Washington Apple Pi

A Community of Apple iPad, iPhone and Mac Users

Washington Apple Pi

 iMacs Come to the Pi

Once upon a time, Washington Apple Pi taught computer tutorials by asking members

A stack of iMacs sits at the curb, outside the Pi offices in Rockville, MD. A strange solar flare gave the scene an eerie cast. (Photo by Lawrence I. Charters using Pat Fauquet's camera)

to bring in their computers, and then the members learned how to use them by using their own keyboards, monitors and mice. This was often a bit complicated, especially if the computer in question had many different parts, or was large and heavy. Some students spent more time puzzling over how to assemble and disassemble their machines than in the planned subject matter. (And some discovered they preferred assembling and disassembling Macs to actually using them.)

Several years ago, the Pi decided to aggressively expand the tutorial program, and purchased a flock of Power Mac 7200/75 machines. No longer were students required to carry in their own equipment. No longer were instructors forced to use shadow puppets to show what something would look like, if there were real equipment in place to use.

But eventually the beloved Power Mac 7200s began to look, well, slow. More and more students, beginners and veterans, had much better equipment, and were surprised to find themselves learning new computer skills on machines much slower than their own. While the skills might be the same, the users were spoiled.

So Washington Apple Pi thought about different ways to solve this crisis in perception. We could (a) ask users to take depressants. Their metabolisms would slow down, and the tutorial machines would seem faster. We could (b) resort to shadow puppets once again. Mac users are famously imaginative, and might not mind. We could (c) spend way too much money on somewhat dubious upgrades of CPU accelerators, memory, network cards and other bits of duct tape and bailing wire. Or we could (d) take advantage of dramatic price drops in hardware to purchase some dramatically faster equipment.

Pat Fauquet, Pi Tutorial Coordinator, rests in the Pi "chat room" with the empty iMac boxes. (Not sure who took this photo, but it probably wasn't Pat, though it was Pat's camera)

Some pushed for the depressant solution. The cost of pharmaceuticals would be borne by students, with zero financial contribution by the Pi. Since many students think courses run "too fast," anyway, this solution allows the students to self-adjust their perception of reality to suit their individual needs: those who are racing ahead can mellow out, those who are struggling to keep up can take comfort in the leisurely speed of a Power Mac 7200.

Hardly anyone pushed hard for the shadow puppet option. While the French are masters of mime and puppetry, Americans are better at MIME (Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions) and puffery, particularly in election years.

Serious thought was given to upgrading the 7200s. These are, after all, solid, stable second-generation Power Macs, with built-in Ethernet and very flexible PCI-based video. But on reflection, there was little that could be added to them that would bring them within striking range of even the least powerful Macintosh now sold. Most Pi tutorial students had better equipment, and had trouble adjusting to the 7200s. And, quite honestly, the 7200s struggled to handle complex programs such as Adobe Photoshop and Adobe InDesign.

So just before the Pi Board of Directors met for their April 2000 meeting, four iMacs appeared on the Pi's "loading dock." Under normal circumstances, some Board members arrive early and have some kind of take-out dinner before a Board meeting, but the arrival of the iMacs seriously disrupted routine. Hauling the iMacs in (there were more volunteers than computers), admiring them, adjusting the tutorial room to accomodate them, unboxing them and setting them up distracted several Board members and volunteers.

Idle speculation was also popular. "How many iMacs can you get in a Volkswagen/ Chevy Suburban/ Hummer/ Volvo/ shopping cart?" "Which is more powerful, a Cray-1 or a Ford Escort with an iMac?" "We only got two colors. How long before we collect the whole set?" "Do you realize these four computers may well be more powerful than all the Apples owned by all our members in our first ten years?"

It was a fruitful day.

Would you believe...Jon Thomason and Mary Keene struggle to master basic mouse skills? Read the text to find out what they were really doing. (Photo probably by Pat Fauquet, taken with Pat's camera)

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Revised April 21, 2000 Lawrence I. Charters