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ATPM 6.02
February 2000



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User Preference

by Scott Feldstein,

The Question—Part 1

I get asked The Question now and then. I’m sure you do, too. If you’re like me you probably feel somewhat unable to answer it in a brief statement. I’ve been meaning to write down a thorough answer, something that I can refer people to, something that will finally speak definitively to the all-important question, “Scott, why are you such a Mac nut?” Here is my answer.

This question can really be divided in to two parts: first, how I became a Mac user and second, why I’m so enthusiastic about the Macintosh. In part one below I outline the events that led me to being a Mac user, from my very first glimpse of one to the present-day Mac guru that you see before you. Next time in part two I will explain why I’m so crazy about the company Apple Computer, Inc., it’s history, and of course the hardware and software itself.

First Encounters

I was mid-way through college when I met up with my first Mac. It was a Color Classic, I think. I had wandered into my school’s computer lab, out of boredom more than anything else, and found myself seated in front of this intriguing box. The only thing I can remember about the experience was that in spite of the fact that I had absolutely no idea what I was doing I found myself at the MTV Web site looking at various multimedia files that they had posted.

Please understand that I had no concept of what a Web browser was. The term “the Internet” had never crossed my lips. The icon labeled “Netscape” had simply drawn my attention, as did the “What’s Cool” button that I saw upon double-clicking it. By the end of this brief encounter I was delighted at the results and I remember asking myself, “Am I really talking to a distant computer owned by MTV?” I marveled at this idea.

Not long after this, I was working on a lengthy academic paper, which would require several graphs to make my point. I had actually written a couple of other things already using computers in the lab, but nothing this complicated as yet. After a couple of false starts on the Windows machines, during which I had utterly failed to make anything like a decent graph, I finally wandered back to the intriguing Macintosh.

What happened next simply stunned this newbie: I made a graph. A nice one. Then I made several more. I typed out my paper and put the nice graphs into it. I was done.

I looked at my finished product and realized that, with the help of this machine, I had just earned an “A.” I began to wish I owned one of these delightful things.

Gift Mac

I carried that desire to own a computer into my junior year in college. I asked representatives of the college computer lab if they would let me purchase an old computer from them. “Perhaps one of the older Macs?” I suggested. They didn’t go for it. Being a student I was quite broke and had no real way to purchase a new machine. I began asking various people whether they knew where I could get a computer on the cheap.

Somewhere along the way I mentioned this idea to a professor. I had been majoring in psychology since entering college, but after having taken a required course in Religious Studies I had taken that subject on as a second major. My assigned advisor for this major was a terrific lady. She had a way of sparking my interest in the field of Religious Studies like no other instructor at the school. I found myself continually challenged and inspired by her courses. She also, it turned out, was a Mac user through and through.

“Nice Macintosh,” I said one day in her office. “I’ve been looking for a used one for some time now.” She told me that she loved hers and would never use anything else. Some weeks later this kind professor offered to give me the very Mac I had seen in her office. “I know you need one,” she said. “And I’m ordering a new one at the end of the semester anyway.” I asked how much she wanted for it. “Nothing,” she said. “All you have to do is come and get it when its replacement arrives.” Needless to say I was both grateful and delighted!

A brief time later I was dismayed when her courses were taken over by another faculty member. The good professor, it seemed, had taken ill. I had completed all of my coursework for the Religious Studies major and had been planning my final project with her—an independent course of study, which was to culminate in a large research paper. In light of her absence I postponed further work on the project.

After the term ended the professors’ husband (also an instructor at the college) met me on campus to give me the Mac that she had promised me. As he was helping me put it in the back of my car he informed me that her illness was quite serious. I immediately went home and wrote a letter to the professor. I thanked her for the computer and expressed my deep concern regarding her failing health. That letter was the first thing I ever did on that Mac SE/30.

Alas, I never saw the good professor again. She passed away shortly after I wrote the letter. Feeling a bit numb with grief I never did complete my final project. I dropped the major and claimed a minor instead. Even so, upon graduation I was unexpectedly inducted into Theta Alpha Kappa, the national honor society for religious studies. She had at some time evidently nominated me for this honor.

