Mac Lab Report

Macs for Little Kids

- 2002.04.18

My twin 3 year old sons learned to use a trackball before they could talk. Jonathan taught Benjamin how to operate it when we weren't looking. Now they can start programs, quit programs, shut down the computer, restart it, and even watch videos, all with just a minimum of help from Mom and Dad.

On an aging Power Mac 8500, I have a few of the Living Book CD-ROMs installed on the hard drive - plus one big one sitting in the CD drive. They won't all fit on the original hard drive, but so far my wife has resisted investing any upgrade money in the machine. We haven't yet run out of software that will run on it, but we have run out of drive space.

A few years ago, you could walk into any store with kids software and find a good slection of cross-platform titles for the younger set. Unfortunately, that's not true any more. On a recent visit to Zany Brainy, I found only about one box in ten available cross-platform, and I already owned the few I could find. Either that's bad news - lack of access for the Mac - or good news - maybe the Mac is moving away from the "toy" computer label it once held.

Anyway, we cleaned up the machine, and I put icons for the kids' programs on the Launcher, which I set to auto start with the general controls control panel.

Somehow or other the kids managed to change the resolution and made all the icons lose their custom pictures, but throwing away the Launcher prefs cleared that up.

The 8500 we use for the kids has a video I/O card installed, so I talked for a long time about hooking up a VCR to it so they could watch "Chowwy Bown and Sippy" (Charlie Brown and Snoopy) while we watched some grown-up TV in the other room. A couple of days ago I hooked up the wires and started everything up, but I got an error (either some software is missing or you do not have the hardware for this function) and so, that set me off.

I burned a CD with some updaters I got from Apple's support pages, then retreated downstairs to try to get the thing working right. I tried updating from OS 8.0 to 8.1 (no good), then installing the video software from apple's older software downloads site (all good LEM readers should know this address:

I finally removed all older versions of the software and reinstalled both things again; for whatever reason, this worked, and tonight I got to watch "Who's Line Is It Anyway?" while the kids watched Sippy (er, Snoopy) provide a popcorn and toast Thanksgiving. While the process wasn't as simple as I'd hoped, at least it was doable in a couple of hours instead of the days of anguish I undoubtedly would have had to endure battling the Dark Side.

Sometimes we have to remember that there are things to be thankful for every day of the year.

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is a longtime Mac user. He was using digital sensors on Apple II computers in the 1980's and has networked computers in his classroom since before the internet existed. In 2006 he was selected at the California Computer Using Educator's teacher of the year. His students have used NASA space probes and regularly participate in piloting new materials for NASA. He is the author of two books and numerous articles and scientific papers. He currently teaches astronomy and physics in California, where he lives with his twin sons, Jony and Ben.< And there's still a Mac G3 in his classroom which finds occasional use.

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