Mac Lab Report

Putting Your Old 68K Macs Back to Work

- 2002.05.02

I've been thinking about how to put certain older machines we have to better use at school. At the moment we have several SE/30s that are functional and even sport ethernet ports, but they are in storage because, frankly, I have enough computers as it is.

Still, it seems a shame to leave these machines in storage. Their value certainly isn't increasing over time, and there ought to be something I can do with them. It's time to see if there are any other clever ideas for using these machines.

Here's what I've done with our collection of older donated machines:

IIci and LC Series

These are my loaner computers for kids who don't have computers at home. I could loan more of these if I had more functional printers. There's probably about half a dozen in use with another half dozen waiting to be claimed.

Dedicated Lab Devices

With an inexpensive serial port adapter from Vernier software, such as the two-port Serial Box, and a microphone that fits one of their jacks, you can do experiments such as measuring the speed of sound or recording sonograms. I put a IIci with this equipment on a cart and delivered the entire thing intact to a new teacher. Later on, I'll try to talk her into using other sensors.

You could do the same thing with various biosensors or a force and acceleration sensor and call it a specific piece of hardware for a single purpose, leaving it set up for when it is needed. It's no more unwieldy than any other large lab equipment like an air track.


There are always parts, of course. I've got the empty husks of at least six 5200s sitting around, some of them stripped all the way to the tube: no motherboard (installed in a Quadra 630 shell), no RAM, no HD, no CD, no mouse.

Now, what do I do with the SE/30s? You can't check 'em out, because given a choice the kids will always SE/30select the machine that looks like a PC (having two beige boxes connected by cables) over these tiny all-in-one Macs. They're really too limited to run our standard suite of Office 2001 and AppleWorks 6 (as I recall, they won't run 5 either), so if you plan on typing, you're going to be using something like Nisus Writer, which is probably a step up in many ways anyhow.

Here are some ideas:

Dedicated Bell Schedule Server

Our school uses a block schedule, so classes meet every other day in 100 minute periods. In addition, on Wednesday the entire schedule is compressed so the bell rings at different times. Also, your lunch schedule changes each semester. Consequently, I can never remember when the bell's going to ring. There are also certain exception days, such as standardized testing and pep rallies. How about a little Mac SE sitting quietly in a corner, running a little Chipmunk BASIC app that uses a lookup table to tell the bell schedule for the day? I don't want this running on my desktop machine, because I want to just look at a screen, see the time, and go on from across the room. If I wanted to look it up, I'd use my teacher handbook.

Class Weblog Access

I keep my daily agendas on a weblog that also serves as a draft of my future plans. As the days pass, I go back and edit the entries to reflect what we really did and adjust what I plan to do. My Web pages are simple (on purpose) and contain no Java applets or anything like that; the fanciest thing I do is an animated GIF. Since the SE/30s have ethernet, I should theoretically be able to bring them up on the school network running iCab or Netscape 2 (I've not yet investigated the system requirements, just so you know) and let them be available for anyone looking for assignments.

Print or File Server

AppleTalk packets are blocked at the router level one our school network, so I can't set up anything shy of OS 9.1 running AppleShare IP 6.3 as an IP-based file server. That (hopefully) isn't true for you, so you might consider this. I used to use a Quadra 700 as my file server until the AppleTalk packets were declared persona non grata. I imagine an SE/30 could handle light file shuffling, but I wouldn't recommend it for big movie files.

The Sky Tonight

If I can find a planetarium program that will run on it - and I'm sure I can - I could let it display the upcoming night sky, especially the phase of the moon. Handy for an astronomy teacher. Again, I have plenty of planetarium software on my teacher iMac, but I'm talking about something more like a kiosk that I and my students can glance at each day.

Tardy Log

When students are tardy to my class, they must sign a clipboard. If instead they had to log into a database, I could run the database to see who has accumulated enough tardies that detention must be served.

Wow. Now I wonder if I have enough SE/30s. Or enough plugs. If you have ideas for how to use your older machines or just want to rant about my flagrant abuse of electricity during the tail-end of an energy pinch, drop me a line.

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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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