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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, Nov. 28, 2014

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A 26-year-old computer struggles to boot up.
A 26-year-old computer struggles to boot up.

Nostalgia (good and bad)

I'm feeling a little nostalgic right now, though I can't pinpoint it to just one thing. It started, I think, last week with the 20th anniversary of my death of my grandfather. As I reflected on that sad day, I continued reading the biography of Steve Jobs, which is interesting, because it connects the dots of a story that I only peripherally understood.

This led me to ask my parents if they still had that original Mac lying around somewhere, the one they bought in 1985 that taught me most of what I know about graphic design and became the platform on which I really learned how to write.

Turned out they did.

My dad handed me a dusty, padded bag, and inside was a yellow, stained and possibly moldy old computer. I plugged it in and turned it on. It didn't quite boot up. Back in the day, Macs didn't have an internal hard drive, so the computer, itself, flashed that familiar old blinking question mark icon, while the 26-year-old extra hard drive hummed loudly.

It turned the 20-megabyte drive on and off about 10 times, and when I came back from grabbing a cup of coffee, it had booted. A screen saver called After Dark, one that I hadn't seen since the early '90s, lit up the screen.

I found myself elated that this relic was working, but disappointed that my school papers and MacPaint files were gone. At some point, I must've removed these files and transferred them to another long-gone computer. Still, the Mac held documents from my younger sister, some work memos from my dad and even a novel my mom had started.

As I pondered how I'd get this information off this ancient computer (there was no ethernet port on this computer, no modem, and I haven't seen a floppy disk or disk drive in ages), I got cocky. I searched for Disk First Aid and ran it. It froze halfway through, and I can no longer get the Mac to boot. Sadly, I think I re-killed this Mac 512K.

My final nostalgic act occurred when I remembered that at some point, I had a SCSI-enabled ZIP drive that maybe I could connect to this ancient computer. I found a box tucked away in the corner of my office and dove in. Inside, I found old newspaper clippings about OnMilwaukee.com, stickers emblazoned with our old logo and a container of CDs.

The CDs were the best part, because I rediscovered 20 or so discs that I never wound up ripping to iTunes. I found parts of my music library that hadn't seen the light of day in this millennium. But I didn't find that ZIP drive.

So, the old Mac remains plugged in, frozen in time. Maybe someday I'll find a way to resuscitate that old hard drive. Maybe not.

But in the last week, I found myself traveling through my past. Some memories were good, some less so.

I guess sometimes a walk down memory lane is an nice little stroll the park. This time, the nostalgia felt a tad more bittersweet.

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