My First Mac

From Calculator to Macintosh

Josh Rodefer - July 1999

My first experiences with computers were with the small ones that were taking the country by storm in the 1970s: the handheld calculator. As both my father and grandfather worked in engineering-type positions, my 12th birthday included a big surprise - a brand new Hewlett-Packard calculator (HP-21). Fascinated by HP's RPN logic, my math & science interests soon expanded, and by high school I was using an HP-41C with all of its bells and whistles, including an infrared thermal printer (!) and a magnetic card reader that attached to the top of the calculator. I later picked up some experience with my high school's mainframe programming with punch cards, as well as with the early PCs that were in use by the math department (saving programs on audio cassettes).

During college in the 1980s, I really started to learn about mainframes, as most of my computer time was spent on VT100 terminals networked to our DEC VAX mainframes. I fondly recall typing my senior thesis and having to remember to put in all the Unix commands in order to get the final paper to look just right.

But it was my roommate's brand new Mac Plus and ImageWriter printer that caught my eye. Everything was so straightforward that I wondered why would anyone wrestle with traditional computers when they could just sit down and start using the little Mac. Although I was able to do some of my work on his Mac, I would be less than honest if I didn't tell you that more than a little time was spend messing around with MacPaint and MS Flight Simulator (buzzing O'Hare in a Learjet was my favorite). However, the fun time paid off as I won kudos for my senior research seminar presentation, with overhead transparencies done completely with MacPaint graphics and the ImageWriter (with a color ribbon!).

By the time graduate school rolled around, I was a Mac-addict even though no one used that term back then. My advisor's lab was full of Macs (SEs, SE/30s, and various Mac IIs), and I was the local fix-it/upgrade guy. It was at this time in 1993 when I purchased my first computer, a Centris 650 and StyleWriter II. Not surprisingly, they both are still going strong. The trusty C650 went to my fiancee not too long ago who continues to use it well in her academic life.

My day to day computer time at home is split between a recently fixed up IIfx (named "Wicked Fast," inspired by your Low End Mac page) and Duo 2300 for things that require PPC applications.

Like a number of your readers, I've benefited from some recent "backward migration" by picking up some surplus older Macs. Some I adopted because I can't bear to see a perfectly productive Mac (e.g., SE/30) put out to pasture. But I have also fixed up other machines to pass along to friends and relatives.

Currently, I am working on fixing up my computer na•ve mother with a spiffy IIsi system, and recently I augmented my workplace desktop with a Color Classic. The CC helps balance out what is otherwise dominated by an industrial strength PC (ugh).

To make my work day more bearable, I have a Mac desktop theme on the PC (including the startup chime, spinning watch, and trash can), which makes me the butt of many a joke. However, as long as folks keep getting rid of perfectly good computers in this area, I'll keep gathering them up and distributing them where I see they can do some good (or at least as long as my fiancee lets me keep them. ;-)

Josh is a behavioral pharmacologist with a Ph.D. in psychology. His career path has let him live near some beautiful campuses including Denison University, the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, UNC-Chapel Hill, and, most recently, Harvard.

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