When I was a kid (and I finally feel just about justified to refer to my childhood that way), I was fortunate enough to have been given a computer. I was eleven years old. The computer was mine, not my parents. They gave me free reign with the system. I could put anything I wanted on it. I could use it on my own schedule. This was absolutely unheard of.
This may not sound exactly out of the ordinary. Many eleven year olds have computers today. I should point out that I was eleven in 1979 and the computer was an Apple ][. (To those other old-school über geeks; it was a ][ (pre-rev 7 board) not a plus or an e… just a ][) It had a whopping 48K of memory. At the time this was possibly enough to put a man on the moon. The computer cost about $2,000.
To put this in perspective compensating for inflation and memory size increases. You can now buy a one-half terabyte drive for $200. $2,000 in 1979 is about $6,000 in today’s money. So for about 3% the cost you can get 11.2 MILLION times the storage. Did I mention the drive is about 1% the size?
So, what did I do with my joyous little cream-coloured box? Well, for the first few weeks I taught myself Basic. Applesoft Basic. Oh, right. The computer actually couldn’t handle Applesoft Basic. We had to buy a card for it. This hardware card was designed from the main chips of the Apple ][ Plus. It was interesting, the computer had 6 big Rom chips and so did the card. And the ROM chips were labeled the same way. So I did what any normal 11 year old with a Masters in Electrical Engineering would do. I swapped the ROMS from the card with the ones in the computer. (Note: No, I didn’t have a degree. No, I had no clue how ridiculously stupid this stunt was. No, I wasn’t surprised when it worked just fine)
Now I had a Mock Apple ][ Plus with an Integer Basic card. And let me tell you the software that this let me [redacted] around in. If you ever saw software [redacted] “The Doctor”; let me confide now that this was in fact [redacted]. One of the next things I learnt how to do from a guy who worked at the local computer shop was installing a button on my disk drive that overrode the write protect switch. During this time people were actually using single-hole punches on 5 ¼” floppies so that they could write on the backsides. This would often damage the disc if not done right. My double-sided discs were never notched.
Then came that fateful day. I was curious. I got my dad’s tools. Especially his ratchet screwdriver set. I removed every screw that I could from my trusty Apple ][. I utterly disassembled it. Any part that could be taken out, I did. It was a fateful day because as I removed about the 40th piece, my mother walked into my bedroom. On my desk, she saw what appeared to be the mythical electronic graveyard. She let out a screech that would make a banshee and a siren play “rock, paper, scissors” to decide who was scared more. She pointed at me and said something that I think was too dirty for Carlin’s list of 7 words. She turned around and slammed my bedroom door ordering me to stay.
I believe during this time, she called my father at the hospital and demanded that he come home and kill me in cold blood. I could hear her crying downstairs. I felt badly… Personally, I’d hoped she’d be proud of me for keeping things as arranged as I did. I figured there was only one thing to do.
About 15 minutes later I heard my father pull up. My mother yelled at him for about 10 minutes. I believe most of his lineage was insulted in this onslaught. There may have even been the insinuation that she wasn’t really my mother. After the yelling I heard him plod his way up the steps. We didn’t believe in corporal punishment; so at most I was in for a good guilting. The door opened and my parents stood there, my mother pointing accusingly like a jury foreman.
My latest basic program was running and the screen filled up with an ASCII banner, which read, “Hi Dad! Welcome home!” My mother’s jaw hit the floor. I’m talking complete “Tex Avery” here. She stammered like Bob Newhart. She then let out another screech and for the first of two times in my life, looked at me and said, “F*&K you.” And stormed downstairs. My father looked at me and said, “That wasn’t nice. Unbelievably clever and funny, But not nice.”
He looked at the computer for a moment and asked, “And it’s back exactly the way it was?” I reached into my desk drawer. “All except these two things. I couldn’t remember exactly where they went, and they really don’t seem to be necessary.” He shrugged.
On my kitchen table at home this evening is a piece of a 17” Mac Book Pro laptop. The good news is, I know what part it is and why I didn’t replace it.
About 2 weeks ago, my laptop’s DVD super drive ‘went south.’ It decided it was very attached to the DVD inside of it and was hell bent on not giving it back to me. Diagnosing problems like this is very easy. You can hear the eject process starting every time you press the eject button. You can hear the disk lift up, not eject and drop back in again. Hardware problem.
About 5 weeks ago my three-year hardware coverage came to an end. (My all time favourite quote on this is from a Laurel and Hardy short where their car falls apart and Hardy says to Laurel, “I told you not to make that final payment!”) Now, I completely respect Apple service. They have bent over backwards for me over the past years and even done some hardware repairs out of warranty that I will not complain about. But this repair was unlikely to happen in either a timely fashion (I am off to Apple’s developer conference in about 30 hours) or at a cost that won’t hurt.
So, I bit the bullet. I ordered a replacement part on my own and looked online for information how to replace the part. And let me say quite assuredly that PowerBookMedic is a HUGE win in my world. They got me the part within 24 hours. They had a nice set of computer tools (small mildly magnatised phillips-head screwdrivers and torx), and most importantly, step-by-step QuickTime videos.
The new DVD player is a slightly newer model. It reads and writes faster than the old one. It’s quieter than the old one. And the icing on the cake… it gives me my disks back. I only dropped one of the femto-screws. My housemate has eyes like a hawk. Which is impressive as she was explaining her far-sightedness to me while she was locating the errant screw.
I suppose in a sort of tarot-like progression I have moved from the Fool who happily walks off the cliff with no idea of what dangers lay before them. I’m not sure how far I am. Perhaps in Temperance with the obscene amount of care I took. I know I’m probably not in Death… because I’m typing on the computer now.
So now, I wonder… The computer is out of warranty. There’s nothing Apple will support if I do or don’t total it. The 11 yr old is scratching in my mind. Could I mod the case? Could I update the hard drive or the RAM? Could I improve the wifi’s antenna?
I am fortunate to have my own computer. And I can do anything I want with it.
(I really don’t have time for a new hobby)