My First Mac

SE to Pismo in 14 Months

PEA - June 2002

I was looking at the miscellaneous pieces of computer stuff that had turned up at the local hospital thrift shop when I spotted a classic Mac. (It turned out to be a Mac SE 4/40 with an 800K floppy drive and an academic history worthy of a book!) It was marked $50, and no one there knew if it worked.

I'm a Wintel user from the 1980s, when all that I could scrape together for a computer would have bought just the Mac - less keyboard and mouse. (So I opted for a 80386SX/16 clone from a local computer assembler instead: $1,300 complete with 14" VGA monitor, keyboard, and mouse.)

However, I'd always been curious about life on the "other GUI," so I plugged in the unit and switched it on. It turned out to be running System 6.0.8 and had MS Word, Excel, and Works installed. I told the people that it was a working computer and left after verifying that the Packard Bell 80486SX wasn't.

A week later, I dropped by, expecting that someone would have picked up this "relic of the 80s." No one had, and the price had been dropped to $25, which I paid. I found myself carrying a "MiG 17" out to the car. (Sorry about the aircraft comparison, but, as I explained to my "I don't like Macs" brother-in-law later that week, I felt like a NATO pilot trying out "enemy technology.")

I managed to fumble around the desktop for a time, then bought a copy of "The Little Mac Book" (7th edition) to explore the "Jokes" folders that this one-time University Ocean Technology teaching assistant had collected. (He even had a couple of resumes prepared for a non-ivory tower job.) Much of what I already knew of Microsoft Word and Excel applied from Wintel Office 2000, so I did some "card table computing" for a while.

I emailed a just-over-the-hill friend and asked him what he knew about Mac SE and OS 6.0.8. He was an Apple user since the II+ days and suggested what I could to with "that relic." However, he did offer some hardware, software, and experience on several visits.

Then he suggested some Web sites for information, and that's how I found out about Low End Mac. Searching for applications for 68K Macs led to a problem: I could download the archived file on Ye Olde Celeron 333, but I couldn't transfer them due to the absolutely incompatible 800K floppy drive. This led to eBay, and very shortly I had a Mac SE/30 32/540 running System 7.5.5, plus a slightly used Mac SE manual. However, the problem with archived files remained, so it was time to hunt for another Mac that could cruise the Internet for 68K-era files.

My Mac friend has various 68K PowerBooks, and suggested a PowerBook 540 to solve the "this is not a Mac disk" problem. However, looking around Low End Mac, I ran across an article that sang the PowerBook 1400praises of PowerBook 1400. So, faster than you can say "Avast! The White Whale!," eBay became a hunting ground for "an affordable PowerBook 1400." I kept losing to deeper-pocketed bidders until my friend suggested bidding above $250 if necessary.

In the end, the Delaware Valley Friends School sold me a PowerBook 1400C/166 32 MB RAM/4 GB HDD with CD-ROM, floppy drive, AC adapter, and a plastic carrying case for $323 total. The CD-ROM drive didn't see all of my music CDs and only one applications CD, but that wasn't a serious problem. (I didn't find discover a fix until early this year at [inactive link - ed].) However, the siren call of FireWire floated in the air, and a detailed check of suggested that a PowerBook G3 could "do FireWire."

Before the FireWire quest got underway, I was bidding on eBay for a PowerBook 1400 manual, MS Word 5.1, and FileMaker Pro 3.0 (Mac/Windows) to enhance the existing laptop. (The SE/30 left for an unfortunate victim of "Packard Bell computer breakdown," to keep records and other simple computer tasks.)

The PowerBook G3 saga was another "outbid by that much" set of defeats until I ventured into "The Great White North" and bought a WallStreet 266 from a Toronto seller. The built-in modem was present in body but not spirit, so I used an external 56K modem until a Global Village PC card modem arrived via winning bid on eBay. This led to a spare 56K internal WallStreet modem (the "internal modem" extension had been turned off for network use?), a VST FireWire PC card, and a Sony external FireWire CD-RW that doesn't support CardBus slot 1. Oh well, at least I won a bid on a "basic 400 MHz Pismo" which may bring the Macs up to The New and Upgraded 1 GHz Celeron desktop level.

Then there's the "Tucson Wallstreet 266 Tale," wherein my 68K PowerBook Mac friend entered The Modern Mac Age, but that's another story.

This brings us up to May 2002, 14 months after a Mac SE followed me home.

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