Essays on Technology and Culture

A Personal History of Personal Computing, Part 2

In 2005, I was at a technological crossroads. My old desktop machine, Pandora Mk. II, was failing. With money saved up, I decided I needed a new computer. One option was, now that I was a commuting college student, an inexpensive laptop. [1] The other was a Mac mini, the cheapest Macintosh on the market. At the time, I’d been reading a lot of stuff from 43 Folders, and about the Quicksilver app. Though I’d been staunchly anti-Macintosh for years, Merlin’s exhortation of the platform was starting to win me over.

My distaste for the Mac was not formed in isolation. I’d used Mac computers in classroom settings, and found them to be slow, difficult, illogical, and borderline user-obsequious. The Mac Performas in middle school were barely able to surf the web. During my early high school summers, I was an aide in the computer lab at the Bridesburg Boys & Girls Club, and found doing light administrative chores on the small group of Macs there to be a pain. When my high school got in one of the first Bondi Blue iMacs, I used it to redesign the school’s website during lunch periods. Running Photoshop, Netscape, and SimpleText at the same time often lead to problems, including the mysterious “Error −37”. [2]

While off at Polytechnic University, however, I noticed the first wave of geek switchers. Another Comp Sci student, and member of Poly’s ACM chapter, brought in an iBook G3 one day. I mocked him for it, but was quickly schooled. The real shift came when some of my more hardcore geek friends on the internet, including a friend who worked for Dreamhost, said they’d gone Macintosh.

Meanwhile, I’d grown exceedingly frustrated with Linux. Somewhere along the line, using Fedora Core, permissions to my USB devices got munged, meaning that if I wanted to get pictures off my camera, I had to go into a terminal, switch to root, run a series of commands to pull the pictures off the camera, and then change ownership and permissions to my normal user account. Elsewhere, if I dared to plug in my thumbdrive and my iPod in the wrong order, I had to manually edit /etc/fstab just to make things work.

Still, I didn’t want to go back to Windows. Windows Vista was on the horizon, and people had already smelled a turd. XP was still broken and insecure unless you patched it offline, and ran a suite of security applications. The only option left was the Macintosh. I bought the mini. The day it arrived, once I’d set the machine up, I plugged in my digital camera. Immediately, iPhoto launched, and displayed a dialog box asking if I wanted to import the photos. It was then I realized all the time I had wasted. I named the computer Booji Boy.

I’d bought the Mac mini not long after Apple announced the Intel transition, thinking that they’d get to the mini last, a sentiment echoed by Apple pundits at the time. Five months later, the first Intel mini came out. Undeterred, I used the mini as a primary machine for about three years, upgrading it to a full gigabyte of RAM, [3] and adding on a 250GB external hard drive, designed to sit under the mini. I later augmented it with Kayo II, a refurbished iBook G4, which ran like a tank. The fan on the laptop died, and I never even noticed. This became my primary machine in my last year of college, and the mini went on loan to my roommate when his ancient Compaq finally died.

When I graduated in 2008, I asked my parents for one thing as a graduation present: a MacBook. I received a near-top-of-the-line white MacBook, maxed out on everything except RAM, which I upgraded myself. That white MacBook, Madame Psychosis, well, I told that story already. Its successor, a refurbished, June 2012 model MacBook Pro, works like a champ. I think I’ll be sticking with it for a good, long while.

  1. I had to return Kayo, the ThinkPad T30, back to Polytechnic University. I’d though they would forget about it, but a bill that came in the mail six months after I left said otherwise.  ↩

  2. The mysterious error number codes really drove me up a wall. A Blue Screen of Death isn’t much better, but at least it told you, or used to tell you, what went wrong. Understanding it was another matter.  ↩

  3. A fun process which involved a putty knife, and a lot of swearing.  ↩