Computers and Me
How I got the computer bug
The first personal computer I remember seeing was a couple of days after Christmas, 1981. We were visiting friends of the family in Selkirk when the eldest son got out an intriguing-looking slim, black box and started to plug it into the TV. It was, of course, a Sinclair ZX81. The rest of that afternoon was spent marvelling at the words "Hello world", or whatever, scrolling a hundred times up the screen.
A couple of months later our headmaster at Knowepark Primary School in Selkirk visited the Primary 7 class and hand picked about five pupils for a "special project". I was one of those hand-picked kids. Our special project was to sit in Mrs Campbell's office (she was the Depute Headteacher; and yes! that's how we spell 'deputy' in Scotland!) bashing away at the keyboard of a Commodore VIC 20. Can you imagine the excitement? The VIC 20 had colour! and 3.5 KB! and a 1.0227 Mhz processor! with a small man walking in front of it waving a red flag. We spent the next hour writing text in colour on a TV screen!
From then on in, I was hooked! I wanted one!
Before we even got one I would nag my Dad to bring home computing magazines from his work (luckily, he worked in electronics), and I would pour over these tomes dreaming about what I would do when I eventually got my hands on one. I would spend all my time programming, I decided, and started to plan what kind of programs I'd write.
My first computer was shared between myself, my sister, Jenni, and my brother, Eddie: a Commodore C64 back in 1983. You can pick one up these days for around £30, just over ten times as much as Mum and Dad paid for it in 1983 (£299).
Ah! classic games: The Hobbit, Gridrunner, Clumsy Colin's Action Biker, Jet Set Willy, Hungry Horace. and a whole 38 KB of user-accessible Random Access Memory with which to write programs in BASIC.
We used to have long, bitter fights over what it would be used for. I wanted to program, Jenni and Eddie wanted to play games. When I was (at last) allowed to program, I'd spend hours and hours copying code from Your 64 and then Your Commodore magazines; save it to cassette; then type R-U-N, hold my breath and ... Syntax Error in line 1025. I remember spending two days typing in line after line of DATA code only to find that my 3D, spinning globe of earth obviously had an a couple of mistyped numbers nested somewhere deep within the listing, and what should have been an impressive rotating sphere looked more like an exploded kernal of blue and green popcorn!
Sadly my C64 died; partly over-use; partly neglect. (One minute silence, please.) However, I salvaged the metal "C= commodore ===== 64" strip at the top of the machine, and the Commodore key, and these are currently blutak-ed to my monitor. So the memory lives on, if nothing else.
Commodore 64 Links
News / Fan sites
Games / Software
Psion Siena 512KB
Long after the C64 became a doorstop and I had stopped lusting after the Amiga 500, Imoved to London. During an exciting shopping spree on Oxford Street in 1996 I returned home with a Psion Siena, the 512 KB model, purchased from Debenhams.
I'd seen an advert for one in a computing magazine, and that was it. I needed to have one. Imagine how better than my Filofax it could be. No more rewriting pages of addresses, or scoring them out: just press delete. No more missing appointments: its cheery, chirpy alarms could remind me of important engagements. It is no exageration to say that my life changed when I got my Psion Siena.
This was the beginning of my love of Psion PDAs.
By the time I finished my M.Th. in Ministry at the University of Edinburgh in 1999 my Siena was falling apart. I used it quite extensively in class, taking notes, and for carrying around and editing my various essays and 15,000 word dissertation.
Shortly after we moved to Inverness during the latter-half of 1999 the keyboard gave out completely. I'd already replaced the battery-door clasp, which had broken, and now parts of it were being held together with superglue. It was time to upgrade to the Psion Series 3mx.
Psion Siena Links
News / Fan sites
Compaq 386 SX-25
Returning to 1996, however, I somehow needed to backup my Siena. A backup battery is all well and good, but what if that dies too? What if the backup battery gets jolted while I'm replacing the main batteries and loses contact: I lose my contacts!
I needed two things: a cheap, secondhand PC, and a copy of PsiWin 1.1 and an RS232 cable. Alright! I needed three things.
A friend from work, Kevin, was able to get me a good deal on a copy of PsiWin 1.1. (It was £80 in those days. Now I can download it from my own website!) Except for some reason the good deal expired that day before he went and I still had to pay eighty quid!
