by Bob Clark

originally published May 2007; last updated June 2012

Moe, Larry, and Shemp enjoying their spacious “Macquarium” home.

Over two decades in the making, Bob’s Macquarium was the result of “hard” work and “continual” progress.

Macquaria Through The Ages Decades

Nobody is sure when the first aquarium built out of a Macintosh was constructed; Andy Ihnatko probably came up with the “MacQuarium” name and definitely authored the canonical instructions for constructing Macquarium.

There are several collections of Macquaria on the web; the largest seems to be The Apple Collection’s collection. You can also fritter your time away at Applefritter’s gallery. The good guys at Low End Mac also have a Macquarium page.

History and Construction of Macquarium

A coworker offered me the shell of a Macintosh — already discolored and chipped — sometime around 1991. It is an original 1984 model.

I knew at that very instant that I wanted to turn it into an aquarium, so I eagerly accepted it and rushed to put it into storage for four years.

...time passed...

On the national stage, Bill Clinton was elected and began his first term as President of the United States.

In the Macintosh ecosphere, Apple’s System 7 matured; OS 8 was redefined. The maker of the Macintosh was known as Beleagured Apple Computer. Copland and Gershwin were on the horizon. The aging 68K architecture gave way to the PowerPC architecture, vastly superior to Intel’s x86 architecture.

smiley mac

In my personal life, a wedding. Engineering classes. A graduation. A move.

Unpacking the Mac case, I realized that I didn't exactly have time to progress on Macquarium. Off it went into a storage bin.

...time passed...

In national politics, Bill Clinton was re-elected.

Apple considered buying BeOS, but instead persuaded NeXT to buy Apple for negative four hundred million dollars. Steve Jobs (whose signature is on the inside of all original Macintosh cases) returned in triumph. The iMac revitalized Apple, beginning a transition away from Beleagured Apple Computer. PowerPC continued its superiority over Intel’s lackluster x86 architecture.

For me, a daughter. A move. A switch from one company to another. Another move.

Finally I had a garage of my own and could unpack the Macintosh case, more or less permanently. It found a spot under my workbench, where it languished for a few more years.

...time passed...

When choosing between elegant and thorough, this engineer picks thorough.

George W. Bush was elected. (Not by me, but apparently by somebody.) And re-elected. Sometime in there this thing called nine-eleven happened. Good times.

OS X was introduced. Millions of Mac users were suddenly, and surreptitiously, converted to surprised Unix users. Black turned to white and up turned to down with the Intel Heresy: the x86 suddenly became superior to the PowerPC.

Yardwork. A puppy. A son. And another daughter.

For reasons unknown, a spurt of motivation prompted me to grab the Macintosh case and start it down the path of becoming Macquarium.

gutted mac

The Hard Work Of Constructing Macquarium

Although I made a few deviations (acrylic instead of glass, for example), I found Andy Ihnatko’s instructions to be tremendously valuable.

First I trimmed the knobs, nibs, knots, and nubs from the inside of the case. I also cut out the handle.

One of the details is that to prevent the acrylic aquarium from being too oddly-shaped, a platform of wood is inserted. A few words about woodworking: sometimes the best adhesive strategy is wood glue; sometimes it is wood screws; and still other times nails will work best. Macquarium uses an startlingly innovative intermingling of these techniques: all woodworking components are triple-bonded using every conceivable way to bond wood together. Some “professional” woodworkers will scoff at this redundant adhesive approach; but when choosing between elegant and thorough, this engineer picks thorough.

acrylic innards

The Continual Progress Of Constructing Macquarium

Although the Macintosh case would never find its way back into long-term storage, it would be innacurate to say that construction proceeded quickly and efficiently. Occasional spurts of productivity were interspersed with lengthy procrastinations.

Fifteen minutes to drive to the glass store? Might as well wait fifteen weeks.

So it takes two hours for the glue to dry? Why not make it two months?

But at least construction never regressed. There might have been unproductive periods, but work never undid itself. (“Monotonic improvement” is how we refer to this in the biz.) So as long as I was making positive progress, Macquarium inexorably approached completion.

The acrylic shell you see to the right is based on the measurements given in Andy Ihnatko’s instructions. He suggests glass, and bonding it with silicon caulking, but I took a flyer and bonded together the five oddly-shaped acrylic pieces into one vaguely aquarium-shaped tank.

Abbot and Costello in Macquarium

Sliding the acrylic innards into the case, on top of the wooden platform, was extraordinarily straightforward. From then on there were no weeks- or months-long delays. Just a few trips to the pet store for supplies, filling the thing up and watching for leaks (something any software engineer ought to do as a matter of course), and bringing it inside to see whether it kills fish.

the three

I kept Macquarium in my basement for a few weeks, and my two White Cloud tetras (Abbot and Costello) seemed to survive OK.

gruesome gelatinous deaths

That is, until I transported Macquarium to my workplace.

We don’t need to go into the details of Abbot and Costello’s gruesome gelatinous deaths.

Suffice it to say that I shortly thereafter restocked Macquarium with Black Neon tetras dubbed Moe, Larry, and Shemp. Yes, the name Curly was considered, but while meek Larry and bullying Moe are well-suited to their names, the third tetra has nowhere near the panache of a “Curly.”

Moe, Larry, and Shemp have been thriving so far in the office despite the life-sapping phenomenon known as “corporate life.”

rebooted Macquarium

Update 1

Macquarium was originally installed in my office during early May 2007. It’s hard to believe, but Moe, Larry, and Shemp have all survived for over two years now, along with their algae-eating buddy The Janitor.

Update 2

Sadly, The Janitor has passed on to a happier place, and Larry soon followed. Moe and Shemp stubbornly continue to survive, though.

Update 3

Well the unthinkable has happened. The circle of life and all that jazz. Macquarium will return soon, but its inhabitants were with us for only three years. (In fish years I think that's about a hundred, though.)

Update 4

After a brief hiatus, Macquarium is back with a selection of neon tetras and a new accouterment: a first-generation Apple Base Station housing the aquarium light.