Time to make the ‘puter

I’m lucky that I have the type of career that lends itself to consulting. I’m also lucky enough to have a full-time gig that allows me to consult on the side (with some constraints). And I’m lucky enough that I have some folks that seek out my assistance on a pretty regular basis.

I say that I’m lucky because without the added income, I wouldn’t be able to pay for many of my entertainment habits. Things like traveling, scuba diving, music/concerts, my guilty pleasure (PSP)… oh, and definitely not be able to afford a new computer.

Now, I’m not wasteful and I’m not always on the bleeding edge (as much as I would like to be). My existing laptop is a 5-year old Mac PowerBook G4, the so-called “TiBook.” It’s served me very well, aged well, traveled well… and has even survived hard drive replacement surgery about 8 months ago. But to be fair, that’s a long time for a laptop (any laptop, for that matter).

I tend to be pretty good at making use of my computers. My first one was given to me as a gift in 1990 upon HS graduation. An IBM PS/2 Model 50Z (yep, that’s it on the left). The thing was a real clunker about 6 months after it was purchased, it was outdated at the time of purchase as a result of IBM’s own change in computer architecture (similar to the difference between having a leaded and unleaded automobile). But I made it last for three years.

I convinced my father to buy me a Compaq 850. A mini-tower (early in mini-tower designs), the Compaq seemed to scream compared to the IBM. I had the machine for about 2 years – when my love affair with Apple began.

Now, I’ve been an Apple fan for a long time. My dad bought us an Apple II back in the late 70s/early 80s, my brother had an SE/FDHD and then an LCII.

But I had never owned one. But I was working for the Valpo School District setting up hundreds of machines the summer before law school started and I simply fell head-over-heels with the intuitive user interface, the elegant design (keeping in mind that we’re still talk about machines made in 1994) and the overall ease of use.

That year, Apple released the PowerBook 520c. From an industrial design perspective, many feel that the 520 was incredible. I was in love as soon as I got my hands on a school-owned one to set-up for the Superintendent. I didn’t want to give it back. But at $2500, they weren’t cheap and I didn’t have that kind of cash.

A little begging and a written agreement later, a great friend agreed to loan me the money to buy it (thanks, Katherine A.). Man was I happy. A graphite body with a 9″ color TFT (I believe) screen, two battery bays (which could be “exchanged” for other things), and a host of ports (SCSI, AppleTalk, Ethernet – which was relatively new at the time, serial, modem)… wow, I felt like I was the king!

Throughout law school, I plugged away on my 520. My classmates thought it was a joke, but I was able to do everything they were (perhaps with a little more effort). Even Lexis and Westlaw had Mac versions. As law school came to an end, the new WallStreet edition PowerBooks were out – HUGE (back then) screens at 12.1″ and 14″, sleek black designs with a large white apple etched in the lid… lust set in again, 3.5 (almost 4) years after I brought the 520 into my home.

Begging and pleading weren’t necessary this time. I was about to start a job in 1998 which was going to require me to have a more powerful machine. The entire office was Mac-based, so it was easy to justify. I managed to use the machine through two full operating system upgrades (starting with System 8 then on to 9). I almost replaced it a few times along the way when Apple would release minor updates to the design.

First they made it thinner and more lightweight. They also “bronzed” the keyboard, which looked really cool. They added more memory, better processors, larger harddrives. Everything told me to buy one, but as had happened so many times in the past, I simply didn’t have the cash.

In response, I added memory to my WallStreet. I bought a new battery or two (as it, like the 520, had two battery bays located under the keyboard – one of which would also accommodate an optical drive). I had started with the CD-ROM drive addon… and eventually got the DVD drive (and PCMCIA video processing card) instead. I maxed it out so to speak, but was devastated to learn that I wouldn’t be able to install OSX on it when released by Apple… it just didn’t have the power to run it well.

In late 2001, just as I felt I couldn’t stand it any longer (since Apple had released the new TiBook design about a year earlier), I decided to take out an AppleLoan to buy myself one. The WallStreet was fading fast. Software was coming out for OSX instead of OS9 and I started feeling left behind far too much.

I selected a 500MHz TiBook with 512M of RAM and a 30GB harddrive. After a few hiccups with Apple, I eventually wound up with a 667MHz machine – and after spending a few more bucks, upped the RAM to a full Gig. Holy cow did this thing ROCK! It was beautiful, slippery almost. The apple on the lid even lit up (and was correctly oriented this time, as opposed to the logo on the WallStreet that was upside down when the lid was open and viewed from the back).

I vividly remember having to go to the UPS dropoff location to pick it up (as they wouldn’t leave it at my house). I was so pissed – I could’ve had it a day earlier… but now I was going to get it on my way to an appointment. I grabbed it at the UPS location, immediately drove to BestBuy to get the additional RAM – and did a RAM swap in the front seat of my car! [Note: DO NOT DO THIS yourself. It was stupid of me to do – you can short out the memory via static buildup… I was just impatient and I knew better, but couldn’t control myself. Don’t be me.]

God I love that computer. But like it’s predecessors, it’s getting a bit long in the tooth and starting to show its age. The harddrive has just been the latest in a long list of things to be swapped, patched or replaced. It’s needed new hinges, and on more than one occasion, I use Tina’s clear nail polish to prevent more paint from wearing off from where my wrists rub the plastic repeatedly in front of the keyboard.

And oh, the lust. It began about a year ago. 17″ screens on laptops! Can you believe it? Virtually double what I first had. Glossy displays that look almost fluid, combined with 2.4GHz Core2Duo processors (more than 8x faster than the TiBook).


I want one. I’ve wanted one for so long that Tina’s virtually immune to my sighs. But she let on that if I had money that wasn’t otherwise allocated to paying our budgeted bills (ie: from book sales, speaking or consulting engagements), I could save up and get a new computer. We even created a separate bank account to manage the “computer fund.”

As you might imagine, every spare penny has been going into that account. As of a month ago, I was ready to buy. But now I can’t.

See, Apple has a history of how they release machines. And in late May, early June, they released a “speed bump” to the current design (now called the MacBook Pro). Which indicates an interim patch until new designs are most likely expected to come out in January. If I were to buy a computer today and see a new design, or even faster ANYTHING in January, I’d cry – but only have myself to blame.

So I’m waiting. As patiently as I can.

Until then, if you see me with my TiBook (whose fan whines loudly when the processor is being overtaxed by all that I do on it), give it a small loving pat. It knows that the end is near, and I think it’s crying. A little bit of me is, too. As it has for each of the hard-working Apples that have supported me.

In Memoriam

Michael Philip Gordon
September 7, 1976 – July 31, 2007

Michael Philip Gordon, 30, son of James and Anita Gordon, brother to Jeff and friend to many, passed away at 3:52am on July 31, 2007. A social critic from birth, Mike was gifted with charisma and compassion, attracting attention through both outlandish acts and kindheartedness. As children, Mike and I would and did fight about almost every aspect of our lives. From music and movies to clothing and our parents, we rarely saw eye-to-eye. In recent years though, we finally became friends – able to respect the other’s choices, even if we did not fully understand them. Mike will be missed most for the gusto and uniqueness he brought to his life and those lives that he touched.