1.25.2007

I'm a Mac.

In the Summer of 1992, prior to starting college, my parents and I met with one of my future professors to discuss my major. While I was certain I wanted to major in Fine Arts and become a comic book illustrator, a perusal of my portfolio at the time led him to wisely steer us toward Graphic Design and commercial art. To be honest, I didn't fully understand what that was, but I would soon learn.

I struggled with those classes that first year, with the monotony and precision required. Layouts were hand drawn, as were the crop marks at the corners indicating where a design would be trimmed. For those who don't know, most printed pieces are designed with bleed, usually an eighth of an inch larger than the final page, package, or whatever, and then trimmed. Today computers can place crop marks, but when I was a freshman I had to draw them, and draw them exactly an eighth of an inch from the trim, and make them no longer than three eighths.

It was boring and I was bad at a lot of it. I started to wonder if my driver's education instructor was right in telling me to become an accountant when he heard I had a 98% average in math after high school. Some days I still wonder about that. But then, I saw my first “real” computer.

I had dealt with basic computers before. In elementary school, they were connected to cassette players and data was actually stored on the same tapes used to record audio. In middle school, I dabbled with a very basic machine known as a Wicat. I still remember my username, which was my last name and the first two initials of my first name, because I eventually used that for my e-mail account.

In middle school I also learned Logo, a drawing program in which a person had to type commands for a small turtle on the screen. If you wanted to draw a clockwise circle you had to type “CIRCLER” for example, while a counterclockwise circle was achieved with the command “CIRCLEL”. Retaining knowledge that will never, ever serve a practical purpose is fun! I even had a computer attachment on my Intellivision, and I thrilled at Basic programming and making ASCII characters do jumping jacks or making the word “sex” scroll infinitely. 20 GOTO 10!

So what was the first “real” computer I encountered? After a semester of working with rubber cement, metal rulers, X-acto knives and tracing paper, I was impressed with gaining entry to our school's “computer lab”. In it we had what I believe were two Macintosh Classic II machines, though a fellow alumnus like Rey might better remember the exact model. All I know is that even then they were old machines with yellowed casings and black and white monitors. The monitor and computer were one unit, with a floppy disc drive, and no longer did we have to paint letters by hand. Now we could type! Now we had...FONTS! Granted, we had about twelve, but it was a step in the right direction.

Somewhere in my basement there is a wine bottle filled with water, on which a badly designed label appears. This was my first Mac creation. I typed something in a word processing program, then saved it to a floppy disc. Next I took the disc to Kinko's, where the contents were printed on a clear acetate. Then I could overlay that on top of a colored pencil sketch of grapes, photocopy it all on to one page, and my work was done! Today I would use a high resolution photograph of grapes, choose from thousands of fonts, and composite everything on a computer screen before sending it off to a printer. Back then things were severely limited.

Thankfully, by my sophomore year we had a real computer lab with Quadra 800s and later Power Macs. Suddenly we could choose colors and had more fonts! We could scan in photographs and very quickly were making posters for parties using childhood photos of our friends or superimposing our faces on different bodies. The possibilities were endless and the operating system was incredibly self-explanatory. You could click a menu with a mouse to see basic options like “save” or “print”, and the corresponding key commands like “apple+s” or “apple+p” were equally logical. There was a simple hierarchy of folders in which we could arrange our files and applications, dragging and dropping with ease, and best of all, no programming language was required. It was the most user-friendly machine I'd ever encountered, and thousands of dollars out of my price range. Some students opted to buy less expensive Mac clones for their homes. I spent many a late night in the lab getting my homework done.

My first job after college had very basic machines compared to what I was used to. We had a pair of Quadra 800s and one Quadra 650 that was basically a typewriter, good for little else than word processing. The Mac OS we had on the 650, System 6, was slow and prone to a lot of deadly secrets. Naming a folder with a period at the beginning was bad; naming one “.sony” if memory serves was deadly. But, we did have really cool AfterDark screensavers on the other machines running System 7 and, in between scanning photos, making type corrections, and other grunt work, I learned to customize them. Sometimes my face would bounce around the screen. At one point, I created an entire wallpaper of photographic Avengers by manipulating pictures of people in the books we were publishing. Alas free time, I knew it, readers.

