Acoustic Mac

From Luddite to Low End Mac

From solar Luddite to Mac user in a few easy steps

Beverly Woods - 2001.04.26 - Tip Jar

Five years ago, I was living with my small daughter in the shell of a solar house that I was building myself. I had a modest array of used solar panels and a small wind generator hooked up to a bank of batteries, and a noisy little gasoline-powered generator for backup.

Needless to say, I had no extraneous electrical appliances. A few compact fluorescent lights and a little music were all the system could manage in the depths of the New England winter. You want toast? Use the wood stove. Water? There's the's a bucket.

Enter my partner, Seth, optimistically moving up from the South, Mac Plus in hand.

Yikes! A computer! What do you need that for?

Well, email is useful.

Email? What's that?

So, you want to run this thing here? I suppose...hmm... Power consumption may be 60W, not too bad... Hear that fan? Listen, only when the sun's been out, OK?

The batteries are kind of low... What are you writing there? A song? A new promo blurb? Why can't you just use the typewriter?

Beverly WoodsThis phase didn't last too long. Seth and I are both working musicians, a profession which requires periodic recording, which requires the periodic investment of largish sums of money either in someone else's recording studio to buy time or in your own studio to buy equipment. We had both been going the build-your-own-studio route for a while.

I needed to make a new CD. The recording process would be greatly assisted by the ability to do digital editing. After considerable research, Seth bought a used Quadra 650/24/230 with an external 1 GB hard drive (wow) and video monitor (huge) to do the editing on. In 1997, this was an older model and seemed reasonably priced at only $1,500 or so. Seth was also working on a film score and had a contract for some music books which had to be done in Finale.

This new computer assisted in all this reasonably well. It also ate lots more kilowatts. I could see the gauge on the batteries going down when the Quadra was on. "Don't check your email now, or it will be only kerosene lights tonight!" I'd say. Or, "Do you really want to listen to the generator all afternoon? We're going to need it if you use the computer today."

An added twist was that the laser printer required enough power at startup so that you couldn't have the Quadra, the monitor, and the printer on simultaneously, running from the inverter and the battery bank. Any printing required the generator to be on. I was the one who had the better luck starting the generator.

My wish to be a supportive partner was in conflict with my role as Manager Of The Electrical System. Any wish I had to familiarize myself with the computer was superseded by my position as Guardian Of The Batteries.

The computer (and the rest of the studio) needed more electricity. The family also needed more room. We bought an old grange hall and moved the studio into it. In an arrangement to which I was by then unaccustomed, electricity came from a wire on a pole, through a meter, and into the building. Now any project could be done at any time, regardless of what the weather had been the previous week. I said a fond farewell to my days of troubleshooting generators outdoors in sub-zero weather.

Seth patiently taught me how to use the Quadra for writing and email. I began to use the computer more. I began to like the computer. No more piles of discarded paper when revising a draft. Easy, low-cost messaging system. Graphic design capabilities far beyond my analog resources. This was an invention even a Luddite could love.

My daughter is homeschooled and wanted in on the action, too, of course. Soon there was a line to use the Quadra. Last February I bought my own first computer, a refurbed iMac 350. Now I'm the one trying to help others - my daughter, my friends - learn to use their Macs. I, who once could not imagine why anyone would want a computer, now wouldn't want to be without a Mac.

I'm still committed to appropriate technology and keeping cost and power proportional to the job to be done. So here I am at Low End Mac. I look forward to sharing my further adventures with LEM readers. LEM

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