helen-louise (baratron) wrote,

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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.
Tags: h-l is weird, life history, yes i'm a geek

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