Hacker Central

So back in the bad ol' days, circa 1992, I got my first PC. An exciting affair; a 286/12 with 2MB memory and 40MB of MFM hard drive. This was a bit of a step sideways from my previous machine, a Sinclair QL. Both of them lived on a rickety table at the end of my bed in my houseshare in Cork.

The 286 moved back to college with me where I moved in with my friend JC. JC also had a 286/12, and we mucked about with InterLnk/InterSrv (Direct Cable Connection for those of you brought up on Windows 95) and also a serial comms-based token-ring network that I wrote for a project. At some point around this period, Hacker Central came to be the term I used to describe wherever I'd set up my machine - probably because at the time JoeV and Johnno would come over to hack on one or both of the 286s. Around about this time also, my home box acquired the moniker "Gonzo".

Gonzo: What's in the box?

200MHz K6-2
1x 4GB disk
1x 30GB disk
DVD-ROM (A-Open; what is "region"?)
4MB Cirrus Logic video card
15" AST 5u Monitor (shared)
SB Live! with expansion card
RTL 100MBit Ethernet
Genius 33k6 Voice/Data/Fax (unused)

Why "Gonzo"?

No reason, actually. I have a habit of letting names for computers arrive unannounced in my head, rather than trying to come up with naming schemes. So far, this has produced among others, Gonzo, Fozzie, Spike, Broom, Klortho, Fedex and Qaz. The last is my QL; it used be my own handle until I settled on "Waider" in 1992. Fedex was some sort of Federal Express machine - it's the scary machine described below, with a few spare parts crammed into it. Klortho is the laptop, also described below, and Broom is the Mac. I've just rebuilt most of a 486 and decided that it's the new incarnation of Fozzie. The naming goes beyond computers, too - I had a mouse in my room in college (uninvited) that I spontaneously christened "Boris", for example.

About Christmas 1993, I procured a 486 motherboard and an 81MB IDE drive. After much dinking and shoehorning, I got a 486/66 up and running in the case of the old 286. This was complicated by a disagreement between the old and new motherboards as to which way expansion cards should be oriented. The 286 lost out big time, spending its time being housed in an empty cereal packet.

CEREAL packet. Damn geek jokes.

Gonzo the 486 accumulated parts and also road- and air-miles. It went to Youghal, Thurles and Bantry. It went to Swindon. It went to Cork. It moved to Dublin.

While in Swindon, it became my first Linux box. Whee!

I got a one-shot contract job in Dublin setting up email on behalf of some company, and received a Pentium motherboard plus chip as payment for the job. The 486 was refitted and built into a machine for my brother. Gonzo was kitted out with extra disk and memory and a new case, the last item courtesy of the DSP hardware collective.

Since I've moved to Dublin, Gonzo has been rebuilt several times, occasionally from scratch. The 286/12 board died from a low memory bitrot error, alas, and my attempt to revive the old hard disks to see if there was anything of value on them (and I'm sure there was) resulted in a new set of coffee coasters for my apartment. The 486/66 spent a while being my parents' machine, as built by me, and is now taking up more space in the wardrobe. It has a bit more disk and memory than when I owned it, and my most recent application of it was to review Corel Linux. My first Pentium board was the basis of my brother's computer for a while, but I did splash out on a new case for it. My second Pentium board, purchased in Singapore, is powering Gonzo's current incarnation [on right]. It's got an AMD K6/200, about 34GB of disk and 160MB of memory, an ISDN TA and a LinkSys 10/100baseT card. It used have 64MB made up of 1 DIMM and 2 SIMMs just so I could make JC's ears bleed.

The original monitor from my 286, a Dell 14" SVGA, was briefly attached to Fedex, a dinky little 386sx/16 that I picked up surplus from a print shop near an old workplace. After a little pain and effort, the 386 ran a 2.0.36 kernel over a RedHat 1.0 installation. This is scary enough that I've not figured out what I'm doing with it yet, but I'm sure it'll make JC's ears bleed even more.

What, you don't find that scary?


90MB of disk (2x 45MB drives).

No swap.

No floppy disk, since I had to put the second 45MB drive somewhere.

2.34 bogomips.

And it can run Apache. I'd consider using it for a dialup box except that Gonzo's doing that quite nicely at present, plus I'm not sure the poor 386 would cope with routing all that data. And the damn thing sounds like a turbo-prop plane when it's up and running.

