The Mac Is Back!
Updated: Jan 23, 2018
I'm no Apple fanboi. I'm no fanboi of anything. I had never even stepped into an Apple store before in my life until early this month out of dire necessity. I've purchased and extensively put to practical use Apple products of specific utility for doing business (iMac, iPad, iPod Touch and even an Apple TV for mirroring images, videos and slideshows from the other devices to large-screen LCDs for clients), but for six years now, I have been, and still am, an ardent user of their desktop and tablet products.
Almost a month ago I was thrown back into the dark ages of computing after a cooling fan and graphics card failure in my trusty, six year old 27-inch iMac left me staggering about in a vast desert of inferior computing technology, struggling to do critical work for my clients using an old Wintel laptop running a Security Onion distribution of Ubuntu and a two year old Chromebased workstation. Being without the iMac for two frustrating weeks has been as close to what a frontal lobotomy must be like as I can imagine. All other computing platforms currently available and priced within my tight budgetary constraints are pitifully lacking in reliability and capabilities, all useless toys by comparison.
Thirty years prior to purchasing an iMac and iPad 2 in March 2012, I had used Microsoft products consistently—albeit with steadily mounting frustration—over the decades for all of my personal computing projects. And even though Microsoft stuff was annoying as hell, it was still inexpensive enough to allow me to justify using their junk, even to the point of sneering privately at people paying through the nose for Apple devices in those days. I plodded on in Microsoft's whacked out world of computing, cursing and coddling several finicky Wintel machines and bloated software applications prone to crashing right in the middle of critical project tasks, without warning, and usually resulting in loss of hard-wrought work. I kept telling myself Microsoft would eventually get it right, but by the end of the twentieth century I was developing a deep, abiding hatred for everything Microsoft. When a 1998 newscast aired on TV reporting Bill Gates had been smacked in the face with a pie in Brussels, Belgium, I laughed and laughed. "Good," I thought. "You deserve worse for turning out such lousy products for such a long time, but that was good enough for laughs."
Throughout the greater portion of my professional career I was fortunate to do my work on Unix workstations of all sorts including Vax VMS, Apollo Aegis, Decstation Ultrix & Alpha, SG Indigo Irix, IBM AIX, Sun Solaris and HP UX. Shortly after graduating from college, I got my hands on a Minix distribution, set up a partition on my crummy Wintel computer's hard drive for it and began trying to put that to practical use. I tried to do the same with several distributions of Linux as well, but Minix and Linux were nowhere nearly as powerful as the polished Unix workstations I was using in various software engineering positions working for four different large corporations. I was spoiled rotten and wanted something like that to use at home, but they were just too expensive. In the meantime, Wintel computers with practical lifespans of only two to three years (at best) were all I could afford for my piddling little hobby projects.
After creating the still too expensive but impressive NeXT worktation (which I drooled over at the tiny NeXT store near the UTA campus in Arlington, Texas) Steve Jobs returned to lead Apple out of its doldrums and I heard that he had hired Jordan Hubbard to put Hubbard's Unix-based opensource FreeBSD into the emerging line of revamped Apple products. Apple hardware and software were still too expensive for my personal computing purposes, but I started paying closer attention to news about their desktop computers as they evolved and matured.
Near the end of the 20th century I would occasionally go to retail outlets with the first iMacs on display to check them out, impressed by their capabilities but still put off by their prices, and I wasn't at all impressed by those silly Bondi-Blue translucent cases. "Big deal", I thought. "I want hardcore computing power, not gimmicky glitz." During the first few years of the new century, I kept an eye on iMac specs anyway as Apple continued pushing the ridiculous egg-shaped, translucent, multi-colored cases. One gaudy G3 model called Blue Dalmatian was definitely not something I wanted sporting my desktop. My interest was piqued a bit by their G4 computer in 2004 which had a flat panel LCD display, but it was goofy-looking too, convincing me they still weren't quite ready enough for my wallet to vomit up a lot of hard-earned cash to purchase.
Then in the summer of 2006—an especially wet summer which transformed eastern New Mexico's sub-arid lands into lush expanses of eye-startling green threaded by infrequently flowing streams and rivers feeding brimming stock tanks and lakes—I was invited to the home of a college professor I had recently started collaborating with to help make his dream of a visionary apprenticeship undergraduate computer science program offered at Highlands University in Las Vegas a reality. He had just purchased an iMac G5 and it was both powerful and beautifully designed. "Now they're getting somewhere," I thought and began seriously considering buying an iMac sooner than later.
Sadly, a seedy governor appointed a crooked lawyer/politician to serve as president of the university while Dr. West and I were working on making his degree program a practical success. I had just employed two students enrolled in his apprenticeship program and they were producing good work on our projects, but the crooked lawyer/politician-turned-university-president managed to shutdown Dr. West's innovative undergraduate degree program barely after it had started to gain momentum. I was so distracted by events surrounding that sad outcome as well as a truckload of other related shenanigans going on at my place of employment with the State of New Mexico that I completely forgot all about the new models of iMac Apple was rolling out for a long time.
