Xyla Foxlin is a creator with a YouTube channel that I’ve followed for a while, and she just posted something that resonated with me—a list of the top 10 things she’s learned as an engineer, maker, creator, and human being.
The ones that really hit for me:
1. The longer you make stuff the easier it gets — mostly because you collect knowledge and tools.
I’ve been working with tools for most of my life, to the point where it’s just second nature, and it’s only been in the past ten years or so that I can afford high-dollar specialty equipment for jobs I do constantly. But there isn’t much I wouldn’t tackle—within reason.
3. Trust in yourself to figure it out. Developing the confidence to problem-solve as you take things on is invaluable.
For me, that confidence bore itself out when I took on the Travelall project, specifically the cowl vent replacement, because I had no backup plan. But believing in myself was key to going as far as I did and being able to bring it to completion. And that problem-solving is the most gratifying part of the whole process.
5. Everything is fixable.
I’m still working on this one, but my additional wisdom is: when you know something is broken or came out wrong, step back. Take an hour or a day, and have a think about it. Often I find that my first solution for fixing things isn’t the best one, and I need time and distance to come up with a better plan.
6. Build a community of friends who have knowledge and tools.
I’d say the corollary here is to then develop into the person who has the knowledge and tools. I’ve got truck friends who I would drop everything for to help, because they’ve been my mentors for more than just dumb truck stuff. One of the sayings around the antique car world is that we have to get young kids interested in our hobby to keep it from dying out; truer words have never been spoken.
7. Invest in personal protection gear that is comfortable and safe.
I did this with safety glasses and I now need to upgrade my dust mask situation.
10. Skill takes practice. Don’t compare yourself to the people you see online; just get out there and do it, and learn from your mistakes.
So I got some stuff done this weekend. The weather has been brutally cold so I’m not that interested in spending time outside, but I did venture out there for some tasks. In rough order:
- Went out for brunch at a place we’ve never been to: Kimchi fries and bulgogi on my huevos rancheros. I don’t think any of us ate again until dinner.
- Reorganized the basement shelving (consolidated old brewing equipment, moved similar items together, swept under old shelves, generally straightened up). It’s amazing how soothing I found this.
- Punted on dinner and ordered Indian food from down the street. This restaurant is on its 17th grand re-opening, so the food was OK—but definitely better than trying to cook something ourselves.
- Enjoyed both Saturday playoff games, which were entertaining. The girls actually sat on the couch with me for most of Packers/49ers, which was fun!
- Installed a replacement steam radiator valve, replacing the replacement which did not work for shit (it basically let the radiator get as hot as possible, which made the bedroom uninhabitable). Verdict: the new one is working extremely well. I will have to buy six more of these.
- Bundled up the dog and myself for a coffee walk Sunday morning. She looks dapper in her Christmas sweater! we did a short walk because I put on one layer too many and was overheating quickly. (Jen got me a proper set of thermal leggings for Christmas, and with those, smartwool socks, and an UnderArmour ColdGear shirt, I was sweating).
- Bundled up and headed out to the garage to finish welding in a third patch on the spare fender and ground it down to (mostly) smooth metal. It’s going to take some filler to clean up. I bought a surplus flight suit from eBay a while back which is doing an excellent job of keeping warmth in and hot metal shavings out.
- Learned that spark plug holes in cast iron US engine blocks designed in the 1960’s are tapped metric. I would have bet my house this was not the case.
- Dug out the garage doors and ran up the Scout. She was happy.
- Scraped and shoveled the front walk again for the elementary kids tomorrow morning.
- Posted a new set of designs to Threadless, made some money!
- Realized I’d never moved any of my font collection over to the new laptop(!?); rectified that situation quickly.
- The entire family slept in until about 8:30, the hound included. Sweet sleepy bliss.
- Jen and I took Hazel for a 2-mile coffee walk in the sunshine for breakfast. She turned to me behind the coffee shop and kissed me, eyes twinkling in the sunlight. That was probably the best part of a great day. And Hazel didn’t drag too much.
