PC Computing, August 1994


The August 1994 issue of PC Computing was my go-to source for customizing my 486/DX2 66MHz system back in high school. I wanted to relive some of those tricks in my emulated DOS environments today, so I began hunting around for a copy to refresh my memory. After having no luck with nearby collections on Worldcat, I reached out to several eBay sellers who offer back issues of computer magazines. Seller sij167 replied that he had a copy that he would offer up, which I immediately purchased. It arrived very well protected this afternoon.

In this issue, the Operating Environments section is particularly helpful for building batch files to do a variety of otherwise tedious typing tasks. There are tips from “superstars,” including Bill Gates and Peter Norton. There are opposite-end-of-the-spectrum columns by John Dvorak and Penn Jillette. And, of course, the advertising! I wonder if I would get a reply if I send off a bubbled-in information request postcard?

A note about the magazine’s title: The Wikipedia page for the magazine lists it as “PC/Computing.” The magazine’s logo is styled with a slash between PC and Computing as shown in the photo above. However, the magazine’s masthead page lists the magazine as “PC Computing” with a space separating PC and Computing, as does the footer on odd number pages throughout the magazine.

Computer Upgrades: HDD and RAM


My desktop PC, which I wrote about its build and benchmarks previously, has performed very well since I built it late last year. However, I built it on a budget, so I wasn’t able to outfit it as well as I would have liked. After deciding that I would use the desktop computer as my primary computer, I upgraded it with those components that I needed most: more storage space and more RAM.

The most pressing need was additional hard drive space. The original ADATA 128GB SSD was adequate when I was testing the system and deciding if I wanted to use it as my primary computer. When I wanted to do more than just the bare necessities and have access to my data more quickly than an external backup hard drive or flash drive could provide, I added two hard disk drives.

First, I picked up a Toshiba 5400rpm 2TB OEM drive when Microcenter had them on sale. I had good luck with Toshiba drives from Microcenter with previous computer builds, so I was comfortable using a larger format capacity one in this computer. Due to the limited warranty on OEM drives, I put the drive through its paces to ensure that it wasn’t a lemon: I performed a low level format on the drive, and then I began the laborious task of moving files to the drive via USB and over the network. Then, I culled through the copied files to remove duplicate files. Finally, I erased the free space to stress test the drive again.

Second, I waited for another sale at Microcenter and purchased a Western Digital Blue 5400rpm 4TB drive. After adding it the computer, which required routing the power cable and SATA cables differently than I had done before, I stress tested the new drive with a low level format (this took all evening to perform!) and then copied everything from the Toshiba 2TB drive to the WD 4TB drive.

Another important need was additional RAM for the software that I use–multiple productivity applications, Wolfram Mathematica, and games. The Gigabyte B250-DS3H mATX motherboard supports four sticks of DDR4 RAM. I bought the computer’s first dual-channel pair of Crucial DDR4-2400 4GB RAM sticks at an amazing discount. Unfortunately, DDR4 RAM prices rose and have stayed elevated since that time. When a more modest discount was offered than originally, I chose to take it. Now, all four DDR4 slots are filled with two pairs of Crucial DDR4-2400 RAM for a total of 16GB RAM.

I dabbled with VR before video card prices went through the roof. For this experiment, I upgraded the video card and PSU. I don’t have the video card any longer, but I kept the Corsair CX650M PSU so that I can switch out video cards for something more powerful in the future.

After these upgrades, my computer’s stats are:

Intel i7-7700

Gigabyte B250-DS3H mATX Motherboard

Asus Radeon Rx-550 4GB GDDR5 Video Card

Crucial 16GB 4×4 DDR4-2400 RAM


2TB Toshiba OEM HDD


Corsair CX650M PSU

ROSEWILL Micro ATX Mini Tower Computer Case, FBM-01


Before Cyberpunk: Science Fiction and Early Personal Computing (for the 13th City Tech Poster Session)


For the New York City College of Technology, CUNY’s 13th Annual Research Poster Session, I created the poster embedded above to illustrate my current research on pre-cyberpunk science fiction (SF) about computing and personal computing. The poster discusses my focus and provides a timeline with SF about computing matched with key technological innovations that made the personal computing revolution in the late-1970s possible.

