Shortest Path

October 7, 2011

My Apple II/c

Filed under: non-technical — dharabor @ 01:27

Steve Jobs passed away today. A profoundly influential man, his work touched the lives of millions. Including mine. I wanted to reflect on his passing and, since I don’t really have an alternate forum, I’ll share my story here.

In late 1991 I received my first machine: an Apple II/c. I remember a feeling of intense disappointment as my father proudly started unpacking and connecting up the little cream-coloured device. This was nothing like the IBM PCs and Amigas I’d spent so many weeks reading and dreaming about. There was no hard drive, no sound card, nowhere to insert a CD. Just a 5.25″ drive and a box of ancient software. Hand written labels adorned the upper-right portion of most disks, each title more cryptic than the last: “MousePaint”, read one; “Logo”, another. Instead of a 14″ monitor and glorious colour graphics, I found myself staring at a 9″ monochrome green display. The thing made funny beeping noises when you switched it on. For goodness sake, it had a handle. What could he have been thinking?

I never uttered these thoughts out loud. The look on my father’s face then was one of sheer triumph and delight. How could I break his heart? I feigned excitement and soldiered on, determined to make the best of it. Then, something happened: I fell in love.

Over the weeks and months that followed I became obsessed with knowing my Apple II/c. I explored every disk. I pored over every manual. I spent countless hours with friends adventuring in Daventry, guiding Captain Goodnight through the Islands of Fear and helping a little spider reach the attic of a cider factory. I also started programming.

10 PRINT 'HELLO WORLD'
20 GOTO 10

I was never a child prodigy; I didn’t write my own games from scratch or teach myself assembler. I copied thousands of lines of BASIC from reference books so I could play Lunar Lander. I drew patterns in Logo. It wasn’t much, but it was enough. The Apple II/c sparked my curiosity and fired my imagination as no contemporay machine ever could. There was a simple elegance to the way everything worked that encouraged exploration. The BASIC interpreter, for example, didn’t come on a disk: it was built in and started automatically. “Here I am” it would say, blinking its little green cursor encouragingly whenever you’d forget to insert a boot disk, “Take me for a spin. Let’s do something amazing together”.

I didn’t know it then but those early fumbled efforts were the first flirtatious steps of a life-long romance with computing and Computer Science. I eventually graduated to larger and more powerful machines: a 486 PC some years later, a Pentium thereafter. From BASIC I went to Pascal then C and now to… everything. Yet despite all those changes it was that little machine, that Apple II/c, which helped me discover a passion that continues to shape who I am even to this day.

Now, 20 years removed from those halcyon days, I once more find myself the happy owner of an Apple computer. Its form may have changed in the intervening period but its role in my life has not: It helps connect me. It entertains me. It turns my imagination into reality.

Thank you Apple, and thank you Steve.

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