25 March 2011

Stray toasters, and the horse they rode in on.

Not too long ago I said I was going to write about my old Macs.  Sad geek that I am, I shall now do so.  This is my blog, mine you hear, and if I want to post about the importance of cheese in the development of the Ottoman empire, I will, because I can, and the rest of yez can sod off. 

So there.

Around the beginning of the Nineties, I was what doctors refer to as a "full-time musician", which means that I played two or three gigs a week, appeared on a few TV and radio shows, met a lot of girls and had absolutely no money whatsoever.  (One very significant reason for this is that one member of the band decided that the rest of us were some kind of interns, whose duty it was to help him promote his songwriting career.)  Every few months I would manage to scare up some typing work.  I had a nice Brother electric typewriter -- still have it, it still works, pretty piece of kit, just can't get ribbons or daisywheels for it anywhere. 

I'd done a night course in word processing and I'd been typing ever since I was about ten years old.  I had a few friends who were still in college, and did a lot of thesis typing to keep the wolf from the door.  This was a breeze, except for one occasion where I missed a page number, and had to go back with Tipp-Ex and manually change about 80 pages.  Not fun. 

Some day I will post more about my friend Canelli.  I haven't seen him for years, but he has a knack for turning up out of the blue when you least expect it.  Like most good friends, he can be extremely helpful and kind as well as a complete toolbag when it suits him.  Still, if a friend is a friend, you should allow him to be an asshole every now and again.  Suffice it to say for the moment that I blame the whole Mac thing on Canelli.  And he will be punished, believe me. 

My friend Canelli was an engineering student at the time.  His thesis was already late, and he needed it in by Monday.  Could I help him out?  I knew it was a tall order, because I'd seen some of his notes, and they used all sorts of formulas and algorithms and fancy symbols.  It should be no problem, he said.  Did I know how to use a Mac?

A few years previously, when I was living in Chicago, a friend had asked me to do some typing for him on what must have been a Lisa or something.  That's all I did - I typed in the text and left him to format the rest.  It was an interesting little object, that little box with the picture of an apple on it.  Not as wonderful as a typewriter but it would do, at a pinch.  It would, of course, never catch on. 

Canelli brought me in to see a friend of his, who had a very pukka looking Mac II.  Not only did I get my friend's thesis done in a fraction of the time, but I also got plenty of other work done too.  I put together a very large mail-shot for a corporate physician that netted me a quite respectable wad of cash.  I managed to master the basics of Freehand (handy for all those flowcharts, formulae and symbols) as well as that newfangled programme called something like Microword Soft.  This was great.  It was easy, it was fun, it was something new, and it was Earning Me Money. 

Some time later, another friend asked me had I ever done work on a Mac.  Oh yes.  Nice little machines.  Did I want a look at his one?  It was a Quadra.  Much larger than the Classic.  The damn things were just going to get bigger and bigger, and some day, no doubt, would become so expensive that only the richest kings of Europe would be able to afford them.  He didn't actually let me use his Quadra.  It was look but don't touch.

Anyway, time marched on, this happened, that happened, I went to England.  I did some nursing training for a couple of years, before two things happened: a) I discovered that even very skilled, highly-qualified nurses make terrible money, and b) I mentioned in passing to someone that I had typing skills and knew how to turn a computer on and off.  So I ended up doing some work on a PeeCee that had no mouse, no Windows, no nothing but a couple of basic office programmes, a command line and a DOS shell.  It ran WordPerfect, Lotus 1-2-3 and dBase III, and you started up each programme by typing in some arcane bit of nonsense that looked like the name of some demonic entity in a book by H. P. Lovecraft.

I was a bitteen flummoxed.  My limited experience of Macs had spoiled me somewhat.  I'd been led to believe that all personal computers were easy and fun to use, and didn't require all that command-line voodoo.  I think the general feeling around then was that Macs, being more expensive and all, were strictly for design professionals, and there was no point doing any "real" (i.e. business-oriented) work on them.  They were an indulgence, an overpriced toy for those pampered arty-crafty types.

Anyway, another couple of years flew by.  God is that the time?  I'd better get out of here.  I'll catch up with this again at some point.  I ended up with six old Macs at one stage and I still haven't written about any of them yet.

22 March 2011

I've been worried about a particular situation at work for the last couple of weeks. I'd thought of blogging about the situation detailed below and the flurry of abusive emails from one particular academic that gave rise to this letter from my boss. I'd hoped to write about it but was also hyper-conscious of protecting peoples' privacy - even if they happen to be people who verbally attack my colleagues, myself and the people I work under.

Maybe it's old fashioned of me, but the fact that he's verbally attacked my boss (who is a woman) makes me twice as pissed off. Add to the equation that I've had dealings with the person described below plenty of times over the last ten years, and never had a problem with him before. I thought he was a decent guy. I guess I was wrong.

Dear Brendan and -----,

I’ve been out of the office for the last week, so I’m sorry that I’m only now contacting you about the wholly unacceptable emails you’ve received from ---- -------. Please rest assured that his opinion does not reflect my opinion, or library management’s generally, nor indeed the opinion of the rest of the body of academic staff about the quality of service you are providing. You are offering a fantastic service with a wonderfully helpful approach, and you most certainly don’t deserve the sort of language and tone that ---- ------- has used.

This man has been finding difficulty with absolutely everything we’ve put in place instead of [irrelevant name for outmoded service] and this last was one of many emails of the same nature I’ve received from him. I’ve also had communication from his head of school apologising to me for the language and tone that he has used in previous emails and asking us to try to ignore it – can I please ask you to try to do the same. It’s not easy I know – his emails are most upsetting, but we need to hold our heads up high and know with confidence that we’re offering a great service and he is being entirely unreasonable in his criticisms of the scanning service.

I really appreciate the great service you are offering with the scanning chapter service, and I hope that you will try to ignore these unreasonable remarks and remain confident that you are doing a great job.

Best regards,