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Man, Bytes, Dog

By James Gorman

Many people have asked me about the Cairn Terrier. How about memory, they want to know. Is it IBM-compatible? Why didn't I get the IBM itself, or a Kaypro, Compaq, or Macintosh? I think the best way to answer these questions is to look at the Macintosh and the Cairn head on. I almost did buy the Macintosh. It has terrific graphics, good word-processing capabilities, and the mouse. But in the end I decided on the Cairn, and I think I made the right decision.

Let's start out with the basics:

Weight (without printer): 20lbs
Memory (RAM): 128 K
Price (with printer): $3,090
Cairn Terrier:
Weight (without printer): l4lbs
Memory (RAM): Some
Price (without printer): $250

Just on the basis of price and weight, the choice is obvious. Another plus is that the Cairn Terrier comes in one unit. No printer is necessary, or useful. And - this was a big attraction to me - there is no user's manual. Here are some of the other qualities I found put the Cairn way out ahead of the Macintosh:

Admittedly, these are peripheral advantages. The real comparison has to be on the basis of capabilities. What can the Macintosh and the Cairn do? Let's start on the Macintosh's turf- income-tax preparation, recipe storage, graphics, and astrophysics problems:


Taxes Recipes Graphics Astrophysics
Macintosh yes yes yes yes
Cairn no no no no

At first glance it looks bad for the Cairn. But it's important to look beneath the surface with this kind of chart. If you yourself are leaning toward the Macintosh, ask yourself these questions: Do you want to do your own income taxes? Do you want to type all your recipes into a computer? In your graph, what would you put on the x axis? The y axis? Do you have any astrophysics problems you want solved?

Then consider the Cairn's specialities: playing fetch and tug-of-war, licking your face, and chasing foxes out of rock cairns (eponymously). Note that no software is necessary. All these functions are part of the operating system:


Fetch Tug-of-war Face Foxes
Cairn yes yes yes yes
Macintosh no no no no

Another point to keep in mind is that computers, even the Macintosh, only do what you tell them to do. Cairns perform their functions all on their own. Here are some of the additional capabilities that I discovered once I got the Cairn home and housebroken:

This last capability is related to the Cairn's strongest point, which was the final deciding factor in my decision against the Macintosh - user-friendliness. On this criterion, there is simply no comparison. The Cairn Terrier is the essence of user-friendliness. It has fur, it doesn't flicker when you look at it, and it wags its tail.

From the book "Questioning Technology", edited by John Zerzan and Alice Carnes.
New Society Publishers, Philadelphia PA. ISBN: 0-86571-205-0.

for inquiries or permission to reprint, please contact James Gorman at jgorma@nytimes.com.

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