I somehow managed to get in on the bleeding edge of personal computing while working at a company that manufactured high-end television broadcast and production systems. Not, mind you, quite as bloody an edge as my friend Wayne, who informed me when I described my early, formative experiences with CPM and DOS, that he had programmed with punch cards, thank you very much. I never tried to sound sage around Wayne again.
Having said that, I jumped into the computer revolution with both feet around 1982 or so and became the go-to girl for anyone in my company who wanted to know what software did which things the best and what sort of computer might be needed to run said software. I gave one-on-one software lessons; I wrote a computer column in the company newspaper; the engineering VP handed me a budget of $8,000 and said, “Here’s a cozy room, make me an engineering library and computer system. Pick the computer, pick the database software and have at it. Oh, and while you’re at it—buy furniture.” (Boy, was that fun.)
He had me trained on a prototypical Internet search system called Dialog (I think ’cause you dialed up on an 800 baud phone modem and slept like a log while waiting for the pickup). And he let me putter around on the computer system I’d put together on breaks and after hours so I could write. Let me tell you, that move from the IBM Selectric III with its amazing flying type ball (and real deletions sans whiteout!) to a computer running Microsoft Word was mind-blowing. So, when I pulled together enough money to buy my first computer, I’d already done a boatload of research and knew a good deal about how to choose a machine. I knew I wanted a PC (despite my best friend’s attempts to get me to try a Mac), because I had already chosen my software suite: PCWrite—a marvelous DOS-based word processor by Bob Wallace—and an equally amazing and user-friendly database by Jim Button called PC-File. Both were shareware programs that flew in the face of that old saw: “You get what you pay for.”
Anyhoo, I knew I wanted those two programs on my machine and I knew I also wanted as much portability as possible. I had no office at home, so no place to set up a desktop computer. Hence, I settled on a Compaq “luggable”. Twenty-eight pounds of amber pixelated joy with a humongous 10 megabyte hard drive (why would you ever want more?) and a single 5-inch floppy. As I recall, it also had 256K of Random Access Memory.
I loved that little machine. I named it Godzilla and started writing my first epic fantasy novel on it (still unpublished) while keeping notes about characters in the little database. Later, I would add a spreadsheet program to track submissions.
My husband, Chef Jeff Vader, All-Powerful God of Biscuits and Master of Toast, did not like computers. He especially did not like that my best buddy, Vern, and I talked about them almost non-stop when the three of us were in company. In fact, Jeff insisted on a moratorium on chatter about computers, software, computer code, programming languages or anything even remotely computer-related. This was difficult. Vern and I begged—and were were granted—a special dispensation. His Highness granted us a small portion of our social time to indulge in geek talk when he was present. When he left the room, we chattered about code.
Which makes it all the more ironic that, when our rock band collapsed at an inauspicious moment (as in, we were seeing a light at the end of the tunnel), my computer was what my Luddite husband turned to for our salvation. He bought a software package called Texture that would run on a PC and turn a rock duo into Yes, using the magic of Midi processing. Jeff not only bought the software, he bought hardware: keyboards and racks upon which to mount them, effects modules, processors galore. He began composing in Midi; we began performing with Godzilla and company mounted on a keyboard stand, running the synthesizers, drums and a light show (which is still sitting in the corner of our garage along with a fog machine).
The upshot of all this was that I now had to fight a man who had scorned computers for time on my PC. And now he was speakin’ Geek to my best friend! My first computer became Jeff’s first computer and I bought myself another. This one was significantly lighter. It only weighed 14 pounds. Will wonders never cease?
My epilogue here, is that when my last PC laptop died in 2004, the God of Biscuits (who was by now working for Apple’s recent acquisition: the company that made the recording studio software he used) brought me home a Macbook Pro that had been dropped. Remember those old Timex commercials—takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin’? This thing had and it did.
“Use this until we can buy you another,” said my clever husband. “See how you like it.”
Yes, technology fans, this was an ill-concealed attempt to get me hooked on Macs. So, when I lost my day job in the spring of ’05 (and Snoopy-danced all the way home), I bought a brand new Mac laptop, and named it Samwise. (You get, by now, that I am one of those people who must name everything.)
I’m boggled to think how long I have been using computers and how much they have changed in the years since I fell in love with them and bought my first “box”. The Macbook pro on which I am typing this (Castle, by name), has a 250 gigabyte hard drive and 4 gigabytes of RAM. Its dual-core processor runs at a blistering 2.53 gigahertz.
And it is, by geek standards, un Mac d’un certain age. Past its prime. Ready for that great Recycling Plant in the Sky. Which makes me wonder—whatever happened to good old Godzilla?