Another new MacBreak Weekly is locked, loaded, and available for your listening…well, let’s just call it “listening pleasure” and move on.
I’m not sure that I was exactly garlanded with glory as I strode off of the squared circle of the podcast arena. “Well, that was a pretty solid Rick Astley impression you did halfway through,” my Inner Cheerleader told me, as I switched off the mic and put my headphones back on their little stand.
That was about the best thing I could say about my performance. And friends…that scares the holy hell out of me.
One further note: I might owe Dan Budiac an apology. He’s the guy with that non-negligibly-awesome Flickr photo set in which he unboxes a brand-new, never-been-opened vintage Apple //c that he’d bought on eBay. He was a special guest on the show.
I thought his Flickr set was wunnerful the first time I saw it (last week, when someone sent me a link) and I still do. But I had no idea how much he’d spent for it until he said it during the show: $2700, if memory serves ($2500 plus shipping). “Wow, this story suddenly got a whole lot less funny,” I said.
…And late in his segment, I felt that I was sort of lying by not expressing my Lack Of Getting It, so I explained that I didn’t understand spending that kind of money on a computer that can be bought in perfect running order for about $200, max. Not new in the box with all of the warranty cards and manuals and stuff, but still.
But what provoked this apology was a totally inadvertent slip that came out when we were discussing the rumor that Apple would act as a white knight and buy Yahoo! before Microsoft could swoop in for the kill. I believe I said it was a stupid waste of money…and then my brain froze up because I knew that the next sentence in the buffer was “…like spending nearly three grand on a twenty-year-old computer.”
A more perfect example of the human species would have found more elegant solutions to each of these problems, I’m certain.
I was being totally honest, of course: I think spending that kind of money on a //c is nuts. For $2700, you could amass a killer collection of working, historic computers.
Solely in terms of “fun to own,” which five would be must-haves? Let’s take a shot at this:
NeXT Cube . The one that started off the modern desktop revolution. And as “Lucy” is to the evolution of the humans, the NeXT Cube (and the NeXTStep operating system) was to the evolution of the Mac. Ever wonder why Mac OS ‘s developer libraries are littered with functions that start with “NS”? Yup: it’s some leftover cultural RNA from NextStep. Big black magnesium block of awesome. Even when standing still, it’s a cool end-table.
Apple IIn. You definitely need an Apple II. I can’t decide which one. Definitely not a //c (part of the fun of the Apple II was the expansion bus) and probably not a //gs (too far along the evolutionary scale).
Mac SE/30 . You get all the fun of the early-generation Mac hardware and OS (form factor, small 1-bit display, MacPaint) without any of the hassles (chiefly, having to swap microfloppies every time you type an upper-case character).
Kaypro II . An utterly charming and well-designed computer. It was a half-cube of solid metal with no rounded edges. Pop a couple of latches and a keyboard dropped down like a drawbridge to reveal a conventional CRT and two floppy drives. And Arthur C. Clarke owned one.
Commodore PET. For pure freakiness. The Seventies was an exciting time for personal computers because the “common sense” of design hadn’t been really agreed upon yet. So Commodore could get away with putting in a grid of tiny keyswitches that resisted all attempts at actual typing…and installing it off-center so that you have to crick your neck to get a look at the built-in screen.
You want working hardware in decent shape. You can reasonably budget $700 for the NeXT, $100 or less for the Apple II, SE/30, and Kaypro, and the original-series PET would probably run you about $500 (again, in good nick with accessories).
That would leave you with $1200. Put another $300 in the kitty and buy a brand-new, functional perfect reproduction of the machine that started it all: the Altair. Or take yourself and your sweetie for a long weekend nearly anywhere in the USA.
All of the above is just a wordier and linkier way of saying “different people, different priorities.” I sure can’t fault Dan for his purchase, no more than I’d like anybody to ding me for things I buy for fun.
Witness, for example, the above specimen. It’s a centrifuge rotor. Thirty pounds of milled aluminum. Thirty bucks at the MIT Flea Market. And I own it. It was just too damn cool to pass up.
(No, it was not a waste of money. I put it on my desk (with the help of a handcart and two neighbors) and I use it to store pens and the occasional can of soda.)
Anyway. I can’t pretend that I understand the what propelled Dan to spend $2700 on a factory-fresh //c but I’m certain that the impulse came from the same reptilian part of the brainstem that commanded me to waddle away from the Flea with a thirty pound chunk of metal on my shoulders.