BlackbirdI was in Dan Strickler’s office at the Kingsport Times-News earlier this week waiting around the catacombs of IT so we could go to lunch and there it was…abandoned, dull with dust and pushed to the side like a junkyard relic. It surprised me to recognize my first personal laptop computer I used to carry around as an advertising rep for the newspaper in the mid-nineties.

Blackbird was the code name of this computer and back in 1994, Keith Wilson, publisher of the Times put this laptop in the budget for the sales department. I had been obsessed with Apple computers from my first experience in the late eighties and was thrilled to be the first one on the streets with this trendy machine. It was the very best that money could buy too. I remember Dan telling me he got the best money could buy when he turned in the order – almost $5800.00 some thirteen years ago.

It’s a baby now compared to modern computers. I plugged in the power cord, pressed the start button and almost immediately, the computer came to life. Surprisingly the only crack in the case was near the mouse, but other than the dust, this little box was ready to roll.

Oh, there’s nothing to brag about. This laptop only had a 20mb hard drive. In contrast, an entry-line Ipod which sells for $299 has about 1500 times the storage space of this computer! Before my prose waxes more romantic (if it already hasn’t), I thought this was the coolest thing anyone could have and meeting up more than a decade later and placing it beside my new MacBook was an amusing.

The monitor is a 9 inch color screen and it’s size is bulky compared to today’s thin-line computers, but there were a couple of firsts with this product from Apple.

• It was the first to implement a track pad. I remember taking this out in the field and noone had never seen anything that looked like this.

• The Blackbird also had two batteries on each side. This added to the weight, but made the memory beefy for road warriors like myself.

It had one of the coolest color monitors too and during the time, this was great to show color ads, photos and proof of artwork for my clients.

As I mentioned, the old laptop sparked right to life when I pushed the power button, the famous Macintosh Chime ushered in a slow reboot and in about a minute, the “happy mac” login screen gave way to a small color desktop with the old System 7 operating system.

Over the past few days, I’ve enjoyed showing everyone my old laptop. Like all my old Macs it’s no surprise to see that the little box still does everything it’s supposed to. It’s even one of the first portable email clients and still has a version of Netscape Communicator and runs Photoshop 4.0. Now the little bugger probably couldn’t even begin to start some of today’s megalithic code and that’s what makes this little box so elegant. All of the programs on this box (Quark, Office, Filemaker Pro) are all written to operate on a small hard drive (big at the time I suppose). A 20mb hard drive would barely be enough to run any modern software application, so I’ve reveled over the poetry of the code and the economy that developers adhered to when they made this laptop and the software.

The old Blackbird 540c has seen some miles too. I know three other sales reps who used the old computer over the past several years. For now though, I’m gonna give it a Fantastik bath, clean off the system software and leave it running in my office to tell my old fart stories about the way it used to be. Glad to you have back my old friend.

Damn…I need to get out more…

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