My First Mac

A Love of Simple Elegance

b.b., MacArchaeolgist - 2000.06.06

Up until a little over a year ago, I considered all computers to be the ultimate expression of Evil with a capital "E" - one of the main causes of everything that is wrong with this world. In this age when children are born wired to the Internet, I suppose I must explain my blatant "Ludditism."

I have long considered computers and their related milieu as the essence of "Big Brother," and this has definite generational roots: I'm currently 41 years old, a misbegotten "Child of the Seventies" (we were forbidden by the school board in our small South Texas town to use them-there new-fangled "scientific pocket calculators" in our high school physics class in 1975. If we couldn't do all that complex calculation in our heads, then we weren't really learning, were we?). My vehicle of choice is a 1963 VW Beetle named "Gertrude" (still proudly 6-volt). My stereo has tubes. I prefer LP's to CD's

Get the picture?

Be it indeed a situation of temporal circumstance or just the fact that I've always felt I was born ten years too late, I got just enough of the Sixties in my bloodstream to make my existence in the Eighties and Nineties pretty much an unbearable case of genuine 1984-esque culture shock.

I found comfort in that which came slightly before me. I understood that tubes sounded more "real" to my ears than transistors. Similarly, an early model vintage VW had an "air" about it that later (post-'67) Bugs didn't. Everything on a vintage VW was finely crafted and had a purpose, and it fulfilled that purpose with a sense of simple elegance that defied and mocked that which came after it. When things were later changed from sturdy metal to cheap plastic to appease the demands of the masses, the VW (for me) lost its integrity somewhere in the process.

My "Dynaco Stereo 70" tube amp, built from a kit around the time I was born, had a warm sound with a presence that said "High Fidelity" to my ears. All my friends' new solid-state Panasonic amps sounded pale and flat in comparison, even with their many-slidered graphic equalizers as opposed to my simple bass and treble pots. I have always appreciated that sense of "simple elegance" I discovered in the vintage VW, where functionality blended with inspired design yielded something truly unique and wonderful: a machine that one could actually bond with. In short, a truly "Fahrvernügen" experience turns my proverbial crank.

Around the beginning of 1999 I was asked to do a bit of anarchic writing for a friend's website. I prided myself as I noisily clacked out page after page on my old Brother word processor. How clever I was to avoid the very technology my words would end up being displayed by! Ah, the self-righteous and smug expressions that I'm certain crossed my face as that little glorified typewriter did it's thing.

I eventually hung out with my friend enough to see him reboot his Power Mac 7100/80AV countless times (not the most astute troubleshooter, this guy, but that's another story!). After one of his "Three-Finger-Salutes," I took notice of the cute little "Happy Mac" that showed up on the screen at reboot. Something in me started to soften. My thick Luddite skin started to crack and peel just a bit. If ever there was a way for me, a confirmed hater of "high technology," to finally enter the computer age, then this had to be it. Anything that smiled at you as if to say "Hi! I'm happy! Let's have fun!" when it turned itself on had to be worth checking out.

In February of last year, around my birthday, a friend of mine who had just gotten a WallStreet PowerBook asked if I wanted to buy her Power Mac 7200/120. She would even take payments.

I couldn't refuse, and on February 7, 1999, I brought home "Rocco," my first Mac. Decked out with 128 MB of memory, a 4.2 GB Seagate Medalist hard drive, and OS 8.5.1, Rocco certainly served as a great intro to the Mac experience. Being a "fixit-guy" at heart, I immediately started digging, rooting about on every Mac-related website I could find. I dug into my system folder. I dug into the Apple TIL. I dug into archived news messages on university BBS's from the "old days." I found that the Mac thought very much the same way I did. I "grokked" it in a way that I didn't have to think about.

