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Busman's Holiday
The Last Busman's Holiday...for 1999
bySteve Wood
December 31, 1999

 

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I've already done one of these end-of-the-year pieces this week in my View from the Classroom column on Low-End Mac. If you're looking for some erudite coverage on the "Year of the Macintosh, 1999," you might try here. If you just have some time to kill, you can read my stuff: "The Required New Years Column: Avoiding Complacency." You'd think I'd have nothing more to say, huh?

This column is a more personal review of the year. Last December, I did a year-end piece for the MacTimes News Network. Since that time, MacTimes has self-destructed over financial issues. I left MacTimes in January as the problems there worsened, and my case load at school required I invest considerably more of myself into that arena. Other than a four part rip in protest of Apple Computer refusing to make good on a defective refurbished monitor they sold me, I didn't publish a thing until spring. It was a nice break!

With the release of Veronica (System 8.6), I felt compelled to break my web silence since Apple had finally made their OS stable again. I had reverted back to using System 8.1 after some nasty experiences with both 8.5 and 8.5.1, and it was refreshing to be able to say some nice things about Apple Computer and their latest (at that time) OS release. Veronica at last made Allegro (8.5) worth the investment.

While I hadn't published anything on the Mac front during the spring, I hadn't quit writing. A flurry of columns came to conclusion in May about various Macs we use at school and some school related Macintosh issues. I put up a piece about our "hot rod" 7500/G3 at school, and another about my "toy," a Mac IIfx. (We actually had it running a slide show of the planets as a background/screensaver.) After having to work almost exclusively in Windows for a month with our Access-driven IEP program, I also wrote an editorial on the need for Access to be added to Microsoft Office for Macintosh. That got me back into writing just as summer "vacation" began.

Note: Yes, this is a "re-run" graphic from the IIfx column.

I'd also applied for a part-time print journalism job and decided that I'd better demonstrate that I could actually write a regular column again. I cranked out some of my best stuff during those three months. Free to write on any subject that I wanted, I wrote about the seeming upward spiral in shareware fees and shareware upgrade fees, the need for a vintage Mac shareware archive, school wiring (Whoa! Betcha that was exciting...Not!), two columns on backup software and hardware ( 1, 2 ), a MacWorld Expo Christmas in July wishlist just for Steve Jobs & company, and a piece on using scanned text in reading instruction.

iBook or fish tank?new apple pr photoIn a review of the July MacWorld Expo, Expo Musings, I suggested Apple's only stock iBook PR photo looked more like a fishtank or bread machine than a laptop, or even "a makeup case," as suggested by John Dvorak. So much for intelligent commentary! At any rate, I'm glad Apple got out some new PR photos that more accurately depict their killer hardware entry for 1999. (Photos, of course, are "Courtesy of Apple Computer, Inc.," as always.)

One of the most satisfying columns I've ever done occurred during that summer writefest. Ryno Software undertook porting Geoffrey Kloess's freeware anti-telemarketing program, Enigma, to the Mac. Enigma for Macintosh (667K) is a freeware database of questions to ask annoying telemarketers (Are there any other kind?) and to record their answers, eventually forcing them to put your number on their federally required "no call list." Unfortunately, the weekend the column ran, RynoSoft's web site provider had an all-weekend power outage! Fortunately for those of us who used to be bothered by constant dinnertime phone solicitations, they're up and running now.

In the fall, my old buddy from MacTimes, Dan Knight, asked me if I'd like to write a bit for his MacInSchool site. Dan had just had affiliated his Low-End Macintosh site with a new website association. I'd written occasional pieces for Low-End and MacInSchool in the past and decided it would be interesting to get back into the saddle of a weekly column for an established site...and to actually get paid for doing it! The summer of writing had actually produced a number of offers, but it was (and is) nice to go to work for a known entity. Dan and I had worked together before, and I knew what he expected, and he knew what I could and could not do.

I had no more than started with Dan's site when Steve Jobs unleashed Apple's legal eagles upon a number of loyal Mac web sites, creating a furor that at one point that appeared to make Dan consider throwing in the towel. While he was thinking things through, I used the Busman's Holiday vehicle to put up a message of support for Dan, Low-End Mac, and the other effected Mac sites. MacAddict webmaster Niko Coucouvanis made a humorous and class move at that time by leading his daily post with the suggestion that Steve Jobs open Apple's Special Event with an apology to Dan and the other "attacked" Mac web sites. Dan didn't quit, and I'm glad for that, and, I suspect, so are many other users of older Macs.

In the same weekend as the Kihei iMac picture controversy, I also published a short article about my oldest son's wedding. We gave the newlyweds an iMac bundle! No, I don't have very "deep pockets," but Annie and I decided a price range to establish for wedding gifts for our kids (hers, mine, but they're really all ours), and Scott and Michele really needed a new computer.

