January 09, 2014
I just got my latest computer, a 13” MacBook Pro with a Retina screen. Before my memory fades too much, I want to list the computers that I have (or my family has) owned, and talk a little about the memories associated with them. I wish I could dig up more pictures of some of these, but almost all of them were not important to be deigned worthy of being stored in the cobwebs of Internet history.
Compaq Portable (some point in the late 80’s). My dad used to bring this home every so often from his day job at a large bank. It was called “portable” even though it weighed 28 pounds. I learned how to type on this thing and wrote a few papers in 3rd grade before my teacher told me to stop and work on my handwriting. I believe it ran MS-DOS 3.0.
IBM “Compatible” (early 90’s. ) Our first family computer. It had an 80386 that ran at a smoking 25 MHz. It lasted us for years and years. I wrote more school papers on it, learned how to hide certain games my mother wouldn’t approve of1, and poked around with a little QBasic. It ran MS-DOS 5 and had Windows 3.1.
My earliest memory of this computer was learning that “hot” was slang for “stolen” because my dad was convinced that some of the parts weren’t legal… I think he was joking. Probably.
I learned the ins and outs of WordPerfect 5.1 to great effect. In 6th grade I was able to astonish one of my classmates by being able to print out 25 copies of the same document without having to re-type the whole thing 25 times.
My first bit of “programming” that I could be proud of was a batch script in DOS that would take 10 minutes to run by listing every single file on the system, counting to an insanely high number, prompt the user over and over, and generally be as annoying as possible. I would then try to get my little sister to run it as often as I could just to watch her get angry. One time I left it in the AUTOEXEC.BAT file when my mom needed to use the computer and got in actual trouble.
Unknown Laptop (mid-late 90’s) Another computer we got to borrow from my dad. This time with a little known operating system called Windows 95. It was a fairly primitive laptop, though I was fascinated by the LCD and the weird colors it had unless you looked at it straight on.
I didn’t really use it for much other than writing papers. Although, it was our first computer to really connect to the Internet (the old 386 had a modem, but at 2400 baud it was much to slow to be of any value). In 1997 I signed up for a Hotmail email address and thought I was pretty awesome.
HP Desktop (early 1998) A huge upgrade from the old family PC. This sported a Pentium processor and Windows 95. I remember being most excited about getting a joystick and being able to run TIE Fighter, a game that was already several years old, but one that I had missed out on. It was also our first computer to come with a CD-ROM. I could listen to music on my computer(!). This was going to be the PC I was going to take to college, but fate intervened.
CTX Desktop (summer 1998) I was supposed to take the above HP to school with me, and my family had grown used to having a modern computer in the house and wanted to get their own. At Best Buy2 when my dad was picking it up I jokingly asked “Hey Dad, how about I take this to school and you guys keep the older HP?” To my surprise, he thought about it for a second, then said “ok”.
That turned out to be fortuitous for me. At The University of Arizona, I learned that it was surprisingly upgradeable for a store-bought PC. By the time I was done with it, I had upgraded the video card, hard drive, memory, sound card, and added a CD burner and network card. Pretty much everything except was replaced for the Celeron processor that shipped with it. I even tinkered with the OS too. Originally, it was loaded with Windows 98. I “upgraded” it to Windows 2000, then eventually went back to 98 because of weird USB issues.
Since this was the first computer I could actually call my own, I felt obligated to really get to know it. It was on this computer that I learned how to actually write code, do a little design work, pirate music, and play more games. At this point, I definitely got “the bug”.
After this, I built my own PCs for the next few years. I’ll cover those some other time.
Written by Scott Williams who lives and works in sunny Phoenix, AZ. Twitter is also a place.