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Where to buy vintage computers

Collecting vintage computers can be fun. I also personally think it’s great that people are interested in preserving that history. Where to buy vintage computers hasn’t changed much over the years. It just may take a bit more work than it used to.

Some people think old computers are priceless. Others think they’re worthless. I don’t recommend wasting your time with people who think a Dell Pentium III laptop is worth $300. Think of the times you found a jewel for five bucks and keep moving.

Read More »Where to buy vintage computers

Gary Kildall’s death investigation

Gary Kildall’s death investigation, or the seeming lack thereof, has taken on mythical proportions. Gary Kildall’s story seems to have that effect on people.

While Gary Kildall died under unclear circumstances, his death was less unusual than early accounts made it seem. That’s why the investigation seemed to fizzle out with less fanfare than it deserved.

Read More »Gary Kildall’s death investigation

My greatest estate find

If you’ve been reading this blog for a few years, you know I kind of like trains. But my favorite way to buy them isn’t to buy them at a train store. I like to buy them from estates.

One week, I spotted a few late-production Marx 6-inch cars and a plastic locomotive in an estate ad. I tallied up $30 worth of trains in the picture, and figured I’d be lucky if they asked $60 for it. But I decided to take another look at the picture,  just in case.

This wasn’t an ordinary train.Read More »My greatest estate find

I don’t think this basement layout abandoned since 1967 is necessarily a tragedy

A query appeared on one of the train forums and has slowly spread through several discussion groups I’m aware of, regarding a 2-rail O scale train layout, built by a hobbyist in the 1950s and 1960s, who died in 1967. The layout sat for 45 years, and now someone has approached a couple of hobbyists about possibly liquidating it.

Of course, lots of armchair pundits have their own ideas about what should have happened to that layout in 1967, when the builder died.

Read More »I don’t think this basement layout abandoned since 1967 is necessarily a tragedy

The LCMS won’t be able to work out its differences in the dark

I wish I had a nickel for every time I heard a journalism professor say, “Don’t ever do something you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of the New York Times.”

It’s worse today. In the 1990s, the news cycle was hours long. Today, with three major cable news channels and the Internet, the news cycle is minutes long, and marching toward real-time.

That’s the problem with Dr. Matthew Harrison’s hope, reported in the Post-Dispatch, to handle the LCMS’s Sandy Hook Vigil controversy “[Internally,] well out of the public spotlight.”
Read More »The LCMS won’t be able to work out its differences in the dark

And then there were three

I see reports today that Samsung is looking to sell its hard drive business. Samsung is one of four companies left that manufacture computer hard drives, the others being Seagate, Western Digital, and Toshiba.

Hard drives aren’t a growth market any more, so the most likely suitors are one of the remaining three. Since Western Digital just bought Hitachi’s drive business, it probably won’t be them. They may not have the cashflow, and they probably don’t want the regulatory scrutiny that would go along with two acquisitions in rapid succession that make them suddenly nearly twice the size of Seagate. It’s more likely to be Seagate or Toshiba. I’d expect Seagate.
Read More »And then there were three

Meet Melvin.

I have a new un-friend now. His name is Melvin.

Thanks to Melvin, I can almost add library sales to places I’ve been kicked out of. It’s a short list, but it includes the library, church, Best Buy, and substitute teacher Rick Hannebutt’s seventh grade theology class.It began innocently enough. My wife and I arrived early. We were 10th in line. The problem was that within about half an hour, we were 15th in line. For example, one guy came in, asked where the end of the line was, and then walked up and took a spot two or three places in line ahead of us. He wasn’t the only one who did it, but he was the closest one.

The guy behind me said something to him. They had a brief exchange, then the guy who cut in line apologized, got in his car, and left.

It was stupid, because if he’d gone to his proper place in line, he would have only been five or six places back. There’s not much difference between being the 10th person in and being the 15th.

Then Melvin came staggering out of Applebee’s. He walked over to his black Chevy Celebrity (very much like the one my driver’s ed instructor drove, back in 1990), got out his bag, and then went to the front of the line and talked to the people standing up there. Nobody up there let him in, so he settled back, two places ahead of my wife and I.

