Monday, August 16, 2010

Happy Birthday to the Personal Computer

It has come to my attention that a device that has been not only pivotal to my life, but something near and dear to my interests, the personal computer, better known as the PC, has recently celebrated it's 29th year of public availability.  Wow, can you even begin to imagine life without a computer?  Oh sure there were Apple II's and Amigas, and Commodores, and all those back then, but the PCc was different.  It had an idea of DIY for the masses.  The robust notion of upgrades, which admittedly has been a boon to the whole industry, even if laptops, the current most popular computing device is barely modifiable by most users.

My first computer wasn't a PC, it was a Commodore.  A Commodore 128 to be precise, although relatively speaking, the extra cash my parents forked over to get the "upgrade" from 64 mode, was not really utilized by anyone for several years after the unit made it's grand entrance into our home.  Especially since my school only had 64s, it became the mode I was most comfortable with, and of course the only mode that all our bootlegged (thanks to whatever math student it was in that class that my mom was substitute teaching in when the Commodore came to live with us) games would run in.  And someday I really will play the emulated versions of Twin Kingdom Valley and Leather Goddess of Phobos, that despite my multiple decades of having started the games, I WILL someday finish, with minimal cheats.
I can't even imagine what I'd be like if we hadn't had that computer.  Computer class was my absolute favorite in elementary school.  All my friends were there when we were in class, a big problem for me as my friends - all three of them - went to GT most days, a program I much later found out I was accepted to, but for various miscommunications my mother did not permit me to attend.  So I really looked forward to sharing a computer with my boyfriend and learning and doing all that I could possibly do.  Sure sometimes we played games, but mostly we did drafting (in Lotus - except we called it Turtle, because of the cursor) and programming in BASIC.

Part of me will always hold a soft spot for BASIC, I mean it was my first computer language.  It was the first language I knew that enabled me to create, to draw, and to develop.  It was the first thing that really pulled me away from my family for some solo time with the keyboard.  Sure we had games, thanks to that high school guy (whom is probably in his mid 40s now), but games were and for me mostly always will be, social.  My dad and I played Twin Kingdom Valley, Test Drive, and Outrun, my mom and I played mario, my sister and I played all the rest, including the aforementioned forbidden Leather Goddess of Phobos.  However, when I was programming, I was left to my own devices.  Sure, when my program was done and I called everyone to see what I'd created, not unlike a child presenting a painting to be deemed worthy of the refrigerator, everyone came to see.

I wonder if my mother ever thinks of how that computer that she insisted upon shaped my life (and most likely my sister's), after all we are both now married to IT guys.... and while my sister doesn't do any programming, and I tend to find it a handy employment aid, she is no slouch when it comes to the use and maintenance of a computer.

While my parents still own that commodore - hey it still boots, or at least it did about 13 years ago, by the end of junior high we desperately needed to get on board with the PC generation.  At the time the company my father worked for manufactured PCs and we went to the company store and got a top of the line machine straight from the factory (try doing that now!)  Our custom built wonder box even had a modem, internally!  We could like call the library, that we'd just gotten.  Not that we used the modem. My mother had heard about these new things called computer viruses and she was having none of that.  Of course at the time disk swapping was the most common way to get a virus, but that's not important.  We now had our first windows PC running a stunning brand new Windows 3.11 with DOS 6.

DOS, boy those were great times.  Friends coming over to use the computer and threatening to "format c:\"  Navigating directories and exiting windows to run games.  Then there were the DOS commands, which later to my chagrin were so similar to UNIX commands, only different.  My programming died off for a few years when the PC entered, but it more a lack of availability than a lack of interest.  In the schools programming was only offered in high school and you had to pass typing first.  As a result I ended up taking 2.5 typing classes (1.5 in junior high and one in high school), and then never did get the chance to learn PASCAL which was the only option at my high school.  It didn't matter though, there were other things to program and the computer was front and center for me and most of my friends.  There was even a new www kicking the bbs to the archaic bucket.

So it should be fairly evident, that without the personal computer, my childhood would have been drastically different within my home, yet even as a small girl, my boyfriend and I spent much of our time on his PC or my Commodore.  Sure I did plenty of playing outside, especially on my grandparents farm, but I'd wager that an equal amount of time was spent with a computer.  Now, I am seldom away from computers.  Only when I've been camping or working in the woods have I been able to stay away, oh that and visiting my in laws who are still pre-internet - painful withdrawals - thankfully, I now have a laptop.

Happy birthday PCs.  I don't know who I'd be without you, and you've definitely made for many of my fondest memories.  I'm so glad you came and are here to stay, at least until I can get my tablet designed.

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