Recently, I posted about the new OpenLab site that I launched for “Retrocomputing at City Tech.” On the site, I included a photographic inventory of the computing hardware and peripherals that I have on-hand in my office in Namm 520. Now, I’ve added to the site with a second page that inventories a majority of the software that is in the vintage computing archive. The software archive includes games (like Neuromancer pictured above, Star Wars X-Wing and TIE Fighter, and Star Trek 25th Anniversary), productivity software (such as Microsoft Office 2004), encyclopedias (Comptons, Groliers, and Microsoft Encarta), and operating systems (Windows 95, Macintosh System 7.5, Mac OS X 10.0-10.3 and 10.5). Follow the link above to see all of the software on its original media followed by textual descriptions.
I’ve wanted an IBM ThinkPad since I first saw my boss’ at Netlink in the fall of 1998. But, while I’ve been invested in PCs over the years tangentially, I reserved Macs as my primary desktop or laptop computing platform, which combined with the premium price on IBM and then Lenovo ThinkPads kept me in the Apple premium category. Put another way, I could afford one but not both.
Apple, as I’ve confided with friends, is diverging from my computing interests and needs. While design has been an important part of Apple’s DNA since the Apple II (arguably even earlier if we consider Woz’s design aesthetics for the Apple I motherboard layout), its increasing emphasis on fashion and accessorization and seeming less technological investment and innovation in its desktop and laptop computers have soured my allegiance to the company and its computers.
So, I thought about how to try out a different kind of PC laptop–one that I had wanted but could not afford when it was originally released–and make an investment in extending the life of what some folks might consider an obsolete or recyclable computer.
Within this framework, I wanted a laptop to take the place of the MacBook Pro that I had sold on eBay awhile back while the resell value was still high before rumored price reductions as product refreshes roll in. It needed to be relatively lightweight and have a small footprint. Also, it needed to have good battery life. And of course, it needed to run the software that I use on my home-built desktop PC.
Eventually, I decided to purchase a very well taken care of Lenovo ThinkPad X230 for $190.00. Originally released in 2012 for a lot more than what I paid for it, this ThinkPad model features an Intel Core i5 3320M Ivy Bridge CPU running at 2.6GHz with 2 cores and supporting 4 threads. It has 8GB DDR3 RAM and a 180 GB SSD. In addition to built-in WiFi, it has an ethernet port, 3 USB 3.0 connectors, an SD Card reader, VGA and Display port connectors, and a removable battery.
From a user interface perspective, it has a chiclet keyboard which responds well to typing quickly. Its touchpad leaves a little to be desired in terms of responding to some gestures like scrolling, but its red pointing nub and paddle-style mouse buttons at the top of the touchpad are exquisite. It includes some feature buttons like a speaker mute button next to volume keys above the function key row, and on the left side there is a radio on/off switch for the WiFi and Bluetooth.
Initially, I tried out the ThinkPad X230 with Ubuntu, and everything seemed to work out of the box (though, I added TLP for advanced power management). However, I switched back to Windows 10 Professional with a full nuke-and-pave installation, because I have some software that is far easier to run natively in Windows instead of through Wine or virtualization in Linux.
In Windows 10 Professional, the ThinkPad X230 meets all of my productivity needs. I use LibreOffice for most things, but I also rely on Google Docs in Chrome for some tasks (like inventorying the City Tech Science Fiction Collection). The WiFi works well even at City Tech, which has one of the most cantankerous wireless networks I’ve encountered. At home, I use it on my lap to browse while watching TV.
The X230 is snappy and quick despite its age. Of course, the SSD and ample RAM support increased input/output for the older CPU. Chrome, LibreOffice, and Windows Explorer respond without hesitation. It easily plays downloaded Solo: A Star Wars Story 1080p trailers in VLC, too.
With the included 6 cell 45N1022 battery, it runs for several hours (this is a used battery, so its capacity might be lower than one that is brand new). I purchased a 9 cell 45N1175 battery, which I’m testing out now. With the 6 cell battery, it is just shy of 3 pounds, and with the 9 cell battery is a little over 3 pounds. I’m hoping that between the two of them that I can get plenty of work done on the go without being tethered to a power outlet.
Future tests include running World of Warcraft and watching full length movies. The display’s viewing angles could be better, but I’m willing to accept them as they are as I can adjust the brightness and display gamma easily using keyboard shortcuts and the Intel Display Adapter software to minimize its poorer display quality as compared to the latest HiDPI displays available now.
I’m tickled to use the Lenovo ThinkPad X230 as my main laptop. Now, I can say that I’m a proud ThinkPad owner instead of a zealous Apple user.
At the bottom of this post, I’ve included more photos of the X230.
If you’re considering a new computer, I would, based on this and my other vintage computing experiences, suggest that you consider trading up for a used or refurbished machine. Getting a used computer keeps that computer out of a landfill or being destroyed for its rare metals, and it might be an opportunity to try out a computer that you might have missed on its first time around.
In addition to working on a book review today, I created a new OpenLab site for Retrocomputing at City Tech. In addition to recording how I use vintage computers in the classroom and in research, the new OpenLab site contains a catalog of my vintage computing archive. I populated this catalog with most of the hardware, but I plan to granulize it further and create a catalog of my software. This, of course, will take time. At least there is a place for me to record these things now within the auspices of the work that I do at City Tech. I updated my previous Retrocomputing Lab page on this site with a link to the updated site on OpenLab.
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.
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?
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.
