Power Consumer

By Greg Raven
Volume 6 no. 12 (December 1988), page 28

I pity anyone using a Mac 512E, Plus, or SE without a hard drive. Not only are they missing out on a lot of the natural data interchange for which the Mac is so famous, but with the plummeting prices of SCSI-port hard drives these days, it must be murder trying to hold out for one more day without buying one.

I tried to hold out myself, after buying my Mac Plus. I lasted a month or so, then I crumbled. I bought a DataFrame XP20 and never looked back. I never regretted the decision, either. In fact, I kind of got hooked on buying Mac accessories.

It was not always that way. I remember looking through magazines when I had my MS-DOS machine, watching the prices fall, and thinking, Boy, $____ is still a lot of money for just a hard drive. Just a hard drive. I actually thought that to myself back then. Now that I look back on those days, I realize that it wasn’t the price of the drive, or my imagined lack of need for same, but rather it was difficult to get too worked up about buying another piece of hardware because the hardware I already had was … well … boring.

That has all changed, in a big way. While it is true that I manage to get a lot of productivity out of the equipment and software I have, I do not consider myself to be a power user. I don’t have a custom keyboard, track-ball mouse, touch-screen, macro command generator, help templates, etc. I pretty much scrape along letting brute force and a mild-mannered 68000 work their inexorable mischief on the pile of work in my inbox.

What I have become is a power consumer.

It took me completely by surprise. When I bought my Plus, I discussed with the salesperson whether I should buy Works or Word. I was leaning towards Works because it was supposed to have everything, after a fashion, while if I bought Word I would have only a very nice word processor. I was saving money, you see.

She talked me into Word, however, so while I was able to do all the work I needed to get done at that moment, because of my previous computer experience I was already used to spreadsheets, database programs, and telecommunications. In short, I was in big trouble.

Actually, telecommunicating was easy. I bought Red Ryder and a cable and hooked up my 2400-baud modem to my Mac instead of to my other machine.

The next thing I knew, however, I was standing in the computer store again, this time buying Excel. Sure, I probably didn’t need a spreadsheet that powerful, but it seemed to be pretty well supported and it was — after all — the best, so what the heck?

The problem was that while I was in the store buying Excel, I noticed they were having a sale on the then brand-new XP20s. A friend had just bought a plain old HyperDrive for more than the asking price on the much faster DataFrame. Suddenly without warning I owned a hard drive. A month later, I upgraded my Mac to 2 megabytes of RAM just in case it would solve a problem I was having with Word. It didn’t. Oh, well.

Then I owned Reflex for the Mac. Then I owned SuperPaint. Then I started downloading programs from all the local BBSs. Then I started transferring all my text files from the old machine to the Mac, which meant that my back-up in duplicate needed a lot more diskettes than before.

Having more diskettes meant creating some sort of filing system, which in turn meant buying diskette storage boxes. The first one, the one that holds fifty diskettes, lasted about a week, and prior to buying it I didn’t even own fifty diskettes. Soon, I had smaller five- and ten-pack diskette holders strewn around the house, each with the name of its contents on it, like Art, Utilities I, Languages, Databases II, etc.

In what seems now to be a blur, I purchased Adobe’s Illustrator, yet another art program to go along with the copy of SuperPaint that I already was not using. I am not an artist, you see. Have no desire to become one. I just happened to like SuperPaint so I bought it. I suppose I should have seen the warning signs when the same thing happened with Illustrator, but by that time I was too far gone.

I was beginning to feel somewhat like a black hole for software. I would go into a store, an interesting piece of software would appear on my event horizon, an then it would wink out of existence, magically reappearing a few minutes later on my software shelf at home. Kind of like a parallel universe, I guess.

At that little computer show we had recently at the Ambassador Hotel, I had Vicky Jo Varner stand on my foot so I would not wander off and buy one of the many inexpensive hard drives that were available. When she finally trusted me enough to let me up, you could see the imprint of her high heel on the carpet beneath where my foot had been, but it worked; I no longer wanted a hard drive. Instead, I wanted one of those slick 45 megabyte removable Winchester drives that Steve Riggins is pushing. I tell myself it would make back-ups that much easier.

Then I catch myself. Criminy! Did I really just admit that it was worth over $1,500 bucks to save a moment or two each day when I perform my back-up? Frightening.

After buying a scanner to go with Illustrator (which I bought to go with XPress), it seemed only natural to buy a laser printer. I held out until the LaserWriter IIs came out, thinking that I could then buy a LaserWriter Plus for peanuts from some overstocked dealer.

I was right; I could. But the overstocked dealer was also offering the LaserWriter IINT for only $300 more than he was asking for the LaserWriter Plus at unhealable deep-cut discount. Ah, what the heck? I wanted the newer machine anyway.

I sent off money to all the authors of all the shareware I had on my system. When the new Finder came out, they said it was best to buy a copy and get documentation, so I did. I suppose I could have picked up a copy of HyperCard somewhere for free when it came out but I didn’t. And pulling software off the LAMG BBS even at 2400 baud was too slow, so I bought a bunch of the PD disks to exorcise the spending demon that infests my wallet.

Still, the desire was unrequited. I never felt that I had enough. So I bought MacMoney to see where I might conserve in order to be better able to buy computer accessories. MacMoney told me I was already spending nearly $500 a month on computers, and that I had better knock it off. That was last year. This year my average is sitting right at $750 a month. I don’t spend that much on my rent, folks.

At this point the only thing that might slow me down is the fact that I am running out of room in which to put all the stuff I am acquiring. There is now no more room for another set of documentation. No more room for another hard drive. No more room for a big-screen monitor. I don’t mean to imply that I couldn’t find someplace to squeeze in a CD-ROM player or some more RAM, but none of this is very comforting, no more than at Thanksgiving dinner when you have eaten so much food your eyes are floating, and then they announce dessert.

A month ago, I began the long, slow process of purchase withdrawal. Sure, I upgraded a couple programs here and there, snagged another storage box (make that four), and whimpered about how deprived I was, but for a while I was content with a lower level of accretion than that to which I had become accustomed. Unlike a recovered alcoholic, I felt I could learn to enjoy buying little computer trinkets without going into a purchasing frenzy.

Until last week. Last week was what the biorhythm people call a triple-negative week for me. First, my best friend bought a Mac II. Second, I accidentally attended the Mac II Special Interest Group meeting. Third, I looked around and found that almost everyone I know is either purchasing Mac IIs, planning to purchase Mac IIs, or purchasing additional Mac IIs.

Of all the things I need (or think I need), the Mac II is definitely at the bottom of the list. It’s big. It’s expensive. It’s buggy. It’s not satisfied unless you put something (anything, as long as it is expensive) into its slots. It is, in short, an entirely new black hole for money.

I think I’m doomed.

As this issue goes to press, we have learned that the author just sold his Mac Plus and bought an dual floppy SE with a 45 megabyte internal drive, a 40 megabyte external drive, a 45 megabyte removable Winchester drive, and 4 megabytes of RAM.

By accident.