Confessions of a Speed Addict

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Growing up in California during the sixties and seventies, I knew next to nothing about computers. What I did learn about was cars. From the first time behind the wheel I felt the exhilaration of being in control, and later the exhilaration of speed. This led to a lot of time, effort, and money spent tweaking every last bit of performance out of my so called hot rods.

Through research and perseverance, I was constantly finding new ways to push the mechanical limits of my cars. The natural consequences of all this tweaking was the acquisition of some mechanical knowledge, as well as a fist full of speeding tickets. The tickets I could have lived with, but around this time new legislation was passed imposing stricter EPA requirements on all vehicles.

The new law required the annual inspection of all older vehicles to ensure compliance with the new legislation. This essentially made it impossible to make modifications to your own engine, even if those modifications reduced smog emissions to levels lower than the original equipment. Failure to comply meant that your vehicle could not be registered and would be illegal to drive on public roads.

My enthusiasm for this hobby was significantly curbed when I realized the only options I had were to conform to the new law, or become an outlaw. I chose to “buck the system” for a little while, but soon came to the realization that the automotive world had changed forever, and that my hobby had to be sacrificed to protect my future and hopefully benefit the greater good of society. In discouragement, I sold my last tweaked Firebird and bought a no-thrills Toyota Tercel, followed by a long list of equally mild mannered cars.

After graduating from college, I discovered computers.

The feeling of being able to control a computer was very much like the feeling of controlling an automobile. It wasn’t long before I started looking for ways to make my computer go faster, which is how I discovered Overclockers.com, a site dedicated to this purpose. The first time I built a computer with an overclocked processor, I instinctively looked around my shoulder for the flashing blue and red lights and listened for the sound of sirens. None came.

After the overclock, everything seemed to run faster and playing games on my computer became almost as much fun as driving fast on a curvy road. I couldn’t believe my good fortune. I had finally found a hobby where I could push my machinery to the limits without breaking any laws. Free of restrictions (other than what I could afford), I was soon upgrading computer components with the same zeal and enthusiasm I’d once had for car parts. It wouldn’t last.

When I first read about “Product Activation with Windows XP, I felt a sense of Déjà vu.

This time, it wasn’t the State imposing restrictions on a car I’d bought and paid for, it was the software vendor I purchased my operating systems from. I had always been aware of, and supported, software license restrictions. My shelves are full of legally purchased operating systems and other software, but the thought of having to make a phone call to ask permission to replace a motherboard never sat well with me.

Like the Police that had handed me speeding tickets as a teenager, there are now “Operating System Police” to make sure I follow Microsoft’s licensing agreements. I now had to plan my upgrades more carefully, and upgrade less often, so as not to trigger reactivation problems. If this had been the only new restriction on my computer usage, I probably could have lived with this restriction as I had been willing to accept speeding tickets as a part of the life of a car enthusiast. Unfortunately, it didn’t stop there.

Soon it seemed like everyone was trying to tell me what I could and couldn’t do with my computer.

New laws were passed that made it illegal to break encryption codes, making it practically illegal to watch my DVD’s on Linux which I had looked to for refuge from product activation. Then the RIAA starts beating their chest about how I can, or in this case can’t, copy the music CDs I’d purchased onto my computer, music CDs that in some cases won’t even play on my computer’s CD ROM.

Before I knew it, the MPAA is enforcing new HDCP or HDMI hardware requirements to ensure that copy protection is enforced for their precious movies. Just try to find a reasonably priced LCD monitor or video card with one of these DRM protected connections. I won’t get into all the forms of DRM being built into all future generations of computer components, but I will say that once again it appears that I’ve been given the choice of conforming to these new restrictions or becoming an outlaw.

Being put in this position has once again caused me to lose my interest on staying on the cutting edge of technology. So what does burned out bummed out computer geek do when he realized he doesn’t actually own, or control, any of the things he’s purchased over the years?

He gets off the upgrade train and starts to treat his computer parts like he does his microwave oven.

Use them for a very limited purpose and only upgrade when it breaks. I’ve never purchased a Serial ATA drive or anything with a PCI express connector. I’ve yet to purchase DDR2 memory or anything using Sockets 939 or 775. My last major purchases were a socket 754 Sempron and motherboard for my daughter, and AGP video cards for her and my wife last Christmas. My wife also got my last great overclocker, a 2.4B Northwood that does 3.0 with ease. I’d already given my son the overclocked 2500+ Barton. You see, my wife and kids are still addicted to computer gaming, which I regrettably got them into during what I sometimes call the “good years of computing”.

What did this burned out geek keep for myself?

My computer now consists of leftover parts from the last upgrades I did for the rest of my family. I now use an old 845 chipset based motherboard, which has a cap that about ready to blow. I’m using a 2.4 Celeron that doesn’t overclock well and a leftover 256MB stick of PC3200 Ram. I’m also using a couple of hard drives built in 2000 and 2001, and an original 32MB Radeon LE video card, which years ago I’d flashed to a regular Radeon.

Even the case I have is nothing to get excited about – it’s an old Ahanix Noblesse with a broken door (they don’t make replacement doors for this anymore). I’ll probably keep this rig till the capacitor blows or something else breaks. I now have the slowest working computer in the house, and I don’t really care.

My computer is now used for surfing the web, paying bills and other office type work – I’d call it the Toyota Tercel of computers, except that my Tercel was obviously more reliable. Yes, my current computer is anything but exciting, but at least I can say that I’m now a 100% law abiding citizen. Well, except for the fact that I replaced my last boring sedan for a not quite so boring Toyota Celica. A guy has got to have a little fun once in a while.

Travis Thompson

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