Armed with a copy of Micro Mart magazine I bought a secondhand PC from TR Computers: a Compaq 386 / 25 MHz, with a splendid 8 MB RAM, 120 MB hard-drive, 14" VGA monitor. Windows for Workgroups 3.11. I quickly installed my word-processor of choice: Lotus AmiPro 3.0 how could things possibly get any better?
I wrote my M.Th. (15,000 word) dissertation on my Psion Siena and this computer. When I upgraded to a 486 (see below) I gave this PC to my Mum; she has since upgraded to an AMD Athlon 1700, and now my nephew Benjmain owns the Compaq.
Compaq and Windows for Workgroups Links
Windows for Workgroups 3.11
Dell Optiplex 486 DX2-50
During my two years in Edinburgh at theological college I upgraded my poor little Compaq 386 SX-25 to an almighty Dell Optiplex 486 DX2-50.
Another ex-business machine (this time from Intex Computers in London). This one had an SVGA monitor and ran at twice the speed of the old one: 50 MHz. I loaded up my beloved Windows for Workgroups 3.11, and Lotus AmiPro 3.0 and away we went!
I did some tinkering with this machine during our four year life together: 16 MB RAM upgraded to 24 MB); 270 MB hard drive (double-spaced) and another 200 MB drive added; and latterly I fitted a 10/100 LAN card to network it to my next computer.
This machine is currently sitting on the dining room floor. It is running Windows 95b (which I upgraded to over the network, as it doesn't have its own CD-ROM drive), when given the chance, and is even running a copy of Apache Webserver!
Dell and Windows 95 Links
Psion Series 3mxSome misguided fool returned his Psion Series 3mx to Currys in Inverness. I snapped it up at a bargain price. My Psion Siena was nearly dead by this time anyway.
So popular, in fact, was it in the Saunders' household that I bought Jane one (from Pinnock Organiser Services (POS) Ltd in London) so she could play games on it while I used mine for proper reasons. In fact now, March 2004, Jane uses hers for all sorts of things at work. Hoorah! another convert!
When I upgraded further to the Series 5mx (see below) I couldn't bear to part with my beloved (and thrice repaired) 3mx. I hope to use it again when I (hopefully and finally) start writing a couple of Psion applications I've had on the back-burner for a while: a guitar chord tool, and a Mah Jong game manager.
Psion 3mx Links
Visit my Psion section on this website.
Psion Siena - resurrection
Pinnock Organiser Services (POS) Ltd. in London are geniuses! I sent them my poorly Psion Siena 512 KB and three days later it returned as good as new: new keyboard, new casing, new battery cover, new... EVERYTHING!
My sister Jenni, in Selkirk, now owns this machine. POS also supplied a new RS232 cable for £15.00, and I was able to burn a copy of PsiWin 1.1 to CD-ROM.
Time - AMD K6-2 500
In 1999 this was a fast machine.
Jane and I had just moved to Inverness and the 486 just wasn't going to be enough to cope with what I needed to use my PC for: primarily internet and desktop publishing. So I shopped around and decided on this machine, a Time machine.
Windows 98 Second Edition; AMD K6/2 500 MHz processor; 128 MB RAM (later upgraded to 256 MB); 17 GB Seagate hard drive (later joined by a 40 GB Western Digital drive); built-in ATI Rage 128 VR graphics card which would always crash and I never found any drivers that would cure this problem; I later replaced it with a Creative GeForce 2 MX graphics card that didn't crash, but then it also wouldn't allow you to boot the PC from floppy!!); 56 Kbps v.90 modem; DVD-ROM drive, which was later joined by an 8-speed Creative CD-RW.
One of the success stories of this machine was the peer-to-peer LAN that I set up between this machine and the Dell 486. With excellent and patient help from Mr Paul Ferguson, a networking-guru I met on one of the Windows' newsgroups, I was able to set up a cross-over cable network.
My sister-in-law, Soo, now owns this machine.
Time and Windows 98 Links
CCS - AMD Athlon XP 1800
With Jane's work in Inverness and Elgin involving more and more computer-based preparation I shopped around and bought her this machine, from Birmingham-based company Central Computer Supplies (CCS), for Christmas. It seemed like a bargain. At the time!
I'd shopped at CCS before: we'd bought a PC for my Mum there. Sure the components weren't top of the range, and the casing felt flimsy, but we were getting what we paid for. So I decided to go back to CCS and see what they could offer me.
