These are the computers of our lives...
As humans, we have a tendency to imbue objects with our own emotions and feel strongly about "things." Heck, when I was a child, I use to feel guilty if I didn't finish all the food on my plate. I use to apologize to my veggies as they went down the disposal. In fact, one time (around second grade) I felt so bad about not eating the steak my mother left me for dinner, that I "set it free" in the back yard. While I no longer apologize to my groceries, I do feel a slight tinge of emotion when I think of the computers that have passed in and out of my life.
I'd be willing to venture a guess that you, like me, have a pretty good history with computers. I'm sure you've owned a few machines in your time, but have probably had access to, or used many machines in your life. Each machine seems to impart a bit of history to us, and while many may become forgotten memories, I'm sure we all have a bunch of machines that changed our lives.
I've had a lot of computers. From growing up in a household with a stepfather who was an engineer, to my college days (both of them), to my 15+ year career in tech...I've seen a lot of machines come and go.
When reading this, think about your own experiences and what computers you've had that have had the most influence on who you are today. I'd love for you to share your stories in the comments section. My favorite will get a Med Hed T-shirt.
[Note: I owe a debt of gratitute to wikipedia and Apple-History.com for helping me look all of this stuff up. The images are also courtesy of those sites, but hosted here to save them the bandwidth.]
My first exposure to computers was the classic Apple II. I got my hands on these bad boys in 3rd grade. Remember the Oregon Trail? Our school was pretty lucky as our library had 6 or 7 of them and you could go and use them any time you liked.
In 1980, my stepfather brought home a TRS-80 Model II computer. I was 9 years old. No one that I knew had a home computer, and as a giant Doctor Who/Star Wars/Star Trek fan, just the idea that we had a computer...in our house...was amazing to me.
The first thing I learned to program was the ever entertaining:
10 My name is Alan
20 Goto 10
That never gets old!
The second thing I programmed was a Wargames simulator so I could nuke the state I was living in. Is 9 too young to be a nihilist?
Oh yeah. we're moving up in the world now. Our first "portable" computer. This bad boy was about 30 or 40 pounds of pure arm wrenching portability. One time when my stepfather was out of town, I packed this sucker up and took it to junior high. Everyone was impressed with the exception of my stepfather who grounded me. In retrospect this seems like a very minor infraction compared to taking out the Audi in 9th grade when he was also gone on business (and I almost got away with it if it weren't for those meddling parents).
This was the first computer I bought myself. It was 1989 and I was heading off to college as a music major, with an interest in composition/theory. I had been writing music since I was a small kid, and I was excited to go off to school and make music with my new studio.
This puppy had a 20MB external hard drive. I had Mark of the Unicorn's Performer, and an Emu Emax digital sampling keyboard (which had an internal 20MB hard drive).
School turned out to be a big disappointment as my teachers considered my interest in electronic music to be folly...as no serious composer would use a computer to make music.
I didn't last long there.
After dropping out of college and spending two years flying airplanes and helicopters (while managing a pizza place), I got a bee in my bonnet to buy a computer. I walked into a store that sold Macintosh computers and walked out $5,000 poorer with an Apple Mac IIvx. It was a pretty big deal because it was the first Mac built to house an internal CD-ROM drive, and the first time I had even seen one.
Through a chance encounter I ended up starting a computer repair and consulting company. In the early days I would often secretly peek into my repair bag at David Pogue's Mac for Dummies book to diagnose my clients problems.
"Ah yes...I think this is a problem with an extention...one moment while I look into my bag here....uh huh...yes definitely an extention."
[Note: many years later I had the great privilege to do R&D for the first two versions of David's Missing Manual: OS X book. How funny is that story arc?]
Within a year I was a Mac authorized VAR and Apple Authorized repair technician. And not long after that I was one of the leading digital video experts in the country.
These machines marked the introduction of Apple's new PowerPC chip and the speed jump from the old Motorola 68040 processors was amazing. For my general daily business I used the 6100. As for the 8500, I was building high-end animation and video systems based on these puppies. These units had the new PCI Bus architecture, which meant you could now load this unit with high-end video editing cards and SCSI cards for drive arrays. My entry level machines would cost you about $100k.
