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 The text is likely to be out of date, slightly incomplete and most likely a bit silly, but perhaps some fellow geeks will still find it interesting.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.
I spend most of my time in front of a computer staring at something like this:
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. All those frames belong to at least two Emacs processes: One local and at least one running on a shell box in colocation somewhere.
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 mail, address book, chat, organising my notes and playing music and movies:
Of course, I used to use Gnus for real Usenet News as well, but Usenet is mostly dead these days, except for a few stalwarts like alt.sys.pdp10 and alt.folklore.computers I read through AIOE.
Lars Ingebrigtsen's wonderful Gmane server also uses NNTP to deliver public mailing lists and blogs to us old Usenet junkies. It's much more convenient to read them like if they were Usenet. Connect with NNTP to news.gmane.io.
LysKOM is a client to connect to an in-house conference system at the Lysator Academic Computer Society at Linköping University.
I use the rather minimalist builtin rcirc IRC client, extended with a few elisp functions, to chat on several IRC networks. Some days this is where most of my social life is. Yeah, I know... I know...
At work I'm stuck with Slack but I try to cope by using Emacs Slack after Slack turned off their IRC gateway (which wasn't that good anyway).
I use Org Mode heavily for all my planning and to take down notes. I usually create about 3 megabytes of notes in plain text a year, evenly divided between work and free time.
My music needs are satisfied by the Emacs Multimedia System (EMMS), an Emacs frontend to some command-line media players and metadata editors. It also controls an mpd running on a Raspberry Pi hooked up to the stereo in the living room.
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 iTerm2 terminal
emulator on macOS. Try
tmux -CC if you're using it! It feels almost
like Howard Chu's
rmgr in the early 90's... Too bad this isn't
supported under any other OS so far.
Since 1996 or so I've been using zsh as my shell. During some years in the 1990s I used Byron Rakitzis re-implementation of Tom Duff's rc and the real rc on my Plan 9 workstation at work.
Since I first got a personal laptop/Thinkpad the operating system on it has changed between Debian, FreeBSD/HardenedBSD, and OpenBSD several times. Yes, of course I also ran Plan 9 for a while, but it's not very practical these days.
I use mostly Firefox browse the web (Wayland support!). Important plugins are at least uBlock Origin, NoScript and Vimium, among others.
Most of my software development is done in Go, C with LLVM/clang and/or GCC or Python, and, when I can't escape, even Perl. I usually use Git, with the built-in Emacs VC, for version control.
These days I mostly use Debian and FreeBSD and OpenBSD in special cases.
My main workstation at home is a Lenovo Thinkpad x230 with an i5 @ 2.6 GHz, 16 GiB RAM, and a 240 GiB SSD. It's often connected to an HP Z-27 27" 2560x1440 IPS panel, a black Happy Hacking Keyboard Professional 2, and a CST L-Trac X trackball like this:
I bought two used Lenovo Thinkpad x230 in December 2016. One to use as my main computer and the other one to experiment on, or perhaps use as a travel computer. The reason I bought x230s was that they have excellent hardware support in the free operating systems. The Coreboot alternative firmware also works on them.
My main laptop runs Debian unstable.
During the Covid-19 pandemic I was sort of quarantined in my cottage. I made a fairly decent home office:
I have a mid-2013 Macbook Air 11" with i5 (Haswell) @ 1.3 GHz, 8 gig RAM, and 128 gig SSD. It's small, light (~ 1 kg), very quiet (really important!) and has just about the oomph I need, although storage is a little cramped.
This was my main computer for a while, until I grew increasingly frustrated with OS X/macOS.
I re-installed it with a fresh macOS and now it sees some use as a media laptop, but not much use.
For many years I refused to have a mobile phone. Of course, I didn't have a land line either. Speaking on the phone is scary. Then I refused to have a smartphone, insisting on using hand-me-down feature phones that I usually turned off and removed the battery from at the first opportunity.
These days I have resigned to have an electronic snitch in my pocket. I ran CopperheadOS on a Nexus 5X for a while but when Copperhead sort of imploded I bought a Google Pixel with stock Android. I try not to use any Google services, including the Play store, instead getting almost all apps from F-Droid. I use it mostly for music, podcasts, and messaging over Signal. Actual phone calls are kept to a minimum.
I have a fanless Toshiba Chromebook 2 (CB30-B-104) which has seen most use as a conference and travel computer using stock Chrome OS, but lately has been used with native GNU/Linux. See Native GNU/Linux on a Toshiba Chromebook 2.
I'm quite surprised how useful a stock Chromebook is as a mosh and SSH terminal and would probably be able to real work from one of these if the servers were set up accordingly. Although I admit it's much nicer when I can control what window manager it's running.
Mostly used by my daughter these days.
The desk in my home office is a motorised IKEA Galant which can easily be adapted for sitting or standing position.