[Waider's Home Box]
scary machine

Fedex: What's in the box?

16MHz 386
2x 45MB disks (yes, MB)
Onboard video card.
3c503 network card, so it's currently standalone.
(actually, it's currently not even powered on!)

I had a Mac IIsi borrowed from the office as The Computer In The Other Room (back when I had another room) for a while, then the DSP hardware collective coughed up a 7100/66 with a 2GB drive and a 14" Mac colour monitor. Some time thereafter, the DSP hardware collective coughed again and provided me with a 16" ColorSync monitor. After doing a whole lot of nothing with this machine for a while, I gave it away to someone who's likely to make better use of it than me. I've since, however, discovered that the second 7100/66 I was hanging onto for a friend is no longer needed by said friend, so after hassling/hustling a keyboard and mouse from a friend at Apple I'm about ready to own a working Mac again.

Gonzo's 19" head blew up - not spectacularly, alas/thankfully. For a while, I was back to a crappy Dell 14" SVGA monitor, mainly mitigated by the presence of Klortho, below, which is now my main hacking platform. Then my brother upgraded his system, and I got the left-overs which included a 15" AST 5u which is either out of focus or has a crappy pixel mask, because it's not really usable at 1024x768. It's hooked up to Gonzo (now running solely in textmode; about the most frequent use I make of the console is to adjust the volume on the jukebox) and a patched-together version of my brother's old system via a two-node KV (no M) switch. The latter machine is a testbed for assorted hardware, so there's not much point in making a sidebar describing it; I keep swapping bits in and out of it. It's called "Blimp" and is currently the connection point for my experimental 2Mbit wireless network.

When I was bought (!) by Stepstone, part of my new job was having a laptop. And since I was doing R&D work, it was, at the time, a pretty frightening laptop. It's a Compaq Armada M700, with a 450MHz PIII, 320MB RAM, 20GB disk, a 56k modem and a 10/100Mbit ethernet port. I'm currently running RedHat 9 on it, with VMware and a dual-boot to run The OS We Won't Mention when required. It's patched into the hub when I'm at home. When I quit the job, they agreed to let me buy the laptop from them.

Klortho: What's in the box?

20GB disk (upgraded from 6GB)
15" LCD display
Onboard video, ethernet, modem & sound.
(Rage Mobility P/M, EtherExpress, Lucent and Maestro, respectively)

For amusement value, I've got a second 10/100 ethernet card working in one of the PCMCIA slots. Should I ever need it, etc. I'm also playing with ZoomAir 2Mbit Wireless cards.

My most recent employer, Doolin Technologies, has also seen fit to provide me with a laptop. This one's a Compaq Evo with a 1GHz PIII, 256MB RAM, 18GB disk, DVD-ROM, 16" LCD display, and lots of little chrome-effect buttons. It's a pretty laptop, and it's also damned fast. The onboard video card is an ATI Radeon with 16MB of memory. For kicks, I ran the Mad Onion 3dmark test on it. Klortho clocks about 500 3dmarks; this new laptop clocks about 3200. SCORCHIO!

I've also put together a machine called Blimp, which is a Red Hat 6.2 machine because I needed a machine with an older kernel for some bits I'm hacking on - they were last known to work with a 2.2 kernel, so it's a good starting point. It's a P133 with whatever spare parts I had lying around powering it. It's also currently my wireless/wired LAN gateway.

More to come here, particularly as many photos of hacker central in its various incarnations as I can dig up. And I have more photos than you'd believe of my various computers. But I'm very lazy about scanning them in.

For example, here's a recent busy day at Hacker Central; from left to right, you have Gonzo, Kinsalebeg National School's computer, a quite possibly dead LaserWriter II NTX supporting the monitor for Broom, a disassembled Broom supporting the Palm Pilot, which is docked in the LandWare GoType Pro keyboard, Klortho, and my cell phone.

And here's a picture showing my recently (July 02) revised layout including new desk. You can't see three of the computers, three of the monitors, or the stack of assorted hardware...

December 2002: I don't have a hardware addiction. I can give up any time I like, honest. Also, yes, my Mac is slow.

January 2003: Gonzo and Broom, uncased. Blimp, likewise.

If you can kick it, it's a hardware problem.