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ATPM 17.12
December 2011


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Segments: Slices from the Macintosh Life

by Dave Trautman,

Getting to Know My First Macintosh

As a staff member in a university, I had unwritten privileges where I could use any available Macintosh for writing: reports, printing scripts, checking e-mail, and doing occasional drawings. Although I did not require an appointment, I was expected to be very unobtrusive if a class was held in the lab. I was always expected to give up my lab seat if a student needed a machine.

Having already learned to use an Apple II, IIe, and even having a passing acquaintance with an Apple IIgs, I was curious about these new machines. So, eventually, I found myself sitting at the clackety keyboard of a Mac Plus with 512KB of RAM and a noisy 40 MB hard drive. And then I had to learn to type on the clackety keyboard. I had to learn what hidden options there were in the Apple key (Command key) and which programs had secrets to be discovered under the Option key. There were no Fn keys like on some of the IBM XT machines being used in the faculty offices. And there were no plastic overlays to tell you which key does what. It was just a simple machine with a mouse to take over where the keyboard left off.

I had to teach myself how to use the mouse. There was an animated HyperCard tutorial which shipped with early Macs where a person—who was new to the concept of clicking, dragging, moving, and double-clicking—might get some guidance, practice, and skill development before diving headlong into the “graphical user interface.” I still remember putting letters on the marquee one-by-one and getting things to change by clicking them two times very quickly.

For me, the movement of the mouse was the reverse of what I thought it should be. If I wanted to move down the screen I instinctively tried to move the mouse up. It wasn’t until much later where programs developed a “hand” cursor for sliding graphics or screens in the direction of the mouse. I was forced to learn how dragging the square on the side of the window downward would move the “virtual paper” upward. It only took about a week before the side of my brain which normally dominates finally gave up fighting the way the interface was asking me to scroll.

For anyone who types 70 WPM on a manual typewriter, the transition to a computer includes similar frustrations with latency and disk access freezing. My keyboarding speed very often outstripped the speed of the line cursor to complete my sentences. Any number of things might slow down the progress of the cursor across a line, and sometimes I found myself stopping just to let the cursor catch up. I knew enough about 8-inch and 5-inch floppy drives to appreciate the speed and capacity of a hard-shell 800KB double-sided floppy diskette. And I knew enough about hard disk drives on mainframe systems to appreciate the marvel of having such enormous capacity right there in a plastic box directly under the machine.

Mere months after establishing myself as a power user of a Mac Plus, there appeared a Mac SE with two internal floppy drives. It was eminently faster, and I was certain the screen was better (although not bigger). It allowed me to clone a diskette in no time, and it eventually had a hard drive installed right inside.

About this time I was seeing (in MacWEEK magazines around the faculty) a new Macintosh profile, which was touted as the next generation of the device. The Macintosh II boasted NuBus slots, internal math chips (PMMU) for faster numerical calculations (which translated into being able to process video), and a much bigger display. Here, finally, was the machine I was prepared to lay down real money to own. Here was the machine I knew would do the things I was looking for from a computer. And so I ordered one.

I owned a desk full of set squares, a professional compass set, t-squares, and mechanical pencils. A drafting table took up valuable space in my apartment. These tools had served me for years in my production work designing award-winning sets and diagramming complicated lighting layouts. When the computer lab coordinator learned I was using MacDraw to do layouts and floor plans, he quickly installed a copy of Canvas so I could do more professional drawings. Once I was able to create a line—to scale—with the measurement already indicated alongside, I felt like I was standing at the gates to heaven itself.

But the seduction of Macintosh did not reach its peak until the release of the Mac II.

I say seduction because I believe that’s what was going on. Like when you think back to a girlfriend from decades ago you can think of only a few of the things which attracted you to her. I was becoming aware of the seduction only after I was hopelessly besotted. From the delight produced by the startup “chime” and the glee of installing a HAL9000 phrase as my system beep (so the machine would speak its warning: “I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that”) served to build a foundation in the relationship I was creating between me and my machine. As with all new romances I had dreams for the future.

With my new machine I could install NuBus cards for capturing and editing video. I could have extra power from Radius’ Rocket acceleration. I could put Ethernet into the machine, and I could add large external SCSI drives to the back. This machine was capable of very good colour quality, but it would be a couple of years before I saw it because I had to scale back to a B&W monitor when the price of the machine rose between the ordering and the delivery.

I had cleared a place in our apartment where the machine would live, and I got a pair of metal stands so the machine could sit vertically beside my desk. How my girlfriend put up with me I don’t know. It must have seemed as though a newborn had arrived, and I just could not stop talking about my new baby to anyone who would listen. Once it finally arrived I was in an altered state for days. Fortunately, I had a new circle of enthusiasts I could share my delight with. Many of them were also new Mac owners.

I don’t know how many other new owners of a Mac II were attempting to operate it from a floppy, but I was foolish enough to think it was simply a matter of patience and planning to be able to boot the machine from a diskette and then work with MS Works from a pair of diskettes. You can never know the mind-altering experience using a Mac with only floppy drives is—if you have never tried it. It was, quite frankly, a budget decision to buy a Mac without a hard drive. They were expensive. It became glaringly obvious in a short time that I was not going to manage anything more than simple documents by this method. It was in that first month of using my Mac II with only floppies when I resolved the most important decision I ever made regarding my future with computers.

Nothing I buy for the computer will ever come from the family budget. That was my creed. If the machine was going to get a peripheral, a printer, external drive, colour monitor, more software, and a video card—I would have to find a way to make the machine pay for it. It is, even today, the best decision I made about all my home computers.

