Monday, July 17, 2006

Wunderkammer: 4. The Mac Plus

Wunderkammer: a series celebrating the almost lost...

I've been trying all evening to find the source of that saying 'Get them while they're young'. It's probably a bible verse that has been condensed by someone brainy and historical. I should know who, and if any of you know who it is, I'll be the first to slap my forehead with one hand and utter that precis of the 20th century: DOH!

Anyhoo, Macintosh got me young. When I was a teenager my family bought a Commodore 64 but did nothing more than play games with it. It seemed modern yet a bit clunky. When I got to university and discovered the Mac Plus (whole roomfuls of them!), I was sold. Forever.

Streamlined. Self-contained. SCSI-enabled. Grunty. (1MB of RAM! Swoon!) What more could a girl want? The Mac Plus was the longest-running Macintosh computer to be produced, for the grand total of four -- yes, that's FOUR years. None of that new-fangled in-built obsolescence here, thank you very... well, until the Classic, the SE and the Mac II family came along, anyway. Still, the Plus chugged alongside these models, all behaving themselves nicely until they were all swept away by the Quadra, a confusing line of numbered models and then boxes starting with G.

Like the dial action on an old telephone, the thing I remember most about the Mac Plus is the wait. You'd ask it to do something, and wait. And you'd be happy, because while you waited you could do other things, like read the next chapter of the primary source you were writing a report on. And because there was really nothing to compare it to, you weren't impatient, unless you were naturally an impatient person. These days I get cranky if the internet doesn't load Bloglines within a nanosecond. But then I remember my Mac Plus, and take a deep breath. I guess running a program like Macpaint or Word back then was like trying to download photoblogs with a small modem and a shared phoneline these days. Patience, my young paduwan, patience.

I can thank Macintosh for my career path to date. Wherever I worked (except, maybe, the taxi I drove for a while), there was a Mac tucked in the corner, just to keep all options open, I guess -- these were the days before cross-platform compatibility -- and I quite liked the open, friendly layout of the Mac user manuals. Reading manuals and being prepared to press any button without fear of ex- or im-plosions means you become the Office Expert when something goes wrong. Putting 'Technical Adviser' on any CV helps a lot. I've started having to do this recently with PCs, because my workplace has lost their faith in Macs and are switching over to the Dark Side. Of course, being an Art School, they'll probably never totally get rid of the Macs, but I'm prepared to be prepared. At home, as a designer, I'm sticking to the (admittedly much larger than a Plus) fruity box I know and love so well. Even if it is increasingly hard to tell the difference.

Actually, I did make a Mac implode once. I used to have a small job teaching a nice letterpress printer how to use a Macintosh so that he could make the transition in technology from metal type to photopolymer plate. He died rather suddenly and I was asked to sort out his computer files for his computer-illiterate widow. I backed everything up, and then was cleaning up the desktop when I accidentally pressed a particular keystroke combination and heard an awful tolling sound. When I described this sound over the phone to the Apple fixit dude, he told me that I'd triggered the Apple Death Chimes, and that I'd killed the computer. It was honestly one of the most traumatic moments of my life, and believe me, I've had a few. Now, whenever I tell this story people look at me askance, like cranky chickens or Cate Blanchett in The Fellowship of the Rings. They insist there's no such thing as the Apple Death Chimes. Well. In the process of researching this post, I found this:

The Macintosh II was the first Macintosh to have the Chimes of Death accompany the Sad Mac logo whenever a serious hardware error occurred.

HA! Sigh. I would thumb my nose gleefully at those doubting people, but I'm too overcome by regurgitated guilt. Made worse by the fact that said widow forgave me utterly, having no idea what an expensive beast I'd macslaughtered.

Apparently Mac Plus and Classic models are now very cool as retro objects. They have fan sites, and support groups. There's a site which suggests ways to keep your old Mac alive and useful. The best idea, one I would be tempted to try if I still had an early Mac carapace, is a MacQuarium. I guess, if you wanted to recreate a retro Mac look, the fishtank screensaver is easier to do than the flying toasters.

Cross-posted at Sarsaparilla, along with the other Wunderkammer I didn't cross-post!


Anonymous said...

My schoolteacher mother used to bring one home during holidays and it was all macpaint, macpaint, macpaint for me.

For another blast from the past, today I opened word in classic mode! Oh the laughs.

Then later I went and looked at the new macbooks - I like them, but an extra $300 to get it in black? - you must be kidding! At least they didn't call it the U2 Macbook.

Anonymous said...

The Jesuits...

Boysenberry said...

"Give me a child less than the age of 8 and we'll have the man for life" is how I remember the Jesuit quote.

Interesting thing being that the Nazis thought very similarly, and came up with the lead in organisations for the Hitler Youth.

Ampersand Duck said...

DOH! Thanks!

Ah, Macpaint. Years of my life wasted until I stumbled across Civilization. More years of my life wasted until my version of Civ was too old to load onto System X. Then I discovered blogging :)

girlprinter said...

Oh, I know the Chimes of Death well. It was my beloved PowerBook 100, and that was a sad, sad day. Surprisingly though, a couple of years later when my apartment was burned down by a crazy neighbour, I was going through partially burned boxes that had been stored in a cupboard and decided to plug in the slightly-singed laptop. It worked!

Zoe said...

Ducky don't you remember the grim intonation at the beginning of 7-Up "Give me a child until he is 7, and I will show you the man".

Jesuits are notoriously clever and all, but I think making girls into men is a bit much.