings of 2 to 5 hours a week.

Now, I'll just point my wife to this reply, she'll be impressed that I got published on the internet, then she'll give me the go-ahead to order that new Mac. Yes!
Poster · March 3, 2006 - 10:37 EST #3
Beautifully said. What matters are our needs -- not the perceived needs pushed by advertisers and companies, nor the braying call of the drooling, perpetually in debt fanboy crowd. For what I do (music, web design, game design), a Quicksilver dual 800 and a PowerTower Pro meet my needs in spades. :)
Steven · March 3, 2006 - 20:39 EST #4
Its like my dad always says,"If it aint broke then don't fix it." I still use a beige G3 333mhz and I also use a PowerMac 8500/150. I never wanted to go to OSX and the only thing I like about it is that when an app crashes it dosen't take the system with it, thats about it. If I could run the apps. I need on Mac OS 9 I would never even think about going to osx.
Leigh L Pang · March 7, 2006 - 05:24 EST #5
While there is much to what you say, I feel your article misses an important point by treating the situation as an all or nothing scenario. That is to say, that the choice is keep the old as-is or buy completely new with no in-between. Granting that it does require some technical skill and knowledge, it's really no big deal to learn how to upgrade the flexible parts of your existing computer (like video card, CPU, RAM and the like) on your own and only slightly more ambitious to buy a used computer (like an older G4) that's still newer than the one you have and juggle your hard drives into the "new" one. A lot of performance shortcomings can be thusly addressed with a relatively very small investment of funds and time vs buying new, especially if one's computing demands are modest. It's one thing to avoid buying into hype and emptying your bank account unnecessarily, but it's another to live with shortcomings that aren't worth living with because they're easy and cheap to overcome.
Ellyn Ritterskamp (ATPM Staff) · March 7, 2006 - 12:00 EST #6
Leigh, you make an excellent point. My position had a false dichotomoy in it, which you have identified. Most of life does not consist of living out on the extremes, but of navigating a path in the middle. Aristotle would be happy with your explanation. Thanks.
Stelia Iancu · March 8, 2006 - 18:01 EST #7
First of all, congrats for the nice article. Just discovered this e-zine and your article is the first I've read. So if the rest is also this good, then I am a happy camper :-).

Second of all, thanks. I was just about to spend A LOT of my money on a new machine (I am a recent switcher and I have a Mac Mini) and this article made me realize that I don't really need one.

I look forward to more articles from you!
Hugo · March 27, 2006 - 17:57 EST #8
From your crazy "philosophy" comments, I think you're more than likely nuts. This doesn't change the fact, however, that I find most of what you said refreshing - and agree with it. Leigh is an idiot - why is he talking about "living with shortcomings"? And why did you agree with him? Yeah, you could upgrade portions of your system, but thats not what we're talking about, is it? We're talking about *any* useless upgrade. Hurray! My document is now displaying in 1/4 the time - I didn't MIND it taking the length of time it took before. If you MIND then, yes, upgrade. If its not hindering you, why are you wasting money? We're not talking about "making due" or struggling.

"If it aint broke, don't fix it!"
Michael G · September 21, 2009 - 11:50 EST #9
Hm. Seems I got to this about three years late... ah well...

To address Hugo's comments (not that there will be a response this late): It's not so much things like 'My document is now displaying in 1/4 the time' it's also things like 'now I can use the latest version of that word processor', because, who knows, maybe the features in the latest version of Office or iWork are actually worth the upgrade to let you use them. It's not just 'faster' and 'more power', it's also 'more functionality'. Admittedly, what's functional for one person can easily not be for another, and there will always be the peaceful simplicity of an older system. I still enjoy working with DOS on an old Athlon, even if I also have the latest Phenom II-powered Vista/7 machine to run the latest in demanding software.

It really is a matter of tastes, but insulting Aristotle's middle-road philosophy is not that bright. Because it truly is sensible and progressive.

And there is the fact that computer hardware (and especially software) changes much more rapidly than car hardware, and houses really don't change at all and there's never a reason to get a new house anyway... the analogy is flawed, but the point does still remain. As I did indeed state earlier, functionality for one is not so much for another. It really is all about personal tastes and needs. Since I enjoy high-end computer games, I essentially need high-end computer hardware and the latest operating system to properly experience what I run on my computer. For someone who just uses basic word processing and computerized board and card games, using something that's comparatively as old as the dinosaurs in terms of computer hardware is perfectly functional, and I find that rather admirable and very sensible to continue using it for as long as it lasts.

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