Saturday, January 25, 2014

Happy Anniversary, old friend!

Thirty years ago, I bought my first computer.  Now I had been using computers for several years prior, but this is the first time I plunked down my own precious cash to buy one myself.  Most of my college friends had either held on to hand-me-down Apple //'s or bought a piece-of-shit IBM PC knockoff, but I had the opportunity to jump on a new train.  It was a risky train, because this computer didn't have a color monitor, couldn't be opened up and extended, and it looked completely different than anything else. It was a Mac 512k (big upgrade from the original 128k!), and I was going to be the first in my friend-group to own one.

I remember that even with a student discount, it cost an arm and a leg.  When I brought it into work to show my boss and colleagues, they all laughed.  "It's cute!"  I remember having to rationalize my decision and explain to the less-than-technical executives that even though it looked simplistic and cartoonish, it was very, very sophisticated.  I had to explain that even though the monitor was black and white (and small), the pixels were square!  You can imagine that in a world of corporate desktop computers that all looked alike (a rectangular box with a disk drive in front and a monitor on top), my little Mac looked like a Fisher-Price toy. But I was ok with it, and as the months passed, people started to think that maybe I wasn't such an idiot.

I also remember the first piece of software I wrote on that Mac.  Well, maybe I'm forgetting some boring stuff that I did because I had to, but my first fun little project was a game called "Wheel of Inebriation".  You see, back then, as today, Pat Sajak and Vanna White were on TV and quite popular.  So I made a graphical multi-player game that was like Wheel of Fortune, but instead of dollar amounts on the wheel, the game had you consume various amounts of inebriants.  It was basically Pass-Out meets Wheel of Fortune. My game had a little animated Pat and Vanna who would walk around on screen as the wheel was spinning. I was quite proud.

Over the years, my Mac didn't scale well.  The external hard drive was expensive.  And the floppy drives were finicky.  One day, the monitor didn't come on.  By that time, I had other computers, so the Mac was really a back up computer for basic document editing.  Instead of putting money into getting it fixed, I simply packed it up in its padded carrying case, and stowed it away.

Given all the recent talk of the 30th anniversary, I decided to dig the dusty old heap out of the garage and relive the excitement of unboxing.  Plus, I needed to show my youngest what personal computers used to look like.  So here's my 30 year unboxing experience.

The handy-dandy carrying case, cleaned of cobwebs

The remaining components, unboxed

I forgot how chunky the mouse and keyboard were!

Mac 512k, meet my MacBook Pro

So what's next for this old friend?  That's a good question.  I'm not going to attempt to get it running again (and I don't have the code for Wheel of Inebriation anymore, so what's the point?), but it would be fun to bring it into the Genius Bar just to see their reactions. I'm thinking of gutting it and putting some cool lights and speakers inside and use it as a portable sound system.  Or maybe a terrarium.  Or maybe something else.  Any ideas?

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