✱ Happy 30th Birthday Mac - Here's My Story
Today is the day that the Mac turns 30, and it has changed my life. There's a chance it might sound lame to you, or pretentious or whatever, but It really doesn't matter. It's my story. I am and have always been a computer nerd, and am proud to have been a Mac nerd specifically. I was rooting for the company when it seemed like everyone had given up and was using Windows; when people were saying it was on its last leg and about to die. They started in a garage. I always believed in the little underdog company called Apple and I still love them like I always have. Here's my Macintosh journey through the years.
I first started using Apple computers before the Mac. My dad bought our family an Apple ][e with the green monochrome Apple monitor. We added a couple of floppy disk drives after that (for expansion!). He learned BASIC programming on it and taught me some stuff. I was in the 3rd or 4th grade. It was amazing. I learned to draw on the screen by programming coordinates and drawing green vectors from one to the next. A friend of mine had an Apple ][c that I was super-envious of because it was so damn cute. He and I would draw 1-bit versions of Thompson Twins and Depeche Mode vinyl album covers all weekend long when we didn't have other homework. We'd print them out on dot-matrix printers and hang them on the wall. (Also, remember Artillery? Oregon Trail? Karateka? Making "Happy Birthday Mom" dot-matrix banners in Print Shop?)
Later in the 5th grade I bought a Commodore 64 at Toys R Us with my allowance. I hooked it and its enormous disk drive up to a 13" color television. I learned to program on it as well with the help of a book and made a video game. Later that year I remember going to Egghead with my dad and saw the Commodore 128 and an Amiga. The Amiga was unbelievable with its demo of a 3d red and white bouncing ball in a room. Every time it hit the ground or wall it made a sound, spun and deformed a bit; that's how I remember it anyway. 3d graphics? Damn.
My first experience with the Mac was with my grandfather's Macintosh 128k and Mac Paint. Using a mouse to control what was happening on the screen was like an out-of-body experience, especially for a kid like me who loved to draw. It was nuts. He also had an Apple printer that was quiet compared to the Epson dot-matrix one we had at our house.
It wouldn't be until I went to college that I finally bought my own Mac. It was one of the first of the PowerPC generation, a Power Macintosh 7100. I bought it in my second year in 1994, and used it for 2 years in architecture school and the first software title that was specially coded to take advantage of the PowerPC chip that I purchased was FormZ, a 3d modeling program that I still use today for my design work. I was one of 2 people that did any kind of 3d modeling in second year studio, all self-taught because at most all the school offered was 2d AutoCad.
After I had upgraded the RAM from 16mb to 64mb for about $1200(ouch) on the tailgate of my friend's Toyota pickup truck in the architecture parking lot at school, I overclocked the processor with a "crystal" that clipped on to the built-in one to take it from 66MHz to 80MHz. It was so hard to get in the case to do the upgrade that I cut myself on a thin, razor-sharp piece of metal inside. I also added several external SCSI drives like my SyQuest 44 and 540mb hard drives that I built from parts at the local computer fair. Later I had a SCSI Zip drive and even a 1x CD burner. I learned FormZ, Strata3d, Page Maker, Quark XPress, PowerCADD, Photoshop and even After Effects. That was the first computer I ever got online with. It was Aol, and I got mail! I could even TelNet into the VAX at Cal Poly from home and talk to other people on the school BBS.
I sold that one to buy a Mac clone (sacrilege or interesting twist?) - a Power Computing PowerTower Pro 225. It was so freaking fast. Paired with an enormous 17" NEC monitor (CRT of course) I was at the top of the personal computing game with a machine that was faster than anything Apple itself made. I mean, it was no Daystar Genesis, but it was fast. That one again was upgraded several times by me over a couple of years. I remember stringing an extension cord from the architecture building at Cal Poly out into the courtyard the morning of my thesis review rendering animations in Electric Image inside my dad's conversion van. It finished rendering and I played those animations just a little while later as I gave my final presentation ever in architecture school.
Out in the real world after graduating, working at an architecture firm unfortunately meant working with Windows PC's. I learned Microstation for CAD work, which luckily had a Mac version that I bought at the campus bookstore so I could draft at home. Eventually the company I worked for (HMC Architects) bought a Powerbook G3 that I could do web development on as well as create lots of panoramic photography using QTVR Authoring Studio, an amazing piece of software Apple had created for immersive 360 degree photos. I did some amazing stuff on that machine - the company's first three websites, Macromedia Director interactive CD ROMs, and 3d walkthroughs in FormZ & Electric Image. The computer had a removable CD ROM drive that could be replaced with a second battery.
