fear of kiddie cooties
Monday, April 19 2004
One of my computers, Muskrat, is set up as a completely open machine, with no case to get in the way of rapid or experimental hardware changes. The motherboard is screwed into a vertical piece of wood (salvaged from an abandoned passenger rail dining car) and there's a solderless breadboard in case I want to connect odd things to its ISA bus (though I've yet to complete the necessary address bus decoders). Muskrat is a quick and dirty machine that I can switch on and off at whim. It's the computer I use whenever somebody gives me a hard drive whose data needs to be recovered. Since it's my only Windows 98 machine, it's also the host for my Olympus ES-10 films scanner. (Like most peripheral manufacturers, Olympus saw nothing to be gained in continuing to support this expensive peripheral for subsequent operating systems.)
Last night I replaced the motherboard and CPU on Muskrat and went from a 166 MHz Pentium to a 300 MHz AMD K6. I know, it's all technology from 1997, but I was still struck by the improvement in performance. Windows XP is installed on one of its hard drives, but since it took about 20 minutes for the 166 MHz Pentium to boot it, I never had much use for it. Now, though, the 300 MHz K6 can boot that machine in about the same amount of time as the 666 MHz Pentium III on Woodchuck.
Today I added a bunch of alligator-clip-equipped color-coded wires to Muskrat's power supply. These will allow me to quickly supply 12 or 5 volts to any circuit that needs powering. It would be nice to have a whole set of circuits and test equipment always at-the-ready around this computer, all connectable with effortless, temporary connectors. It could be the ultimate 101 Electronic Experiments kit. Indeed, I have the Radio Shack Science Fair "130 in One Electronic Project Lab" (something I dumpster dived) and if it didn't look so juvenile I'd find a way to bolt it there beside Muskrat's motherboard. Actually, about a year ago I painted over the most juvenile parts of the kit with white because I thought I might start using it on a regular basis and I didn't want to keep washing my hands for fear of kiddie cooties. But that was at about the time my dumpster-dived oscilloscope died, and I guess I was distracted.
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