Apple Collectibles

1996 Annual Report, Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh, and more.

Today, while filing away some old investment papers, I stumbled upon a copy of Apple’s 1996 Annual Report and accompanying Report to Shareholders. Still in near perfect condition, I did what any self-respecting computer geek would do: I put it on eBay:

1996 was not a good year for Apple Computer. Gil Amelio was Chairman of the Board and CEO. The company reported a net loss of $816 million. And the company was trying hard to maintain its ever-dwindling market share.

The 1996 Apple Annual Report offers a “darkest hour” snapshot of the now-thriving company with a solid reputation for creating innovative, easy-to-use products. 36 pages in near perfect condition, with the original 6-color Apple logo on the back cover.

Also in the package is the oversized booklet titled “Looking Forward: A Report to Shareholders.” This promotional document was Apple’s attempt to keep existing shareholders by painting a rosy picture of the company’s future. The booklet’s cover features a child holding an eMate 300, which is also illlustrated in the booklet’s centerfold. Other products featured in the document include the MessagePad 2000, PowerBok 1400, Performa 6400, and original Power Macintosh.

Do you collect Apple memorabilia? If so, don’t miss this chance to own a piece of Apple’s financial past.

After listing this item, I decided to see what else was listed in Vintage Apple/Macintosh > Other Vintage Apple category. A lot of old stuff. Very old stuff. Like Apple IIe disk drives and Prometheus modems and more than a few Apple Newton eMates (featured in my annual report!).

Twentieth Anniversary MacintoshThis got me thinking about my own Apple antique: a Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh. Yes, I bought one of those. No, I didn’t pay $8,000 for it. (That was the original selling price.) I got it for about $2,000 using a hardware discount I used to get as an Apple consultant.

The computer has been sitting on a sofa table in my living room for the past eight years. It’s really an amazing piece of work. It has a LCD monitor — a big deal in those days — CD-ROM drive, floppy drive, FM radio receiver, television tuner (really!), and removable trackpad. Oh, yeah — and a Bose sound system.

It has a PowerPC 603e processor and came with System 7.6 (if you want to get a real idea of dates here) but I think I have Mac OS 8 running on it. (Read more specs.) I used to use it to play music when I was working around the kitchen. I have since taught it how to display photos and play music from my iPod. The screen is small, but the sound system really is good.

For at least the past year, I thought it was broken. It wouldn’t go on when I pushed the power button. I had a sneaking suspicion that someone had spilled water into the subwoofer, which also houses the power supply. I never thought to check all the connections.

Until today. And that’s when I discovered that the surge suppressor it’s attached to is dead. Remove the suppressor, plug the darn thing right into a wall outlet, and it works! Woo-hoo!

No, I’m not going to put it on eBay.

But I do have a bunch of other old Apple stuff that will make its way to eBay soon:

  • There’s a strawberry iMac (a G3) that I need to restore to its original hardware and pack up. I don’t expect to get much for it, despite the fact that it works perfectly fine.
  • There are about 20 never-worn Apple-related T-shirts carefully packed in plastic in my clothes closet. Shirts from Apple’s heydays, when Macworld Expo was one party after another. (I remember seeing Jefferson Starship playing at one party while Chris Issacs was playing at another across San Francisco.)
  • There are Apple Marketing CDs, full of documents to help retailers sell Macs.
  • And then there’s my prized collectible: Two versions of the Mac OS 8 demo CD, released about a year apart. The first version had a lot of weird/cool/funky features that never made it into Mac OS 8. It’s amazing to compare the two.
  • And in my safe: a 50-share stock certificate for Apple Computer, Inc. stock, representing my initial investment in the company. It has the original Apple logo on it, too.

What brings all this up? I’m just so tickled that the Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh still works! I couldn’t imagine where I might get the darn thing fixed if it didn’t.

Being a Responsible Blogger

With regular readers comes responsibility.

This morning, I noted that the feed for this blog has exceeded 100 subscribers. The 100 mark is a milestone for any blogger, and it’s no different for me — even though I’ve been at it for some time now.

I’ve been blogging for over three years and my blog doesn’t exactly follow all of the “rules” of blogging. I’m talking about the “stick to one topic” rule and “blog multiple times a day” rule. People say rules are meant to be broken, but that’s not why I break these rules. I just blog the way I want to blog and don’t really pay attention to the rules.

