The other day on Instagram I shared a picture of a classic pair of Compaq laptops from around 1989-90 from my trip to HP’s Houston Labs for a tour. This laptop – the 286-powered LTE/286 – was my very first laptop, and marked the beginning of my laptop-centric life, long before it was really a viable choice.
During the tour there were a couple of display cases full with a few dozen Compaq and HP laptops showing the history and evolution of the devices through the years. Also, throughout the facility there were a number of old Compaq computers in use as utility devices – controls, measurements, and so on. These were mostly DeskPro EN models, but there were also Armadas, DeskPro 386, Presario and so on.
I had owned some generation of pretty much all of those computers. I looked at many of those devices and had a little chuckle, but none of them really meant anything special. The DeskPro 386 was something I built into optical systems I hold significant intellectual property for. Laptops … well, I have owned so many that it takes something special to stand out – and very few laptops of the late 90s stood out!
But it made me think – why does the Compaq LTE/286 or HP Omnibook 300 laptop make me ‘warm and fuzzy’ in a way few others do? Then I wondered why I look at CDs as ‘just a medium’, whereas many of my vinyl records are ‘possessions of note’? It gets to the heart of what matters to us and why. So I asked myself the question ‘what technology makes me nostalgic’ …
What Makes Me Feel Nostalgic
1. Wedding and pre-wedding pictures together with Lisa
Yes I know I said ‘technology’, but hey, whatever. Photography is technology, so deal with it! 🙂
This is an easy one, because I make no pretense about how much I value my marriage and relationship with Lisa. We are incredibly fortunate, and always take time to appreciate our relationship and the hard work we have put in through the years.
Looking at wedding pictures we were so YOUNG! And we also had a lot of learning and growing up to do – as we all do at every stage in our lives. But we were so innocent and it was such a different time, I always smile.
2. Pictures of the boys when they were little
Sure I love any and all pictures of my boys, but there is something about going back to when they were little that triggers different feelings for me.
It is hard to explain, but looking at a picture of #mamaSalt and B immediately triggered memories of us at Storyland in New Hampshire when the kids were little, and in particular a picture of Chris clearly talking as we took his picture, and also of Danny on the plane to our first Disney trip playing with my Compaq iPaq and opening up a big cheery smile.
3. My old Vinyl Records
Now THIS one is interesting … I ‘went digital’ very early, and have never looked back. But recently as I have dug back into my record collection, doing a series of retro-reviews for another site, I have really felt transported in time just touching the album, looking at the jacket and seeing some wear or a stain or whatever. Sure I have the music available digitally, but this is about the physical item – it brings me back to where I bought it and when I was listening to it.
4. Certain Songs and Books
Music is a key part of my life, so yeah it gets two listings! But when I head the opening bass line to ‘Jean Pierre’ from Miles Davis 1981 ‘We Want Miles’ album I am suddenly back driving our blue 1972 Chevy Malibu. ‘Rubberband Man’ takes me to the Good Vibrations record store where I bought my first single; ‘On the Corner’ by John Patitucci has me on 128 North headed towards Billerica in my ’84 Audi 5000′; and ‘Number One’ by Chaz Jankel from the Real Genius soundtrack puts me back in the fraternity house at RPI.
And in a similar way to my records, I have a bunch of old books that I just love – and yes I own them digitally, but it is great grabbing the bulk of James Joyce Ulysses and reading a page or two at random. It puts me back in high school. ‘The Plague’ puts me on family vacation on Cape Cod in high school; The Foundation Trilogy is somehow most connected with some of my early work trips to Atlanta, Gainesville FL and Hattiesburg MS – even though I’d read them before.
I am typing this on an iPad, having started it on a MacBook Air, and yet I feel absolutely no connection to either. They are awesome, but they are tools. Which is true for nearly every computer device I have ever owned – my ‘impact on my life’ threshold is fairly high.
For example, I fondly remember having the original Blackberry (pre-phone), but I was also glad to have it gone. I have never really cared about any desktop computer I’ve owned. And every phone from flip to Android to iPhone and beyond remains fraught with too many compromises for them to feel like anything but a transition (though I miss good physical keyboards like my Droid 4).
For mobile devices, I have had the Newton, Palm, Pocket PC, Psion, Windows CE, and so on … yet there is a single device that still grabs me: the HP 200LX. I have talked about WHY I loved it, but more important than that was how it was just absolutely perfect for me at the time – top-notch calculator, integrated DOS and spreadsheets, document editor, and on and on. Great battery life, card slot, form factor, and sense of style – it fit between laptop and calculator and organizer. It was unique and visionary for a small audience of tech nerds like me. Just touching it brings me back in time, and allows me to forget that I had to stop using it because of a lack of connectivity, 8.3 naming limits, and lack of email address in the contact database.
As for laptops, I loved the Compaq LTE/286, the original IBM ThinkPad, the first Apple Powerbooks, Dell Inspirons and XPS, and pretty much every awesome laptop over the last few years. But again three stand out. The first is the Alienware M11X. This was the height of the netbook craze, and I had some of those as well – but Alienware brought about a ‘gaming netbook’ that just ignited my imagination! It had an 11″ screen and a small and light footprint, nearly all-day battery on integrated graphics and could play just about any game.
The best laptop I ever owned was the Apple G4 Titanium Powerbook. It was the first widescreen 15″ laptop, had a 1GHz processor, solid discrete graphics, and the ability to dual-boot Mac OS 9 and OS X. It was incredibly thin and light for the time – and was really the beginning of the end of the ‘fast OR portable’ choice … and it gave me screaming performance at games like Star Wars Jedi Knight II.
But my favorite laptops – and favorite overall piece of technology – are the HP Omnibook 300 & 800CT. Yes I am grouping two – but it makes sense. From the outside they look the same, but the 300CT was the first of its kind – a laptop designed by the calculator division. It had MS Office burned in ROM to preserve space and speed launch, ran off of 4 AA batteries, and had the unique pop-out mouse. The keyboard had amazing travel and responsiveness for a laptop of the time. The 800CT came just a couple of years later, but had a great color screen, 166MHz Pentium, and was both fast AND portable. I kept that system in action for a long time, and still have both of them around the house. For me they are a milestone of design in a laptop.
So What Makes YOU Feel Nostalgic?