A Life, Through Computers

The following post originally appeared on Geek Force Network, August 16, 2013.


The other day, a short post appeared on Kotaku titled “Explaining Microsoft Windows’ Evolution Is Simple” that featured this image uploaded by Twitter by user @kataoka_k.

windowshouses

It made me chuckle, and it made me feel ancient. As the post and some commenters point out, this “history” omits a few operating systems like DOS, Windows 1, 2, and 3, and Windows ME. I’ve not used all these systems, but I’ve been exposed to most of them throughout my life either at home, school, or work. But my personal history with computers dates from before even DOS, when I learned to program in BASIC on our TRS-80 Color Computer.

If it doesn't look like it could do much, well, that's because it didn't.
If it doesn’t look like it could do much, well, that’s because it didn’t.

The TRS-80 was nicknamed “Trash-80” for good reason — it wasn’t much of a computer.   I mean, I liked it, but I was kinda young then. Oh yes, I can see it now…that dull, gray, boxy complexion, replete with small, square keys in rich, foggy-colored plastic with deep onyx imprinted letters and numbers.  And what of those itty bitty keys, filled with playful, independent spirits mingling among the electronic underpinnings! Why you made typing so, so…unique!  Did you just type a “p” or a “q”?  Well, let’s say you typed a “2″ and leave it at that. How jovial! The accompanying cassette player and its graceful if incessant whirring – it made a game out of recording!  How much force is needed to push the button today?  Only by trying and failing and trying again and failing again will you find out!

In my world, the TRS-80 was good for only two things: playing simple games like checkers (shut up about the fact that we did have an actual board with pieces) and writing BASIC programs. The computer didn’t come with a monitor, so we had it hooked up to the TV — a color television set nonetheless!  Oh man, and did I make that screen turn colors! Cyan, you were always my favorite.~

cyan
Pretty, on computers. Not clothing.

From the TRS-80, my parents quickly progressed to DOS and Windows machines; and for awhile, those were my primary gaming devices. (It was the only time in my life that I could truthfully claim to be a PC gamer. Also nobody did their homework on a computer, silly.) Meanwhile at school, I swear we were using Commodore 64’s for the longest time. In high school I took a programming class where I worked, for the first time, on an Apple computer – the Macintosh. I’ll tell you, I was terrible at programming, but I did like those Macintoshes. Yes, their screens were teensy weensy compared to the monstrous 15 inches of CRT monitor I had at my house, but they were spry machines with very little lag. The programs we created worked so smoothly and the interface was clean and simple.

When time came for college, I was sent off without a computer – why that’s just crazy talk! —  because mobile computing then was a thing for high-class business people in their stupid suits and ties, not poor, lowly, yet much cooler college students. Instead, I had a shiny, new electronic, Smith Corona word processing typewriter. Oh you can laugh if you want, but I got a good many assignments done on it AND there was no white-out or correction tape needed. And…

…okay, fine…go ahead and laugh.

It kinda looked like this, and it was just as sad. I mean happy! But sad. (source)
It kinda looked like this, and it was just as sad. I mean happy! But sad.

Speaking of college, I did end up having regular access to some pretty nice computers during that time. After my freshman year, my electronic typewriter was nearly banished because I did most of my work in the lab, using a new thing called the “Internet” on a fresh, white batch of Windows 95 PCs. That was a nice OS; it worked well for my purposes and was robust enough to handle whatever we threw at it. The first computer I ever owned after college was a Windows 95 machine. And yes, it was a brick, large and heavy, suitable enough to serve as a deadly weapon.

Meanwhile our household technology grew by leaps and bounds. In just a span of a few years, we had gathered up a number of machines: a Windows 98 machine was quickly and unfortunately replaced by a Windows ME machine, which was thankfully replaced by a Windows XP machine as soon as it could be afforded. We still have the XP machine running today, and only recently has it begun to show its age. But it still works like a charm, even if we could watch a full-length movie in the span it takes the thing to boot.

WinXP
Like a gentle giant, only it eats less.

Several years ago, I made the mistake of getting a Windows Vista laptop. It was only intended as a home office computer – word processing, emails, and Internet. But its “security” interface was ridiculous and annoying, and it seemed to be constantly bogged down running some program or another. And forget about trying to run Norton scans or some such – those could render the thing useless for hours!

My current laptop runs Windows 8 – only every now and again do I regret having made the upgrade from Windows 7. I don’t mind the “tiles” interface but I also don’t use it much, instead favoring the regular desktop. As tempted as I am to use the Vista laptop under a short table leg, I have to keep it because Windows 8 isn’t compatible with everything, and that’s problematic. Case in point, not long ago I sought to update my old Android phone. The only way to do this was with a computer and some downloaded software.  Without reading the fine print, I stuck the necessary program onto my Windows 8 machine and attempted to run it; and each time it failed. After thinking that my phone was at fault, I took a closer look at the software’s specs. Nowhere was Windows 8 listed as compatible. So I went through the same process using the Vista machine, and…success!! Oh, Vista hated being made to work as it chugged along with the program, but it still worked. Hmmm…maybe I could update that laptop to Windows 7…

Bonus Post: The Changing Tides of Christmas (#Listmas2015)

What I’m about to write may make it seem like I don’t like Christmas. In fact, it’s my most favorite time of year. But why is that? I used to know years ago when Christmas was all about presents and candy. But why does it remain my favorite holiday? Those reasons have certainly rode a bumpy path. It’s true that I tend to feel more melancholy in December than during any other month of the year, and my resulting contemplative tendencies are coming into play here,  but even that blue feeling has altered slightly. I’ve looked forward to Christmas all year, but this year, the reasons for it were different — more personal, less influenced. Frankly, I think I’m happier now than I have been at holidays in a long time. That’s something to write about, and Listmas give me the perfect excuse to formulate my words in a nice if spontaneous order. So here are my thoughts how and why Christmas has changed for me over the years.