My Original Blog as a Separate Entity

My blog started out as a separate entity from my personal Web site, a way to share whatever I was thinking about or doing with people who might be interested. It was a personal journal, slightly filtered for the public. It was a way for me to record my life so I’d have something to look back on in the distant future. I didn’t care if anyone read it and was often surprised when someone I knew commented about something I’d written in my blog.

Back in those days, my blog wasn’t something I worked hard at; the entries just came out of me, like one-sided conversations with friends. Perhaps it has something to do with my solitary work habits — many people gather around the “water cooler” at work to trade stories about their weekends or opinions about world affairs. There’s no water cooler in my office and no co-workers to chat with. My blog may have been my outlet for all these pent-up stories.

Blog + Site = ?

A little over a year ago, I combined my blog with my personal Web site. I did it to make my life a little easier. I’d already decided to use WordPress as my Web site building tool. Why not just make my personal blog part of the site?

My Web site has been around in one form or another since 1994. I built it to experiment with Web publishing and soon expanded it to provide a sort of online résumé and support for my books. Support for my books often meant additional tips and longer articles about some of the software I’ve written about. This is fresh content of interest to people who use that software, even if they don’t buy or read my corresponding books. Since writing this content is relatively easy for me, I have no problem offering it free to anyone who wants it (as long as they don’t steal it and pass it off as their own; see my © page).

One of the great things about blogging software is that it automatically displays the newest content on the Home page and archives older content by category and date. In the old days, I’d have to manually create new pages for every article I wanted to put on my Web site and then add links to them. It was time consuming, to say the least. Sometimes too time consuming to share even the quickest little tip with visitors. So I didn’t publish very many articles. But the time-consuming, hand-coding aspect of my site is gone, and it takes just minutes to put any content online, whether it’s a link to an interesting podcast I just listened to about iPod microphones or a multi-part series of articles explaining how to use WordPress as a content management system.

What’s odd about the merging of the two sites is that my personal blog entries now commingle on the Home page with my book support entries. So these 100+ subscribers are seeing (and possibly reading) all kinds of stuff coming out of my head. (Now that’s a scary thought!)

My Responsibility

As my blog/site audience grows, my responsibility to provide good content for readers also grows.

The way I see it, when only a half-dozen people read my blog regularly, it was okay to bore them with stories about my horse eating corn cob stuff out of the bottom of my bird’s cage or rants about the quality of “news” coverage. Now, with over 100 regular readers, I need to think more about what would interest my audience and concentrate on producing the articles they want to read. (You can help me by voting on this poll.)

And that’s when blogging becomes work. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does take more effort on my part.

And it may push me far from the original purpose of my blog: a journal of my life. That’s something to think about, too.

The Other Blogs

I just want to take a moment here to comment on some of the other blogs I’ve seen out there. The vast majority of them are a complete waste of bandwidth. Some exist to echo the sentiments of others and show very little original thought. Others are complete blather, written in a style that makes me mourn for the failure of our educational system. Like chat room comments. Ugh. I don’t see why people waste their time writing this crap and really can’t see why people waste their time reading it.

But there is a small percentage of blogs that provide good, informative, or at least interesting content, written in a way that’s easy to read and understand. Those are the blogs that serious bloggers should be reading and learning from. Those are the blogs we should try to emulate, not by simply copying or linking to content, but by adding our own original material to the blogoshere.

That’s my goal and my responsibility as a blogger. If you’re a blogger, is it yours, too?

iPod Microphones: A Review

On the Future Tense Podcast.

One of the other podcasts I really enjoy is American Public Media’s Future Tense. This public radio show has 3 to 5 minute segments on topics related to computing and technology. I highly recommend it for a quick dose of what’s new presented in plain English.

XtremeMac IPV-MIC-00 MicroMemo Digital Voice Recorder for iPod Video (Black)For those of you interested in recording with your iPod, the February 12 episode, iPod Microphones: a Review, should make good listening. It certainly pleased me. It confirmed that the iPod microphone I recently purchased — the XtremeMac MicroMemo — was the best of the three reviewed. The podcast also includes sample recordings with various mics under various conditions to give you an idea of what to expect if you invest in one of these gadgets for your iPod.

On Geniuses

Why I don’t Genius Bar hop and other comments regarding my recent hard disk problem.

One of my jobs as a blogger is to produce at least one blog entry a week. As you may have noticed if you follow this blog, it looks like I’ve been slacking off lately. Well, I just want to take a few moments to assert that looks may be deceiving.

Last week was a busy one for me. I finally got my computer back up and running after its second hard disk crash in a year. This crash was far more serious than the last and required the geniuses at the Apple Store to fix.

