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Computing With Bifocals
by Nancy Carroll Gravley

A column for people who remember what
the world was like before there was color.....

How The PC Dragon Destroyed My Magic Mac Kingdom
January 6th, 1999

Once upon a time, a long time ago, there existed a kingdom where all the citizens were happy and fulfilled with good jobs and tools that made their jobs easy and fun and........ Well ok, it wasn't a kingdom it was an office and it was only 3 years ago although it seems much longer. But the rest is no fairy tale.

We had a Mac office. At the time we had a somewhat self-contained environment in that my staff and I managed a Medicaid funded program that served several thousand developmentally disabled individuals. There were 12 of us and we all used Macintosh machines. We were able to do this because our agency had the crazy policy that workers should have the machines that best met their needs. We first purchased Macs because there was hardly any maintenance required for them as opposed to the PC machines we could have used. All our maintenance and upkeep was done by Mr. Perry Young, a social worker by trade. (Refer to Of Children and Experts from October 28th). Since our Macs seldom had to be fixed, Perry was able to spend what little time he could spare from his real job simply setting up a system where all our machines were networked and could do what we needed. Our networked system allowed us to send documents back and forth to each other with a couple of clicks of the mouse. The author had control over the ability of others to modify a document or not. Our Macs were so easy to use that I never heard any mumbling under anyone's breath about "this blankety blank computer won't......" I hear that all the time now. Yes, it is sad but true. We all have to use PCs as so decreed by the agency's IS Storm Troopers. I can guarantee you that there is no greater source of job security for computer technicians than an agency that uses all PC computers. Our agency had to establish a help desk to take the problem calls so they could keep up.

One of the most useful things in our happy Mac kingdom was the Smart Pad. Smart Pad is a system for keeping names and addresses etc. Because Smart Pad was easily available to everyone in our network, it was updated as needed by whomever got the current information. No one had to send out e-mails to everyone else every time there was a change. They simply added it to the Smart Pad and anyone looking up an address or phone would have the correct information. I never had to interrupt a secretary for addresses or phone numbers as I do now. Since I have to keep an isolated list on my machine I have to constantly build and update it myself.

When we added new staff or purchased new software it took only a short time for the new employee (or the new software) to become integrated into the daily work environment. Usually less than a half a day. Macs almost teach themselves. Now our agency has a staff of about 10 people who provide day-long training sessions in Windows NT, Microsoft Word, Powerpoint, etc. New staff without prior experience in the Windows environment are usually unable to work until they have completed some of the courses.

Another great advantage was our ability to produce graphics for training. We trained several hundred people a year in a variety of settings. Lets face it, it is hard to make interesting presentations about federal and state Medicaid rules. Since none of my staff were professionally trained public speakers we used a lot of props to make the presentations as interesting as possible. We first did transparencies and were just getting good at automated slide shows when our Macs were taken away.

We were and still are, a bureaucracy and as such we must keep a lot of data. Our databases were available to everyone because of the network that Perry set up. I would frequently get calls from persons looking for placement opportunities for family members in a specific part of the state. Even if I did not have a data base open, I could get into it in a matter of seconds, search for the town or county, and print out the information being requested. And, I could do it without closing the program I was using because I could simply click on the Windowshade and "roll it up" until I needed it again. PC users argue with me that the minimizing option on the Microsoft programs is just as good as Windowshade. I beg to differ. With Windowshade I can jump back and forth between documents and/or software and even open them side by side or one on top of the other. I do not have those options with Windows. If I am using two Microsoft Word documents I can have them open one on top of the other, but I can not open a Microsoft Word program and any other program and use them together. One or the other will automatically minimize. I still get phone calls from people wanting the database information, but now I have to track down other staff members so they can stop whatever they are doing and give me the information I need.

Another aspect of the Mac world that we shared was our ability to create graphs and charts that were professional looking, easy to make, and very useful. The Mac programs that I used actually adapted to my needs. The programs that I have to use now are very rigid and I have to have both Powerpoint and Visio as well as a lot more time to accomplish what the Claris Impact program did for me with little effort. I routinely come home at night and create things like training certificates to be given out to participants at meetings because with all the money spent on the PC environment there is still no software that we are allowed to use that will make something as simple as a one page certificate. I would love to say that this is a Microsoft problem and is not the result of having a PC rather than a Mac, but software designed for the Mac has always been easier to use and more graphic friendly than any created for the PC environment.

And last, but not least, there are tables. Such a simple thing you will think. Perhaps so, but since I have to create and update 55 individual job descriptions and 55 performance evaluation forms I take a strong interest in tables and how easy they are to use. You have no idea how I long for a good old Mac when I am doing them. Do you know that in Microsoft Word you simply can not set the computer so that cells of tables do not cross pages? You can't even direct it to do so by the document. Nope. I have to go into each row that is at or near the end of a page and tell it not to cross over pages. It drives me crazy because it is so inefficient. And, so that you don't think this is just my inaptitude, let me tell you that I have done everything from asking the in-house trainers for help, to contacting the Microsoft hot line for help, to offering a whole batch of homemade cookies to anyone who could solve this problem. I am not so sure how they would keep through the US Postal service, but I am VERY tempted to offer those cookies to the first reader who can solve this problem! [Editor's Note: They are really very, very good cookies.] This is particularly on my mind now because the agency has adopted a new format for performance evaluations. All 55 have to be done in the new format.

So....the dragon came and destroyed our happy kingdom and no one really lived happily ever after. However, the knowledge of good; i.e., the Mac, stays with us and, like all noble truths, can not be taken away.

Follow up Information from Readers

Last week, in our discussion about graphics I talked about making your own personalized stationary with a full page image. I noted that you would probably have to run your paper through your printer twice, once to create the background image and once to include the text of your document. Neil Faiman wrote and told me the following: “If you have an Apple Color Stylewriter 2400 or 2500, you can use the Watermark feature to put an arbitrary image as a background for your printer, optionally at reduced density and modified size. (I think Watermark is in the CSW Page Setup... dialog box.)” Thanks Neil.

If you have any tips, hints, or thoughts on these topics, make sure you write me so that I can share your thoughts with other readers.

Copies of Nancy's book Tips, Hints, and Solutions for Seasoned Beginners Using Apple Macintosh Computers With OS X are available in PDF download versions  for US$9.57 and in print version for $18.15 plus $4.00 shipping.   To view sample pages and get ordering information visit the September 14, 2004 column.

Post your comments below.
Check out Nancy's complete index of all her columns for the most complete list of tips anywhere. The list is categorized and is a great reference when you are looking for help!

A Capacious Catalog Of Computer Tips

Talking to a generation that remembers what the world was like before there was color, covers issues for people who don't care how their computer works, but rather what their computer and the internet can do for them.

Nancy has a Master's degree in Human Services Administration and prior to her retirement she worked for almost 30 years in field of mental health and mental retardation. She has been a Mac user for 11 years, and has recently developed an avocation of teaching basic computer skills in both group and one-to-one settings.

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