Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost

I am on my way to Italy for “WinSchool” training (more on that later) and decide to stop in Madrid for a couple of nights on the way. My daughter, Megan, graduates from high school this year and this is a chance to check out a couple of private American universities in Madrid. We stay at the Hotel Chamartin, adjacent to the train station bearing the same name. It’s modern, clean, tastefully decorated, and the rooms are spacious. In the old days when I checked into a hotel, the first place I looked was the bathroom to make sure there was a decent shower and then the bed to check its firmness. Today, as soon as I walk into room 610 I walk over to the phone and look for an Internet connection. Seeing none, I then look around the room for electrical points — another disappointment.

Apparently, the first book of hotel design is still used at the Chamartin. One of the main objects, of course, is to limit the occupant’s options as much as possible thereby also limiting your liability. An extra phone point would have been nice and actually could have earned some of the extraordinary phone charges commonplace in hotels. The electrical points, on the other hand, might be a source of problems. If, for example, I injudiciously plugged a 110-volt hairdryer into a room plug, it could get ugly. No doubt some guests bring irons and hotplates and God knows what.

Unfortunately, I need those electrical points because I have my G3 Powerbook that requires refreshing as well as a digital camera that has its own power source. Two or three outlets would have been helpful. The prospect of dragging around a multiple socket surge suppressor along with all the other cables is just not appealing.

Therefore, I’m a little disappointed with the room. The hotel could have done better, particularly since it looks new. I ask at the desk and the hotelier acts as if he’s never heard of the Internet before. I could use the room phone line, but with no power sockets, my exhausted Powerbook would be useless. Thus, for one day…one incredibly long day, I am off the net…out of touch…resigned to watching CNN repeat the same sound bites over and over and over again. No “As the Apple Turns” or “MyMac Magazine” or “MacCentral.” It’s genuinely scary.

We visit both St Louis University of Madrid, the largest American university outside of the US, and Suffolk University, associated with its namesake in Boston. The people are friendly and sharp and I’m impressed as is my daughter, but more on that later. After Megan and my wife, Susan, head back to El Puerto de Santa Maria on a fast train, I wander about the train station, feeling kind of down and not looking forward to the prospect of two more weeks on the road. Of course, without the Internet, the isolation is practically unbearable. I glance over at the money exchange place and consider buying Italian lire for my morning trip to Venice, but decide against it. It’s then that I notice a room full of computers next to the exchange. Sure enough, for a mere three dollars I get an hour’s use of an ADSL line and get my information fix. I feel immensely better and celebrate by eating at the Chamartin Restaurant.

I have always found it awkward to eat alone. I sort of gaze off into space and try to act as suave as I can. I order the salmon along with a fish “sopa” and a good bottle of Rioja. The bread is stale. The salmon is disappointing. The fish soup is great. The wine is delectable. Then it happens.

At a table a few yards away sits a middle-aged lady with an obviously dyed bouffant hairdo and horn-rimmed glasses. She glances over at me through her thick lenses and I notice that sort of vague gray quality to her eyes that tell me she is a smoker. She pulls out a fag and the waiter almost sprints over to her. I am somewhat pleased that this is about to be nipped in the butt so to speak. The waiter reaches into his pocket and whips out a…lighter. “No, it can’t be,” I think, “not in this day and age.” Sure enough, he proceeds to light the lady’s cigarette. I am genuinely appalled. It has probably been twenty years since I observed a waiter lighting a diner’s cigarette. It reminds me vaguely of a scene from Casablanca. I scan the room and sure enough, there are literally dozens of people in the dining room smoking.

The question that came immediately to mind was, “Did the waiter do the lady a favor by lighting the cigarette?” Was it even gentlemanly? Once you take the act out of context and examine it in the cold harsh light of the most recent information available, was the waiter at fault for encouraging a kind of gradual suicide and was the restaurant at fault for allowing second hand smoke to threaten its non-smoking clientele?

Smoking was once a serious part of our culture and the waiter acted as if he was insulated from the transformation in attitudes that has occurred over the past twenty or so years. Though the peoples of the Mediterranean region have been slow to change, apparently institutions like restaurants have trailed even further behind.

The reason this incident triggered a response in me was that I have been doing a lot of reading about marketing strategies and how human behavior is affected by the barrage of constant advertising. Take the case of the computer market, for example. There are now five different versions of Windows kicking around: Windows 3.1, Windows NT, Windows 98, Windows ME, and Windows 2000 and Microsoft recently announced yet another version, Windows XP. Each time the company publishes a new release, users have to squirm around to upgrade their software, find the right drivers for their peripherals, increase their RAM, buy larger and larger hard drives, and so on ad nauseum. Microsoft gets fatter; the software and hardware industries get richer; and users spend an enormous amount of money and energy trying to keep up.