- We got the truck out and drove into Ellicott City for a rental ladder and some supplies. I shot a selfie.
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- At home, I put the ladder up and finally cut in the new wall paint in the stairwell. Then I scraped and mudded some cracks in the corner, let that dry, and rolled ceiling paint everywhere I could reach on the ladder.
- On my way back from returning the ladder, a beautiful blue FJ40 Land Cruiser pulled in behind me and waved. He followed me down Main Street in Ellicott City where we got more than a few smiles and thumbs-up.
- I heated up the smoker and cooked 2 lbs. of salmon for dinner. The recipe was a bit sweet and spicy for our tastes, so I’ve got to find another that gives us more smoke up front. But it was easy, and fast.
- We spent 45 minutes on a FaceTime call with our niece and nephew, enjoying their conversation and seeing a lot of their tonsils.
- I finished off the last of Jen’s homemade Key Lime Pie ice cream, which was delicious.
I finally got around to updating the idiotking post count in an interactive visualization instead of a flat graphic. I’m going to see if I can find a way to overlay the category counts next.
I’ve been working on some sketching projects at work which required me to lower my desk chair, bust out the pencils, and get close to the drawings I was making. After a short while working without glasses, I put my progressive safety glasses on and used those to switch back and forth between the drawings and my computer monitor. Those glasses work OK, but I look like a total dork if I have to take a call wearing them.
Warby Parker made me new progressives and shipped them on February 22nd by USPS. When I check on it with their tracking service, it arrived at the Baltimore sorting station three days later and hasn’t moved since. No updates, no movement, no nothing. USPS offers an “extended tracking service” which I’m sure would provide me absolutely zero further detail; I’m going to call Warby Parker on Monday and see if there’s anything they can do—but I’m not holding my breath.
Meanwhile, a friend recommended me to her client for a quick linework illustration job that I knocked out in a couple of hours this afternoon. I like making extra money on the side.
I made a list of projects to tackle around the house this year in my notebook the other night before I went to bed, mainly as an excuse to collect them all and quell anxiety:
- New basement windows. I’ve been back and forth with my rep this week waiting for her to get the quote correct, but when that comes in I’ll sign off and get it paid for. I’m told it’ll be 4-6 weeks for delivery, just in time for some warmer weather.
- Find a fixed basement window with a dryer vent. I really don’t want to close off the window over the washing machine with glass block, but we may have no choice.
- Basement step rebuild. The concrete pad right outside our basement door has been tilted toward the house since we moved in, allowing for rainwater to spill over the edge of the stairwell and flood our basement doorwell. This pad needs to be broken up and removed, and the yard regraded away from the house. I’m going to mix a couple of bags of concrete and pour a higher threshold for the stairwell while I’m at it.
- Bust out the concrete walkway out back. Running over the walkway with an eight ton boom lift broke it up into lots of portable chunks, so it should be easy to lift and haul away.
- Clean up the treeline behind the greenhouse. This is a Sisyphean task that never seems to amount to much, but it’s got to get done. I think I need to nuke it all with Round-Up and then take the mattock to the earth. Or maybe rent a tiller…
- Repair and paint the garage. It’s never been painted since we’ve lived here, and the front “doors” make it look like we’re cooking meth inside. I’m going to pull the front off, reinforce the doorframes, and build new doors that look and work better. Then the whole thing will get sprayed to match the house.
- Pressure wash and paint both rear porches. This didn’t get done with the rest of the house last spring; both of them need a freshening up.
- Finish scraping the outside windows. There are a couple at ground level that need some attention, but everything on the second floor got painted properly with the boom lift.
- Polish the headlights on both Hondas. I did this for the CR-V three years ago and it made a huge difference, but the plastic has broken down again and fogged over. Time to buy another kit and have at it.
