Computer Biography

Current Machines

The Mac

My primary computer is a MacBook Pro. The current model I have is a mid-2010. This is my third Mac laptop. The first was a 2003 PowerBook, which I bought mere moments after being offered my first Equity contract (it was a tour, so I really needed a laptop immediately.) While I've always had Windows installed on all of them, I have been using Macs as my primary computer since 2002.

The Gaming Rig

This is my gaming rig. I first built it in 2005 because I was a very frustrated Mac-using gamer (before Macs could run Windows natively), who had just spent the last six months working quite frequently on Broadway, and when faced with more money than I knew what to do with, came to the logical conclusion that I should spend it all on a PC that would be used solely for gaming purposes.

At the time I built it, it was kind of high-mid-range. In mid-2008 it was getting a little sluggish (my Macbook Pro was running circles around it -- I mean double the FPS -- and the definition of "gaming rig" was getting stretched a little), so I gave it a major upgrade of the CPU / mobo / RAM / GFX. I was supposed to replace the power supply, but I ran a bit over budget and discovered that I could juuuust squeak by with the old one, which I did successfully for several more years before it went bad. The RAM and sound card were slated for later upgrades, but given how little I'm home it's become a very low priority. Of course right after I did the upgrade I got a tour which took me away from my brand new machine for the next seven months. It's perhaps the geek equivalent of an old actor's trick: if you want to get cast in a show, book a vacation.

Current specs:
OS: Windows XP Pro SP3
CPU: Intel Core2Duo E8400 3.00GHz
Motherboard: Asus P5Q-E
GFX: Nvidia GeForce 9800GTX+ 512MB
HD: (2) WD Raptor 10,000rpm 74GB RAID 0, 2TB WD Caviar Green to backup my media drive
SFX: Sound Blaster Audigy 2ZS
PSU: 600W

The case is from Chieftec. The power button is one I added later, because a) it looks freakin cool, and b) I didn't like having to open the case door to turn it on. There used to be a much more orderly system to the cable and lighting color scheme. It was blue on the top, green in the middle, and blue at the bottom, with red for the cables (including all the connectors and cable wrap being UV red). When I did the upgrade the cable got a little messy due to things being in different places on the motherboard and my budget not allowing for new custom cables. There are also two UV cold cathode tubes -- one at the bottom and one just under the power supply. They used to be able to be switched on and off, along with regular blue cold cathode tubes beside them for extra illumination, but that did some funny things to the power if they were switched while the computer was running, even on the old system where the PSU was overpowered, and the switches and blue tubes were removed long ago.

Old Computer Timeline

1989 IBM Clone

My first computer was what was at that time called an "IBM clone." Basically what today we would call a PC. It had a 386 processor, and that's about all I remember about it. It was built by my computer teacher at gifted camp. Did I mention I'm a dork and was spending my summers and weekends taking computer programming classes and other such things when I was eight? It ran DOS, with some GUI shell over it. He loaded it with the software we used in class (such as QuickBasic) as well as some games and utilities. I did a lot of writing as a kid. I had basically monopolized my dad's old manual typewriter by first grade, so having a word processor was a huge development for me. I think Microsoft Works was the program I spent the most time in.

1993 Packard Bell Pentium

What a piece of crap. Within the first month the motherboard died. After that it was just a functional pile of suck. As far as I was concerned, it did hit a few milestones: It had a CD-ROM drive. It had the first Pentium chip. It was my first internet-connected computer (Prodigy was my first ISP). It was my first computer with Windows (3.11, which seemed like a good thing at the time), and later Windows95 (which seemed like an even better thing at the time). And it was the first computer where I learned about hardware, how to assemble and disassemble it and replace and upgrade parts myself. I went from a 14.4 modem to 56k. I upgraded the CD-ROM drive from like The First One Ever to a faster one with a remote control and other stuff that seemed cool at the time. And of course I upgraded the RAM.

1997 Dell 266MHz

This was back in the day when if you had even heard of Dell you were pretty cool. When they mostly sold to government and schools, and were not even on the radar of most consumers, but they had really amazing customer service and reliability. This machine was really good. I have no complaints about it. I upgraded the video card to a Voodoo3 at some point, and I'm sure I must have upgraded the RAM. Probably to like 64MB or something. It ran Windows95 for its whole life. The 7GB hard drive from it is still in a drawer somewhere, just in case I ever need a 12-year-old 7GB hard drive cause my thumb drive is just too big or something. And the monitor from it is on my Mom's Mac (which is my old PowerMac, which you don't know about yet unless you're reading this page backwards.)

2000 Dell Inspiron 5000

My first laptop. What a cool idea that sounded like at the time. And WindowsME. What a nice, slightly cheesy, modern name for an OS. It's a new OS for the new millenium. And it's all about ME. Microsoft has written an OS just for ME, to help me get the most out of my computing experience.

Or not. Look back, dear reader, up this timeline. Do you see a Mac? Do you see an Apple II? A Lisa? I am what you would call a lifelong PC geek, a tinkerer, someone who likes to muck around with all the pieces, take them apart, swap them out, put them together the way I want. Do I look like a Mac user up to this point?

Enter WindowsME. Not only was the blue screen of death a multi-daily occurrence, half the time it would crash so hard that the OS would have to be reinstalled. The one thing I learned in this time is to never, ever take my computer somewhere without all the discs necessary for a clean install. To this day, I keep to that practice, like a child of the depression who has never forgotten the value of a penny.

