I have spent the greater part of this evening tinkering with a pretend computer that hasn’t existed for thirty years. That’s right – not even the real thing. I discovered a project some time ago on the internet called “Amibian”, that turns a Raspberry Pi into a Commodore Amiga – a computer that went out of production over twenty years ago, and out of favour a good few years before that.
I’m not sure if you might describe these late night tinkering escapades as “counter culture”, “anachic”, or “idiotic”. The knowledge I’m amassing about how the Amiga works is completely and utterly useless in the modern world. Nobody will ever use one again, and if you try to resurrect a real machine, you have to spend hours replacing capacitors on it’s motherboard. Given my spectacular skills with a soldering iron (read:none at all), that’s not going to be happening.
Here’s the odd thing though – old computers have become collectors items, and most of the software for them has entered the public domain. So you can either buy an old machine, or emulate it – and then download all the software that was ever made for it for free. Sure, some odd bits and pieces are owned by various rights holders, but the majority of it is free.
I have a memory card for the Pi that turns it into every console I’ve ever owned, and then some. At the flick of the switch it becomes a Nintendo, a Sega, or even a coin-operated arcade machine. It begs the question of why I bother keeping a collection of old machines in the attic. I could sell them all, because they have been replaced by one computer the size of a box of matches that cost a fifth the amount of any of the original systems. To prove the point, I took the Raspberry Pi to work last week, and after half an hour playing Mario Kart, Sonic, Excitebike, Zelda, Asteroids, Pacman, Phoenix, Galaxians, Gradius, and Defender, several of the developers started making plans to buy their own.
So what am I going to do with the pretend Amiga sitting quietly on the desk across the junk room from me? I really have no idea. I’ve installed a few programs on it, and played a few games – but beyond that, there’s really no reason for it to exist . I tried to talk myself into using it for writing earlier – a distraction free writing environment similar to that described by George R R Martin a few years ago (the author of Game of Thrones – he still writes in Wordstar on a DOS PC). I’m not sure. I suppose it might be a good idea – a computer that does one thing, instead of a thousand things. I know myself too well – if I can be playing music, checking the news, writing emails, blogging, and talking to far flung friends, I will always choose those activities over anything vaguely proactive.
So if I *do* vanish from the internet from time to time over the next however long, at least you’ll know where I am – very probably sitting in the junk room, typing away at a pretend computer that has no business existing thirty years after it’s time in the sun.