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ATPM 17.11
November 2011





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On a Clear Day, You Can See the Hollywood Sign

by Mike Shields,

Without Him, You Wouldn’t Be Reading This

When I heard the news, I asked Michael if we’d be getting out a special issue immediately, however, he stated that we’re posting our memories here, as part of the regular monthly issue. Having had some time to think about what Steve Jobs’ legacy has meant to me, words have failed.

What I can tell you about is my personal experience with the Mac, that ultimately has led to my reverence of Steve Jobs. As you all know, he and Steve Wozniak created the Apple computer over 35 years ago. The specific year was 1976, and about a year before that, I decided I wanted to dedicate my life to telling machines what to do. At the ripe old age of 15. Little did I know what I had gotten myself into.

Mostly mainframes, as it turned out. Dumb terminals connected to the beginnings of the ’net that Al Gore didn’t invent as I majored in Computer Science during my college years at USC. Back then, they didn’t have the term information systems. That came later. I hadn’t really heard about desktop computers until ’83, when I got a job at what was then Hughes Aircraft, as I may have related on this site previously.

I believe it was an IBM XT, running DOS. Seven months later, I’m sitting at a Super Bowl party watching the then LA Raiders stomping on the Washington Redskins, and am witness to “1984.” All the research I’ve done lately suggests that I’ve seen this commercial only the one time, however, I specifically remember seeing it after that date on TV at my home in North Hollywood. Enough to check out the computer in question, at least.

Remember when Macs cost a lot? I seem to recall prices upwards of $5,000 when I first priced out the early Macs. The first one I remember using is an SE/30 that my friend had. Was good for playing games like early versions of EA Football and the like. Played a couple of text-based games with enhanced graphics, too. The visual element added to the experience.

Meanwhile, at work, I was still connected to a dumb terminal that linked to the network at Hughes. Was given control of a project that required that I learn C. So, I bought a book, and did that in a day. Eventually moved into a department that was using an Apollo network, and started programming on that. Almost ten years later, I find out that Apple absorbed Apollo. Got laid off from Hughes the first time in September of ’86.

I’m Not an Actor, But I Play One on TV

It was at this point in my life that I made a monumentous decision that ultimately brought me to you today. As I was unable to get work in my chosen field, and being the son of parents who both had Theatre Arts degrees, I pursued an acting career. I probably should have done this earlier, however, this is why not too many people know that I’m famous. Spent five and half years in radio, all the while attempting to save for a Mac that was painfully out of reach. After getting laid off from radio, I got a job with a production company, where I was handed complete control of yet another SE/30 that held most if not all of the company records. This led to a job selling computers in Burbank, and receiving copies of MacWEEK, wherein I learned about Jobs’ firing.

Most of the people that came into the store looking to buy were in the entertainment industry that I was on the periphery of, and their computer of choice was a Mac. They had probably just seen “Jurassic Park,” and the Quadra 700s. I got educated in an early version of Final Draft during my time there, too. It was from there that I got to know enough about the Mac to become a desktop technician for my second stop at Hughes Aircraft, and led me to my computer of choice, as well.

While I was away, they went to the distributed desktop model, wherein everyone had a PC or Mac on their desk, and there were about 15 of us that had to maintain over 2,000 computers that the various engineers were using. As a Mac Tech, there’s a lot of time to sit around, as they simply work, as you know. That’s how I found ATPM, on one of my random searches of the early Web. It was also during this time that I expanded from merely being an actor, into a writer and a director. Producer would come a bit later, when I realized that no one was going to hire me, or buy my scripts.

For whatever reason, there was an anti-Mac bias there, and I’ve written about that in the past. From what I specifically remember, several news organizations predicted the demise of the Apple computer itself. It was about this time that Jobs came back as iCEO. A title he jokingly claimed during the keynote speech at Macworld Expo in 2000. I had the honor of seeing this online on my Mac G3 I was using at JPL as a Mac Tech there. It was at this point that he announced what would become the .Mac accounts, and I grabbed one right away.

RIP Steve

So here we are, over ten years later, never to see him take command onstage again, announcing the latest and greatest to come out of Cupertino. He leaves behind a powerful legacy, and he’ll be a tough act to follow. I’ll never really know what it was like to experience him live, however, what he has brought to me, and ultimately you, my three readers, will last forever.

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