Computers I have known and loved

Every geek likes to brag about her setup. This is my attempt. The text is likely to be out of date, slightly incomplete and most likely a bit silly, but perhaps some fellow geeks will still find it interesting.

The focus here is on equipment I have owned or have used so much outside of work that they were my main equipment. Equipment at work is usually not mentioned, unless it was especially interesting.

Some of the photos below were taken by me and some come from other web sites. I have tried to follow the fair use policies of these sites.

Software

I spend most of my time in front of a computer staring at something like this:

Emacs frame under OS X

This is GNU Emacs, a text editing environment based on a version of the Lisp programming language.

I typically have between three to six Emacs frames on two screens open at the same time. Some of them are devoted to programs running inside Emacs, some change depending on what I'm working on.

Emacs is, as some people say in a ha ha only serious-way, really an operating system, cleverly disguised as a text editor. Imagine the bliss if Emacs, but with a proper, incremental garbage collector, real processes and better scheduling, could run on top of the bare metal. The Lisp Machine back among the living!

An acquaintance, Taylor, once said that “Emacs is an artificial intelligence that has been parasitically masquerading as a text editor”. I thought it was funny. Then I thought about it again…

I got stuck with Emacs in 1991 and seem to get more stuck as time passes. I've tried to escape a few times, for instance to Oberon, Sam, Wily, Acme or Jed, but haven't really succeeded yet.

I use many Emacs Lisp programs. For communication I use the Gnus mail client which I have integrated with the Big Brother Database (BBDB) smart address book. I also use the Emacs LysKOM client to connect to an in-house conference system at the Lysator Academic Computer Society at Linköping University.

Although there is a perfectly usable Emacs Jabber XMPP client I use the Emacs built-in rcirc IRC client instead, connecting to a running BitlBee I keep on a shellbox. BitlBee, in turn, connects to the XMPP servers I use, as well as Facebook and Twitter.

Of course, I also use rcirc to connect to ordinary IRC servers. I'm mchack at Freenode and OFTC.

I use Org Mode heavily for all my planning and just to take down notes. I usually create about a megabyte and a half of notes in plain text a year.

My music needs are satisfied by the Emacs Multimedia System (EMMS), an Emacs frontend to some command-line media players and metadata editors.

In 1991 I also discovered screen which I thought amazing. Screen is a terminal multiplexer, something like a window system for a character terminal. It makes it very easy to run lots of simultaneous programs using an ordinary character terminal or a terminal emulator. These days I use tmux instead but since 1991 I've been using either screen or tmux almost every day.

tmux pairs well with the very nice iTerm2 terminal emulator. Try tmux -CC!

The shell running in my terminal has been zsh since the early 1990s. However, I write shell scripts in vanilla Bourne shell and, when I need to escape, in Tom Duff's much saner rc which I first met under Plan 9 in 1995.

I use Firefox in the Ironfox sandbox for general web browsing, but I use the emacs-w3m front-end to w3m for quick lookups or to render HTML in Gnus.

Most of my development is done in Perl or C with LLVM/clang and/or GCC. I usually use Git, with the built-in Emacs VC, for version control.

Many of my computers run FreeBSD but I also use Apple's OS X and Debian GNU/Linux.

Current hardware

Workstation

Although the image displays my Macbook Air 11", these days I mostly use a late 2013 Macbook Pro 13" Retina with Intel Core i5 @ 2,4 GHz, 8 gigs RAM, 256 gigs SSD, Intel Iris graphics and an American keyboard, thank Goddess. The glorious 13" screen has a resolution of 2560x1600!

The Air is an Intel Core i5 (Haswell) @ 1.3 GHz, 8 gig RAM, 128 gig SSD, Intel HD 5000 integrated graphics, also with an American keyboard. I would definitely be happy with the Air if it had the same kind of screen as the Macbook Pro.

When I'm at home, the Macbook I'm currently using is often connected to a Hewlett-Packard ZR24w 24" IPS panel, a Happy Hacking Keyboard Pro 2 and a CST L-Trac X trackball.

At the office, I have another HHKB Pro 2 and a HP 27" IPS display. No trackball yet, though.