What I am interested in is the fact that William Gibson’s “cyberspace” captured the popular imagination about the metaphorical place where computing, processing, navigating, interacting, and communicating occurs, but some of the very good SF about computing that predates Gibson’s coining the term cyberspace failed to leave an indelible impression. Certainly, these stories were read and circulated, but the reach of their images and metaphors seem to have been limited in scope as compared to Gibson’s writing.

One of the ideas that I have had since creating the poster is that the idea of hidden computing or outlaw computing is something central to Vernor Vinge’s “True Names.” This, of course, features large in Gibson’s fictions, and it is the image that I am looking for in other SF of this transitional era.

At the poster session, I will carry my Raspberry Pi-based touchscreen-computer-in-a-Suntory-box-from-Japan to demonstrate the idea of hidden computing. I will post a step-by-step instruction post soon about assembling the Raspberry Pi-based computer and offer some additional thoughts about how I would like to use them in my technical communication classes.

In this post, I want to provide some of my notes and links to relevant resources as a record of the initial research that I did in preparation of this poster. It is my hope that it might lead to conversations and collaborations in the future.


Fiction Sources

Murray Leinster’s “A Logic Named Joe” (1946): Home computers connected to a large scale network. [Couldn’t fit within poster dimensions, but a significant work that needs mentioning.]

Isaac Asimov’s “The Fun They Had” (1951): Children discovering a print book are agog at what it represents while their classroom/desktop teaching computers flash mathematical fractions at them. [Couldn’t fit within poster dimensions, but another important work in this genealogy.]

Poul Anderson’s “Kings Who Die” (1962): Human-computer interface, according to Asimov and Greenberg in The Great SF Stories #24, “one of the first stories to address this question” (69).

Daniel F. Galouye’s Simulacron-3 (1964): Also published as Counterfeit World. Adapted as Welt am Draht/World on a Wire (1973). Simulated reality for artificial beings programmed to believe (except in the case of one character) that they are real and living in the “real world.”

Philip K. Dick’s A Maze of Death (1970): A crew in a disabled spacecraft while awhile their remaining lives in a computer generated virtual world.

John Brunner’s The Shockwave Rider (1975): Computer programming and hacking. First use of the term “worm” to describe a type of self-propagating computer program set loose on the computer network. Protagonist as outlaw.

[Five year gap during the personal computing revolution. Were the SF writers playing with their new personal computers?]

John M. Ford’s Web of Angels (1980): The “Web” is a communication and computing network connecting humanity. “Webspinners” are an elite group of programmers who can manipulate the Web in unique and unexpected ways. Protagonist as outlaw.

Vernor Vinge’s “True Names” (1981): Computing power hidden from view of a watchful government–literally under the floor boards. Early MMORPG/virtual reality experience of what was later called cyberspace. Protagonist as outlaw.

Damien Broderick’s The Judas Mandala (1982): First SF to use the terms “virtual reality” and “virtual matrix.” Protagonist as conspirator/outlaw?


Nonfiction Sources

Cavallaro, Dani. Cyberpunk and Cyberculture: Science Fiction and the Work of William Gibson. New Brunswick, NJ: Athlone Press, 2000. Print.

Ferro, David L. and Eric G. Swedin. Eds. Science Fiction and Computing: Essays on Interlinked Domains. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2011. Print.

Kay, Alan C. “A Personal Computer for Children of All Ages.” ACM ’72 Proceedings of the ACM Annual Conference – Volume 1. New York: ACM, 1972. n.p. Web. 18 Nov. 2015.

Mowshowitz, Abbe. Inside Information: Computers in Fiction. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1977. Print.

Murphy, Graham J. and Sherryl Vint. Beyond Cyberpunk: New Critical Perspectives. New York: Routledge, 2010. Print.

Slusser, George Edgar and TA Shippey. Eds. Fiction 2000: Cyberpunk and the Future of Narrative. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1992. Print.

Stableford, Brian. Science Fact and Science Fiction: An Encyclopedia. New York: Routledge, 2006. Print.

Timeline of Computer History. Computer History Museum, 2015. Web. 18 Nov. 2015.

