My Love Affair With Computers


First of all let me say this and all future posts on this blog are brought to you on my new Asus Vivobook. This is my early Christmas present from two of my good friends — Cook and Hoppe — original members of the Original Lightsey Bridge Mafia. They saw where I was getting by on substandard equipment to do my posts and decided to do something about it so they went in and bought me this computer, which is probably top three nicest, kindest things anyone has ever done for me. So it’s much easier to post again and now maybe I can increase output since they both want my writing to continue, so thank you very much guys.

Honestly, I’ve always had a love affair with computers. My generation was the early, early beginnings of the personal computer boom. I got my first real computer when I was twelve. It was a Radio Shack TRS-80 Color Computer and I couldn’t make heads or tails of it. It hooked up to the tv since these were the days long before separate monitors became common. It had a tape drive to store any programs I might write and it came with a book to teach how to program in BASIC. That book may as well have been written in ancient Sumerian. Not then and not since have I been able to learn something like that out of a book. I did find a book of ready made programs you could type into your computer in BASIC and since it was mostly games, I picked it up to give a try. I spent four days typing a program into that monstrosity that was supposed to be a Star Trek game. I finished it with eager anticipation and hit the “run” command. That was the minute I learned not all BASICs are created equal. The program crashed immediately and that was pretty much the end of my early attempts at computing.

Now in junior high school at Gray Court-Owings, we had Commodore 64s we got to work on from time to time. My favorite thing to do on them was to play the completely text-based adventure game Zork. My buddy Greg and I played together countless times. We could always get the lantern and we figured out how to put things in the trophy case in the house, but no matter how we tried, we simply could not avoid the Thief who would always appear, take all our treasure, and “slip a stiletto between your ribs.” The screen would announce in big, bold letters “You Have Died!” I never got to play Oregon Trail because that was an Apple program and we were a PC based school.

After writing all my papers on a typewriter throughout high school, I was a teacher’s aide as a senior. Mr. Linville, my physics teacher, had an Apple IIe with a word processor. You could make a mistake and just hit backspace to erase it and type another letter. I had already learned to type in tenth grade with Mrs. Wilson (God rest her soul) and I was delighted to discover the keyboards were the same. From that day to this one, I have never hand written an out of class essay or slaved over a typewriter again. Word processors all the way.

I got to college and met the MacIntosh by Apple. It was love at first sight. I loved the little screeching monkey sound it made when you hit the wrong key or it didn’t like the data you put in. I took a basic computer science class and learned about things way above my head like databases, but as long as I could word process, I was happy.

It was also in college where I met Hoppe. He was the first real live computer guru I’d ever known. He had a complete setup with a PC 386DX. It was a little harder to word process on so I usually kept to the Macs in the library, but this think could play games like you wouldn’t believe! It didn’t hurt that Hoppe was also the first computer pirate I ever met, too. He had a HUGE box of pirated discs (remember those?) he kept next to his computer. It had every kind of game you could imagine: sports games, adventure games, trivia games, you name it, Hoppe had it. I spent hours in his and Wingnut’s room playing DnD Eye of the Beholder and Star Control. Those were the first PC games I’d ever seen. We lost a lot of study time to gaming the three years we were all together. Hoppe also kept a really big electromagnet sitting on top of his box of discs and when I asked him why, he said it was in case the room ever got raided by the government! I didn’t know computer piracy was such a big deal, but apparently it was and all it would take was a hot second to flip the switch on that big electromagnet and all the evidence against Hoppe would disappear! To show you how times have changed, Hoppe came back after Christmas either our sophomore year or our junior year – I can’t remember which and he had a new set up. It was a PC 486DX. The thing I remember most clearly about that computer was it had a 40 Megabyte hard drive! We were all in awe. That was tons of discs worth of space instantly available without the slow disc drive reading them. Plus, 40 Megabytes! We couldn’t imagine any way possible to fill up that huge hard drive. Now, we’re lucky if one document formatted on MS Word is less than 40 Megabytes. Everything is in Gigabytes now, and quickly moving into Terabytes. It was fun while it lasted.

I didn’t mess with computers after I got out of college. I didn’t have a need to in my textile plant job. Then I got my teaching job and we got five computers for the entire faculty. If you wanted one you had to write a proposal explaining how you would use it to help your teaching. I got my proposal accepted so all my tests were formatted and word processed. It was great; especially when I found a program that would average grades on the fly and print progress reports. I gave my kids a progress report each week, because I could, and the parents loved it. The kids, eh, not so much. Back then it was still a stand alone machine. We hadn’t hooked up to the newfangled Internet yet, but that was coming.

When I went to work as a librarian at Bell Street, I became responsible for all the computers in the school. I took that job seriously and worked closely with Computer Services at the central office to keep our systems running better than anyone else’s. I was allowed to build images which are program clones of a certain model of computer’s hard drive. With an image and a set of CDs, I could multicast an entire lab of computers and update them almost instantly. I even worked with Computer Services during my summer vacations for free just because I enjoyed the work. That all crashed down when I got booted out of the district. Ironically, it may have been my hard work with the computers at school that cost me my job. I took lots of time with the computers and I don’t think I was supposed to. I guess I neglected other parts of the job and it made it easier to get rid of me. Computer Services was sad to see me go though. I had the one school they didn’t have to worry about because I kept it running.

I’ve had several computers of my own since that TRS-80 and I actually learned how to use them. Now don’t get it twisted – I never learned to code, much to my sad disgrace, but I loved using readymade programs to do jobs around the house and to write on whenever I wrote stuff. I still have some of my earliest stuff saved on discs that nothing can read anymore. Luckily I’ve got hard copies of most of it. My first “real” computer was a Montgomery Ward Pentium that Mama bought me for Christmas when I was a freshman in college. What I remember most about it was it had twin CD drives and at that time several games were multi-CD. Since I had a twin drive, I didn’t have to keep switching back and forth between discs! I used that computer until the hard drive died on me and back then, I didn’t know how to fix that.

My two favorite personal computers I ever owned were my two Gateway 2000 machines. I still have the stuffed cow the first machine came with. The first one I got was a Pentium II and the second one a couple of years later was a Pentium III. I used to love to call tech support when I had a problem. They were always so cheerful and they always answered the phone with, “Greetings from sunny South Dakota! How can I help you today?” Those were the first two computers I ever opened up and tore into the guts of. I upgraded memory modules and installed second hard drives. If someone didn’t know better, they might look at me and think I actually knew what I was doing! I really enjoyed those machines.

The last ten years I’ve used a series of laptops that got more and more outdated as time went on. Actually, I still keep my checkbook and finances on my last Dell laptop because it runs Windows XP and Quicken 2002 and nothing else I have will. If it ever completely dies, I guess I’ll have to modernize. But now I’ve got this slick Asus, thanks to Hoppe and Cook. I’m going to try to up production since I don’t have any excuse not to now and I know I said it before, but once again, thanks so much guys!

Love y’all and keep those feet clean!

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