I’ve been leaning heavily on podcasts to get me through the quarantine; they make some kinds of work easy (design or coding, walking the dog solo, organizing the basement) a lot more manageable. I’m super picky about my podcasts, because there can be subject matter I’m completely interested in presented by hosts I can’t stand—either due to their voices or their patter. Car Talk, the venerated NPR show that was ostensibly about fixing cars but was really about two annoying men with shrill voices laughing at their own jokes, drove me nuts. There are many podcasts that do the same thing. Here are a couple of new ones I’ve been enjoying this year:
20 Macs for 2020
A deep dive geek-out on Macintosh hardware, this is sort of a retrospective of Computers I’ve Owned; I can claim 8 of the 20 models listed so far. Hosted by Jason Snell, a longtime writer and editor of MacWorld, back when it was a magazine I subscribed to, it features a deep dive into the creation and design of each machine, and features contributions from other eminent figures in the Apple sphere.
60 Songs that Explain the ’90’s (only available on Spotify)
This is a relatively new one on the list, but something I’ve also been enjoying for the nostalgia’s sake: Rob Harvilla goes through a wide variety of songs to tease out what they meant to us during the time they were popular, and what they mean to us now. His format is a little strange, and he’s a bit snarky but overall it’s a good listen.
The Big Picture
This is a movie podcast that covers current releases and the industry in general; the Ringer’s footprint is big enough now that they can get A-level guests to join them for segments, which is a bonus: they’ve had Steve McQueen, Steven Soderbergh and Richard Linklater on in just the past couple of months.
I was dubious about this one at first but fell in love about 10 minutes in. The conceit is that the host was fired from the cast of Saving Private Ryan 20 years ago and just wants to know why it happened. Along the way he’s joined by some of the production staff and former cast members—Ron Livingston and Seth Rogen (who was not in the movie) are as awesome as I would hope they are, and another bit player talks about his experience on set and how it affected him afterwards. I burned through all of these last weekend building shelves in the basement.
Another podcast reviewing old movies, this has been a go-to for years. For all the reasons I didn’t like Car Talk, you may not like this one, but I genuinely enjoy the banter the four hosts enjoy. They’re all roughly my age and they like the movies I do—although their inability to appreciate the genius of The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension led me to near homicidal rage. This was one of the podcasts that got me through weeks in the hospital and the low points of chemotherapy.
Lost Notes: 1980
Another music podcast. The host, Hanif Abdurraqib, dives into music made in one important year, featuring artists like Joy Division, the Sugarhill Gang, Grace Jones, and Minnie Riperton. The episode on Darby Crash and John Lennon was fascinating. I hope he does more.
Yes, another movie podcast. The concept here is that these are all movies that are made to be watched multiple times—with the understanding that the hosts picking the movies are white males, aged 40-50, from the east coast. They started out with Michael Mann’s Heat, one of my favorite movies, and they’ve rarely picked a dud.
Rivals: Music’s Greatest Feuds
This one is less about the music and more about the people behind the music, which is what makes it so fun: the hosts research the people involved and find out what happened and why they hate each other so much. Each episode goes on for about 20 minutes too long, in my opinion. I tend to cut it off around the same time every episode when it gets repetitive, but the bulk of it is good stuff.
The Smithsonian Institution has more stuff in storage than they can ever hope to display, and this podcast talks about that stuff (you get to go in the side door of the museum on a private tour). Their episodes on the Worst Video Game, Outer Space and Underwear, and Apollo 12’s Really Close Call stood out to me—but there’s a ton more to get into.
Slow Burn, Season Four: David Duke
This one has been fucking riveting. I was only dimly aware of David Duke when he ascended to power in Louisiana, but this podcast shows how his blueprint for success in 1991 should have predicted the Great Pumpkin’s success in 2016. The same playbook, the same coded messages, the same blatant use of the office for personal grift, the same indifference or outright cowardice from the Republican Party and the general public: silence equals consent. Also highly recommended: the other three seasons (Clinton, Nixon, and Biggie & Tupac).
You’re Wrong About
This is a relatively new one for me. It reexamines stories and historical events to see if what we’ve all agreed upon as the truth is, in fact, true. They’ve done a lot of deep dives on Princess Diana but have also looked at O.J. Simpson, the Ford Pinto, and the D.C. Snipers. I’m getting into it more and more as I listen.
