I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’ve not been super active here. It’s not because RestoBytes (notice the slight rebranding?) has gone cold. It’s not because RestoBytes isn’t interesting when compared to my many pursuits. The truth is, there’s only 24 hours in a day, and that’s not even enough for the things that have a decent ROI. I have a 9 to 5 that takes way more than 8 hours a day. I have a job with the Virginia Air National Guard. I am back in school trying to finish another degree. The kids aren’t alright, and they need special medical attention. Also, much like many others who were born on the decline of Gen-X-dom, the promise of a pension is being replaced with thoughts of how to create residual paychecks. It ain’t easy, and no man is an island.
About a year ago, WE (The family) moved…again. Roughly 2,000 pounds of computers made their way across the continent and into a rented house…and wet garage…and expensive climate controlled storage unit. The situation was pretty horrible. WE soon realized that living in that situation was expensive as well as uncomfortable for everybody involved. The search lead to our first home purchase, and the first full office space for RestoBytes Labs. What’s taken me so long to get that setup? See above…
What I realized through all of this is how I still need to have a great deal of supporting equipment to run the business of RestoBytes. I have a “modern” Mac to be able to get to the World Wide Web. I have a “modern” iPhone in order to communicate with associates and clients. I have a need for drives, and monitors, and switches, and hubs…the list goes on for a developed infrastructure that supports a modern business. But, it doesn’t exactly support a set of equipment designed to thrive in a sneaker-net world. That’s when I realized just how far we’ve gone in the development of computers. Or, rather, how far backwards we’ve gone.
In the beginning, the computer was any number of Complex Number Calculators that were either large and complex and expensive, or they were simple and portable…and quite expensive. They did specific chores. They crunched through long strings of math, but still just did math. As they evolved through several iterations of Moore’s Law, they became smaller and more powerful. They were powerful enough that they became large fixtures in, not just research facilities, but in businesses of all industries.
The micro-computer of the 50s and 60s were still large beastly machines, but they were becoming appliances. Everybody in the building needed to schedule time with it and have special training. The computer could now serve the masses instead of just the engineers down in the basement. The 70s finally brought that kind of processing power to the desk and then something magical happened. The computer became a tool box, instead of just a single tool.
The CPUs of the 70s and 80s could move in complex ways. They were so complex, you could trick them into doing more than one task at a time. They were so complex, you could fool a user into thinking they were speaking to the computer with a human-like language. This is the period in computing history where people who were not involved with making computers started to fall in love with them.
At that point, a computer cost as much as a car. User groups started popping up like shade tree mechanics. The communities grew from clubs and catalogs. Storage and memory were expensive, but clock cycles were cheap, and they were getting cheaper. If you remember the Macintosh recipe, you take one part the toughest processor you can find, just enough RAM to hold the OS and a fat program, and about the amount of storage an average user would fill in a year of normal use.
Accessories made your appliance a machine of formidable possibility! But they weren’t too cheap either. The first Super Drive wasn’t as “cheap as chips” as it’s floppies. The Commodore 1541 had an entire Commodore 64 stuffed inside it! The majority of these peripherals needed their own support cards and drivers, but they helped to catalyze the relationship between user and machine. These accessories provided the tactile component of a logical solution. It helped to make computers real.
In the late twenty teens, a keyboard/mouse set (wireless to boot!) can be had for less than a high school couple’s trip through the drive through. Quality has diminished, but there’s no longer a requirement for the peripherals to be as high quality as the machines they service. I feel that it disconnects the user. It further drives the computer toward being disposable. Mobile phones have virtually no such need for accessories. They also show lower repair rates and higher turnover rates. Why bother fixing a crack in the screen of an iPhone if you already plan on getting the next model moments after buying the one in your hand?
The two edge sword to all of this is that we are returning to that place. The price of an original Model F or Model M is staggering when compared to that Amazon Basics deal that hit Prime Deals last week. Still, there are some anthro-types out there that would part with quite a few bills to have the complete 5150 experience. With that expensive accessory comes increased functionality. Many of us start collecting for nostalgia, and we go after the computer that makes us happiest.
Maybe we pick up a clean iBook G3 or even a Tandy 1000. That’s great! a complete enough machine that you can get started computing the way you remember. For a while. Soon you’ll need to track down a firewire optical drive, a VGA card, a VGA dongle, a LAN card…drivers! But that’s what makes this hobby so engaging and rewarding!
Is that the fault of Moore’s Law? Is it because of economies of scale driving down interest? Is it because the accessories get more stresses than any other part of the machine that sits most of its life parked on a desk nestled between keyboard and monitor? I’m sure it’s a lot of things. If you can make an impression on people to care for their accessories, future historians will appreciate it.
I’m thrilled to see the mechanical keyboard movement. At least it’s a product that’s expensive enough for people to take the purchase seriously. Hopefully they will take care of it for a good long while if for no other reason than because it was expensive. I love the modding community that puts such care into their case designs and uses materials that are exotic and of the highest quality. I’m just tired of seeing people put effort into making things that are easy to put in the trash.
If you feel this disposable environment is something that will eventually get reversed, if you’ve taken up the torch against the mountainous e-waste producers, if you’ve determined that you will use your computer for as long as it is still useful before helping somebody else take over the computer husbandry for you…tell your story. I feel so much reassurance knowing that there are people on this blue rock who respect quality and the efforts put into creating it.