Disassemble, Dismantle

Box of Lego Pieces

Whether you want to call it dismantle or disassemble, I’ve spent the past two nights taking apart my Lego sets. As I did so, I thought about the past fifteen or so years of my life.

From 2012 to present, my Legos had been sitting on a bookshelf in my room, at my mom’s house. Prior to that, they spent a short time at our apartment before we moved here. From 2008, when I bought my first Lego sets as an adult (and as part of my shopping spree), most of them served as decoration and diversion at work. A Star Wars set that I received around 2000-2001 sat, assembled, in a plastic box under my bed. Lastly, there were some loose pieces from childhood that we had either brought with us when we first moved to the U.S., or had recovered from Granny’s house many years after.

All My Legos

At our old apartment – with the exception of Star Wars, all the Lego sets I acquired from 2008 on

When we moved to my mom’s house in 2012, I had thought about taking them apart, but was reluctant to do so. They had been a part of my life up until that point, and perhaps I was hoping to still be able to hold on to parts of the previous chapters. As I disassembled each set brick by brick, the chapters surfaced. The aforementioned shopping spree, then building the sets at work after hours. JC building the town hall on New Year’s Eve 2011. My cousin NLG and her family visiting my work, her kids playing with my Legos. Going to Hong Kong in both 2000 and 2001, and then the three years after when I stopped working. Even memories from childhood, from recognizing Lego pieces whose designs have remained unchanged in the nearly four decades that I’ve been alive.

Building the Town Hall

December 31, 2011 – JC building the town hall

Now, it is 2015 and we have once again moved to my mom’s house. What’s different this time versus three years ago that’s caused me to become OK with taking apart my Legos that have remained assembled for so many years? It could be that I’ve finally realized (or accepted) that the sets can be rebuilt. Maybe I had a hangup where I thought that the first build with new bricks is the cleanest (well, it is) and the tightest, and that it just wouldn’t be the same after taking it apart and rebuilding. Maybe after sitting on the shelf for two years without anyone touching them they’d gathered so much dust that they were no longer clean, so the hangup no longer applied.

I remember as a child, during one of my first sessions playing with Lego, my mother telling me that “Lego” stands for “Let’s go”, such that if a build doesn’t work out the first time you can take it apart and “Let’s go again!”. I don’t know if that’s what Lego really stands for, but it was something I thought about before starting. I’d forgotten one of the most basic things about Lego, which is that you can always start over. I made sure that I still had all the build plans so that I could “Let’s go again” if I ever wanted to in the future.

It could also be that I’m feeling weighed down. Fully assembled, my sets take up two shelves. As you can see above, they now take up a single filing box. As we near six months of living at our parents’ places, with no sign of anything changing in the near future, I feel like I want to slim down so that when the chance does arise, we can move swiftly.

Maybe I don’t want to have so much stuff, or to be responsible for so much stuff. I look at all the books I’ve never really read, all the games I’ve never really played, all the movies that I’ve never really watched, and I feel tired. As we get further into life, we acquire more and more things, telling ourselves that we will get to them, yet we never do. The basic model stays the same, nothing changes, yet we’re still standing in the store holding the product in hand, telling ourselves that somehow it will be different this time. I remember that near the end of my most recent job, six months ago, it was the same as it was near the end of the job before that: dead tired at the end of the day, having to choose between rest or recreation, sacrificing one for the other. Will things really be different this time?

As I said, I’ve been alive for nearly four decades. I’ve almost reached midlife, and I’m starting to feel the effects of reaching this stage. I imagine this is what everyone in their late 30s goes through, realizing that this is all there is, all the dreams from earlier years giving way to reality. We dream about having a place of our own where we can store all those Legos, all those games, have a fish room, have a garage with a lift so we can work on our Acura TSXs. But in order to achieve and then to sustain that, you’d have to spend the majority of your time working (unless you somehow got rich quickly). Would you have time to do all those things you want to do? I’ve already tried it, and the answer is no. Am I really so interested in those things anymore? Judging from my actions (or rather, inaction), the answer is also no. Maybe it’s time to dismantle and disassemble the dream.