I haven’t really had much to write about around here other than small updates on lots of little projects.
- I’ve been working nonstop this week on a report at work that will be released both as a print and digital product; the process demands a completely new workflow which has been an uphill climb to learn and a series of trial-and-error attempts to get things right. When it’s done it will be an exciting launch, but it’s taken a lot of late nights to get this far.
- We’re still waiting on grout for the kitchen tile. I bought some “white” grout at the Home Depot and tried it on a test sample, and it dried more gray than white. There’s another color, called “avalanche” which looks whiter than white that I’d like to try next.
- I cleaned out the greenhouse last weekend, pulling all of the rest of the tomato plants out and consolidating the tubs. All of the yard furniture went inside with the last rain barrel, and I reinstalled the panel on the back wall. I’m sad to see it all buttoned up for the winter, but I’m already thinking ahead to next spring.
- Walking the dog last week, I passed by a house that’s been on the market for several weeks and noticed the owners were moving a bunch of stuff out to the curb under giant FREE signs. Always interested in FREE stuff, I bypassed a charcoal grill, several shelves, old office chairs, water jugs and other assorted stuff and focused in on a Dewalt tool case containing a corded drill in excellent shape; I then juggled that, my coffee, and the dog all the way home. I headed back in the Scout to see if I could score one of the shelves to use in the greenhouse. While I was loading that into the truck, the owner asked me if I was interested in a ladder. Sure, I said, immediately thinking of Glenn, who could use a ladder of his own. He showed me to a 20′ aluminum ladder in excellent shape, so I threw it in the truck and texted Glenn. He’d borrowed one of my ladders to pull his shutters off before having their house painted, so we swapped ladders later that day. I’m always looking out for stuff like that, and when I can find things for family, it’s that much better.
- We had an electrician come in and hook up the heater in the new bathroom, after a year of waiting in vain for my neighbor to come back over and finish it. That job went pretty quickly and as a result I had him come back out to put a switch and mount in for a ceiling fan in on the porch. He was smart and jumped a wire from the lighted doctor sign on the front of the house; it took a little longer than he was expecting but it’s all ready for a fan we haven’t bought yet. I’ve got a bunch of patching I need to do on the drywall out there because he had to cut a hole around the switch and up at the top of the wall to get through the sill plate.
- After several months of back-and-forth with Warby Parker, I’ve got new glasses on the way. I was trying to avoid going for an eye exam in person to avoid COVID, and they have an app that roughly tests for prescription changes that I tried, but I was told—after the test—that it didn’t apply to my prescription. After the in-person test I was told two things I already knew: my distance prescription hasn’t changed, and that I need readers. They made the case for a set of bifocals but I think I’m going to just find a cheap pair of readers at Target for now.
Some things I got done this weekend, in no particular order:
- Mowed the lawn myself for the first time all summer: our lawn guy comes intermittently toward the end of summer when he’s gearing up on his fall landscaping work, and the yard was looking shaggy. It was satisfying but I’m happy to do it only twice a year.
- Attempted to get the gas weedwhacker running reliably; and gave up in disgust. Fuck it. I took some pictures and posted the damn thing to Craigslist.
- Posted my unused brew kettle to Craigslist.
- Used the electric weedwhacker to work on the back half of the yard, around the woodpile and behind the greenhouse, which had become overrun with vegetation. Cut back giant bushes behind the woodpile and lots of tall weeds around the property line.
- Climbed the telephone pole by the driveway and disconnected one of two stabilizing wires which had been uprooted by the driveway crew and was hanging loose. Also cut a random telephone wire that was hanging loose and looped around the fence.
- Powerwashed the front stairs, three motel chairs, and two rain barrels to get them ready for storage.
- Bought the girls our first Pumpkin Spice Lattes of the 2020 season.
- Reorganized the garage, again, to fit more of the shit in there comfortably.
