User Who

My name is Grant Hutchinson. I have been collecting obsolete computers and related materials for a long time. This is my story.

A friend of mine who collects incunabula suggested that I coin a similar word for all the electronic detritus I have acquired, obtained, and otherwise stashed about my home. I started using the word "compunabula" to describe my ongoing affair with all things digital, electronic, and otherwise out of date. Following the definition of incunabula, I figure that to be considered compunabula, a piece of forlorn and extant computer equipment must be discontinued by its manufacturer at least 6 months, thus making service, support, and the scrounging of replacement parts extremely difficult. Perhaps it could simply be any computer related item produced before 1995.

I intend the term compunabula to be firmly wedged into the vernacular, therefore it can be found residing as a definition in the pseudodictionary.

Still awake? There’s more about me over here.

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Oh hai. I’m currently documenting recent additions and changes to the archive on Twitter. Please join me over there for the time being. At least until I start prettying up this old heap of a site again.

Vintage Mac blow out.

Well, not a real blow out in the clearance sale sense. But, I did persuase a herd of dust bunnies out of a pair of IIcx cases and a IIsi at any rate. Thanks to good friend Blake, I discovered a teetering pile of beige beside my desk a couple of weeks ago. Along with the three boxes mentioned above, there was also a bad boy Mac II (which I believe is number four out of the original ten Mac II systems we had at Image Club Graphics when I started back in January of 1989), a 12 inch Macintosh Color Display, a Newton keyboard in its soft zipper case, and a clip-on modem for one of the first generation Palm Pilots.

After hauling the gang around in the back of the Volvo for two weeks, I decided to fire up the three amigos (not to be confused with my three Amigas) and see what they were packing. The first IIcx was outfitted with an amicable 8/80 configuration, a Daystar 030/50 PowerCache Card, and a surprise Supermac ColorCard/24 graphics accelerated board. After booting it up and having the sweet sights of System 7.1 meet my eyes, I discovered that this machine used to be the accounting department computer at Image Club, circa 1995. All of the customer database and accounting software was still loaded on the drive.

The second IIcx was stripped of memory and a video card, so I borrowed a quadruplet of 1MB chips and the Supermac board from the first box and pressed the power key. It had the same 80MB original equipment hard drive as the first IIcx, this time loaded with System 7.0.1 and System 7 Tuneup. Nothing too exciting appeared to be left on the drive and the floppy didn't work. Something to play with a bit later I suppose.

The IIsi stuck me with problems much sooner in the process. The chimes of death on startup weren't a promising sign. This machine came with a Nubus Adapter Board with an Asanté 5BaseT/10BaseT/AUI Ethernet card stuffed into the PDS slot. The first thing I tried was yanking all of that extra hardware out, but it made no difference. The problem persisied after unplugging the hard drive and reseating all of the various internal connectors. The last thing to try was the memory, which I should of suspected from the beginning. There were only a single pair of chips in the four SIMM slots and I couldn't recall off the top of my head whether or not the IIsi required all of the slots to be filled. I did know that the IIsi had some onboard memory and that it shared system RAM with the video. I removed the two chips and it booted, but only so far as to present me with an error message stating that 'System 7.1 requires more memory to start up.' What? 1MB won't cut it, eh? Ah well, I guess I need to dig around and find some more 30-pin chips.

Drive cleaning.

I spent a few hours this past weekend going through a pile of old hard drives that had been languishing in various Rubbermaid containers and cardboard boxes downstairs. I knew that some of the drives were still functional, but I really needed to do a proper inventory and purge. Most of the drives came out of old computers and external cases, probably due to upgrades. However, a couple were brand new, bought in anticipation of getting slapped into a machine down the road. I just couldn't recall what the capacity or specs were. I cracked open a couple empty external drive cases to use as test jigs and purchased an update for my long in the tooth Hard Disk Toolkit utility. Anything that showed up in HDT got low-level formatting, new drivers and a single partition initialization before being tagged and filed back on the shelf.

Of the dozen and a half drives I evaluated, I ended up with eleven working devices - mostly 50-pin SCSI-2, a couple 68-pin fast wide disks, and one lonely old school laptop IDE drive. None of the drives were larger than 9GB, but that doesn't make them useless. Heck, the boot drive on this server is only 4GB and it seems to do the job. Of course, not every chunk of metal on the bench cut the mustard. Those poor souls that refused to spin up or continually burped due to media errors ended up as candidates for salvage: platters, spacers, sealed bearings, configuration jumpers, termination resistors, small gauge screws... all that good stuff. Bonus points were awarded for any rare earth head-control magnets that could be pried out of the housing in one piece. You can practically hang the dog up on the fridge door with those suckers.

There's still an assortment of small (less than 40MB capacity) drives to take a peek at, although I'm not expecting any survivors out of that bunch at this point in the competition. Those units came out of a series of circa 1990 Macintosh IIs from the original Image Club offices and they were yanked for a reason. I'm just a little bit stumped as to why I kept them all this time, but that's another story. I also pulled a set of three 68-pin fast SCSI drives out of the cupboard in the office. I think they're all 18GB disks, but I won't know for sure until they're up and running.

One of the next projects on the to do list is deciding what to do with a sagging box full of 3.5 and 5.25 floppy drives originally from an industrial disk duplicator.

Long time, no? See!

First of all, I'd like to apologize to my faithful reader for being so obviously thin in the update department. It's not that new stuff hasn't been piling up in the hallways around here. It has. And it's not that I haven't had the wherewithal to post some news. Something. Anything. I honestly have. The point is... there's really no excuse for not mentioning even a tidbit on this site since the middle of June. None whatsoever. I won't waste the effort on attempting to explain my absence. Suffice it to say that other things have been occupying my waking hours and the unfortunate reality is, this site draws the short straw. However, expect to see a few posts over the next day or so as I play compunabular catch up.

