Tuesday, 9 January 2007

Getting rid of old machines ...

Sunday was a sad day. Actually it wasn't, but it kind of closed the book on retro computing. We had a couple of old laptops, Judi's old Windows 95 Toshiba that was going to have Damn Small Linux installed on it and never did and an old but working Apple powerbook 520.

The Toshiba was old, the battery was shot but the machine still powered up, but was clearly surplus to requirements. Wiped the disk with DBAN, didn't reinstall an OS (and forgot to mention this to the recyclers at Revolve - naughty!) and that was it. Something that cost $3000 eight years ago is converted to a doorstop. The targus carry case that came with it is probably worth more.

The powerbook was something else. And it has a sort of history attached to it. Long long ago I did some work with archaeologists about taking computers into the field, and typically down wet holes and places that are generally unfriendly to hardware. This eventually turned into me doing an ad hoc presentation at a field archaeology conference in the early nineties.

It also turned into an interest in computing in 'rough' places that you might well travel to but where things were a bit iffy - combined with my interest in travel to exotic places.

About the time I dscovered the palm pilot as the ideal note taker when away from base - something I still think holds, I came up with the idea that retro computing might be an answer to the computers and wet muddy holes problem.

The idea behind retro computing is that you use an old low value computer with a modem (or even back up to floppy disk) for data capture on the basis that if it gets lost or stolen there's no real loss. Hunting about I came up with the Powerbook 520 as the ideal device. Slow and heavy it may be but with a mono, and hence low power screen it had reasonable power consumption with its dual batteries, a modem, and ethernet.

So I decided to try it out and bought one from eBay, with the Apple eternet to UTP gubbins and tried it out. It was surprisingly good, and being a well made machine reliable. The only two downsides was that the modem was only 14.4 - good enough for email and ftp but forget the web (mac 68k web browsers sucked anyway) and even on ethernet the web browsers weren't the best.

Still it taught me soem valuable lessons about what is needed for productive retro and travel computing, and it doesn't just mean a laptop.

Then it sat in its case for three and a half years. I'd moved on and didn't have the same requirements for travel computing. So last week it was powered up (and it did first time) had all the documents wiped from it, and powered down for the last time.

Pity. I almost felt sad. It had been a good machine that served its purpose well.

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