Happy 40th, Mac!

Happy Anniversary, Mac! As I sit here with 9 sleeps until the Vision Pro ships, of which you are the progenitor, I wanted to reflect on what you and the people who built you have meant to me.

I was 17 when you were born which means I grew up with the first pong, the first Atari, and the first video arcade games. The first computer I laid hands on was a Rockwell that a friend’s dad had, and we played “cokes” on it, with the results printed on paper tape.

I later got my first computer, a TRS-80 and began learning BASIC because I figured that I could save a lot of quarters if I just wrote my own games. That never happened but I was already hooked. I progressed to an Atari 800 while a sophomore in high school.

Byte Magazone cover featuring a Macintosh with bitmapped images of Bill Atkinson and Andy Hertzfeld

I went to a Christian boarding school so to say that I lived in a vacuum is an understatement. In early 1984, somehow i managed to get a copy of Byte Magazine, February, 1984 and the article introduced me to and convinced me that the Mac was the way of the future. I still have that issue, torn over the years, but the article made it plain that the people who built this computer cared and were doing something that I had never seen in my young life. When I came home on a home leave in March of 1984, I mentioned this computer to my mother and the next thing I knew, my grandfather had purchased one as a pre-graduation gift. I have always been fortunate in my life, and this is one of those events that forged my path forward.

I took the Mac back to school where we kept it locked away in a utility closet that three of us had back to back to back desks in (one Mac, one Apple II and one C-64. Our software company name was AAC, but the second A was for Atari) It was glorious. I did not have a printer, so I could not do any actual school work on it, but I learned MacPaint and MacWrite. My friend Gunther wrote a story about school on it, and I still have the MacWrite document somewhere.

After graduation in June, I bought Microsoft BASIC and wrote a music composition app and an app to track mileage, gas stops, and MPG. It could track this for two vehicles and we took it on the summer road trip from Los Angeles to Missouri to visit my grandmother. I would plug in to AC power each time we camped, boot up the tiny Mac and enter the day’s data. I was having a blast. Then the tornado struck. It was some ways away, but we had to shelter in the storm shelter anyway. The wind tipped our friend’s trailer on two wheels. We survived, but when we got into the motor home, we found that the bunk window over the driver’s seat, where the Mac was sitting, had been left open. I picked that Mac 128K up and tipped it over. Water poured out of the side air vents. I was devastated.

I was also a recent high school graduate who knew from chemistry class that rain water did not have any salt in it, the bane of electronics, so I got a hair dryer and ran air through the vents for about an hour. That included the floppy drive. After an hour I said well, this is it, so powered it up and it booted just fine! Later in the year I was gifted a 512k upgrade with an internal 10MB Hyperdrive which made the computer sing! I also had a 300 baud modem and became infatuated with online communications, mostly calling the local movie theater directory BBS.

In January of 1985 I learned of the Los Angeles Macintosh Group and was awestruck that people would get together and share knowledge about a computer. Then I learned that the meeting would feature none other than Bill Atkinson, the inventor of QuickDraw (and later, HyperCard) and Marc Canter, the owner of Macromedia, who made Director. I saw in awe, literal awe, as Bill, my hero, spoke about programming the Mac and what drove his passion for the machine. Marc demoed animated frogs hopping across the screen, forward AND backward. I was so excited that at the end of the night, the group asked for a volunteer to run the LAMG BBS and I immediately raised my hand. I had my own phone line, but right there and then I dedicated my phone line and my Mac for an overnight hours BBS. The group had a copy of White Knight (or was that the terminal software?) and I set up a BBS and hosted forums, right on my personal computer in a little house in West Los Angeles. What an amazing time to be alive.

The BBS of course was text based, so it was not a very Mac-like experience. Over the coming months, I met plenty of people online and we started building a graphical BBS, this time in Z-BASIC, which was a compiled BASIC and built actual real Mac apps, all in 512K! (Actually much less if you consider the screen used 22K)  A set of control codes would be sent at sign on and the BBS would start sending out a coded stream of data. A terminal app we wrote would open a Mac window and display data inside of it. This did not go anywhere because of work and time, but I believe that we had the first Mac interfaced BBS, well before MacNet. 

