The Midnight Writer -- August 1997
I'm mourning the passing of The Beast, the Gateway 2000 66MHz Pentium computer, cutting edge machine when I bought it, that died suddenly this last Sunday morning. For all that it frustrated and irritated me endlessly for the three and a half years I had it, I have to admit that it taught me a lot (especially about patience) and stood me in good stead through lots of newsletters and plenty of work, plus the occasional game. And e-mail. If I had a thousand yen for every e-mail message The Beast downloaded, uploaded, or otherwise helped me deal with, I wouldn't have to work anymore. Hell, if I had that much money, I could actually afford to live in Japan!
All was going fine at 4:00 am Sunday when I shut the computer down. Up again at 8:00, I turned it on and...nothing, zilch, nani mo, rien, nada. The BIOS wasn't speaking to me. After checking the monitor, power, disk drive function, and what-have-you, I decided that something had gone badly wrong with something on the motherboard. The CMOS battery catastrophically running down was a possibility, but I'd only had The Beast for three years, and there had been no telltale aberrations in the dates or times. Probably the heat caused something to give up the ghost.... I always figured I could use that CPU as a spare grill, and the weather's been plenty warm lately.
As a kind of vicious farewell present, The Beast's final act was to die just when the deadline for this issue of the AJ was breathing down my neck. I had been thinking of upgrading to another system, or at least upgrading the motherboard, as some of you already know. This intention received the impetus to turn it into action, so I hied myself off to Akihabara. The ideal would have been to get a new case/power supply and a new motherboard, and fill the new machine up with all the piecemeal upgrade equipment I've bought over the last six to twelve months. But we all know life isn't ideal, right?
I could indeed get a bare-bones protosystem built for me, or get the parts to build it myself, for ¥100,000 or so, if I didn't mind waiting a couple of weeks (OK, OK...a couple of months if I had to do it myself). With the AJ work grinning it's evil grin at me from just around the next corner, I couldn't afford the wait. So...what could I buy that wouldn't already be obsolescent, and that I could take home with me?
Enter The Brute. I ended up taking home another Gateway machine, this one a 266MHz Pentium II, sporting MMX capability, 64MB EDO DRAM, 512KB pipelined burst cache, a 6.4GB HDD, STB Virge GX 4MB DRAM 3D graphics accelerator, a 12x min/16x max CD-ROM drive, Ensoniq Wavetable PCI soundboard, Altec Lansing speakers with a subwoofer, and a 200W full tower case. In addition to mortgaging the little piece of my soul that I'd so far kept unsold, this little purchase also made redundant a perfectly good soundboard, graphics board,and 12x CD-ROM drive I'd bought recently, instanter.
The good news is that with plenty of expansion room in the huge new case, I was able to install the three 2GB (more or less) HDDs from The Beast, install 64MB of The Beast's 80MB RAM for a new total of 128MB, and move my SCSI controller to The Brute, as well. Bad news was that I had to get a system with Japanese Win95 installed on it. Further good news was that changing the boot drive from the 6.4 gig HDD to the 2GB drive salvaged from The Beast was dead easy, as was moving the Japanese operating system to a corner of the system where I couldn't hurt myself with it. Bad news was how long I had to mess around with the system to get everything to work properly...several tries, some Internet driver downloading, my much-appreciated favorite engineer's help, yet another !@#$%^&* reinstallation of Win95, and lots of harsh language-and most of Sunday night and Monday-finally got the graphics working properly. None of my regular readers will be surprised to know that the sound board has resisted all attempts to install it properly, partly because Ensoniq's site offers only an upgrade driver: you have to have the original installed right for it to do you any good.
So, this column (the whole AJ this month, actually) is proof that The Brute is doing its main job. It's still voiceless, though, although I suppose that fix will come with time. It's a fast, powerful brute (hence the name), and it's going to have to have to last me another three years, anyway.
What I should do is pitilessly cull my hard drives' contents and do a new, clean install of Win95, eliminating the bloated (it won't fit on a floppy, nohow) registry which has grown like mutant kudju from outer space, utterly beyond my ability to edit, and reinstall only those applications which I really use. Those of you who read my last New Year's resolutions can stop laughing any time now.
At least I should have plenty of harrowing tales with which to regale you over the next few months (years?) as The Brute and I settle down into some sort of coexistence. It reminds me of the time long ago during a military training course when a fellow trainee, a farmboy familiar till then only with dynamite, was introduced to the mysteries of plastic explosives: "You could really blow yourself up with this, boy, you surely could." Indeed...
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