Thursday, January 23, 2014

How the “lost” Mac intro video was found (and got my name stuck to it)

In 2004 Andy Hertzfeld was building, his amazing now-famous website devoted to first-person stories of the earliest days of the Mac. Andy was writing one of the key stories of the saga, the one about the day of the Mac's public unveiling. I mentioned to Andy that I had a video of the intro, and he was welcome to watch it to spur his memory of the great day. So Andy came over, we watched the video, he took notes, and wrote his story. In the comments Andy was kind enough to thank me for showing him the video.

Andy's telling of one of the most important moments in computing history was riveting. Right away, people were interested in seeing the video. I recorded the video over the air in 1984 from a public TV station that rebroadcast the event. Then it sat on a shelf for awhile - OK, for 20 years - until it apparently became something rare.

When people asked to get the video online, I explained the problem in the comments:

After a few days I did actually hear from someone who wanted to digitize the ancient video. He was a video producer in Germany who went by the name majo. This guy had a website with a bunch of Mac stuff and other things. majo promised to digitize the video and post it for anyone to watch and copy (this was before YouTube). For some reason, despite the fact that I had never met him and he was 5000 miles away, I decided to trust him. I put the precious videotape in a mailer and shipped it off to majo in Germany.

majo struggled with the terrible quality of the video. Not only was it 20 years old, it was a low-quality home format, and the original show had not been properly lit for video recording. Still, he did a fine job and extracted the most important segment: Steve Jobs revealing the Mac.

On January 24, 2005, Majo posted the video on his site for the Mac's 21st birthday. The traffic was overwhelming. To watch, you had to download the 20MB file, and majo's site soon crashed. We were SlashDotted, kottke.orged, and etc. He begged for mirror sites, and a bunch of other people helped out. I wrote a blog post about the video. I watched the comments come in from around the world as people woke up and discovered the "lost" video (that I didn't realize had been lost). The comments show how excited people were to discover the video, and how eager they were to help by mirroring it. It was a pretty cool day.

By the end of the day I finally had time to watch majo's edit of the video. To my surprise, he had added my name near the end with this generous but hilariously pompous credit:

A more accurate credit would have been "Recorded in January 1984 and kept on a shelf in the family room by Scott Knaster". But this was OK too.


Three weeks later, as if on cue, YouTube was founded.

Soon copies of the video started making their way to YouTube. Most of them included the part with my name. After awhile there were hundreds of different copies on YouTube. Some of them have millions of views. Why are there so many copies? I don't know. Because YouTube, I guess. I gained an odd sort of fame. Many people assumed I was operating the camera that filmed the event. (I was there as an Apple employee, but in the audience.)

In the months following, majo extracted and digitized other clips from the Mac intro. I assume those have made their way to YouTube also. The full video is available, and you can watch if you have 1.5 hours.

As the Mac's 30th anniversary approached, I started to wonder whatever happened to majo, and whether he had digitized any more clips. I went to his old site, but it seemed long-dormant. After some further digging I found sad news: majo died in 2010. I never did meet him, but he's the one who really got this video out into the world. All I did was neglect to get rid of an old videotape.

Thanks, majo. And happy 30th birthday, Macintosh!

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