I achieved the same sort of "Fahrvernügen" with my 7200 that I had with my Bug almost immediately. Within a couple of months I was doing things with Photoshop that veteran MacHeads were agog at. I built websites using only my homemade Photoshop graphics and Netscape Communicator's "composer" feature. I found an old Apple Service Source CD and read all the Service Manuals I could find. I popped open my 7200 and figured out where everything was. I diagnosed a defective 16 MB DIMM within the first few months of having the machine. I learned to troubleshoot most common problems with the help of a plethora of Mac books, especially past editions of the wonderful old Mac Bible series, so plentiful in used book stores in Austin. I found myself eagerly absorbing as much as I could about something that I had abhorred (and wanted nothing to do with) only a short time before.

Put plainly, I absorbed as much of the Macintosh Mythos as I could in as short a time as I could. I found the "underdog/underground" aspect of the Mac irresistible: If ever there was a computer with an actual soul, one even a grumpy old Hippie like me could actually love, this was it. "Macintosh Venceramos!" I bought the whole thing, as they say, hook, line, and sinker. I considered myself a "MacHead;" armed with my 7200, I could now enter the fray of the Modern World. I settled into a smug and comfy state of MacUserhood, secure in my new knowledge. Little did I know this was actually just the first stage of a progressive (and seemingly incurable) new affliction.

My true descent into incurable Macoholism occurred a few months later when I was thrift-shopping with the girlfriend one Saturday afternoon. We found a couple of little compact Macs in great shape for next to nothing. I'd stumbled upon the Low End Mac and Jags House websites (those bastions of Old Mac Love-n-Lore) and had been itching to find an old compact to play with. Sitting for five minutes with a Mac Plus running System 6.0.8, booted from a single 800k floppy disk, and I felt I'd finally found the real Macintosh. The Power Mac paled in my sight. Franki Valli and the Four Seasons sang in my head: "Workin' my way back to yooooou, babe!" That "simple elegance" thing was blasting at me full volume with every mouse-click - utter MacFahrvernügen.

Here was the "vintage VW" of the Macintosh world! I found an upgraded 512k for six bucks a few weeks later and fell deeper in love with a machine than I ever had before. Of course, having found solace in Tolkien's Middle Earth as a disaffected youth, I had to name the Macs after Hobbits. It seemed the only correct thing to do.

I began to collect Macs of all flavors. They came to me. People gave them to me. I dug into every "new" model with a vengeance: Where were the RAM slots? Can I slap another hard drive in there?

It occurred to me that I really was unearthing history as I went. I took to using the signature "MacArchaeologist" on all my list postings; it was the best way I could describe myself to this newfound community of really cool people I'd discovered on the Low End Mac lists. The Compact Macs list continues to be my main group of "homies," people who understand the effect these little machines can have on you, people who encourage and support you in your addiction! (Hi, guys! ;-) The parallel between vintage VW's and vintage Macs rings even truer when you consider "Mac Folks" are the same kinda crowd as "VW Folks," always ready to help solve problems, give you goodies you've been searching for, and generally aid and abet your disease.

During the holidays this past year I collected, tweaked, and gave away six Li'l Macs to folks who (like myself) had never had any use for (or had been scared by) computers their whole lives, tossing some weekly "MacLessons" into the deal, consisting of the tips/tricks I'd found out on my own so far, and through the excellent resource that the Low End Mac email lists are. Seeing the looks on their faces when their Li'l Macs talked to them for the first time, or when they actually wrote their first letter and printed it out on their very own printer . . . well, it gave me warm fuzzies. Those folks are still happily playing with their Pluses and SEs, and are about to get their first color Macs, thanks to a friend who's office caught "upgrade-itis".

The thought that I can set up a compact Mac and a printer for someone for basic pocket change, sign them up for a free email account, and help them get empowered in a way they never would have taken the steps to be themselves, well, it gives me a charge. It makes me feel like some sort of crusader.

