In this month’s Macs at Work, I speak with Brad Peniston, a reporter for the Annapolis Capital, a Maryland newspaper located outside Washington, D.C. I first came across Brad and his enthusiasm for the Mac while reading through the EvangeList several months ago. Brad had posted a request for information about Macs and their use at urban newspapers to prepare information for him to bring to his superiors to try and convince them to go with the Mac rather then substitute a Wintel based system. I thought I would contact Brad and see how he uses his Mac at work and how he’s making out with his project to convince the paper to “go Mac.”
My Mac- Brad, would you please give us some background on yourself, your job and how you use your Mac everyday?
Brad: Well, to steal from my Web page, I am the military affairs reporter for the
Annapolis Capital, which means that I spend a lot of time at the U.S. Naval Academy. I’m also responsible for the Broadneck Peninsula page, which means writing three stories a week about the area between the Severn and Magothy rivers. Finally, there’s the “Intro to Internet” column, researched and written on my Mac. The column, which more or less alternates between essays on Internetica and thumbnail reviews of theme-related Web sites, runs Sundays in the Capital and a few other Capital-owned papers. It started in late 1994 as an eight-part series about the nifty new Internet and just kept going.
I got my start in journalism, typically enough, writing for one of my college’s student newspapers. After graduating in 1991 with a degree in Russian studies, I lived for two years in Moscow, during which time the Soviet Union melted away, the ruble plummeted from 60 to 2400 per dollar, and the entrepreneurial spirit flourished in tandem with protection rackets. I taught English, freelanced a bit, and landed a job with a “Where”-type magazine for the expatriate community. In 1994, I came to work for the Capital. Over the years, I’ve also published pieces in The New York Times, the Boston Globe, the Moscow Times, and elsewhere.
My Mac- What kind of Mac do you use at work? At home?
Brad: My one and only Mac at this point is a PowerBook 180, which I schlep from
place to place. I bought it used about two years ago with 8 megs RAM and a 120 meg HD. I suffered with its 14.4 modem for a year, then replaced it with a 28.8 modem.
I have an old SyQuest 45 meg removable drive, which gathers dust, and a nifty new Zip drive. (Since I use it primarily for backup, I wish I’d bought the Jaz, with its 1-Gig disks.)
Input devices include a Kensington Turbo Mouse trackball left over from my days pushing TIFFs around in various design jobs, and not one, but two ergonomic keyboards. I’m teaching myself the Dvorak key layout on the exotic-looking Kinesis keyboard, which resembles two bowls full of keys set wide apart in a white plastic hump. I figured that if I was going to learn to touch-type again, I might as well learn an efficient key layout. Vowels and frequently-used consonants on the home row _ what a great concept! I barely have to move my fingers to type.
Wish list includes (besides a 200 Mhz Power PC minitower CPU): a laserprinter to replace my sturdy Imagewriter II and a color monitor to supplement my PowerBook’s 16-gray LCD screen.
Before all this arrived on the scene, I had a PB140, for which I paid through the nose in 1991, but heck, I was moving to Moscow and just-had-to bring along one of those brand-new Apple laptops. It had a cutting-edge 9600/2400 data/fax modem, which I used to great advantage in dealing with the intermittently operational Soviet phones. Because only 96 international lines existed to serve 10 million Muscovites, the Mac saved much index-finger strain by dialing the U.S. over and over and over until it got
through. Plus, I eventually did find email access through an ISP whose main link was rumored to be the Kremlin’s stolen VAX mainframe.
Although PC clones are more ubiquitous in Eastern Europe (where techno-savvy kids often work out their frustrations by designing Intel machine language viruses), I was delighted to find that the Mac name had fairly wide purchase. When the neighborhood policeman came by to solicit bribes from my roommate and me, he spotted the laptop in the apartment. “Ah, an Apple PahwurBook,” he said, mentally ratcheting up our payment schedule.
Actually, the most impressive array of Macs I’ve yet worked with was a trio of Quadras that drove a good-sized network and a Linotype machine at a well-heeled “with the wealth of ex-Communist Party bigwigs” Russian publishing house.
Before the PowerBooks, I had an SE, maxed out at 4 megs RAM, and before that, an Apple II+.
My Mac- How did you get interested in the Mac?
