I knew from a very young age that my life would involve computers
to a strong degree. Electronic devices and any sort of machine
always had my undivided attention. So it's no surprise that I'm
now a computer tech.
The first real computer I ever used was most likely the 286 in
the office of a women and children shelter which my mother and
I stayed at when escaping my father. It had games on it like Tank
Wars and Oilcap.
The other kids and I would bang on it and blow each other up,
though we were no match for the staff. I must have been 4 or 5
at the time. Shortly after I'd also get to play on another shelter's
computer, and once we had an apartment of our own, one belonging
to a neighbor. I'm unsure what they were, outside of being PCs.
One had Sim City on it though, and it nearly took a crowbar to
get me off of it.
It probably would have been 1995 when I got a computer of my
own. It was an Apple IIe clone by an obscure company called Circle.
2 single sided 5.25" floppy drives, 64k of RAM, a 12"
amber Amdek monitor, and a Roland dot matrix printer. All that
for $10 at a garage sale. Plus a big box filled with pirated Apple
II software. From the handwritten labels I learned that the previous
owner was a man named John Wolford. (And from the internet, I
recently learned that Mr. Wolford died in 2007 of a brain tumor.)
I didn't care much that an Apple IIe clone was ancient history
by the mid '90s, it was still a computer, and that was enough
to excite me. I tried out all the games, playing classics like
Kong and Shogun.
I dabbled with things like Print Shop Deluxe and News Room, making
ugly printouts on the half-dry dot matrix printer. I tried to
wrap my head around 8 bit computing, as it was the only kind I
knew at that point. And when I found myself sent to the first
of many foster homes, that computer was important enough to me
that I somehow managed to lug it along.
(I don't think the staff realized that I had a Nintendo there
which I could play in my room by connecting it to the Circle's
monitor. Though I didn't do this as often as you might think,
since Mario was a lot less fun with no sound or colour.)
It wasn't too long after getting the IIe clone that someone asked
me if I wanted what would be my first PC. And, rather fittingly,
it was a clone too. An XT clone in one of those cases where the
top opened like a car hood. This time it was a green monitor,
a 20 meg ST-225 hard drive, and even things like serial and parallel
ports! It too was very dated, which is why I got this one for
free. And though I didn't have any software to use on it, I still
remember the big label across the top of it which instructed you
to "PARK YOUR HEADS!!" with a special DOS tool.
It was about this time that I got my first taste of the internet.
I can't for the life of me recall if this was in 1996 or 1997,
but the school had a computer lab. The tables around the room
were covered in AST 486s, I think they were, and the computer
class consisted mostly of opening Kid Pix and making ugly messes
with the stamp tool for a half an hour. But one day the class
was different. We were told we would be surfing the world wide
web! And so all of us kids double clicked on the Netscape icon,
and watched in wonder for several minutes as a tiny bar crept
across the screen and progressive images slowly gained detail.
We had loaded a web page! I presume the lab must have had an ISDN
connection or something of the sort, as our computers had no modems.
I shudder to imagine what the network protocols might have been.
In any event, the very first website I ever viewed was Yahooligans!,
a sort of Yahoo web directory aimed at kids. And I saw something
about Archie comics and Sonic the Hedgehog. But I didn't have
long to explore, as it was at this point that the internet connection
went down. That would be the last time I saw the internet until
After getting my first two machines the flood gates opened. Suddenly,
any time I saw a computer being thrown out or offered cheap at
a garage sale, I had to have it. An Apple IIgs for $20, a Commodore
PC 10-III from an unknown place, at least a dozen barely functional
XTs, ATs and 286s from the PC
Galore free pile, with names like APCO TURBO. 2 different
C-64s. A Tandy 1000HX that never worked. Come to think of it,
quite a few of the machines never ended up working. But between
the lot I managed to make a little progress. I slowly learned
a bit of DOS. I bought a computer game for the very first time,
a copy of The Secret of Monkey Island from a thrift store in Washington.
And I successfully dialed into a couple of the remaining BBSs
with a 2400 baud modem.
