Computers are fun

Copyright Dr Alan Solomon, 1986-1995

A computer is something you put in an air-conditioned room, and treat
carefully, as it represents a very large capital investment.  Oh yes?
My friend Ian bought a PDP-11 for #500, and kept it in his garden
shed.  It came without the software, but that wasn't a problem, as he
knew someone with a PDP-11 in an air-conditioned room.

I asked him, why a garden shed?  He explained that his garage was full
of car, and his wife wouldn't let the computer into the living room.
A garden shed eliminates any cooling problems, and is quite secure,
because who in their right mind would go to a garden shed to steal a
computer?  He rigged up a power cable, and also strung a couple of
telephone lines, because he had a very interesting application for his
PDP.  He wanted to run a multi-user bulletin board on it, on an
amateur basis.  Unfortunately, there isn't any BBS software for the
PDP, but Ian wasn't bothered, and he set about writing his own.  A PDP
is an ideal host for a multi-user BBS, and his had 16 ports that he
hoped would eventually all be connected.

He was doing quite well, too, and he would have had it finished by
Christmas (or at least, that's what he told me).  But someone made him
an offer he couldn't refuse.  Various bits of hardware were traded, he
lost his PDP, a tape drive, an AT clone and a big hard disk, but he
wound up with a Vax.

Well, a Vax isn't such a big deal any more.  You can get a Microvax
with all the power of two 780s for under ten grand, so who on earth
would want an old Vax 730?  My friend Ian, that's who.  If there's
anything better than a PDP as a communications engine, it's a Vax.
He's got some pretty nice ideas for it, too.  He ported his BBS from
the PDP, and still swears it'll be ready by Christmas, but he's also
going to have an X25 line in, and access to packet radio.

Meanwhile, my friend Jeff has got a System/36 in his bedroom.  He
loves the 36, really passionately, the way some people love Morris
Minors, and when his firm upgraded their 36 to a 38, he saw the
derisory trade-in price they were offered, and matched it.  He writes
RPG programs on it for fun (well, some people go pot-holing), and uses
it as a home computer.  It's in the bedroom because his garden shed is
right down the far end of the garden, and he plays with the S/36 in
the evening after supper.

My friend Jason has got a Compaq 386 and no car.  I asked him why he
didn't have a car, and he said he couldn't afford both, and the choice
was easy.  He uses an IBM ATX at work, and he says it's such a relief
to get home and use a decent machine after limping along on the slow
old AT.  Jason pops round sometimes, and we quack a disk or two
together (quacking a disk means recovering the data from it after it
has had some disaster happen to it - it's good fun).

My friend Frank has got a NCR Tower - with the software, it cost him
#50,000 and he's just finished paying the last installment.  He thinks
it's great, and he's running an eight-user conferencing system on it.
He's still writing the conferencing software, so new features get
added all the time (along with new bugs).

I wanted a tape streamer, so I phoned up my friend Bob who I knew had
one, and he sent it to me.  After I'd tinkered with it for a while, I
couldn't get it to work, so I passed it along to my friend Tony, who
is into monster hard disks, and has no way to back them up (he still
hasn't, because he couldn't make the tape drive work either).

Tony had a broken laser printer and asked me if I wanted it, and as it
happened, I knew that my friend Ashley wanted that.  Ashley took the
laser out out the broken laser printer, mounted it on an aluminium
plate, and he's controlling it with an Apple to make it do the most
amazing graphics.  Ashley was ever so grateful, so he helped me to
interface a three inch disk drive to my IBM.  The three inch disk came
out of a job lot of drives that my friend Terry picked up in exchange
for several five megabyte hard disks that no-one wanted (because who
wants a five meg disk?  Ashley used one on his Apple).  In exchange
for the three inch drive, I showed Terry how to do the software
interface to the disks.  We gave Tony one of the three inch drives,
with software, when he said he was interested.

When my monitor stopped working, I gave it to Bob (he of the tape
streamer) because he understands hardware.  He fixed it, and passed it
on to Henry (if you're into hardware, then once you've got something
working, there's no point in keeping it anymore).  Henry was ever so
pleased, and offered me his old TI99, which I obviously didn't want,
but it just so happens that the checkout lady in my local Sainsbury's
has a son with a broken TI99, and he was ever so pleased when I
"mended" it.  I send the broken TI99 off to Tony, but I don't know
what happened to it.

A computer is the best toy ever invented.