To the right in the photo you can also see a Snom 300 SIP phone. I use it both with a SIP-only service and a PSTN bridge. I find it works much better than any SIP softphones I've tried.

The Macbooks currently run OS X Mavericks. I haven't even tried booting an alternative OS on them yet.

I use the Macbooks mainly to run Emacs and terminal sessions, do web browsing and reading PDFs. I do most of my development on FreeBSD and Linux servers elsewhere. That said, I do have development tools installed and do the ocassional local hacking.

I have written a text about using OS X called OS X survival guide that you might want to read.

The Macbook Air weighs in at just over 1 kg. The Macbook Pro is a little heavier, but not much. When that gets to heavy I use a Nexus 7 Android tablet, mostly for reading. The Nexus 7 is to the lower left in the photo above.

My phone is a LG Nexus 5. I find I use my Nexus 7 less and less since I got the phone.

Desk

The desk in my office is a motorised IKEA Galant which can easily be adapted for sitting or standing position. At the office it's a motorised desk from Kinnarps.

I usually switch between sitting and standing a few times during the day.

Keyboards

I use two Happy Hacking Keyboard Professional 2 keyboards, one white and one black. Both have blank keytops. I also have an original HHKB, but it hasn't seen any use for a while.

The original HHKB was an ordinary rubber dome keyboard but had a very nice layout (compare it to the layout on the Sun Type 3 keyboard minus the function keys!) and could optionally connect to the Sun workstation type 4 interface, Apple Macintosh ADB and to PCs using PS/2.

The keyboard was designed in the early 1990s by Dr. Eiiti Wada but not released as a staple product until 1996. Probably a few was available much earlier than that but made to order from PFU.

I've been using a customized Swedish keyboard layout in X for quite some time. Its first level looks like this:

With AltGr (the key labeled “ISO_Level3_Shift” above) the åäö keys generates braces and bar. With AltGr + shift you get brackets and backslash. It's much easier to reach them there compared to the default position on a current Swedish keyboard. There is a bit of history behind this choice as well.

Back when 7 bit ASCII terminals were common the Swedish version of ASCII (ISO/IEC 646-SE and -SE-C) placed the Swedish characters åäö on braces, brackets, bar and backslash. A programmer back then who was lucky enough to have a terminal that could actually show braces instead of Swedish characters typed on the key labeled “Å” on her keyboard to get a “}”. Now I just have to remember to press AltGr as well.

Servers

My development server is a Supermicro Superworkstation with an Intel Xeon W3680 (6 3.33 GHz cores * 2 with HT) with 24 gigs of three-way ECC RAM and ZFS on two mirrored 2 TiB disks in an 8 piece hot-swap drive bay.

Supermicro Superworkstation.

I call it totoro because it's huge and really screams, albeit not blue and cuddly. I might just paint it blue! Naturally, it runs FreeBSD.

Totoro is very fast. To give you some idea just how fast it is I can mention that I used to dream of having access to a small VAX with BSD while at secondary school. I imagined we would be something like 30–50 simultaneous users on the VAX. A single core on my new machine is something like 300,000 times faster! And most of the time I'm the only user.

totoro is since summer 2014 the new main server for hack.org. The server runs all important services, such as mail, DNS, web, et cetera. We have some redundancy in a shared server in another co-lo facility.

The shared home server is called kropotkin. It's a Fujitsu-Siemens Econel 100 with an Intel Core 2 CPU, 4 GiB of ECC RAM and a total of 2 TB of SATA disks. It runs FreeBSD and works as a file server, music centre for our SqueezeBox music player and as a CPU server.

Other computers at home

Petra uses a Toshiba Portégé Z930 running Windows 7. She manages it herself.

Gabriel recently scrapped his dual-booting no-name tower for a monster of game machine running Windows 8.

Ludvig has a no-name tower PC called cthulhu. It runs a Ubuntu LTS using Unity. He's been borrowing my Macbook Air from time to time. I'm guessing he'll buy a Macintosh soon.

We also have a Sony Playstation 3. The PS3 dual booted Debian GNU/Linux until Sony unfortunately removed the OtherOS functionality in a firmware upgrade which the kids persuaded me to go along with. I admit that I was a bit upset.

