September and the inner demons of detritus

This CD, as I begin to write these words today, is exactly 20 years old.

It’s never been played. It’s a virgin.

What is the Quadrumatrix? A 20-year-old CD-R, that's what!

What happened?

I found the CD during a recent archaeological dig in the basement. It wanted to be found because, just a few days prior, a colleague had given a presentation about techno music, complete with a live demo of his mixing skills. While none of the gear and tools he showcased were entirely unfamiliar to me, it did get me to wax nostalgic about the crudeness of the tools and methods we used to create our own series of mixing projects back in the day – and we didn’t use turntables or CDJs either. We relied on audio files while my colleague mixed tracks live via his Spotify account. He publishes his mixes on YouTube, we distributed ours via CD-R. Does anyone even use those things anymore?

I’m starting to feel old. Things have changed.

This particular CD was the runt of the litter. It’s that extra disc (four, actually) with the cracked case that never found a customer.  It’s that disc I wanted to gift to someone or slip in somewhere when I got rid of a larger batch. I remember the project as clearly as if it was just 20 days ago. How could the last two decades have flown by so quickly? I shudder to realise that in another 20 years’ time I’ll be as old as my father when he died.

And so the CD continues to hang around. Contrary to expectations it still plays!

There are many others like it in the basement: CDs that have never been listened to by me (or anyone else), DVDs of movies I have yet to watch (or see again), and documents to be scanned. There’s material for art ideas that have yet to be realised and tech that’s getting more vintage with each passing year it waits to be rediscovered.

The issue with dated media and technical matter became more palpable when I realised that yet another birthday was looming. Every year is getting shorter, I never seem to find the time (and all those other Floydianisms permeated by the clichéd stench of a mid-life crisis). Why am I even bothering with this stuff? Wake me up when September ends!

There be many monsters hiding in the dungeon.

I’ve butchered my fair share of dead and obsolete computers, collecting and hoarding cables, drives, brackets and other components — only to throw them out again after a few years because technology leapfrogged on while I wasn’t paying attention.

More laplink cables, PS/2 adapters, beige bay covers and ribbon cables than anyone needs!

I needed to jettison ballast.

Beyond throwing out a load of stuff that isn’t worth putting up for sale I also repaired a tape deck I was given over eight years ago. I knew I wouldn’t be keeping it but fixed it nonetheless simply because my inner demons demanded that something be done with it. The deck exists. It is here for a reason and suffers the same existential crisis as “Bomb 20” in John Carpenter’s movie Dark Star. Its destiny had to be fulfilled… I couldn’t just ignore it or throw it out.

This may explain why I was holed up in the basement for much of the last two months, clearing out detritus that nobody but me cares about. How did I get here? Is this where I wanted to be when I grow up?

Wouldn’t one be better off being in the here and now with the ones who love you?

This one goes out to the ones I love!

In fact, I had a long string of wise words and profound shower thoughts about the passage of time and the meaning of life lined up for this post but, alas, they got lost.

…because more shit was about to happen. And we had a short holiday trip coming up.

The first day of vacation started off like any other Saturday: wake up, take a leak, make coffee, sit down to read email.

Except… I couldn’t. My desktop machine had died overnight. Just like that. No warning.

This was not the downtime I had in mind for my holiday. Whilst we took our three furry monsters to the beach, the demon of lost data waited for me at home.

After ruling out the usual suspects I concluded that the motherboard had failed. I can’t remember when that last happened but figured this was as good a time as any to upgrade my 8-year-old machine. Has it really been that long? When you operate more computers than may be healthy for your own sanity you can easily lose track of their vintage.

Upgrade options were many, and it was then that I realised how desktop computers have all but been replaced by laptops (or mini-PCs). Those that remain fall into the categories of stodgy “office desktops” or “gaming PCs” in a bewildering array of illuminated designs.

Cool but absurd gaming PC case design (image via Amazon)

Since my requirements are somewhere in between, I ultimately ended up buying two refurbished Dell Precision workstations and outfitted them with a range of new (as well as a few of the existing) components. My days of constantly tinkering under the hood of my main computer are over; the benefits of 3.2GHz vs. 3.5GHz are far less significant than the difference between a 286 chugging along at 16MHz vs. one clocking in at 20MHz. I expect stuff to work, and it must do so reliably. I’m getting too old for this shit.

My keyboard, in fact, still has a (grey) PS/2 connector, and it’s the best I’ve ever owned. During the latest cleaning I noticed that it recently celebrated its 30th birthday!

This called for a return into the depths of the dungeon where I dug out another assortment of spare parts I will never use. What flew out this time was several video cards, a bunch of PSUs without SATA connectors and, most pertinently, a stash of PATA drives! Modern motherboards only support SATA and/or NVMe – no more ATA/IDE connectors, no more ribbon cables! Layouts have changed.

Demons from the days of 40-pin ribbon cables and "Molex" connectors

The mission, specifically, was to fit every last ATA/IDE device I had left into two old spare machines that I’ve now put up for sale. To be honest, it was kinda fun to get my hands dirty again by spinning up old devices and exercising these 7200 RPM speed demons.

Other demons to be exorcised remain. When I grow up I’ll be stable.

We now resume our regular programming schedule.

All photos by unless noted otherwise.

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