My Computing Journey – Part 5 – PCs of My Own

I’m nearing the end of this little series, mainly because everything afterward is already pretty much documented here on this blog in some way. It almost feels like jumping over 25 years of computer use after baby-stepping in jumps of 4-5 years, but well, I’ve been blogging for a long long time.

Note: This picture I found seems to be an AMD model, but mine looked the same.

The next machine, or machines really, are possibly the most important in my computing journey history. In 1998, give or take, I graduated High School and went off to college. Around this time period, because I would need it for college, my parents bought me my first PC. More accurately, the first PC that was “mine alone”. At the time, I want to say it was quite the beefy piece of hardware, and I am pretty sure it cost something like $1800 dollars or so, with the monitor. The machine was an IBM Aptiva, 450mhz 486pc. I may have added it but it even had a discrete graphics card in it. Just after I graduated High School, my parents moved back to Illinois and I moved in with my aunt and uncle for around 6 months while I went to IUPUI (for Engineering). I spent a lot of time on this PC in my free time. Especially as a lot of my friends had moved away to college as well. Eventually, I moved back in with my parents and went to a local Community College there before going back to University.

Probably my primary hobby on this PC was browsing Usenet, which I was super into at the time. I also was exploring a lot of other computer hobbies that would turn into moreover time. My Uncle’s PC had a TV Tuner card in it (I eventually got my own), which I would use to take screenshots of games and TV. I started getting more complex with my web design on GeoCities and such as well.

I also started increasingly upgrading parts in my PC. This is where the “machines” part of this post comes in. At some point in the early 2000s, I had a box of parts and realized that if I bought a case, for the new parts, I could reassemble the old PC again. Fun Fact! I still use that same case today. I bought it, specifically because it was ” boring beige box” and because it “held a lot of hard drives”, because even back then, I knew I was going to be a huge data hoarder. You can see it here, in this older but newish photo.

This led to my first experience using Linux and running a web server. My first Linux distribution was Redhat Linux 5. I know this because I have a book on how to use Redhat Linux 5. I started using IRC a lot during this era and tested the waters a bit by running a server so my friends and I could upload images to share.

The PC I built to replace it, was the first PC I ever built. I forget the exact specs but I know it was an AMD Athlon and I believe at least for a while a Rage 128 Pro graphics card. I used that machine through most of college, for gaming, and CAD work. Also, a lot of Usenet and IRC, as well as some web and C/C++ coding.

I mentioned afterward things got a bit crazier. A few years after leaving college and looking for a job, I ended up starting my sort of, accidental career choice of Broadcast Engineering (my major was in Mechanical), working at a local TV station. Part of this work was also taking care of IT for the office, it was pretty much just my boss and I, and the station was independently owned and operated, for the most part. There was a larger group who owned maybe a dozen stations, but they were pretty much hands-off. One perk of this job was that I ended up with a lot of older and scrapped PC hardware to tinker with. So like I said, things got kind of funky. I also went through probably half a dozen laptops, the first of which was a dinosaur of a device that I think ran Windows 98. (This was during the Windows XP era).

Another fun side effect of this job is that I’ve installed Windows, especially Windows XP, so many times, I could literally do it with my eyes closed probably. Pretty much the go-to method for dealing with major PC issues was to back up files and blow out the machine. You would be surprised just how easily your average user at the time could completely fuck up a PC.

Eventually, after getting married, we had a pre-built Windows Vista PC for a bit, with a few upgrades. I built a fresh PC somewhere in that time period and ended up actually buying some more useful laptops. That isn’t even going into laptops my wife and kids have gone through.

These days I run this as my main Gaming PC, half a dozen Raspberry PIs doing various things, a second desktop loaded with hard drives, a NAS for storage, and I rent cloud space for a web server. It’s all just sort of, built up and exploded over time.

My Computing Journey – Part 4 – Going Online

The next phase of my computing journey would have been in High School. I am pretty sure this machine was some kind of Pentium, I don’t know a lot of the details beyond that. Like I mentioned last week, some of the specific details get a bit hazy for a bit here, though the next round is decidedly not hazy again.

