The FrankenMac 🍏

Thinking back to a time in my life when an old iBook gave me a window into a broader world … and why I got rid of it.

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(Thomas Mathie/Flickr)

About 18 years ago, I made the snap decision that, while I really liked the Mac Mini I had just purchased, I really wanted to be able to leave the house with my computer sometimes.

So, I bought a somewhat-out-of-date iBook and sold the Mac Mini. That iBook gave me so many problems, but I think it eventually proved an important gateway to how I experienced the world. 

I was very much a nomad during this period of my life; I moved from Wisconsin to South Carolina essentially for no other reason than to work for a newspaper. In many ways, the iBook was the only constant in my life. Until it wasn’t.

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My screen (albeit on an iBook G4 rather than a G3) was doing something somewhat similar to this when I lived in South Carolina. (dtack/Flickr)

One day, the capacitor on the graphics chip blew out and I was basically unable to turn it on for any sort of sustained period. So, for a few months, I just didn’t have a laptop at home anymore. Instead, I ended up just staying longer at work to use my work machine.

I was young at this point and had student loans and bad credit, and worked a job that was relatively low-paying, so getting to the point where I could buy a laptop again took me a while. But when I did, I bought the same damn computer—either because I’m crazy or did not know any better.

On the plus side, however, round two with the iBook turned out to be a pretty good move. Soon enough, I ended up moving to Virginia, where I worked at another newspaper, and this time, I lived in an actual city environment. And that meant the laptop was a constant in my bag, allowing me to go anywhere and pull it out and surf the web. This was freeing for me at the time, especially in an era before smartphones. (I, at this time, believe I had a Motorola Razr.)

In this context, the iBook did something important: Because I made the decision to leave the house and go to a coffee shop, I met other people because I had it. I found my people because I had it. Even though I spent a lot of time clicking away on news stories and stuff at the coffee shop, I would slowly meet people at this coffee shop with the help of this laptop that I owned. Maybe we started geeky conversations; maybe we’d go grab a beer afterwards. But eventually, I put it away and talked to people. This laptop—this old PowerPC workhorse—actually became key to having a social life.

Here’s one of the songs I wrote during that period. It was recorded on an iBook.

It was also a boon creatively. One of the only other things that made the leap from Wisconsin to South Carolina to Virginia was my guitar. And together, I used that guitar and that iBook to record an album. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I loved lo-fi music at the time, and that album largely used the iBook’s microphone to give it a scratchy vibe.

But things eventually started to degrade, both with the environment and my laptop. See, I lost my job at this paper because the paper shut down. It was late 2008, more than two years after Apple ditched PowerPC, and the laptop had also seen better days … at this point, the hinge had started to go.

It was basically the worst possible time for my screen to go to hell. I would find myself at the coffee shop holding up the laptop with a stack of books.

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Based on the number of iBook disassembly images I found on Flickr, this was a popular machine to tear apart! (zero.the.hero/Flickr)

A close friend of mine, an engineer, offered to take that old busted laptop with the busted chip and borrow the hinge from that machine to put in my other machine, buying me some time.

Together this old machine and this new machine combined to become what we called the FrankenMac. I only used it for a short period of time, but it was the machine I started my blogging career on, the device that started ShortFormBlog … a combination of one laptop with a busted graphics chip and another laptop with a busted hinge.

I was laid off, waiting to hear back on an interview, with a laptop that was already showing its age. Perhaps I was feeling the pressure of the moment, I made a snap decision that could have turned out really bad had things not played out differently: I used some of my severance money to buy a new MacBook, in a snap decision.

The FrankenMac had to be retired. The site I had built on it would be produced on a block of aluminum rather than a block of polycarbonate.

But in the end, it worked out. I got a better job (the one I had interviewed for) in another new city. I met my wife in that new city, and even though the FrankenMac didn’t make it through to the present day, it got me to the next stage.

Years after becoming a super-nerd with a couple dozen computers to my name, I still think about the stack of books that held this old machine up sometimes. That was the machine that allowed me to become a writer and creative person … because, sometimes, I put it away and looked at the outside world.

Time limit given ⏲: 30 minutes

Time left on clock ⏲: alarm goes off, and then some

Ernie Smith

Your time was just wasted by Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the editor of Tedium, and an active internet snarker. Between his many internet side projects, he finds time to hang out with his wife Cat, who's funnier than he is.

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