Hey, it's my first laptop. This was a nice step up because as someone who often was on the road servicing animation and movie studios, I use to have to carry tons and tons of floppy disks and whatnot. Finally I could travel with everything I needed in one place. It was also the first dual scan color screen in a Mac laptop.
This machine was also important because it marked the first time I got on the Internet, and that chance encounter is what got me started working in that field. Within months I was heading over to Australia, on my own dime, to beg Sausage Software (makers of the first commercial html editor - Hot Dog) for a job.
Oh yeah...it was also the first machine I had seen Internet porn on...in glorious 256 colors!!!
So after I left Australia, I went to work for a number of companies that used PCs. During this time, I had a number of machines that I couldn't name if my life depended on it. However, one did stick in my mind, and that is a machine I had a love/hate relationship with for 2 years.
The last PC I owned was the Dell WebPC
"The computer was an early entry into a class of systems known as legacy-free. According to Dell, "Legacy free refers to the absence of serial, parallel and PS/2 ports, as well as any DOS capability."
I was excited because this was my first machine with a DVD drive, and it wasn't too shabby in the looks department either. Within the first week I owned the machine, the hard drive failed. Dell's support was unbelievably crappy. I mean really really bad. I went around and around with them about getting the machine fixed, and finally I just went out and bought a new drive and fixed it myself.
Then the fan went out.
And then came a succession of fatal exceptions...
And my final straw came when I spent three hours trying to get a plug-and-play printer working on it. Finally I thought..."when I had a Mac, I never had these problems."
So, after a 4 year hiatus from Macintosh, I had an iMac land in my lap, like manna from heaven.
The dot com bust was starting to show it's ugly head, and one of my clients was forced to pay me in computers...7 computers to be exact. I was the immediate owner of 7, almost new, candy iMacs. I kept two and sold the rest on ebay.
Once again needing a laptop, I picked up this puppy. Some people mocked this computer for it's seemingly silly look, but I gotta tell ya...this was my favorite computer of all. This thing was bulletproof. You could scratch it, drop it, run it over with a Sherman tank...and it just kept on running. And...I gotta say...I loved the built in handle. It was also my first computer with built in 802.11...and that was an amazing change from having a 20' phone cord across the floor from the wall to the sofa.
Eventually the screen cracked, but I was able to Frankenstein a newer green top to the bondi blue bottom. Hence, the two-toned green and blue iBook was born.
The big deal about this machine was it was my first DVD burner...so finally I could play with iMovie. Remember this was when burnable DVD's were like $5 a pop...so when you burned a coaster...you were pissed!
And while having this burner was a really big deal at the time, it is funny now how infrequently I actually use a DVD burner now. Everything I do now is a digital file that I post, or throw onto my media center drive.
I like to give this machine props for having the nicest screen of any laptop I've owned. As I'm writing this on a 13" screen, I still long for that screen...but I wanted to move to Intel and I didn't want to spend another $3k.
This is the machine I use now. Even though the screen is a skimpy 13.3 inches, the glossy finish is nice. Loaded with 2GB of RAM, it is also much faster than my old PowerPC processor. I think my favorite feature with this machine is having the Intel processors and being able to run Windows...and just about any other variant OS.
I actually use Windows pretty often to load maps on my GPS or add tracks to my Sansa MP3 player.
With all the chatter about the Apple TV device, I've had a Mac Mini serving as my entertainment hub for about a year now. Connected to the LCD TV, iTunes automatically downloads my favorite shows, and I also use it as a DVD player. It is also customized six ways from Sunday...playing almost any video format on the planet. It also works as a great video server to the other 5 Macs in the house.
I do have a machine not mentioned above that is another favorite of mine. I have a 1GHz Powerbook G4 that is currently running as a wiki server. That machine has been running 365/24/7, for 4 years. In fact I hardly even think about it since it just works. In a way, I take it for granted, but I'd certainly feel a pinch of regret if it ever died.
So what are the machines of your life? What stories do you have? Don't forget to leave your email address if you want to win a t-shirt.
Also...sign up to be a Med Hed as I'll be giving away lots more great stuff in months to come. It's free!