1. Thanksgiving > Christmas

Probably the biggest change I’ve experienced is that I look forward to Thanksgiving much more than Christmas now. Within the past several years, my family has grown considerably with the new additions of spouses, nieces, nephews, grandchildren, and so on. The dynamics of the holidays have shifted to favor large get-togethers at Thanksgiving because (1) everyone’s always free on Thanksgiving, and (2) the new families want to stay home on Christmas. A past version of myself balked somewhat at large, extended family dinners that revolved around turkey and stuffing, calling them boring and tiring, and rather unenjoyable. But I’ve come around to seeing them in a new light. I truly look forward now to seeing everyone when the spirit of family reigns at the end of November.


2. Christmas is a time to reflect rather than be Christmasey

There once was a time when I’d gleefully pull out all the Christmas decorations on the day after Thanksgiving, and, in a whirl with Christmas tunes blaring the background, I’d have the house decorated in no time flat. Lights! Trees! Stockings! Ornaments! Tinsel! And SO MUCH MORE MORE MORE! More was better. Only then there came a time when more was not better. In fact, “more” just became overwhelming and unnecessary. Now I’ve reached a fairly happy medium, and one where I like to take more time to reflect and remember rather than decorate in December. Of course, I still decorate some — the tree is up and a wreath is on the door — but my thoughts generally veer towards what was and what is yet to come at this time of year, letting go of negativity and replacing it with positivity. I don’t need a jumble of Christmas lights in my face to do that.


3. Christmas music is less important…

Let me set the record straight first — music is never NOT important. Music is the single most important thing that drives my life, without a doubt. So I’m not putting music down at all, but I’ve found that I can still live a perfectly happy life without 24/7 Christmas music playing from Thanksgiving to New Year’s. Because I was one of those people. As soon as Thanksgiving hit, I’d queue up my Christmas playlists (3 of them) on my iPod, and that was that until January 1. I didn’t let any other form of music infiltrate my ears during this time. This year, however, I don’t think I’ve fully played through even on of my playlists. I don’t feel any less merry, and you’ll still catch me humming “Christmas Time is Here” while I’m making dinner. Embodying the spirit of Christmas doesn’t necessarily require a soundtrack. It fine when it’s there, and it’s just as alright when it isn’t.


4. …but Christmas movies are more important

Growing up, my childhood winter holidays were filled with the sites of Christmas-this and Christmas-that on the TV…always….constantly, it seemed.. Once I left home, I practically revolted against any and all Christmas movies. In fact, it was not too long ago that I saw A Christmas Story for the first time (!?). And I realized at the time that maybe I was wrong in being so upset at the idea of liking Christmas movies. (I did like a couple, after all, though you’d have had to put a gun to my head to get me me admit it.) So I added to my DVD collection five holiday ot holiday-ish movies: Holiday Inn (1942), White Christmas (1954), It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), Miracle on 34th Street (1947), and A Christmas Story (1983). Watching these movies in the days before Christmas has become an important ritual. Not only do they celebrate the season, but each remind me of what’s important at Christmas. Speaking of which…


5. Keep the candy and presents

I just don’t need them! I mean, I like both, certainly, but the need for them just isn’t there. A few years ago, my family switched from doing gifts for everyone to the Secret Santa routine, and the switch has been incredibly welcome. Not only has it reduced the stress (mental and financial) of getting a large number of gifts, but also has it brought back the simply joy of gift-giving. I’d rather have a few meaningful gifts than a bunch of clutter. The same goes for candy. No longer do I stuff our stockings full of red- and green-wrapped store-bought chocolates just for the sake of having stuffed stockings. I want my holiday treats to be a little more special than that. So if I’m craving something sweet, I’ll make something sweet. Now, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that dietary changes have necessitated cutting back on sweets generally, which is always hard a this time of year. But forgoing that delectable Krackel miniature helps…at least a little.


Sincerity...I haz it. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night. :)
Sincerity…I haz it. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night. 🙂

Totally 80s: Fisher-Price record player

Welcome the next installment of my year-long look back at the decade that was ruled by big hair and bigger egos. Every other week I’ll be covering pop culture tidbits from the 1980s, sharing memories, choking on the ridiculousness, and maybe offering an insight or two into what made the 1980s so great/bad/silly. Serving as my inspiration are two lists from Buzzfeed, and I’ll include links to the original list items in each post. So throw on your neon windbreaker, lace up your hi-tops, and adjust your Wayfarers, because this DeLorean is taking off! (Ugh. Did I really just type that? Gag me with spoon, seriously.)

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

List item #21 from 50 Things only ’80s Kids Can Understand

[Listening to records] on your state-of-the-art Fisher-Price record player.

Feeling old just looking at the thing.
Feeling old just looking at the thing.

If it wasn’t apparent already (and forgive me I’m repeating myself), I grew up in a household that loved music. Very specific music, that is – disco lite (a. k. a. Abba), instrumental jazz, and classical were the only forms allowed. “Adult contemporary” was okay in the car, but never on the stereo on home. I also grew up in a somewhat strict but not highly disciplined Catholic household. Church happened every Sunday no matter what, and I attended Sunday school/C. C. D. classes through high school. In my senior year of high school, I even joined our church’s choir. This confluence of religion and music highly influenced my developmental self. Though I became involved in music in public school at an early age, church was where I really learned about power of song and singing. Before I became too self-conscious for my own good, I happily sung along with the hymns and came to learn many of them by heart.

Continue reading “Totally 80s: Fisher-Price record player”