Monday, January 30, 2012

Birth of a Geek, Part 1

I will always look back on my days as a fledgling computer geek with great fondness. I had clearly marked a line in the sand that represented the absolute limit of my comfort zone at the time, and then dared myself to cross it, unabashed, full of confidence. I wanted to be elite; to be a true computer geek. Sure, I had spent a few months experimenting with an old Compaq Deskpro En business desktop that had been given to me by a close friend. I cut my teeth on that thing, really. I learned how to upgrade my RAM from 64MB to 128 MB; I installed a discrete PCI-based graphics card (the machine had no AGP slot); and I learned everything I could about Windows 2000 Professional simply by tinkering, experimenting, and often breaking it to the point that I had to reinstall and start from scratch. I had a master plan, though, and it began with the research and planning toward building my own computer. To me, at the time, that was the initiation ceremony. In my own mind I could not possibly consider myself to be a true computer geek if I had not built my own rig from my own carefully drawn blueprints.

I began with a copy of the current issue of Maximum PC, back in 2002. That issue was the Holy Grail for me at the time, because the main article was a complete guide to building your own rig, including recommended parts and practices. I planned for weeks. A few months, actually. Cash was tight so instead of going all out for a top-of-the-line case, I went with a simple beige box. I cared little for aesthetics at that time. All that mattered was having my own computer that I had built myself. The one area where I did splurge, however, was in CPU and RAM.

I clearly remember the day when I made the drive to Addison to a "hobbyists" computer parts store where I made my first purchase for the rig: an AMD CPU. It was a Thunderbird 1.1 GHz chip and I put that thing through its paces over the following couple of years. For RAM I went with 256 MB of either Corsair or Kingston (I can't honestly remember, now, it's been so long since then), which was a respectable amount of memory at the time. Hard drive was a Western Digital 40GB drive and I used a 17" Dell CRT monitor that was given to me by a dear friend at work. And, of course, the only operating system I could conceive of using at the time was Windows 2000 Professional, although a few months later I managed to get my hands on a pirated copy of Windows XP.

I'll never forget assembling and testing that computer from those parts. I was on Cloud 9 and I had such an amazing sense of accomplishment. I went on to later add a discrete graphics card and other small, incremental upgrades as necessary. That rig carried me through the "Golden Age" of gaming, as I often refer to it. Others may know it as the time of the Quake 3 engine's reign over the world of computer games. I played and mastered Quake II, Quake 3 Arena, Warcraft 3, Serious Sam 1 & 2, and Neverwinter Nights with the aid of that first "Frankenstein" rig. I also continued to push my knowledge of Windows XP system administration. In fact, I learned all I could about software and operating systems. Those were the good ol' days. Even though I look back on that period with great affection, they were definitely awkward, in a way. And, I was quite aware that an evolution must take place at some point. So, it seemed quite natural to me when, in late 2003 into early 2004, I began to look longingly at Linux. And thus began a new phase in my life as a computer geek, when I pushed myself to the next level again and began an insanely fun pursuit with a very specific purpose and goal in mind.

Check back next week for Part 2 of this ongoing series!