Warrick, Patricia. The Cybernetic Imagination in Science Fiction. Cambridge: MIT, 1980. Print.



A Note on Bruce Sterling’s The Hacker Crackdown

Bruce Sterling’s The Hacker Crackdown: Law and Disorder on the Electronic Frontier (1992) is a book that I should have read back when it was first published. In fact, I’m rather let down with myself that I did not know about this book back it was published at the same time that I was beginning high school and transitioning from an Amiga user to a PC/DOS enthusiast (if you can imagine such an animal).

Sterling’s journalistic account of the Hacker Crackdown of 1990 and its immediate aftermath is as enlightening as it is enjoyable to read. He chronicles the passage of the BellSouth E911 document, the targeting of the Legion of Doom, the criminal case against the publisher of Phrack magazine, the  hentanglement of Steve Jackson Games (creator of GURPS Cyberpunk), and the launch of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

Sterling had my attention from the get-go, but I was really jazzed when he writes about FLETC (Federal Law Enforcement Training Center) and my hometown, Brunswick, GA. He visited FLETC to speak with Carlton Fitzpatrick about computer crime.

Around that same time, I was delivering auto parts to the FLETC repair shop. I was out there at least every few days–virtually free to roam the facility in my Toyota pickup truck emblazoned with “Ellis Auto Parts” on its sides. Sterling might have been touring the facility when I was dropping off distributor points or a new starter.

Also, around that  time, I was learning about DOS, Windows 3.1, and PC gaming. I had a Commodore Amiga 2000, but I was the only person besides my cousins who owned an Amiga. Of course the Amiga was a more advanced and capable computer than most IBM-compatibles, but I knew many more people with PCs and PC software. So, for a time, I indulged a hobby in PC computers (at least until I discovered the Apple Macintosh SE/30 and the computing universe that represented in Mrs. Ragland’s drafting class).

Had I read this book back then, who knows what I might have done? I imagine myself taking a detour on one of my delivery missions to the auto shop–and its interior office walls emblazoned with centerfold girls–to drop in to meet Mr. Fitzpatrick. A detour taken while driving and learning a little bit more about computers and computer security could have taken my life on its own detour from where it is now.

Had I seen computers and networks as an end in themselves–more than I did building, optimizing, and fixing them–my life would have been detoured.

As it happens, my life detoured in other, unexpected, and interesting ways. At the time, I was focused on learning about plasma physics, and in my off time, the physics of consciousness. I wound up at Georgia Tech, but I quickly learned that I was better at writing about science than doing it full time. During that time, I fell in love with science fiction–especially the New Wave and cyberpunk. I studied how to make art with new media online with HTML and Adobe Flash, and for performance with video production. I worked with James Warbington on two 48-Hour Film Festivals, and I made DVDs for Poetry at Tech (Georgia Tech).

It is own weird way, the detour comes back around so that I study the relationship between computers and the human brain, science fiction and computers, and writing pedagogy and digital media.

While things have worked out remarkably well for me despite the weird turns on my life’s road, I still consider the “what ifs,” and sometimes, I try out the “what ifs” by incorporating the “what ifs” into my daily practices. One way besides creating what I tentatively call City Tech’s Retrocomputing Lab in my humble 64 sq. ft. of office space, I decided to take my enthusiasm with computers into the Linux realm. I’ve used different distros in the past on separate partitions or in virtual machines, but this time I wanted to go all-in–perhaps after getting riled up from reading Sterling’s The Hacker Crackdown, which isn’t a story about Linux, but it is in large part about the margins and despite Linux’s successes, it is still on the margins when it comes to the personal computer desktop.

To follow through on this, I took Uber rides back and forth from Microcenter in Brooklyn (my first Uber rides–necessitated by the heat more than the distance–when the weather’s nice, I enjoy walking to Microcenter from where I live). I had discovered they had a Dell XPS 12 marked down from about $1000 to $450. I purchased one, created a backup of the Windows 8 installer (yes, it had Windows 8, not 8.1 installed), and nuked-and-paved it with Ubutu 14.04 LTS Trusty Tahr (now that I’ve fixed my cursor jumping problem initially encountered by simply turning off touchpad taps/clicks, I might venture into one of the newer versions).

