Tell Me About Yourself

It was my third week on the job, a Wednesday. Up until this point, I had spent a week in training and two doing simple tasks like swapping keyboards and mice, learning the culture, and meeting various people. But on this day, which also happened to be an anniversary with my wife, I got my first major test, a desk swap.

On the surface, a desk swap sounds simple: unplug a bunch of cables, move the hardware, and connect them again. But these workstations were neither simple nor single; each desk had two machines connected with KVM switches; one had four heavy and thick (for LCDs) 21-inch monitors, the other had six. All the monitors were attached with heavy metal arms to rails on the desk. The traders had his or her preferences for which machine displayed on which monitor. These were also SBFI trading desks, which means that the cables are built into the desk, and that if they’re not properly labeled, it’s a trial-and-error process to figure out which cable is which. At the time I didn’t even know what a trading desk was, and I tried to pull out individual cables, which complicated things.

I was given fifteen minutes to do the job, starting at 18:45, with my scheduled off time at 19:00. Of course, knowing what I know now, fifteen minutes is not a realistic time in which to get the job done. Even at my peak, after I had mastered this job after a year, it would have taken at least thirty minutes, barring any unforeseen issues. This was a test from my manager. How would I handle it?

Of course, my manager did not know that it was my anniversary, and that I was planning to have dinner with my wife. We weren’t supposed to do overtime without pre-approval, either. With these looming over my head, I had extra desire to finish quickly, but it was my first time doing this and I couldn’t rush it. And it was the only window in which to get this done: the voice guys had already come and swapped the dealer boards, so there was no going back.

In my innocence, I thought it would be easiest to physically swap all the monitors. Considering the users’ preferences and that even identical model monitors can have variations in color and viewing angles, it seemed like the right thing to do. After all, in the small office environment where I had last worked, I’d do stuff like this all the time. I quickly learned that things were different in this environment.

First, as mentioned before, these motherfuckers were heavy. The monitors were 21-inch professional-grade NEC LCDs, three inches thick. The metal arms, then, had to be just as heavy duty in order to hold up these monitors to the rails. Second, the rails are situated at the back of the desk, furthest away from you. You have to lean forward and extend your arms while holding something that weighs like a couple of bowling balls, and you have to precisely guide the metal arms into the rails, then hold up the weight while you lock them down. And sometimes the locking levers were stripped so you had to manually position them a certain way or the whole thing would come crashing down, or you’d fuck up your fingers getting them caught in the rail. Seriously, I don’t think it was even physically possible for some of my skinnier coworkers to do this.

Third, on some monitors, the cable screws would be frozen in the holes, and no amount of twisting or even using a screwdriver could unfreeze them. This was a blessing in disguise for me though because this is how I learned that moving all the monitors didn’t make sense. In the end, I just moved the two over to the other desk and arranged both to match their originals.

Must have been the Hong Kong humidity
Must have been the Hong Kong humidity

All this time, I’m sweating profusely in my wool slacks, cotton undershirt, and button-down dress shirt, the standard uniform for this company’s IT staff, regardless of the physical demands of the job. On the third day of this job, three weeks prior, my 15-year-old pair of dress shoes gave out right in the middle of training, and I had to run down to the mall to get a new pair. Unfortunately for me, this was a luxury mall, and even the cheapest pair of shoes ran several hundred US dollars. If I was going to spend hundreds of dollars on shoes, I figured I’d at least get a pair that I thought looked good. Somehow, in the end, the shoes I bought cost nine hundred dollars, and I walked out of the store in a daze.

So here I am in my nine-hundred-dollar shoes, crawling and squatting underneath desks, pulling out wheeled trays with sharp metal edges on which 50-pound metal computer towers sat. These shoes were meant for going to a wedding, or a ball, or perhaps wearing to work by those whom I was moving these workstations for, not for physical activity. But I needed to bend my feet to get under the desk, and the leather was hard. Well, I had to do it, and when I finally sold the shoes on eBay last year the crease was still there.

See the crease? Sold for $170.

Now, it was 20:30, and with the workstations physically configured, it was time to test and make sure everything was where they were supposed to be. Fire up each workstation, confirm they are displaying on the correct monitors, confirm the KVM number matches, and confirm they can ping the Exchange server. Yes! Time to go, time to have a nice dinner with my wife, and time to worry about the true test tomorrow morning when the traders come in to work. Welcome to life in frontline IT support, investment-bank style.

Still Smiling
Still smiling after a hard day. Bon appetit!


Winbond chip on hard drive PCB

Just another random chip photo passing by on the slideshow. This was the PCB on my first multi-gigabyte hard drive, a 2-gig Seagate Medalist (ST32122A). If memory serves, it came with the Pentium 166 I acquired shortly after the start of my second semester in college (the good old 386 was no longer cutting it).

Googling the numbers on the chip reveal that this is a “high speed CMOS static RAM” chip, though I couldn’t find any further information as to what it was used for. Since it’s a CMOS chip (and there is a battery-looking thing on the PCB) I would guess that it stored drive parameters and that it was programmed at the factory. Most likely the different capacity drives in the same line shared the same PCB, and they just programmed this chip as appropriate. It could also be cache memory, but that guess is just a stab in the dark.

