Caspian's Computer

Several years ago, Susan was employed at a local Montessori school and was setting up the classroom for the Grade 1 students. One of her ideas was to get some computers in - not to play edutainment titles, but as tools. We found a second hand computer store that had a bunch of old Macintosh SE's for cheap ($10 each, as-is) so we bought several and cobbled together a network. We kept one machine for personal use - just in case...

When shopping for a new sofa a few months ago, we stopped into a new store in downtown Bellevue which had a nice play area for kids with bean bags, XBoxen and a few eMacs. It was Caspian's first time using a mouse (Su's computer has a touchscreen), and he picked it up very quickly. He played a simple kid's title and I realized he was ready for his own box. So, on a trip to our storage container, I dug out the old Mac SE.

(Aside: Cartoon Network was just finding its stride when Su was setting up the classroom, so the Macs ended up with names like Dexter and Mandark. Caspian's Mac is DeeDee.)

We cleaned off part of Caspian's work table and set up the Mac with a keyboard and mouse. It still booted off its internal hard drive - yay! Unfortunately, while it had system software, the only app it had installed was MacWrite. I was hoping for at least MacPaint. I dusted off my old Mac disks, but the floppy drive wouldn't read them - it wouldn't even format them. Hoping it was drive failure, and not controller failure, I ordered a replacement external floppy off of eBay, and also asked my dad to track down any old Mac disks he could find.

Meanwhile, Caspian was having a blast with his machine. I showed him how to turn the computer on and off, and launch MacWrite (from an icon on the desktop). Other than that, and saying "don't put anything in the floppy slot", I pretty much left him on his own.

Anecdotes so far:
  • He promptly renamed the hard drive. Way too easy on the Mac, although harmless.
  • Dragging things into the trash was a lot of fun. He understands "click" and "drag" as concepts now. When I showed him how to open the trash and drag things out, he picked up on how to use the "close box" quickly.
  • Using a double-click to start something is still not natural to him. That's the only thing I had to remind him about a few times.
  • The notion of scrolling is fascinating to him. He'll hold down a key in MacWrite to watch the screen fill with the character, and wait until it gets to the bottom and the screen starts scrolling.
  • We celebrated the holidays in a strewn-out manner this year. First with Su's parents in Oregon, then a week later with my parents in Calgary, with a brief stop at our place in between. Caspian was afraid that the Winter Fairies wouldn't come see us in Calgary as well, so we said he could write them a letter. I think he came up with the idea of using his computer. (I may have suggested it, though.) He trundled over to it, flipped it on, launched MacWrite, typed for a bit (lots of H's), then flipped the computer off, satisfied.
When the floppy drive arrived, I put MacPaint on the computer. This was a fun usability experiment:
  • He got the notion of drawing with a paintbrush quickly - he's done that on my PocketPC with a stylus.
  • Since his hands are small he tends to gesture coarsely with the mouse, and doesn't consistently hold the button down when dragging, which tends to get the cursor off to the edges of the screen where it often has strange consequences - like pulling down a menu.
  • When I told him that the things on the left were tools, he started trying each of them one by one. He figured out how to use the shape drawing tools entirely on his own.
  • He found the fill patterns fascinating, but he ran into the classic Mac/Windows usability issue: he tends to double-click them. And in MacPaint, that opens a modal pattern editor. Once we explained "click Cancel to make the box go away" he was somewhat satisfied, but is still surprised when it happens.
And perhaps the best part:
  • Caspian has picked up on the habits that Susan and I have surrounding computer usage. When we ask him to do something, he now occasionally says "Just a minute, I need to do something on my computer," then runs over, turns it on, does something, then turns it off.