Brad: I’ve been an Apple nut since the days of the II. A bunch of my friends owned Apple IIs, and my family jumped on the bandwagon. The $10,000 Lisa was too expensive even to dream about, but the Mac was quite within range. And such graphics! As a budding programmer who had wrestled with the XPLOT, YPLOT of Apple BASIC, I was blown away by the Mac. And the rest of the interface! The mouse! Cut and paste! Neat-o!
Of course, it was five years later that I got my first Mac: an SE with two floppies and no hard drive – duh. Later that year, I bought an internal 45-meg hard drive for $500, a bargain at the time. It made a fierce whirring noise, so I eventually installed an external switch that allowed me to shut it down once I got my RAM disk up and running.
My college newspaper (and most of the rest of the campus) ran on Macs, which cemented my loyalty.
My Mac- What kind of software and other hardware do you use at work?
Brad: I couldn’t live without the various electronic address books I’ve used on the Mac. Used to be a modified version of the original Hypercard Address stack, but for the past three years it’s been Now Contact/Up-to-Date. These are great programs. (I still use version 2.x because it’s my experience that new versions of most everything get bigger and slower without improving much. Quark XPress is one exception; Peter Lewis’ FTP program Anarchie and Netscape Navigator are others. But I still use Microsoft Word
4.0, circa 1989. Nice and fast, and when combined with Quark, does everything I need it to.)
Word, Contact, and Up-to-Date open at startup (through aliases in the Startup Items folder), along with a great program called Applicon (now called the Tilery, I believe). Applicon makes “tiles” to illustrate which applications are running. Much better than checking under the Applications menu.
And there are often a lot of programs running these days, because I recently installed RAM Doubler 2.0, which works great, now that I’ve replaced my ISP’s old PPP software with FreePPP2.5v2. For Internet access, I use the brand-new Eudora Light 3.0 and Netscape 2.0. (I have Netscape 3.0, but I rarely use it because I have to shut down all my other programs to do so.)
My Mac- You had written to the EvangeList in October, requesting information to prove to the higher ups at your office that Macs could save money and do the job properly. Were you able to get the info that you needed and present a valid case to the decision makers?
Brad: The Evangelistas’ response was tremendous; more than 100 people wrote back
about the fact that Macs are the way to go at newspapers. (I still owe the list a summary of what I got.) And some of the higher-ups at the Capital are convinced that Macs are indeed “easier to use.” But they’re afraid that Apple’s going to go under.
My Mac- How is the Mac used by the newspaper?
Brad: In the departments where workers get to choose, Macs do everything. They
are used to scan in and archive the newspaper’s photos; produce charts, maps, and other graphics; and update the paper’s Web site each day. They run the imagesetters and are used to design the ads.
However, they have been given short shrift by the MIS types who are planning to replace the incredibly rickety, poorly designed mainframe program that drives more than 40 dumb terminals and layout machines. This program, which causes reporters and editors alike to rip their hair out, handles writing, editing, and layout of all of the paper’s text. The proposed solution? A Windows-based version of the same rickety program. The reason Macs aren’t being considered, even though the powers that be
acknowledge that they are easier to use? The recent spate of Apple-bashing in the press. The newspaper’s top men are afraid that Apple will disappear.
My Mac- What’s a typical day like for you and your Mac?
Brad: Wake up, check email. Go to work. Check calendar. Look up phone numbers. Look up more phone numbers. Perform search on phone database. Look up something with Alta Vista. (Thanks to my Mac, I’m the only Capital reporter with Internet on my desk, even though we’re also an ISP. Other reporters are always coming over me to search the Net for something or other.) Check calendar. Check email. Repeat until day ends. Go home. Check email.
I don’t do much writing in the office on my Mac because the small keyboard is too painful to type on, and the only link from my Mac to the mainframe is a 1980’s (70’s?)-vintage modem hookup. Still, when I’m at home or out in the field, I can and do write and file from the Mac. (I’ve done so from D.C., Baltimore, West Virginia, you name it.) My column, typically, gets written on Wednesday nights and filed from home.
My Mac- A final question for you. As a reporter, what would be your idea of an “ideal” take-anywhere Mac system, ready to handle any assignment? (Of course, money not being an issue, the paper is paying!)
Brad: My ideal system? The most expensive PowerBook, the biggest hard drive, an ISDN/56K PCMCIA modem and all the RAM in the world.
*** For those of you interested in checking out Brad’s homepage and some interesting links, go to http://www.infi.net/~bpenisto.
Russ Walkowich (firstname.lastname@example.org)