Oct 10, 2011

History of the world: Apple Computers (2)

(Go  here for earlier acts)

Act III. We're now at Dartmouth College, NH, and the day is Jan 16, 1984. I had become interested in computer simulations,  and was visiting Dartmouth's Research Policy Center, run by Dennis Meadows of The Limits to Growth fame, to learn more about his approach, called "System Dynamics." To repeat, the day is Jan 16, a Monday, and we all must go and have a look at the new Apple computer, the Macintosh. So we cross the icy, snowy campus, and arrive in a dedicated room of the computing center, where a passionate lady demonstrates to us what a rectangular box, white, with a small screen, and a funny little device on the desktop, called "mouse," could achieve together. There is also a small matrix printer with very ugly output. But, but, you could create sketches on the Macintosh screen by moving the mouse across the table, and then print them on the printer. Also, you could use different fonts for your text, and print them as they appeared on the screen (WYSIWYG). This led to typographic orgies of the worst kind for months on end, campuswide (don't ask), printed in very ugly ways by this matrix printer.

Apple Macintosh

Act IV.  A year and a half later. I'm returning to Dartmouth College on a regular basis for various projects, and spend a lot of time with Perry LaPotin, the polymath grad student, who has become an invaluable part of the Cold Regions Research Lab of the Corps of Engineers, conveniently located next to the college. Perry was already writing programs for the Macintosh. There was only one small problem. You could not write Macintosh programs on the Macintosh itself, its memory was too small. Apple had built another machine, the Lisa, available only to professionals, whose memory was large enough for Macintosh programming since it had a hard disk (HARD DISK) that could be made to work as virtual memory. The hard disk was really large, 10 megabytes, (MEGABYTES) but there were glitches. Lisa didn't always know when the hard disk's capacity was exhausted, which led to hard disk malfunction, which then Perry had to repair using a mix of erratic reset activities (eg. the escape button), brawn, and black arts. He spent roughly half of his working day resetting the hard disk. I still see him sitting there, patiently kicking the Lisa back to work. When we would finally go home, belatedly, exhausted, we would turn our attention to the regrettable downward spiral that constituted the Apple Computer stock price. Apple was on its way out, since the Macintosh was fairly useless.

Perry LaPotin

Go here for the next act.

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