January 24, 2014

Mac @ 30

It's alive! It's alive!

photo by Styrous®

It was 30 years ago today, on January 24, 1984, that the Mac made its appearance and changed the world forever.

The Mac Plus was introduced on January 16 1986.


          Mac Plus (1986)
              photo by Styrous®

My first experience with computers was in the mid '60s. To say it was a disaster is an understatement. I clearly remember the IBM (Hollerith) punch cards (named after Herman Hollerith).
 IBM punch card with Latin alphabet character code
photographer unknown

Those damned punch cards were the bane of my existence. I remember working with stacks of them and in the middle of the process, dropping a stack on the floor and the nightmare of getting them back in order. I tried to handle just a small batch at a time by breaking the stack up into smaller pieces but that was not a great move as from time to time I'd get the smaller batches in the wrong order. That was even worse. Commands and data were represented by the presence or absence of holes in predefined positions.

Punched cards were first used around 1725 by Basile Bouchon and Jean-Baptiste Falcon to replace the perforated paper rolls then in use for controlling textile looms in France. This technique was improved by Joseph Marie Jacquard in his Jacquard loom in 1801. All of these earlier versions of the card were used to comtrol machines that operated in repetitive motions. Semen Korsakov was the first to use them for informational purposes.  

Herman Hollerith invented the recording of data on a medium that could then be read by a machine.  He developed a punched card data processing technology for the 1890 US census. He founded the Tabulating Machine Company (1896) which was one of four companies that merged to form Computing Tabulating Recording Company (CTR), which was later renamed IBM

Sometime in the 1960s, the punched card was gradually replaced as the primary means for data storage by magnetic tape, as better, more capable computers became available. But by that time I'd run away from computers and vowed I'd never touch one again. 

The punch cards were the least of my worries, however, I had a whole lot of trouble wrapping my head around the concept of 0's and 1's representing the entire alphabet of our existence; trying to write code for a program was insane to me. There was something involving an auto coder, (they tried to make it sound like fun by personalizing it and humourously calling it Otto Koder; the humor was lost on me as there was nothing in the slightest way automatic nor easy about it as far as I was concerned). To me, the IBM OS platform was a nightmare!

Sometime in the early '90s I was convinced by a friend to give computers a try again. I fought that with tooth and nails but eventually was talked into buying a used Mac Plus. I was bowled over by the ease of use of the Macintosh OS platform (at that time, OS 6). It was not only physically different than the IBM system, you didn't have to use code to get something done. It used a GUI system that was intuitive and incredibly easy to master.

Steve Jobs introduced the Macintosh 128k on January 24, 1984; the first mass-market personal computer featuring a graphical user interface and mouse. It was introduced on television in a famous $900,000 commercial by Ridley Scott, "1984", that aired on CBS during the third quarter of Super Bowl XVIII on January 22, 1984. The imagry was meant to illustrate the allegorical heroine, with sledgehammer, embodying the spirit of the 1984 release. I remember seeing this ad.

still from the 1984 television commercial

 The Mac Plus had a whopping 512 k memory (I know, absolutely ludicrous by today's 500 giga byte computers in retrospect). For nomths I researched how to use it by going on the Internet for tips as the manual that came with it was woefully inadequate (to this day nothing has changed in that regard). I would take notes as I researched and very quickly got tired of letting go of the mouse to write them; even though I am right-handed (and nobody told me I HAD to use my right one) I started using the mouse with my left hand to free my right hand to write the notes without interruption. As a consequence I can use a mouse with both hands.

Mac Plus mouse
photo by Styrous®

It was a wonderful experience and I came to love my Mac with a passion. I have had many other computers since then that are far more powerful and efficient but I have had a sentimental fondness for my first love. I stopped using it years ago but I have hung on to it out of sentimentality. Now, perhaps, it's time to let it go. 


1984 televsion commercial on YouTube
Apple commercials on YouTube

The computer changed my life forever, as it has for everyone. Thanks for all you taught me and for enriching my life, my beloved little Mac. I'll think of you with great affection always.

Styrous® ~ Friday, January 24, 2014



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