Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Like a Smoker in Search of His Next Cig

Back home from two and a half days on the road. Two and a half days over in Wisconsin, visiting family. Two and a half days without Internet access.

No email. No chat. No music over 3WK. No websurfing. No access to my blog, or to any of the other blogs out there.

15 years ago, 20 years ago, 25 years ago, I wouldn't have missed it, because I wouldn't have known what I was missing. Think of it.

25 years ago I was living in an apartment in Madison, where I had just finished my master's degree in math at the UW. I had taken several computer science courses, I had written programs in PASCAL and FORTRAN and C and whatnot, I had worked turning out punched cards at a keypunch machine, I had gotten occasional precious access to a terminal where I used the exceedingly primitive ed line editor. Not a text editor, not a screen editor, but a one-line-at-a-time line editor.

20 years ago I was living in a small river town in northwest Illinois. I had seen and played with a friend's exceedingly primitive and exceedingly expensive IBM PC XT. But if only for the sheer expense of it, I couldn't at that time see getting a computer of my own.

15 years ago, I had a computer, with a glowing green monochrome monitor, and two 5¼" floppy drives and no hard drive, running under MS-DOS 3.3. But get online? Get real, living under the poverty of student life I couldn't afford it. And for what? To access some stone-knives-and-bearskins bulletin boards out there?!

I never would've guessed how dependent, like a smoker in search of his next cig, I would one day become on email and on the blogosphere and on all the once-unforeseeable rest of it.


Blogger The Tetrast said...

I had an IBM XT.

I remember the co-op newsletter I first did on a manual typewriter. Then I did it on the XT, without graphic interface, carefully composing the masthead out of endless little characters into large letters. And I did a co-op info sheet, crammed with info, complete with a little drawing of the building. A friend of mine had access to a University account and we sent some text to each other over the Internet. No Web, no browser, none of that stuff.

Then came graphic interfaces. I went totally nuts. At work, in Word 2.0's "Word Art 1.0" I created maps of the offices, all the cubicles, names, phone numbers, for seven different floors, with over six hundred workers in my spare time there. I developed an info sheet with at least 50 fonts, all the facilities & admin information that anybody could want. I distributed a fresh versions of these and other things universally, every month or so. Nowadays there are infranets, so stuff like what I did would tend to be redundant.

Now these young 'uns, they don't know what it used to be like. No cable, no Internet, no computers. We wore thin-soled sneakers through which you could feel the least pebble on the ground. When we got them we smudged them with dirt to keep them from looking "pretty." On our bikes our brakes wore out and we'd have holes in our sneakers, and still we'd ride in the rain through the Manhattan streets.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006 8:39:00 PM  
Blogger Paul Burgess said...

I must confess, word processing is one area where I've only recently emerged from the Triassic jungles. Of course my IBM ThinkPad has long since gone Linux-only; but it's been less than a year and a half since I made the transition (still halting) to OpenOffice.

Prior to that, for many years, my preference was Microsoft Word 5.0 for DOS: I had an older clunker ThinkPad with Windows 98 on it, and I'd fire it up when I needed to get into word processing mode. Wonderfully clean 80x25 textmode interface. Only problem was, Word 5.0 for DOS was not Y2K compliant: on 1/1/2000, it started producing files of a uniform 6K size, which if you edited them very long would start to fill up with random chunks of hieroglyphics. So I had to write and compile a little utility to wrap around Word, to fool it into thinking that it was 20 years ago. Thus cozened, it continued to function happily until little more than a year ago.

Working in Linux, I do much of my writing in GEdit, which is sort of the GNOME equivalent of Notepad. (Actually I use neither GNOME nor KDE, but Fluxbox.) Given my ancient history with the ed line editor, I really ought to get into vi, if I could ever find the time to get past the first stage in the learning curve. Back in my DOS and Windows days, my favorite text editor was something called QEdit, "with WordStar ctrl-key commands!"

I think one of the things that fascinates me about computers is that I've seen them grow by leaps and bounds, and come into common use as part of everyday life, just within my lifetime. Same as it was with my parents and TV. Same as it was with my grandparents and radio.

Thursday, June 22, 2006 7:12:00 AM  

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