Of course, I am no more a hacker than I am a neurosurgeon (this latter point, my dissertation director Mack Hassler enjoyed reminding me of despite the subject matter of my neuroscience-focused literary dissertation), but I enjoy exploring, learning, and playing. Occasionally, I do hack things together. I make things–albeit, usually simple things put together with Deckmate screws and duct tape–and I would like to make things using the computer in ways that I have not really done before. Sure, I’ve taken programming classes before, but I created what I was told to make instead of what I wanted to make. This was a lack of imagination and inspiration on my part, and I do not want to continue making that mistake. So, here we go!

Retrocomputing Lab Page Launch


Over the weekend, I launched a new page under the “Research” menu on DynamicSubspace.net for my Retrocomputing Lab.

I use the Retrocomputing Lab’s hardware and software resources in my continuing research on human-computer interaction, human-computer experiences, and human-computer co-influence. So far, its primary focus is on the shift from the pre-Internet, early-1990s to the post-Internet, late-1990s and early-2000s.

During that time, technological and cultural production seems to accelerate. Imagine all of the stories yet to be recovered from that time. How do we untangling of the long shadow of that time from the innovations and disruptions of the present passing into future?

The computer hardware includes Macs and PCs. There are laptops and desktops. There are different add-on cards and peripherals to enhance and change experiences. There are 3.5″ floppy disks, CD-ROMs, and DVDs. There are many different kinds of software ranging from games to interactive encyclopedias to operating systems to word processors. There are different motherboards that can be swapped out in various computer cases (AT and ATX). The machines can be temperamental, but each configuration reveals its own indelible soul (for lack of a better word, but it is a word that I quite like in this context).

My research focuses on reading on screens, depictions of electronic-facilitated reading, and the cognitive effects of reading on screens (of course, there are a multitude of screens and interfaces–a worthy complication) as opposed to other forms of non-digital media (and their multitude).

The Retrocomputing Lab continues to grow and new research possibilities abound. If you are interested in collaborating on a project with Retrocomputing Lab resources, drop me a line at jason dot ellis at lmc dot gatech dot edu.

Followup to Adventures with a CustoMac: Installing Mac OS X Mavericks on Asus P8Z77-V PC

Mavericks installed on CustoMac. NB: MBPr on desk and PowerMacintosh 8500/120 on right.
Mavericks installed on CustoMac. NB: MBPr on desk and PowerMacintosh 8500/120 on right.

Last summer, I wrote about my experiences installing Mac OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion on my Asus P8Z77-V and Intel i7-2700K PC here. What I neglected to say at the time was that an alarming number of creeping instabilities led me to ultimately abandon running Mountain Lion on my PC and return to Windows 7.

I later learned that some of these instabilities were likely linked to a bad PSU and video card–both of which were replaced by the manufacturers under warranty (awesome kudos to Antec and EVGA). With the new PSU and video card, my PC returned to 100% stability under Windows 7. This made me wonder if I could try rolling out a Mavericks installation on my PC.

Also, I wanted to use Mac OS X’s superior file content search technology and other third-party textual analysis tools in my research. I have a MacBook Pro 15″ retina (MBPr), but it lacks the hard drive capacity for my accumulated research files. The comfort that I feel in the MacOS environment and the need for lots of fast storage led me to turn my attention back to turning my PC into a CustoMac (aka “hackintosh”).

This time, I wanted to streamline and simply my setup as much as possible and incorporate components that should work out of the box (OOB). Toward this end, I reduced my hardware configuration from this:

  • ASUS P8Z77-V LGA 1155 Z77 ATX Intel Motherboard (disabled on-board Intel HD 3000 video and Asus Wi-Fi Go! add-on card)
  • Intel Core i7 2700K LGA 1155 Boxed Processor
  • Corsair XMS3 Series 16GB DDR3-1333MHz (PC3-10666) CL 9 Dual Channel Desktop Memory Kit (Four 4GB Memory Modules)
  • evga 01G-P3-1561-KR GeForce GTX 560 Ti 1024MB GDDR5 PCIe 2.0 x16 Video Card
  • Antec High Current Gamer 750W Gamer Power Supply HCG-750
  • Corsair Vengeance C70 Gaming Mid Tower Case Military Green
  • Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus Universal CPU Cooler
  • Samsung 22X DVD±RW Burner with Dual Layer Support – OEM
  • Intel 128 GB SATA SSD
  • Western Digital Caviar Green WD10EARX 1TB IntelliPower 64MB Cache SATA 6.0Gb/s 3.5″ Internal Hard Drive – Bare Drive
Using on-board video and no ASUS wifi card.
Using on-board video and no ASUS wifi card.