Shuttling floppies between work and home I managed to write and print a consulting report for a small business regarding a video installation which paid me enough to order up a nice 100 MB SCSI external hard drive, more RAM, and a printer. Surely it would take me a couple of years to fill that drive with my documents, diagrams, reports, and other things. I also quickly decided the future would include upgrading the floppy drives to accommodate the 1.4 MB FDHD diskettes. I was quite proud of installing those by myself. Now I was able to read DOS formatted disks.

I was not deterred when I had to learn spreadsheets. I had attempted such work on an Apple IIe and was familiar with accounting practices through my father. It made complete sense to me to have an “entry” box and then see the results in columns and rows. I had been schooled in ledgers and bookkeeping so I was wary, but unafraid, of scaling the heights of numerical calculations, formulae, and tabulation, for these were the things a computer makes all the more efficient, accurate and capable.

I learned to use Kermit to access our MTS mail system through a Robotics 1200 modem. Anyone off-campus was rarely using e-mail. The faculty’s AppleTalk network slowed to a crawl on a daily basis. The chance of a cursor completely freezing up were high enough to quickly train me to hit “Command-Save” after each paragraph. For me it was a simple conversion of the carriage return arm of my manual typewriter. When you were done with a paragraph you hit Save like you might with a double-Return on a typewriter. It was a way of saying “that part’s done” with the Command key.

This isn’t to say I have never lost my writing.

I too (like so many before me) have worked for hours on a project, dutifully saving with confidence, only to find the file itself corrupted or diskette failure staring back at me. I quickly became one of those people walking the halls with a little box of floppies containing my current and past work as I ventured to and from the lab. I was never a backpack kind of person and I did not use a briefcase—unless I travelled. But I did eventually purchase a disk-wallet to hold my current data in.

The world was a new place once I owned a hard drive. The response of my Mac II was wonderful. The saves were instantaneous, and the ability to just keep working without interruption was a relief to say the least. I still kept the habit of saving at every paragraph even when it was a short little blip of the watch-icon-cursor instead of the grinding of a floppy in the drive slot.

Backing up important files from the hard drive onto floppies was a drudgery I resolved to put up with. I would run Leopard (a backup utility) and take all my newest work and put it on the 70 or more floppies I had. My wife still remembers hearing the sound of the eject motor from the next room for each disk I had to take out and put in during some 60–90 minutes it took to do a backup. I was not yet using my machine to edit video or make 3D objects, but it was allowing me to work on writing projects, which eventually paid for an Apple Personal LaserWriter.

At first I tried to use another printer, but I was quickly plunged into the deep end of incompatible drivers and systems. This was a world in which I knew my friends with PCs were already familiar. My friends with PCs were constantly opening up their machines and moving cards around, changing connections, writing BIOS instructions, and generally being home-mechanics to their PC. I was told my printer would easily connect to my Mac II and print lovely high-quality text and images. But it never printed anything but a test sheet. Only after four trips up to the store and back with different instructions did I learn how the operating system I was using on my Mac II was older than the system required for using this printer (my first exposure to the upgrade treadmill). Well, that printer went back into the box and I brow-beat the owner into taking it back; having proven their salesperson misled me about its compatibility. Then I ordered a $6,000 LaserWriter from Apple.

I had, by this time, invested in a number of software products. I was well into the shareware community, and was being advised by other Mac users which online BBS to be a member of. A year or so later I switched from MS Works to ClarisWorks when it appeared, and I never looked back.

I learned to build a flat database using ClarisWorks. I made it a project for my upcoming wedding. All the budget planning, bookings, scheduling, mailing lists, confirmation lists, gift lists, and “thank you” mailings were done using the database, and taught me so much about properly structuring data and “chunking” parts and designing reports for printing out labels and mail-merging. This computer was a part of my working life as well as becoming a standard part of my home life.

When my son was born, I worked from home on a year’s leave. I spent many hours and days on the machine with my baby son asleep in a sling across my chest. He quickly became comfortable with my keyboarding and would fall into a deep sleep any time I started writing. Later I worried that when he would be in school learning to “keyboard” he might fall asleep at his machine due to the conditioning I was laying down.

It was from ordering RAM from a company in Texas that introduced me to a “document processor” program which soon became my all-time favourite writing tool. FullWrite Professional arrived on a small set of floppies with my RAM upgrade SIMM chips. At the time it was published by Ashton-Tate and, throughout its convoluted history, was serially owned by a number of companies. It ended up a victim of very poor technology journalism when few reviewers at the time cared to explore its potential, instead complaining how it required a full megabyte of RAM just to run.

Using FullWrite (and eventually upgrading through each version) I was able to generate enough income from my computer to pay for my house. So, the little pack of software which came free from the RAM people ended up being the tool with which I started a family, bought a house, and changed careers.

My Mac II served me faithfully for 10 full years. I was one of those people who would prefer to add to, enhance, upgrade, or build on to my machine than replace it. Eventually I had two large internal hard drives, two Radius Rocket cards, an Ethernet card with a 10Base-T dongle, an external drive, an Iomega Jaz cartridge drive, a large NEC colour monitor, and a box full of software. I was never able to upgrade the processor beyond the basic speed, but my needs were easily managed those first years.

This wild romance matured into a comfortable steady-state. I was deeply committed and faithful to making it work. In those final few years I was seeing so many of my colleagues buying PC after PC and shedding them for even more speed and features later on. I felt proud to have leveraged my investment for so long. I was never interested in the next sexy thing to grab my eye. I was already in a permanent relationship and happy to stay that way.

Eventually my desk at work came to support a PowerBook Duo portable machine with a docking station.

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