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R.I.P. Arki, my old computer friend - helen-louise
R.I.P. Arki, my old computer friend
I am really upset.

Two days ago, I brought home all the boxes of mine & Richard's stuff that had been stored at my parents' for several years. In doing so, I found lots of things that we'd forgotten we owned, as well as several things that we've been looking for, and haven't been able to understand why we couldn't find. In amongst this stuff was a blue box full of old software and games for the Acorn Archimedes. While I haven't had much interest in Arki for a while, seeing all his software packed up together made me excited, in a "soon I can enjoy RETRO COMPUTING in the comfort of my own home!" sort of way. I was looking forward to finally tidying up the house enough to have a desk with the Acorn set up next to our much younger (but still old) linux box.

Today I found a plastic bag containing the circuit boards, floppy drive and hard drive of the Archimedes. Just thrown in a plastic bag with no effort made to protect them. Some of the components are noticeably bent. The case, keyboard, monitor and mouse have all gone "to a place that recycles computer parts".


I know that it is irrational to get upset when it's just $stuff, but that computer was more important to me than many people. When I was a teenager, there wasn't an internet that ordinary people could use - and the only way for a sad, lonely, geek with unusual social skills to make friends was through dial-up bulletin boards or penfriends. With the ridiculous cost of phone calls in the UK at the time, I wasn't ever allowed to use BBSes, although I really wanted to. Instead, I acquired something like 20 penpals in various parts of the country through the pages of magazines like Kerrang! and RAW (rock & metal music), and Acorn User, and that I'd met at the Acorn computing shows. Back then, computers were only interesting to geeks and nerds, so the annual computer show was a way for me to meet people of my kind. I would send my friends letters of 4-8 pages, typed double-sided on my Acorn computer and printed out with an, at the time, extremely high-tech Epson colour dot matrix printer. They were, I suppose, the very early forerunner of my livejournal - a place where I wrote about me and what I was doing, and books I was reading, and music I was listening to - and asked questions about what other people were doing.

Back in the day, before Microsoft Windows came along and imposed its uniform blandness, computers had a personality. Nowadays, the computers we own are named simply so they can be identified on the network; but back then, computers would have a name because they were as real as people. My BBC Master 128, Nibble, and my Archimedes, Arki, weren't just things - they were my friends. Part of this was the fact that I used them to communicate with my friends, but part of it was that the computers themselves kept me company. I could spend hours and hours alone in my room just "playing with" the computer - writing programs to do maths puzzles and draw fractals, drawing lousy pictures with the mouse, and writing very bad synthesised music. Any homework I was allowed to type would be typed - in a word processor that more closely resembled HTML than the WYSIWYG programs that exist nowadays. I'd spend maybe 3 hours a week playing games that I'd bought, and 30 hours a week playing creatively in some way.

Nibble was my first computer, bought for me at Christmas 1986. He came with a tape recorder, and we bought a fancy monitor plinth that contained twin 5.25" floppy drives and fitted perfectly over the computer. The twin drives enabled me to back up all my data, something that I am still amazed people don't bother to do. I learned BBC BASIC and wrote programs to draw animated sprites, making up the parts of the image by directly manipulating pixels in the 8x8 grid that made up each character on the screen. I enjoyed many years of torment from girls at school who thought it was absolutely hilarious that I had a computer, let alone one called "Nibbles", like a hamster (they'd get the name wrong on purpose to wind me up). I tried to explain about bits, nibbles and bytes, but only the other freaks who hung out in the computer room cared.

Arki was my second computer, an exorbitant present bought for Christmas 1989, though we actually went to get him from Watford Electronics on 6th January 1990. At the time, the Acorn Archimedes A440/1 was pretty much the most expensive home computer you could buy - with a whopping 4MB of RAM and a 50MB hard drive. (To put this into perspective, the bottom of the range A305 had only 512kB of RAM, and most Acorn software was designed to work with 1MB in a truly multi-tasking OS - something that Windows 3 was incapable of.) It contained the amazing, state-of-the-art RISC processor - at the time, over 4 times faster than comparable IBM PCs. The RISC processor is Acorn's legacy, the one part of the company that remains. Today, my Game Boy Advance SP (itself now degraded by the Nintendo DS) contains an ARM processor roughly equivalent to that which powered my Archimedes. The irony kills me regularly.

