Monday, March 26, 2012

The Mighty Amiga 500

I clearly remember this exact moment, with mum taking the photo.

It's marked in the photo album, "FEB 1989".

L-R  Evan, Eric, Oop, Murray (me)
(with Rod in the centre, holding The Melbourne Trading Post)

"Conning Dad re AMIGA" in mum's writing

There was a palpable tension in the room.  Everyone was tuned in with dad.  

We all knew it was a bit of a farse we were playing in.  Dad just wanted a hair tickle.  But we STILL knew, we couldn't afford to put a foot wrong if we wanted to seal this deal.  

We needed dad to be happy.  We needed to play his game.  He was going to milk this, but if we played our cards right, we'd have an Amiga.

To this day, I totally honor the Amiga as a fantastic piece of technology.  It was a real multimedia powerhouse.

Anticipation was thick in the air.

I don't think I'd even seen a picture of an Amiga.  But Oop wanted it.  He wanted it bad!  So I knew it was good.

His mate Eric was there, always the secret advisor, letting us know what was the next hot thing in the computer gaming world.  It was his dad who had run a business selling computers, and got us our first home PC around 1983.  Blessed be!  We also got many of our games through him, including the amazing King's Quest.  A sort of virtual-drug-dealer for the rich and fertile minds of us Lorden brothers.  We always wanted more! 

I remember walking into the upstairs computer room many years earlier and finding Eric and Oop with our home PC open and their hands all in there, pulling bits out!  I was shocked!  You should flick that red switch to turn it on, press the Turbo button to make it go from 6 mHz to 8 mHz, and slide the big 5 1/4" floppy disks in and out carefully lest they start to go "kkrrrrchchnnk, kkrrrrcchrrrnnk."  And that's about it!

What were they doing?!

They told me they were putting in an EGA card.
A what?
16 colors?
Extended graphics?
It wasn't really sinking in.

We'd been enjoying games of the pink, blue, white and black variety for years!  What was this new fangled 16 colors?  

It was of course this EGA card that made King's Quest 1 and 2 look so beautiful.
All I knew was, these two boys were setting themselves up for trouble!  When dad found out they'd wrecked it!  Jeez!

Surely, it was all going to end up the same way as when I opened up my mum's precious watch that she was given for her engagement or something.  

I never could get it back together, no matter how much I tried to finesse it back together.  It got more and more desperate as I tried to get the little spring's heart-beat ticking again. 

Surely, just like that, Oop and Eric were going to have to hide the remains of their horrible crime in a yellow envelope and tuck it away amongst on the top shelf amongst the other yellow envelopes.  But just like the watch, someone would find it.  And even if they owned up to it, the computer would never work again.

...Years later, I remember my youngest brother, Hill, a good ten years younger than us, ashamed, red faced, humiliated and truly sorry, when mum dug up a strange artefact in the back yard.  A twisted and muddy 1mb Amiga Memory expansion card.  

I was furious.

He had been unable to get the memory card into the slot of our old Amiga.  He'd recently discovered it, and was paying through all the golden old classics from our collection with his mate Kieren.  Trying to get Dungeon Master going, he'd tried to shove in the memory expander.  But having bent the little pins irrecoverably, he had buried it.  

Unable to admit to any of the older brothers that he had destroyed the memory card, he had done the only thing left to him.  Buried it.

How could we ever boot up Dungeon Master again, in the way it was meant to be played?

But at the same time, through my anger, I knew exactly where he was coming from.
Flashes of that yellow envelope played before my mind, the guilty, failed operation on mum's watch, tucked deep down inside.  

I didn't want to throw it away.  It wasn't rubbish.  It was precious.  I had to keep it, but not with my things.  It had to be kept somewhere safe, but where no one would find it.
It had stopped working because I was too fascinated with it.  

I wanted to see inside.  To see how it worked.  To get closer to it.
But when it all went wrong, I couldn't own up to it.  

I KNEW I could put it back together, why would I NOT be able to just PUT IT BACK TOGETHER?  Well, you keep trying, but it just gets worse.

That yellow envelope was a respectful grave.  A memorial.  
But bodies always get found.  

And when we found the body of the Amiga Expanded Memory, all bent and broken, with it's crooked little pins all dirty, I was so angry, but I couldn't let myself not forgive him.  

He broke it out of anger and frustration, but he buried it out of shame.  Shame and fear.  

And I knew that feeling too well.  He couldn't own up to it, just like I couldn't own up to the the watch the day dad lined us up and asked us who did it.
I couldn't say it.  

Thinking back, it was probably obvious it was me, by the look on my face, but he didn't make me say it, and I didn't.

Luckily for all of us, Eric "EJ" Doriean DID get that EGA card in there, and we had ourselves 16 colors of gaming goodness!

And thanks to those special people at Sierra, and their fancy dithering technologies, we actually had about 32 perceived colors.  But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

This year, I bought my first Macbook Pro.  And I love it.  
After all that shit talking, and cajoling with Mac owners.  I really love it.
I feel like a million bucks.  Like a special pampered member of the elite.  

My Windows machine is faster.  But it's ugly.
When I sit in front of it, I blanch a little.  

It's a world of error messages that tell you to turn left at Albuquerque, when the robbers have just headed for Kalamazoo.  
It's a store keeper that hates his job and is just waiting to clock off.  

Opening my Mac feels like opening a book by my favorite author.
It feels like entering a cinema to watch a movie by my favorite director.  
I'm in good hands, and ready to go on a pleasant journey.

The Mac reminds me of the Amiga in some ways.
It has it's own way of doing things.  The hardware and software have been tailored for a special experience for the user, to connect with you.  To be your friend.

Thank you Amiga.  

You will always be welcome in my family, and at my table.

Murray Lorden

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