Mac Lab Report

A Crop of Newbies

- 2002.09.19

Ah, the beginning of a school year. It's like springtime in September. New, smiling faces, eager to learn. And I have to start all over again.

I teach juniors and seniors, and each year I have to explain a number of things about using the computers in my room, so I've decided to write out a list for my students and share it with you. This isn't about how to surf on the Internet, how to make a bookmark, or how to eject a disk from a Mac. Oh, no. Here are the most frequently asked questions so far this year.

1. When I print this, where does it come out?

It comes out of that big box next to the door. It's more than a cubic foot in size and says Lexmark on the side. There's a blinking green light and a box of paper beside it . . . no, the printer doesn't have a long cable to the computer, the printer is on the network . . . yes, the printer can be on the network without a print server . . . each computer acts like its own print server.

2. Why does it take so long to print?

The printer has an energy saver mode, so it has to warm up the first time its used . . . your printer just prints without delay? . . . not an inkjet, is it? . . . must just be on all the time then, keeping the corona wire hot and the fuser warmed up . . . takes a lot of juice, huh . . . no, I'd rather keep the energy saver mode on.

3. Where's the floppy drive?

It doesn't have one . . . use that machine over there . . . no, I don't have a PC . . . it'll read it anyway . . . I don't trust floppies . . . they wear out and fail too often . . . I use a network to transfer files.

4. How do you start the program?

It's in the applications folder on the desktop. Applications are programs. Double click on it. Faster.

5. Why won't the program start when I click on it?

It's already running. Go to the file menu and choose "open." You didn't have a window open.

6. Why do you like Macs?

Macs are easier to fix. You can boot off a generic CD with a System Folder. You don't get viruses. You're not contributing to a monopoly. (Point to Why Monopolies Are Bad on the bulletin board.) You get a more consistent interface. To install most applications, you just copy them. The system install disk doesn't require a serial number. You don't have to sign up for pay services to use your own computer.

7. How do you make a graph on a computer?

It's either AppleWorks or Excel or Graphic Analysis 3. Type the numbers in these columns, and I'll show you how to make a graph . . . yes, you probably have Excel . . . you might have Microsoft Works on an older machine . . . yes, it works the same way . . . just print it . . . yes, you can print it at home the same way.

8. I hate trackpads.

Try rolling your fingertip like a little ball . . . slower . . . now you can get right down to the pixel, see?

9. Why can't we just do this by hand? Why do we have to use a computer?

You can work by hand if you want. You'll need to write out the conversions and list all 345 data points to three decimal places, and you'll have to buy a sheet of paper 4 feet wide to get all the points to fit. And you still have to get it done in three minutes.

10. Why isn't the Internet responding?

Proxy servers. Overloaded network. Lack of money. Take your pick.

11. What's the password?


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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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