After spending four full weeks away from email while travelling in Australia from the middle of February to the middle of March, Tonya and I are back in the U.S and more or less caught up on life. We didn't take a computer - we were moving around a lot and decided not to subject our PowerBooks to the vagaries of low-budget travel - and it was the longest we've gone without access to a computer or the Internet.
Although we didn't miss being out of touch for that long, I regretted not having a Mac for two reasons. As a writer, I like to write about my experiences while travelling, especially since I'm thinking more about non-computer topics these days. Taking notes on paper then and trying to write from them now is proving slow and frustrating. Also, since our old QuickTake 150 can hold only 16 or 32 images, we were restricted to a film camera, which makes it harder to share the pictures with our many Internet-accessible friends and family.
Of course, the fact that we didn't bring a PowerBook or check email for a month doesn't mean we were isolated from the Macintosh world. Several weeks of our trip were spent in Perth, visiting Peter Lewis (of Anarchie fame), Andrew Nielsen, and a number of other Mac friends we've met over the years via email and during their trips to the U.S. It was fascinating to go from a more traditional vacation in Tasmania (where we gazed at beautiful scenery and gawked at the local wildlife) to being dropped into a large social group whose members we'd met in person only once or twice before.
The Macintosh kept popping out at us. In Hobart, Tasmania, we had an enjoyable dinner with several members of the local Macintosh users group. That dinner was set up by Peter Johnston, a former editor of Australian Macworld. Then, on a side trip to a small town called Pemberton about four hours south of Perth, we were chatting about what we do for a living with one of the staff at a gallery called Fine Woodcraft. One of the owners came out from the back room in time to hear the words "Macintosh" and "Internet" and immediately dragooned me into setting up Internet access on his new Macintosh in return for a pair of cappuccinos and tasty apple crumbles. We would have preferred to trade for the gorgeous jarrah wood and beaten copper buffet we were lusting after, but a little magic with older versions of ConfigPPP and MacTCP probably isn't worth furniture.
Mac vs. PC Debate -- One of the events we attended in Perth was a debate between Mac and PC users on the topic of "Will the Macintosh be viable into the 21st century?" It was meant to be light-hearted, since it was put on by an interactive multimedia association whose members rely on both Macs and PCs, but it did prove interesting. As the moderator said to general laughter while introducing the topic, "One of these platforms comes from an evil American mega-corporation bent on world domination... and the other comes from Microsoft." Each side had three presenters who were given five minutes each to introduce the argument, flesh it out, and rebut the other side. Interruptions and comments from the audience weren't acceptable unless considered hysterically funny by the judge.
The women who led off the arguments for both sides were excellent, both speaking extremely well and finishing in their allotted times. The woman arguing for the PC side chose the sophistic tactic of taking Apple's sales figures at two points in the recent past and drawing a straight line between them, conclusively "proving" that Macintosh sales would drop to zero on 17-Nov-98. Her argument prompted references from the audience to Mark Twain's famous comment about there being three types of lies - lies, damned lies, and statistics. In a violation of the agreed-upon rules, the PC team then presented a laptop running a countdown to the point when Apple's Mac sales would hit zero. This of course engendered not only an objection from the Macintosh team but snide comments from the audience about the accuracy of the number if the laptop's Pentium chip had to do any division.
The Mac team took the lead during the second set of presenters. The man arguing for the Mac offered a solid recitation of facts from study after study showing that the Mac offers a greater return on investment than PCs and that this greater return on investment would ensure the Mac's continued viability. In contrast, the PC presenter had failed to check his facts, and in a futile attempt to denigrate the G3 chip commented that the Mac team's G3 performance claims might prove accurate "when it ships." This provoked howls of laughter, given the length of time the Power Macintosh G3s have been available. As he continued with similarly incorrect facts, our laughter grew, and at the end of his presentation the judge threatened to eject the lot of us if we didn't quiet down for the final presenter. I couldn't resist pointing out that at least the Macintosh is capable of ejecting disks via software, almost causing Peter Lewis to fall out of his chair laughing.
The rebuttal phase of the debate was somewhat weak for the Mac side, mostly because there wasn't much to rebut. And, although the Macintosh presenter went slightly over his time, the time limit wasn't nearly as problematic for him as it was for the final PC presenter. He had started with an involved comment about how the Macintosh was an excellent choice in certain industries, such as education, construction, marine, and so on, but he ran out of time before he was able to deliver his punch line (filling Macs with concrete for boat anchors, using them as doorstops in schools, and so on). We Mac devotees could not permit such an opportunity to pass, so as the time ran out with him having just recommended the Mac for a variety of industries, we cheered and applauded loudly enough to drown out the punch line. Dirty pool, but in a good cause.
Mac Users in Australia? I was curious if the Australian Macintosh community would seem qualitatively different from the Mac communities here in the U.S., but in fact, it seemed pretty much the same. At a MacGeeks user group dinner in Perth (held at a Japanese restaurant run by a Macintosh user who provided a Mac hooked to the Internet as a kiosk for people waiting for take-away meals) we ran into programmers, network administrators, and support folks. We met novice users while travelling, most of whom liked their Macs and only used PCs under duress for specific applications, if at all. At the heart of the situation, these people reminded us of other Mac users we've met over the years in different parts of the U.S. If anything, they're somewhat more insulated from the capriciousness of the U.S. computer market. They pay for that insulation in higher prices for software, hardware, and Internet services plus inane international policies, such as the New York Times Web site offering free subscriptions for only a month for non-U.S. users. It's no wonder the Australians tend to have a somewhat sardonic sense of humor about everything American, the computer industry included.