Sunday, January 20, 2008

Sam Thinks He Can . . . Learn New Software

I have been a Apple guy since 1985 when I bought my first Macintosh computer for $2,500 (1985 dollars). It had a nine inch black and white screen. There was no such thing as an internal hard drive or networking capability. The computer came with MacWrite for word processing (and MacDraw for doodling) and required swapping 3.5 inch floppy discs in and out of the drive slot. One disc would hold the software, the other would hold the data being created. The printer was a dot matrix thing of beauty, not, and I have a hard time believing that its output was accepted as professional work product in my law practice.

I have purchased a significant number of Macs since the first one, both for home and for business. Ironically, it seems that each enhanced version acquired configured for my needs also cost $2,500 in current dollars, effectively dropping the price dramatically by the time I purchased my current MacBook Pro with its 15" screen, 90 gigabyte hard drive, Super Drive for viewing and burning DVDs and CDs, built-in wireless capability, built-in camera and multiple networking capabilities.

I am self-taught on Apple/Mac products and have been one of the fabled loyalists since the first purchase 23 years ago.
One of the attractions has been the intuitive nature of using Apple products and the ability to apply previously learned lessons to the newer iterations of hardware and software. Many of you reading this will recall our frantic conversations with me as your technical assistant, working through some issue or another that, on a PC, would have turned your computer into an expensive paperweight if left to me to resolve. Because of the institutional history engineered into Apple products, a lesson learned on one product remained useful years later on a more modern product. Various software designed for the Mac generally operates similarly regardless of the task at hand. Keyboard commands tend to do the same thing whether you're writing a letter or editing a photo. With only a little bit of effort, Macs make the concept of "user friendly" a reality.

Enough accolades. I thought my streak had ended when I purchased the latest version of iLife, a suite of software used for editing photos, making movies and burning DVDs. I had read rave reviews about how much easier it was to work with than the last version. I needed to put together a slide show with more than 1,000 photos for the year-end Central States Dressage and Eventing Association (CSDEA) awards banquet and figured the time I would save using iMovie '08 and iDVD '08 made upgrading worthwhile. I was horrified as I started working on the slide show and discovered that Apple's traditional ways of compiling a media presentation had, in many important respects, been abandoned. I managed to cobble together the slide show, but it took forever and, had I not promised delivery, I probably would not have bothered.

Last night, at about 11 p.m., I returned from the CSDEA banquet where I had served as event photographer. I needed to organize a number of images of award winners and some portraits I had taken of friends. It was late and I was exhausted but I was drawn back to iLife '08. It didn't make sense that Apple had come out with difficult-to-use software and I was determined to give it another try. This time, I thought about what I was doing instead of rushing into a project assuming the new software would work exactly like the old software. The more cautious approach worked. The product is a significant improvement; it just requires tweaking the old process to assure getting the right result. I'm still not at 100%. But I decided that the lesson here is that if the old dog is willing to at least take a look at a new trick, there's no need to be left behind in the dust of technological enhancement.

Here's the result of about a half hour of work (net of cropping the images) once I got the hang of iMovie '08:

video