Update: Based on the Wikipedia entries for SRAM and CMOS, it looks like this was probably the cache.

8-Bit ISA 14.4 Modem

8-Bit ISA Modem
Oh 1.3 megapixel Sony CyberShot, I want to say I miss you…

The first modem I ever got was a 2400 baud. I can barely remember lines of text appearing one at a time, from left to right, when dialing into a BBS. Later on, my cousin’s friend’s wife (or maybe girlfriend) lent me her external 14,400 baud that connected via serial port, and it (either the modem or the fact that an older woman lent me her modem) was like the greatest thing since sliced bread.

I have a vague recollection of acquiring the modem above from Costco, or maybe Price Club. It was amazing to finally have my own. I can’t remember if it was an upgrade to a 2400 or 9600.

Googling the 1442F Rev A on the PCB reveals that this is a modem from Best Data, but at the same time I found another image with 1442F Rev A on the PCB that looks nothing like this one. I remember having the manual somewhere and it is indeed Best Data (and may have had a yellow-colored cover), and if I ever find it I’ll confirm. Until then, hope you’ve enjoyed this museum post!

Update: after making this post I googled around some more, and found a photo of the manuals included with the modem. The cover is indeed yellow! The other manual was for a program called Quicklink II. I would not have remembered using this program had I not seen the manual. In later years, I always used Telix. Good night!

Quantum Hard Drive PCB

Some chips and things from the PCB of an old Quantum ProDrive LPS hard drive. I believe this 420-megabyte drive came out of the $2,000 Compaq Presario that was our first upgrade from the 386. If I recall correctly, we had to RMA the drive and they gave us a 520-megabyte model. My teenage self was so happy to have an extra 100 megs for free. Alas, they realized their error and sent the tech to install a 420-megabyte replacement instead. As always, enjoy the museum!

Update: I mentioned this drive in the Hard Drive Nostalgia post. Funny how I once again used the price of the 486 to describe it.

Quantum Hard Drive PCB

Quantum Hard Drive PCB

Quantum Hard Drive PCB

Quantum Hard Drive PCB

ATI All-in-Wonder Radeon 8500

All-in-Wonder Radeon 8500

All-in-Wonder Radeon 8500

I remember coveting this card for a long time back around 2002, even taking advantage of a Circuit City/Amazon price mistake in an effort to procure it (the mistake was caught and the order cancelled). Obviously I was eventually able to procure it, but I no longer remember when or where. I can barely remember that this card was used in the family HTPC outputting via S-Video to a giant Sony WEGA TV, when quality-wise it actually mattered which card was used (it’s so much easier now with HDMI and VGA inputs on TVs). We might have used the TV tuner to record shows, too. It might have come with a purple breakout box that contained all the inputs and outputs.

For a while the card was kept outside of a system inside of a box somewhere. When testing it one time I tried to slow down the fan with my finger and broke it, getting cut in the process. I finally got rid of it as part of moving/downsizing in 2012.

Further reading: All-in-Wonder on Wikipedia

LG GCE-8160B CD-R/RW Drive

LG GCE-8160B - Face

On Monday I posted about my very first CD burner; today I’m going to post my all-time favorite CD burner, the LG GCE-8160B.

I remember buying this burner from a computer show in downtown Oakland. In the previous post, I mentioned sourcing parts from vendors advertising in the old computer magazines MicroTimes and Computer Currents. The other way of sourcing parts back in those days was to go to local computer shows. Before NewEgg and Amazon, this is how I bought computer parts.

Receipt - Front
Bought on September 8, 2001 for $123.

The LG was a retail version, meaning it came with actual packaging and an assortment of manuals and accessories (vs. OEM versions which usually just come with the drive wrapped in a plastic bag). I remember this drive coming with one LG-branded CD-RW and one CD-R. In later years, I used the CD-RW for music CDs in our family car (for some reason, it would only play CD-RWs, not CD-Rs).

So, why is this burner my favorite of all time, and how can a person actually have a favorite CD burner? I suppose one reason is that I probably used this burner the most. I think out of all the optical drives that I’ve ever had, I had this one the longest. Physically, the drive was very solid. While some cheaper drives sound like they they will fall apart when the drive tray closes and the disc spins up, the LG tray closed with a solid thunk. Drive access was relatively hushed compared to the high-pitched whine of cheaper drives (I suppose it’s like the debate over how American, German, and Japanese car doors sound when they close). If I remember correctly, this was the first drive that I had that had buffer underrun protection, which meant no more coasters. At 16x, it burned fast, too. Finally, and cosmetically, the face used a smoother plastic that was less grainy and textured than on some other drives. It featured a simple yet elegant printing of the specs and logos and a nice curvature to the tray door (as opposed to a plain old rectangle).

