Saturday, 16 November 2013

My Hero: Part 1 - Computers

I have wanted to write something about my Dad for a long time, long before I had even thought of starting a Blog. I have a lot I want to say about my Dad and if I do it all in one post it would be very long and probably be a victim of  "Too Long Didn't Read" so I will post it in several parts. So here goes.

My Dad is your typical working bloke, Born in Liverpool, moved to Runcorn at a young age and lived there until he met my Mum and moved to Warrington, and that is where my knowledge of his younger life comes to an end. You see my Dad isn't really a talker, unless its about his latest gadget. Oh yeah, he's a gadget geek too.

My dad being the consummate technophile, had bought me my first computer when I was just 8 years old. It was an Atari 65XL, it came with its own cassette drive. which was basically an ordinary Cassette player with a big proprietary plug on the end of it so it could only be used with the computer. This was the 80's in the age of the Amstrad, Spectrum Z12 and the Commodore 64, what is now in my opinion of the golden age of computing.  Games for these computers came mostly on the same kind of cassette tape that music used to come on.

Image courtesy of http://commons.wikimedia.org

Now my dad didnt take long to figure out that if you had a double tape deck, some blank tape and a friend with enough 8-bit technicolour games to give a donkey a small psychotic episode you had yourself a pretty inexpensive way of getting more games for your son who was a geek in the making. Yes, my Dad was on the frontier of computer game piracy.  this was the first of many computers that me and my Dad  played and experimented with through out my childhood, and if i ever messed up, broke or couldn't understand why i couldn't get something to work, my dad was the go to guy.


Fast forward 9 years...

Give my dad an old 8 bit computer with a dry solder joint on the power lead or a problem with the display output to the TV and a few hours he would have it back to you working good as new. Enter the age of the PC and the Dos/Windows environment

My first ever PC. It was an old IBM 386 machine with a floppy disk drive and a CRT monitor that could sink the QE II it was that heavy. This is where the roles were reversed on the computer repair front.  In a world of DMA and IRQ and third party sound cards, discreet graphics cards and drivers. In an environment where getting a game to work on a PC was more a kind of finessing and tricking your PC into thinking it was some kind of tropical iguana. My dad just didn't get it.
I was 17 and at college, and I bought the PC as a word processor and spreadsheet engine with the a little bit of gaming thrown in.  Wing Commander II was my Achilles heel, and so my education in DOS 6.22 and Windows 3.11 began.

I was studying at college every week day and usually didn't get home til about 6pm, My dad used to finish work at 3pm, and this was his meddling time with my PC. He would some how manage to go in to my room with a copy of PC gamer or some other PC magazine with a floppy disk with free software on it and reduce my word processor in to an expensive paperweight. I tell you this now, that software is NOT free, it cost me tens of hours of my life every week repairing the damage done to my computer by my Dad.  I would routinely come home to find my dad sat on the couch next to my mum looking rather sheepish, I would go upstairs to my room, to see the Blue Screen Of Death or worse a black screen with a flashing cursor and the realisation would hit me, my Dad has been tinkering.

Finding my PC in varying states of disrepair became a regular occurrence over the coming months, I think in some way he might have been trying to challenge me, sitting there fucking things up and with a satisfied look thinking to himself, lets see how long it takes him to fix it this time, or maybe not. Either way it led me to having an in depth knowledge of how a PC of that era worked, it was all Direct Memory Allocation addresses and Interrupt ReQuests.  It taught me that computers aren't really about switching them on and getting a nice "READY" message and a blinking cursor awaiting your commands.  It taught me that until the right software is installed, your nice shiny computer is really just i big pile of bits and bobs looking at each other via copper circuitry going "yeah, and?" I must have formatted and re installed that damned computer more times than I care to recall, but it set me up for a future of tinkering and building computers for myself and never ever having to buy a store built machine and my computing life has been richer for it.

To Be Continued...