Night Baseball and the Rain (in Spain)
I work for one of the finest school systems in the country or, for that matter, not in the country. I’m an Education Technologist for the Department of Defense Education Activity in Rota, Spain. The Rota school complex is just one of many school complexes located at overseas bases throughout Europe and the Pacific.
We are currently engaged in a debate as to whether our schools will be allowed to install Windows 98-based systems or whether we’ll have to stick with Windows NT. Think about that for just a moment. We have schools located in isolated areas all over Europe and we have to provide technical support on a daily basis. We’re considering moving from a bug-prone, education unfriendly, Windows NT operating system to a bug-prone, but more education friendly, Windows 98 operating system. We’re engaged in this debate just as Microsoft is about to release Windows 2000 to replace NT and will soon release Windows Millennium Edition to replace Windows 98.
What’s missing here? Why hasn’t our school system discovered what the majority of school systems in the US have discovered—that the Mac OS is cheaper to support, easier to use, and has more educational software available than any other platform? I’ve done everything I can think of to make them get it. I’ve written columns entitled “Time to Let the Big One Go” (My Mac, December 98); “The iBook: An Apple for the Whole School” (My Mac, October 99); and “Paradigm Paralysis and the Plight of the PC in Education” (My Mac, November 97).
Each of these articles has been (or is about to be) published in the Journal of Computing in Higher Education and all have been forwarded to the director of the school system, but to no avail. No one in our system has ever provided a technical response answering the points raised in these papers. It’s as if the issues are simply not relevant. Meanwhile, our second graders file into our labs, find a system that’s working, and log onto Windows NT. Geeeeesh!!!
Night Baseball with Rain
The evolution of technology is almost impossible to predict; we live in a technology-based society and at any given point in time we’re influenced by hundreds if not thousands of different experiences. We spend an inordinate amount of time debating issues like which operating system is ideal (Mac OS, LINUX, Windows?), which connectivity solution will dominate (SCSI, USB, Firewire?), and even what is the ‘next big thing’ (Network Computers, Wireless Networks, Digital Paper?). Of course, few of us actually know what we are talking about because we have no sense of perspective.
When trying to understand such complex circumstances impacted literally by dozens of variables, it sometimes adds perspective to apply an analogy to a specific aspect of the situation. To help gain more insight into the evolution of technology, an analogy can be drawn between it and a poker game: Night Baseball with Rain.
There’s a common poker game played in strictly friendly groups, of course, called “No Peek,” or after a few beers, “No Peekie.” In seven card “No Peek” the dealer gives each player seven cards face down and no player is allowed to look at any of the cards. The player next to the dealer turns the top card over and bets. After the betting, the next player turns a card over until this hand beats the first player’s hand. The play then continues until either all the cards are turned over or everyone has folded with one player left. One of the exciting aspects of the game is that if a player accidentally ‘peeks,’ that is, turns over one too many cards, he has to match the pot and is out of the game.
Night Baseball is a ‘No Peek’ game with three additional rules: 3’s and 9’s are wild and anytime a player gets a 4, he can buy an extra card from the dealer. As soon as you add wild cards to a No Peek game, enormous complexities ensue. First, it takes a much stronger hand to win, but because more good hands are out, more players stay in until the bitter end. After all, one or two wild cards can change a rather weak hand into a Straight Flush. Second, there’s a much greater chance that someone will accidentally turn over an extra card and have to match the pot. And third, because of the two factors mentioned above, the pot can grow exponentially.
Night Baseball with Rain is the same as Night Baseball except if a player turns over the Queen of Spades, the game is rained out. That is, no matter how the game has progressed, the dealer collects all the cards and redeals. The pot remaining up for grabs and the betting process begins again.
The personal computer market is like Night Baseball with Rain (bear with me!). The obvious players at this table are companies like Compaq, Gateway, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Apple, and IBM, though you have to understand that more than a few of the players are being coached in the background by our friends in Redmond. Of course, we’re well into this game and with so many players representing Windows, there’s certainly a high probability that the Windows OS will continue to dominate. In fact, at one point, the game got so out of hand that a new dealer arrived (the Department of Justice, or DOJ).
