Building a computer (1st attempt!)


Day 2 of my unresidency

What a fantastic day. I watched one of the Access Space volunteers dismantle a computer, and with his help I reconstructed it. It was very dusty inside! A forgotten dusty cityscape.

I was struck by the simplicity of assembling the components - it was something like playing with a technologically complex Lego kit - plugging the parts together. Every component has a place, and clicks into place, and that makes it enjoyable - I felt something like the satisfaction of doing a puzzle. All the components are visible and accessible, although it is a mystery to me how some of them work. A fan I can understand, but a motherboard is alien and awe inspiring!  

Understanding what some of the components do is challenging. I know where the RAM slots in, and that it is a kind of short-term memory. I know that the processor does the mathematical ‘thinking’. And I know where the sound and video cards go, but I’m struggling to understand how they work. I need to find a way of mentally visualizing what they do. Analogies to people and brains help me build up a mental picture of how it works.

I’ve never opened up a computer before. I enjoyed feeling the freedom of exploring it without fear of breaking and being unable to fix it. I got to feel how robust most of the internal components are. Access Space is set up for building and tinkering with computers, and my teachers pointed out that the workshop is full of spare parts. So it doesn't matter if I break something, because it can easily be replaced. I’m intrigued by how accessible the computer became in this environment. It would never have occurred to me to open up a computer I owned and had paid for. The experience somehow removed a barrier between me and the computer – tinkering with the inner workings would usually feel like too much of a risk.

Now that I am reflecting on my experience, I realise I am enjoying the idea of taking temporary ownership of my computer while I am unresident at Access Space. I even enjoyed putting my name on it! I also feel driven to understand it better.

The language of open source computing was the second thing that intrigues me as it embodies interesting ideas about freedom.
 But that's for another post. 

Next, hopefully, a laptop!


The layer of programming underneath the visible interface of the software is called (I think) the shell. I love that it describes a physical object…

© Julia Keyte 2013