I had received so much from this wonderful lady. She had inspired my interest in a field of study that to this day forms a basic part of who I am. She had taken measures to see that I was recognized for my work by submitting my name to the honor society. She had also shared her passion for the Macintosh with me, even going so far as to give me her own Mac as a gift. In short, she was and remains an inspiration to me, and to this day I have my very own “Think different” poster of her in my head.

One day, not long after the good professor passed away, I was amazed to receive a letter addressed to me in her own handwriting. In it was a glowing letter of recommendation for my application to graduate school. I sat that letter down next to the Mac she had given me and began writing letters of interest to various grad programs.

Several years have passed since these events and I have never really spoken or written of them to anyone until now.

Thank you, Professor.

Me, My Mac, and the Internet

A year or so later found me enrolled in graduate school and in a somewhat better financial condition than I had been as an undergraduate. I decided to buy a newer Macintosh. My wife and I began to discuss and plan our purchase. I, of course, wanted to get a Mac. She, however, hadn’t taken much interest in the SE/30 set up in the basement and was somewhat unsure of the Mac. She thought it wiser, perhaps, to go with “what everyone else used.” I was insistent, however, and in spite of her skepticism we purchased a Macintosh Performa 630CD on sale from CompUSA. I’ll never forget her first words upon seeing our daughter (then only about five) sit down and play an educational game on the Mac: “Hey! We can all use this computer!”

I bought two other things with the Performa: a book entitled “System 7.5 For Dummies” and a dial-up Internet connection. The book took me from total newbie to a respectable level of Mac knowledge. The Internet connection had been arranged because of a friend of mine who was moving to Seattle. He and I sat down one day and discussed our wives. “They’re going to be calling each other often,” he remarked. “Yeah,” I replied. “You better get on the Internet,” he said. “E-mail is cheaper.”

And so it was. His family and my own exchanged e-mail regularly. Some months later we arranged for them to stay with us over the week of Christmas. My friend was a programmer who owned a PC. He had been trying to install Windows 95 at home. During his visit he seemed skeptical of my Mac at first. He hadn’t used one in quite some time and was now thoroughly entrenched in that “other” platform. I showed him how I had made a Web page using SimpleText after having read a how-to article in a magazine. He showed me how to FTP it to my Internet Service Provider. In between the holiday festivities he and I spent quite a bit of time using my Mac and discussing computers and the Internet.

A few months later I received an e-mail from him. “I’m getting a Mac,” he wrote. I think he had had enough with his PC and Windows 95. I like to think that the week spent using my Mac helped in his decision as well. Since that time he and his family have moved back to the town in which I live and to this day he is a staunch Mac enthusiast, owning both a beige G3 and a “Lombard” PowerBook.

Hobbyist to Professional

Meanwhile I was in graduate school and getting short on money again. One day I spotted an employment notice on the wall of the building where I studied. It was for an entry-level “Academic Computer Consultant” right there on the university campus. “Mac experience a must,” it said. I pulled that notice right off the wall and, wearing my sweats and dragging my son behind me I marched to the university Information Technology Services office. I presented the notice to the people there and proclaimed “I can do that.”

Computers had become my hobby by this time. I had learned a great deal about them, especially the Macintosh. I had also learned a great deal about the Internet. The fact was, if there was something wrong with your Mac I could probably fix it pretty quick.

So they hired me. Working at the university supporting computers of every flavor rocketed me from “hobbyist” to “professional” at lightning speed. Perhaps the most educational experience I got there was installing and supporting 75 new Windows NT workstations. I even had one on my desk. Because I love computing in general I soaked up information on these systems quickly. Still, nothing made me happier than the day replaced that NT box with a blue & white Power Mac G3. It perfectly matched the one I had just gotten at home.

I had said goodbye to the old Performa. No matter what anyone says about the Performa line I still feel a bit misty-eyed when I think about it. My mother-in-law has it now. My wife and I had decided that it would be a nice gesture to give our old computers away to people who could use them. We had done the same with our first Mac, the SE/30. It seemed quite fitting, as we ourselves had been given our first computer as a gift.

And that, dear ATPM readers, is the whole story of how I became a Macintosh user. Stay tuned for next time when I discuss exactly why I’m so downright in love with the Mac platform.

apple“User Preference” is copyright © 2000 Scott D. Feldstein, Scott D. Feldstein is a full-time techie at Marquette University where he also a graduate student in educational psychology.

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