I REALLY LOVE THE MAC
BUT IT WASN’T MY FIRST LOVE
As much as I absolutely love the Macintosh, it wasn’t my first Graphical User Interface. In ’81 or ’82 I was doing graphics at Vandenberg AFB, California. I was in very much in LOVE, and playing with the very first commercial Xerox Documentors! We had 25 of them delivered to us one day where I worked as an artist, at ITT Federal Electric.
I never had a computer before! I thought that all the real computers in the world were only IBM mainframes. My boss knew I was always playing with those computer kits at home, so he brought me in where those boxes were, and said open up one and learn how to use it.
Wow! Did I ever!
I never even bothered to read the manuals, once I hooked one up and started playing with it. The experience with these computers was so very amazing! It was as if the person who invented those things got inside my head and wired the machine to how I thought! Now THIS was real computing!
What a trip! I don’t think I ate, or slept, or even went home for a week!
That big Documenter took 30 minutes to boot, and had a really large 2MB hard drive. It was in a three foot high dark reddish-gray tower with 64K of RAM, a 19″ black and white monitor, twin 8″ floppy drives, and it was hooked to something called a Laser Printer, which was the size of a deep freeze. On the monitor, besides a “Print” and a “Trash” icon, it had just three applications that always sat over on the right of the desktop: ‘Write,’ ‘Paint,’ and ‘Draw’ with bezier curves! I had no idea what MHz the computer’s CPU was clocked for, but I bet it wasn’t much more than one MHz!
But by the end of the first day I was doing desktop publishing! I wouldn’t have known what the term meant, because it wasn’t invented yet. Perhaps the term “Desktop” hadn’t been, either. All I knew was that I was working with a computer like I had always dreamed it might be! Years before, at Rockwell, a few of us had toyed with the idea of what a graphics computer might look like. These Documenters were all of that, and so very much more!
My work in the Word Processing Department at Federal Electric was to provide all their charts and graphs, and any illustrations they might need for their documents. I used a drafting board and the whole mechanical pen and ink setup, with plastic templates and curves. We ordered our text from Lockheed, who had the new Compugraphic Text Processors. Those required a big keyboard, and a very good memory for all the command lines, to set the text and print it out on photo paper. We cut their output apart and waxed it down on our pasteups, along with our inked illustrations, to be sent to the printer. That is how graphics and publications were done on the cutting edge of the aerospace business!
Although our company was given those new Xerox computers to try out, they were meant for word processing only. I knew better, because I could now do all my illustrations and charts on them! My boss was so impressed with my first crude samples that he made me the System Administrator! Me! Without any formal computer experience! So during the next year, I created computer drawings and trained the whole word processing staff on the simple operation of those crazy Documenters, running something called the DayStar Operating System!
Later that year, my boss sent me to New Orleans for the very first Xerox Documenter Convention. There, I won first and second place in their National Graphics Competition! Besides some detailed Technical Illustrations, I did a real black and white painting of a mountain forest and stream!
I also did a simple animation of a bird, that was a line drawing of a pair of wings, actually. This was in static art clips that repeated themselves in a series of thirty-six white box ‘pictures.’ They slowly loaded one on top of the other, as the bird ‘flew’ across the screen! Xerox was very happy about this, and they used if for a while to show off the capabilities of their word processing computer.
Later, I had more fun building a text document for my own WP department that said “DO NOT OPEN!” I stuffed that inside a desktop folder on the network, that was titled: “Company Secret.” On the document page, I had built a digital readout that had three numbers that would slowly be counting down to zero when the document was opened. The title on the page, in big, bold letters said, “NOW DELETING ALL SOFTWARE!” (Yeah, I was a bad boy!) I also did a ton of drawings and illustrations in that crude “MacDraw” type of drawing program. It was way faster than the drawing board, and minor change requests did not mean drawing it all over. We were now a PRODUCTIVE department, which meant we got to keep using those Documenter computers!
I didn’t know it at the time, but the upper management of Xerox was completely clueless about what they had. Xerox Parc, in Palo Alto, was an orphaned “think tank!” We now know that Xerox never developed their awesome computers beyond what we had been given. It really was the first Graphical User Interface, light years ahead of all those MS-DOS-based IBM PCs that the other employees were using! Sometimes I would catch one of them peeking in on us, kind of like we were bigshot mainframe people using esoteric commands to make magic on our machines! I wonder if they could have believed us if we told them ours were easier to use than theirs?
