Chapter 2: Teenhood
Perhaps one of the most exciting times in my retrocomputing journey was during teenhood. During this phase, tinkering and general discovery turned into applied knowledge. Merely using (and, in some cases, breaking!) computers turned to installing operating systems and building systems. I also discovered the World Wide Web and email.
As my skills were recognized, at the age of 13, a non profit reached out to me and asked me to be in charge of making calendars for them using Calendar Creator Plus. I agreed to do it!
And from there, I started to explore some hardware skills. I started earning money and purchased parts to build my first 486 system: a 486 DX4/100. Unfortunately, I had no idea how to assemble a system and shorted out a few motherboards before figuring it out. Oops!
But after figuring this out and learning how to configure that pesky Windows 3.1 back in the day when driver support was poor for cheaper hardware and IRQ conflicts were commonplace, I turned my computer work into a business! It started with helping out people at church, and, when I went to high school, the media specialist and business education teachers (which is where I first encountered the Macintosh Centris 610, Macintosh LC II, and IBM PS/2 models 25 and 30!). And next think you know, the word got out. Clients would literally bring me their computers to fix or pick me up and bring me to their houses! And the first day I got my license? You’ve got it, I had a full schedule of repairing computers scheduled!
One of my biggest clients was an accounting firm where I built custom computers for them, networked them, and, over the years, upgraded them to Windows ’95. And, another one of my clients with my local school board: it wasn’t long after helping to configure IBM ICLAS and supporting Windows 3.1 installations on computers built by the absolute cheapest bidder that the school board hired me to drive around the county and fix computers throughout the region. I remember setting up a lab of Packard Bell computers and building ethernet cables to connect them. And, yes, true to their reputation, out of a lab of 20 or so Packard Bell computers, three would not power on 🙂 In the present day, I own two Packard Bell PCs.
Also at this point, the library system found me, and I started teaching classes on how to access the World Wide Web. One of my very first emails that I sent that I still have records for was to the library group coordinating the first class presentation. And I still have it! That’s right, I have email history back to 1996: from then to now, there are 23,000 sent messages. And reviewing that email just now, I realized that one of the librarians actually made me a job offer too 🙂
And, I almost forgot: one of the business education teachers submitted me to the Maryland Entrepreneur of the Year committee. I didn’t win first place, but was among the top to place. And the next year? I got invited back, but declined due to an already busy day (it was prom as I recall). They called me up and asked “are you sure you can’t make it?” I asked “Probably not. Why?” They said “Well, you took first place!” As such, I found a way to go! It was a busy day but a fun day.
And, another thing I almost forgot. I joined the Future Business Leaders of America organization during my junior year in high school. There were competitions held at the state level for a variety of topics including computer concepts. Two years in a row, I placed first in the competition and moved onto nationals. Sadly, I never placed at nationals, but I never studied either!
Preparing for the college years, I built a Pentium 166, followed by a Pentium 233 MMX. With the Pentium 166, I learned the importance of not shipping a built computer in the box it came in. Oops! Anyway, the replacement case was a beautiful Enlight case… and at this point, I did an upgrade to the 233 MMX. Of course, much like the other systems, I didn’t keep this system. That said, you could only imagine my joy when I found the same Enlight case at Computer Reset a year or two back.. and what was inside? A Pentium 233 MMX!
I also fell in love with laser printers. My father brought home a work-discarded HP LaserJet, that’s right, the original. I was happy to finally get it working after discovering it required a special serial cable! From there, we eventually bought a LaserJet 4L, and I myself bought a 5L to take to college. Prior to that, I drilled a hole in the wall to the office next door and ran a parallel cable so that I could print to the 4L using an A/B switch!
So, as noted, this was a very exciting chapter. During this time, as I upgraded PCs, I would keep the old parts that clients didn’t want or need and build other computers out of them! I also would receive the old computers that clients no longer wanted and constantly had a cache of these machines, which I would often give away to others or keep as test machines. Oh, so many machines passed through that I wish I would have kept at this stage!! Last week, I was visiting with a cousin and had to ask “do you still have that PS/2 model 25 that I gave you?” Sadly, and not surprisingly, the answer was “no.” But I had to ask!
As evident, the teen years were very exciting and inspire most of what we do today on RetroTech Chris. I have a particular passion and love for MS-DOS and Windows 3.1 like none other.
In the next chapter, we’ll discuss my college years and hit the inflection point that qualifies as my “retro cutoff” in technology (hint: it is somewhere before the Pentium 4). And you will also learn where my love of Compaq comes from!