I’m not a person who tends to throw things out. (Michael, I can hear you laughing from all the way over here. Please pick yourself off the floor. You’re excused.) But lately I have had the need and the opportunity to go through my possessions and decide what truly needs to stay and what can go on its merry way to the trash bin (broken toys), the recycling pile (six-year-old shredded utility bills), or a new happy home (so long, dear Olympia manual typewriter!).
Now my surroundings are becoming more of a reflection of all my interests, and I’ve decided to enhance one of those interests with a conscious effort towards a minor-league collection of Macintoshes.
In 1988 I bought (with the assistance of my then-future-mother-in-law’s signature on the Apple Credit application) a Macintosh SE. It was a thing of glory that came with System 6.0.7, and I souped it up as much as I could. It had a whole 1 megabyte of RAM. Instead of a standard Apple 20 megabyte hard drive, it had a 45 megabyte hard drive shoehorned in there. Instead of the standard keyboard, I bought a DataDesk extended keyboard that had the same layout as the IBM PC with which everyone was familiar. (My roommate, a paper science and engineering major, especially liked this whenever she needed to borrow it to write up a report.) I had planned to buy an optical mouse (it worked via a special reflective mouse pad), but the store was out of those when I went shopping, so I had the standard mouse. And I bought the first of many Hewlett-Packard printers to go with it, a DeskJet whose model number I don’t remember. Somewhere along the line I picked up a 1200 baud modem, and I was good to go. No, there was no Internet yet, not that I knew how to get to — but there were university bulletin boards where we hacked into each others’ secret forums, moderated discussion groups of all flavors, and generally had fun outgeeking each other.
Several Macs later, one stupid day I sold that SE back to a computer store. I don’t know what brought me to that day, why I thought it was a good idea for even a second, or even how much money I made on the deal. It couldn’t have been much at all. But I must have been convinced that since I couldn’t upgrade it and keep it current, it wasn’t worth keeping around. WHAT was I thinking? I should have kept it. It was a fine computer and I had many good memories associated with it.
Since then I’ve hung on to each old Macintosh (my mother once chided me, saying there was no such thing as an “old” computer), each tired printer, each set of power cords and A/V cables, every mouse. Michael once teased me (don’t think I can’t HEAR you back there. I said you were EXCUSED) that I had a “Macseum” in the making. And now that I have cleared a little bit of space, I’m starting to develop that Mac Museum concept a bit. Thoughtfully this time.
Last weekend I was killing time by trolling eBay in the “vintage computers” category. The existence of this category on eBay is what makes it an extremely good thing that I can never remember my eBay account name and password, or I would have already purchased a somewhat random nameplate from a UNIVAC. (Just $7.50! It’s a piece of history!)
Thinking locally, in large measure because of the shipping charges needed to make sure a $75 computer could make it to me all the way from Texas, or Florida, or [gulp] California, I turned to Craigslist and found such a deal. Within an hour’s drive was a Macintosh Plus that needed a new home. It worked, and it came with all the parts, plus software (on 3.5-inch diskette) and manuals. And… the seller would throw in a Macintosh Performa 6300 as a bonus. It worked too, and also came with software (on CD-ROM) and manuals.
I went with my teenage son to pick it up, and we were both thrilled. I can’t quite put words to why he was so excited to ride along with his mother to go pick up a couple of old computers, but for me it was a rediscovery of my original love for the Macintosh. Macs were not the first computers I had ever used or owned, but they were the first ones that worked intuitively for me, and the first ones that seemed to have personalities. I wrote on them, tried to teach composition on them, and eventually learned to fix them.
I set up the new computers and took a look around. In one room I had three Macs. In other I had seven. And upstairs…. four iMacs, donated by a friend? I had lost count. They were buried in the closet of a room shared by two very untidy boys, and I’d have to step on quite a few Legos to verify that number. Better keep it vague.
Mind you, other folks have significantly more money, time, and space invested in their Macintosh collections than I ever will. I have seen pictures of racks and racks full of computers that would give you chills. Full garages. Full basements. I’m personally hoping to have working Macs that serve as 90 percent décor, 10 percent “It’s time to play Duck Hunt!” And some of the models on my to-find list are rare enough that I wouldn’t insist they be anything better than a clean doorstop. That includes the original 128K Mac, as well as items like the Mac XL, the Lisa, and the Macintosh Portable, a 16-pound shoulder-stretcher from 1987. They would just be cool to have.
And look at this SE — a one-of-eight prototype in a clear plastic case, designed for airflow studies!
While I was researching the technical specifications on the new Macs I’d brought home, I noticed a value called the “Gestalt ID.” This is a whole-number ID given to each distinct release of Macintosh. The original 128K Macintosh has a Gestalt ID = 1. My new old Mac Plus has a Gestalt ID = 4. The Performa 6300 has a Gestalt ID = 42. In real life, it was used to call certain sets of programming functions. For my purposes, it’s like a checklist that writes itself. And no, I don’t feel a need to collect them all. But a showcase of good examples of each of the early Compact Macs would be something to see. I might even sell off some of the mid-range Macs to fund the quest for the early survivors.
So Friday afternoon, I have a date. A date to drive to Monona and purchase a Macintosh SE FDHD. Three down, ten to go.