Melvin seems to go to all the places I go, and he’s elbowed in front of me (or tried to) twice in the last two weeks. Furthermore, I saw him steal from an estate sale. It takes a special kind of scumbag to steal from an estate sale–the deceased’s survivors could be relying on the proceeds from that sale to pay for the funeral, for all we know.

Needless to say, I’m pretty tired of Melvin.

"Sir, I think you got here after we did," I said.

"You’re wrong, Junior. I got here two and a half hours ago, then I walked over there to have a couple of drinks. You can ask anyone here. Now why don’t we step over here into the parking lot and we’ll settle this. You’re messing with the wrong guy," Melvin said.

"If you take a swing at me, I’ll call the police. And keep in mind I do have your license plate number."

"If you call the police, I’ll call my lawyer and he’ll be over here so fast, and I’ll be sure to get your number too–"

I wonder what it says about Melvin that he has his lawyer on speed dial?

Just then, one of the people running the sale walked past.

"Ma’am, this guy is threatening me."

"Actually," I said, "He’s trying to start a fistfight and I don’t want a fistfight. I don’t want any trouble here."

She took my admission money and gave me the don’t-give-us-any-trouble look. I nodded and thanked her. She told me she’d keep an eye on him.

The guy standing behind me told me he’d heard people at a sale last week talking about Melvin too.

Melvin went up to the front of the line and started ranting at the people up there about me. They kept looking back my direction with confused looks on their faces.

None of the people up there are people I know well, but I see them often enough that I don’t want trouble with them. Melvin came back, took his place in line, and tried to burn holes through my skull with the laser death rays in his eyes.

For a few seconds I stared back, then I decided that was stupid. I tried to egg him on a bit. I looked back behind me, tried to look confused, looked back at him, and mouthed, "There’s nothing back there."

Well, the other people in line thought it was funny. That was probably too far over the top though.

Once I was pretty certain Melvin was going to stay put, I walked up to the front of the line.

"Hey, I don’t know what he told you, but he tried to get me out in the parking lot and start a fistfight. I just want you to know I didn’t threaten him. I’m not that way," I said.

They nodded. "So we’re cool?" I asked. They nodded again. I smiled, thanked them, and took my place in line.

Melvin continued his gaze of death. I turned around and made smalltalk with the guy behind me. He cracked a few jokes about drunks.

Finally we got to go inside. I watched my back pretty much the whole time. You can’t trust a drunk guy with his lawyer on speed dial, after all. Wherever Melvin was, I stayed away.

Finally, he walked up to the counter. I heard him say he had 10 record albums. I was standing a good 15 feet away with a big crowd in the room, so I guess a lot of people know he had 10 record albums. I breathed a sigh of relief when he left.

My wife asked if I found something I wanted. I told her I got what I wanted the most.

"What was that?" one of the people running the sale asked. "Anything good?"

"My fistfight buddy left," I said.

"Is that a CD or a book?" she asked. "I’ve never heard of that."

"Oh, it’s not a thing. The guy who tried to start a fistfight with me in the parking lot left."

"That was YOU?" she asked.

Yeah, I’m pretty harmless. I’m usually fairly polite too. But I guess the word was out about me now, even if the people who knew the story couldn’t place my face with it.

A few minutes later, I ran into one of my acquaintances from the front of the line. "You know Melvin’s gone now," he whispered.

I nodded.

"What happened?"

"He challenged me to a fight, and I said if he took a swing at me I’d call the police," I said.

"Ah, so that’s why he brought up the police. Nothing wrong with that. You have to protect yourself."

He told me a little more about Melvin, that he tends to be paranoid and he’d been drinking. When he’s sober he’s harmless, he said. He laughed when I told him Melvin told me he’d been drinking.

"In the morning he probably won’t remember any of it," he said. And he told me I’d handled the situation pretty well.