I have a couple of older laptops in a cupboard that I don't know what I'll do with.

I used to have lots and lots of computer junk at home, but I have tried to give most of it away to better homes. I still keep some stuff, such as an original 1978 vintage DEC VT100 terminal I keep for sentimental reasons as a memory of my friend Rydis. Here I am, hugging the terminal:

Connectivity

Internet connectivity to our home is sadly not a real network anymore. You can't win them all. We get 100/10 Mbit/s (closer to 30/10 Mbit/s in real life) downstream/upstream over cable TV. The router runs FreeBSD but the WLAN access point runs Linux.

Sadly, our connection is IPv4 only. We have an IPv6 tunnel from the excellent services of SixXS. Most of the computers in our home are dual stacked.

User... uh... hacker interface

If you're interested in what I see on the screen when I'm running X, I'm using a window manager I wrote, mcwm. It might look spartan but it can do what I need.

Here's a screenshot taken on 2012-04-26 from the terminal in my office.

Click on the image above for the real screenshot.

You don't actually see much of my window manager per se: It never draws anything itself. It just asks the X server to give all clients a 1 pixel border. The currently focused window is marked by an amber border.

On the screen you can see a couple of urxvt terminal emulators. Some of them are running tmux on remote hosts. In the right top corner there's a clock (rclock) and a menu drawn by 9menu.

You might want to compare the above screenshot with an MGR screenshot taken on one of my Sun workstations in the 1990s. Superficially, not much has changed. More about MGR and Suns at home below.

I used to have the hacker friendly dzen notifier window running showing some status generated by a script I wrote. It looked something like this.

What you don't see are the rest of the virtual workspaces. I usually use about four or five.

There are, of course, no real icons. Ever. I really dislike graphic icons and having to shuffle windows around to find things.

The fonts used are B&H's bitmapped version of Lucida Typewriter in the 75 DPI flavour and the Terminus font.

For many years I was using the CTWM as my window manager. You might find my .ctwmrc configuration file interesting. Key bindings and mouse actions on the title bar (if enabled) are provided for the most common window operations. I have made an attempt to explain what I do in the file.

For years, I was instead using its predecessor, TWM, in various configurations. I also got stuck for a period using 9wm in 1995–1996 when I was running Plan 9 on another computer and got used to the real 8½ window system and then wm2 in 1999–2001.

Of course, I have also tried and experimented with numerous other window managers, to name just a few I found interesting: FVWM, AfterStep, WindowMaker, Blackbox, Openbox, evilwm and Ratpoison.

I also use a small utility called unclutter that hides the pointer after some inactivity. I find it very useful to get rid of the mouse pointer after a few seconds. I think I may have found it in the X11R5 contrib directory or perhaps on comp.sources.x.

Like the old screenshot above tells you, I used to run and even occasionally hack on the Bellcore MGR Window System. Like everyone else I've given up long ago and gone to the X Window System. I guess I finally resigned. Besides, X servers are now actually much faster than before, even on the same hardware. Of course, new graphics hardware is much faster than before.

On the other hand, since getting a Mac in July 2013, I find that I use X less and less...

Once upon a time

The first computer I ever used, at least as far as I remember, was a Sinclair ZX80 or ZX81 belonging to my cousin Ove. This was probably in 1981 or 1982. I was nine years old. Ove explained some BASIC for me and showed me the source code to a Black Jack game. We modified it so I could do unlimited bets when playing.

The ZX81 had a Zilog Z80 at 3.25 MHz and 1(!) kiB RAM. The storage media was an ordinary casette tape recorder, although I don't think I realized at the time where the programs were stored.

I think Ove had the 16 kiB memory expansion for a total of 17 kiB RAM.

Photo in Public Domain, taken from Wikipedia.

It wasn't until a few years later, in 1985, I finally got a computer of my own. I bought a Commodore Plus 4 for the price of a Commodore 1541 disk drive and got the disk drive as well. I believe the price was 2500 SEK. Owning a 1541 means I bypassed the rite of passage of handling a cassette tape recorder as a storage medium that plagued so many other home computer owners at the time.

