New MacBreak Weekly is up! And an Ode to a $2700 //c

Angry Pocaster

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.”

Hmm.

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.

Apollo 11

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.

20 thoughts on “New MacBreak Weekly is up! And an Ode to a $2700 //c”

  1. I’m a biomedical researcher and immediately recognized that centrifuge rotor, and wondered what the hell was that doing on your page. Do you have any idea of the kind of crap that gets spun down in there? If you’re REALLY lucky it came from a yeast lab but it’s more likely to have been E. coli, the workhorse of every molecular biology lab. Just don’t put those pens in your mouth.

  2. @Andre – Oh, believe me: on the way home I bought 4 bottles of alcohol. When I got back home I filled all six wells and left it there overnight. The next day, I used the leftover alcohol to scrub the outside.

    If there’s one thing you learn about MIT Flea purchases…it’s the proper “make sure this thing doesn’t kill me” protocol. I was excited about a big block of yellow glass…a broken cube about eight inches on each side. I practically had the money out of my wallet when I stopped and realized two things:

    1) Usually, the only reason for glass that’s this thick is when there’s something unspeakably dangerous happening on the other side of a door, something that you need to keep an eye on.

    2) One of the things that can turn clear glass yellow is regular exposure to intense radiation.

    Ah. I ultimately decided that I didn’t really need a cool new paperweight after all. :)

  3. I sold my NeXTStation, software, and the totally awesome 400dpi laser printer that went with it for $1,000 about 8 years ago. Needed the money and the space. Totally wish I could get it back today.

    I went through the Flickr unboxing and thought a) This is a worthwhile unboxing, because it’s unique. Unboxing an iPhone or MacBookAir… meh. I just don’t care. This was historic. And b) “How much did he pay for it?” I hit the Google for the answer and thought “Dude… Mac Pro…”

    My first computer @ school was an Apple IIe, but I haven’t missed it at all.

    The NeXT was the first computer I really used on a regular basis and owned personally. It had a 1GB external hard drive that was about the size of a loaf of bread. 33Mhz, 32MB of RAM, 17″ monochrome screen. Glory.

  4. @TjL – You’re not wrong to get sentimental about computers. Machines come and machines go, particularly through MY office…but I can’t bear to sell, donate, or throw away any of my daily-use PowerBooks. I’m about to christen my MacBook as Lilith 8 and when I do, my PowerBook G4 will be placed on a shelf next to Liliths 1-7.

  5. A minor correction: the //c cost me $2,600, including shipping.

    I do agree that it’s an absurd amount of money to spend on a vintage computer. I definitely had an “oh, shit, what did I do?” moment after I won the auction, but it’s easy to get caught up with bidding when the clock is ticking, especially when you’ve had two similar auctions slip through your fingers. I never thought the bidding would go that high.

    That said, I have absolutely no regrets. I have room for but one vintage computer in my tiny (but sexy!) Manhattan apartment, and I couldn’t ask for a better specimen. Unboxing a twenty-year-old computer was a thrill, and the response to my Flickr thread has just floored me. Each time someone comments that I’ve made their day, or brought a tear to their eye, it makes me smile, because I know exactly what they’re talking about. And, who knows, I just might get a response to the cover letter I’m including with the registration card I’m sending in to Apple. :)

  6. Still have my original TRS-80 Color Computer, which was all I could afford at the ripe age of ten. The kids across the street had an Apple IIe…jerks. Still have several of the special Poke commands memorized, and part of the inner workings of CoCo is still a key part of pretty much every password I use. Easy for me to remember, dang near impossible for anyone else to imagine.

  7. A minor correction: I paid $2,600 for the //c, including shipping.

    And, for the record, I agree that it was an excessive amount of money to pay for a vintage computer. It’s easy to get caught up in bidding, especially when the clock is ticking. I definitely had an “oh shit, what did I do?” moment after I won. I never expected the bidding to go so high.

    That said, I have absolutely no regrets. I have room for but one vintage computer in my tiny (but sexy!) Manhattan apartment, and I couldn’t ask for a better specimen. Unboxing a twenty-year-old computer was an absolute thrill, and seeing comments like “this made my day” and “you just brought a tear to my eye” just floor me. I’m having a blast.

  8. Andy, the pic of the centrifuge got me thinking. After the many years of reading your blog and columns and hearing about all the super-cool items you get at the MIT Flea Market, I don’t think we’ve ever seen a photo set of your office. Any chance?

  9. Andy if you enjoyed the Googlewack audio book you recommended you have to see the video (available on amazon), Dave Gorman gives a Keynote presentation of the story, and its hilarious.

    As I type this I am watching his new folly, trying to drive across America while not giving any money to “the man”, ie not using chain restaurants, hotels or gas stations.

    Anyway enjoy the show keep up the good work

    Best Wishes from Old Blighty (England).

    Jon

  10. That Centrifuge thingie might be worth a lot of money in scrap metal :). Might have been a fruitful investment once you are done putting sodas in it.

    -Owl

  11. @stockwell – Ach! Not until after a heroic cleaning. Right now my office makes me look like I should be put in some sort of assisted-living home.

  12. I’m not sure, but I think my dad might still have the Xerox that I cut my teeth on sometime around 1979. It was a CPM OS. Huge floppies…like about 9″. It was my first experience programming… and had an excellent word processer that instantly morphed me into a non failing English student do to the magical “spell check” and cut and paste (since the logic of my writing was never linear… this was a god send). Ultimately… we spent most of our time playing adventure and star trek connected to the main frame at Honeywell. This was at a time when I didn’t know anyone else that had a computer. I quickly started making money typing up friends’ essays and papers — printing them out on the behemoth daisy well printer. Beautiful, results for the time. Oh, the nostalgia.

  13. I always lusted after a NeXT, but it was never in the cards. (I do still have a NeXT sticker on my fridge, though…)

    About 10 years ago (?) I was living in San Luis Obispo, CA just down the road from Cal Poly. One day I say a big flatbed truck drive by with…something…on it. It took me a minute to realize that it was about 30-50 (I don’t know, a LOT) of NeXT computers, monitors and all, just stacked neatly into a big black mass and strapped down, open to the elements. (It was a nice, clear day, but still.)

    Seeing all those beautiful machines hauled away like so much garbage haunts me to this day.

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