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I started my computer career repairing these - photo from Wikipedia

I started my computer career repairing these - photo from Wikipedia

 

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Computer Stuff

Introduction

I don't take this part of my website very seriously. Normally I buy computer equipment after it has been out for a while and I tend to use equipment for several years. I am not obsessed with owning the latest and greatest technology and much of what I do doesn't need a lot of computing power.

I am typing this into TextPad in order to update my website, and this task could be performed using a PC from the mid 1970's. Granted, I do need more processing power for other tasks, but everything I need to do can be done on the Lenovo A300 that I bought in 2010.

The fact that new technology arrives constantly (and combined with Moore's Law) means that as soon as I get new equipment it is obsolete and thus I don't have a lot of motivation to keep this section updated. However, some observations may be useful to a few people.

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My Computing History

I started my computing career working for IBM UK in 1983 as a hardware customer engineer in the City of London.

At that time the City was full of IBM Selectric typewriters and top secretaries used IBM's electronic typewriters, which were actually mechanical monsters with tiny amounts of memory. I serviced these.

In addition I also had to repair punch and verifying equipment - mainly 029s, 059s and 129s, but there were also some 024 and 026 punches still around that used vacuum tubes. Believe it or not, 80 column punch cards were still being used at that time and a few machines had very important tasks to perform.

In those days there were still quite a lot of large data centres in London and some computers loaded their JCL (Job Control Language) using punched cards. Other institutions, such as the old Greater London Council (GLC) on the South Bank still had rooms full of punch card equipment.

Word Processors were in their infancy. The recently released IBM Displaywriter was a very basic early word processor that used 8 inch floppy disks for storage. This was the height of technology at the time and came around the same time as the first IBM Personal Computers.

In 1985 I moved on to large systems working with a team looking after the computer equipment at the large data centre of a UK high street bank.

The equipment was huge, sitting on raised floors in air-conditioned rooms connected with large cables that ran underneath the raised flooring. It was all state-of-the-art then, but these days the small computer or phone you are using to read this has more power.

Wardrobe sized cabinets full of 3380 disk drives had a total capacity that was smaller than the small SD card that people use in their digital cameras these days. 3420 tape drives were used to back up data, and large 3800 laser printers printed customer statements.

The huge IBM cheque sorting and processing machines that used to handle millions of cheques every day (and kept many people very busy) have now been consigned to history.

In the late 80's I was issued with my first IBM laptop computer. It came with an 800 MB hard disk drive, which was later upgraded to a 5 GB hard drive. No one imagined that anything larger than 5 GB would be required. As I write, most personal computers - even cheap ones - come with a 1 TB drive as standard, and in five years' time 1 TB will seem like a joke.

 

Aptiva S45, Hewlett Packard 5L LaserJet printer, and a neighbour's cat

Aptiva S45, Hewlett Packard 5L LaserJet printer, and a neighbour's cat

 

My first home computer was an Aptiva S45, which was large and, by today's standards, very slow. I then moved on to using IBM X-series laptops and had a number of these before buying the Lenovo A300, which I still use as my everyday computer.

Computers have followed a path of diminishing returns. In the early days when they were so slow, upgrades made a difference. For many years now the performance has been good and after more than six years of ownership I still don't feel the need to upgrade my A300.

Because of my background, I have a preference for Windows machines and I have always stuck to IBM/Aptiva/Lenovo, not because I believe other brands are inferior, but simply because I know what I am getting and I still have some brand loyalty.

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Mini Reviews

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