The Plus 4 was a bargain, of course, but the reason was that the computer had fiascoed nearly everywhere. The reason was mainly that it wasn't compatible with the very popular Commodore 64. The Plus 4 was introduced in 1984 and almost immediately discontinued.

Photo by Anders Bengtsson from the PC/M Computer Museum.

Having a fiascoed computer with almost no available software meant I had to learn how to write my own software. The CPU was a MOS 7501/8501 (I'm not sure what was in mine, but they were both compatible with the

  1. at 1.77 MHz, with 64 kiB RAM with almost 60 k available RAM for the BASIC programmer. The C64 had a lot less.

The Plus 4 got its funny name because of a built in office suite called Three + 1. The office suite was horrible and not really useful for anything. The word processor wasn't even useful as a text editor! There was, however, a semi-useful machine code monitor in ROM as well. You get at it with the MONITOR keyword.

If you for some strange reason want to experience the horrible Plus 4 first hand, the people at VICE have added the Plus 4 ROMs to their 8 bit emulator software.

I got rid of the Plus 4 after about six months in 1985 or 1986 and bought my first PC, a Commodore PC-10 PC clone in mint condition that had been used as a demonstration item. I paid about 7000 SEK for it. I believe it had a whopping 768 kiB of RAM and two 360 kiB disk drives! The CPU was an Intel 8088 at 4.77 MHz. It ran MS-DOS 2.11. It had no graphics card, but displayed 80x25 of crisp green text on a monochrome monitor. What a relief for my eyes compared to the Plus 4 that was hooked up to an old TV.

Photo from Bo Zimmerman's collection.

I leased a 300 bit/s modem from the state owned telephone monopoly Televerket (now TeliaSonera) and hooked it up to this PC. The modem was about the size of a shoe box and was worth about 3000 SEK at the time (almost 6000 SEK in 2011). I remember a frantic hunt around town to get a serial cable, but they were all so expensive I couldn't afford them. A cable would cost ~500 SEK, which when I'm writing this in 2011 would be almost 1000 SEK! A guy in a computer shop took pity on me and allowed me to lend a cable over the weekend and gave me a diskette with the Procomm terminal emulator.

The next week I went to the nearby (well, ~ 100 km) city of Sundsvall and bought a serial cable for 120 SEK (~230 SEK in 2011). Later I also bought one of the few programs I have ever paid for to that computer: Borland's wonderful Turbo Pascal compiler with its equally wonderful language reference manual.

Unfortunately, I was so hooked on using the modem and dialing bulletin boards, that I got a nasty surprise three months later when the phone bill came. It was over 4000 SEK (~7600 SEK in 2011)! My mother was rather upset and I had to make a payment plan to pay it all back. Worse, I had to give back the modem! Instead, I loaned a 1200/75 bit/s modem from a friend some time later and this time I was very careful about timing my calls.

I didn't know about offline readers or Fidonet points at the time. That might have saved me from this disaster. For some reason I never used any offline readers during the Fidonet years. I don't know why.

I used the PC-10 for a couple of years and then bought my first Unix box, a used Luxor ABC 1600, for 5000 SEK in, I think, 1988. It ran a Unix version called ABCenix, sported 1 MiB of RAM and a hard disk with a total capacity of a whopping 12.5 MiB!

Photo by Anders Bengtsson from the PC/M Computer Museum.

The ABC1600 had a very nice monochrome twistable screen at a resolution of 1024x768. It even featured a window system, with every window being a graphical terminal emulator, much like MGR.

The machine was pretty slow with a 68008 (note the “8”) CPU and the 12.5 MiB hard disk was much too small. That, I guess, is the reason the ABC1600 fiascoed. The commercial fiasco was, of course, the reason I could afford to buy it in the first place.

Sadly, the 1600 had a hardware failure and I didn't know how to fix it.

The same year, 1988, I went looking for a new computer. I was considering a used Apple Macintosh Plus with an external 20 MiB hard disk. The total price, IIRC, was 5,000 SEK.

I also considered a new Atari Mega ST with external hard disk for a total of ~14,000 SEK.

I finally went with a Commodore PC-40 PC/AT clone running MS-DOS. A considerable step backwards compared to a multi-tasking multi-user computer with a window system!

