Rob Abrazado (flatvurm) wrote,
Rob Abrazado
flatvurm

In loving memory

Among the old electronics unearthed from my Mom's attic: a Timex Sinclair 1000. This is a weird little keyboard-plus-box that you're supposed to plug into your TV ("color or black-and-white," as the box says) and a cassette recorder, and it makes a computer. They made it in 1982. I mean...damn, man. Just, damn. Sadly, it appears to be missing all its cables and junk, including the power adapter, so I don't think I can even test it. Even stranger, no one in my family seems to know where it came from or why we have it. I have a sneaking suspicion that, as a lad, I picked it up at a yard sale. This suspicion has a small amount of backing in that there's a warranty card included that looks like it's assigned to someone I've never heard of who lives (lived?) in South Jersey. That would place my purchase of this item somewhere in the mid to late 80s. At any rate, there's just something endearing about seeing an extended 12-month warranty, added on to the original 90 days, that expired over 25 years ago. Sweeeeet. Also in the paperwork is a receipt from K-Mart for a purchase of like 30 bucks. But...surely not?

Anyway, that's not my primary reason for posting. What I really wanted to talk about was my unpacking of my old Macintosh Plus. Friends...now this takes me back. This was from back in the really old days of Macintosh, when they cranked out those all-in-one fishbowl computers. This particular model, I recall, featured a built-in monochrome screen, actually placing it behind the Apple II in certain technological regards. But that didn't stop me from staying up all night goofing around with it on BBSes. See...this computer is special to me for being the first computer that was "all mine," as opposed to a communal family computer. It lived in my room, held only my files, and did only my bidding. It was a major stepping stone on my road to Geek Hermitdom. It was probably also the first machine I ever used to downloaded porn, even if it was just a picture of a naked woman in ASCII art. Those were the days, man.

The keyboard is showing its age, missing several of its keys, but the computer as a whole shows its age from a pure design standpoint. This box is so old, the keyboard connects to the main box with a telephone handset cable. I'm not talking about an RJ-11 here, I'm talking about a handset cord. I mean it, too...the keyboard does not actually have a cable attached to it; to hook this bad boy up, I would actually need to supply it with a handset cable. There is an external battery hatch on this thing. It takes a 4.5-volt cylindrical...basically the chunky, retarded cousin of the AA cell. "For what?" you might ask, "Surely even a computer this old plugged into the wall." Yes, indeed it did, but it would take a replaceable battery to power it's PRAM. So, yeah, you could walk up to this unsuspecting Mac, pop the battery on its back, and erase its clock. That's awesome. They just don't make 'em like that any more.

I'm having a small amount of difficulty trying to express just how dinky this machine is in today's terms. Like...its big selling point when it came out was that it had a megabyte of RAM. Yes...a megabyte. Singular. Nowadays, computers don't even like booting up without like 500 times that amount. Probably no one today cares that there was once a Motorola 68000 series of processors. Like the ol' 68030? Remember that one? (Like in the LCIII that saw me through college.) Well, this processor wasn't exactly part of the 68000 series...it was a 68000. You kids today don't even talk about processor clock speed any more, but today's standard consumer CPUs run probably in the couple of GHz range. That's, say, two or three thousand MHz. Remember when the Pentium first came out? It was exciting to break, like 100 MHz. Wanna know the clock speed on the Mac Plus processor? It was eight. Eight megahertz! That's how old this thing is.

When I was unloading this thing from it's zipper-topped canvas carrying case with the Apple logo embroidered on the side (yeah), I discovered a Post-It note inside imparting the following information: "Busted capacitor on the analog board; power supply 'dead'; & flaky floppy drive." Busted capacitor? Ah, yes...it all comes back to me now.

See...at some point during my ownership of this machine, I became aware that the power supply on this machine was failing. The primary symptom of this was that the Mac would, after being on for some time, spontaneously reboot itself. Gradually, the time between these reboots would shorten and shorten, until eventually you would turn it on and it would reboot like ten times in rapid succession. I learned somewhere along the way that I could confirm this diagnosis with a voltmeter by measuring the output through two pins in the serial port. Conveniently, I could take a screwdriver and adjust a potentiometer on the power supply when the voltage got low, thereby allowing me to keep the Mac powered up entire hours at a time. Eventually, though, I ran out of potentiometer, and I could only watch in despair as the voltage fell and fell.

One day, as I was taking the voltage reading, I discovered quite by accident that I could boost the power supply output by briefly shorting out those serial port pins that I was using to check the voltage. The spark of electricity and the resulting power surge didn't concern me much at the time. What concerned me was that, magically, my power supply would be putting out sufficient power to stop my computer from constantly rebooting, and it would stay fixed for a while -- days at a time, even. Now I didn't even have to check voltage any more. Any time the computer showed signs of the power supply failing, I could just grab a couple of paperclips, jab the ends into the serial port, touch them together, and -- *ZAP* -- the power supply was once again "healed."

Now...you gotta understand that me "healing" the power supply in this way was much akin to Dr. Frankenstein "healing" a stitched-together corpse (and using much the same method, I might add). And we all know how that ended. So...came the day when I was once again subjecting this poor Mac to its "treatment" when I heard a somewhat unnerving pop come from inside the machine. Hmm, I thought to myself, Must have been a big one that time. Because I'm awesome, I didn't really pay attention to it, since the treatment had its usual effect and the computer was running smooth again. When I did start to pay attention was when somewhere from inside the guts of the machine, a godawful whine started to be emitted. I was elsewhere in the house at the time, and I remember poking my head into the bedroom to see smoke curling out from inside my computer.

Whoops.

Of course, it was all downhill after that. Eventually I traced the smoke (and, presumably, the initial explosion) to this one capacitor, and I guess I always meant to getting around to fixing it or doing something with the Mac, but I guess it never happened. Tonight, I plugged it in just to see if I could get it to boot one last time. I even would have settled for that little sad Mac face that would come on the screen during startup if things were horribly awry. It looks like it wasn't meant to be, though, as the only thing that happened when I turned on the power switch was an insistent, but sad, clicking sound coming from the inside. I considered getting a couple paperclips out...you know, just for old time's sake...but decided against it, just to give the old boy some peace.

So anyway...here's to you, trusty old computer. You were my first, and I won't forget you. I'm sorry I repeatedly Frankensteined you with paperclips instead of just getting you a decent power supply. Enjoy your time in that big adolescent boy's bedroom in the sky. Farewell, good ol' Macintosh Plus!
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