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The PC Corner: the Macintosh.

Thanks to all of you who responded to my PC questionnaire in the previous issue of "The PC Corner" column. For those of you who haven't responded yet, please dig out the previous issue Of Business Economics and take five minutes to fill it out and send it in. My column next quarter will be devoted to reporting the results of the survey to you.

A preliminary glance at the results indicates that a lot of power" users are out there, with some very interesting software running. The results also indicate that a small (about 10 percent of the responses) but dedicated group of Apple Macintosh users are very interested in having some columns devoted to the Mac - both hardware and software. Because I'm not a point and click" type (i.e., I'm a touch typist and damn proud of it!), I've solicited the aid of Bill Brown, a professor of economics and finance at the University of Puget Sound, to write about his experiences with his Macintosh. My current thinking is to have Bill do about one column a year about the Mac and its applications in the business economics world. I'll be back next issue.

John H. Qualls, Editor, The PC Corner.

I'LL BE WRITING the Macintosh columns, so let me introduce myself. I hold a Ph. D. in economics from the University of Colorado and have been teaching - primarily macroeconomics and econometrics, but more recently finance - since 1977. 1 do some consulting and have recently become involved with the development of the Pierce County Indicator, a regional economic forecasting model. My most recent publication is Introducing Econometrics, an undergraduate text, to be published this fall by West Publishing Co.

I bought one of the first Macintoshes in the spring of 1984. That was a 128k machine, a single 400k disk drive. Remarkably, it seems now, I actually got some use out of it. MacWrite and MacPaint were the only software then available, but they were enough for short papers and exams, although I found the ten-page limit on MacWrite files pretty constraining. It was apparent to me - as it was to the market place - that the first Macintoshes were inadequate for business use. Still, I was impressed with two things about the early Macintoshes. They were so easy to use you really didn't need to read the manual. just as importantly, setting the machine up was a breeze; you could use them right out of the box.

I upgraded to 512k in November 1984 - I got a deal and only paid $900! - and bought a second floppy drive for another $350. This "Fat Mac" was beginning to be useful. When the first statistics program became available, Number Cruncher from NCSS, I was able to use the Mac in my teaching. And when Microsoft brought out Excel - still the best spreadsheet available - the Mac started to make inroads into business. A year later my Fat Mac became a Mac Plus, and I added a hard disk and more memory.

I now have two SE/30s, one at home and one at the office. I have written a number of articles and two texts on my Macs, and use them daily in my teaching and research. Like most people who use the Mac, I use several different software packages. My primary word processor is WriteNow 2.2. It is extremely fast, easy to use, and requires less RAM or disk space than the competitors. I also use Word 4.0 on occasion, primarily because my coauthor does his work on the DOS version of Word, and we can exchange files between machines without losing formatting.

I use several statistics programs. For ease of data handling, I still like StatView 512+, but I do most of my serious work on Systat 5.0, the only full featured statistics program with a complete Macintosh interface. Systat does not have some routines specific to econometric research, so I occasionally must rely on the Macintosh version of RATS 3.1. RATS does everything I would ever want out of a statistics program, and I think that this version is almost bug free. I do graphics with SuperPaint 2.0. 1 know that more powerful programs exist, but none is more intuitive, and I don't need art as much as an L with an X in the middle of it every few pages. I also use Soft PC 1.3 to run DOS programs on my Mac. Its not fast - my version emulates only an XT, though an AT version has been announced - but on those rare occasions when I need to run a DOS application, I can do it without firing up a clone.

One utility I could not get along without is Expressionist 2.07. Expressionist sets completely WYSIWYG ("what you see is what you get") mathematical equations. Because it is a desk accessory - similar to a TSR program in DOS - it is available all of the time. I also use DiskTop 4.0 to manage files, QuicKeys 1.2 to generate macros, and backup with DiskFit 1.5. 1 most often print on a DeskWriter, the Macintosh version of Hewlett Packard's excellent Desk jet Plus ink jet printer for the DOS world. Output looks great with Adobe Type Manager, and I only rarely miss the fact that it is not Postscript. I still work in monochrome, but that is primarily to keep me from gaming too much.

Enough about me. Even a first column should have a little content or at least a bit of the columnist's philosophy.

A recent article in Academic Computing concluded that students writing on DOS machines wrote better and were more analytical than students who wrote their papers on the Macintosh. There are several problems with the way that study was conducted. I would argue that the ease of use of the Mac attracted students who were less analytical to begin with and that the real issue is whether the Mac or any computer could improve their writing. But let's suppose that there is merit to the study. Does it matter to business economists? Perhaps, but read on.

A related discussion has been going on in the last few issues of Economic Inquiry, the journal of the Western Economics Association. Frank Wykoff of Pomona College and editor of Economic Inquiry wrote a paper in july 1989 arguing that students are better served by using a programming language - he recommends APL - instead of canned programs in their introductory econometrics courses. His main point seemed to be that canned programs result in "sloppy" work, while the discipline imposed by a programming language encourages more careful analysis. Given that the canned programs he referred to were SAS, SPSS, and SHAZAM the last two recently ported over to the Mac, but without a Mac interface - I can only imagine what he would say about the pedagogical advantages of the Macintosh interface for introductory econometrics: It would make students really sloppy. Should students be allowed to point the mouse at a regression icon, or should they be forced to type out the commands to postmultiply matrix X by its transpose, take the inverse of this product, then multiply by X-transpose Y? I don't think so. I'd rather not clutter my brain - or my students' with things that are unnecessary in a world of expanding technology. (Some professors, I understand, still won't let students use calculators on exams!) I don't even know my best friend's phone number because my Casio watch keeps track of it for me.

But these issues are really beside the point to practicing business economists. We presumably already understand the econometric procedures, financial theory or whatever that we are using in our work. What we want is a computer that can run applications that will do what we want them to do. I like the fact that I don't have to read the manual for most Macintosh programs and I'd rather not spend my time programming something that has already been programmed. The Macintosh version of Systat 5.0 is a case in point. It is extremely powerful, so powerful that I need only refer to the 1,500 pages of documentation on occasion; I never have and never will sit down to read it. Try that with the DOS version of this same highly rated - for ease of use - statistics program. Windows 3.0 is a step in the right direction - its icon-driven interface will simplify program launching, hard disk navigation, and so on. But what DOS does not have and won't for several years - is the interface consistency among different applications. You can use Win3 to launch SPSS, but then you'd better remember application-specific commands.

This doesn't mean that the Mac is so easy to use that periodic Macintosh columns in The PC Corner are unnecessary. The reality is that DOS machines are still more popular in business than the Mac, and many of us don't have immediate colleagues to turn to when we need Macintosh-related information. Business Economics, more than anything else, is a forum for sharing knowledge among business economists. The Macintosh Corner will share Macintosh knowledge important to the business economist.

What happens in the future depends on the response of the readership. Software reviews are the obvious subject in a column of this type, and the connectivity issue is especially important to most of us who work in mixed computer environment. What else do you want to see? Write or call me if you have any comments or suggestions for future columns.

William S. Brown, School of Business and Public Administration, University of Puget Sound, Tacoma, WA 98416, (206) 756-3471

* Bill Brown is Professor of Economics and Finance, University of Puget Sound, Tacoma, WA.
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Author:Brown, Bill
Publication:Business Economics
Article Type:column
Date:Oct 1, 1990
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