View from the Classroom

Older Macs

- January 10, 2000

I received a phone call last night Mac IIcifrom an excited first-time owner of a Mac. The young lady is an experienced Mac user, having held several graphics arts jobs, but has never had a home computer. A friend had given her a Mac IIci. It had a 250 MB hard drive and 20 MB of RAM. It also came with Adobe Illustrator 5.5.

She'd already given the IIci a pretty good shakedown and determined that for the "price," she could live with a 25 MHz computer. Her question was pretty straightforward:guru 1 "Can I upgrade the RAM on this machine, and if so, how far?" She was using most of her RAM to run the system and Illustrator and often couldn't open anything else.

A quick check in Newer Technology's GURU (428K) revealed she had a bank of four 1 MB SIMMs and another of 4 MB SIMMs (30-pin). guru 2While she could theoretically go as high as 128 MB of RAM with eight 16 MB SIMMs, I suggested she go to ramseeker to look for the best price for just four 16 MB SIMMs to replace the ones. This would give her a total of 80 MB, retaining the use and value of the 4 MB chips. When I did a followup check of ramseeker, I found that even going this route made the upgrade come in at around $100, a considerable sum for an aging machine.

I forgot to check the current Apple Memory Guide (1673K PDF document) and got to make a return call to tell her to check for the parity chip as noted in the guide. The same info is also included in GURU, but I didn't scroll down and read very carefully.

from Apple Memory GuideI was a bit surprised that she didn't already know where to look for answers to her questions. It reminded me of the whole topic of how computers should work. You should be able to turn them on, do your stuff, and be on your way.

In this user's case, the places where she'd worked with Macs insulated their users from anything but the most rudimentary troubleshooting with skilled Systems Administrators and PC (Mac) troubleshooters. I'd even lightened the wallet of one of her employers on one occasion to clean up some system problems on a Performa 6500/300 she was using (grin). It's a fairly typical scenario. That's good in one way, as they are paid to put out graphics products, not tinker with their machines. In a time when computers are a mature technology, that should be the case every time. As ably noted by Charles Moore in a column for MacSimple, we're just not there yet:

Computers, despite their technological sophistication, are not a mature technology. A good analogy is the automobile early in this century. Computers, even Macs - which are the best of the lot, are still at about the stage of sophistication as cars were when you had to manually crank the engine to start them, fiddle with manual spark advance and carburetor mixture controls to keep them running, use a clutch to get underway, and wrestle with a non-synchromesh manual gearbox that required double-clutching for downshifting. Computers will get easier to use, but meanwhile, like people who wanted to drive in the age of the Model T Ford, you have to work around the machine's shortcomings.

I had an ugly reminder of this fact while putting together this column. I was searching for a shareware item on a CD and somehow managed to trash my system. While I could do an "extensions off" restart, a full restart produced a type 10 bus error. Norton Utilities 5 couldn't discover the problem, but TechTool Pro 2.5.3, which ran great off the hard drive even though I'd started from the OS 9 CD, detected unrepairable problems with the system file.

While the Mac was doing a System 9 clean install and a Conflict Catcher system merge, I got to work on this column on our aging Acer Aspire. While I like the Acer about as well as any PC on which I have to work, I'll take my Mac any day over it. It did help that I have Claris Home Page on both my Mac and Acer. I just copied the column folder onto a zip (the zip drive works even with a startup from the OS 9 CD) and worked with it on the Acer. I do, however, have the soon to be released MacDrive 2000 (oops, did I break my NDA?) installed on the Acer to read my Mac formatted floppies and zips.

Whether the young lady decides to shell out the bucks for a major RAM upgrade or not, I found all of this an interesting example of older Macs still in use. What was one person's castoff has become an exciting "new" Macintosh for another!

Last week I wrote about a Mac SE/30 that was returned to regular use in a classroom. I always love to do columns like that, as I get some of the most interesting, and in the first case below, moving, emails from readers.

Hello Steve,

Your article on the Mac SE adoption caught my eye. You see, I have (er, had) an old SE/30 which as time went on and computers progressed, my cool older kids refused to use for anything, due to the small B&W screen and its perceived slowness. I also have 2 little boys adopted recently from Romania. How do these 2 facts fit together?

Because of our new connection to Romania, I was put in contact with a woman who helps run an orphanage for rescued street kids in Bucharest, Romania . . . they currently have a dozen or so boys aged 8 to 18. As you might expect many of these kids have little formal schooling and their prospects for productive life work can be dismal. This little orphanage has a PC (older, but color and since it's a PC, prone to crashes) which they use for fundraising and newsletters but really can't let the kids near. So . . . Mac SE to the rescue! I boxed up my old SE, complete with software and ImageWriter printer (all of which was "worth" nothing here in the U.S.) and sent it with a friend to Romania who delivered it to this little orphanage. They love it! (and acted like they just got a new G3 with a 20" monitor) . . . the kids can use it, maybe learning some keyboarding and other skills that may allow them an "in" to a job eventually, and even more importantly have a "cool, American computer" that is their own!