While the main computer was still technically the family computer, I ended up with one of the older machines in my room at one point as well. There are a few key defining moments of this era in my computing cycle. I got a bit more experience dealing with computer hardware. I bought a 2.5 GB drive for the family PC because I needed more space. Which would lead to some fun because Windows 95/98 didn’t support a drive larger than 2GB. I actually don’t remember if I partitioned it or if it just, had .5GB unused.

I also got a ZIP100 Drive sometime around this time as well. These were like disks, but “huge” at 100MB each. I spent my own money on both of these things. I guess it was sort of the start of my digital hoarding life. I had a lot of disposable income around this time because I started working at McDonald’s at 16. Aside from the $20 each paycheck or two to fill my gas tank, I spent the rest on whatever. Usually VHS movies, CDs, and VHS Anime tapes. Sometimes expensive computer hardware. I had 10 of those ZIP disks and they cost me $100.

The bigger moment of this era was going online.

It was all done with dial-up, so it tied up the phone line and was slow slow slow. My dad worked for the phone company so our internet was through Ameritech, or SBC, or whatever it was called at the time. I had other outlets though, that I could use on my bedroom PC. I remember three specifically. One was some sort of message board for IUPUI, the university, though I was not in college at the time. Another was this dial-in BBS system for the Illinois Education system. My friends and I would post there and use the chat system. It was at that time I learned that things are not always as anonymous as one might think when this dude came to me at school one day and told me to stop talking to his girlfriend over the system.

How did he know that “Bevis” was me?? The world may never know.

I also posted some stories there that are, sadly, lost to time and the ether of the internet.

Lastly was this MUD, or MUCK, I don’t know which it was. I know I could dial in, and it was this text based RPG thing. You could go around town, or go down in a dungeon deeper and deeper. I never really left the town, but I became extremely rich. I found a bug of sorts. I believe the process was something like…

  • Go to the inn.
  • Murder all of the sleeping player characters
  • Take and sell their possessions
  • Give the gold to an alt
  • Wait a day
  • All of the dead PCs would be revived
  • Wash, rinse repeat.

After I amassed enough wealth, I had enough money to buy the “fancy room” that had dragon guards. No one was going to be murdering ME in my sleep.

Aside rom these side escapades, there was the “real internet.” I spent a lot of time browsing all sorts of websites about video games and anime. Eventually, I started my own couple of pages on GeoCities as well. At the time using Microsoft Page, an early WYSIWYG editor.

I also downloaded videos and music, though they were hard to find at the time. There was no Spotify or even places to buy wave files at the time. For anything large, it meant starting it before bed, and letting it run for hours to download. There were special programs you could use to pause and resume large downloads.

It was all the start of something amazing and wonderful in this perfect digital world of the Internet.

My Computing Journey – Part 3 – The x86 Era

This actually get a bit hazy here for actual computer models, and I spent a bit of time browsing through Vintage Packard Bell machines to see if I could figure out which machines cover this era of my computing. This would have been somewhere between 1991 and 1995, give or take a bit, after we moved across town when I was 11-12-ish and before we moved to Indiana for a bit when I was 14-15ish. I am not positive if there were one or two PCs in this era, there was either one 286 (for sure, for reasons I’ll touch on) and possibly later a 486. For simplicity’s sake, I’m just going to refer to this as one PC, that was a 286. If for some reason you’re keeping score, and notice something that doesn’t match for a 286, then well, assume there was a 486 in there.

I am pretty sure it was this PC though (not my picture, and that PC is filthy.).

Why am I so confident there was a 286?

That’s simple, Doom. At one point during this time frame, and for some weird reason, I have a lot of strong memories of this whole night and event, a bunch of my friends and I spent the night over at one of their homes. I know we played a lot of Jurassic Park on the SEGA Genesis because it was way cool that you could play as a Raptor and go around killing dudes. I remember we played a lot of Hero’s Quest, because we were super into Hero’s Quest at this time. I remember that they all got stoned, though I did not because I wasn’t really into that, though it’s likely I ended up “secondhand stoned” if that’s even a thing. Whatever the case, I remember that at one point someone got a bit upset at me because they were using a Bob Dylan CD I had brought for “rosin” which I still don’t know what that is, but I noticed my CD was dirty so I cleaned it off.