I ordered a new 'box': a tower PC fitted with an Athlon 1.8 GHz, 256 MB of RAM, 56Kbps .v92 modem, CD-RW, built-in graphics card and a 20 GB hard drive.
The box arrived one afternoon while Jane was at work, so I quickly unpacked it and set it up on the dining room table. I'd opted not to go for a pre-installed operating system, so thought that I could quickly install the OS that afternoon and over the next couple of weeks on the run up to Christmas gradually install the other software bits-and-pieces.
To cut a long (and unconcluded) saga short the OS wouldn't install. A quick trip to my local, friendly PC shop determined that the Athlon processor was faulty. It worked at the Duron speed of 1.1 GHz, but not at the Athlon 1.8 GHz specification.
I sent it back, and waited, and waited, and waited.
When eventually it did arrive, some weeks after New Year (this was a Christmas present, remember) I then discovered that the CD-RW was broken. I sent that back, and have, to date, never heard back from them despite numerous phone calls and letters. I bought what was supposed to be a second CD-ROM drive for it (£30 at PC World... bargain!) and this is still the drive it uses!
This is still the machine that Jane uses. It is running Windows 98se and is now connected to the internet, and my PC, via a Netgear RP114 cable router.
CCS - My personal opinion
CCS don't have a website. But then, even if they did, due to the poor customer service that I received, and the hardware that I didn't, I wouldn't recommend them anyway.
Netgear RP114 Router/Switch
So, we move to Edinburgh and sign-up with Telewest for 1Mbps broadband cable internet access, but we have two PCs. And a network. The solution to this (I discovered after some research on the internet) was to buy and install a Router/Switch which would manage the local area network (LAN) as well as share it with the wider-area network (WAN), the internet. Routers, I discovered, allow one network to speak to another. Clever stuff.
Somebody on the Blueyonder newsgroup recommended the Netgear RP114, as they had used it with no problems on their Telewest connection. I ordered one from Broadband Buyer and a couple of days later, we had a shared internet connection. Genius!
NetHighStreet - Athlon XP 2800+
Another move, another job, another new PC. I'd read a really positive review of NetHighStreet's computers in PCPlus magazine so when it came to buying a new machine I checked them out, along with other reputable OEM machines. I also recommended them to my brother, Eddie, and after I saw his machine I knew that this time I would get what I paid for.
This machine is wonderful: Windows XP Professional SP1; MSI K7N2 Delta motherboard, with RAID controller; Athlon XP 2800+ processor; 1024 MB DDR RAM; Radeon 9800 PRO 128 MB graphics card; Creative Audigy 2 6.1 soundcard, with 6.1 speakers; 120 GB hard drive; Pioneer 106 DVD-writer; Firewire; USB 2.0. I have added to this machine a Sony 52x CD-RW drive, and the 40 GB hard drive salvaged from the Time PC.
My old scanner didn't work with this machine (something about no drivers for XP!) so I had to go out and buy a new one (the hardship!): Epson Perfection 1670. And giving away the Epson Stylus Color 440 printer with the Time PC to Soo, I was 'forced' into buying a new colour printer: Hewlett-Packard HP Deskjet 5150. The reviews for these two peripherals in PCPlus were very favourable.
Out of the box I was impressed, that was until I tried to re-partition the C: drive with Partition Magic. I still don't know what happened, but wonder if it had anything to do with the RAID controller, but 3% into the partitioning <! nothing !>. My PC froze and wouldn't reboot: well, there was no File Allocation Table was there! After a wee greet* (* Scots for 'cry') I popped in the Windows XP CD-ROM and within the hour I had my system back up and running: seven partitions, NTFS filing system, Windows and all drivers happily installed, network found and configured. I was a happy bunny once again.
I still am.
NetHighStreet and Windows XP Links
Psion Series 5mx
eBay UK is a marvellous thing. I picked up a 2nd-hand psion 5mx for £150 + P&P, and also got a new Psion 56Kbps Travel Modem at a pc world store in edinburgh for about £25, including 20% off for having a damaged box. i can now connect to the internet, send and receive e-mails, and synchronize with ms outlook 2000 (without crashing, as my 3mx was prone to do with psi-sync, as wonderful as it is).
Psion Series 5mx links
See my Psion section on this website.