- Cut a set of 3/4″ plywood baffles for the back two basement windows from scrap wood and prepped them for quick installation. I’ve still got to do the two side windows and make something for the basement door. When the End Times come, I’d like to be prepared.
- Reinstalled the printer software on Finn’s Chromebook, Jen’s MacBook, my work MacBook and my work tower so that we don’t have to continuously turn the printer on and off in order to get it to fucking print something. Worst $100 I’ve ever spent on computer hardware.
- Repackaged the Anker sound buds I bought last week and set them up for a return to Amazon. I now have two choices: I can buy a pricy set of AirPods Pro, or I can buy a second set of the original Anker sound buds I had originally, which worked fine on their own, but did not work for taking phone calls.
Not much to report on about the weekend. I can bullet some of them out.
- We found a new place for weekend breakfast, neither closer or cheaper, but definitely tastier, in Ellicott City. Three sandwiches and three fancy warm drinks totaled out to a little under $30, but damn, a sausage cheese and egg sandwich between two waffles was the fucking bomb.
- Finn and I drove the Scout down there, after two weeks of slumber in the garage, and she ran great. But it was cold. It’s definitely time to get the hardtop back on her.
- My back could not take any more days on the couch, so Hazel and I moved upstairs to the futon on Friday night. She was relaxed enough to go right to sleep, but any stirring of leaves or wind through branches outside had her awake, hackles up, staring out the window. Several times she started barking, and I had to talk her back to sleep. Saturday night I closed the blinds and she didn’t hear anything or move for the whole night.
- Sleeping with Hazel is like sleeping with Finley at age 4: she’s all elbows and knees, and she puts off more heat than a wood-burning stove.
- Jen took a well-deserved mental health afternoon on Saturday, and Finn was invited to a friend’s house for a sleepover that evening. Jen and I were so beat that evening, we got a pizza, poured some drinks and watched a movie. It’s the first time we’ve done that in about five years.
- I got a little woodworking done in the bathroom on Sunday, but my time was limited. Progress was limited mostly to a coat of paint on the dining room windowframe, some woodwork painted in the bathroom, and a new stool cut for the front windows up there.
- I drive to Parkville at 6:30 to buy a vintage Sears bandsaw from a strange dude off of Craigslist. He lived in a little house with his Mom which was CRAMMED with stuff in neat piles all the way through the house. He took me to the basement and I had visions of ending up as a flesh raincoat, but the saw was good and the deal was done. The wall next to the linen closet is not straight, and there’s a piece of wood that sets in between the closet and the wall. Once I’ve scribed the wall’s curves onto the wood, I can use the bandsaw to cut that much cleaner than if I did it with a jigsaw.
I don’t have much to write about right now. This week has been a grind for various reasons, and I’m looking forward to the weekend so that I can keep making progress on the house.
- The dog is still in a holding pattern. We’ve got an appointment with an outside trainer who will come to the house and train us how to live with Hazel. Hopefully he can help us find a way for the five of us to coexist.
- I’m about to pull the trigger on having our driveway dug up and paved properly. It currently looks like shit. It was last paved around the Eisenhower administration so there are vestiges of asphalt under the grass and weeds, and now there’s a huge pile of mulch in the back half where the tree used to be. I found a company who will set up a diagonal drain to guide the runoff down into the neighbor’s yard (the lowest spot in the area) instead of directly into our garage. It’s not cheap but it will drastically improve the curb appeal of our house. They will also widen the entry so that it’s a proper two-lane driveway, which will make jockeying cars much easier.
- Windows are in but the front pair still needs insulation and final touches on the outside, and I can call that project done for now. Paint and final touches can come later.
- I’m headed to Easton on Sunday to help Karean with a pile of IT issues—she has an old Mac that contains her picture archives and a bunch of other hardware that needs service, so I’m going to pack up a toolbox and see if I can’t solve a bunch of problems for her. If the weather is nice I might drive the Scout over there.
