A life impacted by Steve Jobs

On October 5, 2011, in Personal, by Rob Levandowski

Rest in Peace, Steve Jobs (1955–2011).

My first computer wasn’t an Apple. It was an Atari 800. As a young boy into videogames, the Atari was the natural step up from the Atari 2600 game console. It was videogames that got me fascinated in computers, and it was the Atari that helped me discover how much I liked making them run.

After a few years, though, I had outgrown the Atari. The system had limits, and the company was reaching its limits as well. As a loyal Atari owner, I disliked the Apple II, with its relatively crude graphics and very un-arcade-like analog joystick. In middle school, though, all the school computers were Apples, and I saw software that just wasn’t available for the Atari.

So, my Christmas wish one year was for an Apple //c. By then, Mom and Dad had learned the true meaning of the word “peripheral”—an education that started on the Christmas morning after I got the Atari when I didn’t want to shut it off lest I lose my programs, having no cassette drive or disk drive.  I had an Apple with all the trimmings. It was a well-travelled computer, making weekend trips to the family cottage in New Hampshire and the occasional trip in to school to supplement the small computer lab there.  I was an Apple owner, but I wasn’t truly an enthusiast yet.

That came in eighth grade. By then, I was the undisputed computer nerd of the town school system; the adults came to me for advice. That’s how it came that one day they asked me to come down to the computer room: I excelled in English, I lived and breathed computers… they wanted me to be an editor of the school newspaper, because they wanted to create it using a new thing they were testing: a Macintosh.

I had read about the Macintosh in Creative Computing and BYTE, and it had intrigued me… but that day in the computer lab, it was love at first sight. I took to MacWrite and MacPaint like a duck to water, and I started to learn the intricacies of ReadySetGo, one of the first of a heretofore-unknown type of software: desktop publishing.

Guess what was on the Christmas list the next year?

I had a Mac Plus back when they were still beige. I have oddly fond memories of the wub-wub-wub noise an Apple 800K disk drive made as it changed speeds, the ka-CHUNK a floppy made as you inserted it. I learned about INITs and CDEVS; I studied Inside Macintosh and learned Pascal. I took BASIC computer programming as a high-school freshman when the class was still being taught on Commodore PETs; being an old hand at BASIC, I breezed through the curriculum and started handing in programs written in Microsoft Macintosh BASIC, including GUIs.

I remember getting my first hard drive, a Jasmine 80MB SCSI disk that sat underneath the Mac, and thinking I’d never find enough things to fill it. I remember playing Epix’ Winter Games on the Mac, sliding the mouse back and forth rhythmically to simulate cross-country skiing. I recall driving from my parents’ home in North Granby, CT to the suburbs of Springfield, MA, not long after getting my drivers’ license, to get my hands on a freshly-minted copy of System 7, and lusting after the Macintosh Portable in all its portable-typewriter/boat-anchor glory while I was there. I remember the magic of the ThunderScan, a device that replaced the ribbon cassette in the ImageWriter II printer with an image sensor, allowing you to use the printer as a crude drum scanner. I spent hours going through my favorite VHS movies with the VCR hooked up to a MacRecorder, creating sound clips of favorite lines to use as beep sounds.

That lead to a particularly favorite prank. The school system’s computer expert was named Dave, and he wasn’t yet comfortable with Macs. One week, he made it known that he’d be taking the school’s Mac for the weekend to learn more about it. I played a little joke on him (with the knowledge of the teacher in charge of the computer club): Before he left, I added a program to the Mac’s startup disk that let you tie sounds to certain system events. Upon ejecting a disk, the Mac played a sound clip from the 1980s revival of Mission: Impossible: “This disk will self-destruct in five seconds. Good luck, Jim!”  He later related that he panicked at first, before realizing that he’d been had.  (This was before computer viruses were on anyone’s radar.)

That Mac Plus was also well-travelled. The latter half of my high-school career was spent at a private school in Hartford; I was a fixture in the computer lab there, and an editor of the newspaper and the yearbook. When crunch time came for the yearbook, that Mac came to school with me daily in its big blue Cordura bag.

Somewhere in there was the summer I sent a resume to MacConnection hoping for a summer job, despite being a teen; they were headquartered in the next town over from our cottage. I managed an interview with the CEO, but I didn’t get a job.