The PC-40 had a 80286 CPU, 1 MiB RAM, 20 MiB disk, Hercules monochrome graphics and an amber monitor for a staggering 16,000 SEK (the equivalent of ~28,000 SEK(!) in 2011). I must have been mad! Both the Macintosh and the ST would have been much better choices. I can't even say that I fully exploited the 286. It mostly ran as a faster 8088. Had I gone with the Mac Plus I would have even have afforded a memory upgrade to a total of 3 megabytes!

Later, I also purchased a used PC clone, an Ericsson 9660, with 640 kiB RAM, two 360 kB disk drives and a black on white monitor. They both ran MS-DOS, of course.

By this time, I had also bought a 2400 bit/s modem to replace the terrible 1200/75 bit/s modem I had borrowed from a friend. I kept careful records of every phone call I made so I knew just how much of the phone bill I would have to pay to my mom.

There was still no local bulletin boards for a few years, except for my own experiments with friends, so I called long distance at about 2 SEK/minute during daytime and somewhat less during the night. It was cheapest between 22:00 and 06:00. I still didn't use any offline readers and was not a Fidonet point. I don't know why. Looking back, I find it really strange.

In 1991 I began my studies at Linköping University. I left the Ericsson PC and a modem with my mother at her request. She figured, correctly, that I would be hard to reach by phone, so we corresponded by e-mail, initially through a Fidonet-Internet gateway.

At the LiU I promptly became a member of the computer club, Lysator. Lysator had a rather special room at the university called PUL17. PUL17 was located underground, in a room next to a bomb shelter. The room mostly contained a very large air filter, containing lots of fine sand. PUL17 was mostly located on top of this filter, with raised computer floor tiles standing directly on the sand and chairs and desks on top of that.

I spent an incredible amount of time in there, to the point that my computer at home, now just the PC/AT mentioned above, was rarely touched. Instead, I spent my time mostly in front of one of many Facit 4431 terminals (originally introduced in 1983), lovingly known by us at Lysator as the “Green Menace” (Swedish: “Gröna faran”). The Facits were VT102 compatible and really, really nice.

For a while I borrowed a Green Menace to have at home in my dorm room and used it with a 2400 bit/s modem standing on top of it. I very much preferred it compared to using my noisy PC.

Photo from Informatik-Sammlung Erlangen.

The only thing wrong with the 4431 was that there wasn't more visible rows on the screen. It had had 24 rows by 80 columns, like most character terminals at the time.

Lysator also had a couple of Sun 3/50 and 3/60 workstations, but I mostly sat in front of a terminal, even though I would mostly be logged in to one of the Suns. At first, there were no Sun servers, so a lot of simultaneous users shared the Sun 3/60s and later 3/80s.

The Suns ran SunOS, which was basically a BSD Unix, not to be confused with the much later Solaris.

There was also a Sequent Balance 8000 running Dynix available, but it was very slow compared to the Suns and was mostly used as a terminal server and to run the legendary MUD NannyMUD. Lysator later received plenty of equipment from Sun, Digital and others, but this was the situation in the early 1990s.

In 1993 Lysator moved up from the cellars. Here's me in front of a terminal in Lysators new headquarters, Q:

It looked pretty much the same in 1996, but with SPARCstations instead of character terminals:

In 1992(?) I bought two used Sun 3/60 workstations. I paid 11,000 SEK for both. Their price as new in 1988 was at the time ~100,000 SEK each (about the double in 2012 SEKs). One of the Suns had a nice 19" monochrome monitor with a resolution of 1152x900. The Suns had 16 MiB and 4 MiB RAM, but no hard disks.

Photo from Juan Orlandini's blog but my guess is that it's taken from a Sun Microsystems brochure.

There wasn't enough room for any storage media in the pizza box style the Suns used for a case. Instead, I hooked a stripped PC box to a 210 MiB SCSI disk (which I bought for the incredible amount of 6,000 SEK and connected that to one of the Suns. I got some help to install SunOS on the thing. The other 3/60 was mostly left unused.

I mostly used the 3/60 sitting at a character terminal, so I could sit in another room and didn't have to hear the fan noise. It was a waste of the 19" monitor, of course, but this was the sane choice, believe me. The fan was terrible!

