December 29, 2011

Back in 1993, I really Wanted a NeXT computer

It is starting to be a recurring theme in this series of posts: I appreciate the Steve Jobs products that were somehow 'open', and I think less of the products that embrace closed technologies, and 'walled gardens'. It's a good thing that this is a recurring theme, because I believe in it.
Now don't get me wrong, back in 1993, I had no money, and I had no personal computer. I could not afford even a 'regular' PC, much less a Next Cube. Furthermore, it was not possible to get this computer in Israel, and importing one personally was not an option for me. But I could dream, and in my dreams, a 10K$ NeXT machine was a prominent feature.
So when in late 1993, Steve Jobs announced that the NeXT company will focus on the NeXTSTEP operating system (and stop producing the NeXT computer itself) - a cool UNIX with an even cooler Graphical User Interface, I was not really sad, because I thought to myself: 'Hey, maybe this thing will find its way to a computer near me!'.
I a way it did. I'm sure that NeXTSTEP was an inspiration behind some of the more 'Graphical' and 'Friendly' Linux distributions, and I have been using Ubuntu Linux for about two years now...
Also, I think some of the inspiration for Android, came from NeXTSTEP but I plan to write about Android later here, so that'll have to wait.
I still think that NeXTSTEP looks cool though...

'Insanely Great' or why the iPod Classic never made it in Israel

Getting ready to write up this post, I wanted to make sure that I was not making this up. I mean, I knew I never had an iPod Classic, I know none of my friends ever did, but I wanted to make sure that this was a 'global' Israeli phenomenon.
I think I can safely say that it is. For Example, the Hebrew Wikipedia article about iPod, tells you about the iPod classic, but has no Israeli articles or reviews of it, or indeed any references to iPods, before about 2006. One of the things, the article does say about the iPod classic, is that it is the only iPod that (still) does not support Hebrew.
This goes in line with something that I think is incredible - there is no iTunes store in Israel. I mean sure, you can get apps for your iPhone, or iPad, or iPod touch, only you can't get any music (or videos or non-free books).
I recently had two talks about this subject. The first one was with my 14 year old cousin, who has an iPod Touch for several months now - he did not know that you can't get iTunes on it...
The second talk was with an aspiring Israeli musician (also a distant relative through marriage), he did know that we can't get iTunes, but still thought that it is just about the greatest thing on earth, because it enables him to SELL music. He also said that the reason we can't get it in Israel has to to with the Israeli Artists association. I have no idea if this is true.
But the bottom line I think is clear. the iPod may have been a wonderful thing in the USA, but it never really made it here. So sorry Steve, there is no such thing as an 'Insanely Great' product. What is wonderful in some part of the world, may not work at all in another part of the world, for whatever reasons...

December 20, 2011

Doing the booklets for NOAM

NOAM is the youth movement of the Movement for Conservative Judaism in Israel. For many years I had been involved with this youth movement, and the last major project I did for them was back in the mid 1990s.

How Does an Israeli Youth Movement Work?
Basically you have 16-17 year old teenagers doing 'activities' once or twice a week to lower ages of teenagers (10-14 year olds).
These activities are supposed to be 60-90 minutes long, and combine serious values education and discussion with games.
A lot of the young instructors find it quite difficult to prepare these activities, and thus many Israeli youth movements write up the activities ahead of time in booklets.

So What Did You Have to Do With All This?
In the summer of 1994 (I was 24 at the time), I became the person responsible for education in the NOAM youth movement. Till then, NOAM had only two booklets, containing the yearly subjects for all the youth ages. these booklets contained 20 activities each, max.
I wanted to have five booklets with 24 activities for each of the grades 4-8, so 120 activities together. All of us wanted to write these up fairly fast, so that they will be available for the new year, and they were.
One fine day in October 1994, we printed out something like 500 pages of educational stuff, from our computers, and then later sent them to be printed in a print shop. These were all Word files, nothing to do with Apple.

So How Does This Relate to Apple?
Over the course of the year, and the work of the young instructors, there was a lot of feedback from them, and that had to be implemented back to the booklets. tHis newer version was also more graphically intensive and that was too much for the old PCs to handle, and so we had to have macs to print these newer booklets.
At the time there were only macs in the Educational Center in Kibbutz Hannaton, so me and my girlfriend (you knew she knew about macs from the previous post), went there, and for about a week we worked on the new booklets.
We finished a few minutes before Shabbat.

December 13, 2011

But Can It Do Any Calculations?

If the last post dealt with the year 1987, this one deals with the year 1991.
What did I do in the mean time?
I finished High school after the 11th grade (this is not due to any particular brilliance, that was the law in Quebec Canada at the time), and studied Physics for one year at the Technion. At the end of that year I met my girlfriend.
Then I went to serve my country in the IDF (I served in the Nahal Brigade, which was not only a brigade then, but more on that maybe some other time...).
So in 1991 I was nearing the end of my military service, and my girlfriend who was also a soldier at the time, served for the IDF spokesperson. In 1991 this was high honor indeed because in the Gulf War, the IDF spokesman (that was their name at the time) pretty much ran the country.
Anyway, she invited me over to see the latest and greatest computer they had - the Macintosh II. They used to print an English language newspaper than, depicting the IDF in a positive light. They used their Macs for Desktop Publishing, and it could really do pretty amazing things back then (especially compared to the PCs, that could barely print one shabby font of Hebrew on Dot Matrix printers).
It also had a screen saver - flying toasters.
I was really impressed, but being a science buff I had to ask - Can it do any calculations? it must be able to print really cool graphs of functions or something?!
Try as we might, we did not find any such piece of software on the machine. My girlfriend was a bit annoyed that I kept asking that. I'm afraid this was not the first time that I annoyed her, nor the last time.

December 6, 2011

Interlude - My Commodore 128

While I do not intend to cover my entire history with personal computers when speaking about Steven Jobs and Apple Computer (mainly because I want to cover some of it when discussing other famous tech people), it is important to mention some things just now:
  • I had a Sinclair Spectrum from late 1983, until very early in 1985. Then my entire family moved to Canada, and I did not own a computer until late 1986.
  • In late 1986, I had a Commodore 128, for a few months, and then I moved back to Israel in August 1987 (the rest of my family returned a year later).
  • I did not own a copmuter from late 1987 till 1995 (except for several months during which I had a commodore Amiga, great computer, but it was outdated by then).
  • There are many reasons why I did not have a computer for such a long time, but the two main ones are my military service in the IDF, and lack of money during my studies for BA at the Hebrew University.
There is really not that much to say about the Commodore 128. It was a fine computer. The rest of my friends, though interested in many things scientific and technical, did not really care that much about computers, asnd so, I did not use it that much.
However, there is one impotant thing I should mention: during almost my entire life, my handwriting was illegible. Even as early as Grade 4, my mother had to use a typewriter to write my term papers (details may or may not follow in some future post). My Commodore 128, was the first computer on which I used a modern (well semi modern, we are talking CP/M here) word processor.
I never looked back...