technology

[018] Macintosh

Do you remember a world before Macintosh?

If not, it looked like this:

ms-dos

Dark days, indeed! The MS stands for Microsoft. And while Bill Gates was on his way to becoming the world’s richest man, Steve Jobs changed the world, with this:

mac.smile.icon

30 years ago this week, Apple Computer ran its first television commercial for the first Macintosh. That commercial is remarkable in many ways. It was directed by Ridley Scott (who was fresh off Alien and Blade Runner at that point in his career) who created a nightmarish vision of a world enslaved by Orwellian technology. Apple paid $900,000 to run the spot during the Super Bowl – and it never had to show it again. Mac had grabbed the world by the eyeballs and never let go. Here’s the commercial, titled “1984”.

While I had the opportunity to use Macs on various jobs, it would be more than a decade before I bought a Mac for my own use. But I’ve never been without one since. Why do I love the Mac? Every iteration of Mac has defined the cutting edge of design for that moment. The Macintosh operating system (Mac OS) is incredibly stable, sophisticated and adaptable. Did I mention how stable it is? They can keep all the crash dummies over at Microsoft.

It is powerful and elegant, like the most seductive sportscar – you just want to take it for a spin. Even 30 years later. My current Mac is the MacBook Air. I can only describe this as alien technology. It makes me believe that Steve Jobs had a crashed UFO in the basement in Cupertino, and Apple has been reverse engineering its materials and systems. Or, you know, maybe they even have a few aliens on the payroll. Because, c’mon, could humans be this clever?

Here are the Macs I loved through the years:

The first iMac

The first iMac

iBook (dubbed the "clamshell")

iBook (dubbed the “clamshell”)

iMac G5

iMac G5

MacBook Air (alien technology)

MacBook Air (alien technology)

Mac is as close to religious fervor as I’ll ever get. I don’t think of Mac as a computer. I think of Mac as its own category of technology; and then there are those things called “computers”. Other, lesser things.

Now, time for a true confession. I don’t buy into the cult rule that everything Apple makes is therefore the best of that sort of thing. Heresy! But there, I’ve said it. I took the above picture of the Mac I’m typing this on… with my phone. Not an iPhone. My Android-powered HTC One X. It is 18 months old, and it kicks even the newest iPhone in the iAss. Also, as mobile operating systems go, Android blows Apple’s iOS out of the water. IMHO. I haven’t got around to the whole tablet thing yet. Frankly, I can’t imagine where tablet usage would fit between my phone and my Mac. And I’m just in no hurry at all to have another device that needs charging.

So, there you have it. Happy 30th birthday, Macintosh.
Mac makes me happy. Day 018 #100happydays

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Powerlessness

Are you at home? No kids around? OK then, listen. What do you hear? Is the tv on? Music playing? Turn it off. Is it quiet? No? Mute your computer, laptop, phone and all of those devices. Ah, silence! Listen again. We are surrounded by machinery that whirs, hums and clicks. Clothes in the washer or dryer. Refrigerator. Dishwasher. Microwave. Somewhere a fan is spinning to circulate air through your living space. Maybe you can’t hear the fan itself, but you can hear the soft whoosh of the air moving through vents. Garage doors open and close. The bubbler in the fishtank. Doorbells ring. We live in a veritable din of ubiquity.

And then, suddenly –

lights-go-out

The power goes out.

When this happens at night, the immediate effect is instant and dramatic. Blackout! We are plunged into darkness. We knock over lamps. Stub our toes. We walk like Frankenstein, arms outstretched. We step on the cat. We scramble for a flashlight and candles (and matches or lighters; smokers have the edge here). We curse the darkness – along with our inability to buy and store batteries for the %#$@! flashlight.

But losing power during daylight hours is a more subtle transition to life in the 17th century. For the first few seconds, it isn’t even apparent what has happened. Battery-enabled devices coast along, unaffected. TV goes blank, but cable tv hiccups now and then. Lightbulbs blow out. Sure. But… before the thought has even formed, there’s one unmistakeable tell: the silence. We live in a noisy world of traffic and sirens and jet engines and car alarms and barking dogs and crying babies and reality tv and talk radio and YouTube vids and smartphone notification rings, dings, beeps and tones. It’s only in the moment when you realize you can’t hear the whirr of the fridge that you know the power has gone out.

This happened to me on Monday afternoon. I can’t even remember what I was doing when the electricity stopped flowing. It’s pretty much a given that the tv was on, laptop open, phone apps demanding attention. When I didn’t hear the refrigerator, I took the dogs out to stretch their legs in the dog run of our condo. The building handyman was working to free an upstairs neighbor from the stalled elevator. (Fortunately it was Hugo, an unflappable Spaniard.) There was a commotion out in the street. Seems a truck delivering furniture was parked at the top of our steep hill. When its brakes failed, the truck careened down the street – missing everything and everyone – until a utility pole stopped its progress toward a very busy intersection on Sunset Blvd. And that’s the good news. The bad news: the sacrificial power pole had been holding up the transformer for our little neighborhood.

As disasters go, this really wasn’t much of one. It didn’t extend more than a couple of blocks in any direction. And it did afford an opportunity for some schadenfreude, overhearing some highrise neighbors bemoaning the stairclimb to their 12th floor aeries. 😀 I even had time to gather the flashlights and the candles before darkness fell. (Thank you, Mike, for leaving behind half a box of candles on Thanksgiving.) For some reason, we had an unusually large supply of eggs in the fridge, which soon became an unusually large supply of hard-boiled eggs. When the laptop and phone batteries were completely drained, and candlelight being lousy to read by, sleep was a perfectly good option.

It was only the next day that the powerlessness became annoying. Word on the street was that it would take the Edison crews till mid-afternoon to restore the current. OK. A gas range and a French press meant coffee as usual. A few hours of quiet, non-electronic, unplugged existence… not so bad, actually. But I found myself aching to hear the thud of the garage gate opening and closing, the racket of those refrigeration coils, the ding of an incoming email or text or tweet. And of course, the warm embrace of my good friends on MSNBC. (It was delish on Monday, with the RWNJs getting their knickers in a twist over THE POPE! and his radical so-shul-ist agenda!)

So, I was missing my 21st century technology as I noticed some 20th century technology in a pile of mail: the latest TIME magazine. If today’s news was momentarily unavailable, I could at least catch up on last week’s news. How unsatisfying. How s-l-o-w. Where are the comments? Where are the trolls?! Where are the hyperlinks to something else entirely? Rapidly losing interest in this pathetic print medium, I lazily turned the page and felt my blood run cold as I confronted this creeping horror: The FCC may soon allow cell-phone use during air travel.

Maybe this is why we call them “the good old days”? I don’t want to have to kill my own food, so I generally am a fan of what we call progress. But this 24-hour cut in power did serve as a reminder that everything we gain through advancing technology comes at a price: everything we lose.