My First Mac

Raised in a Six-Color World

Jeff Brown - 2000.05.16

I grew up as a typical child of the 1980s, dancing to Daryl Hall and John Oates on MTV from my playpen and playing with Transformers later on.

But it was later that I became captivated by something else.

In first grade, we were exposed to actual computers. There were four, lined up across the back of the classroom. They were matched Apple IIgs machines and pretty basic. I didn't care. It was something I had not seen before - and something I could not wait to get my hands on. I constantly told my parents how cool these things were.

"Great Pepère," my great-grandmother's second husband, and the only great-grandfather I knew, listened. My father worked hanging drywall in Boston, and my mother stayed home with my sister. We couldn't afford a $2,500 Apple IIgs.

Great Pepère gave us the money. My parents bought the IIgs. We put it together, and I read the manual. Twice. Three times. I don't remember. My teacher, Mrs. Jenkins, noticed that I was in tune with the computers, and when she discovered we now had one at home, she cut a deal with the school librarian to let me borrow software under Mrs. Jenkins' name. Every week I would bring home a new game or program and try it out. Not long after that, my great-grandfather lent us the money to add memory to what had become an aging machine.

Despite this, I lost interest. Software was expensive, and I had other things to occupy my time.

Fast forward to fifth grade. A few friends and I had been taken to the computer lab, full of now-aging Apple IIgs computers. Some had "1.25" scribbled on the cases, to indicate a memory upgrade. In any event, I began talking to the computer administrator, Mr. Jablonski. He had a program called GPLE, a sort of shell for BASIC programming which allowed editing of lines rather than recoding the line. He took a select group of students and allowed us to come to the lab during recess to work on programs. Later that year, he pulled out a disk with a copy of TML Pascal, which we dipped into briefly. In addition to that, he talked to a friend who worked with us on IBM PS/2s programming in BASICA, which was also quite interesting.

Colour ClassicMeanwhile, for some reason we had received an Apple catalog at home in the mail. I pored through it, my eyes probably burning the ink from the pages. I drooled over the new Color Classic, which was incredibly styled and appealing. I fawned over the LC III, which was the best computer I had ever seen short of the bulky Mac II in the computer lab. (I didn't know anything about processors and such then.) HyperCard looked too good to be true. Besides, my dad had noticed the slowing Apple IIgs and had talked to people who loved their LC IIs.

And so that summer (1993) we bought a Performa 450. It was my true first Mac, and I loved every bit of it. Little did I realize it had its idiosyncrasies. There was the fact it had 4 MB of memory - a lot at the time. There was At Ease, which I turned off when I realized I was bypassing it daily to get things done. A year and a half later, we put in another 8 MB of memory to run Wolfenstein 3D. Not long after that, I upgraded the machine to System 7.5, ridding it of the slightly handicapped System 7.1-for-Performa package.

Sadly, it was that year when my great-grandfather passed away following a blizzard. If he knew what my current computers were capable of, he'd be amazed.

500 SeriesIt was that year, seventh grade, when my computer love reached a new level. Our art room housed two new machines, an LC 575 and a Quadra 660av with an AppleVision monitor with all the bells and whistles. My art teacher, Mrs. Raudonis, showed me how to work HyperCard, and then brought me into ADDmotion, HyperCard's animation front-end. I started out simple, with a waving Santa Claus in a sleigh to represent the season.

Then we got more advanced. I was spending lunch periods in the computer room with friends designing more intricate works. The monitor blew out while I was using ResEdit on the 660av, leading one of my friends to claim I had broken the monitor. By the end of the year, I had immersed myself in a project, recreating the entire Tyrannosaurus Rex attack scene from "Jurassic Park." Unfortunately, I only got the truck to tip over.

The next year, we filmed music videos for the eighth grade and incorporated an ADDmotion animation into the video, thanks to the video output on the 660av. However, that year was different. In seventh grade, I had been given full access to the school network through Mr. Jablonski. He retired at the end of the year, and the new computer coordinator had no faith in any of us (in hindsight, I can't blame her). Even so, at the end of the year, I offered to come back whenever I might be needed.