I usually switch between sitting and standing a few times during the day.
I use two Happy Hacking Keyboard Professional 2 keyboards, one white and one black. Both have blank keytops. I also have a couple original HHKBs but they are seldom used nowadays.
The original HHKB was an ordinary rubber dome keyboard (top in photo above) but had a very nice layout 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.
The key layout comes from the much loved Sun Type 3 keyboard but without all the extra function keys. No one I know has ever used the Sun function keys for anything, except for the L1-A combination, of course, so good riddance. As a comparison, here's an original Type 3:
(Image from Online Sun Information ArcHive.)
Imagine the L (left), F (top) and R (right) functions keys gone and you have the HHKB layout.
I used the Type 3 a lot on Lysator's workstations and on my Sun 3/60 (see below) and it was dearly missed, especially when I had to use PCs.
I've been using a customized Swedish keyboard layout in 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.
I use a CST L-Trac X trackball as a pointing device when at my desk.
My main server is a Supermicro Superworkstation with an Intel Xeon W3680 (six 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. It lives in a co-location facility.
I call it totoro because it's huge and really screams, albeit not blue and cuddly. I might just paint it blue! It runs FreeBSD, mostly because of jails and ZFS.
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!
The home server is an old Fujitsu-Siemens Econel 100 with an Intel Core 2 CPU, 4 GiB of ECC RAM and a total of 3 TiB of SATA disks on ZFS. It runs FreeBSD and works mostly as a file server and a local shell server, mostly used by me.
The music player server in the living room used to be a wonderful SqueezeBox, but unfortunately it's broken. It was replaced by a Raspberry Pi B+ running Raspian with the Music Player Daemon.
Of course, other family members also have computers. They can tell you all about it, if they choose, on their own web pages.
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:
Internet connectivity to our home is sadly not Ethernet anymore. You can't win them all. We get 250/10 Mbit/s downstream/upstream over cable TV from Comhem. For a while they gave us native IPv6. Then, suddenly, they dropped v6. Boooh! No response about why from their support.
I manage with a Hurricane Electric v6 tunnel until they clean up their act.
The router is a PC-Engines APU2 with FreeBSD but the WLAN access point runs Linux.
My mobile phone operator, Tele 2 gives me native IPv6, which come in handy while travelling. Since Tele2 recently bought ComHem, perhaps I'll get my native v6 back in the flat as well?
In my vacation cottage I have symmetrical 100 Mbit/s over fibre. Yes, fibre to the home in the cottage but not in the city.
These days I mostly use the Sway Wayland compositor with the Xwayland X server turned off. The X Window System has finally been retired! Good riddance! It looks something like this:
You see three foot terminal emulators.
One is running a tmux session with output from
git log. One is
running Emacs showing some of foot's source code. One is running the
grim program which is taking the screenshot.
As you all know Emacs is not a proper GTK application, so I can't run graphical Emacs under a pure-Wayland setup although some impressive work has been done. Of course, I can use it just fine in a terminal. With some clever elisp I get Wayland clipboard integration anyway.
For a long while I used a very simple tiling window manager called dwm with some extra patches. It looked something like this:
What you see are two frames from the same Emacs and an st terminal running tmux with a few shells.
Most of the time when I'm using just the internal screen on my laptop I used it in monocle mode which shows only one window at the time. Something like this:
Sway's fullscreen mode is not quite the same. I miss it sometimes, especially when working on a laptop.
My terminals are green on black. I'm trying to reproduce the colour of the P39 phosphor on some favourite old cathode terminals. P39 has a wavelength of 525 nanometres according to Wikipedia. The RGB value is something like #36ff00.
The font is the pixel font Terminus. No antialias, obviously.
For a few years I was using a window manager I wrote myself, mcwm. It might look spartan but I was quite satisifed until I realized I wanted a tiling window manager.
Here's a screenshot taken on 2012-04-26 from an HP thin client terminal running FreeBSD as a light workstation:
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.
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. Considering this is how I felt I should probably have taken the plunge to tiling window managers earlier.
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.
Before that 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 at work and got used to the real 8½ window system. I was using 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 enough to configure a lot and/or patch: FVWM, AfterStep, WindowMaker, Blackbox, Openbox, evilwm, Ratpoison, and i3.
I also used 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. These days this is
a built-in functionality in Sway (
seat * hide_cursor 8000).
Like the old screenshot above tells you, I used to run and even occasionally hack on the Bellcore MGR Window System. I much preferred MGR over the bloated X Window System. Like everyone else I've given up long ago and used X for >25 years. Besides, X is now actually much faster than before, even on the same hardware. Now, with Wayland, I'm finally rid of the X horrors.
For a while, 2013–2016, I was tired of mucking about with configurations and tried living in the Appleverse, mostly using Macbooks for a while. It didn't work out in the long run, but you might be interested in my OS X survival guide.
