I've been wanting to write this post for quite some time and today seems as good a day as any. I'm currently in transit from Boston to New York for the weekend on my new favorite form of transportation, the LimoLiner. High speed Internet, power ports, satellite television, big comfortable seats - now I understand why John Madden rides around the country in one of these things. Yeah, it's still a bus, but with a street price of $550,000 it's a damn nice one. Oooh, they're bring around the snacks!
So I bought an iPhone last Sunday. In and of itself, this really wouldn't be that big a deal for me, if it weren't for the fact that it ended my 10 year Apple embargo. And that would also not be a big deal, were it not for the fact that I was once the most insane, stark-raving Apple fanatic to walk the face of this earth. For a period of time I even considered getting an Apple tattoo. Seriously.
This is a story that goes back a good 25 years and covers several stages of my life. My first computer was not an Apple. That distinct honor goes to the Timex-Sinclair ZX-81, a rather nifty device for its time. It featured membrane keys not all that dissimilar to those you would find on the front of a contemporary microwave, which served double-duty as letters and BASIC commands, meaning that "G" was also "GOTO." Like my subsequent machine, the TI-99/4A, any programs you wrote had to be saved on audio cassettes via a tape recorder. I still have a cassette lying on a bookshelf scrawled with names of my earliest programs, each one identified with start and end tape counter numbers so I could locate them to open. The TI-99/4A was a somewhat bulkier beast than the Timex-Sinclair, but still portable enough that I was able to fashion a custom hard-shell carrying case from one of father's old briefcases. But none of these were an Apple II, my childhood ideal of computing perfection.
For most of my childhood my mother worked for our weekly home town newspaper, acting in almost every capacity at some point during her tenure. The paper was a labor of love for those involved, and managed to maintain a consistently high degree quality integrity up until just a couple years ago, when it was sold the media conglomerate responsible for New England's garbage tabloid, The Boston Herald, at which point it became, well what you would suspect given its ownership. In the early days of the Harvard Post, everything was done on CompuGraphics typesetters, massive blue monstrosities offering primitive word processing capabilities and basic archival capabilities via massive 8-inch floppy disks. However, the real strength of these devices was their ability to output high quality type at a before the availability of laser printers through a process that transferred type as photographic projections on to long, narrow rolls of special paper. After being run through some manner of chemical cocktail, these became the individual article columns which were used in the layout of the individual pages sent to the printer in the predawn hours each Thursday morning.
During one of the rare periods of time that the Post found itself with expendable income, someone made the decision to purchase an Apple II, and later for some unknown reason, an Apple III. Perhaps it was lure of VisiCalc, or an overly optimistic belief that this machine could do the same job as the CompuGraphics machine, in a fraction of the space and without the need to dispose of hazard chemicals. This would have been a difficult task for the Apple II, if no other reason than a lack of lower case letters. Whatever the intent, I was the primary, if not sole user of the device, which I dutifully visited each and every afternoon after school until my mother was ready to go home.
My original dream machine
Software was hard to come by in those days, as the BBS scene was primitive, long distance phone calls expensive, and with 300 baud representing state-of-the-art in communications, file transfers were a maddeningly slow process, even by the standards of the time. But with the built in BASIC capabilities, there was plenty of opportunity to write your own software. Of course, this was a process that required a certain degree planning and linear thinking due to the fact that AppleSoft BASIC lacked a renumber function, resulting in programs that quickly became a mess of GOTO statements.
Eventually, however, someone realized that keeping me entertained was not the most effective use of the paper's resources, and the decision was made to sell the machine. My mother tried to break it to me gently, but despite her best efforts, I still cried myself to sleep that night.
To this day I'm not sure why this machine made an impression on me that other failed to match, but from my first encounter I was Apple obsessed. I don't think my parents quite understood the attachment, especially my father who, attempting to fill the void left by departure of "my" beloved machine was making arrangements to get me my very own DEC Rainbow, only to discover that I was about as interested in this clearly superior piece of hardware as I was in getting a dollhouse. At that point my father finally succumbed and bought me a used Apple II+ with a mountain of floppies loaded with what seemed at the time like every piece of software available. I couldn't have been happier.
If my allegiance ever in question, any and all doubt vanished on the night of January 30th, 1984 when, at 11 years old, I became the original Mac Fanboy.
To be continued...