And the next day, we all went to the mall for a few hours, because that’s what you did when malls were still popular. After some careful thought and consideration, I decided to spend some of my allowance money on this cool looking game, Doom, or at least, the shareware Doom. It was basically like Wolfenstein 3D, except better, and I loved playing Wolfenstein. Then later, when I went to play it, I discovered the concept of “minimum computer requirements”. Because Doom needed a 386 PC. In the store I had decided that “Eh, it’ll work anyway.” Then it did not. Maybe if I were more computer savvy at the time I could have managed to make it work somehow, but in the end I think I just gave it to a friend who did have a better computer, or at least, let him install and use it.

Speaking of buying computer games. Though I had played plenty of computer games, it was around this time (possibly before actually) that I bought, with my own money, my first computer game. I had bought some console and handheld games, but this would be my first personal purchase of a PC game, with a game called War Eagles. War Eagles was a World War 1 plane dogfight simulator. No take-offs or landings, just fly in a biplane around shooting machine guns at biplanes.

This time period was also my first experience with Windows and a computer with a Hard Drive. I am pretty sure it was 20 or 40mb. That’s MEGA with an M, not GIGA with a G. Just enough to install a few games, so they didn’t need to be run off of floppy drives. I don’t know the details, but I remember my dad installed some program called Stacker that would increase the drive space. But I still had to go through hoops occasionally of installing and uninstalling games. I believe the largest single game I had around this time was one of the Interplay Star Trek games, which had several install disks.

Windows would have been 3.0 and maybe later 3.11 for Workgroups. It was neat but you still had to dump back out to DOS to run a lot of games. The main thing I remember about Windows was playing around in Paint drawing things.

I also got my first experience with computer hardware and upgrades around this time frame. I can’t imagine why, I must have asked for it at the time, because at least one of my friends had a better computer, but for Christmas one year I got a SoundBlaster soundcard. So everything would sound cool with actual speakers. It also came with this super neat (for the time) talking parrot program.

This time period also had some exposure to Apple computers and the Apple IIe (which was quite data at the time). We started having computer classes in Middle School, which had these in the classroom. Most of this time was spent playing educational games, like Number Munchers and Word Munchers. We also had a typing speed program and I remember finding a bug in it where you could basically hold a key, I forget which, maybe like + or = or something, and it would count the letter as correct, so you could just, hold in that key and get something ridiculous like 200 words per minute.

Eventually, after we moved to Indiana sometime, when my parents upgraded the home PC to a Pentium (spoilers for next week), this machine became my first “in my room personal pc”. It also at some point gained an external dial-up modem. I’ll get more into all that next week though, because dialing in on this computer would be secondary to using the other PC.

My Computing Journey – Part 2 – Franklin PC-8000

Welcome to part 2 of my history with computers.

Let’s start getting to a much more robust part of my computer using history. The Commodore 64 certainly was the seed, but this machine was what really catapulted my interest. It’s the first “Real PC” I used growing up. Technically, like the Commodore and the next chapter, this computer belonged to my parents, but my friends and I used it a lot for quite a few things, beyond just gaming.

Though we did use it for gaming.


Visually, it was actually kind of a downgrade from the Commodore. The C64 connected to a small color TV (which would eventually be my bedroom TV, with a big chunky couple of knobs on the front.) The Franklin has a monitor, with two colors, black and green. It had two whole 5.25″ drives in it, no 3.5″ disk drives and certainly not a hard drive. It did have a cool dot matrix printer though, which I’ll touch on a bit more in a bit.

It’s worth sidetracking a bit during this time period, and worth mentioning my out of state but fairly frequently visited grandpa had a Tandy 1000 machine, with a color monitor, and that was totally amazing. It pretty much overlaps with this same era of my home PC use and my grandpa was the source of essentially all programs and games I had at home. I have no idea where he got them, but I made copies of most everything he had and his disks were all copied from somewhere. Mostly I remember playing two titles on my grandpa’s PC, along with my brother and cousins. King’s Quest 1, which we never could figure out, but it was fun. And Leisure Suit Larry 1.

