Sotto Voce.

"Qui plume a, guerre a." — Voltaire

My Computers: Past, Present, and Future

I’m not usually one to accept a blog challenge, but I regularly read Lorelle on WordPress, which has weekly blog challenges. This week’s challenge — “to blog about your computer setup as it was ‘then’ in the early days of your computer life, and how it is now, in your modern technology life” — really fired off my memory neurons (nostalgions?).

While I may have learned to type on my mom’s old Remington, I really learned to write on computers. Here’s a list of all my machines to date:

  • Texas Instruments TI-994A — Yes, I am that old. It had a 12-inch b&w TV and a Radio Shack tape player as a drive. (I still have the tape player somewhere, it was indestructible.) Couldn’t afford a keyboard cover, so I used the styrofoam packing lid that it was shipped in. Greatest accomplishment: writing the Twilight Zone theme on it and getting my first round of applause from geeks.
  • Apple //e — Instead of the original Mac because I wanted to a) do programming and b) be able to pop the lid to add new cards. Still my favorite machine of all time. The final configuration included: ProDOS, that six-ton motorized tilt-screen monitor with the color/green switch, the dual floppy drive box, Epson FX-80 dot-matrix printer with a Grappler graphics card (who remembers “flip the eighth bit dip switch?”), 2800 baud Hayes-compatible modem (remember when that meant something?) a ProFile hard drive scrounged from someone’s Lisa (two 2.5mb platters, took five minutes to run a self-check), and a side-mounted cooling fan with a master power switch that I labeled “Power Trip.” And it was, baby, it was. Greatest accomplishment: getting permission from my high school principal to turn in my homework on dot-matrix printout — the first student in my school to be allowed to do so. Oh, and the joys of Terminal Mode (the original IM).
  • Brother Word Processor/Typewriter — I still have that beast. Seven-line LCD screen, plus proprietary software. Greatest accomplishment: all my college papers as I traveled the country doing internships and independent studies.
  • IBM PS-2 — Yes, a real genuine Piece o’ Shit Two. Got it for $20 from my then-girlfriend. Had an internal modem that occasionally needed to be removed and “go on walkabout” to drain static buildups. That’s where I began my lust affair with WordPerfect 5.1. Greatest accomplishment: I wrote my thesis on that damn thing.
  • Toshiba Satellite — A work laptop that I ended up buying for $50 when they were getting rid of them. Small, rugged, indestructible, mil-spec, battle-ready little machine. Finally gave up the ghost from sheer exhaustion, but what a trooper. Greatest accomplishment: my first laptop, the end of the affair with WP 5.1. It is better to have loved and lost.
  • Fujitsu LifeBook — Because I was too cheap to spring for a Mac laptop, but man what a workhorse. Wore the keys smooth on that one, it really became my first “companion” computer. Greatest accomplishment: I launched my freelance writing career on it.
  • Apple 12″ iBook G3 — Back to my Mac. I still remember the day it arrived and the thrill of opening it and turning it on for the first time. Aqua, baby! Unfortunately, it was one of those that had the fatal motherboard error, and when that thing started falling apart it really fell apart. Greatest accomplishment: reminded me how much fun computers were again. Wrote my first novel on it.
  • Apple 12″ Aluminum PowerBook G4 — The. Perfect. Computer. Period. Running Tiger, it was the unbeatable machine. Paired with an Apple aluminum external keyboard and an external monitor, and Kensington Slimblade trackball mouse, it’s a damn fine desktop machine too. I’ve been pleased to discover that there are a lot of diehard 12″ Al PB fans out there, and to listen to us wax poetic about our machines you’d think we were discussing the Hermes 3000. It is destined to be one of the iconic (and collectible) computers. With the advent of Intel chips and Leopard, it’s definitely living on borrowed time now, but I will never part with it. Greatest accomplishment: just existing.
  • My next machine — When I got the PowerBook, I swore that my next machine wouldn’t have a keyboard. I guess what I really want is a big 12-inch iPod Touch. I thought that Apple would have given us that by now. But depending on what’s for sale in the App Store when it opens for business this Friday, maybe I already own my next portable computer. Which means, iMac anyone? 😀

Categorised as: Life the Universe and Everything

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  1. Cheryl says:

    Twilight Zone theme!