Apple, on the other hand, has introduced few major upgrades over the last decade that have caused this same kind of user turmoil. Throw in the other advantages of the Mac and it is a wonder that the Mac doesn’t dominate the marketplace. When asked for advice on buying a system, most computer experts will almost unconsciously recommend a Windows product. Like the waiter in the restaurant, they are more in tune with the gesture than the results.


I work for one of the finest school systems in the world: the Department of Defense Education Activity. There are many factors that make it so, including dedicated educators and administrators, supportive local communities, and a student clientele that often reflects both the spirit of adventure and the discipline of their military sponsors. Like most school systems, though, we are going through considerable technical soul searching to determine a direction for our technology program.

Administratively, we have been using the same school information management software for at least a decade. This old DOS-based software did the job but for a variety of reasons has become virtually impossible to support. After surveying available school management software, our experts determined that WinSchool from Chancery Software best met our needs.

It is somewhat ironic that a system that has virtually shunned the Macintosh in favor of the PC and all the destabilizing versions of Windows should select a PC port job like WinSchool. WinSchool was originally “MacSchool” and ported to Windows as a 16-bit program. I suppose I am particularly sensitive to the irony, as I’ve been trying to get our system to consider the Mac since the Mac Plus was introduced back in the mid-eighties.

Despite its 16-bit foundation and its origins from another platform, WinSchool certainly gets it done. WinSchool is a major administrative package that does everything from scheduling students to printing report cards and transcripts. The program also interfaces with hot-linked attendance and grading modules.

As I write this, I have now attended some five weeks of training on WinSchool that has covered setting up WinSchool servers (Windows NT in the PC world), installing and maintaining the software, scheduling, reports, grades, attendance, and so on. I should caution that some of these tasks are inherently complex and so no matter how good the software, school personnel will face a steep learning curve in order to implement the whole package. To a certain extent, WinSchool minimizes this complexity.

In order to run the program, our system found it necessary to purchase new and powerful Windows NT servers and upgrade our teacher and admin workstations. The fact that Windows NT is getting a little long in the tooth, while the WinSchool software itself is dated is a source of some concern. Unfortunately, Windows users continue to face a maelstrom of incompatibilities while Microsoft continues to march forward, pushing its beta quality Windows upgrades.

Apple’s recent purchase of PowerSchool one of WinSchool’s major competitors augurs well for the company’s attempt to restore its dominance of the educational market. With control over both hardware and software, Apple can introduce an educational “solution” that schools can confidently purchase to meet both their present and future needs.

Pearly Gates

In the beginning, there was DOS and Big Blue looked at DOS, and noting that’s all there was, said DOS was good and so DOS multiplied and spread throughout the land. Everywhere the flock gathered one word came to mind and that word was INNOVATION. Some DOS commands took a single argument like “DIR C:” while others took two like “COPY A:*.doc B:” And still others took none like “MEM” Thus was born the DOS error message and it was plentiful. Some commands like “DIR A:” looked at the A: drive and it was empty and verily DOS said “Abort, Retry, or Quit” and meant none of these things.

The power of the evil one permeated the land and his anger knew no bounds. The caps lock key unknowingly engaged was set to destroy the meek. A shift — key combination produced a lower cased character and it was bad. It was a sign. Only geeks come here. It was the first INNOVATIVE experience for hundreds of users and INNOVATION was exciting and INNOVATION was good. The multitudes be damned.

Beelzebub begat MS BASIC and MS BASIC was good because MS BASIC had automatic line numbers and automatic line numbers were fine. Then there appeared the petulant one and he tried to compete and the evil one said that was bad, and it was bad for the Mac, and it was bad for development on the Mac, and Apple Basic was banished.

Innovation grew and flourished and a new tribe mastered the vagaries of DOS and used the PC and these were men and they were right and they knew all. They would visit unto another and say things like “Let’s break her down and see what she’s got under the hood” and “You cleaned the contacts on your boards lately?” Technology was good and testosterone was good and there begat the first wave of decision makers.

As the darkness spread, a small tribe gathered in Cupertino and turned away from DOS and said DOS sucketh.

The petulant one was expelled and the heavens opened and a sweet rain falleth. The plants multiplied and the flowers blossomed and the DogCow walked among men. The eye of Beelzebub turned once again to the garden. The gardener averted the glance and held up an offering and the offering was the seed and the evil one was well pleased.

A darkness settled across the land. The West wind rustled through the garden and the earth was covered with soot and the blackness grew. The seed was poisoned and the plants grew spikes and Windows was a mess. Beelzebub smirked. “Want an upgrade?,” he chortled. “You’ve got no choice. No one has a choice and I am all-powerful. And I am innovation.”

“I love you,” said the petulant one and the evil one preened. “You may, after all, exist,” said Beelzebub and the petulant one became erect. The petulant one returned to the garden and picked the most colorful flowers. “It’s a bouquet,” he said, and “I’ll just sell a few of them.” And Beelzebub was satisfied.

Mick O’Neil

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