When I did sit at the console, I used the MGR window system (see below). Running X was not an option, at least not if you wanted to do something else on the same machine. Using a 3/60 as an X terminal might have worked OK, but I didn't have a server to connect to.

I still used the Sun with a 2400 bit/s modem. I used RMAIL in Emacs to read my mail. I had written a small Emacs Lisp function to append my outgoing mail to a file. I uploaded this file with Kermit and executed it on Lysator. The script then fed my mail through the sendmail program for further delivery. I downloaded my mailbox in a similar manner. It was a rather simple way of arranging offline mail and I used it for a long time.

In 1992 or 1993 I was given a Facit Twist terminal, also known as Facit 4440. The Twist in the name comes from the nice feature that you can twist the monitor 90 degrees from landscape to portrait. In portrait mode it has 72 lines! Very nice to hack on but no so nice to run under screen over 2400 b/s. It took ages to redraw the screen when you flipped between terminals.

I believe the Facit Twist was introduced in 1986 priced something like 12,000 SEK (which would make it to close to 24,000 SEK in 2012).

Photo from Lappeenranta University of Technology collection.

Photo from Informatik-Sammlung Erlangen.

This terminal was used a lot against the main 3/60.

In 1995, I was working at Bull, what was left of the Swedish computer company Diab, and rescued an old Diab DS90/20. It was a 68020 based mini running Diab's own Unix D-NIX. I think it had 8 MiB RAM. I had no less than two of the fancy Komkit-II Ethernet cards. Each of these also had a 68020(!) and the telnet daemon actually ran on the Ethernet card!

The Diab DS series were the big brothers of the Luxor ABC1600, which was also manufactured by Diab.

(Photo by Iggy Drougge from Linus Walleij's Diab pages.)

I think this photo was taken by my wife when I was configuring it at home:

The keyboard in my lap belongs to a Facit Twist terminal temporarily standing on the floor. It's usual space was on the desk in my (silent) office. The terminal was connected to the DS90 standing right next to it on the floor. Behind me you see the large monitor of a Sun 3/60 and to the right you can see the stripped PC box containing the Sun's hard disk standing on top of the other 3/60.

I named the DS90 closet, since uh... I intended to keep it running inside a walk-in closet, the closet where the photo is taken. Again, I like to keep my workplaces quiet, so the terminals were usually in another room.

I ported many programs to D-NIX both at work and at home. Of course, I also had to port a lot of stuff to the terrible AIX that Bull for some reason decided to run on their DPX/20 servers and workstations (at first no more than IBM RS/6000 systems in disguise). One solace during my time at Bull in the middle 1990s was that I also got to know the Plan 9 operating system.

One of the programs I ported to D-NIX was SklaffKOM, a bulletin board system in the tradition of the KOM conference system. I used it first on the 3/60 and later on the DS-90.

The DS90 closet, with SklaffKOM, served as a dial-up public access Unix system in the +46-13 area code, taking over after one of my 3/60s. The actual BBS, which was the only thing you could get at if you didn't talk to me and got a real Unix account, was called Hackmaskinens KOM (The Hack Machine BBS) at first, but was later known as IBKOM.

I had a dial-up UUCP connection for mail through the DS90. The system was reachable through Lysator as lysator.liu.se!closet or user%closet@lysator.liu.se. I had two phone lines, but one was mostly for voice and the occasional modem dial-out by me. The other line was connected to closet with a 9600 bit/s modem that was used both for people dialling in and for UUCP transfers.

Later in 1995(?), I sold both my 3/60s and bought a used Sun SPARCstation ELC for 8000 SEK. The ELC was a cheap diskless SPARC based workstation with 16 MiB RAM built into a monochrome 17" 1152x900 monitor. Here it is on a desk in my living room a few years later, probably 1998:

It was meant to be used as a diskless workstation, but since I didn't really fancy booting from the DS90, or even knew how I would do that, I used a shoebox-sized external SCSI disk. I think it was 200 megabyte. Unfortunately, the box containing the disk had a loud fan. Other than that, the ELC was dead quiet.