Of course Steve Jobs saw the Documenter at a visit to Xerox, and the rest is history! I never heard of either him, or Apple Computer. But later I would be very glad that he found the Documenter! Xerox, if they could travel back in a time machine, might go back and develop that GUI. They would then own the whole computing world! A world without Apple, Cisco, Adobe, or Micosoft! I would bet that they have wished for that time machine more than a few times over the years!
But you know that all good things must end, here on this ball o’ mud.
My work with these fabulous computers suddenly ended with the loss of the Challenger Space Shuttle! When it exploded, so did Vandenberg’s hopes of West Coast Polar Orbital Shuttle launches! My company, tied to that program, laid us off and gave all the Documenters back to Xerox! (I tried real hard, but I couldn’t even buy one!) Xerox decided to trash them instead and get out of that business! After all, they said, they were COPIER people!
You know, I was in deep withdrawal from all of that!
The Air Force was the biggest loser in this because it had an awesome enclosed Shuttle launch facility (SLC6) around the back of the mountain and near the beach. What a beautiful, and inspiring site that was! Vanenberg also had a complete Shuttle manufacturing facility. It had a harbor and a dock, with tugs, to retrieve the spent boosters. It even had a five mile long landing field! But because of the Challenger accident, Congress voted to cancel it all, mothball everything, and lay off almost everybody at Vandenberg! Therefore, I sadly took my family and left back to the smogville we call Los Angeles. At least there would be graphics work there among all those aerospace companies.
While I worked at Vandenberg, we lived in Lompoc (pronounced: Lahm-poke). We loved Lompoc! It was named for one of the four ancient cities of the Chumash Indians, who were transplants from South America. Their cities were Obispo, Nipomo, Lompo, and one that was lost to history out on the Santa Barbara islands. Lompoc then grew all the flower seed in the world, and was surrounded by row upon row of bright and varied fragrant flowers.
They still do. Lompoc is near the beach at Vandenberg, so it is always cool in the summer, and foggy in the winter. That little town had one of everything: K-mart; Sears; McDonalds; and so on, including an open truck market and barbecue on the weekends. It was a great place to raise kids and explore all the history in the surrounding area. You could even walk across it in about an hour. What a sweet place to live! We still miss it. Once in LA, I went to work for a robotics company, Odetics, which produces some mighty fine equipment. They put me to work on a drafting board, and I did their magazine ads and promotional pieces. I never told anyone, but drawing my beloved graphics just wasn’t the same anymore. My heart really wasn’t in it. I really missed my beloved Documenter terribly!
But one day, my supervisor told me to meet him in the conference room. There on the table was a small, tall, gray computer that had a little built-in monitor! He said it was called a Macintosh SE. Never heard of ’em. No one at the company knew how to use it either, but they wanted to do an evaluation of it. I still don’t know why he asked me. I wasn’t into computers at all any more.
I sat down and turned it on, and immediately smiled a big GRIN from ear to ear! For me, heaven had been lost, but now it was FOUND!
My supervisor was amazed to watch me go at it, as I quickly created a few posters and illustrations for him! I neglected to tell him about my previous experience, but he could readily see that his graphics people would need no training to work on this new Macintosh!
It was my secret that I could make that box tap dance, not just because I had the Xerox Documenter background, but because that same ‘someone’ who had gotten into my head had created this little computer, too!
That little Mac was so darned INTUITIVE! My supervisor even commented on it, kind of in a daze. He wondered how a person could suddenly merge so completely with a computer in such a fashion! He didn’t really like computers at all, but went ahead and ordered six of them for our drafting and publications department! He was even in more of a daze, watching all of us every day, as we each intuitively made those Macintoshes FLY! I didn’t have to do any training with those guys. We were all suddenly PRODUCTIVE! We also had an instant Mac club, and we were teaching each other all the neat tricks we found.
Later, I found another new love: Aldus FreeHand! It was only a demo on a single floppy, sent to our new Macintosh department for a tryout.
We could crank out illustrations in that application almost as fast as our new Laser Printer could print them! My supervisor was so happy that he gave us a raise!
I loved the Mac SE! It was a lot like my beloved Documenter, but oh so much more advanced and capable, especially with FreeHand 1.0!
Well, that’s how I got into computers, and how I found the Mac. Somebody dropped it into my lap!
It had an amazing and intuitive design that changed my life! Like so many other users of its brave, bold interface, I have learned to FLY!
And like you, I never looked back! Those poor, brilliant Xerox Documenters went away, but thank you, Steve Jobs–and everyone else responsible at Apple–for bringing us the Macintosh and keeping it alive!
You know, there really must be a God! Look at the perfect time and place where all we artists were when these devices fell to earth! I could not even imagine my life without them.
Why don’t you share your story, too?