Now, Leisure Suit Larry, for the uninformed, is an old, “adult” game series. We did not know this, and we never did reach any of the old content, because like King’s Quest, we make some progress, and the game was funny, but we never did get past a certain point. Specifically, we never did figure out the door password (it’s Ken Sent Me), so we never could progress the plot beyond drinking at the bar, gambling at the casino and buying booze and “lubbers” at the convenience store. The age gate on this game was that it would ask a series of questions that “only adults would know”. So my cousin and I would load the game, then go to the kitchen where out parents were hanging out, and ask them the questions, to get the answers.

Anyway, I don’t believe either of these games worked on the Franklin PC we had at home, because it wasn’t EVGA.

There were others, but the two most notable games we played at home were The Ancient Art of War and Simcity. One was an early sort of RTS game, the other was well, Simcity. Both are notable here because they had user created content. Simcity is all about user created cities. Even with the limits of the game, I remember building out mirrored cities sometimes, then using the disasters to pretend they were at war. Simcity also had some DRM, because you had to enter the population of a city from a sheet of paper based on some hieroglyphs. My friend actually owned the game, so I would just, call him up and get the numbers, I also had a selection of them written down in a notebook, and would just close and reload the game until the random city was one I had marked down.

I also would use that sweet printer to print maps, because it was a feature of the first Simcity. You could print out your city, and it would spit out I think 16 sheets of paper that you could tape together in a 4×4 block of paper sheets and have a huge cool map poster. I may have one buried somewhere too. I would then color in all the zones with the correct colors with marker to make it look cool. You might wonder how I knew what the colors were, well, my grandpa had that TANDY 1000 and my friend had a color PC, so I was aware the game had colors, I just, didn’t get them.

Ancient Art of War let you make custom maps and missions. Which was so awesome and I spent a lot of time making maps. Assuming the data hasn’t been corrupter, I have copies of those maps somewhere, maybe I’ll post them. There were several other games I played a lot that also had user generated content. There was a golf game where you could make courses with dinosaurs and play as Jack Nicklaus. And me back then, had no idea what the Joker Guy (Jack Nicholson) had to do with golf but ok whatever. There was a baseball game called Earl Weaver Baseball where you could do custom teams, and I would make teams themed around video games, like a River City Ransom team, and a Mega Man team where every player had maxed out stats (because robots are perfect).

I think my point is, that this was part of the birth of my interest in digital creation. But not just for games.


During this time period, my dad was going to college through his job, and getting a degree in Computer Science. I have no idea what a Computer Science degree in the 80s involved, but I remember going to the graduation (vaguely). Or at least him graduating. At some point though, presumably because he was learning it as part of the curriculum, he taught me a bit of BASIC computer programming.

I would have been like, 8 or 9 at this point. I showed my friends how to do it as well, and we would make silly little useless programs that would print out funny patterns scrolling on the screen. Or “super secure password” systems, along the lines of:


I have no idea if that’s actually valid BASIC code, I pulled up a guide to IF/Else in BASIC and cobbled it together.

The point is, it was fun. And it was my first experience with actual programming.


Then there are the newsletters my friends and I would produce using a program called Newsmaster. I have this vague idea that this was the “start” of my writing desire and the newsletters we made, were the precursor to The Chaos Xone, my first website which evolved into These were simple 1 page video game themed “newsletters”. You can actually read these here (Issue 2, Issue 3, Issue 4, if you want, translated into HTML. They are, as basic as you would expect for something produced by 10-12 year old kids.

But that was yet another growing seed of interest. So much started with this machine, a real actual PC with actual useful programs. This doesn’t even touch on the part where it was an 80s IBM PC, which meant booting to DOS, on a floppy, because there isn’t any hard drive in it at all. There was no Windows, it was all a CLI interface. Yet another skill and seed learned from this machine.

