Putting Down “Old Yeller”

I have a 9-year old computer that I recently gutted, taking the first step to transform it into a nano-reef tank. I’ve always been inspired by the examples of other Mac enthusiasts, taking the beautiful form of their old computers and repurposing them – and I decided to take the beautiful system that I saw and purchased almost 10 years ago and give it a fresh dose of merit and value.

I didn’t take such invasive action because my old computer didn’t work anymore – it ran just fine. It’s outdated RAM, OS, and processor lasted so long that I could no longer update it or run current software on it. It’s pretty amazing that it outlasted Universal Applications and the production of replacement components. “Putting it down” came with reservations and was quite an emotional experience. Here was a device that had survived 9 residential moves, 3 hard drive upgrades, and was older than my kids.

As I unhooked, unscrewed, and disconnected the digital components of my old G5, my amazement for Apple’s design integrity and appreciation for detail was mesmerizing and humbling. It was almost as if they designed this system with the expectation that someone most assuredly would take it apart and critique it. Every inch of that device was thoughtfully designed – and I guess that’s why the machine was pricier than other “equivalent” systems. Over-engineered? Perhaps. Scrupulous attention to detail and beauty? Absolutely.

To begin with, I was taken back by how many different types of screws there were. Some were stainless steel, others aluminum. Most were machined, and they came in all sorts of sizes and head finishes. I was delighted to find these really tiny ones used to attach the checkered fan screen cover to the G5′s back frame. They perfectly fit the G5′s perforated frame and matched the tone and finished of the brushed aluminum. It was intentional.

Being familiar with metal fabrication and production processes, I noticed stamped, punched, and embossed metal forms. Perforated screens and attachment posts were exactly milled/machined to align and support with exactness. They even had “G5″ heat sink covers made – with no purpose other than to beautify.

My favorite example of Apple’s integrity to design details, was the screen-printed image on the removable side panel, depicting instructions on how to remove the plexiglass airflow shield and replace key components of the system. It couldn’t have been cheap and I’m sure that at one point, someone suggested “not doing it” to save money – citing that owners/users could just read about it in the instruction manual… but they didn’t. From brushed metal, spot welds, and see-through molded plastic, I felt like I experienced something that few others had – or appreciated.

Putting down Old Yeller has made me wonder how products and experiences with a perceived “lack of design integrity” lend themselves to a shorter temporal existence: things that are not appreciated are discarded and thrown away more? And how a disposable product plan to have customers buy a new product every two years, with “disposable” in mind, isn’t sustainable – for everyone. I wonder how modern “makers of things” understand how the “end of a product’s lifecycle” determines value, loyalty, and beauty? Do they account for the “end of life” experience? I doubt most do.

I don’t know who designed the G5, probably hundreds of people, but I just wanted to tell you thanks. I wish I could shake your hands and tell you that the system you designed over nine years ago is still beautiful and strong. It had a positive impact on me even as I carefully took it apart to repurpose it – making it a meaningful and appreciated possession, as it begins it’s new life.

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