That Mac went on to be a very solid performing computer until the summer of 1985 when it was stolen. One disadvantage of owning a small computer and a carrying bag is that a thief can take it out a window and ride off on a motorcycle with it. The insurance covered it, but instead of another 512K with a HyperDrive, I really wanted a printer, so the same money bought a 128K Mac, a printer and a 5MB Bournoulli box. Aside from the memory limitation, this setup worked great.

As my Mac life grew, running the BBS, writing our own BBS software, volunteering for the board of the Los Angeles Macintosh Group and running special interest groups, I one day met Tom Negrino who was running the Hollywood SIG of LAMG. He was demoing this weird software called HyperCard. It had a button that was the icon of Bill Atkinson’s face and when you clicked the button, the Mac quacked. We didn’t quite grasp what we were looking at, but this was new, maybe even pre-release, and it was super interesting.

In October of 1987, Bob Stein of the Voyager Company came to the HyperCard launch presentation, again with Bill Atkinson. Bob demoed a HyperCard stack that indexed a laserdisc of the National Gallery of Art and controlled via serial cable a laserdisc player. If you searched for Renoir, it would show an image of a Renoir painting in full color. The funny bit was, the Mac SE’s screen was projected on a large screen for the 600+ attendees, but the 12” color monitor connected to the laserdisc player was not. This postage stamp experience would strike me again later in my career when I demoed Beethoven, sized at 512×342 pixels, to Steve Jobs on a 19” color display that sat 6 feet away from him.

I was fascinated by Bob’s demo but being me, I didn’t go up and introduce myself or anything. I am outspoke and will meet people, but I am not good at starting the conversation. In December of 1987, I got a call from Bob saying that he got my name from Len Wines, the president of LAMG, looking for a programmer to do some laserdisc work. He asked if I could get something done in the next two days so I said “Sure!” I had no idea, but I told him I would only charge him if I completed the work. I met him and picked up a Sony 1200 laserdisc player, which was not yet available for sale, and some sample code written in “Pascal” along with a compiler. I had never seen Pascal, but because I had a sample “XCMD” for controlling a Pioneer player, I thought I could figure it out. I did. By the next morning I was able to search for a frame, play forward, backwards, stop, and pause all from within the HyperCard stack. This was cool stuff! I presented my work that morning and Bob asked if I could fly to Florida to meet our Apple representative at the “SALT” show. Of course I said yes, what did I have to lose? I got to the show venue with the software and I believe Apple had the player and Mac already set up. That is when I met Linda Stone. She was our Apple Evangelist and I don’t have enough time to say all of the good things about Linda, but she helped shape my career as well. The showing went great, I flew back to L.A., gave Bob my hourly bill and he hired me as it was cheaper that way haha.

At Voyager I made amazing friends and together we went on to build a HyperCard stack for controlling redbook audio CDs, the CD-ROM Companion series including Beethoven and many, many more great works of art, I guess you would have to call it. I met John Sculley while working there. We went on to be one of the vendors with QuickTime 1.0 content at the release of QuickTime 1.0 at MacWorld Expo, 1992.

All of this between 1984 and 1992 and all because of the Mac.

The Portland Macintosh Group's logo

From there I moved to the Bay Area and webt to work for Kaleida Labs, then back to Voyager and Night Kitchen. In 2001 I sold my house and moved to Portland, Oregon. Why Portland? I wanted a cheaper place to live while I was taking time off (no sales tax!) but just as important, I wanted a Mac community and Portland had this amazing group of people who ran PMUG. I had seen some articles about how they took their Macs into the woods for a camp, which made my scratch my head but that was my kind of crazy. I immediately joined and went to my first MacCamp in Silver Falls State Park (in cabins, thankfully) and knew I was home. Over the years I have been President and presenter because I believe that one of the great things about the Mac was that it helped create a community of people who wanted to use technology in a fun a new way.

Moving to Portland lead me to working for Small Society, then Walmart and now eBay. Oh and I met my wife here, too.

Every single job and move of my life was influenced by the Mac in some way.

Happy Anniversary, Mac. I could not have done it without you.