Professor Thomas H, Lee – Keeping The Light OnPosted: April 13, 2013
If you own an Apple Macintosh computer such as the 128k, 512k, Plus or SE, the chances are at some point you have needed to repair it, be it from a faulty power board or seized up floppy drive. The fact is these vintage computers are getting old and were not built that well to begin with, which makes repairs inevitable.
So what do you do when your Macintosh develops a problem? Well, if you search the internet you will discover a wealth of sites and forums dedicated to collecting and maintaining a variety of vintage Apple machines.
Something you might encounter whilst you search the net trying to fix your poorly computer, is the classic mac repair guide. This handy PDF has been around since 2000 and is part of every classic mac owners library. For many it is almost the holy grail of computer guides, packed with useful information and guidance. I carry it around on my tablet all the time and use it extensively to repair my Plus.
The golden nuggets held within its pages offers any Macintosh owner the chance to bring back their computer from the jaws of silicon death and if that wasn’t good enough, this guide book is completely free!
In Search Of The Creator
Using this book for reference for well over a year, I came across a fault with my Plus that wasn’t covered. Before breaking in to a full blown panic, I decided I would try to seek out the author for their input. As all I had to go on was a name, Thomas H, Lee, I have to admit, at the time I wasn’t sure how successful I was going to be.
After a few days of searching online, I had a couple of results. Picking the most promising, I shot an email out to a professor working at Stanford University. I admit, I was pretty skeptical that I had the right person and even if I did, whether the Professor would have time to spare on a crazy hobbiest trying to repair an obsolete Apple computer.
Imagine my surprise when several days later, I found an email waiting for me in my inbox. The email confirmed I had indeed found the same Thomas Lee who had written the repair guide and best of all his passion for these old machines was as strong as ever.
After exchanging several emails, Thomas, was also a little puzzled over the behaviour of my Plus. He recommended I replace the transistor controlling the horizontal voltage, along with the C1 capacitor. This fixed my problem and the Plus fired back up. It was during these emails back and forth, that I decided to ask Thomas if he would care to do an interview for ByteMyVdu. Given how much I’d used his guide over the past year, I felt it was only right to give something back. The author behind this amazing guide certainly deserves a place on BMV. His thorough and tireless work has mostly likely led to the resurrection of more then a few old Macintosh systems around the world, including the one at BMV!
I’m not aware of any other interviews with Professor Lee regarding his passion for classic Macs, so I hope you will all enjoy this little peek at the man behind that fantastic repair guide.
When did your interest in Macintosh computers begin and for what reason?
The Mac’s debut in 1984 was closely watched by my fellow geeks at university. Once an actual Mac showed up for sale at the student center, a group of us spent an afternoon playing with it. It intrigued and baffled us. We argued about whether it was a toy, whether a GUI was an advance or a gimmick, and whether this represented the future of computing or a passing fad. We all complained about Apple’s religious and short-sighted opposition to users upgrading the machine’s hardware. But we all liked the quasi-portability of the little guy. I really wanted one, but its $2495 price was just beyond what I could afford at the time. Luckily, I had richer friends who bought Macs, so I got to play with these marvels from time to time. I was finally able to buy a Plus in late 1988 (at the bargain price of $999) as they were reaching the end of their manufacturing run. I thought I got the deal of the century, and just in time, too, to write my PhD dissertation on that machine.
What caused you to make the repair guide?
Within a fairly short time, my friends started to complain about their Macs failing. Apple was good about providing warranty service, but once the warranty period ended, I started getting a steady stream of friends (and their friends) swinging by for me to “take a quick look” at their dead Macs. For my own use I documented the repairs I did, and after a few years I realized that I had come close to having reverse-engineered the entire analog board. So one weekend I just decided to finish the job. A couple of years later, the Web took the world by storm and Mac fans gathered together to share tips. I noticed the same questions popping up about classic Macs and their problems, so I decided to add some pics and hints to the schematics I’d extracted and write it all up in a document for others to use.
Did you expect it to be so popular and used by so many people?
I didn’t really think that it would get used too much. Classic Macs are long past their prime and I figured that only a few diehards would have the interest and ability to make use of my little repair guide. But the price is right, so I guess that has helped get it in the hands of more people. I’m grateful to the late “Gamba” for having hosted the first picture-less version, and the 68k Macintosh Liberation Army for hosting the second version.
Early macs are only getting older, do you still think computers such as the Plus have their uses in 2013?
I have to admit, sadly, that I power up my Plus less frequently than I used to, and then mainly out of nostalgia. It still works just fine as a writing machine, so that’s what I still use it for from time to time. My undergraduate students are fascinated by how much an 8MHz CPU can accomplish (they are astonished that it can run a browser). It just increases their admiration for all things Apple. It really amazes them to compare the capabilities of a Plus to those of contemporary DOS machines. I also use bits and pieces of the analog board design as lessons in good (and less than good) engineering (“Lesson 1: Why you have to do a bit more than just eliminate a fan”).
How do you feel about Apples decision to class G3/G4 and even some early intel Apple computers as obsolete? Are they as important to preserve as the early 80’s macs, such as the 128k, 512k and Plus?
That’s a tough question, and I suspect that different people would give quite different answers. Those whose work depends on cutting-edge performance probably shed no tears when older gear is consigned to the scrap heap. I am a sentimental type with a deep interest in the history of technology, so I tend to go overboard in preserving older machines. Thanks to the “use and discard” philosophy that prevails in society today, I can pick up interesting and still-useful machines for nothing or next to nothing. Just last month I was given a dead 17″ G4 “iLamp” in beautiful cosmetic condition. Its only problem was a bad stick of RAM. It now spends much of its time converting my CD collection into MP3 files. Its 1GHz single-core CPU is more than capable enough to handle that job with grace. And it meets the all-important spousal acceptance criterion of looking nice.
I would like to thank Thomas for all his help and for also providing so many of us with the tools that keep our beloved computer alive and kicking, and finally for being a good sport and participating in this little interview.
Until next time, keep geeking!