From Small Beginnings

Originally published 11 September 2000 as the 51st "My First Mac" column on Low End Mac.

It was sometime in 1988 — I don't remember for sure when, but I think it was autumn-ish — that my dad came home and announced we were getting a computer. I remembered thinking that would be really cool, but I didn't know anything about them, other than the little bit of playing with an Apple II-series making a robot move at school back in 1986 or so.

I do remember asking if it was going to be colour, and my dad said he hadn't wanted to spend twice as much (on a Mac II) to get colour. "Ah well," I thought, "No big deal."

So one day he brought home a Macintosh SE with a whopping 1 MB of RAM and a 20 MB hard disk, running System 6.0.2. After a little breaking-in period in which he familiarised himself with the computer, I finally got turned loose on it. That is to say, I played hunt-and-peck with the keys and typed up a few random school assignments.

After a year or two, I had progressed quite a bit, even to the point where I used the draw functions of Microsoft Works 2.00a in some letters I typed. (Yes, I really do remember the version.) I still didn't use the SE for much more than word processing, though.

Sometime in '93 or '94 we upgraded the RAM to 4 MB for the princely sum of $200 or so. (I think I've since bought about fifty times that much RAM for significantly less money.)

During my freshman year of high school, in the fall of 1994, I got really interested in the Periodic Table of the Elements. A couple of friends of mine had written a little program for the TI-85 graphing calculator that would enable you to enter an element number or name or whatnot and get a bit of information on the element. I took that concept a step further — well, a lot more than a step, really — and turned it into a nice point-and-click HyperCard stack. I think I must have spent all my free time freshman year in high school doing the research for that and getting it working, all on that SE.

Also around that time, the original Miniscribe hard disk died (probably due to stiction, to which many Miniscribes have succumbed; I didn't know enough at the time to give it a sufficient autopsy). We replaced it with a 160 MB hard drive for "just" $89. (That was a good deal in 1994-95! And 160MB — who could ever fill that up?) Soon after, in early 1995, we began to talk about replacing the SE with something better.

I did most of the research on that purchase, and I think I can credit my cover-to-cover reading of maybe thirty consecutive MacWarehouse, CDW, MacMall, MacZone, and MacConnection catalogs (that's 30 of each, not 30 total...) for a lot of my knowledge of Mac hardware of the era. We settled on a Power Macintosh 7200/90 after considering the options (and, briefly, even considering Windows boxes). Had I had a bit more foresight, I would have encouraged my dad to put out the extra $300 and get the 7500/100 — the 7200, with its complete lack of upgrades (the only PowerPC-based desktop Mac to bear this dubious distinction — even the Road Apple 5xxx and 62/63xx machines can be upgraded to G3s) was just not worth the small savings in the long run.

We ended up keeping the SE, mostly because my parents had too much work on it that they didn't want to back up, and because they wanted a second machine in case either of them need a computer at the same time I did. Funny how that works out — I can't remember either of them ever using the SE after we got the 7200. The SE now has an ethernet card (upgraded in the summer of 2000) in it and that wonderful 160 MB hard disk.

With a small fleet of some 25 Macintoshes in the house now and my PowerBook G3 as my main machine, it's easy to forget how it all got started. Every once in a while, though, it's nice to sit back and reflect on my Mac beginnings.

Where's my copy of Lode Runner and System 6?

copyright ©2000-2004 by Chris Lawson