    I find myself getting burned out on Apple after 10 years. I know, modern advertising would make you think this isn’t even possible.

  2. Lorelle says:

    I resemble some of this list! 😀 Isn’t it amazing how closely tied computers are with our life and work history today? They helped define me, as it seems much of it helped define you, too. Thanks for participating.

  3. sottovoce says:

    @Strikethru: I like to tell myself that I appreciate Apples for the “fit and finish” (a la Consumer Reports), but I’m not one of those people who won’t go out in the morning without checking Steve Jobs’s horoscope first. Leopard has been a rolling disaster for me, and I absolutely won’t go near Apple’s tech support anymore (don’t ask). I also have a natural allergy to the “reality distortion field” so most of the hype just rolls off me. It’s just a computer, not a lifestyle, people! Sheesh!

    @Lorelle: Thanks for commenting on my humble little blog! I’ve learned a lot about WP from your blog, though you probably wouldn’t know that from looking at Sotto Voce… 😀

  4. M. Clemens says:

    I still have my TI-99/4a in storage, with the Speech Synthesizer (ooh!) and a few cartridges. I was always bitter about not having a ‘cool’ computer like my friend with the Commodore 64. From a junior programmer’s perspective, the TI was locked down tight, and you couldn’t do anything cool in the built-in BASIC. I never was able to lay hands upon the Advanced BASIC cart., which I still harbor resentment and regret about.

    Years later I found a matching TI in my girlfriend’s house. Seems it had been *her* first computer as well. That was almost two decades ago, and now that girlfriend is my wife of twelve years. Hooray for retro-tech!

  5. sottovoce says:

    You had the speech synthesizer — I’m jealous! I love the TI startup screen with the color bars. There were startup sound effects too, right? I can’t remember. I begged my parents for the TI because I wanted to learn to do animations using the cool built-in graphics capabilities, which were supposed to more advanced than other home computers. But I never got much beyond BASIC either. Later, I tried to teach myself assembly language on the //e but reluctantly concluded that I was just not cut out to be a programmer.

    Remember the Commodore 64 commercials with William Shatner? Talk about geek cachet, man. 😀

    For my wife and I, our “mutual tech” was our 1987 Nissan Sentras. Hooray indeed! I raise a toast to your TIs and our Sentras.

  6. Duffy Moon says:

    I still have my TI 99-4/A also. Well, my brother has it currently. He tells me there was an incident recently which involved smoke and a complete cessation of all life functions. I still have a ton of games, joysticks, the cassette “data recorder”, the speech synthesizer and (I’m talking to you, mclemens) the Advanced Basic cartridge. Just say the word (mclemens) and I’ll send it your way…

    SV: I toast my Sentra on a daily basis. It’s my long-commute beater-car. Built in 1996, it’s pushing 230k miles. And I just plain love the old thing.

  7. sottovoce says:

    Ah, the TI joystick, I remember it well — all black, with the single red button, and no knob. As ergonomic as a broomstick. Sorry to hear of your 99’s recent passing, Duffy! I hope mpclemens gets some closure! 🙂

    Does the ’96 Sentra have that heat shield underneath the exhaust like the ’87s did? It’s a big metal plate with holes in it that looks like a big cheese grater. The weak metal clips holding it on kept rusting out. You’d be driving along and all of a sudden there would be this rattling from underneath and then all this scraping and thudding as it shook loose and started dragging along the ground. Happened to at least three Sentras that I know of, and the mechanics hated them! They were so heavy that when you finally got rid of it the car’s mileage would improve noticeably… 😀

  8. […] I’ve said before, when I bought my PowerBook way back in mumble mumble, I was so impressed with how much of a leap […]

  9. […] My home machine isn’t as cutting edge, though it is still white and made of plastic and has an Apple logo, and it still could kick sand in a IIc’s face (if it were so inclined, which it isn’t). And it still has a few more miles to go before I trade up to something silver again. And I still have my trusty 12″ PowerBook in the basement, should I ever feel really nostalgic. Man, now that was a computer. […]