With the advent of DVD burning as well as the transition to black cases, I finally moved on and installed an NEC DVD burner. The LG had served me well for many years and I didn’t want to toss it, so I relegated it to an older system that I left at home and would use when I visited. Still, I probably never used it to burn a CD again. When I moved home in 2012, I consolidated my hardware and finally disposed of this venerable drive, but again not doing so until I had taken a few pictures for the museum. RIP, old friend!

Sony CDU-926S SCSI CD Burner (1997)

Sony CDU926S CD Burner - Face

Today’s museum post is of my first-ever CD burner, bought in the summer of 1997. That summer, I started my first summer job at a credit card company in downtown San Francisco doing temp work. Once I had earned enough money, I used it to buy the burner and the required SCSI card.

The web was still in its infancy back then so the main way computer shops (and there were a lot more of them, especially mom and pop ones) advertised was through free magazines. In the Bay Area, the main two were MicroTimes and Computer Currents. I found a place that sold the burner and card, and called them from the lunch room at work to confirm the price (~$500) and make the order.

Sony CDU926S CD Burner - Rear
I think those red things are the terminators…

It was my first time using a SCSI device and I was a bit nervous about setting up the correct termination and whether the terminators would be included. In the end, everything worked and I burned my first CD.

It was also my first time using a CD caddy. I kept the same caddy for the life of the burner. You can see the crack in the pictures.

CD Caddy - Top
You had to put the CD in the caddy first…

For a little while after, before CD burners became mainstream, I became the main source of custom CDs for my family and friends. I’d charge them $5 for the CD-R and the labor involved in ripping and compiling the CD. Good times.

I’ve mentioned before about keeping my hardware in hopes of someday rebuilding those systems of yesteryear, but sadly, it never happened and I eventually threw out the burner. Of course, I took these photos beforehand.

As always, I hope you’ve enjoyed this museum post. 🙂

80386 Controller Cards

Today’s museum post features a couple of controller cards from my old 386. The first is an I/O controller card that provided the computer’s parallel and serial ports. Our computer came with a dot-matrix printer that connected to the parallel port, and the mouse connected to the 9-pin serial port known as COM-1. Later on, I acquired a gamepad that connected to the game port (although I don’t remember if I connected it to this card or the one on the Sound Blaster).

Parallel and Serial Card (ISA)

If you look closely at the photo above, you might notice the 1980s-logo of a now-ubiquitous brand. That’s right, those chips with the 3-star logos on them are Samsung chips (Samsung means “3 stars” in Korean).

The second card is the drive controller card. Unlike the motherboards of today, the drive and I/O controllers were on separate cards. This card supported the 5.25-inch and 3.5-inch floppy drives and the 40 megabyte Maxtor drive in the beginning, and had room for one more drive later on, the Conner CP3000 that doubled the 386’s storage space.

Hedaka Drive Controller

Similarly, this card contains chips from a Korean company called GoldStar. Of course, today we know it as LG. I wonder if the manufacturing of these chips influenced any of the technology in the phones that we hold in our hands today. Quite fascinating to think about.

This site contains some additional information about the drive controller.

Lastly, it’s interesting to note that both of these cards are labeled as made in Hong Kong. I doubt any cards are made in Hong Kong today.

Maxtor 8051a 40-Meg Hard Drive

The last time I posted about my old hard drives, I mentioned the first one I ever owned, a Maxtor 8051a. Three days later, I took it apart. Tonight, a photo of it showed up in my desktop slideshow.

Maxtor 8051a Hard Drive
The intact drive

From the photo above you can see just how physically large the drive was (the little white plastic piece on the bottom left is the Molex connector). This behemoth could only hold 40 megabytes! My little slim smartphone, in comparison, has 400 times the storage capacity. Amazing.

Compared with modern drives, this drive was still using Phillips-head screws so it was relatively easy to take apart. If I had taken it to the data shredder, they would have pierced a hole in the spindle, and I couldn’t bear for that to happen. No, if my trusty old drive was to die, it was to die by my own hand. The first step was removing the cover and insulating O-ring:

Maxtor 8051a Cover Off

At this point I wondered what would happen if I attempted to power it up.

It’s good to hear those sounds again. They were always the first and last sounds I heard upon powering up and down my old 386. I will always associate the two. That was the last time the drive ever powered up. It’s not in the edited video I uploaded, but later in the unedited version I said “Goodbye, old friend”. How strange it is that we can develop affection for a piece of machinery.

Next, I removed the platters. I decided to keep them and stick them on my wall. My old school papers are probably still magnetically stored on the platters, on my wall.

Maxtor 8051a Read/Write Heads
The heads and actuator after platters have been removed
Maxtor 8051a Spindle
The spindle after the platters have been removed

I suppose I could have removed the PCB first, but instead I removed it after I removed the platters:

Maxtor 8051a PCB

On the PCB you can see 20+ years of dust formed around the motor. The motor was made in Japan by Nidec.

Maxtor 8051a Nidec Motor

I could have gone further but the entire process was too emotionally draining. In the end, I just removed all the main parts. I hope you’ve enjoyed this museum post. 🙂

Maxtor 8051a Parts
Goodbye, old friend