We’ll see how much Melvin remembers. I’ll see him again, I know. But I’m pretty sure the people who run the sales we both end up frequenting like me better than him. I don’t pick fights, and I buy a lot more stuff.

And they know it.

And now, since I know I’ll get asked about it, here’s the story behind the places I actually have managed to get kicked out of.

The library: It was closing.

Church: It was closing too. Yep, both of them sound a lot more interesting than reality.

Best Buy: I uttered a couple of colorful words when they wouldn’t honor the extended warranty I’d bought. The manager and customer abuse rep asked me to leave. I went to a different location and got my stereo exchanged under warranty there.

Substitute teacher Rick Hannebutt’s seventh grade theology class: He never liked me because I wasn’t a Cardinals fan. I didn’t like him much either. The kid sitting next to me hit me with a dusty mitten. I pushed his arm away and told him to quit.

"Davit," Hannebutt bellowed, "You may leave now."

I was really mad then. Twenty years later, I don’t know why. I don’t think anyone in that room wanted to be there, and I was the one who got to leave.

I think Melvin makes for the better story.

Incidentally, Melvin isn’t his real name. I would never mention someone who has his lawyer on speed dial by his real name.

It’s pretty close though. His real name is the same as that little Martian from Looney Tunes.

Houston is Microsoft’s problem: Alternatives to Microsoft Office

Houston had a problem. Now it’s Microsoft’s problem.
You see, Microsoft threatened Houston with the same threat they’ve been rattling around a lot of other places. Sign a multi-million-dollar, automatic-upgrade deal for Office and other Microsoft software, or face an audit. When you’re the only game in town and you suspect people have played fast and loose with your licensing agreement, you can afford to do that.

Except the Texans stared the bully down. When Microsoft said Houston needed to cough up some bucks for office software, Houston said fine, they’d buy it from someone else.

And now that Houston is using SimDesk instead of Microsoft Office, it’s making headlines.

The city of Largo, Florida, which runs itself on a thin-client environment based on Linux and KDE, is a PR coup for Linux. But Houston is the fourth-largest city in the United States. And this is turning into a PR nightmare for Microsoft–now Chicago, the third-most populous city, is also looking at SimDesk.

For less than half the money, the cities get ease of use, cross-platform compatibility, centralized offsite file storage, and longer hardware life. SimDesk stands to save Houston far more than the $7 million on paper.

But SimDesk isn’t the only other game in town. WordPerfect is still hanging on, one of the few survivors of the era when there were a dozen or more word processors, spreadsheets, and databases available for the PC. It’s still solid and capable today, and it’s a good choice if you’re looking to go a fairly traditional route. StarOffice is cheaper but still capable. The 602Suite (a.k.a. 602office) is either free or inexpensive, depending on the feature set you want.

Unfortunately, the highly regarded Gobe Productive is off the market, and efforts to raise the money to purchase the source code for the purpose of releasing it as GPL appear to have quietly failed. The good news is that the declination seem to indicate Gobe expects to have some kind of future.

If you want free, go with OpenOffice, which is StarOffice’s free, open-source twin brother. And if you’re willing to dith Office and Windows, you can run KDE and KOffice, or a variety of Gnome productivity apps, such as Evolution, AbiWord, and Gnumeric.

Most of the alternatives don’t offer all the functionality that Office includes, but few people use more than about 20% of Office’s functionality anyway. The alternatives have all of the essentials down.

The main thing tying most companies and organizations to Microsoft Office file format compatibility. An obscure piece of software called ConversionsPlus takes care of that problem. I’ve used ConversionsPlus to convert literally hundreds of files at a time to and from Microsoft Office format, and the process only takes a few minutes.

What are you gonna do with your life?

I heard the most amazing story yesterday. On Aug. 13, 1993, singer/songwriter Don Wharton was on board a twin-engine plane flying from Russia to Alaska when the plane ran out of fuel and landed in the Bering Sea, 27 miles from Nome, Alaska. Floating on an empty five-gallon gas can, he survived in 36-degree waters for 55 minutes. The other six on board the plane survived as well, lasting anywhere from 35 to 70 minutes in those waters until they were rescued.
The human body can only survive 10-15 minutes at that temperature. Up to that point, no one else had ever survived a plane crash in the Bering Sea.