Cut to scene of a windswept hilltop. b.b. stands at the summit, "Indiana Macintosh"-style-hat cocked at a jaunty angle, a chiselled Art-Deco-30's-Worker-Poster look about him. Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man" plays in the background as he tosses L'il Macs into the outstretched arms of the waiting Proletariat. The title of our little film rolls across the screen (in 3D Photoshop text, of course): "The Adventures of Johnny MacintoshSeed."

I can hear all the grizzled old MacHeads out there chuckling. They know I've fallen victim; they know I cannot refuse the call!

I began to see how each model of Mac has its own personality, its own characteristics. It just rocks my socks to know that a fifteen year old machine still does exactly what it was intended to do.

That's another thing about the whole Mac Experience that I can appreciate: If you understand the limitations and abilities of the machine, there is no reason to be disillusioned with its performance. I don't expect to go 85 m.p.h. in a 40-horsepower Bug, and I likewise don't sit down at my SE or 512k and expect to do 3D graphics or play the latest game. Instead, I appreciate the little bugger for what it can do, what it still does so efficiently and so elegantly. I love reading email on the SE. It gives me a sense of "having been there in the Old Days." Yes, that "Mac Mythos" has me by the short and curlies, and I am really not complaining.

It's now a little over fourteen months since I brought the 7200 home. As I sit here typing this, there are eleven "flavors" of Mac up and running in my living room:

  • Rocco (still "head of the family"), 7200/120, 112 MB RAM, 4.2 GB HD
  • Bilbo, PowerBook 5300, 24 MB RAM, with external monitor setup
  • Meriadoc, dual-floppy SE, 4 MB RAM, external 46 MB HD
  • Faramir, dual-floppy SE with "engineered" 80 MB internal HD!
  • Lillie, IIcx, 20 MB RAM, 80 MB HD
  • Jewel, Centris 610, 36 MB RAM, 350 MB HD
  • Blossom, IIvx, 8 MB RAM, 80 MB HD
  • Geronitus, IIvx with DayStar Turbo 040 accelerator card, 20 MB RAM, dual internal HD's
  • Tom Bombadil, Plus with Apple HD20, 4 MB RAM
  • Rose, Performa 637 CD, 16 MB RAM
  • Will Whitfoot, Classic II, 10 MB RAM, 80 MB internal HD (soon to be a mail server.)
  • Master Samwise, the 512k, is currently under the weather. A couple of evenings with Larry Pina's legendary book and a soldering iron, and he'll be feeling sprightly again soon!
  • Given away during the holidays: Frodo, Merry, Pippin, Pearl, Priscilla, and The Gaffer.

Most all are LocalTalked together with simple phone wire (need more phone wires!), able to print to a pristine LaserWriter Plus given to me by the same friend whose office caught a bad case of "upgrade-itis." Their loss, my rockin' crispy prints! I am getting people I don't even know calling me to "fix" their Macs. People who have been Mac users for years are asking me what to do when their Mac crashes. I've downloaded everything I could click on (and learned some hard but valuable lessons about Virus Protection Software!). I have sent Macs and MacStuff all over the globe, and have also received Mac Goodies from around the world, sent to me by others afflicted with Macoholism, just for love of the machine. I correspond regularly with fellow MacHeads in England and further.

I have been "assimilated" - and I love it.

To say that getting my first Macintosh changed my life might sound overly dramatic, but it's true. Macs came along at a time in my life when I was totally disillusioned about "career choices" and feeling like there was nothing I could do for a living that wouldn't (in the final analysis) cause some sort of harm to myself, someone else, or the planet in general. Yesterday, a lady smiled and handed me $80 for spending two hours helping her get to know her new iMac better. She was happy that I could tell her things she didn't know. She was happy I knew what I knew, and I was happy knowing that she appreciated that fact. A very "clean" exchange, and one that carried no "bad money vibes," and that totally rocks in this age of "dirty dollars!"

And guess what: after all is said and done, I still get to be a "Luddite" of sorts!

"G4s? We don' need no stinkin' G4s!"

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