to this:

  • ASUS P8Z77-V LGA 1155 Z77 ATX Intel Motherboard (using on-board Intel HD 3000 video and removing Asus Wi-Fi Go! add-on card)
  • Intel Core i7 2700K LGA 1155 Boxed Processor
  • Corsair XMS3 Series 16GB DDR3-1333MHz (PC3-10666) CL 9 Dual Channel Desktop Memory Kit (Four 4GB Memory Modules)
  • evga 01G-P3-1561-KR GeForce GTX 560 Ti 1024MB GDDR5 PCIe 2.0 x16 Video Card (removed to simply setup and save power–who has time for gaming?)
  • Antec High Current Gamer 750W Gamer Power Supply HCG-750
  • Corsair Vengeance C70 Gaming Mid Tower Case Military Green
  • Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus Universal CPU Cooler
  • Samsung 22X DVD±RW Burner with Dual Layer Support – OEM
  • Intel 128 GB SATA SSD
  • Three Western Digital HDDs for file storage and work space. 
IoGear GBU521 and TP-Link TL-WDN4800 from Microcenter.
IoGear GBU521 and TP-Link TL-WDN4800 from Microcenter.

Also, I added two new components that were recommended from the TonyMacx86 Forums:

  • TP-Link 450Mbpx Wireless N Dual Band PCI Express Adapter (TL-WDN4800). It works in Mavericks OOB.
  • IoGear Bluetooth 4.0 USB Micro Adapter (GBU521). It works in Mavericks OOB.
ASUS’s Wi-Fi Go! card works great in Windows 7, but it caused problems with my Mavericks installation.

As noted above, I physically removed my 560 Ti video card, because I wanted to simply my setup for installation purposes. Also, I removed the ASUS Wi-Fi Go! add-on card, because despite disabling it in BIOS, the Mavericks installer seemed to hang on a wi-fi device while attempting to set its locale (a setting that determines what radio settings to use based on the country that you happen to be in). After I removed the Wi-Fi Go! card, I had a nearly flawless Mavericks installation process (NB: removing the Wi-Fi Go! card required removing the motherboard, turning it over, removing a screw holding in the Wi-Fi Go! card, turning the motherboard over, and unplugging the Wi-Fi Go! card).

These are the steps that I used to install Mavericks on my PC:

  1. Follow TonyMac’s Mavericks installation guide for making an installation USB drive and installing Mavericks.
  2. Following installation of Mavericks, boot from your USB drive, select your new Mavericks installation drive, arrive at the desktop, and run Multibeast.
  3. Select these settings in Multibeast:
    1. Quick Start > DSDT Free (I left all pre-selected options as-is. Below are additional selections that I made.)
    2. Drivers > Audio > Realtek > Without DSDT > ALC892
    3. Drivers > Disk > 3rd Party SATA
    4. Drivers > Graphics > Intel Graphics Patch for Mixed Configurations
    5. Drivers > Misc > Fake SMC
    6. Drivers > Misc > Fake SMC Plugins
    7. Drivers > Misc > Fake SMC HWMonitor App
    8. Drivers > Misc > NullCPUPowerManagement (I don’t want my machine to go to sleep)
    9. Drivers > Misc > USB 3.0 – Universal
    10. Drivers > Network > Intel – hank’s AppleIntelE1000e
    11. Customize > 1080p Display Mode
    12. Build > Install
  4. Repair Permissions on Mavericks drive from /Applications/Utilities/Disk Utility
  5. Reboot
  6. Run Chameleon Wizard (this will fix a problem that you might have with connecting to the App Store)
  7. Click SMBios > Edit > Premade SMBioses > choose MacPro 3,1 > Save
  8. Reboot
  9. CustoMac should now be fully operational!

