Stanford, 1985

I am in the process of retiring my old PowerMac 7100 from circa 1994. (I am hoping that the fact that we used LaTex extensively back then is going to a boon now — text is text, after all!) In doing so, my mind went back to my first experiences with an Apple Macintosh, in Stanford’s Smart Product Design Lab (SPDL) and Terman Library, back in 1985.

Turns out that Apple had just released these machines and had gifted a number of them to Stanford. The SPDL and the Terman Engineering library were among the beneficiaries.

My 1994 Apple PowerMac 7100 with a Mac Classic

The SPDL taught us how to build electro-mechanical systems –we’d design and build both the mechanical hardware (think of a battery operated toy car), the electronics to control it (think steering left and right and reversing) and the programmed logic to get it to respond to the environment it operated in (think backing up if it hit a wall). We’d go thru these maniacal design, build, scramble, present modes because the class was a particularly intensive one. We used the Forth (Forth-83) programming language in interpretive and compiled modes to download instructions to an embedded controller card built around on a Motorola 6800 processor, if memory serves me right. There was no Arduino back then! You schlepped it over to the closest Radio Shack at the intersection of Hamilton and High in Palo Alto to buy parts and build what you needed to from scratch.

The one fact that stands out in my mind is that the Mac and the Forth application (both of which were in beta for all practical purposes) would crash and cause havoc — particularly at 200am, when all I wanted to do was get the project done, and go home to crawl into bed. I probably swore more in that 9 month period than through the rest of my life!

I fondly remember the Macs in the Terman Library because I learned to touch type on them. One of the first things that struck me when i got to grad school was that a keyboard was going to play a central role in my life as a grad student. So, I parked in the Library for 2 days and typed like a madman. To keep it fun, I typed a letter to friends and family in India — played with fonts, sizes, formatting along the way. The letter was such a hit that it became a periodic (and, then, sadly, aperiodic) production.

Now, back to work…

PS: Anyone want my PowerMac before I toss it in the electronic recycle bin?

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