‘Are You Sure You Want to Shut Down Your Computer?’

This post is a tribute to my Power Mac G4, a machine with which I have had a long and tumultuous working relationship; a machine I have cursed almost as often as I’ve admired. Hold onto your hats, ‘cos this could get a bit nerdy.

Despite the numerous break-ups (and one or two break-downs) this Mac and I have endured, I have listened with bemusement to other people who have bought PCs and found themselves replacing them a year or two later. It’s hard to fathom anyone tolerating a situation like that. Whatever faults this stubborn git of a computer might have had, quitting wasn’t one of them.

For anyone who recognizes this model and is gaping at its venerable age, yes, I bought it new, and have been using it constantly as my main computer ever since. Yes, it is the Quicksilver model (the 733 MHz one). Yes, that model was released in 2001. And yes, it was getting painfully slow towards the end.

After nigh on ten years, I’ve finally given in and retired it from active service.

I’m sorry to say that I’ve met another machine – the inevitable newer model (not completely new; refurbished and upgraded, but new to me) one that can offer me some mystery, some excitement and . . . dare I say it . . . a smoother ride. I’m writing this post on that new Mac, as my old workmate sits disconnected in the corner of the room, awaiting a new life as a back-up drive.

There were times when I wanted to take a hammer to the old ****er, but when it comes down to it, it has served me well. It’s taken me from a career in freelance illustration and design, into one as a writer-illustrator of more than twenty books. We’ve done a lot of late nights together, moved house/studio four times, worked on painted artwork, digital art, websites, speeches, online teaching courses, workshop materials, research, books and any number of other tasks. We never played games together (except for the psychological ones) – it was always strictly business. But then, this is a passionate business.

I handle the minor maintenance stuff myself. The G4 has failed me completely only once (the result of a power surge I failed to guard against), and I’ve had the RAM and hard drive upgraded just the once too. On both those occasions – and when it came time to transfer everything on the hard drive onto the new computer – I went to the lads in Back From The Future, on Aungier Street in Dublin. Combining just the right mix of expertise, friendly service and character, they sell a great range of new, refurbished and end-of-line technology. And best of all, they don’t just fix computers, they fix Macs – and with a minimum of fuss. A rare breed. They’ve been a main street business for nine years, they now have a second shop open in Dun Laoghaire, and Colin, one of the owners, does technology reviews on TV3. So despite competing with big-name retail branding power, they’ve well and truly staked out a place for themselves in the market. And as the publishing world goes increasingly digital, we’re going to need down-to-earth people to make sense of the ever-increasing mass of technology that our industry will depend on. If you have a computer problem, if nobody else can help . . . sorry, that’s the wrong eighties screen phenomenon. Anyway, Back From The Future – they’re good.

Which is just as well, because when you have to disconnect the machine your whole business is running on and leave it in someone else’s hands, it can be a bit unnerving. Backing stuff off is all very well, but not having my work computer just leaves me feeling so exposed. Maedhbh warned the kids to tread carefully around me for those few days. But now I’m back! And I still have all my books and files and everything.

On a rather fitting note, the first TED talk I checked out on the new Mac was this one, about using Google’s reservoir of millions of digitized books – an unprecedented historical record – to look at the changing trends to be found in that ocean of text. Some are profoundly important, like proof of rising sea levels and a demonstration of the effects of censorship in Nazi Germany. And then some are downright silly, like the levels of frustration demonstrated by the word ‘argh’, from those with just one ‘a’ to those with eight. Intriguing statistical information, delivered with comedic timing.

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