In past games, Apple got carried away with its cards and turned over too many. Two cards particularly seemed to blind the company: the Knowledge Navigator and the Performa. At one point, this player even asked one of the background coaches for a stake. Trying perhaps to impress the new dealer, the stake was duly provided in the form of a cash infusion and continued development of Office.
Just as it seemed that all the cards were stacked against Apple, several amazingly great wild cards turned up. The iMac, iBook, G4 PowerMac, and the G3 PowerBook combined to keep the company in the game. The other players look at these cards with more than a little trepidation. The coach in the background still exhorts them to ignore Apple’s hand because he knows probability is on his side. He’s got a couple of cards up his sleeve in the form of Windows 2000 and Windows Millennium Edition (just when we thought we’d never have to deal with the ‘M’ word again!). Unfortunately, the players still aren’t sure whether these represent 9’s (wild cards) or just upside down 6’s. There are a lot of side bets about their status.
Apple, on the other hand, recently turned up a 4 with Mac OS 9 (draw a card) and could follow with a Queen of Spades with OS X. This would necessitate a reshuffle as well as a redeal. There have been a lot of onlookers who have been impressed with what they’ve seen of this card, and it could even break the ties of some of the other players to the Windows hegemony. (Note: all the Jokers like the Be OS and LINUX were removed from the original deck, but in the event of a redeal, all bets are on.)
Soon after I had finished my review of Deneba’s Canvas 7.0 (My Mac, February 2000), the company provided a free download of a ‘Velocity Engine Tool’ that takes advantage of performance improvements based on the G4’s AltiVec instruction set. Deneba claims that it improves the speed of screen refreshes and the responsiveness of some paint tools by as much as 25%. I attempted to test this claim, but have to confess that Canvas 7.0 is so fast on the Power Macintosh G4 that I noticed no obvious improvements. I will continue to monitor the situation as I use more of the Canvas specialized paint tools.
Once in a while, after completing a thorough review of a program, you experience a kind of writer’s lag. That is, you start using a feature of the software that you raved about and think to yourself “Did I really say this was good?” I have to confess, I have had no such experiences with Canvas on the Macintosh. Because of its accessible graphics power, I still believe it’s the most important graphics software ever released on this platform.
On the other hand, I recently installed the program under Windows NT with 32 Mb of RAM and I found the screen refresh to be so slow that the software was almost unusable. I will continue to test it under different Windows environments and keep you informed, as one of the important aspects of this program is that it offers cross platform compatibility.
The Power Macintosh G4
I’ve now been working with a Power Mac G4 (450 MHz) for a couple of months and, like virtually everyone else, I’m impressed with the speed, the style, and the accessibility of the box. What I’m not impressed with, however, is the lack of software. I was taken aback when I initially booted the machine and examined my twenty-six gigabyte drive. There was no AppleWorks, no iMovie, no Bugdom or “A Bug’s Life” on DVD; not even Nanosaur! It seems to me that at a minimum, purchasers of Apple’s flagship products should receive the same software suite that buyers of the $1299 iMacs receive. C’mon Apple, let’s get with the program(s), so to speak.
By the way, to gain an insight into just how fast the G4 is, please visit the My Mac SETI site and observe the average CPU time per work unit. (http://setiathome.ssl.berkeley.edu/cgi-bin/cgi?cmd=team_lookup&name=MYMAC) Of course, this is somewhat distorted because some participants are using multiple machines, but you’ve got to be impressed with the speed leader!
Farallon EtherMac iPrint Adapter LT
When I bought the Power Mac G4, I also purchased the Farallon EtherMac iPrint Adapter LT from the AppleStore ($99) to solve the problem of attaching the PowerMac to my ‘non-USB’ printer. This small unit sits between the Ethernet Port on your Mac and a LocalTalk (PhoneNet) connector to your printer.
The other line going into my LocalTalk connector is from my PowerPC 8100 that sits on the same table as the G4. Since the unit connects the printer port of the 8100 to the Ethernet port of the G4, its possible to run AppleShare and pass files back and forth. I’ve set the system up so that when I boot both machines, a shared hard drive icon appears on the corresponding desktops.
I was pleasantly surprised by the versatility provided by the iPrint Adapter and recommend it highly to any users who need a simple network to connect a couple of machines and access an older printer.