bytes logo

NOVEMBER 1999 | VOL. 3, NO. 11



Smile, You're on Voyeur Cam


DAN SULLIVAN is a contibuting writer for Renaissance Online Magazine.


Search Renaissance Online

NOTE: The Bytes & Picas section now features news and reviews of the gadget culture, including video games, technology, the internet and marketing strategies.

The Joy of Retro Computing

Last month I sold my four-year old Macintosh Performa 578, an aging workhorse of a machine, for $300. $1500 less than what I paid in 1995. Computers retain their value like a car or fresh produce. You lose 20% of the value as soon as you bring it home, and further depreciation awaits you, daily.

For certain people, life without a Mac means a little depression, daily.

As soon as my Mac was in the Subaru Outback of another man, I felt a loss. Post-Macum-depression. Within days I found myself in Category 171 of eBay, Computers-Hardware-Macintosh. A brand new 300 MHz G3 iBook is coming my way in early November, but using my Pentium II is best described as a moral compromise. Two months without a Mac seemed unbearable.

Luckily my iBook needs an Ethernet-friendly Mac to print to my pre-USB, trusty, rusty HP 560 DeskWriter wirelessly via its AirPort base station. I could rationalize bringing home a "foster Mac" a little early.

Venerable Mac SE performs like a champion A mere two weeks after my Performa left my desk, a Macintosh SE (right) claimed residence. This eleven-year old is about the size of my breadmaker, and costs less. Compared to my Performa with a 68040 Motorola chip (think of it as a four-cylinder Honda Civic), my SE has a Motorola 68000 (think of it as a one-cylinder Suzuki moped).

One of the immediate charms of the SE is the startup chime. Unlike the pleasant musical chord my Performa produced, the SE signals life with a single ping, not unlike the audible beeps of EKG's on TV hospital dramas that signal a beating heart. This is somewhat appropriate considering the SE's age and speed.

The little guy came loaded with four megabytes of RAM, two internal hard drives (both 250 megabytes), the optional internal SuperDrive 1.44 floppy drive (which is today's standard for the dying floppy disk formats), Ethernet, and a tilt-swivel stand that literally rocks the entire computer back and forth for your viewing preference. It's like a Mac Lay-Z-Boy. I love it.

The SE doesn't delude you into thinking it will outperform today's machines. In my home office, it literally faces a 450 MHz Pentium II on the opposite wall. My SE seems to stand and operate in defiance of today's technology. With the tilt-swivel stand adding 3-4", the SE approaches the height of the HP Pavilion tower. The 9" black and white SE screen is nearly half that of the 17" color PC model across the room.

Ironically, I find the SE forcing me to be more productive. For example, if I type my column for Renaissance Magazine on my HP Pentium II, there's the Internet, a DVD-ROM drive, and several multimedia games to distract me. On the SE, Microsoft Word is really pushing the 16 MHz processor and available RAM. It forces a singular focus for the user. Maybe if corporations replaced their Internet-capable, multimedia friendly Pentiums with a fleet of lean SE's, their employee base would buckle down. They would pump out those reports and easy-to-read, one-layer ClarisWorks spreadsheets, instead of developing and rehearsing epic PowerPoint presentations for most of the day.

I just hope my company isn't the first to try it.

The SE supposedly has engraved signatures of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak (Apple Computer founders) inside the chassis. After researching it on, I learned the 9" screen stores enough static electricity to shock or kill the uninitiated Bob Villa's of computer repair. I'm sure it looks cool, but I will leave it alone.

The best thing about the SE is the price. This little wonder cost me $44.50, shipped. I actually had to pay $22 in shipping fees to get it from Illinois to Massachusetts. My bid for this little wonder went unchallenged at $22.50. Amazing.

So, if collecting 1966 Ford Mustangs is out of your budget, consider the pioneers of desktop computing. My SE will function as a print server, networked floppy, and SCSI interface for my Jaz drive. Slide over to eBay and see what $50 can land you. You'll be surprised, and perhaps a little impressed.


* * * *