After having had Arki for a year, I was "persuaded" by my parents to sell Nibble to a friend at school, because I wasn't using him anymore. At the time, the £200 I got for him was a colossal amount of money, and I'm sure I invested it all in new software for Arki. However, I have regretted this for years. I could buy another Master 128 from eBay, but it wouldn't be the same. It wouldn't have been loved the same way. Having spent the past n years upset that I got rid of my old Beeb, WHY would I have ever said I didn't want my Archimedes anymore?

I might be able to buy a new case from eBay and try to put Arki back together, but I'm not sure he'll work. I don't even know if all the parts are here. Getting a new keyboard & mouse will be a nightmare, as the Acorns used a weird proprietary serial connector - he was on his second keyboard as it was. Perhaps I'm a sentimental idiot, but it hurt so much to find the guts of my friend thrown in a plastic bag as rubbish. I'm crying my eyes out.

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Current Mood: sad sad

9 comments or Leave a comment
alexmc From: alexmc Date: 2nd August 2007 20:20 (UTC) (Link)

I think this is one time when I feel safe in saying I know how you feel.

( I also have various Acorn kit in my loft. )

> t hurt so much to find the guts of my friend thrown in a plastic bag as rubbish

And they probably thought they were trying to help. *sigh*.

(Deleted comment)
rhialto From: rhialto Date: 2nd August 2007 22:26 (UTC) (Link)
I still have my first Amiga, but I had to sell my previous Commodore 64 to raise money (although my parents paid part of it, in fact the biggest part; and when I got that as a Sinterklaas present I could not even believe it and I thought at first it was a joke and making fun of me and my desire to have an Amiga). That sale was also to a school friend, including disk drive and all my floppies, but with the condition that he would keep copies of all my self-written programs for a year. I don't think I ever made use of those copies though.
I don't suppose I can make you happ{y,ier} with a Commodore 64? Its 6502 (well, 6510) processor is actually the first one that has a now-common trick of RISC processors to overlap the execution of subsequent statements.
From: skibbley Date: 3rd August 2007 09:35 (UTC) (Link)
Sorry to hear that. My old Tandy/Radio-Shack Colo(u)r Computer / Pocket Computer 1 kit went to a collector so it would go to a good home.
From: pir Date: 3rd August 2007 14:47 (UTC) (Link)
I remember seeing that machine at your place, years and years ago.

My first computer (rather than the other computers in the house that belonged to my mother) was a BBC B. My second was an Acorn A5000 (I upgraded that machine to 8Mb and overclocked it ;) which I still actually have. It's travelled in 3 countries with me. If someone stripped it down I'd be more than just pissed off at them...

Since you still have the hard disk you could put the data onto another machine. If there's anything you want to retrieve from it or just mess around with an Arc, I'll have mine set up in a few weeks when I've got desks in my new office, I want to play more Elite. I might even manage to get that machine on the house network, I bought a network card for it ages ago.

Somewhere around I have an adaptor box to plug a normal PS/2 keyboard into an Arc (I may also have a spare mouse). They do exist, getting hold of old keyboards is a pain.

[nit pick: RiscOS 2 and 3 were not truly multi-tasking, it was still co-operative multi-tasking and one application could shaft the whole machine but Acorn apps (and 3rd party stuff) was usually so well written this very rarely happened and it was way, way better than Windows of the era]
mjl From: mjl Date: 3rd August 2007 15:09 (UTC) (Link)

I never had an Archimedes, although I nearly got one at one point. I had a BBC B also with twin floppy drives in a monitor plinth. Went from that to a Master 128, and then a Master 512, and from that to a 386. Actually I think most of it is still in the loft - no idea which bits of it are still there and usable though.
From: judiff Date: 3rd August 2007 16:59 (UTC) (Link)
i'm like sorry
From: x_mass Date: 4th August 2007 09:09 (UTC) (Link)
i remember that hi tech epson colour dot matrix- we were playing with one just after they had come to the uk when i was 'worked' at vulcan electronics/andromeda software - coo it was amazing!

I remember the archimedes when it came out and all my geek friends had them, but since they weren't game development systems I wasn't thinking about such things
36 From: 36 Date: 4th August 2007 11:52 (UTC) (Link)
I went to every Acorn User Show for years and at least two Wakefield shows, I have boxes of public domain library discs (spelt with a c because they're for Acorns), I had an A3000, then a Risc PC 700 later upgraded to StrongARM. The Risc PC is safe at my parents', but I still remember how gutted I was that the A3000 got given away (to people who clearly would not appreciate it) without me not being consulted. I do still occasionally tinker with the Archimedes emulator, especially as it plays all the freeware games I wrote. Anyway, what I'm saying in this ramble is that I get what you're saying and I know where you're coming from.
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