Editor’s Note: This month’s post is by Erik Schmidt, who is a software product manager who lives with his wife and two boys in Santa Cruz, California. He can be found on Twitter as @erikschmidt and at his blog, Luxury Bauble.
The PowerMac 8100/100 AV wasn’t the first Mac I used, or the first that I owned. It certainly wasn’t the last. But it stands out as the one computer that truly transformed my life.
The summer of 1995 was a bewildering time for me. Only a year prior I had left the Army, and I was adrift. My work running the daily operations for a university-based nonprofit paid peanuts, but it was the only job I could find. Employers weren’t exactly lining up to pay ex-Infantry officers, and I had no connections. The economy was flat, I was still paying off undergraduate student loans, and I had no idea what sort of career I wanted.
The 8100/100 AV retailed for $4,600 and the 15" Apple Multiscan CRT monitor I bought with it retailed for $500. Because I was working for a university, I was able to purchase the pair for around $4,000. That’s still a lot of money. By any objective measure it was foolish to shell out so much money at such a precarious time in my life.
Using the Macintosh IIvx at the office, I’d already built some rudimentary web pages. I had this notion that I’d be able to use the 8100/100 AV to build websites. Maybe I’d get lucky and someone would pay me to do it.
After unpacking the 8100/100 AV and firing it up, I promptly named it Merlin. Like the Arthurian sorcerer, Merlin made magic. It ran at a blistering 100MHz, which was ludicrously fast at the time. It contained a 2 GB hard drive. How could I possibly fill up a drive that big?
Video. Yeah, I’d fill it with video. Merlin’s built-in video capture card made it easy (if slow) to digitize video from analog sources like my DVD player.
I used Merlin to conduct my first experiments with video, capturing short segments from The Right Stuff and saving them with different compression settings. After a while I realized that without an actual video camera and some sort of video project in mind, Merlin’s A/V multimedia capabilities were wasted on me.
Not that I minded. There were plenty of other tasks for Merlin. The Mac IIvx I’d been using at the office ran Photoshop 3 at a snail’s pace, and I’d actually had to use a Bernoulli 88 as a Photoshop swap disk. Even the most basic Photoshop tasks required the patience otherwise reserved for building ships in a bottle or reasoning with toddlers. The first time I fired up Photoshop on Merlin, it felt like I was cheating. Surely it couldn’t be this easy?
With Merlin, everything was easy. I tried in vain to keep up with all the changes taking place on the Web. I chatted in a few usenet history discussion groups. I became an eWorld regular and a Civilization addict. I played A–10 Attack! poorly, routinely botching takeoffs and landings. But I was crashing with higher polygon counts!
Merlin served as my home office and entertainment center. It was also the springboard for my entry into the world of professional web development. I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time with the right equipment. I put in many hours after work and on weekends building web pages with BBEdit, Photoshop, and Fetch. I learned enough to get paid to build a couple of sites. Then I got a job partially on the basis of my web skill. Finally, a government agency hired me as its first official webmaster. I’d found a career.
Ultimately my crazy purchase paid off more than I could have imagined. Arguably I could have learned just as much using a Performa or one of the lesser Mac towers, the 6100 and 7100. But the 8100/100 AV gave me room to grow. I used Merlin for a long time.
I had to have its internal battery replaced in 1998. I also upgraded the RAM. This was a time when you practically had to take out line of credit to afford memory upgrades. Finally in 1998 I bought a spiffy new iMac and gave Merlin to my dad as a replacement for the Mac SE/30 he’d been using without a glitch since 1989.
In 2000 Dad received a ruby red iMac DV as a gift, and Merlin found its way back to my house. I was just discovering Linux, so I downloaded MkLinux and installed it on the old beige beast. To my surprise, it worked fine. Admittedly, I didn’t use it for anything truly productive, but I did tinker around with it for a while, getting my feet wet with Linux in the process.
A year or two later during a move I gave Merlin the heave-ho. I did so with a sense of sadness. Merlin was more than a machine; it was an agent of change.
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