In order to arrive at the above instructions, I read a lot of first hand experiences and third party suggestions on TonyMac’s forums. I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the amazing community of CustoMac builders who take the time to share their thoughts and lessons and equally so to the tool-builders who create amazing software including UniBeast, Multibeast, and Chameleon Wizard!

I would suggest that you remember that there is not always one path to a successful build. I distilled a lot of posts into my successful build. Your experience with similar hardware might take a different path. Reading others experiences and trying their suggestions experimentally can lead to your own successful discoveries. Thus, I took the time to try out different configurations of hardware until settling on the stripped down approach with on-board video and OOB networking gear. I tried several different installations: a failed Mavericks installation with kernel panics (Wi-Fi Go! card installed and wrong Multibeast configuration), a successful Mountain Lion installation (barebones and correct Multibeast configuration), and a successful Mavericks installation (detailed above).

Obviously, MacOS X can run on a wide range of PC hardware given the correct drivers, configuration information, etc. Apple could do great things if only Tim Cook and others would think differently and move beyond the tightly integrated hardware-software experience. Apple’s engineers could do great things with building better operating systems that adapt to a person’s hardware. Given the chance, they could challenge Microsoft and Google with a new MacOS X that is insanely great for everyone–not just those who can afford to buy new hardware.

Now, back to using some of the tools that I use in my research on a computing platform that I enjoy:

New Rig

I may be an English PhD student, but I also enjoy working with computers.  So, it was only a matter of time before I built a new PC for fun, adventure, and a bit of World of Warcraft.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my MacBook Pro, but I’ve been unhappy with Apple and Blizzard since the MacOS X 10.5.3 update, which effectively destabilized any attempts at playing WoW for more than a few minutes at a time (if it launched at all).  I had been running MacOS X 10.5.2 in order to enter WoW, but this was an imperfect solution, because I was missing out on all of the recent security updates and fixes.

I began researching the hardware that I wanted to use in the construction of my new rig a few months ago, but I didn’t put a plan into action until recently.  I believe the fact that tipped the scale was that I learned that there was a Micro Center a short drive away in Cleveland.  I would much prefer a Fry’s to Micro Center if I’m buying local, but I had to work with what’s nearby.  I could have purchased my stuff online from a website such as Newegg, but I tend to go local due to problems I’ve had in the past with online ordered new system builds.

After comparison pricing, including rebates (oh, how Micro Center loves rebates), and checking in-store stock, Yufang and I drove to Cleveland one day, despite my being tired and not feeling well, and we spent a couple of hours at Micro Center.  I walked out the store with an Antec mid-tower case with 430 watt PSU, Biostar TP43DA2-A7 (supports DDR2-1066 and sans the bells and whistles I don’t need), Intel Core2Quad Q6600 CPU (with lower price than Newegg!), 2GB Corsair Dominator DDR2-1066 (this was a next day exchange after my first XMS2 memory turned out bad), PNY nVidia Geforce 9600GT 512MB PCIe video card, Western Digital 160GB SATA Hard Drive, Samsung DVD+/-R SATA optical drive, and Acer 19″ 5ms LCD display.  Besides the initial RAM problem, everything went together fine, and I was able to install Windows Vista Ultimate without headache.

I’ve found myself using the PC more and more since I’ve built it.  However, I’ve been using it for school rather than gaming.  In fact, I haven’t played WoW since I built my new rig–there hasn’t been any time for it.  That’s okay though, because I’ve been getting a lot of good work done for my space exploration themed college writing course that I’m teaching, as well as my student research and professional duties for SFRA.

I’ll report more on my PC soon, particularly when I get to actually relieve some stress killing Alliance characters on Ner’zhul.  Though, one thing that I don’t think I need to talk about is the Fact, and I mean that with a capital F, that Microsoft actively designed Vista to be irritating, counterintuitive, and maddeningly uncohesive.

One final thought–I like to think how science fictional it is that I can build my own computer.  What would it have been like to imagine building your own computer prior to the introduction of the MITS Altair 8800 and later, IMSAI 8080?