Tuesday, September 16, 2014

I’m a Collector of Old Computers by Big Jim Williams

I’m a collector of old computers. Like old friends I find them hard to discard.
“Aren’t you ever going to throw out that old Amstrad word processor you bought thirty years ago?” asked my wife.
“That keyboard and I spent a lot of hours together writing rejected manuscripts.”
“It’s collecting dust in our bedroom closet.”
“Yeah,” I challenged, “and I’ve got four more like ‘em in the garage.”
“Junk ‘em!” ordered my wife.
“I don’t throw old things I love away,” I said, “including you. But one more word and I may change my mind.”
The British-made Amstrad--that only a computer museum director has ever heard of--served me well. The additional four Amstrads, gifts from friends who advanced to real computers, proves you can never have too many spare parts. Just ask an orbiting astronaut with a broken toilet seat.

However, while working in education as a publicist, I advanced from a manual typewriter (I hate electric ones) to my first office computer, a Hewlett-Packard HP-150 in the mid-1980s that used a touch screen and introduced the 3-1/2 inch floppy disk drive to computers.

Most people claim touch screens didn’t exist then. They did. A Google search of Old Hewlett-Packard Computers will bring it up.

The small screen’s frame was circled with a series of tiny holes. When I touched the screen, it did what it was supposed to do: delete, highlight, spell check, or cut and paste. This was looooooong before the iPAD.
My HP was linked to a matrix printer that produced a sound like buzzing bees.

After I left the job, I replaced my home Amstrad with a Compaq computer that still lurks like a lost relative in the corner of my office, attached to an old, old sea-anchor size Canon printer I refuse to toss because I’ve refilled the ink cartridge more times than my car’s gasoline tank.

I eventually advanced to a 20-inch Mac desktop computer with more toots and whistles than a Mississippi paddlewheel. In recent years I’ve added a used Mac laptop, and now have a touch-screen iPad that came with my birthday.
I’ve failed to mention a strange little word processor laptop (it runs on three AAA batteries) purchased several years ago. It’s called an AlphaSmart, comes with a four-line screen, and hides in my car trunk. I often write with it while waiting in doctors’ offices and, later at home, transfer text via cable to my desktop.

If all else fails, including a power outage, there’s always my old manual typewriter wrapped in layers of plastic in my garage. And if I can’t find my typewriter, there’s always pencil and paper.

A three-day power outage did occur during my former job and I did use my manual typewriter, the only one in all the many offices. I was clicking keys while everyone else twiddled their thumbs.
The point of all this:

When it comes to writing, write on whatever you have, from a stone tablet or papyrus to the latest PC, Mac, or tablet. Just write, that’s the important thing.
And if all else fails, there’s always pencil and paper.


  1. Delightful post! I remember the days before Windows when you had to use DOS. Of course, I'm talking about software while you're extolling the virtues of ancient hardware. LOL!

    Of course, the way technology is changing at the speed of light today's model may be considered an antique next week.

  2. I also have an ancient collection of computers. Started out building an old octal-based thing I built from a kit and had to throw switches to make it do things to a TRS-80 (still works), an old IBM PC luggable with built in CRT screen (still works), a Compaq luggable with the ultra-rare add-on slots, to Amigas and CP/M machines. I should donate them to a museum.

  3. My husband also has a collection of old computers and printers. Computers include a Kaypro and an Amiga. We've had the Kaypro since the early 80s and the Amiga since the 90s. They are just gathering dust and I'm with your wife. "Junk em!" But as the saying goes, one man's junk is another man's treasure. Flora