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.

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