Archive for the ‘Computing’ Category

Dust to dust

Monday, July 6th, 2009


Over the weekend, AWACS died.

AWACS was my first “PC” (as opposed to the Macs and Atari’s I used before), and the first and last computer I ever built from parts.

I bought it as a set of parts from Overseas Computing, perhaps the shadiest, but certainly the least friendly computer equipment retailer ever.

Sure enough, when I got home, it didn’t work. I read the manual and tried a few jumper settings, then spent the rest of the night staring at the dead box.

When I took it back the next day, the store clerk replaced what turned out to be a broken power supply. Instead of an apology, he gave me a reprimand. “You shouldn’t be doing this if you haven’t done it before!” I still remember this because it struck me as illogical and frankly indefensible at the time, a shining example of everything that is wrong with people in particular and the whole world in general.

But he may have been right in a sense.

I bought a dual Pentium II motherboard. It could seat two Pentium II processors, which was quite advanced at the time. But the processors were quite expensive, so I got just one. The idea was to get another processor when I had more money. Of course that never happened. By the time I was able to buy a second processor, that specific model had become antiquated and possibly even more expensive. It’s best to never think ahead when it comes to technology.

I ended up spending a lot more money, buying a new motherboard and two new Pentium III CPUs in Slot 1 packaging , big heavy slabs of silicon and plastic. The old motherboard I gave to an old friend, someone I first met through the dial-up BBS “Archie” run by the VPRO in the late eighties/early nineties.

AWACS was the last computer my father gave to me. Now after more than a decade of uninterrupted service the plastics have become yellow and brittle and the efficient whirr-click of the drives has turned into a laborious whine. The optical drives died a long time ago.

And this weekend, one of the hard drives died. After some gentle prodding I managed to bring it back to life, sort of. Then I went out and bought a new machine – just the first thing that seemed decent and wasn’t too expensive.

I copied across a decade worth of files, rebooted, and logged in. Everything was there, like nothing ever happened. Machines have no sense of ceremony.

I’ve called the new machine Ripley – after the greatest female character in film ever.

My first computer

Friday, December 19th, 2008

CanonV20 3

This is an image of my first computer, the Canon V-20, an MSX 1 compatible. My father bought it for me in 1988 or thereabouts, at a Dutch discount store called Kwantum. It came with a small, fosforescent green Philips screen.

Near the top of the machine, to the right of the Canon logo, it had a cartridge slot that you could use to play games. Basically you rammed the cartridges straight into the motherboard. Sometimes it required quite a bit of force. You could hear the printed circuit boards grind and gnash as they joined.

We played lots of Konami games. Nemesis, Hyper Sports, Yie Ar Kung-Fu.

The cartridges were expensive. Later on I got a tape recorder. There were lots of cheap bargain bin games on tape. They took ages to load and often you would have to load them 2 or 3 times before they would work right. The tape recorder wasn’t very good.

At some point the tape recorder started eating tapes. One of the tapes became so tangled up inside the recorder that I had to cut it up to get it out. My father tried splicing the tape back together with transparent duct tape, but of course the game never ran again.