For more related articles, Read The Rohan Chronicles: So You Wanna Be a Mac Instructor, Ah?
I used to teach computer classes in the university during the vacations and while I may concede that computers are not _everyone's_ cup of tea, some of the things that the cream of our nation's education crop did in my classes were not all that confidence-inspiring.
There were two groups of instructors teaching two courses on most days. The Mac and PC Labs were back to back with a moving partition between them. My little band of merry men taught the Macintosh and studly programs like Pagemaker and Microsoft Word. The other group taught PC and Wordperfect 5.1. Yuks. No guessing who got the better deal.
For most part we got on famously. Except when the Mac guys decided to kill boredom and play practical jokes on the PC side. More on that later. Actually, we never had any problems finding fun and frolic, the students we had to teach made life very unboring.
I'd like to say that we were teaching for the sheer love of imparting life skills to young enquiring minds, but truth be told, we were mostly in it for the money and the babes.
It was fertile ground for us social misfits, the geek version of the singles bar. In the Labs, we were the swaggering cool dudes of the mousepad. And we were paid to do it. Very cool.
We were paid a princely sum of $5 per hour for the task of imparting computing skills to our eager proteges. And there were days when we felt that no amount of money could compare with the side-splitting material we got from our unwitting students and sometimes, even our unwitting fellow instructors.
I mean, where else would you see grown people do incredibly intelligent things like use a book to extend the table when they ran out of space for their mouse to move? And people say our grads are not creative.
Once, after we had just completed the profoundly complicated task of teaching the students what a window was, we asked them to close the window, so that we could teach them other difficult concepts like double-click. One of our young geniuses sitting at the end got up, shook the window, and helpfully told us that the window is already closed. We tried very hard to maintain our professionalism and tried not to explode. That legendary incident went on to become one of our best course jokes (we told the same ones every day for 2 months, we obviously thought we were the Robin Williamses of the Computer Course circuit).
Then once, we had one newcomer to the Lab who sat down and proceeded to take out her student ID card to insert into the floppy drive slot on the Mac. We stopped her before any real damage was done. Obviously, she had seen too many Star Trek movies. I was glad she did not pick up the mouse and speak to it.
We tried to spice up our lessons with what we thought were rolling on the floor clutching our sides kind of jokes. We built up our repertoire so well that we were telling them without having to refer to our detailed course notes.
24. Elaborate on windows.
25. Tell closing windows joke (wait for laughter to subside).
26. Make some snide remarks about Windows 95 (wait for more laughter).
27. Teach concept of Graphical User Interface (GUI) and the socio-economical implications of the Xerox-Parc discoveries.
28. Make Gooey puns and more snide remarks about Windows 95 and copycat Daemon-spawn Bill Gates.
Occasionally, we got bored (especially when the students were doing everything right -- we hated that) and decided to call for a tea-break (we had many of those). So us bored Mac instructors (a most dangerous thing are bored Mac instructors) would start to wander into the PC Lab (No Man's LAN -- another classic computer joke) where the PC instructors were trying to interest their charges with the joy of typing 8-character filenames (we Mac guys get to do 31 characters and can use spaces and almost any character, so you could imagine our lack of enthusiasm).
PC instructor who shall remain unnamed, "Now please type 'hamlet' which is the young of 'ham' (wait for laughter--silence)."
Meanwhile, we Mac guys were holding back our laughter with all the subtlety of a controlled elephant sneeze over a PA system.
Once, during one of our tea-breaks, we decided that we needed to help Adrain, um Adrian and "Hotbod" Victor (it's a long story) along in their PC course.
We used our well-honed and artistic desktop publishing skills to print the words "Applause" and "Laughter" (in New Century Schlbk Bold) in large print on our high-tech laser printer. Then, we went over to the PC Lab and sort of casually wandered into the front of the class, behind the PC guys and waited for them to tell their well-timed "hamlet" joke. At the precise moment they told the joke, with their backs turned to us, we held up the "Applause" sign and the PC class started to laugh.
Encouraged by the enthusiastic response to their joke (it had never gotten this good a response before), they went on to tell another stinker. This time we held up the "Laughter" sign and the PC class laughed even more. Victor was really on a roll, or so he thought.
To this day, they still don't know the real reason why they had such a good crowd that day.
Most of our students were a pretty nice bunch. That meant that they laughed at our jokes. Not all were so cooperative though.
A pet peeve was the "Advanced" student, the ones who had some computer experience (they used an ATM before). These students had a tendency of running ahead of the class and getting lost. This meant that they would move ahead of the present topic and start doing exciting stuff like playing with the Sound Control Panel (a regular hit with the masses, we had to call for lunch each time we came to this little gem, or pandemonium would result -- people seem to get a real kick out of making the Mac do barfing and farting sounds).
So we would be talking about the importance of not using the spacebar to create indents (a very important lesson, I might add) and these "Advanced" ones would be lost because they moved ahead and were not paying attention.
The other major pain would be The Lovebirds. We had one of those in the class, you know, the boyfriend-girlfriend combo. So I-Use-Computer-Before Boyfriend would play the "Advanced" stud and start to "help" his girlfriend with the intricacies of the mouse. The cooing and mush would have been bearable if not for the way they kept getting ahead of the others and getting lost, requiring us to re-teach some topic and repeat some choice jokes. It messed up the flow and pace of our polished performance.