And over the next two summers, I spent about thirty hours each summer adding security software to LC 475s, pulling motherboards out of 5200-series Macs for network-card installations, and playing around. It was fun, believe me.

PowerBook 100 SeriesMy freshman year in high school, I had designs on getting a laptop. I had had a "thing" for Duos since they first arrived on the scene, and I wanted a laptop for personal use. When my mother read some stories which I had clearly labeled "private," I decided it was time. I found a PowerBook 160 for $400 and bought it. I had my own Mac, and it wasn't all that different from the one we already had.

My sophomore year we went upscale. We needed to get online with a qualified machine. We went to Circuit City and bought a Power Mac 6500/250. It was just the machine we needed.

That summer, I got a job. As soon as I did, I decided it was time for a new Mac of my own. My dad said he would build me a strong desk for everything I needed. At first, I wanted to go one better than what I had, and planned to get a PowerBook 540c ($500). Then I realized upgrading it to PowerPC would be wise ($1,000). I then saw the light and realized that the deal was not to be had in laptops, so I focused on a sexy and fast Power Mac 8600/200 ($1,600). Once I got that far, my father said, "Why not go G3 for a thousand more?"

So I did.

I dumped $2,500 into a real computer. A Power Mac G3/300 desktop model with a Zip drive, a 17" ViewSonic monitor, and Yamaha speakers. I was in heaven. In March of 1999, I signed up with MediaOne for cable Internet access. My system was complete. For then.

Then, in July of 1999, I decided I needed a new printer and saw a package deal in the paper, a Performa 6400 with 72 MB of memory and a Color StyleWriter 2500. The people who had it were selling it to make room for a PC. I needed another computer like I needed a hole in the head, but the printer was quality, and the whole package was only $800, the 17" monitor on the 6400 was sharp, I couldn't run the BeOS on my G3 and wanted it badly, and I was just too stupid to know better. So I bought that one, too.

This January I decided to upgrade my laptop. On eBay I picked up a PowerBook Duo 2300c with a Duo Dock for $505. I paid $160 later to win a MiniDock.

So here I am, typing this tale of Mac fetishism. To my left is my humming G3, topped with a LaCie CD-RW drive and flanked by an Apple Color OneScanner 600/27 I paid $100 for. On the floor is a now-quiet Yamaha subwoofer, and the new printer is stowed under my desk to muffle its noise.

Alongside the desk is the 6400, its cables tied neatly. I installed BeOS, but had no time to use it, and formatted the drive to sell the computer. However, I had no takers.

Behind me on the floor is the 6400's 17" monitor. On a fishtank stand on that wall sits my Duo Dock, hooked up with a 24X CD-ROM drive (won that with the Dock) and the 14" monitor from the Performa 450 my parents decided not to sell. At the bottom of the stand are my MiniDock and my portable Sony CD-ROM drive.

On my dresser, buried under cables, is my PowerBook 160. I haven't sold it, either, because a friend needs it for DECA Nationals in four weeks.

I'd say I've come full-circle. I always wanted a tower and always wanted a Duo. I have a Duo and a G3, which kicks the pants off any Quadra, even though it's not as attractive on my desk (but looks don't always mean performance).

Downstairs, my folks have upgraded to an iMac DV SE with an ergonomic keyboard and an unergonomic stock mouse (which all three other family members hate yet use anyway). We haven't sold the 6500 yet (not that we haven't tried), but we might have an outlet for that. My grandparents want to get online, so they don't get left out. My grandmother has seen me go from playing Monopoly on a PowerBook 160 to ejecting my Duo from its Dock (which made her jaw actually drop when I explained that I did have a new laptop in there). However, my uncle advised against it. He figures my grandfather will want everything to happen when he claps his hands (it isn't that easy, sadly, but close), and I'd be taking temporary residence at their house for tech-support services.

Of course, I'm majoring in Computer Science at RPI next year. The only problem is that they require students to own a PC laptop for classwork and such.

But I've decided that that laptop will be a strictly school machine. My Macs will forever be my main machines.

Go to the My First Mac index.

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