Originally posted April 11, 2007, now archived here.
For further explanation why this post exists, see Intro to Experience Dump. Despite my emphasis there on sofware, this is about hardware; mainly computers, but also other items.
System 36 Terminals
Data General Cyber System Terminals
Early TRS-80, Color Computer 2, Color Computer 3
Tandy Pocket Computer
Original IBM PC through approximately current PCs and servers, including building, rebuilding and upgrading many 286 through Pentium level machines.
Various laptop/notebook computers.
Older Apple Macintosh
Terminal Server thin clients
Tranti 2100 PC-based restaurant POS System
To a much lesser extent, non-PC Tranti 29 and 105 systems
Many different printers, local or networked, various brands, types including daisywheel, dot matrix, thermal, ink jet, and laser.
Various Blackberry, cell phone and PDA devices.
Various scanners, copiers, faxes, and multifunction devices.
HP Digital Sender 9200
Various hubs, routers and switches.
Digital cameras and webcams.
Many monitors, monochrome through LCD.
TimeForce Qqest time clock
Tranti time clock
Probably things I’ve forgotten, and certainly things that seem silly to list. Internal peripherals, for instance. I’ve played with an external modem or two, but why would I mention dozens of of internal ones? The format of the above also doesn’t leave room to mention having dealt with RAID arrays, as well as plain old IDE drives implicit when mentioning PCs, and newfangled SATA drives.
Some commentary and explanation on the list, though…
Cyber System was in use at Massachusetts state colleges at the time, along with newfangled DEC VAX machines at Bridgewater that I didn’t get to use. It was what I used for BASIC, which was too boring to bear because I’d already self-taught too much, for Pascal, and for COBOL.
System 36 was at The Renovator’s Supply, running mainly inventory software written in RPG (Report Program Generator), which was a hot coding skill to have at the time. I used to teach other people how to use it, and how to make it dance and sing. I got my first taste of e-mail on that system. That job was where I got my first, unofficial, experience doing PC support, and using PCs in a work environment when I helped in HR and compiled material safety data sheets. I seem to recall they actually upgraded to a 400 before I left. I had more direct experience with a 400 recently, figuring out last year how to access my client’s old system and searching for documents they unexpectedly needed. That was an instance of my almost intuitive communing with computers coming in handy.
The Pocket Computer was the first computer I owned (as opposed to the first computer I played with – unless I am forgetting something earlier – and learned my first bits of BASIC on, a friend’s TRS-80 in 1977). I got it for Christmas 1983. It had a big 1k of bubble memory and could be programmed in a shortcut variant of BASIC. For instance, the letter “i” used in place of “input.” I programmed it to take inputs and return present and future value interest factors. I still have it, and as far as I know it would work fine if i finally got around to replacing the batteries. I also still have my scientific calculator that has “20. 7” saved in its memory. I had more fun playing with that corrupt non-number. For instance, 20. 7 * 2 isn’t the same as 20. 7 + 20. 7, and 20. 7 – 20. 7 is not 0. However, I never trusted that calculator to be accurate again, once it generated the bogus number.
I bought my first PC in 1988, right after I finally finished college. It was an overpriced Packard-Bell 286, very solid, with 1 MB RAM, a 60 MB MFM hard drive (as opposed to IDE) in the days when 20 MB was still normal, and an EGA monitor. You booted it and got a message at the top center of the screen “Welcome to the Packard-Bell Computing World,” with a C:\> prompt below. DOS 3.3… those were the days.
In 1992, my “uncle” Henry taught me how to build computers and we upgraded the 283 to a 386. From there I never looked back. He picked up some software and batch file pointers from me, and we had a lot of fun messing around with stuff and going to computer shows. When I discovered “online” in 1993, I never could get him hooked on it. I wonder what he’d make of the internet as we now know it.
My Mac experience is extremely limited. A friend I worked with in the early days of Arisia on marketing materials, program books and T-shirts had a Mac and laser printer at home. I wrote. She opined and co-wrote. I proofed and edited. She did graphics and layout. I had such a good feel for it that she considered my opinion on layout and graphics to be valid, which she didn’t consider the case with pretty much anyone else. We had a lot of fun. I didn’t lay hands on the computer too much; mainly watched her use Aldus and Adobe products and “admired” the tiny black and white screen. She worked at Cigna, where they had far better Macs. We went there one weekend and I played with one Mac while she worked at another. I promptly made it blow up. Heh.
Tranti Systems was my first support job. The 2100 was a new PC-based POS system for fast food restaurants. They were basically 286 PCs, 386 once parts for 286 became too expensive or hard to get, with a proprietary add-in card. They ran a modified version of MS-DOS, a file manager/utility program associated with that, called EZ-DOS, the POS software, and Lantastic. I learned my first stuff about networking there, and at one time was something of an expert with Lantastic. I did a lot of testing and breaking things, anticipating what would later be real world problems.
Mostly it was callback phone support and a ton of overtime carrying a pager, but I also did other things. That included a trip to North Carolina to do the training and help install systems in two Taco Bells. Oddly, I enjoyed the training, at the same time I was terrified speaking in front of groups of people. I also enjoyed customizing register keys, which involved a custom macro language built in for the purpose.
The company also made an electronic timeclock system, a natural extension of POS timeclock functionality. I created documentation for that product. Which involved using MultiMate word processing software on an ancient IBM PC, which was the main kind of computer they had there. That was where I got most of my retro experience, with the oldest PC machines and versions of DOS prior to the 3.3 that might otherwise have remained my earliest. It was pretty bad. They also had I believe it was a Nixdorf mainframe, for which a few of the old PCs doubled as terminals.
I think that’s enough embellishment of the “hardware” part of this exercise. I do want to finish it someday, after all. The kind of thing all the above leaves out is the adventures in getting early soundcards and CD-ROM drives to work at all, meaning a lot of cursing and/or praying. I figure it goes without saying that building and working on so many computers implies a lot of that.
Next up, operating systems…
Added the two timeclocks.
Experience Posts (links to reposts):
Intro to Experience Dump
Word Processing Experience
Spreadsheets and Accounting
Graphics and Presentations
Database and RDBMS
Communications, Internet, PDA, Blogging
Legal Industry Software
Backup and Compression Software
Security, Spam, Malware…
Call Center and Tech Support Tools
Languages and Programming Tools