Now I know that lots of Mac pros laugh at the word “genius” when applied to the Apple Store’s tech support folks. And I do agree that it would be difficult to call any of them geniuses in the true sense of the word. (Think Einstein.) But if you were to compare their computer skills to the average Mac user’s, they could indeed be considered geniuses. They know a lot more about the current computer models than 95% of Mac users. Sadly, I fit into that 95% these days. I could tell you all kinds of things about fixing a Mac II cx or a PowerMac 7100/66 — and that’s because I used to teach a course about troubleshooting those computers running System 7. Nowadays, my troubleshooting capabilities are limited to what I need to know — like much of my other knowledge — and I don’t really need to know all the things the geniuses need to know to do their daily fix-it jobs.

So I’m not uncomfortable applying the word genius to many (but not all) of them. To me, some of them really are geniuses when it comes to diagnosing and fixing Mac problems.

I’ll also be the first to say that the capabilities of an Apple Store genius staff on any given day for any given store is hit or miss. It all depends on each staffer’s experience, knowledge, and interest in the topics he or she needs to know. I was at the Genius Bar in the Chandler, AZ store on Monday and the geniuses that day were pretty good. One of them was a super genius, the one who helped me was definitely above average, and the guy working the iPod slot was about average. (Let’s face it: it doesn’t take much skill to fix an iPod problem. Every iPod should come with a cheat sheet printed on back that explains how to reset it; that will resolve 95% of an iPod’s problems. The iPod guy probably resets a lot of iPods in a day. I’ve gotten so good at it that I can reset mine with one hand while flying my helicopter. Darn vibrations lock it up more often than I’d like to admit.)

I’ve had repeatedly bad luck at the Biltmore Apple Store in Phoenix, which is at least 30 miles closer to my house. The two times I tried to get assistance there, the lead Genius didn’t seem interested in looking deeply into my problem and didn’t seem to care whether it was resolved or not. On my fried motherboard problem, it seemed that she spent more time telling me how much it would cost to fix the problem than diagnosing what the problem was. This, coupled with her obvious lack of sympathy, made me doubt her diagnosis, so I had to go to another store (Chandler) to get a second opinion. I got a bad taste in my mouth (so to speak) from the experience. And that’s why I don’t go to the Biltmore store anymore.

Oddly enough, sympathy for my problem seems to be important to me. My main work computer or “production” machine (currently a Dual G5) is like a partner to me. It holds onto the projects I’m working on, it has the tools I need to get the job done as smoothly as possible. When it works right, we’re a team getting the job done. When it starts acting up, I get concerned. It’s not just a machine on the fritz. It’s a work partner feeling ill. What’s the problem? Can I fix it before it becomes critical? Is its motherboard about to go (again)? Or its hard disk? Will I lose data? Will I need to take it to the hospital (fix-it place) to get it working right again? How long will we be apart? And, of course, the selfish questions, like how long will I be unable to work?

The geniuses at the Chandler store are always sympathetic to my problem. They understand that my computer isn’t just a machine I use for e-mail and to surf the Web. They understand that its hard disk contains lots of important information — including books in progress — and the tools I need to get my work done. They understand that without my production computer, there’s very little real work I can do. And even though they don’t necessarily push any harder to complete a job for me than they do for anyone else, they make it seem as if my problem is one of the most important ones they’ll tackle that day. And they soothe me with reasonable reassurances that make it easier to face the 90-mile drive home and wait for their call.

This time around, the problem was a toasted hard disk. Personally, I believe it has something to do with my Firewire ports — it occurred while my iSight was plugged in and I was attempting to suck something off a portable Firewire hard drive. (My motherboard problem also manifested itself when working with multiple Firewire devices, including an iSight, so I’m very wary of using it these days.) They replaced the hard disk — which IS something I could have done myself if I really wanted to — and managed to get about 50% of the data off my old hard disk before it ceased to function at all. This cost me dearly, but the way I see it, I was paying for my own stupidity. If I’d had my entire Home folder backed up, recovery wouldn’t have been necessary at all and I could have saved the $150.

What hurts even more is that I’d written an article for Informit.com about backing up with Fetch before I had the problem and neglected to utilize my own instructions to protect myself.