Wharton said they stayed in contact with each other and encouraged each other by shouting memorized Bible verses to one another.

“This is… STILL the day the Lord has made. We will… STILL rejoice and… STILL be glad in it!” one of them shouted.

Wharton paused in his delivery. He said he wasn’t sure he was as enthusiastic about rejoicing at that particular moment as the guy who’d said it.

“Let me describe going down,” Wharton said. “Your life, up to that point, is IT. That’s all you’ve done. You’ll do nothing more.”

I don’t know what he said after that because I was still thinking about that. How do you know when you’ve accomplished enough? You don’t, really. And you’re never completely satisfied, but I got to wondering if I could be more satisfied. That answer, of course, was yes.

I’d heard Wharton’s story before, second- and third-hand, but here was one of the seven survivors, in the flesh, talking about it. And, yes, I’ll admit, at one point in his message I felt tears well up. He’s the second person who’s made that happen to me in two weeks. And, being male, I can’t say I’m particularly happy about that, but he made me think a lot so I’ll let it slide.

And being in my mid-twenties, which is an introspective time anyway even without some guy standing in the front of the room asking probing questions, I’m wondering if a change of direction isn’t on the horizon.

And on a slightly lighter note… If things weren’t already complicated enough, I think I’m in love on top of all this. No, this is only indirectly related to Wendy, the girl I spent three hours talking with after church a couple of weeks ago. Nothing against her, of course. I’ve had a number of long conversations with her after the end of a very long day, and it’s been great. She’s said a couple of the nicest things anyone’s ever said to me (which takes some doing), and she’s said the same of me.

Now she’s left town for the next week and a half, and I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to her, and that bothers me some because I really wanted to. I also didn’t get to tell her I really hope she has a great time.

Is that love? Well, it’s certainly fondness, which is a type of love I suppose. But I met her seven months ago. We started talking beyond superficial how-you-doings about a month ago. That’s enough time to wish, but not enough time to know. A month isn’t enough time to get past the things you’ve fabricated about a person and really know the person she really is.

So, Dave says he’s in love, he just described the thrill of the chase in a really weird way, and he claims that has nothing to do with it. What gives?

A book, that’s what. Last week, Jim Cooley wrote me raving about The Brothers K, by David James Duncan. He described it as a book about God, baseball, and love. Then he said he reads me every day, so he feels pretty safe in saying I’ll love it. I got to thinking. God, baseball, and love. What else is there? He provided a link on Amazon, so I clicked it. Aside from being a book about everything that matters, the reader reviews claimed the book was funny on top of it! How can a book about baseball and religion be funny? I wondered about that. Then I went for a drive. I didn’t want to wait for Amazon or anyone else to deliver it to me. I hunted down a copy that night and bought it.

And what can I say? It’s a story about baseball. It’s a story about heartbreak–a fantabulous pitcher injures himself in a freak accident and that’s the end of his career. He starts drinking. It’s a story about God–his wife is a devout Seventh-Day Adventist, and his kids are mostly very confused Seventh-Day Adventists. His eldest has a crush on his Sabbath School (Adventists don’t worship on Sundays) teacher. And the girl he describes, aside from eye color, sounds so much like Wendy. And the butterflies he describes are so familiar… That part of the story makes me glad to be 26 and not 13.

I guess what makes the book funny is the perspective from which it’s told. Women might find the book enlightening (it seems to be as much about growing up as anything else, and it includes the details guys usually don’t include when they’re talking about their own adolescence), but to me, this seems to be a guy book. So many of my old fears are right in there, and the way the characters handle those fears hits home in such a way that I can’t help laughing.

I didn’t think I could possibly love any book as much as I loved The Great Gatsby, but this one stands a chance. And this book, like Gatsby, has me asking a question. Why don’t I even try to write fiction anymore?