here's an opinion i've had about retrocomputing / nerd culture for a long long time
the overwhelming majority of "cool" computers that everyone "wishes they had" were created to perform dreadfully boring tasks, by people who wished they were anywhere else, in the service of people who did a ton of coke and left our economy a smoking husk that can't support life
you do not want a cray-1. all they are is calc.exe but very fast and you can't even touch the buttons, you have to write a program that touches them. the purpose of a 'supercomputer' is to sit humming for 24 days and then produce a single integer, or 25 million integers
SGIs are notionally cool computers but if you actually go the distance to get one and get it running, the only thing you can really run on it is like 3 different 3D packages that are worse versions of stuff you can just run on your computer.
It'd be different if they were incredibly wacky unique interfaces but the thing is, in 1992, everyone kinda knew where computers were going and the "amazing" machines were just ones that already had what was coming down the pipe a couple years later.
So you get it all set up and it's... well, it's a Pentium 3 Dell with a Voodoo 3, you know? It does what that machine could do, and you have to remind yourself "this shouldn't have been possible in 1992"
The SGI software was largely just software you could have on the Mac but much faster. More triangles per second, otherwise not really all that different. Windows, icons, menus and pointers.
And of course, as I have remarked many times before, the OS is just unix, which might as well just be linux. ls. cat. yawn
This is why I got really hype about PC software, because the PC is almost the only place where you find really interesting, experimental stuff. People just totally wilding out, doing utterly unique shit
Oh sure, maybe there was some wacky data capture card that takes up 5 slots made for a Sun machine, but you don't have it and you can't afford one, because they made 20, and then once you do have it, what are you gonna do with it other than look at it and feel cool?
For the PC you can buy a 1984 ISA card on ebay for $20 that captures video at CGA resolution and that is AMAZING because A) you can actually have it, B) it isn't 20 pounds of equipment and C) it has a comprehendable human history
I look at that capture card and i think "oh damn this is how people took screenshots of programs for magazines" and to me that is so much more human and accessible than "a corporation paid $15,000,000 to have this thing find out how many widgets they should make next year"
I'm not saying that you can't find those cool or that they aren't in any way cool, just that I am personally over them. Like, I spent some time reading about them and stuff but once I got to see them up close, I moved on.
And like, you don't need to spend eons pining for them just because they're the go-to for "if you see this at a thrift store snap it up immediately." Sure, I guess, do that, but don't think that it's going to be life altering. It was cool to me for a couple hours.
the funny thing is that "mainframes" are in fact interesting but in a way that does not seem remotely as "zoom zoom YEAH CYBERSPACE" as i think the general culture implies; like weird concepts of how computing and the concept of "applications" should work, or wild groupware
like, you are not going to sit down at a huge VAX cluster and do some movie hacker shit, but you might find that it has some very novel ideas about how the 2200 employees of a bank should communicate
it'll take you like 36 hours to figure out how to navigate some companys AS/400 terminal system but once you do, and learn how it's working behind the scenes, it may give you some very unique visions of where we could be right now if not for the IBM PC
(* and UNIX)
UNIX killed centralized computing research; the IBM PC killed centralized computing. if either of those things hadn't happened, the landscape would be completely different.
i never stop thinking about how the detestable VT100 and similar character cell interfaces won out over e.g. field based interfaces and how much better everything could have been
IBM had terminals that knew where the text entry points on the screen were and could navigate and edit them without sending anything over the wire and i have been so grouchy about us getting VT goddamn 100 ever since i learned that
you're either gonna read this or not so I'll just keep it simple: i am not saying "don't have fun" or "the thing you like is bad," I am saying "ask yourself why you think this thing is cool because you might have been misled"
some people really dig these things and that's great. lots of people don't really know what they are and just have vague notions that they're "super cool"

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