One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Treasure

"Here I show off my T400 with the laptop that started it all for me, the 560" Gregory Costa

As promised, here is a  blog about the responses I received regarding my request for stories and images about other peoples first ThinkPads. It was great reading them and reliving your memories on the road to 60 million ThinkPads. It's always amazing to me to see how much emotion is connected to the ThinkPad brand and design. Not everyone could produce a photo, but they could certainly tell a story. I thought it would be interesting to publish the one that hit me the hardest. Here is the complete story as sent by Gregory Costa. Thanks to Greg for not only writing the story, but giving me permission to publish it. Here you go: The Laptop That Started it All, by Gregory Costa Back in 2007, I had just begun my master’s in biology at UMass Dartmouth.  My laptop at the time was 3 years old and was falling apart, with its broken hinge, worn silver paint at the palm rests, and loud hard drive.    Simply, it was 6 pounds of junk—the brand shall go nameless, since I’m not allowed to use four-lettered words in here.  Needless to say, I needed a new laptop, but was completely unsure which laptop would suit my needs. Walking to lab one morning, I was surprised to find a stack of ancient laptops in the hallway.   Rather than simply recycling the laptops, students were allowed to rummage through them and retrieve anything they found interesting.  Most were beige or gray, many produced by companies no longer in the PC business.  The sickly yellow and gray plastics blended well with UMass D, which, if you didn’t know,  was designed in the 1960s by Paul Rudolph, known for his Brutalist architectural style, which consists largely of concrete and futuristic styles…well, futuristic in the 1960s.  Just picture UMass Dartmouth as a perfect setting for Alien or A Clockwork Orange, and you’ve got the idea.  It’s a design you either love or hate, but there’s no room for apathy.  Anyway, amid these laptops there was a jewel, a black laptop that managed to stand out from the others in the sea of blandness.  I removed it from the stack and discovered the black thin box to be a solid black only interrupted by the red, green, and blue lettering of “IBM.”  Sadly, affixed to the lid was a sticky note reading, “LCD broken.” When I opened the lid, I discovered the screen was indeed cracked (hey, this was designed before rollcages came into use) of what I learned to be a ThinkPad 560. Even so, I took the laptop home and found an adapter I could use for a power source.  Despite the crack, the screen was still usable and Windows 95 booted without a hitch.  Using the laptop felt like I was transported back to 1996, a time when 16 mb of RAM was sufficient to run Microsoft Office 97, which was installed on this laptop, and a time when as a fifth grader, laptops were a prestigious device in comparison to the far more ubiquitous desktop.  Judging from the documents, the laptop was last used in 2000 (maybe the laptop was dropped in the panic of Y2K?).  Unlike most laptops, however, using this laptop did not feel comical.  The keyboard was better than anything I had ever used, the plastic did not flex, the TrackPoint was responsive, the laptop was silent—and despite living a rough life, the hinges were tight, unlike those of own laptop which lived a pampered life!  The minimalistic design, black with a few hints of red on the mouse buttons and some green lettering on the keys, had kept this laptop looking contemporary.  Most users, not just biologists, will appreciate how the ThinkPad has evolved to meet demands of the time, yet still manages to carry the DNA of its ancestors.  The thinness of this laptop, thinner than my current ThinkPad, must have awed users of its day.  Features I appreciate from the laptop, such as a physical means of adjusting brightness and volume, have long ago been relegated to the control of software. The little guy impressed me so much that I felt the need to search Ebay for a replacement screen.  I made my purchase, and the laptop is like new.  I discovered in the process that under the plastic shell, metal hinges were used in its construction, further proving that quality is at the forefront of the design.   Not surprisingly, I made the easy decision of purchasing a ThinkPad T400 soon after, which, oddly displays even less color than the old 560.  Soon, I purchased an X41 from Ebay for my mother, a T41 for my sister, and a new Lenovo SL410 as a Christmas gift for my brother.  I have not regretted my decision.   As a researcher, collecting data is pivotal to my work, and my T400 has yet to fail me (except for a virus passed to me from a lab computer, a problem easily fixed with the blue button!).  My hinges remain tight after 3 years, the black paint has not worn off (though some keys are shiny) and the laptop remains as silent as ever.  Let’s hope for many more years of quality! Thanks again for all the stories that were sent in about your first ThinkPad. We promise to keep the quality and innovation coming.

David Hill