Prying off each piece, I felt some sadness at taking apart things that had been intact for non-trivial amounts of time. The youngest set was four years old, others were at least seven years old, and the Star Wars set at least fourteen years old. At the same time, I felt some relief from being able to reclaim my shelf space, and from knowing that I could always rebuild the sets if I wanted to. I have the original plans, some of the sets have alternate plans, and there is always the option to not use any plans at all. It’s also therapeutic when one is able to overcome a fear and move forward.

And so it goes with the dream. It’s OK to take it apart, the pieces are still there, ready for me to arrange or re-arrange them into a new one.

In the end, I decided to keep the water truck intact. Something to play with on my desk, and maybe just a little something from the past to hang on to. As always, hope you’ve enjoyed this extra-commentary museum post. 🙂

Instruction Manual – Intra Color Monitor

I’ve made a lot of posts about my first computer, but I don’t think I’ve once mentioned my first monitor, which came with that computer. It was a 14-inch SVGA model, capable of displaying a maximum resolution of 1024×768, though at that time very few programs could make use of it. The 386’s video card was a Paradise with 256k RAM, and I think I somehow convinced my father to buy an extra 256k so that I could make full use of the monitor. The chips came in a plastic tube that you could tilt to slide them out. They weren’t cheap, either.

I don’t remember if the monitor was an interlaced or non-interlaced model. I just know that compared to the one at my aunt’s house, it was darker and the colors less lively, even on the brightest setting. The VGA cord was built into it as well.

Even googling the monitor doesn’t reveal anything at this point. If I ever find a photo of the monitor, I’ll post it here. For now, here’s the manual that I scanned during that big 2012 cleanup. As always, hope you’ve enjoyed this trip down memory lane.

Intra Color Monitor - Instruction Manual

Intra Color Monitor - Instruction Manual

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

Insert Floppy

3.5" Floppies

Insert next disk and press any key

Whenever I see photos of my old computer stuff from the 90s, I find myself feeling pangs of regret for getting rid of so much stuff back in 2012 when I decided to turn my life upside-down. And yet, if I hadn’t gone and taken these photos at that time, the stuff probably wouldn’t even show up in my thoughts, let alone my desktop slideshow. If I hadn’t thrown out my things, would I be comforted now knowing they are buried inside a box in my closet halfway across the world? At this moment the answer is yes, but I know that before 2012, I never would have asked this question in the first place. You know what they say: out of sight, out of mind.

Birds of a Feather

Birds

Following the flock – June 26, 2012

After a long day of cleaning my room and throwing shit out, I went up to the roof to relax a bit and enjoy the last vestiges of the day. That was just a little over two years ago. I had some fun following the birds with my camera. They flew with much speed from right to left, then left to right, over and over. I wonder what they were doing?

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!

Lately

Lately I’ve been going to bed before 11 and waking up at 5 every morning. The going-to-bed is by design, the waking up is not. I’ve been cutting back on the caffeine as well, so I don’t know why I just automatically wake up at 5 every morning.

I remember back in college we had a class in the spring that discussed how daylight savings affects our schedules. A simple one-hour shift can end up affecting you for months after the clocks change. I wonder if that’s what I’m going through now. Previously, I had been going to bed after midnight, and now I’ve shifted a couple of hours back.

The other peculiar thing is that it’s seemed like I’ve had a dream before every one of these early rises (well, maybe I shouldn’t call them rises, because I usually stay in bed and try to sleep a little more). This morning, I dreamt about our old board games, Monopoly and Scrabble. I was trying to find them but I had (and have) no idea what happened to them after we moved out in 2012. Here in Hong Kong, the only Monopoly available is a localized version. I still like the Atlantic City one the best.

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.

Gran Turismo 5 GT-R Spec V (2009)

When I first bought Gran Turismo 5, I went for the Collector’s Edition so that I could get the book that comes with it. At that time, I was well into the hands-on aspect of owning a car, and I wanted to learn as much as I could about them. In addition to the book, the game came with this scale model of a Nissan GT-R.

The model sat on my bookshelf for a year-and-a-half before we moved out in May of 2012. I never knew what to do with it, and ended up donating it to the Salvation Army.

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