Resurrecting the Compaq Computer Corporation
Setting out upon a desperate personal journey to rediscover enchantment with computers.
This evening, a package is scheduled to arrive upon my doorstep containing a Compaq Portable Plus luggable computer from 1983 which I have fantasized about buying for far too many years. Despite living in the midst of perhaps the worst possible financial situation to spend $139.99 outright on a relic of computing, I finally just bought one anyway last Thursday because I’m absolutely fed up with life without the magic I remember feeling from computers. Yes, I am having a mid-life crises and The Machine is just a physical manifestation of one of my favorite stories, but I expect it will provide something irreplaceable for me and at least one piece of entertainment for just about anybody: I’m going to start a photoseries of myself using the 26-lb., suitcase-like, and utterly time-displaced Portable Plus in different coffee shops throughout Portland.
There’s also potential opportunity (or necessity) for me to make use of my limited knowledge of hardware electronics. I’ve never been very comfortable with openly using the term “hobby,” but I fully intend to savor, document, and preserve every possible detail of my experience, so we’re going to behave as if the tales of computer history are precious to a dedicated audience besides myself, and that I am thereby and hereafter binding myself to an important duty of discovery, curation, and presentation expressed through multimedia of the highest possible caliber.
In other words, I’m pretty sure I’ve just begun a vintage computing blog. Before we go any further, then, let’s dispense with the obligatory arrangements.
- Start a community on Discord.
- Follow me on Mastodon, Flickr and/or Twitter.
- Engage with the one and only Compaq Club Tumblr.
- Subscribe to this ultra-compromised connected WordPress blog via the native reader or RSS. Leave a damned comment, even.
- Consider subscribing to my YouTube channel to see old software in action.
- Email me anything.
Put simply, Compaq was punk as fuck. Three dorky Texan technodads premeditated their leave of fair, secure jobs in the industry in order to bet everything on the promise of a single undeniably pro-user ideal to disrupt its dominant monopolistic supervillian. Unlike any of the countless other stories from the information age with the very same introduction, theirs was immediately propelled into stratospheric, record-breaking success — from coffee table sketches in the wastelands of suburban Houston nights to one billion dollars in less than five years, proving that it was possible to win huge in tech by committing sincerely to liberating the consumer and manifesting the ultimate performance of the underdog complex American business has ever witnessed.
Those of us who’ve maintained some curious orbit of technology have recently entered a reconcillatory process as the world has become all at once intimately familiar with our collective pursuits’ true consequences. Never has it been more appropriate to reflect on the wholesome bravado of the only American computer company to build a billion-dollar business atop the sole mantra of user liberation. At a glance one might assume that AMC’s attempt to reproduce Mad Men’s formula with a story set in Compaq’s origin in a series that’s supposedly attracted a fair number of Netflixers called Halt and Catch Fire in conjunction with the 2016 documentary Silicon Cowboys have sufficiently reminded America of to whom it really owes its privileged tech industry. However, a Twitter search for “Compaq” turns up virtually nothing of consequence, and — on the other cultural spectrum — I’ve yet to see a single well-documented collection of Compaq hardware, and I’m unsatisfied.
Like it not, you’re coming with me on a safari back through two full nostalgic cycles to rediscover our wonder and excitement about technology because I miss it desperately and I know you do too. We’re going to find something marvelous.
I believe computers can be magic again.
I believe in Compaq.