But it wasn't until 1999 that I finally owned a computer with
Windows on it. Everything before then was DOS. Or worse. So it
was amazing when I got my first 486 running Windows 3.1. An NEC
with an SX chip and a Maxtor hard drive. It was my first computer
which I would still consider to be modern, in the sense that it
had all the pieces of a modern computer. A 32 bit CPU, a hard
drive, colour display, mouse, keyboard, sound, a Windows operating
system, it was all there. Suddenly I could actually see what my
computer was capable of, instead of stumbling around blindly in
command prompts that I barely understood. Unfortunately there
wasn't much the computer could do without an internet connection
or a collection of software. And what little software I had for
PC was almost entirely games. So I still found myself in that
frustrating position of being aware of the potentially amazing
thing that sat on my table, but having no idea what to do with
it. In the end, the problem solved itself when the hard drive
2000 would be a landmark year for many reasons, but for me it
marked the year when I not only got my first Pentium class machine,
but also got on the internet. It originally came to me as a stripped
Socket 5 machine from PC Galore's free pile. Even the cache chips
had been taken. I scrounged up a Pentium 75 chip for it and an
800 meg Quantum hard drive, and probably something like 24 megs
of RAM. It was enough for Windows 95a, and after some overclocking
to 90 MHz, enough for Starcraft!
More importantly though, with the addition of a PCI Aopen 56k
modem, it was internet ready. And so I signed up for a budget
ISP, and I was finally online.
The internet of 2000 was so much different from the internet
of today. I wouldn't hear of Google for another few years, and
Geocities was the hot site. But I was captivated. Right away I
started spending hours online, reading and exploring, but most
of all interacting with other people. I used IRC, MSN chats, AIM,
anything to reach out. And it was amazing to see responses coming
back. I was hooked.
Over the next year or so I browsed heavily. I couldn't get enough.
I played games like Starcraft and Starsiege:
Tribes against other real people, somewhere out in the world,
and it was amazing. I even once got disconnected during a Starcraft
game, and my modem managed to re-connect and obtain the same IP
address before the game timed out and kicked me!
My PC slowly went from a crash-prone Pentium 75 to a slightly
more stable and significantly faster Pentium 233 with MMX. And
windows 95 was thankfully replaced by Windows 98SE. But it was
still pretty problematic, and so in 2001 I somehow convinced my
last pair of foster parents to help me get an all-new PC. This
was a first for me, and a huge leap forward in capability. If
the 486 was the first computer that I consider modern, the machine
that replaced my socket 7 box would probably be the first computer
which most people today would consider modern. For I went from
a 233 MHz Pentium 1 to an Athlon 1300. And after a few false starts,
settled on a Geforce 2 Ti. Now we were talking! Combined with
a cable internet connection provided by my foster parents, I was
finally a part of the modern world of computing.
That Athlon stuck with me for a very long time, though by the
end of it I think I'd replaced every single part at least once
in a sort of rolling upgrade/repair. By the end it had turned
into an Athlon 2200+, which I kept using for far longer than sanity
would have advised. Partly because I was broke, in fairness. But
also because, after the initial teething problems, I had hit upon
a combination of hardware that was shockingly reliable. And Windows
2000 Pro was humming right along with 30 day uptimes and very
few problems. I struggled to justify replacing a system which
was so stable.
In fact it wasn't until the start of 2007 that its replacement
came, in the form of a Core 2 Duo system. That little budget E4300
was so many times more powerful than my old Athlon that I didn't
care that it didn't have 4 cores or hyperthreading. I was blown
away by how much more powerful my system was.
In the years that followed my e4300 was replaced by a prototype
QX6700 that had been reviewed by The
Lab with Leo Laporte, after they donated their evaluation
hardware to Free Geek. And then, like the Athlon system above,
I kept the system for ages. It would keep chugging until 2012,
when I retired it in favour of an i5 system. And that's where
I am today.
My current PC is an ever changing mix of new and salvaged hardware.
Currently it has an Intel Core i5 2500k on an Asrock Z68 Extreme4
Gen3. It is equipped with 16 gigabytes of DDR3-1333 RAM, a fanless
Nvidia GTX 550Ti video card and 3 x 3TB Seagate Barracuda SATA
drives in a RAID 5 array. Operating system is Windows 7 Pro on
an Adata Sandforce 120gb SSD. The 100/5Mbit Cable connection is
provided by Shaw.
Last edited June 16th 2013
She is the latest in technology,
almost mythology, but she has a heart of stone.