Ladies, gentleman and everyone else, as you sit here today reading this post (or walking around reading it on your smartphone, hey WATCH OUT for that pole!) I’d like to regale you with a tale, and this time it has nothing to do with Alan A’Dale. Alan A’Dale. This Tale, has nothing to do, with Alan A’Dale. The Tale. It’s a tale of 90s nostalgia, love and gadgets.
The year was 1998
…or somewhere around then. I was 12-ish and my family had been living in Singapore for a few years. I was already interested in computing when my family got it’s first IBM in Melbourne, but Singapore’s mad obsession with gadgets and electronics had rubbed off on me to such an extent that barely a living moment went by when I wasn’t thinking about computers, reading about computers, talking about computers or, heaven forbid, actually using computers. Problem was I didn’t have one of my own and I was becoming increasingly unpopular with other family members for hogging the family machine.
During one hectic and busy weekend at a tech trade show (Singapore trade shows make the Tokyo subway look like a Zune display booth), we walked past the Toshiba booth where they were demonstrating their Libretto line of notebook computers. My jaw dropped and, as my dad tells the story, I squeaked.
How did it all FIT?
The cheesy, ugly netbook was still a decade away and the only other small, handheld machines at the time ran the scaled down Windows CE, most with monochrome displays, so I was just awe struck by how ridiculously cute this fully featured little computer was. It was smaller than a VHS tape and its weight was measured in grammes not kilos, but it had a fully operational copy of Windows 95 running on a 120MHz Pentium CPU with a proper hard drive, a petite but full QWERTY keyboard and an interesting lid mounted pointing device. Unlike the netbooks of today, this was comparable in performance to typical machines of the time but it seemed to defy the laws of physics!
Never before had I instantly wanted a gadget so badly! I mean, this thing did everything I was using that hulking huge family computer with the gigantic but low res CRT monitor for, in a size that I could hug and carry around with me! Alas it’s price tag was huge and my dad reasonably enough couldn’t justify buying laptops when desktops could do the same thing for a third of the cost.
Later that year I finally got my own computer, a 200MHz Pentium MMX tower that to this day is still fully operational with FreeBSD, and as the years went on I got the PalmPilots and laptops, but I always had a soft spot for that cute little laptop. Toshiba ended up expanding the Libretto line by making larger versions with more conventional screens and form factors, but none of them had the charm of that old unit. I thought the original was a work of art.
Fast Forward was an awesome TV series
Fast forward to 2010, over 12 years later. I had still not spent the $200 I’d been given by various folks around Christmas and was casually browsing eBay for something boring like a SATA adapter. Out of the blue, right here in Australia, was a guy selling the exact model Libretto I’d seen at that Singapore trade show as a kid, in near mint condition and guaranteed working order, for peanuts. Other people overseas were also selling them, but they were either the newer versions or they wanted a ridiculous amount in shipping.
I think there must be something magical about our childhood years, because the emotions surrounding our memories from that time are so vivid and pull at us in ways that very few other things can. When I saw that unit I was taken back to the late 90s with my mum, primary school, Michael Franks, Mambo No. 5, the Macarena, the Beanie Baby shop in Wheelock Place, my Olympus Trip film camera, Pokemon, Magic Cards, Sailor Moon, DragonBall Z, Lycos, GeoCities and… and I just had to get it!
No Ruben, you’re just a sucker
I admit I’m a huge sucker for nostalgia, arguably it’s my greatest weakness :). The unit has since been upgraded with a 40GB hard drive so I intend to dual boot it with DOS/Windows 95 (again for nostalgic purposes) and FreeBSD; not to use with X11, but for some of the terminal ncurses software I’ve been writing. Just imagine sitting in a lecture hall with this tiny little machine writing up notes in Emacs or the IBM E Editor, people would think I’m daft and for good reason!
Was it a logical thing to do? Heck no! Was it something I had to do though? Absolutely! I always wanted that little machine, and now 12 years later I could finally get one. And I can hug it and squeeze it and call it George. Obligatory Loony Tunes reference… hey I watched that in the 90s too!
Have you guys ever bought something as an adult you always wanted as a kid, even if it was ridiculously outdated? Surely I can’t be the only crazy one doing this!