As regular readers here might know, I’m loyal to the Apple brand, because it’s been good to us. In the late 1990’s my friend Logan asked me if I thought it would be smart to invest in Apple stock; this was before Steve Jobs had rejoined and before Ameritrade was a thing on the internet. If I’d been a smarter man I would have scraped together $100 at that point and found a way to buy some; I’d have made about $10,000 on that paltry investment by now.
When I look back on my history with Apple machines, I realize there are a lot of them that have come through my door. Here’s a brief account, mostly for my own edification, of what I’ve had and what happened to them all.
- Mac IIcx (Norman): Norman was the first computer I bought myself, having learned the rudiments of Macs at our computer lab in college. I knew I was going to need to find a new job—contracting was becoming a financial drain—so I resolved to learn some design skills. It so happened that a neighbor of a friend who I’d house-sat for was selling her old IIcx and offered it to me with Quark 3.1, an early version of Illustrator, and some other programs already installed. I took her up on the deal—I think it was $400, which was a lot of money for me at the time—and had to scratch more money together to afford a monitor. When I bought it, it was already several generations older than the ones I’d learned on in college, but still usable. Once I had that purchased, I used it for learning page layout and organizing my illustration mailings. That experience, and a well-placed friend from college, got me an internship. Later I put a a DayStar Turbo 040 card, which, as I recall, involved nervously pulling and mailing the logic board off to the company to be soldered together with the new card. Norman ran faithfully and well for years, but he was old when I bought him and like any nerd I had my eye on a newer shinier machine.
- Power Macintosh 7100/80 (1996, G-Force): This Mac was purchased after the internship changed to a full-time design gig at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. While I was there I inhaled Apple/IT information and reorganized our small network of Macs—optimizing and networking a Quadra 900, a Quadra 840AV and an older IIfx, which I later upgraded with a Radius Rocket to boost its speed. The 7100 was a stable, solid unit that I’m sad I ever got rid of. It got me through years of after-hours freelancing, and when it was relegated to second-line status I experimented and got an install of MKLinux running on it so that I could bang around inside Apache and learn Perl and web services. I donated this machine and Norman to the AmVets sometime in 2003.
- Powerbook 520c (Max, 1999): I bought this machine after I switched to web design. I was working at a regional sales/rental/services company that had moved into web design, and our small band of designers and programmers had a big grey cube all to ourselves–the wild west days of the web. The Mac was a rental that they were disposing of, and I got it for cheap. It was an early laptop with a plastic cladding over a magnesium chassis, which meant that most of the screws were stripped and the clutch mechanism for the lid was worn out. In comparison to today’s laptops with their millimeters of clearance, this machine felt like it was put together at the Fisher-Price factory. But, it was COLOR! and it ran System 7 pretty well. It worked OK for a while, but the tired battery gave out soon after I bought it, and the screen started flaking out, and it was soon relegated to novelty status.
- Compaq (1999, beige box): This was one of two PCs I’ve owned, acquired when I was deep into coding and all of the tools I was using were written for that platform. I don’t remember if I bought this or they gave it to me, but I had it for several years. It ran Windows NT, which allowed me to set up local domains and build and serve sites right on the machine instead of out on expensive public subdomains. For what it was, it worked well, and I used it for several years before I went back to Macs. I don’t miss Windows NT.
- Power Macintosh 8500/150 (Alpha, 1999): I bought this from the rental department as well, intending to use it as a replacement for the 7100 and a server in the basement. It worked reasonably well for what it was, but I don’t remember using it as a main machine until I brought it to the game company and stuck it under my desk to use as a print design and light-duty graphics machine. Much of the interface for Emperor: Rise of the Middle Kingdom was built on this machine. I don’t recall what happened to this unit, but I probably donated it when I moved out of the city.
- Powerbook Pismo G3 (1999): While I was working on a Windows unit at work, I was also lusting after new laptops. When I switched jobs to the dot-com, they gave me a blank check, and I ordered a top-of-the-line Pismo maxed out with RAM. It served as my main machine up until the day I left. While I was there I had a Sun workstation running some form of UNIX that was neat to play with, but was way out of my league.
