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mc escher

The art of M.C. Escher

Every new Windows computer is supposed to be better than the last. But the old ones do something the new ones can’t: they run old programs.

There’s an estimated 250 million Windows XP computers out there. They are powerful computers, better than anything NASA had when they landed men on the moon, and they’re cheap. Joy bought a refurbished Dell for $70. That’s less than we paid for an electric toothbrush. And furthermore, it works great.

So what’s the problem? Well, Microsoft has abandoned Windows XP — no more support, no more updates. But that doesn’t matter if you don’t go on the Internet. In short, this has to be a stand-alone machine, isolated. They — the mysterious and malevolent “they” out there — can’t touch you if you’re not online.  Now you can have some fun.

Joy immediately ran up her favorite old greeting card program: “Signature Greetings” from Broderbund. This won’t play on the newer Windows machines, even if we invoke Microsoft’s “compatibility” routine. She’s mourned its loss for the last six years. Now it’s back, along with a couple dozen other art, science, game and comic book programs that have been gathering dust on our shelves. We even feel nostalgic looking at XP’s simple icons.

We see no need to ever connect this beauty to the Internet and risk gumming up the works. It’s strictly for offline use. One of the old programs we like is “Escher Interactive, Exploring the Art of the Infinite,” $5 on eBay. It’s a wonderful tour of the art of M.C. Escher, famous for his never ending up-and-down staircases. Listening to the narrator talk about his life and works, and watching some of the works come alive through animation, was better than a visit to MCEscher.com.

“My Type Artist” is one of the best of the old programs. If you want to create a fantastic logo, banner or signature, this is it. There are over a thousand stylized alphabets to choose from. We typed “Love, Bob and Joy,” to use on greeting cards and notes, and put the letters on the backs of parading elephants. Another choice was letters intertwined with roses, and yet another with cherubs. When you export your image, you can insert it anywhere you would normally place a picture. We inserted  ours into a Word document and printed it out as great stationery. The program categorizes font themes by texture, color, 3D effect and other variables, and lets you bookmark favorites. This program is still in demand and sells on Amazon for $35, more than we paid for it years ago when it was new.

“Emile De Antonio’s “Painters Painting,” $23 on eBay, is a quirky CD full of art and interviews with artists. Andy Warhol tells how he stumbled into “this art thing” and before he knew it was making millions. (Bob has an old museum program signed by Warhol, who handed it back to him saying “You could probably get $25 for that.” Andy thought a lot about money.)

“Fun With Architecture” really is fun with architecture and it’s still around. You can get it for only $3 for the Mac, but it’s a much more costly $68 for Windows XP, almost exactly the price we paid for the whole computer. Worth it, though; great program. We also have the Marvel Comic Book Library, $20 on eBay, filled with Spiderman, X-men, Iron Man, Superman and other full-length comics. Remember: you don’t download any of these old programs, because you never go online; you buy the actual disks and load them into you isolated XP computer.

When we want to use our XP machine, we just plug in a monitor, mouse and keyboard. But monitors are cheap, so you might want to buy one just for the XP computer. We saw an Acer K2 refurbished monitor on Amazon for $45. Many people still have an old monitor. For that matter, many people still have an old XP computer sitting in the closet.

Buying an old computer and not connecting it to the Internet is a great idea. You don’t have to worry about the kids stumbling onto porn, because they can’t go online. Add lots of cheap games from Amazon or eBay. Then on every birthday, there’s actually something for you to give and for them to open. We’ve never figured out how to give an app.

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