Eventually we got our boss to cave and buy us better monitors. They came with “Ready for Power Macintosh” stickers, which I taped on each of them. Eventually, we got our Power Macs. In my time with that company I maintained our whole network of machines, a chain of new and outdated models linked by a fragile coaxial cable. If the cleaning people tapped it with the vacuum cleaner, the whole system would go down. At home meanwhile, I finally got a Power Mac G3 Tower. I was running OS 8 and loving all the third party features that had been implemented. Once to “windowshade” and close a window by double clicking it we needed to obtain a plugin, but by system 8 that any many other nifty things were native to the platform. I even had a Zip Drive, and loved that I could store 100 MB of information on a solid small square a little larger than a 1 MB floppy disc, and much smaller than the clunky 44 MB SyQuest cartridges we dealt with at work, often mailing to printers in Hong Kong, and getting back in worse condition. After time they sounded like lawn mowers, but were still too expensive to replace. Prices on hardware and media had dropped drastically in the few years I was out of college, but not by much.

These days, you can get a lot more for a lot less, and fit a lot more on CDs and DVDs than you could on any disc. Most PC hardware is cheaper than Macs, and while a lot of the software I use in my profession was once exclusive to the Mac, you can now get Photoshop and other programs for any computer. I still have an easier time navigating on a Mac because it's what I'm used to, but I have used Windows and things aren't radically different. “Save” is still “Save”, even if I'm using an “alt” key instead of the “apple” key for a shortcut. PC hardware is far more affordable, but Macs are less prone to viruses since most are written for the more prevalent platform. With the introduction of Intel Macs, we're now living in an age in which the same hardware could run OS X or Windows. In college, I would defend my Max vehemently, and once got into a heated argument with a PC guy at a party. Now I acknowledge the benefits of both, prefer the Mac which I'm comfortable with, but miss the wide range of games I could be playing if I had a PC.

I love my iMac G4. It's served me well, and after a few years my biggest problem was a dead mouse, which I later learned could have been replaced with a much cheaper PC model. I imagine eventually things will level off, as Macs incorporate PC advantages and vice versa. I'm happy with my small network for now, my G3 “Homer” and my G4 “Marge”. I think Apple still has a trendy stylistic advantage, continuing to be clean and simple on the outside as well as in the operating system. iPhone is the latest in a series of trendy items preceded by “i”, as the iTrends continue. I still think anyone with the barest computer knowledge could navigate a Mac after a few minutes, while the PC learning curve might be a little steeper.

And, that's the story of why I'm a Mac. Which are you?

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5 Comments:

Blogger Lyndon said...

I can't believe someone actually remembers Logo. I used to love using that program back in middle school :-)

As far as computers go, I'm a PC. But that's only because most Apple computers have been out of my price range.

1/25/2007 7:09 AM  
Blogger b13 said...

Once a mac... always a mac...

Used apple II in HS and had a comodore 64 at home :(

My first apple was actually my girlfriend's (who is now my wife) that she let me use during some college tears. I think it was an apple 2/e.

Then I got a mac6220cd powerpc. It was a whole 75 mhz :O which I added a zipdrive and a syquest ez135 (what a waste of $$)

From that I upgraded to a 500mhz G4 which I have added to and upgraded. It is now known as "FrankenMac" and quite a few years old.

I really want to get an intel "mini" but funds are in short supply. Maybe after tax time.

1/25/2007 12:50 PM  
Blogger b13 said...

Update: My wifes was an apple II/c+

1/25/2007 4:49 PM  
Blogger Kev said...

I'm a PC guy - mostly for the price and "commonality".
I think the biggest difference is that the people who make Macs actually respect their users, whereas the people who make PCs (at least, the big box people and the major manufacturers) think all PC users are complete morons that need AOL and every other piece of crap software pre-installed on their new system to make it easier for them to use (which just makes the PC full of crap and run slower than it should).

I'd use Mac software/hardware if it were as affordable as PC components and software.

1/25/2007 7:15 PM  
Blogger Janet said...

I knew you were a Mac, but I also knew it was with good reason. I'm afraid I'm not truly educated enough to get in the middle of the debate. Can't we all just get along?!:)

1/28/2007 9:03 AM  

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