- Powerbook Pismo G3 (2000): After I was laid off, I needed something to work on, as all of my home machines were pretty creaky. I bought this machine off of eBay and miraculously didn’t get ripped off. It was in good shape and had no dead pixels, and it was my workhorse laptop for the next three years, getting me through multiple freelance jobs and the pivotal switch from System 9 to OSX. This remains one of my favorite Apple machines of all time; the styling of the case set it apart from all other beige laptops of the day, and the keyboard remains one of my favorite designs. It was modular and powerful and sturdy as hell.
The office in my first house: the beige PC, 8500 and a Pismo on the desk. Hi Penn!
- Powerbook Pismo G3 (2001): I bought this from a friend for Jen to use as a freelance machine, and it served her very well until the day it fried itself.
- Various G3 iMacs (2003-8): I went through a phase where I was buying and fixing cheap old gumdrop iMacs and using them for various things, including reselling them. For a while I had a music server at home and one under my desk at work with a giant iTunes library, and ran them until they all fizzed out. Purple was the longest-lived unit, serving all the way to 2008, and then it finally gave up.
- Powerbook 100 (Junior): I found this little gem on Craigslist, I believe. This was the initial offering Apple made to the portable market, and was nothing more than a Mac SE with no floppy drive and limited memory. I used it for simple writing tasks for a year or so but again, because the batteries were long dead it was mostly just a novelty. My sister wound up with one of these and donated it to me when she moved. I tried, but couldn’t get one good machine to work out of two. At some point in the late 2000’s one of the caps blew and it stopped booting, so I traded it for a Powerbook 160 and $10.
- iBook G4 (2005): I upgraded to this machine when my Pismo was getting long in the tooth. It was between this and a full-size Powerbook, and I had to go the cheaper route for financial reasons. In hindsight it wasn’t a bad decision, although as the average browser screen size got larger the size of the iBook display limited the way I saw things unless I was hooked up to an external monitor. This machine served me through a year or so of back-stairwell freelance gigs (always be hustling) and two years of self-employment. It went to Orlando, out to Portland and later to San Francisco, and across the Baltimore/DC area. It was a great machine. I sold it in 2007 to finance the purchase of a new production machine.
- IBM Thinkpad R30 (2006): I bought this as a development machine when I got the TalkPlus gig in Portland, and used it as a coding box while I did all the visuals on the Mac. It was flaky when I bought it but did what I asked of it (running HomeSite and several other handy coding apps) and I humped it and the iBook west for both trips; in hindsight I should have just spent money on a single dual-boot Powerbook. After a while it devolved into chaos when the clock battery died; then there was some nonsense with the BIOS that involved a three-step boot process, and after lending it to my father-in-law for a brief period, it came home and sits on a shelf in the office. It needs to have the drive pulled and get donated.
The Thinkpad hard at work, California, 2007
- Powerbook G4 Aluminum (2007, Dugan Portable) I bought this for the low price of $300 on Craigslist, and while I don’t use it every day, it’s been a dependable workhorse of our fleet. It had a bad LCD, which I replaced soon after I purchased it, and since then it’s been pressed into service whenever I need to go back in time to use an old piece of software or hook up an old peripheral. It also came with a bombproof Brenthaven laptop backpack, which has been used for everything from carting the 17″ MacBook Pro around to hiking trips in the woods.
- Powerbook 160 (2007): I don’t remember why I bought this, but I did. It worked for a while and I had some fun with it (I think I loaded some old floppies in the drive to see if it could read them, that sort of thing) and then I put it aside. Soon after that it stopped booting. I haven’t followed up on it lately, but I’d love to find someone who can troubleshoot and repair it. Having done a little research online, I wonder if it’s the power supply?
- Powerbook 1400cs (2007): this was actually in response to the Powerbook 160 dying, and I wanted something that would still read some of the floppies I had laying around, as well as the ancient CD-R’s I’d burned in my early days. I got it off of Craigslist and was happy to see it booted quickly and came with a PCMCIA slot, which meant after some calisthenics and scavenging a first-gen Airport card from a sick Base Station, I was able to get it connected to our wireless network. I break it out every year or so and boot it up, and apart from a screen issue where the lower half is ghosted for a few minutes, it runs fine.
