My dad was a techie and he was known by our extended family for his “I-can-fix-it” attitude. Whenever something broke, the car, the electricity in the house, the plumbing, the water pumps or any other electronics, he would take it apart, experiment and come up with a fix. I used to watch him do this as a kid and I developed a very similar mindset.
The fact that I was the only child influenced me a lot too. I was constantly by myself in our big house. I was lonely, with no one to play with or keep me company. My dad understood this and wanted to make me feel better. So whenever I developed an obsession, he tried his best to indulge me with it. In order words, I was spoilt. However, I had obsessions that were very different to other kids.
The earliest obsession I could remember was ceiling fans. I can’t explain why and how this began but I wanted to get a ceiling fan fitted to every room in our house. It was not because it was hot but more a sense of having a complete set. It was impractical because we didn’t many of the rooms in our house. But I still tried to convince my dad but he was struggling to make ends meet so nothing came out of it.
A lot of what I did as a kid was determined by the presents I got. One of these presents was an electronics kit with a breadboard and electronic components like resistors, transistors and capacitors. I was only seven or eight at the time but I got hooked on electronic circuits. After learning how to read circuit diagrams and trying out the circuit designs in the book that came with the kit, I wanted more.
So my dad got me more circuit kits and leveled me up to printed circuit boards. He taught me how to solder and I started soldering my own circuits. A lot of the circuit that I together didn’t work but that didn’t stop me.
It was now time for my next obsession and it was audio cassettes. I became obsessed with recording my own tapes, to transfer music from CDs into tapes. Like my dad, I developed a liking for English music, mostly 80’s and before. I used to convince him to buy CDs and then blank tapes for me to transfer them over. It was useless obsessions I had. We already had a CD player at home and in the car. However, the CD player in our car skipped every time we hit one of the numerous potholes in SL so tape was the only decent way to listen to music on the move.
One day whilst particularly bored, I noticed the VCR placed below our TV. I didn’t know what it was and what it could do. My dad had bought it during one of his trips abroad but then never used it afterwards. I plugged it in, pushed various buttons on it and looked behind it to see a variety of connectors. I knew those connectors were audio and video outputs that go into the TV. Eventually when I finally figured out that this could record VHS video tapes, I had just found my next obsession.
One of the local TV stations was airing Knight rider. I fell in love with that show and I now had a way to record it. I used to look forward to 9:00PM every Friday to fire up the VCR to record the episode. I didn’t have an instruction manual but through trial and error, I figured out most of the functions on this VCR.
Computers didn’t interest me that much until now. My parents decided to visit a relative they hadn’t see in a long time. The auntie there casually instructed her son to put a game on for me. When I asked him what the two disc drives were for, he said that one was for playing CDs and the other to record them. From the moment I heard that, I wanted a computer for myself.
But my dad could not get this for me. A computer was expensive and he could not afford it. I remember the pained expression on his face whenever I asked him and I felt guilty for even asking him. But I wanted it and I wanted it bad.
My passion for reading transformed into a need to learn about computers. I was a junior member of the British Council library in Colombo and most of the books available to me were fiction books. But I wanted to get the computer manuals that were in the senior section. Eventually I convinced me dad to get a membership and checked out 900+ page manuals on how to use windows 98 or windows 2000. The junior section of the library did have computers which you could book to use. This was my first dive into the internet and I tried to get a slot every time my dad took me to the library.
This went on for several years. Through reading I got to know a lot more about computers. I can’t remember how but one day my dad announced that he would finally be able to get me one. I was over the moon but my mum was against the idea. She was concerned that I might get addicted to computers like she had heard from other relatives and the media. The only way I could get her to consent was to promise that I would keep it under control. This was a promise that I repeatedly broke.
My dad decided to buy the computer from my cousin’s shop. For his budget, they offered us the most entry level machine they had. What bothered me the most was that it only had a CD writer and no DVD writer. I looked at the next modal but my dad’s budget was set so this became my first computer. An all in one from a manufacturer called Hasee with a Pentium M 1.8Ghz single core, 1 GB of RAM, 160 GB Hard drive and a CD writer running Windows Vista.
We went on a Friday to pick it up and my cousin said it needed more setup so he could get it to us next week. This drove me over the edge. After waiting years, I didn’t want to wait any more. Eventually we arranged to bring the computer back next week so that I could take it home today. I was never more eager to get home than on that day.
At home I set everything up and I couldn’t believe it. My own computer. But there was a problem. The sound was not working. My dad called my cousin and he guessed it was because of the incomplete setup. But I figured that the disc that came with computer should have something for this. I can still remember the surprise in my cousin’s voice over the phone when I told him that I fixed it. I was a 11-year-old kid who after one day with a computer was installing audio drivers on it.
My mom’s premonition came to be true when that computer became my ultimate obsession. I spent all my time on it, exploring the OS and all its features and finally being able to do all the things I had only seen in the books before. Soon I got internet via a USB ADSL modem and a 512 kbps connection with a monthly bandwidth cap of 1GB. I got hooked on flash games and then a cartoon series called “Code Lyoko” which had partly aired on TV before being pulled. I could now find the entire series on YouTube. This resulted in an internet bill that was 7 times the base price due to excess use.
I got more and more hooked on video games. Especially racing games like Need for Speed. I loved it and I spent a lot of time playing it. Many other kids had time restrictions on their computer use, their parents would only let them use it for a few hours every day. But my parents didn’t try to enforce this on me. After finishing need for speed most wanted, I hit a technical limit. The next game in the series, Carbon, need a dedicated graphics card which my PC did not have. To make matters worse, I couldn’t upgrade my machine since it was an all in one. The only way to get around it is to buy an entirely new desktop. I cursed my cousin for selling us an all in one but it did teach me a lot.
Buying another computer was completely out of the question for my dad and I knew that. So I started researching computer hardware in an attempt to force my computer to play Carbon. I learnt about the components and the interfaces inside and the various model of CPUs and GPUs. I tried various software hacks and even went as far as buying the PS2 version of a game to run on an emulator on my machine. None of this could overcome the basic fact that my machine didn’t have the right hardware
I can’t explain why but I was desperately wanted to play Carbon. Ultimately my grandpa turned out to be my savior and he agreed to pay for the second computer. Both my dad and my grandpa didn’t know the real reason I wanted a second computer. But this was how I got my second computer, a desktop with a Core 2 Duo E7400 2.8Ghz dual core, 4GB DDR2 RAM, 250GB Hard drive, a DVD writer and most importantly, a dedicated graphics card (Nvidia 9400GT)
My dad and I bought this secretly knowing that my mom would be against it, as she was to many of my previous obsessions. Indeed she was angry for weeks and initiated usage limits on the computer for the first time. I was frustrated but a few months later these dissolved away too.
I was content for a while. There were plenty of games I could play and that kept me occupied. I got really fascinated with networking so I setup a network in my room between my two machines through a router. My room was now filling up with computer hardware, with 2 computers, a printer, a scanner and many other random peripherals.
One day I was woken up by a shout. “We have been robbed!” I immediately ran to my room and I couldn’t believe what I saw. It was completely empty. There was only a cable left on the table. It was all gone. Everything I had collected over the last few years was gone.