So we had to come up with a way of separating the two tactfully so that we could have some peace. During the tea-break, we tinkered with Whiz-kid Boyfriend's Mac so that his hard drive won't show up (a temporary and reversible condition, I assure you). When he returned with his lovey-dovey Lambkins, all he got was a blinking floppy icon with a question mark on it when he started up his Mac.
With a straight face, we suggested that he sit at another computer and he dutifully did. Before he did though, he told us that, you know, he had that same problem on his own Mac before too. We were able to teach everything smoothly after that and I'd like to think that the two Lovebirds learned something in the end.
Computers in the university were powerful tools of productivity and reproductivity. Aside from the boring statistics analysis and essay writing, computers were extremely popular for the Yak.
Lest you think I am talking about some wild animal, actually I am, but not the sort we know, Yak was the program undergrads (or undies, as they are known in some circles) used to "chat" virtually in real time. Yak enabled them to yak without being seen. So the mild-mannered young lady or young man would suddenly become extremely daring and wild, not unlike a Yak in heat.
Countless hours were spent on this productive pursuit and the Labs were always full of undies, yakking across campus with someone in the same room, or even across campus.
It was a grand time, spending hours talking to strangers online, and saying things you normally would not say to strangers, like what colour g-string you like to wear. Suddenly, you are a macho stallion of studliness. Suddenly you are the sex kitten from Lost Planet of the Uninhibited Air-stewardesses.
I have heard horror stories of big, fat, ugly women who go online just to talk dirty, but that does not beat the grossness of the big, fat, ugly _men_ who go online to talk dirty -- as women.
All yakkers had reasonable anonymity and used what they thought were cool handles or nicknames like "Love Machine" and "Lustmonger". The only thing that one could tell from the screen was the faculty of the user. Needless to say, Arts faculty users were very popular, since it was one of the few faculties where girls outnumbered the boys like 20 gazillion to one. And any girl was a welcome yakker in this Virtual Swinging Singles scene. As soon as they see an Arts Fac ID, the "Hello"s and "Hi there"s would start appearing on your screen, in very artistic computer art (that they probably spent hours putting together) like this (use a monospaced font like Courier or Monaco to view this and it will become clear):
H H II II
H H II II
HHH II II
H H II
H H II II
Some of my Arts guy friends had a whale of a time impersonating women (actually some of the Arts guys actually did try to _become_ women, but that's another story), virtually. Many hearts in Engineering and Science were broken by "Unique" and "Monique".
Talking about picking up women with a Yak, two of my friends, let's call them George and Michael (not their real names), decided to check out the Yak-dating scene once.
So the two studs were checking out the babes in Yak-dom, and they got to talking with this young lass about a date and meeting up. Remember that the two guys were tag-teaming, pretending to be one person. So they pour on the flattery, and really, by most modern mores, were moving a little too fast. And the young lady was overwhelmed by all the attention.
In the course of yakking, the guys found out where she was yakking from (the Central Library Lab -- that hotbed of passion and lust, bet you didn't know _that_). And one of them decide to secretly check her out.
Well, truth be told, she was, let's just say, not their type. Actually, my guess is they never intended to pick anyone up. But now they were in _way_ over their heads
She, in a moment of lucid common sense (the whole Yak-dating scene can get heady when one is caught up in the passions of typing screen-fogging words to some stranger on the network), decided that she wanted to see what her date looked like _before_ she went out with "him".
So with quick wits and quick thinking, the two guys decided to let her know the truth and told her that the collective "he" was in the Arts Lab, and "he" was, um, wearing a, um, (at this point, our good friend and general Studmuffin, Rohan, not his real name, totally oblivious to the fact that he was being checked out for date-ability and future-husband material, came sauntering nonchalantly into the Lab area wearing a green tee-shirt) "he" was wearing a, um, GREEN TEE-SHIRT (phew!).
She did come to the Lab to see for herself and after seeing the real face of her virtual liaisons, she returned to her terminal and, with all the disappointment you could show in a monospaced font, typed:
"You didn't tell me you were not Chinese".
And with that, a cross-cultural opportunity was lost.
Rohan, not surprisingly, was not amused at their little prank. He has since stopped wearing green tee-shirts as a result of the emotional trauma from the incident. He has also stopped the nonchalant sauntering and now walks with a steely purpose.
Impersonating virtual hunks and babes aside, we frequently met many hapless females and even males in the Lab who get into a major fit because they have some essay or thesis that they have spent the last 9 months conceiving, and the baby is not forthcoming because the floppy disk they stored the precious work in decided to go south to join the BIg Happy Floppy Place in the Sky.
In our humid weather, floppies don't last a nanosecond, much less nine months. And the poor owners who have finally come to the end of their long academic journey of research and typing, and are ready to put the final words into the bibliography, all they get when they pop that little sucker into the floppy drive is "This disk is not readable, do you wish to initialize?"
If you have not seen an Honours student panic at the potential loss of their thesis, well, it is not a pretty sight.
My usual thought is, why do these brilliant scholars, Honours students, no less, not think of something as basic as backing up? I mean, even I back up these inane articles I write on another disk, why not a really important document like a thesis?
Well, most of the time, we manage to extract their lifework and save it on another floppy. And we get a chance to nag them for not backing up, for which they thank us profusely with unending gratitude, promising to name their firstborn after us.
All in all, it was a pretty cool gig, hanging out in the Lab. Whoever said computer guys don't have fun obviously haven't named their files "hamlet.doc" before. You should try it, it's pretty heady stuff. Just make sure your windows are closed and you have a book to extend the table for your mouse.