- Power Mac G5 (2009): I traded some IT time for two of these big boys, as a client was downsizing and didn’t need either of them. They were both finicky, fragile pieces of shit that were constantly overheating and randomly crashing, requiring constant vigilance and multiple surgeries. The first unit suffered from bad RAM and thus kept corrupting its startup disk, and the second had cooling issues which meant it would go down at random intervals with no warning. I installed a older copy of OSX Server and used these machines to learn how to administer it, which came in handy for several IT gigs. I dragged them along for as long as possible but replaced them with a decommissioned Mac Pro from work as soon as I could. When that was complete I gutted both chassis for usable parts and brought the aluminum cases to a recycler, where they fetched about $20. Good riddance.
- MacBook Pro 17” (2007, IdiotCentral): A big-boy portable that wound up being too big. I got this in December of 2006 after dealing with the aforementioned iBook screen, and I think in hindsight it was overkill. This machine was a monster in size and weight. It was great for working on large layouts, and all of the standard connections on a MBP were nice to have back after the limited selection on the iBook. I used this for several years of solid web design work both as a freelancer and at a full-time gig. It suffered from a video board issue later in its career where the lower half of the screen went blank. I cracked the case several times to install new parts, and after installing two inverter boards, I was able to resurrect it in order to put it up for sale. This was sold in 2011 to help pay for a new 15″ MacBook Pro.
- Macbook Pro 15″ (2010, IdiotBrain): This has been my workhorse machine for the last nine years. In frontline service for the first 6, it faithfully traveled with me to and from work at the agency, keeping my freelance work separate from my 9-5 gig. A couple of years ago I upgraded the spinning drive to a solid state unit, which sped it up dramatically. I had few problems with it up until early this year when it unceremoniously blew up. I figure the motherboard just fried itself after thousands of cycles. I pulled the drive and any swappable components out and put it out to pasture. I then put drive inside a decommissioned 15″ MacBook Pro I got from work. This model is two years older than the original, but the drive installed cleanly and it booted up like it was no big thing. The trackpad click function is broken but other than that it runs fine. To all outward appearances, IdiotCentral is still running, even if I’m only using it for personal email and backing up website data.
- iBook, Pismo G3 (2013): These two laptops, mirror images of two machines I’d already owned, were in a closet at the agency and weren’t being used for anything, so I dragged them home and cleaned them up, and they both run OK. The Pismo had never been converted over to OSX (WOW) and the iBook was used for someone’s travel laptop, so they were both used lightly. I recycled the batteries and put the iBook on my workbench downstairs for a couple of years for research needs. The Pismo got juiced with the leftover goodies I’d collected from our old fleet and sits in a container on the shelf.
- Mac Pro (2015, New Brain): I got this from work, as stated above. It had been sitting unused in the corner of a studio room for a year until I saved it and ran some tests. It turned out the RAM was bad, so I bought it for $50 and swapped the bad chips out for new ones. It’s been in the basement ever since, serving out 16TB of data flawlessly. Unfortunately, it’s trapped at OS 10.7 which means I can’t upgrade the OS beyond where it is, and that also caps some of the software I can install. I will eventually replace the platter boot drive with a solid state drive and fill all four bays with gianter drives for our data, but for now it hums along happily.
- Macbook Pro 13″ (2017, WRI Mobile): This is my work-issued laptop, and I’ve had it for about three years now. The first machine I had was an inherited 15″ MBP, which was decommissioned, and they replaced that with a used 13″ machine. That laptop met a sticky end with a full thermos of coffee in my messenger bag, so they gave me another used 13″ that had seen some hard use. I scraped and washed some old running stickers off the case, opened it to dust out the fans, and dropped a larger solid state drive in it, and it’s been my frontline machine ever since. I’m looking at trading it for a new Touchpad MBP sometime at the end of this year.