The ELC began life running SunOS (not Solaris), but after a few years I installed Linux/SPARC. I think it was a Red Hat distribution, since the company I worked for sold Red Hat distributions at the time.

I initially used the MGR window system on the ELC, just like on the 3/60. I gave up on MGR on the ELC in 1997 and started using X and the graphical Linux console pionereed by the SPARC port. I think I switched to X when I ditched SunOS and installed Linux/SPARC.

By that time, I also had an NCD X terminal at home, so two people could run graphical programs on the ELC at the same time. Here's a photo of the NCD 16, a fanless monochrome X terminal based on a 68000 CPU with the a resolution of 1024x1024. Yes, the monitor was square.

This great terminal also had support for the Xremote protocol, which I think is what later turned into Low-Bandwidth X (LBX). This made it really useful even over a 9600 bit/s modem connection, unlike most other X terminals.

By that time, 1995–1996, the DS90, the ELC and the X terminal were connected with a thin coax Ethernet. Several character terminals were also hanging off from closet and available for local users in my flat.

At work at the time, I hooked up a Visual VT100 compatible terminal to the Alpha workstation on my desk. When I found myself needing to concentrate on a task I moved over to my retro desk. It looked like this:

In 1996 I placed the X terminal at a friend's collective which was close to our flat. They had arranged a leased line connection to the Internet with Vitalink Ethernet bridges over a two pair connection! This was really rare at the time for a private home in Sweden. Suddenly, I didn't have to go to work or to Lysator or use an expensive dial-up connection. Sweden had, and still has, metered local calls, but they're much cheaper now than they were at the time.

Here's a picture of Magnus and me in our 'office' in front of our X terminals. I think Magnus' terminal might have been a Digital VXT

The photo was taken by the third adult occupant, Christer Weinigel.

In 1997, my wife and I separated, and me and my eldest son moved to a room in this collective for a while. My move was also the end of the public access Unix systems and the BBS.

I later moved back in with my ex wife and in the summer of 1998 we formed the Area 41 collective together with some friends. The public access Unix and the UUCP feed was gone, however.

The Area 41 collective eventually had four adults, two kids, something like 15 to 20 computers and redundant Internet connections (one over cable TV, one over ISDN).

My next main home computer was a Sun SPARCstation 5 with a 19" colour CRT with 1152x900 pixels that I got in 1999. I named it caerbannogh, after the “Rabbit at Caerbannogh”, the one with big, pointy teeth.

This was possibly my second colour computer at home if I consider the Plus 4 hooked up to a colour TV my first. Monochrome monitors were simply so much better at the time that the colour alternative wasn't very interesting.

The SS-5 initially ran Linux, but was later running OpenBSD as a server. It was placed in co-location and turned into the main hack.org server.

From late in 1999 to early 2005 my main computer was an IBM Thinkpad 570 laptop called fuckup. This was my very first laptop. It was both smaller and had more power than any computer I had ever had before. In fact, I'm sure it was more powerful than most (all?) of my previous computers combined. I used it almost daily for six or seven years, initially running Linux, then OpenBSD, then FreeBSD. It continued life until 2009 as my youngest son's computer.

In 2000 or 2001 I bought a used Digital Alpha XL266 for use as a server. This was the same XL266 I had previously used on my desk at work from 1996 to 1999. It was turned into the main hack.org machine from 2001 to 2002, I believe. I ran Linux on it.

When it broke down in 2002 and I failed to repair it I initially used my Thinkpad 570 as an emergency server standing on my kitchen table. I found a replacement by building a PC from old, very standard parts. This was zoot, which was the hack.org main server from 2002 to 2005. It ran FreeBSD.

In 2002, I also purchased a used Sun Ultra 1 with 192 meg RAM, 4 gig disk and a very heavy 19" CRT (~ 35 kg) for less than 1000 SEK and installed Linux on it. It was used a lot as a second workplace, mostly by my wife. It ran in a noise-cancelling box, fortunately. The Ultra went to a better home in 2012.

I have donated almost all my other old computers to other collectors. Hopefully, my collection has gone to better homes.