I quickly found that my writing style, or at least the content, changed when writing for the MacInSchool section of Low-End Mac. While Dan will publish almost anything I write, I found that I pushed myself to stick to educational topics concerning the Mac. The onrunning Teacher Tools mini-series was a result of that discipline and has led to lots of positive interaction and ideas from fellow educators, parents, and just plain Mac users. I also attempted, with limited success, to make some of the Teacher Tools columns as cross-platform as possible. I wanted them to be for all teachers, not just teachers who use Macs. That was a fairly easy task for the AppleWorks and Gradebook columns. When I began to look for parallel apps or sharewares in the Windows world for many of the Macintosh things I use, I found I really didn't know if any such thing existed.

While I prefer the Mac platform, I can and do regularly use Windows with equal effectiveness (Notice, I did not say efficiency, grace, or pleasure.). Sometime in the next twelve to eighteen months, our elementary is due to see some much needed "new computer" funding. I think most of the new machines will be WinTel boxes, as Apple appears to be abdicating education market leadership. When that time comes, I hope to have found suitable Windows software alternatives for the many Mac applications and sharewares we now rely on so heavily.

My efforts at Low-End Mac, MacInSchool, and View from the Classroom also nicely dovetailed with what I was doing at school this fall. I'd rather blithely volunteered to "help" refit the Mac labs last spring and found myself up to my ears in "sick" PowerMac 6100's and LC 5200's. We were also somewhat software poor for the younger crowd that makes the most use of the lab, so I found myself scouring the net, old archive CD's, and anything else I could lay my hands on for free or low cost educational software.

A lot of the shareware and freeware titles also ended up on the PowerMac 8550 that migrated to my classroom over the summer that serves as our elementary's print and file server. I'd never administrated anything in AppleShare before and found the learning curve to be gentle and forgiving (Whew!). Teachers in my building who had apparently ignored the "Evil NT techie's" notices were pleasantly surprised to find they could pull Microsoft Office and WordPerfect right off the server.

Speaking of the "Evil NT techie," who actually is a good friend despite his wayward computer platform preferences, I'll insert this graphic for him. He's always saying he doesn't know anyone but me who can run more than three apps on a Mac simultaneously without crashing. I think he really thinks I can't either. So here, Mark!

No, I've promised not to give out his email address. I always thought the old mass flaming stuff by some Mac enthusiasts was pretty bush league anyway. And...about the time we're all learning the intricacies of Mac OS X, he'll be receiving a bunch of new machines for which he's responsible to keep running...all with Windows 2000 (insert evil snicker here:-). There is justice in the land.

While working on getting all the site license software up on the server, I realized that while our school did have site licenses for Roger Clary's SpellTutor 1.2 and Math Stars 3.2, we really needed to upgrade the Math Stars license to version 4.0. Rather than go through the school bureaucracy, I just paid for the upgrade out of my pocket. When Roger got ready to release his new math shareware, Math Wizard, he wrote and asked if we could shake it down for bugs a bit. My sixth-graders were more than willing to escape flashcard drills for a couple of weeks, so we gave the new app a workout. A week after the official release of Math Wizard, a floppy disk accompanied by a letter from Roger arrived in the mail giving our school a free site license to the new app.

Seems as if I recently wrote something about "I don't take freebies." Well, I guess I really do on occasion. And, I still think it puts a columnist's objectivity somewhat in question when they do so, especially without telling their readers. Freebies also lull columnists into thinking things are affordable when maybe they're not, as ably noted in Andy Ihnatko's column this week.

One of my self-criticisms of the View from the Classroom column series is that it is aimed too much at the elementary teaching audience. That comes from my being a career long elementary teacher, even though my college degree and first teachers license are in secondary education. While I do try to stretch upward through junior high and high school for some of the software, I'm at a total loss on most subject specific software for the upper grades. There's a real need for some folks with upper grade teaching expertise and a good knowledge of Mac software to fill the void with some columns on such software. 

One loss to the Macintosh web community this year was the departure of MacTimes news editor Jonah Jones. Jonah had written previously for Mac OS Daily before its demise and had the responsibility of herding, cajoling, and keeping a bunch of prima donna columnists happy and in line at MacTimes. Jonah was and is a very talented writer, but has found the absence of deadlines and the many hassles at MacTimes to be something to be avoided for the present. He also has remarked that it is nice to have time for his family.

What makes Busman's Holiday unique in my writing? Because Busman's Holiday appears on my MATH DITTOS 2 site and is under my control, I feel much more at ease to just sit and "talk" to my readers about my concerns for education, Macs, and whatever else I get into. (I obviously feel no compulsion to even repair dangling prepositions.) And, if there really is a mistake, I can and do post a quick correction. Many of the readers apparently feel equally relaxed and familiar, as they regularly jot quick, friendly emails about this or that. I like that.

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Reposted to the new MATH DITTOS 2 site 6/25/2000
©1999 Steven L. Wood