Posted 11 December 2010 - 01:31 PM
In late 1983 our family bought a Commodore 64 (C64) originally for accounting purposes. I ended up using to to endlessly type in machine language programs from Compute's Gazette and call up bulletin board systems (BBS's) at 300 "baud" (that's what we called it back then, none of this bits per second, even if it's more accurate). I dabbled in assembler and learned enough to put a sprite on the screen and move it around with the joystick (though I never could slow it down enough to keep it from being a blur when they joystick was moved). In school we hacked on Commodore PET computers that were older than our C64. One of the other labs were equipped with Unisys Icon computers. My first experience of getting into a bit of trouble came when I wrote a program to emulate the "Ostudent" login and record passwords, then issue an "invalid login" message. It wasn't particularly sophisticated, but back then neither were most of the students learning computer science. I got "caught" one day when I decided to improve the program and left the code sitting beside me. "Mrs. Smith" found the code and recognized it for what it was, then sent me to the vice principal under the threat of expulsion. The vice principal was generally hated by the student population and had a reputation of being mean, but he was the complete opposite with me, treating my "first offense" as just that, a high school student too bored.
I got my first PC, an IBM compatible XT with a really fast V20 chip, 640KB RAM, and a 42MB hard drive, working for a small computer consulting company. If I remember correctly the PC cost around $1,500 (quite a deal at the time). I used this PC to learn, game, and call bulletin boards. A couple of years later I started running a bulletin board in Toronto, Ontario. For Christmas one year I got a 386DX33 motherboard, but it remained unused for the longest time because of the cost of RAM. A fellow Sysop (Systems Operator) from another Toronto BBS called The Cat's Meow later gave me 2MB of RAM to help me get my new motherboard working. We met in the Toronto subway, when he handed me the RAM all wrapped up it looked like we were doing a drug deal. Then he helped me over the phone as I installed the new board.
Eventually, 1995, I upgraded to a 486DX2/66 motherboard ($400), 8MB RAM ($475), and a 1GB hard drive ($450). Microsoft had announced Windows 95, but it hadn't made it to market yet. I was optimistic that it might come in handy for running a multi-line BBS, but I ended up getting really turned off of Microsoft by the employees at Comdex. Comdex was a big computer event held in a few places in North America until 2003. At the same time the folks from IBM actually turned me on to OS/2. I ended up buying OS/2 Warp 3.0 instead of Windows 95. Friends, salespeople, and other system operators in the area thought I was nuts to buy OS/2, but I ended up getting my BBS online without any problems under OS/2. (Many of the fellow BBS operators in the area failed to get their BBS operating under Windows 95 due to a bug in Windows 95 where it dropped connections on the comm port).
A little later Pentium I boards were fairly cheap in comparison to what I paid for my 486. Sadly I couldn't use the video card from my 486 which used the Vesa Local Bus standard in the PCI-based Pentium I. I ended up upgrading the memory in that motherboard purchasing 2 x 16MB sticks of Non-EDO 72pin RAM that ran at 60ns. At the time both EDO and Non-EDO were on the market. Typically Non-EDO stopped at 70ns, but there were a few rare companies that made 60ns Non-EDO RAM. EDO RAM was also 60ns but actually ran faster. What happened to me next shaped my future. I took my PC in to a company to have something put in. Not sure quite why I did took it in because I could have done the job myself. I think it was because the company made it financially attractive to use their "service" since I bought equipment from them. What ended up happening was that the computer got returned to me with my 60ns Non-EDO RAM replaced with EDO RAM. The EDO RAM was faster, so I should have been happy right? Not quite, 60ns Non-EDO RAM was rare enough to be double the cost of EDO RAM, a fact not lost on the shop owners. When I confronted the store about the memory switch (I'd gone in to buy a sound card) they repeated the same facts about the EDO. When I told them I wanted my memory instead of their EDO they told me to "prove" it was my memory. The memory was sitting right in their display shelf, priced even higher than what I'd bought it from at another store. Of course I had not recorded the serial numbers and didn't think to call the police. In retrospect I probably should have.
Fast forward to current day, I've ran a computer refurbishing project for the past 5 years. One of my die hard policies is that if we replace something in someone's PC they get their old part back. Sadly the PC industry is sometimes a bit like other industries that replace components that don't need replacing (both software and hardware). Thankfully there are lots of good companies and sources of information like Bleepingcomputer to set people straight.
As a computer refurbisher we build both Windows and Linux systems. For the Windows systems we're part of the Microsoft Registered Refurbisher program targeting not-for-profits and low income individuals. We support both systems, but end up spending A LOT more time helping our Windows clients with spyware/trojan/virus problems.