Lying on the floor at my feet is a blue nylon bag with an imprinted logo reading “square jellyfish”. Inside are a collection of brochures I picked up at the 2014 San Francisco MacWorld conference. At the time it had the feel of being perhaps the last MacWorld conference ever. In October 2014 the organizing company IDG announced the show would go on hiatus. IDG had shut down Macworld magazine a month earlier.
I hadn’t looked at any of those brochures since slipping them into the bag, one by one, as I roamed the show floor on that late winter day. The friends with whom I usually attend the show did not make the trip that year. I myself slipped in towards the end of a show day to look around in the North Hall of the Moscone Convention Center, where it had returned after being in a smaller space at Moscone West for a few years.
I was sorry to see it go. I didn’t start out as a Mac guy, and until a few years ago I wouldn’t have called myself so either. I got my computing start on Commodores, where I learned BASIC, and moved on to build a Heathkit system from parts. My first factory-assembled computer ran CP/M, older than DOS. I also ran a BBS on CP/M and had no use for the jittery images on the first Apple I.
Even when the Mac came out, I wasn’t convinced. My poor Morrow Designs MD-3 was being outclassed by the more powerful Kaypro and Osbourne machines, and I secretly lusted after an Altair with an S100 bus. If you were born after the Pet Shop Boys made their debut this is all last century history for you. The part you might relate to is where I was sick of what I was doing and wanted a different job. I was not just tired mind you, but hated my work.
My then-girlfriend likewise hated her job and we wound up buying a Mac SE and a Laserwriter. I thought I would go back to freelance writing and she was going to study networking and telecom. She went on to become a junior system administrator and I…got promoted to management.
So now I officially hated my job, with a title. But I was determined to make it work. In the office I had a PC connected to our Unix email system and a 3270 emulator board to access mainframe applications. My staff ran 22 processing machines running on modified Perkin-Elmer systems. I was far more interested in what the programmers did to the systems than I was in managing the people operating them. And then one day I picked up a flyer announcing a computer show in town for Macs. I’d been a Morrow user group member for years and thought this show might draw maybe one hundred or so people, quite a bit larger than the 25 or 30 who showed up for my user group meetings.
As the ‘Aliens’ Hudson said, flipping A. There were hundreds of booths, thousands of people and the show was so big it not only filled all of the sole Moscone Center exhibition hall, but also most of Brooks Hall, a mile away in Civic Center. Shuttle buses ran between the two. I was agog, barely making sense of everything I saw.
I left the show with an inexpensive desktop publishing program and a handful of tchotchkes. I worked that program to death. I ported my BBS to the Mac. I learned how to use ResEdit.
One day I saw a job opening in the company for a group called “End User Computing”. Essentially, it was an internal startup. They were trying to put these hobby ‘puters to doing real work. I didn’t have big Unix chops. I didn’t have big mainframe chops. Heck, I barely knew my way around the Mac. But I interviewed with them. They were about to launch a hot new piece of software to move messages between the mainframe and the PCs – seamlessly! I asked if I could attend one of the planing meetings as an interested bystander. I was there when the manager was called away to some crisis, pulled me into the hall outside the meeting room and asked if I really wanted to work for them.
Three years later I was standing in the offices of MacWorld magazine, talking with the managing editor about starting a business-oriented user group in San Francisco. I was an Apple ASC for my company. Attending conferences was part of my job, and I kept a sign-up list for employees wanting to borrow vendor tickets to go see the show every year. I supported the company execs, made product recommendations, evaluated vendors and performed consultations and installs for lines of business. It was easily one of the best jobs I ever had. Half the work was on PCs, half on Macs, with telecom, mainframe and the occasional Bloomberg thrown in for variety.
In all that time, I missed the MacWorld show but once. Now it’s gone, and I think forever. I have an image from that last show in my head, of a small booth for a product simply called Ring, from a tiny Japanese company. The chief engineer was in the booth, and the CEO was on the floor. They were barely conversant in English, but the demonstrator took care of explaining the product which unfortunately was not yet ready to ship. After the demo was over, I watched with others looking at the prototype sitting inside a Lucite box. I asked the demonstrator how many different devices it worked with. He said a small number, but he’d like to hear my suggestions for how I’d like to use it. We talked a while and then the engineer asked a question. The demonstrator turned to me and asked if I’d like to place an order. I politely declined, and asked if many orders had been taken. He said a handful, but he expected better results when they returned next year.
Tonight, I finally opened the bag and looked at the contents. Sparse, like the show itself. There was a card from the Ring maker. I plugged their URL into my browser.
They are at CES.