Eventually, the crooked politician was caught defrauding taxpayers to the tune of about $4.4 million after an accountant noticed some strange transactions with his name attached to them in scribbled margins of documents related to construction funding for a new courthouse. She reported her findings to the FBI, they investigated, summarily arrested and charged him with fraud and conspiracy, he was tried, convicted, sent to live in an old, cold, drafty penitentiary in Colorado for five years and slapped with some heavy-duty fines and restitution bills. The crooked lawyer/politician/university president bawled like a little baby being spanked when he was sentenced. I watched that newscast and laughed a lot over it too, but Dr. West's innovative program was never revived.
It wasn't until 2011 that the itch to buy an iMac once again started to bug me a lot. That was an extremely lean year for me, though. My little company was on the verge of failure once again due to lack of cash flow. A feature-length documentary I made about a unique mom & pop tourist attraction working for nothing but tips on Route 66 in southwestern Oklahoma and released in 2009 hadn't paid off nearly as well as I had hoped it would (I wasn't hoping for much). Sales of the DVDs never even covered production costs. I needed money just to survive the business drought without starving to death, much less upgrade my computing equipment to 21st century tech. So I took an online technical employment aptitude test, easily passed it and went to work as a Kelly Girl.
Working for Kelly Services through Apple's Work From Home program, I would be providing telephone technical support for users of Apple's new line of mobile products (iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad). My goal wasn't to become a career Apple Tech Support Genius, I just wanted to get my hands on an iMac and Apple insisted that all of its telephone tech support workers use iMacs. Employed in the program as a Kelly Girl I, could earn some badly needed cash to keep my company afloat, learn all about the emerging line of mobile products and find out just how good the new iMacs actually were without spending a penny of my own scarce money doing so.
The gorgeous aluminum-cased iMac 27-inch running OS X Lion arrived via FedEx one fine summer morning. I eagerly unboxed it and set it up in my workspace to begin intensive Apple support tech training the very next morning. The online Apple training was fast and fantastic but the Apple iMac was unbelievably fantastic and fast. After too many years away from a good Unix workstation, I was finally back in computing nirvana. Excelling throughout duration of the training course, Kelly kept me on to begin work immediately and I was thrown into the pool of Kelly Girls dishing out Apple telephone technical support from home at a breakneck pace for users across the nation (and a few beyond its shores).
Learning happened rapidly and knowledge mounted steadily. Within the first year on the job I was promoted into the advanced tech support team for mobile devices and received a $1 per hour raise (whoop-dee-do), but I wasn't in it for the money. I just wanted to learn about and run the iMac through its paces as much as possible while employed and it performed admirably. It dramatically boosted my productivity in all things computing and I knew I had to have one.
As soon as I had saved enough spare cash to do so, I ran down to the local Best Buy in Santa Fe and bought a mid-2011 27-inch iMac, a 64GB iPad 2, an iPod Touch and 16GB of DIMMs to double the iMac's RAM so it could easily handle the most demanding of creative projects I expected I would soon be producing for clients. I kept working for Kelly Services a few more months, running the new iMac right beside the one provided by Kelly as I handled support calls and throughout the night as I discovered its capabilities. I finally twisted off before winter snows began falling in earnest to get back to running my own company full time. The iMac became an essential part of work as I used it to reinvent my company image and marketed about for prospective clients needing amazing creative works I knew I could produce with it. A few more years passed before I could land a single new client. I ate a lot of rice and beans and fatback along with a few hunted and trapped wild game species, with side dishes of dandelion, lambs quarter and heart of young thistle shoots harvested just outside my front door, but I remained happy throughout the years as seasons cycled, learning all the ways I could leverage the iMac to produce great creative works. The iPad 2 was instrumental during those days too, serving as both handy library and test bed (along with the iPod Touch) for mobile apps created on the iMac. I learned every conceivable method and technique and downloaded every free tool and app I thought might be useful for the moment I finally landed a new contract.
The summer of 2015 my planning and concerted self-education finally paid off when Collins Lake Ranch hired me to do some work for them. They were wary at first, having already been burned badly by unscrupulous IT service providers charging outrageous rates and creating more problems than solutions for them, but after doing a couple of months of volunteer work healing their hacked website and office network, they saw they could trust me enough to do the work for modest pay. Grateful for that trust, for more than two years since, I've used the iMac to produce quality creative works and upgrade their budding IT system to 21st century level standards, on budget, on time and—to their grateful satisfaction—achieving a level of quality I never could have managed as quickly and efficiently using any other computing platform.
I am still no Apple fanboi, but my first trip ever to an Apple store earlier this month convinced me there are still no better computing platform devices for my purposes than their iMac and iPad product lines. After checking in the ailing iMac for healing at the Genius Bar that fine January morning two long weeks ago, I stayed at the store for more than an hour checking out their latest offerings. The 4K 27-inch iMac Pro and iPad Pro are definitely what I want next. Hopefully, the repaired vintage iMac I just brought back home today and the old, screen-cracked (but still fully functional) iPad 2 I've used daily since purchasing them both almost six years ago will continue to serve me well until I can afford to upgrade sometime next year.