The previous year, before I was even a twinkle in the eye of SimHQ’s Staff, I had won a site contest and these items were the Grand Prize. I couldn’t believe it at the time, I had never won anything worthwhile in my entire life. Two weeks later, a box direct from SimHQ’s palatial high-rise headquarters arrived with my name on it. Yippee!! I won, I won, I won, my major award at last! I think it even had the word “Fragile” stamped on the outside (that’s Italian, you know).
But what would I do with it?
I thought about that, long and hard. Mostly long. Over a year’s worth of “long”, and still the boxes sat in the corner gathering dust. Once in a while I would remember they were there and be very inspired and start checking out the other components I would need to skillfully assemble everything into something that not only looked like a computer but actually functioned like one.
It all sounded great, except for the fact that I had no idea what I was doing. Fortunately, I knew I didn’t know. What I didn’t know would have resulted in a horror of a creation that even Dr. Frankenstein couldn’t love.
As I searched through available components, I got overwhelmed very quickly. Who would have guessed there were 2,356,197 computer cases for sale, with an accompanying wide range of prices? Some with power supplies, some without, some with fans, some without, some with strobe lights, some without, some with the “alien” look, some without. Some with, at no additional cost, special knife-edged metal for shredding your hands into hamburger. The ones without had rounded edges which would let you keep your first aid kit in the drawer.
And that was just cases. What about video cards, hard drives, CD/DVD’s, and sound cards? Did people still install floppy drives and if so why? What about the special equipment that you needed but didn’t know you needed? How would I know if all the cables and connectors and pins and special screws and other gizmos I just assumed “came with it”, didn’t? I didn’t even know what “it” was, and I hate finding out in the middle of a project that I don’t have the required parts or tools. It gets me all upset and I have been known to throw such projects into the swimming pool.
Would there be bios with the case, or did that come with the video card? Even the name, “bios”, sounded strange, like it came from another world. I imagined myself as Captain Picard of the Starship Enterprise having a nasty encounter with Bios, the Belluvian Bat-Beetle.
I decided one day about two months after winning my major award to discuss the situation with our family’s designated computer expert, my son. He listened intently as I explained my dilemma, asked a couple cogent questions, and thought for a second. His answer was short, concise, and clear.
“Don’t do it.”
“But why?” I persisted as though my feelings were injured. “I have to do something with my major award. There is a perfectly good Intel motherboard and processor in those dusty boxes, or at least I think there is.”
“Sell them”, he replied, “Ebay is your friend. I’ll help you, for a small fee.”
“No, no, no! They’re mine, I won them and I am not going to sell them off to strangers in some Internet auction house. Not happening. Why shouldn’t I build my own system?”
He looked up from a game of World of War he was still playing while we talked.
“Because. You have no patience for this kind of thing. You get all agitated and flustered over a missing faucet washer and you’ve got to run down to the hardware store and get another one. This is a computer. It’s way more complicated than plumbing washers. Trust me, you’ll just end up throwing the whole mess into the swimming pool.”
I was shocked, stunned, surprised at the truth. I counter-attacked.
“First, I would never do that. Do you know how much chlorine I’d have to add to have the water slowly disintegrate all those parts? And I did good with the plumbing project! I had to go to four different hardware stores before I found the replacement washer. The Ace Hardware guy told me he had never seen one like that in all his forty years in the home repair business.”
“Don’t do it. You’ll regret it if you do.”
I would remember those words. In fact, the title of this article was very nearly “Son Knows Best”. I knew deep down that he was right. I was much better with building projects that didn’t involve electronics, electricity, or tiny parts that might disappear into the ethos if accidentally dropped from my club-like fingers.
I could build a block wall for example, but that’s a lot different. Drop a concrete block, odds are you’re going to find it-right on top of your foot. I remembered a job aptitude test I’d taken back in high school. One of the questions was what you would never want to do for a living. I wrote in “watch maker”. The very thought of opening a watch case and seeing all the microscopic wheels and gears and springs moving in unison, of disassembling them into a tiny pile of parts, of hearing that little sproing noise as one of the springs rocketed away and escaped into nowhere land freaked me out.
There was no doubt my son did know best and that I must not build a computer. Therefore, I knew: I must build a computer.