It wasn't just that it was buggy, horribly buggy, impossibly buggy. It was the fact that Microsoft had several OSes that could have done better for their users, such as Windows98, Windows 2000, and later the early days of XP, and they did not see fit to recall ME and offer everyone who purchased it a free copy of one of these other more stable OSes. They should have come to my apartment uninvited bearing an install disk for some other OS -- any other OS -- and said, "we're very sorry, we made something that not only doesn't work, it should be illegal that we ever released it, much less kept selling it, so please try this instead."

This was bad. I was wavering. Then on top of this, in between reinstalls, some funny business started up with Windows Media Player. I don't remember the exact details, but what I do recall is that an update to Media Player purposely disabled some other piece of video software. It was VirtualDub or something similar. Some video software that Microsoft would have a reason to want to disable, in the earliest stages of the DRM era, of treating the customer like a criminal.

I was fed up. I wanted Microsoft out of my life, and there was only one place I knew of to go. I didn't know much about it at all. I just wanted to get away from this company that was incompetent and treated me like a criminal, and all I knew about this other company was that they made a rock-solid OS and would treat me like I was kind of stupid but would leave me alone. To think different. As soon as I had the money.

When I couldn't take it any longer I gathered up a few hundred bucks and bought XP. Immediately most of my problems were solved. That was easy, wasn't it? Would it have been so hard to admit ME was a steaming pile of crap and throw a few million free XP licenses out there to attone? Well by that point it was too late. My mind was made up.

2002 PowerMac G4 MDD

In 2002 I happened to come into some money. I knew exactly what to do with it. I bought the most expensive Mac I could possibly afford. I had to replace all my software, of course, and give up on being able to play the latest games. I then realized that it wasn't just about playing the latest games. The ports of the outdated games were terrible, and the companies either didn't care or couldn't fix showstopping bugs. And all the ports were made by like two companies, so there was no hope. So I gave up on gaming quickly. There was some adjustment in learning the new OS, but I quickly caught up on the software that was available to add features and customization, and I was happy.

The only problem was that from the very beginning something was just not quite right with the machine. I had never owned a Mac, but I knew it should be faster. I knew it shouldn't lag so much. I definitely knew it shouldn't crash. It originally ran Jaguar, and with later updates, and the big update to Panther, it got a little faster and more stable, but you just never knew when it would completely freeze up. On a PC, this would be slightly annoying. Every Mac user I spoke to about it said that it was just wrong.

The problem was, it just wouldn't die. It always passed diagnostic tests. I tried for years just to try to narrow down what component could be causing it. I disabled one CPU and then the other. I bought a stick of new RAM. I couldn't afford to test everything, but I tried what I could. As an added complication, I injured my shoulder that year, so carrying it to the Apple Store was pretty much out of the question, especially when I couldn't prove there was something wrong. To this day, the damn thing is still running (or not), and I still don't know what's wrong with it. It's been my mom's computer for the last few years, which I feel terrible about cause it's a lemon, but it always did better when it wasn't asked to do too much, and she doesn't work it as hard as I did. To its credit, it's 7+ years old and it runs Leopard, and it does fine for everything she needs it for, even iChat Theatre. Except when it crashes. I can't wait until I can afford to give her a new computer, because like me when I used it, she's never really experienced what it means to own a Mac.

Powerbook G4

After this dubious start in the Mac world, naturally I had to decide if this one "bad Apple" was just a fluke, and whether I would be happy as a Mac user if I actually had one that worked. It was a decision I had to think about a bit. See, the problem was that by this point I was stage managing a lot, and that meant bringing a laptop to rehearsal. And of course my laptop was a PC (by this point running XP, and doing quite well). Since I was using OS X at home, it was somewhat annoying to go back to using Windows for work. Plus the laptop was getting older, not bad for a few hours a day in rehearsal, but sometimes I would have to go on the road for a few days or weeks, and that would give me a taste of what it would be like if for some reason I really needed to be working with it out of town for any length of time. I was fine with it for the time being, but I decided that I could not tour with it.

I booked my first tour in September of 2003. I literally hung up from "the call" from the producer, grabbed my keys and ran to the Apple Store to buy the new 15" Aluminum Powerbook. It was the Rev A model, which soon became notorious for the dreaded "white spots," due to a defect in the way the screen was mounted. I didn't really care. It ran so smoothly, and the quality of the hardware (aside from the defect) was so nice, the attention to detail that becomes so much more important on a laptop really made me fall in love with it, and with Apple's design philosophy. The Powerbook ended up running projections for the tour. It never once had so much as a hicup. To go from my crash-prone desktop machine to running 70-something performances of full-motion-video on this little wonder machine and never once having a problem assured me that my first Mac was just an anomaly. I loved that machine so much I never got the white spots fixed because I couldn't bear to send it away. In its four-year run as my primary computer, it ran projections for six professional shows. Today it has a battery life of basically zero. I always think about buying an old battery on eBay and maybe making it more useful. Every now and then it comes in handy for something. If the repair of my Macbook Pro had not gone so well, I might have had to take it on the road just recently. And as scary as the prospect of touring in 2009 with a 2003 computer is to my nerdy brain, it did so well on tour the first time, if it had come to that, I would have enjoyed taking it for a little victory lap around the country.

MacBook Pro 2007

I bought this machine on the day it came out in June 2007 -- the first Mac laptop with an LED-backlit screen. I loved this machine, and if the screen hadn't died out of warranty, I'd still probably be using it (and grumbling slightly about not having a multi-touch trackpad, but little else). After about six months of using it at home with an external monitor, the screen started working more and more reliably, and if not moved, it's actually fully-functional (though not portable) now. It makes itself useful any time I need to do something that I don't want to bog down my main machine with.