The computer was done the next day and my husband, Mike, picked it up on his way home. It isn’t exactly on his way — he works about 15 miles north of there — but it was a lot more convenient for him than for me to make the 180-mile round trip drive. On Wednesday morning, I set about restoring the whole computer to it’s normal setup. I didn’t like the way the Apple folks had set up the machine — for some reason I was really bugged about my home folder being called maria (note the lowercase) rather than its usual mlanger (which I’ve used on all my computers for years). (Is that anal or what?) So I pulled off the recovered data, reformatted the hard disk, and spent the next two days installing software and updates. The updates were particularly painful now that I’m on the super-slow wireless Internet connection I whined about elsewhere in this blog. The 139 MB Mac OS X 10.4.8 combined updater took quite a while to suck off the Internet before I could install it.

Fortunately, I managed to pull e-mail messages, endo settings and contents, ecto contents, and some other stuff off my PowerBook. My iCal and Address book data was already set up to synchronize with .Mac, so getting all that data moved over was very easy. The only thing of real value that I lost was Chapter 6 of my Excel 2007 for Windows book, which I’d been working on for the second time. (The first revision went bad and I started from scratch. So today I look forward to starting my Chapter 6 revision for the third time. I knew it would be the book’s Chapter from Hell, but I couldn’t imagine how hellish it would be.)

By Friday, the computer was 90% back to its old self and I was working on it regularly instead of my laptop. So I was out of commission for two full weeks. I blame myself for that, too, letting the disk recovery software run as long as I did before finally bringing it to the geniuses.

Telephone Support for the Price of a Book?

Not likely.

I was driving down to the Phoenix area yesterday — my first time driving down there in months. It was a beautiful day, sunny with temperatures in the 70s. I was driving my little Honda with the top down and my iPod, connected to the stereo, blasting some classic rock. I had a 30-mile drive ahead of me on Route 60 (Grand Avenue) to get to the nearest PetSmart (or is it PetCo?), where I planned to buy some tropical fish for my aquarium. Route 60 isn’t the most pleasant road to drive on, but it’s nothing to complain about in the stretch I was driving.

I was having a good time.

My cell phone rang. The only reason I heard it is because it’s on vibrate mode and my ears were not necessary. I hit the mute button on the stereo and answered the phone.

The woman on the other end was difficult to hear at 65 mph in a convertible, so I pulled over. After all, she could be a customer for Flying M Air and I needed to hear what she wanted and to give her my full attention.

The words started coming through: QuickBooks. Book. Non-profit. How do I print checks?

It took all my patience not to explode. Apparently, this woman thought that since I’d written a book about Quicken for Windows and another book about QuickBooks for Macintosh, I could help her figure out how to print checks from the non-profit version of QuickBooks for Windows, which I had never even used, let alone written about. I don’t know where she got my phone number — it’s no longer on this site because of calls like hers — and I don’t know where she got the idea that the author of a book about a software product would be her free, technical support hotline.

I set her straight, hung up, and got back on the road. I was fuming for a short while, but the music and wind and great weather soon soothed me.

Here’s what people don’t seem to understand:

  • A book’s content is determined, in part, by the book’s project editor and page count. So an author cannot include coverage of every single nuance of a software program. The least used features are left out to make sure there’s room for the most used features.
  • An author cannot write a book about a topic unless the publisher feels that there’s enough of a market for the book to sell. That’s probably why this person could not find a book covering the not-for-profit version of QuickBooks for Windows. It’s also why I did not update my QuickBooks for Macintosh book to cover QuickBooks 2007 or my Quicken for Macintosh book for any version after 2003 (I think).
  • An author receives, on average, less than $1 per book sold. I don’t know where anyone can get one-on-one, completely personalized technical support by telephone for $1. (Even the folks in India use a script.) My point: buying one of my books does not entitle the reader to interrupt my day by telephone to ask questions about the book’s content or topics not covered in the book at all.
  • An author certainly cannot be expected to provide support for another author’s book. True story: I once got a question in my old FAQ system from someone who told me he’d bought a book by [insert author name here] and was having trouble understanding it. Could I help him? He wasn’t joking. Neither was I when I told him to contact the author of that book, not me.

This might seem like a hard line to take, but I don’t think so. I do a lot to support my work and provide content above and beyond what’s between a book’s covers. The Book Support categories you see listed near the top of the navigation bar are just an example — each one provides additional articles somehow related to a specific book. My Q & A system is also set up to receive questions that I can answer in a place where all readers can benefit from them.

That should be enough.

A Helicopter Repair Story

Including a happy ending.

On Tuesday, I flew out to Robson’s Mining World in Aguila, AZ. I was scheduled to appear there on Saturday for their anniversary celebration and I wanted to make sure my usual landing zone was in good shape.