When I left that job, I had lots of free time because I became a freelance 3d modeler and animator. I decided to go up to Macworld with a friend of mine, Ryan Beck. We stayed at a friend's house in Berkeley from our old Boy Scouts days. He was nice enough to take us into Moscone Center on his way to work in the city the next morning, and we drooled all day long. Apple released the blue & white PowerMac G3 tower that day. I bought one, of course, happy to be back in the Apple family with my own Apple-branded tower. This was probably my first Jony Ive design, and it was beautiful. It was also the first Mac I ever loaded OS X onto, which reinvented the modern operating system. I was an early adopter of digital video editing and later that year at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) show in Vegas I bought the very first release of Apple's Final Cut Pro. $1000 was an incredible value for such an amazing piece of software.
That was later replaced with a PowerMac G4 500 that I used for many many years. It was the first Mac I had with a DVD RAM drive, which was a super high density cartridge drive for archives. I replaced that drive in the future with a regular DVD burner which I made many movies on over the years. I used it for animation mainly doing animation projects for Discovery Channel and the History Channel. Our band also recorded all of our early material on that computer in my garage.
While I still had that tower for recording my band, I bought a Titanium G4 Powerbook 500. It was as fast as my tower, but in a tiny little portable package. Man, that computer would get HOT. But it was beautiful, so it was all worth it. This was the first portable computer that anyone could edit full-res Final Cut Pro digital video on. That was a big deal back then. One day my two dogs were chasing each other through the house and caught the power cord. The computer flipped upside-down off the dining room table onto the stone slate floor and the screen shattered. I died a little that day. After taking a very long walk which saved my dog's lives, I came back to examine the damage. It turned out that the rest of the computer was fine (a complete miracle falling from 4' up), so I ended up taking it completely apart. I looked up all the parts online, learned what they were, and started selling them on Ebay for more than the machine was worth whole. That was truly a victory in the midst of defeat.
I replaced that laptop with another one, and used it mainly for teaching at Cal Poly. It was a 12" white G4 iBook and I loved that little computer. It was the perfect portable form factor. I ended up selling it to my brother-in-law who needed a computer for school, and I moved up to a white Core Duo MacBook. This was my first Intel-based Mac, and it was also the first Mac I had with a glossy screen. It took over as my teaching notebook and it could handle anything I was throwing at it - ArchiCad, Photoshop, web design and more.
This was about the time I went to work for Apple at the Victoria Gardens store. I was one of the 23 original people that opened the store (#94), and was so happy to be working for such a great company. That's another story for another time however. This part of the story is about deep employee discounts, and I splurged by buying a PowerMac dual core g5 and a 23" Apple Cinema Display. Finally I had the power of a super computer (at the time) in my house. It was so fast... but it had many problems. The logic board kept failing so right before the warranty expired, they replaced it with the first quad core Intel-based PowerMac for free. In other words, they completely blew me away with their generosity. I only sold that computer last year using it nonstop for 7 years, and I still got $700 for it. So basically I bought a single computer at a 25% discount, and used it for 10 years. Do your computer dollars last that long? :)
Which brings me to my current Mac - a diminutive Mac mini quad core i7 with 16gb RAM. It's about 1/20th the size of my tower and is way faster. No, it's not the most badass computer Apple makes, but it's some serious performance in a very small package. It will be a great computer for my kids when I upgrade next, probably to a MacBook Pro sometime. Who knows...
As you can see I have a long history with Macs, and I love them because of what they've enabled me to accomplish - things I probably would've only dreamed about otherwise. There's been an Apple in my house since the third grade. They are a big part of my life. I'm so glad that Apple invented the personal computer and that I've been able to go on this journey with them because it has informed who I am today. This may sound like a story about hardware and software, bits, bytes and megahertz. But in reality it's a story about how the Macintosh really has been a bicycle for my mind.
Just this week I found that my iMac at work is dying after heavy use for 4 1/2 years. I was offered a PC that's "way faster" than the replacement iMac I want. I looked puzzled at him. Why would I want that? He just doesn't understand.
This is my story. There's no way I'm going to change its course now.