June 4th, 2010

weird science, Eye: RCA Magic Eye, tech

The Computer Is Your Friend: Technological Iconoclasty

I just realized this morning that I have always and consistently been a technological iconoclast, as far as my choice of computing environment.

My systems have always run AMD processors, with the exception of the 8088 I had for less than a week before upgrading it to an AMD 286.

That machine also ran DR-DOS instead of MS-DOS; after a year or two, I installed an advanced, multi-tasking, multi-threading GUI with an office suite: GeoWorks Ensemble.

(That one was dubbed "Oracle", after an omniscient AI from my old Champions campaign; the character not only preceded the comic book character, but the software company. So nyaah.)

The 486 that followed ("Oracle II") continued with DR-DOS and GeoWorks.

My next system was a 686, since AMD continued with the "x86" numbering scheme after Intel started calling their CPUS "Pentiums". The need to establish software compatibility with campus systems necessitated a switch to Windows 3.1. The sheer physical size of the machine (Very Large CPU Tower, and a hitherto-unheard of seventeen inch monitor), combined with the stubborn determination of the operating system to make me do what it wanted, rather than vice-versa, earned it the name "Colossus" (and a Forbin Project desktop theme to match).

Colossus was succeeded by Rocinante, whose name, of course, was a multi-level reference to Cervantes, Steinbeck, Rush, and ... the EtherShip my character piloted in Mage: The Ascension. Rocinante began life as an AMD Athlon running Windows 98, I believe—only to slip further into iconoclasm when I installed the much-reviled Windows ME on the poor thing.

And that's where it gets odd. WinME was notoriously unstable, particularly if you just used the upgrade path instead of reformatting your drive and doing a clean installation—on every machine except this one. I ran ME for years with no trouble, right up until a power surge fried her original motherboard. Apparently, WinME liked that specific mobo, and not the computer; after a few weeks, I realized that suddenly, Rocinante was exhibiting every single reported misbehavior I'd ever heard about in an ME box.

That resulted in an upgrade to Windows XP.

Rocinante is George Washington's Axe, now: new motherboard, new case, new almost everything. She's got a modem that may not even work anymore, from one of her earlier incarnations, and her old 80 Gb hard drive is now strictly a back-up drive that I mostly leave unmounted. She's still running off that old mobo that I installed back in 2003; currently, she's running Ubuntu.

The closest I've come to a mainstream "Wintel" system was my IBM Transnote, with the crazy hybrid digitizing pen-and-ink notepad, purchased at a ridiculous discount from TigerDirect after they got remaindered. As off-beat as that model is, mine was even moreso: unlike the photographs in the linked article, I had a left-handed model, with the notepad on the port side and the computer to starboard.

My primary system now is my laptop, Dancing Star, named after the vessel in my Unwritten Magnum Opus, which in turn takes her name from a Nietzsche quote referenced in the Principia Discordia. Yes, once again, it's an AMD processor, and it's running Ubuntu. Like the TransNote, it's More Nonstandard Than Nonstandard: inside, it's effectively a netbook, with the almost-universal 2009 Netbook Standard Array: 1.6 GHz processor, 2GB memory, blah blah blah. However, it's got a 15.6" widescreen monitor, a number pad alongside the keyboard, and a DVD drive.

That's right, she's got the power of a netbook and the portability of a widescreen laptop. One would almost say it's the worst of both worlds, but you know what?

She works, and works very well indeed. Other than the graphics, in fact, she's faster and more powerful than Rocinante.

But still. An oddball machine, like all of my computers.

And that's the way I like'em.