Thanks to City Tech’s Stanley Kaplan, I now have a substantial new collection of early personal computers including IBM PCs, Radio Shack TRS-80s, a Commodore PET, Texas Instruments TI-99s, ATARI 800, and a number of other computers and peripherals in my office in Namm 520. Some of the smaller items are locked in my filing cabinet, but as you can see from the photos included in this post, I have the larger items arranged around my desk and on a new set of Edsal steel shelves that I purchased on Amazon.com. Now, I have to make some additional room for a large, removable magnetic disk from a TRIAD Computer System (c. late-1970s~early-1980s, the drive that reads this disk was about the size of a washing machine) and an Apple Macintosh Centris 650, which I shipped to myself from Brunswick when I recently visited my parents. In the coming months, I will catalog these machines, see what works, and plan how to use them (research, pedagogy, and exhibits). If you have older computers, disks, or user manuals and would like to donate them for use in my research and teaching, please drop me a line at dynamicsubspace at gmail dot com.
When I met with Georgia Tech Library Archives’ Department Head Jody Lloyd Thompson and Digital Collections Archivist Wendy Hagenmaier to donate three vintage computers (a Dell Dimension 4100, Apple Performa 550, and Apple iMac) and other computing hardware a week and a half ago, I noticed that they had room for one more computer, so I pitched them the idea of my making another donation to fill the gap between the Performa 550’s 68030 processor and the iMac’s G3 processor: an Apple Power Macintosh 8500/120. They agreed to accept, so I set about preparing the computer for them.
My Power Macintosh 8500 was in very good shape, but like many vintage computers with persistent clocks, it needed a new lithium battery.
I replaced the battery, installed Mac OS 7.5.5, a number of different software titles (including Apple’s Plaintalk Speech Recognition–I threw in a Plaintalk powered microphone, Project X/Hot Sauce, and Cyberdog). I discovered that the plastic inside the case did not age well. The PowerMac 8500 has a lot of plastic components that are held together with flexible tabs or clips. When I applied a small amoung of pressure on the tip of these clips to release them, most of them would break. Luckily, the case ties together very well, so I only had to piece some parts back together with clear tape (the power button/light assembly) and metal duct tape (one drive plate cover on the front of the case). To help dissipate heat, I added a rear slot fan made by Antec.
I made a video demoing the finalized system, which I’m including embedded below (I apologize for the flicker, but my digital camera doesn’t have enough adjustment features to match the refresh rate on the Apple 14″ Color Display).
In addition to the Power Macintosh 8500, I gave the Archives a box full of software and late-1990s/early-2000s video games for Macintosh. These might help facilitate more connections around campus (Computer Science, Media Studies, and Game Studies).
As I’m leaving soon for City Tech, I believe that we can do more together in our work with vintage computing. I floated the idea of a symposium, conference, or some other kind of connected project. Also, from what little I have learned so far, there’s a lot of investment and interest in computer technology in NYC (and Brooklyn in particular). I am looking forward to making new connections with others studying retrocomputing and New Media. I know that many opportunities await.
Yesterday, I had the pleasure of making the first donation of three computers to the Georgia Tech Library Archives, which is launching its own Retrocomputing Lab for scholars and students to use. The Georgia Tech Library Archives is already well-known for its significant Georgia Tech Science Fiction Collection and other holdings.
I met with Department Head Jody Lloyd Thompson and Digital Collections Archivist Wendy Hagenmaier to setup the three computers and talk about each machine’s provenance and current operation. We set the computers up on the right side as you enter the Georgia Tech Library Archives. This is a temporary location as the Archives makes plans for their use in Archives for the time being and possibly more in the future as part of the on-going Georgia Tech Library renovation project.
From my personal collection–which I am having to cull before moving to Brooklyn for my new job at City Tech, I donated three computers: an Apple Performa 550 (1994), Apple iMac (1999), and Dell Dimension 4100 (2001). Before donating the computers, I refurbished each to be in as factory-fresh condition as possible.
For the Peforma 550, I installed a PDS ethernet NIC and replaced the SCSI hard drive with one that was less noisy than its original one. Then, I installed Mac OS 7.6.1 and some software including the AfterDark Star Trek: The Next Generation screensaver and ClarisWorks, and utilities for working with files and disk images.
For the slot-loading, DV iMac, I replaced the motherboard battery and performed a fresh install of Mac OS 9.2.1. The optical drive suffers from a weak ejection mechanism. I made sure that the bottom plastic bezel fit properly, but reseated it had no effect on improving the drive’s ability to eject discs correctly. I warned the librarians about this, and recommended buying an external, Firewire optical drive and using the paperclip ejection method in the meantime.
For the Dell Dimension 4100, I installed a 3Com NIC donated by Mark Warbington. I installed Windows 98 Second Edition and painstakingly installed the drivers for the components in the Dell (this was a laborious process, because despite having the Service Tag number, some recommended drivers did not work on all of the components).
I provided two sets of speakers–one for the Performa 550 (it’s internal speakers had stopped working about a year ago) and one for the Dell Dimension 4100. In the event of future hardware problems, I gave them spare AGP video cards, optical drives, a 3.5″ floppy disk drive.
Also, I gave them some spare motherboards, controller cards, and hard drives that might be useful for displays in the Library.
The Georgia Tech Library Archives have big plans for making digital archival work and learning an integral component of what they do. If you have functional and working computer hardware or software, you should consider donating it to the Georgia Tech Library Archives, or if you have technical skills for working on older hardware and software, you can donate your expertise and time, too. Contact Jody and Wendy by email or phone here: Georgia Tech Library Archives contact information here.
UPDATE: I made these four Google Glass videos while working on the iMac DV: