Sunday, October 31, 2010

First, find an old Mac

As a schoolboy in Grafton, I was greatly amused by a well-known English essay that we were studying: A Dissertation upon Roast Pig by Charles Lamb [1775-1834]. The author explains that, in ancient China, the meat of pigs was eaten raw, simply because the advantages of cooking had not yet been discovered. Be that as it may (I suspect that Lamb was exaggerating, for the sake of his tale), the taste of roast pork became known for the first time ever when a farm house was destroyed by an accidental fire, along with the family's pigs.

[Click the engraving to access a copy of this short essay.]

As an outcome of this accident, people throughout the region learned that roast pork was delicious food. In their minds, the recipe for roast pork started as follows: Acquire a farm property with a pigpen, and set fire to it. It took them a while to discover that you could in fact obtain roast pork without seeing your entire farm property go up in flames.

I've often encountered situations of that kind. Shortly after our marriage in 1965, Christine and I invited a Breton priest, Abbé Chéruel, to lunch. Proud of my recently-acquired knowledge of the procedure for making genuine French mayonnaise, I got into action… but all my energetic manual mixing was to no avail: my mayonnaise mixture remained in a liquid state. Making an effort to remain cool and act efficiently, I decided to transform my planned tomato salad into something entirely different. I hollowed out the tomatoes, mixed the seeds with my failed mayonnaise mixture, added herbs, stuffed this into the tomatoes and put them in the oven to cook. The result was excellent. For years afterward, my personal recipe for eggy stuffed tomatoes started out as follows: Screw up your preparation of mayonnaise…

These days, my "recipe" for using a pair of sophisticated software products—Flash and FreeHand, both originally manufactured by Macromedia—starts out as follows: First, find an old Mac… What I mean by this is that my aging copies of these two tools won't work on my new iMac with an Intel chip, whereas they continue to work perfectly on an older iMac sitting on an adjacent desk.

Concerning the first product, Flash, the latest version is far too sophisticated and expensive for my needs. I only had to drop in electronically (so to speak) at Adobe's recent grand mass called Max, in Los Angeles, to confirm that Flash has become a gigantic web-development tool, particularly in the corporate world. The fact that Steve Jobs doesn't want his iPhone and iPad to be polluted by the presence of Flash-based stuff is neither here nor there. In the vast world of desktop computers (such as iMacs, for example, as distinct from mobile gadgets), Flash doesn't look as if it's about to disappear. On the contrary. As for me personally, in my modest computing world, I carry on using my antiquated version of Flash, on my older iMac, for many different tasks. For example, I've used Flash to build and update websites that enable me to distribute downloadable chapters of my genealogical monographs.

As for second product, FreeHand, Adobe considers that their customers should switch to Illustrator, which is almost certainly a more modern and powerful software tool. In fact, Adobe announced explicitly on May 15, 2007 that it would discontinue development and support of FreeHand. Now, this annoyed me considerably, because I've been using FreeHand for years for all my genealogical charts, and it turns out to be quite a messy affair to convert them into Illustrator format. Here's a typical example of such a chart, produced using FreeHand:

Since FreeHand was still running perfectly on my older iMac, I've got into the habit of producing genealogical charts on my second machine, and then using an external storage device (a USB key) to load the finished charts onto my new Intel-based iMac.

BREAKING NEWS: Half an hour ago, while writing the present post, I wanted to check the exact spelling of FreeHand (with an uppercase H). I opened by chance the Wikipedia article on this product. I noticed a paragraph about users who were disgruntled because the FreeHand tool refused to work on the latest iMac running Snow Leopard. And lo and behold, I stumbled upon a reference to an Adobe patch that fixed this problem. Five minutes later, I had FreeHand running perfectly on my new iMac! There's a moral in this story. Blogging is good for you. It can even give rise to therapeutic benefits at the level of the blogger. If I hadn't set out to describe my woes concerning these tools that were implemented solely on my old iMac, then it's quite possible that I would never have heard about that great FreeHand patch. The phenomenon of a chance discovery, while seeking something else, is referred to as serendipity [Wiki]. So, both my invention of a recipe for stuffed tomatoes and my discovery of the FreeHand patch were serendipitous.


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