Hi, I'm Nick. This is my blog. I'm a life-long unschooler living in New York. You can find more about me here.

I help run the Recurse Center (YC'S10).

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Happy Birthday, Macintosh

January 24, 2009

Today marks the 25th birthday of the original Macintosh. Ars Technica has a decent piece with various Ars editors reminiscing about their favorite Macs of all time. Reading the piece got me thinking about my own experiences with the Macintosh.

My history with the Mac goes back to 1988, when I was four years old. My father purchased a Mac Plus and, shortly thereafter, a LaserWriter Plus. I don't think I can actually remember the day he bought the Mac, but I have a distinct memory of the UPS truck stopping at the top of our driveway, and the deliveryman emerging with the rather unwieldy brown box that housed the LaserWriter.

I don't remember much about my first moments with the machine; my parents always tried to keep me away from screens at a young age. But I do know that I did manage to use it from time to time in my early years. I was probably six when I sat down with MacPaint and wanted to make a game. I wasn't sure how, until I discovered I could draw shapes -- what to my young eyes looked to be a helicopter -- which I could then select with the lasso tool. With monochrome pixels progressing clockwise around my drawing like digital ants, I could click and drag my creation and make it fly. I was hooked.

The next seminal moment came shortly thereafter, in the early 90s, when I raced upstairs with my oldest sister on her birthday to find a small and unremarkable cardboard box with a 3.5" floppy inside. She explained it was an online service called Prodigy, and that it allowed our Mac to connect to other computers around the world.

Flashforward to late '93 (or was it early '94?) and my father tells me that we'll likely be getting a new family computer (the Plus had grown rather long in the tooth, though he did continue to use it as his personal machine until late in the 90s when its 9" screen had a 3" viewable range). I was ecstatic, and felt like the day would never come. Finally, after a lengthy afternoon at Micro Center, we came home with a shiny new Macintosh Performa, a 6115CD, to be precise. This was the beginning of Apple's transition away from the 68k Macs to the PowerPC; it was also, despite ostensibly being a "family computer," the first machine I felt I owned.

I have countless memories from this point on -- of seeing Noah Wyle onstage as Jobs at MacWorld '99; of discovering HyperCard (oh, how I loved thee!) and sharing code with strangers on AOL message boards; of driving to Delaware with my mother to get the last blueberry iBook -- it may have looked like a toilet seat but it had a handle and no latch! -- from a CompUSA; of seeing New York for the first time with my dad, having an overpriced breakfast at 5am in midtown before getting in line for Jobs's keynote; of befriending the employees of my local Mac shop, who made me custom-length cables and copies of System 7.

Of flying to Cupertino with my mom for the Apple shareholders meeting, attended by a man from Dublin and another who had come from Nevada by way of his Harley and another that complained that the free apples provided at breakfast were not Macintosh apples; of meeting Fred Anderson and Avi Tevanian (who personally assured me that OS X would ship with a terminal application, despite the many rumors to the contrary) and Sal Soghoian; of seeing Woz speak my first semester of engineering school and getting to tell him that it was largely because of the Apple IIe that I was studying computer engineering; of starting my own private consulting firm to help people setup and troubleshoot their Macs and home networks.

Of analyzing every box on every page of every copy of MacMall, MacZone and MacConnection; of reading the monthly programming challenges in MacTech and wondering when I would be good enough to compete -- or even understand what the problems were really about; of upgrading to System 7.6, to 8.0, 8.5, 9.0, and then to Mac OS X Public Beta, and then 10.0, 10.1, 10.2, 10.3, 10.4, and 10.5, and every single incremental version in between; of going to launch parties for 8.0 (with "I Break for 8" bumper stickers), 8.5 (Sherlock!), 9.0 (better Sherlock!), and at least a couple releases of OS X.

Of coding late into the night until my mother would force me off the computer; of The Macintosh Toolbox and REALBasic and FutureBasic II and AppleScript and HyperTalk and GameMaker and demo versions of CodeWarrior and the first C code I ever saw; of watching every single keynote and webcast of Apple events for the past decade; of reading Crazy Apple Rumors and As the Apple Turns and all the other rumor sites; of the famous (?) "Back in Black" cover of MacAddict; of watching the community drama at the AppleInsider forums, and witnessing the bitter fork that gave way to AppleNova; of thinking that the iPod looked neat but expensive and that I'd likely never buy one; of reading rumors for years -- years -- of an Apple PDA, and finally -- finally -- watching the release of the iPhone; of standing in line for hours at the Fifth Avenue store to actually get mine.

Of being ridiculed for being a Mac user; of reading of Apple's imminent demise and "beleaguered" status; of wanting to strangle Apple's board of directors on a regular basis; of zapping the PRAM and rebuilding the Desktop File; of extensions conflicts and SCSI ID problems; of SimCity and Fate of Atlantis and Full Throttle and Sam & Max and Marathon and Dust; of LAN games of Bolo and WarCraft II and StarCraft; of writing $5 checks to shareware developers; of becoming part of a rich culture with its own history and mythology and celebrities and traditions.

Of hearing that glorious startup chime, looking at the glowing screen, and seeing a small blue face staring back at me, smiling.

Happy Birthday, Macintosh. Thanks for all the memories.