I love knowing that my first Mac is doing good somewhere in the world! I adopt their kids, they "adopt" my baby-Mac . . . what a concept!

Thanks again for your story.

Edward Kolb
Omaha, NE

In a world that has so many problems, it's uplifting that there are people like Edward doing the things they do.

This email also caught my attention:

Hi there. My name is Al Miner. I am the computer teacher, excuse me, the Technology Coordinator :-), for a medium sized Catholic elementary/junior high school in Omaha NE.

When I got this job 4 years ago we only had a few LC family Macs in the computer lab, and every classroom (25 of them) had a hard-drive-less MS-DOS i286 in it talking Novell on an ethernet network

We also had a science teacher who was participating in a grant from the University of Nebraska which gave her classroom a computer, and our school a frame relay connection and router.

Not being an expert in Ethernets or Novell, I asked the techs from the local university to come over and connect the router to our Novell network. After three tries, they assured me it was still definitely something Novell could do, but they couldn't seem to make THIS Novell network link up to the router. I really ought to upgrade to the next version. The price for the upgrade at the time for as many machines as I would be running was something like 3 times my yearly budget.

So about three years ago I was sitting there with a decent connection to the Internet, a decent physical network wiring setup, and a school full of PCs that were not up to any of the tasks the teachers were asking for.

Send in the Macs.

At about the same time I began dropping memory and network cards into my LC computers in my classroom, and with very little fuss and bother I suddenly had 6 Internet stations in my computer lab. "This is so easy," thought I. "I could do this for all the classrooms if I could get my hands on enough cheap Macs."

So I started hitting the newsgroups (this was the pre-eBay days mind you), and I found a fellow in Texas who would sell us SE 4/40s with a network card installed for $75 and an SE/30 16/200 for $150. Seemed fair to me, so our school invested $450 in four SEs and a SE/30, and my teachers began their near psychotic love affair with in-school e-mail.

I set up the SE/30 with a freeware web server (Quid Pro Quo) and a freeware e-mail server (Apple Internet Mail Server, now Eudora I.M.S.), made us a modest web page, contacted our provider about a DNS name for the machine and gave all my teachers an Internet e-mail account.

I then set up the four SEs in convenient teacher places around the building, and showed everyone how to use the very simple kiosk style e-mail checker (POPmail/Lab, the perfect solution to having more than one e-mail address per computer).

The response was immediate and favorable. Very little of educational value probably took place at first, but the teachers soon realized it was easier to e-mail a memo as it was to pass a memo and a checklist ("read this and check your name off the list"). Our principal has even given up his old weekly handwritten blue dittoed weekly newsletter for an e-mailed version.

Since then we've had some fund raisers and replaced the "Mushroom Macs" with a member of the Mac II family or a rare Quadra in every classroom. We still use POPmail/Lab on all of them and Netscape version 2. The children have all signed an Internet agreement, and use them for research or rewards.

We haven't abandoned the SEs. They are sharing a LaserWriter IInt, word processing for the junior high kids. They play an occasional game of Choplifter or Hangman as well.

Still talking on the network, and still useful. How many other 12 year old computers can you say that about. (Don't get me started on our Apple IIgs/e collection.

POPmail/Labis getting a little long in the tooth, but it really is a useful, hard drive saving app.

Keep up the good work with the MacInSchool site. It's one of my frequent bookmarks!

Al Miner

Al Miner

Computer Guy

St. Thomas More School

Omaha, Nebraska

Older Macs in useNow that we've rounded the Y2K corner, I suspect that more than a few older labs of PC's have had their dates permanently rolled back, but there are lots of folks out there with similar vintage or older Macs still in productive use (with the correct 2000 date!). It probably is not the only option, but when I get questions from readers about what they might do with say, an old 286 machine, the word "doorstop" immediately comes to mind!

While rambling a bit, I'll answer a question before it's even asked. The image at right has been altered considerably to hide the identity of the two former students shown. I have tons of great classroom photos that I enjoy going back to again and again. Showing recognizable images of students, especially elementary students, is first probably not legal without a signed release form. With the dangers inherent in our society and on the world wide web for children, I simply choose not to use photos that include recognizable images of students.

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View From the Classroom columns copyright 1999-2000 by Steve Wood.

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