READY. An ode to a garage queen

Jul 25, 17 • 5enses, Two-bit ColumnNo Comments

The author and his dog, Monroe. Courtesy photo.

By Justin Agrell

Many people will be familiar with the term garage queen. It refers to an object (generally a vehicle) that sits in someone’s garage and is kept in excellent shape, hardly ever used in order to avoid the wear and tear. A garage queen must be loved to exist but many consider it wrong to not use a machine regularly and instead pamper it and admire its very existence. I myself am victim to such attachment and have a machine that is very dear to me.

Near my workbench, next to several old boxes of 5-and-a-quarter inch floppy disks, is my beloved Commodore SX-64 Executive. She was released in 1984 and runs at 1 megahertz. Packing the 64 thousand bytes of memory that made the Commodore platform famous there are limitations to be sure but there are also bucket loads of potential. There is no hard drive and unlike the normal Commodore 64 units of the eighties this unit was a “luggable” that took the shape of a briefcase. It had a small 5 inch color screen and a small speaker built right into the frame.

Justin Agrell’s beloved Commodore SX-64 Executive.

But that is not all that makes it special. More than its name or history these old systems represent to me a time when computers were built for people who were excited about computers. Much like the cars and motorcycles of days past, there is something special about a machine that doesn’t cater to you completely and expects you to want to learn what it is capable of and how it works. There is no pre-loaded software. No flashy splash screens with fancy logos or sound effects. When you flip the rear power switch there is just a blue screen with a prompt saying “READY.” This prompt is a BASIC interpreter. BASIC is a programming language that once you learn the syntax is how you tell the computer what you want it to do.

Unlike so many modern systems, this computer came with a book. This book is simple to get started with and written very clearly. Just using what was provided with the machine when you bought it you can solve complex math and logic problems and even create 2D graphics and sound. The simplicity of this system meant that you could scribble your simple application on a piece of scrap paper and give it to your friend and they just typed it in to the Commodore when they got home to use it. No disks necessary.

In this modern time, I grow weary of the soulless selection of systems provided to us at stores. The entire lineup seems to only care about cloud storage options and who can get you connected to your social media website the fastest. To me computers are more than just gateways to the internet but a tool very capable of helping those willing to help themselves online and offline. We now are stuck in a cycle of shopping for who can provide us with the solution to our problems when it used to be that computers were the solution to our problems. We could go to the local store and pick one up. It came with a manual. It showed us what programming we had to do to make a custom fit solution to our problems. We did not need monthly subscription suits of applications or the cloud. We didn’t hire programmers since we were the programmers.

When affordable computers first appeared they cleared out the finger-straining typewriters and dusty filing cabinets. They represented simple solutions to many of the common annoyances of the day and they certainly were not the crypto-virus infected, good-for-only-two-years, forever-updating systems we are so familiar with today. 

“Hello 5enses!” BASIC and photo by Justin Agrell.

So, after a long day of work watching the companies I support spend thousands a month on solutions they don’t need because they refuse the alternatives, I like to take out the old Commodore Executive and switch her on. I let the blue light fill my eyes and I am reminded of a simpler design. I’ve got floppy disks with some favorite games to lose myself in or I may even try my hand at writing a program myself. Everything I need is right there at my fingertips.

*****

Justin Agrell has been a certified IT technician since 2005. He loves Linux, adventure motorcycling, and computer gaming. To get in touch just email him at Justin@U4E.US.

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