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. Mind blown! You could change the game!?
The ZX81 had a Zilog Z80 at 3.25 MHz and 1(!) kiB RAM. The storage media was an ordinary 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, possibly in 1984 or 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 6502) 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 really 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
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 and bought my first PC, a Commodore PC-10 PC clone in mint condition that had been used as a demonstration item. This was probably in late 1984 or early 1985. I paid about 7000 SEK for it. It probably had 256 kB 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 really 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 @ 10 MHz, 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 never a Fidonet point. I don't know why. Looking back, I find it really strange that I didn't use those alternatives.
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 the silent terminal with the great keyboard 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 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 Solaris 2.x, which is a System V Unix.
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 when I was connecting to remote systems over the modem. 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 which was incredibly sane compared to the AIX madness.
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
firstname.lastname@example.org. 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 the UUCP
transfers every 15 minutes.
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.
Here's a screenshot from the terminal running twm:
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 often moved over to my retro desk. It looked like this:
In 1996 I placed the NCD terminal at a friend's collective which was close to our flat. They had arranged a to the Internet with Vitalink Ethernet bridges connected over a leased line! 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 2000.
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. Sadly, I don't recall what happened to the DS90-20 and the BBS. This time of my life was rather chaotic.
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 an old Sun SPARCstation 5 with a 19" colour CRT with 1152x900 pixels that I rescued from work at SICS 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 lated 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 initially called dingo, then fuckup. It looked like this one:
(Photo by Joe Lipson, CC-BY-ND.)
This was my very first laptop. I think it had a Pentium II and 64 MiB RAM. Not sure about the HDD, perhaps 4 GiB? Note that it doesn't have Ethernet nor any wireless network! I used a PCMCIA Ethernet card with it most of its lifetime and just at the end managed to get hold of a couple of Symbol 2 Megabit/s wireless cards which we ran on an ad-hoc network in the flat.
In any event the Thinkpad 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 Debian, then OpenBSD, then FreeBSD.
At first I used it in the Linux console, refusing to use the bloated X11. I used the console with the SVGATextMode hack to get more text on the screen. There was no framebuffer console back then on x86 Linux.
It continued life until 2009 as my youngest son's computer.
The Thinkpad 570 is the immediate predecessor of the Thinkpad X series. I completely fell in love with these light, but powerful machines and used a series of them for a long time. I was sceptical about laptops for a long time, but the Thinkpads really showed me what freedom a laptop can give.
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 under 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:
The terminal is the small box at the top left, close to the wall.
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.
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.
The X60s later ran Plan 9 for a while, then I gave it to my daughter with Ubuntu installed. She used it mainly for Tux Paint and some games before she got completely stuck in an iPad in early 2015. In late August 2015 I installed Manjaro Linux on it and gave it to son #2 who was moving out to attend university and needed a laptop on short notice.
Here's my Thinkpad X60s on a messy desk:
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:
Here's a photo of my setup at home as of July, 2011:
On the picture you see the Thinkpad X60s 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 2011 my friend Linus gave me a Genesi Efika MX Smartbook. I used it mostly on travels and as a kitchen computer and thought about retiring the Thinkpad.
In 2012 I bought the Supermicro Superworkstation, totoro mentioned above, and tried to use it as a workstation. That didn't work, of course, because of the hellish fan noise, so I hooked up the old t5125 terminal and used it like that for a while.
Continuing the thin client trend I bought two Hewlett-Packard t5745 and used them with totoro, replacing the aging t5125. I had one terminal in an upstairs office and one downstairs in the living room.
Here's what my upstairs office looked like in 2012:
Aah! The silence!
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 totoro.
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 ran locally (window manager, a clock, terminal emulators, ssh, et cetera) but most real work was done on totoro.
This was my setup until mid-2013 when I finally decided I needed a more powerful laptop again and bought a Macbook Air.
It's a mid-2013 Macbook Air 11" with i5 (Haswell) @ 1.3 GHz, 8 gig RAM, and 128 gig SSD. It's small, light (~ 1 kg).
It has an American keyboard. A friend who saw it said “Oh, it has one of those programmer's keyboards!”. As you can imagine, ANSI style keyboards are pretty rare in Sweden.
I have written a text about using OS X called OS X survival guide that you might want to read. I find OS X pretty much a real Unix. I feel mostly at home after many years of *BSDs and Linux. Most of it is just plumbing for Emacs, anyway, but with working hardware... Ah! Suspend/resume!
Of course, I experimented with running FreeBSD on the thing, but the Broadcom wifi obviously didn't work and suspend/resume was so-so. I tried a few Linux distributions as well and they had better hardware support, so much so that I switched to Linux on the Macbook Pro I used at work at the time.
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: <2020-04-07 13:02:36 MEST>