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…

Let’s start with three letters and two numbers

Or, why I’m not a computer programmer.

The TRS-80 Color Computer, my first computer.  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 oh, those keys!  Those playful, independent spirits intermixed with the electronic underpinnings…why you made typing so, so…engaging!  Did you just type a “p” or a “q”?  Well, let’s say you typed a “2” and leave it at that.  Jovial!

The playfully painted TRS-80 logo fitted just so severely above the keyboard.

The lovely cassette player and its graceful if incessant whirring.  You made a game out of recording.  How much force is needed to push the button today?  Only by trying and failing, and failing again will you find out!

Continue reading “Let’s start with three letters and two numbers”