It was a windy day and I was tossed around a bit on the 8-minute flight from Wickenburg (vs. a 30-minute drive). But the winds were calmer closer to the ground. I circled Robson’s once, then set down on what I thought was a spot closer to the road. Turned out, it was the same spot I’d occupied the year before. It just looked closer to the road from the air. The quartz rocks Mike and John had laid out in a line for me were still there. The idea was to land with the helicopter’s cockpit over the line. That would keep my tail rotor away from the bushes behind us. But since the bushes looked bigger than they had the year before, I positioned the helicopter a little bit closer to the road.

I cooled down the helicopter and shut down the engine. Then I went out to assess the landing zone on foot. I discovered that the quartz line was still quite workable for me. The bushes were farther back than I’d thought on landing. (I always estimate the helicopter’s tail longer than it really is.) So the landing zone was fine. No trimming would be required. That’s good because I don’t like the idea of cutting any desert vegetation unless absolutely necessary.

I put on my jacket — it was still quite cool at 9 AM — and walked through Robson’s front gates. The place looked deserted. I headed toward the restaurant, planning on having a piece of pie for breakfast. The door was locked but as I was starting to turn away, Rosa, who works in the restaurant, hurried out from the kitchen and opened the door. I settled down at a table and she talked me into having a real breakfast of bacon and eggs. She set me up with a small pot of hot tea and went back into the kitchen to prepare my food.

I had a few awkward moments when the teapot’s lid fell into my cup and became stuck there. If I’d been with someone, we would have been laughing hard. But I was alone and laughed at myself more quietly. I had to pour all the tea back into the pot and wait for the lid in the cup to cool and contract a tiny bit before I could get it out.

Rosa brought me a plate of fresh fruit — grapefruit, pineapple, grapes, and oranges — then disappeared back into the kitchen. I busied myself by reading the history of Robson’s and some information about the equipment and vehicles on display. When she brought out my breakfast a while later, I gobbled down the two eggs over medium, three slices of bacon, and two slices of wheat toast with real butter. (Don’t you hate when restaurants use mystery spread on toast?)

The person I was hoping to see there, Rebecca, wasn’t in yet. She lives in Wickenburg and drives out five days a week to manage the place. I saw her drive in just as I was starting the engine for the helicopter at about 9:45. Since the engine was already running and the blades were already turning, I didn’t shut down. I had another stop to make.
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CDs vs. Downloads

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about the inconvenience of downloading music from iTunes. Yes, you read that right. I said inconvenience.

Sure, it’s great to download music immediately, when I want it, and pay only 99¢ per song. But what’s not so good is the restrictions on music use:

  • I must register every computer I want to play my purchased songs on and I only get 5 of them. That covers my desktop Mac, my PowerBook, my Mac test mule (for writing Mac books and articles), my Windows test mule for writing Windows books and articles), and my husband’s laptop. About a year ago I was faced with a not-so-unique problem: the motherboard on my dual G5 went bad and needed to be replaced — before I could unregister it from iTunes. I lost one of my computer registrations and had to do battle with Apple to get it back.
  • I can’t easily back up my purchased music. I need to go through some kind of procedure that I simply haven’t had time to explore. In fact there seem to be restrictions on how I copy the music, period.
  • Apparently, there is some loss of quality if I burn purchased music to a CD and then rip that music to a computer. I haven’t played around with this enough to have the full story, but I shouldn’t have to spend the time to figure out why my music quality should change. It shouldn’t change.

Fortunately, I have an iPod (or three) so the fact that iPods are the only MP3 players that can play iTunes purchased music isn’t a problem for me. But I understand that it’s a major gripe for other people.

I was going to write a blog entry about all this, but now I don’t have to. I just read a piece that expresses my feelings and frustrations on this matter better than I could. From Alpha Geek: CDs vs. Downloads on Lifehacker:

DRM, the chief source of all this grief, is the love child of Satan and Osama bin Laden. If I could pay 99 cents for an unprotected, unrestricted, 320Kbps MP3, I’d do it in a heartbeat–and it would be all over for CDs. Instead, online music stores treat us like thieving children, locking us into one bit rate, one file format, a limited number of CD burns, and other annoying handcuffs. Apple and Microsoft impose the worst kind of restriction: Songs purchased from iTunes and Zune Marketplace can be played only on iPods and Zunes, respectively.

And later:

Call me old-fashioned, but I’ve rekindled my love affair with CDs. They let me do things, to borrow from Old Blue Eyes, my way. See you in hell, DRM.

Thanks, Rick Broida, for putting my thoughts into words. See you at the CD store.