MacMania and the Mac Collector

I did it. Earlier this month, I attended my very first MacMania cruise. In fact, it was my first cruise of any type. I was one of ten speakers that together provided more than thirty sessions over the course of the week. Topics ranged from the basics of digital photography to the nuances of running Open Source applications. There were some group discussions as well, including my personal favorite: myself, Dan Frakes, Andy Ihnatko and Rob Griffiths revealing the worst disasters to have befallen us as Mac users. It was more like standup comedy night than a serious discussion.

Still, combining this sort of mini-conference with a Caribbean cruise appeared to be an tricky mix. Could the "work" of the Mac sessions and the "play" of the cruise activities be successfully balanced? The answer was a resounding "Yes!" Of course, it helps if you view immersing yourself in Mac information to be more fun than work. But that is of course exactly the attitude of those attending this cruise. Even my skeptical wife wound up being a convert. She was just coming along for the ride, as it were, with no intention of attending any of the Mac sessions. Once on board, she studied the schedule more closely and discovered that a number of digital photography classes seemed pitched at just her level. She gave them a try and was glad she did.

As to the cruise itself, almost everything -- both good and bad -- that I had heard about cruises turned out to be at least partly true.

Yes, you overeat and gain weight, even if the food is sometimes not as good as you would hope. And yes, some of the activities on board are a bit hokey (snowball jackpot bingo anyone?). And yes, the brief time allotted for shore excursions is not nearly enough to truly get a feel for the country of port.

On the other hand, itis also true that the cruise is an incredibly convenient, comfortable and relaxing way to travel. Everything (and I mean everything!) is taken care of for you. All you have to do is decide what type of fun you want to have at any given moment. You could have a great time even if you never leave the ship -- just relaxing by the pool, exercising in the fitness center, watching movies, or playing Blackjack in the casino. If you do go ashore, once you get past the inevitable gauntlet of mostly tacky shops whose entire existence depends on cruise ship traffic, you have a choice of a wide range of engaging activities. In Belize, I wound up riding an inner tube down a winding river through a cave. In Mexico, I boarded a WaveRunner for the first time, and was soon skipping over ocean waves at speeds approaching 70 miles per hour. Quite a thrill!

Late in the evening, many of the MacMania crowd (which was about 10% of the total number of guests on the cruise ship) gravitated to the Internet Cafe, to share in conversation and check their email. Not a typical way to spend an evening on a cruise, perhaps, but Mac enthusiasts are not your typical crowd. The lone complaint in the Cafe was how expensive it was to be online (as much as 75 cents per minute!), which was only made worse by how tediously slow the Internet connection usually was.

The cruise itself would have been enjoyable even without the MacMania component. Still, my wife and I agreed that being a part of the MacMania group was the very best part of the cruise. And I donit mean simply the classes. Just as important was the social community. As a group with a set of common interests, we bonded almost instantly. We ate together and went on shore excursions together. Speakers and attendees intermingled in ways that would have been next to impossible in almost any other environment. Certainly, the attendees had a greater opportunity for personal contact with speakers than would have ever been possible at a Macworld Expo or similar conference. The speakers welcomed the exchange as well. I, for one, wound up making several new friends, often with plans to get together with them again back on dry land.

While everyone had an intriguing "back story" detailing what led them to this cruise (sort of like the back stories of the characters on the television show Lost), there was one person whose back story was so unusual that I want to share it with you here.

His name is James Savage. If there is a more enthusiastic fan of Apple computers, I have yet to meet him. Sure we are all unofficial members of the "cult of the Macintosh," but James takes it a step further than most.

It started several years ago when James wanted to check out what was on some old Apple II floppy disks that he had used back in high school. As he had no hardware that would allow him to read these disks, he went to eBay to see if he could purchase the needed equipment. He wound up getting an Apple IIe at first and later a Macintosh LC with an Apple IIe emulator. They worked. For most people, the story might have ended there. But James was just getting started.

While searching on eBay, James discovered that a wide variety of old Apple and Mac models were available. Many of them were once expensive top-of-the-line machines, models that James had lusted after at the time but could never afford. Now they could be had for little more than pennies. It was too much for James to resist. He began to buy a hobby...just to have a collection.

James has now purchased and currently owns 124 different Apple computers. His collection includes an original 128K Mac and a Lisa. He also has all the different Newton models and an eMate. And they all work! He even has a functioning iMac aquarium! His personal favorites are ones he finds to have the most pleasing and elegant designs: the Power Mac G4 Cube and the Twentieth Anniversary Mac.

Like a kid collecting baseball cards, Jamesi goal is to get the complete set: every Apple computer ever built. Heis already almost there. The few gaps include a Mac IIvi and a black Power Mac 5400. Also missing, of course, are the most recent Mac models. These are too expensive to purchase as collectorsi items. But as the price of a newer model drops over time, it will eventually get added to his collection. By choice, he doesnit seek out servers or Mac clones; just your standard issue models from Apple. He does extend his collecting to include Apple memorabilia such as Mac posters and Apple mugs.

How much did all of this wind up costing? Believe it or not, James has spent less than $3000 on his entire collection. In contrast, a single new Mac Pro could cost more than that!

So where does James keep all of this stuff? In his house. Itis not an especially big house. It only has 6 rooms. But that turns out to be enough. Every room (except the bathrooms) has at least one Mac in it. Whenever possible, he puts the Macs to practical use. For starters, all the up-and-running Macs are tied together on a local network. He has one in his bedroom, for example, that he uses as an Internet radio.

By far, the room with the most number of Macs is the study. It is here that several dozen Macs populate his bookshelves. Surprisingly, they donit seem obtrusive. You almost donit notice them at first, at least not how many of them are really there. Finding the Macs can be almost like solving one of those old childhood puzzles ("Find the 12 hidden cats in this picture").

Figure 1. How many Apple and Mac computers are in this picture? (I counted at least 23!).

Of course, not all the computers have made it to the "public display." There are a good number tucked into Jamesi closet, hopefully waiting (perhaps after moving to a larger house?) for their chance to shine. On the other hand, the day may come when all of these computers get tossed, perhaps at the gentle suggestion of Jamesi incredibly tolerant spouse Tanya -- much like the infamous wagon wheel coffee table in "When Harry Met Sally." In the meantime, James could turn a small profit charging admission to his incredible "Mac museum."