My Computing Journey – Part 1 – Commodore 64

I often offhand mention the idea of “I’ve used computers my whole life” but I am not sure I’ve ever really gone into a lot of detail on what exactly that means. (I probably have but my memory is pretty shit these days). I’ve decided it might be fun to do a sort of, reminiscing series on the various “key computer points” in my life. Maybe that’s not quite the right way to put it, but basically, the eras’ surrounding specific computers in my life and what I remember about my time using them.

I’m considering doing something similar for consoles and gaming, but if I do, it’ll be over on Lameazoid,.com.

The start of this series though would have to be the Commodore 64. I actually am not real sure if the Commodore classifies as a computer or a console, I certainly used it more for games, but it has a keyboard so I’m going with Computer. My memory on exact time frames is a little shady, but I remember using the Commodore both at the 3rd house I lived in and at my aunt and uncles, so I would have been somewhere around the age of 4-5 at the start of using it. There was some overlap as well with the second computer I’ll cover next week, the Franklin PC-8000. At some point my parents got rid of the Commodore after it was stored away in an attic for a while, and I kind of wish I had kept it.

Like I mentioned, I used this computer for playing games more than anything. I don’t really remember playing a lot of Atari, a friend had one and my out of state grandparents had one, but our first console was the NES, so my first gaming exposure was one of the -ish.

Looking for some images to go along with this post, it seems like several of these games were on cassette tapes. I actually have no memory of using Cassette games at all, though it’s possible I did. I believe most of what I had played was on 5.25″ diskettes, or in a few cases, cartridges. Loading the system would bring up this blue screen. I remember you had to do this set of commands to run games, something like “Load *.* ,8,1” then I think it was just “run” or maybe “run *”. I imagine there was more that could be done at that blue and light blue colored command prompt screen but I never really ventured much beyond that.

A few games I remember from the Commodore, though a couple I am not sure I actually enjoyed, and I am sure there are others I DON’T remember.

Park Patrol

I remember this game, most of all, and I would consider it to be my favorite game on the Commodore. I can still hum the music today, 40 some years later. You play as a park ranger, rescuing people who are drowning in the river. The top half of the screen is the shore, the bottom half of the screen is the river.

The map loops, maybe it’s actually a lake.

Whatever the case, you had to avoid snakes and turtles and you had a little raft you had to use to rescue people in the water. This was also my first experience stomping turtles, not Mario, at least I think you would defeat the turtles by jumping on them. I do remember when you died, you would shrivel up into your hat, which kind of resembled the turtles, so we’d joke that you got turned into a turtle.


I have a love hate for this game. Ghostbusters at the time was super cool. So hey, cool, a Ghostbusters game! But my friends and I could never figure out what to do in this game. You would select a car, and some supplies and drive around collecting ghosts and the Stay Puft Marshmallow man would crush buildings and then you’d lose the game. Later (like, much later), i think I looked into it and you were supposed to collect the key and lock and take them to the center building to defeat Gozer.

It had some fun elements, but it also was frustrating and tedious.

Kids on Keys, Wizard of ID

I think I still have Kids on Keys in a tote somewhere. I don’t actually remember much about that game other than it was typing practice. Which is why I’m looping it in with Wizard of ID, which was also a typing game. I suspect this was the true reason we HAD the Commodore in the first place, because my mom would play these typing games, to get proficient for work.

I was bad at Wizard of ID, though I didn’t have a need to type a lot back then, and I didn’t quite get the point I think. I do know the big smoke monster was kind of creepy and it would slowly become more and more enraged unless you fed it letters (by typing), until it flamed you and you died.

BC’s Quest for Tires

One last sort of, honorable mention. This was one my uncle had so I only played it occasionally, but I do remember it. I almost looped it in with the typing games because I could swear it was a typing game and the faster you typed, the faster the little dude would go. It seems that was not the case, or maybe it had a typing mode that wasn’t the main game.

It’s essentially just an Endless Runner game. You have to jump and duck to avoid obstacles as you speed along the map. I don’t remember if the map was actually “endless”.

The other main thing I remember about this game is that it is based on a newspaper comic strip. Which seemed really weird, even then. I mean, I knew games could be “based on things”, there was a Ghostbusters game. But the newspaper comic strip part seemed odd.