I remember two treks from New Hampshire down to Boston for MacWorld Expo, back when it was a massive affair occupying two conference halls—and before the era of the Stevenote. I brought home bags of goodies, and a wonderful memory of spying Harry Anderson, star of Night Court, from afar as he negotiated a sizable purchase from one of the big Mac mail-order companies at the back of one of their booths. (Anderson was one of the most famous Mac enthusiasts of the era.)

Late in senior year, I hit Grandma up one more time, and made it count: I got the top-of-the-line Macintosh IIfx. (It’s often joked that the name expanded to “Macintosh Too F—ing Expensive”.) I got a stripped-down model and added my own hard drive, memory, and keyboard. I loved that thing.

Around that time, I was a beta-tester for a friend’s program, Wallpaper, which let you set color desktop patterns larger than the Apple-approved 8 square pixels. One of the background patterns I created featured in the advertisement for the program that appeared in MacUser magazine.

When I went to the University of Rochester, I remember setting it up in my dorm room on the Computer Interest Floor and having someone come in and exclaim “Woah! You’ve got a workstation!” (The E-Machines 16″ Trinitron monitor was physically imposing, and computer monitors bigger than 13″ were still uncommon then.)

That IIfx saw me through college, and through my first job and much of my second job. Then, I convinced my employer that I’d be more productive if I had a PowerBook, so I got a PowerBook 1400c. Sadly, when I left, they wanted it back… but I picked up a discarded Power Macintosh 7100/80AV to replace it. Meanwhile, the IIfx continued on as the girlfriend’s computer.

While at Global Crossing, I upgraded to my first personally purchased new Mac, a Power Macintosh G4 Dual 500MHz. For some time, that second processor sat idle, unused by virtually any software, until Mac OS X came out. I got that the day it came out, and lived with its shortcomings because it was cool, and it was UNIX. I also saved up for the original Cinema Display, the first of Apple’s awesomely huge displays. (That display was in nearly constant use until earlier this year, when the backlight started to flicker and I replaced it so Dad could keep using the G4.)

When I’d been at Bank of America for a while and replenished my funds, I bought a Power Macintosh G5 Dual 2.7GHz and a new Cinema Display. That served me well for years, and became another hand-me-down. It currently resides in my basement, awaiting rebirth as an Ubuntu system; the Cinema Display is my second monitor for my work laptop when I’m home.

The G5 gave way to a 24″ iMac Core 2 Duo 3.06GHz; that was my workhorse system until the girlfriend’s 20″ Core 2 Duo iMac flaked out and I found that 4GB of RAM wasn’t enough for a power user; I replaced it with a 27″ iMac Core i7 Quad, and gave the 24″ iMac to the girlfriend.

This spring, for graduation, my girlfriend’s daughter and her friend got MacBook Pros; I now have OS X Server and Remote Desktop to manage the household network.

I wasn’t the first person in line to get an iPod, but it didn’t take me too long to get one. I loved that first-generation device; I took many long walks with it. Sadly, it died after I handed it down to Mom and Dad, when they didn’t realize it wouldn’t take well to being left on the dashboard of their Jeep in the Florida sun.  By then, my girlfriend had given me a fifth-generation iPod.

I was waiting at the door in my Apple t-shirt for the UPS driver on the day the iPad was released. I’ve used it every day since. I am a voracious reader, and five years ago I would’ve said that I would never stop buying paper books. I love books, and I love bookshelves. I have visited a bookstore once in the last six months; I now buy almost all my books for the iPad, because it’s so much more convenient. I have my iPad with me in places I’d never lug around a book, so I get to read more.

Last Christmas, I got an Apple TV. The household has three Apple wireless access points.

Prick me, and I bleed five colors, modern monochrome logos notwithstanding.

Back in the late 1990s, when Apple was struggling and the faithful engaged in guerrilla marketing to help the company, I managed to read about Apple offering the first set of “Think Different” posters in time to order a set. Dad built some fames for them; they have places of honor in my office. (Well, except for Picasso, because I’m short on room, and frankly, he’s creepy.)

While the Atari got me into computing, Apple products shaped and fed my interest throughout my life. If it weren’t for Steve Jobs’ company, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. I wouldn’t have gotten half the jobs I did—my first job out of college, working tech support for Xerox printers, came about in part because of my computer knowledge, and in part because of my long experience with desktop publishing.  I may never have met the man, but he had a profound impact on my life.


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