In 2005 I bought a Mini-ITX card with a VIA Eden CPU and a small case. It was intended as a small workstation but was instead quickly made into the home server running FreeBSD in a closet. The Mini-ITX served as well a home server and later got a second life as a router but is long since retired.

Instead of the the VIA I bought a Hewlett-Packard t5125 thin client to use as an X terminal. I used it a lot for about a year. Here it is:

In 2006 I bought an IBM Thinkpad X60s to use as my main workstation. My wife began using the t5125 terminal instead so we could retire the Sun Ultra 1.

Here's my Thinkpad X60s on a messy desk:

A Thinkpad X60s.

Here's the Thinkpad X60s and the HP t5125 terminal, probably in 2006. The terminal's monitor is on top of an old Cisco 4000 router I had lying around:

The terminal is the small box right next to the Cisco, right behind the lamp.

I have written a text about doing a network install and running FreeBSD on the Thinkpad X60s that might be of interest to some of you. An earlier version also covers how to do a network install of NetBSD and Ubuntu Linux on the machine.

It's now more or less an experiment platform. Lately it's been running Plan 9, but will probably be retired.

In 2009 upgraded the home server to a Fujitsu-Siemens Econel 100 with an Intel Core 2 CPU, 4 GiB of ECC RAM and a total of 2 TB of SATA disks. It was named kropotkin. It's still in use.

Here's a photo of my old setup at home as of July, 2011:

On the picture you see the Thinkpad on top of a small stand, an external monitor, a Hewlett-Packard ZR24w 24" IPS panel at 1920x1200, an external Happy Hacking Keyboard Professional 2, a CST L-Trac X trackball, two huge JVC speakers with a pair of Sennheiser headphones on top, an old TI Programmer calculator, a Siemens DECT phone and a wonderful Squeezebox Classic music player.

The speakers on the photo are connected to a huge Sony STR-DG520 receiver under the table which in turn is connected to the Squeezebox Classic.

In 2007(?) my friend Linus gave me a Genesi Efika MX Smartbook. I used it mostly on travels and as a kitchen computer.

Continuing the thin client trend I bought two Hewlett-Packard t5745 in 2011. I didn't use them as thin clients, however, instead running FreeBSD on them and using them as light workstations but running heavier stuff on kropotkin and later the new server, totoro (see above).

In our previous flat I had one t5745 in my upstairs bedroom and one in the living room.

Here's what my upstairs office looked like in 2011:

HP t5745 thin client.

These terminals have Intel Atom N280 x86 CPUs and 1 GiB RAM (expandable to 8!) so using them as ordinary workstations is quite easy.

They ran a lightweight version of FreeBSD booted from USB memory sticks. A few programs was running locally (window manager, a clock, terminal emulators, ssh, et cetera) but most work was done on servers.

Retro-computing

I've been into retro-computing for quite some time, even though I'm less active now than I used to be. I have experienced first hand such operating systems as ITS, RSX-11MPLUS, RT-11, TOPS-20, Unix Edition 7, PRIMOS and many others.

I still keep several user accounts on large, ancient machines such as PDP-10s and PDP-11s that are, believe it or not, still available on the networks, although in some cases they are run as emulators.

A few years ago, I got rid of most the ancient hardware I had collected. SWMBO was not very impressed with all the junk in the flat at the time. Anyway, I guess I'd rather have something really useful around than museum items, so I gave them away to (hopefully) better homes. I do, however, keep a lot of emulators around. I enjoy reading old source code.

I still really enjoy reading and collecting technical manuals, especially really old manuals, just because they are there. It's like climbing mountains, really; you just have to know what it looks like on the top.

In my modest collection I have a set of 'handbooks' from DEC for the PDP-11 and the VAX, some of the manuals for the TOPS-20 operating system and the ITS 1.5 Reference Manual. I was actually the one who got the friendly people at the MIT AI Lab library to scan it in the first place. I also have the only thing worth reading about the PC: The IBM PC Technical Reference.

I also keep the complete source code for many commonly used system programs and complete source code for some ancient operating systems, including ITS, TOPS-20, Multics and others. I find pleasure in collecting and reading source listings like these. These things are true wArEz, kids! I'm k00l now, right? Right?


Last updated: <2014-07-17 14:22:49 CEST>