The Mac came back.

Back in 1989, members of Apple's Developer Program could still purchase up to ten computers per year at a significant discount. Image Club didn't have budget or need for ten new computers a year, so employees were allowed to use the discounts for personal systems. Taking advantage of this opportunity, my wife and I were able to obtain our very first Macintosh, a IIsi. Prior to being able to afford our own machine however, I purchased a Mac Plus and related peripherals on behalf of my in laws. They had passed down their Apple IIe to my wife's eldest brother and needed something to replace it. Well, that old Plus came back last weekend. Complete with an Apple SC20 hard drive, an ImageWriter II printer, all of the original cables, disks and documentation, which if you ask me, hardly looks thumbed through at all. After being passed along from household to household and sibling to sibling, it finally ended up on my porch, saved from being unceremoniously piled in with a bunch of other garage sale items. The screen on the Plus isn't currently working, but you get that wonderful chime when the power switch is flipped, and can hear the drive boot up. I'm assuming the dead display is due to some issue with the analog video board. Very likely it's a simple fix. Naturally, the platinum-coloured cases are a bit yellow with age and I had to replace an unsprung key on the keyboard. Otherwise, it'll be a nice system to play with. The best thing is, I know the history of this little beastie. That, and I didn't have a Mac Plus in the collection yet. Oh, and it was free. I'm going to track down that old IIsi next.

Lotus route.

Last weekend was the annual 'sift through the pile of other people's junk in the church parking lot' sale. I have picked up many a compunabulish treasure at this yearly event, and this time around was no different. What did I spy this year? Why, an unused copy of the Lotus Magellan file management utility and a box full of Lotus 123 Release 2.01. Yes, I realize that they're both DOS-based programs, but they're also a part of history. And honestly, you can't go wrong for a buck. You'll also be either happy or disappointed to know that I passed up the opportunity to take home yet another Commadore Vic 20. This one looked as if it had a mouse living on top of it for quite a few moons. Thanks, but no.

Same time next year.

Another e-cycling day has come and gone in our fair town, and so have a passel of electronic anchors previously weighing down my storage shelves. Off to various points beyond their life horizon were the following collected treasures. A 19 inch Conrac model 5222 rack mount broadcast monitor which I picked up at a garage sale for less than a fiver before I was married. I never got the thing to work, but thought that the solid metal housing was worth the salvage alone. When I noticed that the phosphor coating was starting to flake off the inside surface of the tube, it was time to let go. Another cathode ray monster also made the trip. This one was a 17 inch Mitsubishi color display that came with the SGI Iris 4D/310VGX graphics workstation a friend of a friend dumped off in my driveway a couple of springs ago. Again, I have no idea whether or not the monitor worked, but it had no historical significance for me and I swore on a stack of user manuals that I would continue to purge as many CRTs from my garage as possible. The rest of the drop off consisted of a sawdust encrusted HP DeskJet 500 (which I dug out of a neighbors' trash can and previously mentioned on this site), three x86 PCs of varying vintage and disassembly, and finally, a legal-sized file box stuffed full of used 3.5" floppies - mostly backups and product masters from my Image Club days. Don't worry, any disks containing data worth keeping or perusing at a later date were painstakingly copied, backed up, and burned to CD for safe keeping.

Group hug.

Gah. I hadn't realized that it had been so long since my last post. It's not as if things haven't been slide into the old crap garage. Rather than recap everything since December, I'll just mention briefly that the newest resident of the compunabular fish tank is a Digital Ocean Grouper wireless access station for MessagePad 1x0 series Newton devices. This unit is next to new in its original box courtesy of the indelible Mr Jim Cheal, whom I snagged a rare, ruggedized and water-resistant Digital Ocean Tarpon device from a few months ago. I forget to mention that too, didn't I? The Tarpon is wireless as well, and both devices seem to communicate using the same technology. Now, if I can just get the power supply on the Tarpon to kick into gear, I may be able to get these babies chatting to each other.

Mothers and daughters.

A couple of new items have meandered into the compunabula warehouse over the past week or so. The first is a genuine Quadra 950 motherboard courtesy of Daniel Rubin of Superfluous Banter fame. You see, I humbly submitted a few snapshots of my collection for inclusion in his Old Technology Giveaway contest this summer, and by golly if I didn't win the darn thing at the end of the day. Go figure. Now I have a spare set of guts for my old workhouse 950, just in case the old beast in the basement needs a transplant down the road.

And how about this for a recent addition? A pair of prototype processor daughterboards, direct from the Apple/Motorola labs, are now gracing the teetering piles. One is 1997 vintage 275Mhz 'Goleta' card and the other is labeled as an Apple High Performance Processor Card Model 1100. The second card has a jumper soldered next to a 300Mhz marking, but has pads going up to 400Mhz. These are cards which can fit into pile of different Power Macintosh models included 7300, 7500, 7600, 8500, 8600, 9500, and 9600 series. However, they came with some additional technical information which indicates that the High Performance Card will only work in conjunction with a Kansas motherboard, so this would rule out stuffing it into a non-Kansas 7600, 8600, or 9600 machine. At any rate, I have a number of boxes that I can end up using to try these cards out in. Nice.

Six style sheets to the wind.

In the midst of an mad attempt to fix a style sheet display error which was occuring in Safari and a couple of other reasonably modern browsers, I forgot to change the declaration to point to the new CSS file. That's why this site had absolutely no style for the last week. I know that this probably only affected a hundred or so visitors, but that's not the point is it? I broke something and didn't realize it until a week later. Sorry about that. Anyway, everything looks the way it should again, and in more browsers than before.