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Monday, June 17, 2013

Sweet charity

I begin this posting with a declaration.
Commodore 64. Great in 1983 and still great in its way

I've used computers for more than thirty years, from Commodore 64s to today's range. PCs and Macs, you name it. A good computer, optimally set up for its capability, is a good computer. 

   I know instantly that anyone who starts a fight between people who are dedicated to their computer type, and those who take the bait, don't know much about computer systems as a whole. They might know their computer system thoroughly, but start prodding and you realise they know very little about the one they're rubbishing.

    This is a way of saying that although I have a preference, I don't buy into debates about computers by people who are usually comparing apples with oranges. Or, as in most cases, Apples with some sort of PC, with no allowance for variables.

    When we began what was for us serious video production in 2007, I bought a computer that by today's standards was fabulously expensive, but was far and away the best for the job. It was a MacPro, with a processor speed as fast or faster than that in many new computers today.

    That computer worked virtually non-stop for six years. Its original startup drive still operates it. It didn't miss a beat.

    So it was a bit of a shock one day a few weeks ago that it went on the blink. Literally. The startup light which had come on so faithfully every time a restart was needed was flashing.

    "No problem," said I to myself, "I'll just work through it with my series of tried and true steps." 

   These started with the very basic but important step of making sure all the plugs were in securely. That's something that is often not checked before a computer is sent off to the repairers, but when plugged in down there works perfectly. The owner is lucky if they just get hit with a basic fee of $70 or something. A disreputable repairer will charge for phantom parts and a couple of hours labour.

    Not I. I don't get caught like that. So I went through every trick I know.

MacPro. A box full of goodies
    It did start again but the various fans inside it began roaring, then it would give up the ghost. Some part was overheating it seems. This wasn't within my limited area of getting computers going again, so I called in my good friend Malcolm for an inspection. He knows more about this stuff than I.

    Have no fear, I'm not going to bore you any further with details, though what I'm leaving out is a gripping narrative for utter geeks and freaks. The point is, my computer seemed to be pining for the fjords.

   After a lot of tinkering, Malcolm rightly suggested it was a job for a repair expert. In these days of cheaper computers, repairs on older systems can often cost as much as a whole new one and you might still end up with a computer that will break down at any time. But we decided on a diagnosis by the expert at least so we might know what we could be up for.

   In the meantime, I had whined on Twitter about the fact that my trusty old computer seemed to have let me down at this very late stage in my writing career, making access to terabytes of data almost impossible. On Twitter, you may make friends that you will never meet personally, particularly if you live away from a big city as I do. But these friendships, based on mutual interests, can produce unexpected results.

   One of these friends, Rod Hagen, is very knowledgeable about Macs, and has good connections with user groups in Australia. Knowing my personal circumstances, he got in touch with a terrific guy called Matthew, and through this connection made contact with Masako Ojima, from the Apple Executive Relations in Asia/Pac division based in Singapore.

    I left Malcolm acting as go-between to sort out the technical side with the repairer, Paul, who had been delving into possible causes for the problem. Again, I'll spare you the details, but the simple fact was that there was no clear diagnosis. Without testing using replacement parts, there was no way of knowing, and cost of parts and labour was likely to be prohibitive. And it's pointless dwelling on how much you paid for an item six years ago when at today's second hand rate it's worth probably about 5%, at best, of the buying price six years ago. 

    This was not looking good.

    That's where Masako Ojima stepped in. She'd asked me by email to supply details of the MacPro, which was with Malcolm at the time, so I asked her to contact him. This was all due to Rod's willingness to see what was possible. 

   Masako had a discussion with Malcolm and Paul. Then she did something that makes you realise gigantic companies employ people who are not just about profits.

    Apple would allow Paul to get the computer into running order absolutely free of charge. Parts and labour. This is a computer a good five years out of warranty and way past their responsibility.

    As I said, the geeky part isn't included, which is just as well because it turned out to be not a simple matter and would have cost me a fearful amount in parts and labour. I was finally able to report to Masako that the MacPro was, and is, running like a charm. 

   Nothing was asked of me in return. To write about it here was my idea. In fact, I was careful to ask Masako if she minded my mentioning her name. After all, I'm sure Apple doesn't want people with a sob story and broken old computers to hope to have them kept going for no cost. It's not a good business model.

    I now have my No 1 computer back, and it seems to be running as well as ever. Of course, if it breaks down again, I will not be asking for further help from the makers, but will take on the decision about its future in the way I expected to in the first place. 

   What all this shows is that communities of disparate types, biggest to smallest, can get together to achieve (almost) random acts of kindness, if they contain even a small number of individuals with compassion. Usually I don't like to be the subject of such acts, but ego shouldn't be allowed to get in the way. My deep thanks to all concerned.


  1. There are some wonderful people around; stories like this really make us appreciate them. Like you, I began using computers at work in 1983, then we got our own personal portable computers in 1985. Remember the old Osborne - an icon in its time. As big and heavy as a portable sewing machine of the same era; five-inch screen - orange text on black background, Wordstar program. It was beyond belief advanced. Today, I still can't really accept laptops, wifi, smart phones ... except when I get the bills for servicing them!

  2. There are nice people in all sorts of places.

    I saw an old Commodore 64, such as my son first had in the mid 80s, in a museum in Canberra. It seemed odd to see what seemed like yesterday in an actual museum!
    Anne P

  3. Thanks for all comments. Yes, there are some very generous people around. On computers in museums, I had in the garage here a collection of Commodore 64s, Amstrads, Toshiba [just one], IBMs, Macs of all types, all in running condition, and I had fond hopes of setting up a private museum of them - a total pipe-dream of course. They just sat there. Now, sensibly, they've been disposed of.

  4. In this day - and age - of tarring every corporation with the "evil, greedy and tax-avoidance" brush, it is a delightful surprise to have one's prejudices severely slapped.
    A friend gave me access to his Amstrad in 1987 to start my BEd through Deakin Uni long-distance ed. It was the first time I had put my hands on a computer and I was terrified of breaking it!
    Tomorrow is my birthday, and my PC-loving Beloved has bought my yet-to-arrive in the post first ever Apple computer. I don't think I'll like it because I've only ever used PC's. However, Beloved assures me I'm going to LURV it....eventually. And I probably will, because he's usually ALWAYS right about these things (damn it!)
    But so glad to read your good-news story, Den. There is a touch of magic in it all.
    And....good on ya, Twitter!!

    1. ...and not a publicity stunt.

      I'm pretty certain that whatever computer we begin with in the PC-Apple preference thing is usually the one we got used to using first. Some of course go over to the Dark Side [whichever that might be]. I suspect with iPhones and iPads with a head start, some are not so scared of a Mac computer if they were originally "committed" to their own religion. :)

      Your beloved better be right!

      It's the fanaticism of some adherents that bothers me.

  5. Dear Denis,

    I am a girl from La Bisbal d'Empordà, a little town in La Costa Brava, Catalonia, Spain.

    A friend of mine just told me about your story because I have talked with him several times about how afraid I am of the black misterious lady coming after all this... He tried to help me with my anxiety several times and I just feel better now because I try not to think about how sad life can be just because it needs to end. I just wanted to comment here to let you know that from the other end of the world there's a little nobody sending you my very best and sincere wishes.

    You're admirable. I would wish you to be strong, but I am sure you are stronger than any of us. I'll try to follow your advise whenever I feel weak :)

    Much love & lots of energy & health to you,



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