Well, to be sure, I do not remember the specific date, but the year was 1986. The place was Odense, Denmark.
It had been five years since my introduction to computers. At first, I did not have one: I was trying to learn BASIC by following a tiny column in a Turkish newspaper, handwriting programs on paper and tracing their execution, drawing what the screen should look like.
My mother was moved by my motivation and she got my great aunt and uncle to get me a computer (any computer) in Germany. It turned out to be a ZX Spectrum. The BASIC manual that came with it was in German. I did not know any German at the time (and I still don’t), but I was able to find Toni Baker’s Mastering Machine Code on Your ZX Spectrum and that got me started. It is amazing how useful it was that I had already programmed in machine code when I finally started learning C almost 10 years later.
So, I was an exchange student in Denmark and people quickly found out that I was really into computers and knew a lot about them and I could help people with their problems occasionally. PCs were not widespread yet. I ran into a lot of CP/M systems as well as a whole slew of computers from Amigas to Apricots to the Atari ST to the venerable BBC micros and the odd MSX system. Each system had its own idiosyncratic operating environment and games and applications but I was able to warm up to all of them and figure out how to get basic stuff done.
I had only seen Apple’s Macintosh 128K in the pages of computer magazines. I just loooooveeeeed the way it looked. I loved what people wrote about it. I loved its custom graphics. I loved the fact that it actually had a nice built in disk drive (most computers still used cassette tapes for storage by default in those days).
One day, I was in the library, and the librarian came and asked me if I could help him with a computer problem. I was pretty sure of myself and was really excited to see that the computer he needed help with was one of those Macintoshes. His problem: The system had stopped responding, completely frozen and he wanted to take the disk out. I thought, “hey, this is easy!”
But, alas, it was not to be. My first shock was to discover that it had no eject button for the disk. After a few minutes of puzzlement and trying various Apple key combinations, I admitted defeat and turned the computer off and then on after waiting a few minutes. It started back up but we were still confronted with the fact that there was no physical eject button. I went through all the menus looking in vain for something that said “eject disk” or something similar. After wasting half an hour looking very stupid and desperate, someone else came by and asked us what we were doing.
He smiled, and dragged the floppy disk icon on the desktop to the trash can. And out popped the disk.
I realized at that moment that I could have tried forever but would never have been able to figure that out by myself.
Sure, at some point, I would have admitted defeat and stuck a paper clip in the tiny hole next to the disk slot, but I would have never been able to figure out that you need to put the disk in the trash to be able to get the actual physical disk out of the computer in the right way.
The designers of the system simply did not trust humans enough to put a nice big eject button next to the disk drive.
I had met HAL (long before I read the book or saw the movie) and it had told me:
I’m sorry, Sinan. I’m afraid I can’t do that.
I did not like that. Not one bit.
Regardless of what anyone else says.