Friday, March 10, 2006

Computers I've known and loathed

I found this web site on old computers, I have no idea how, and actually found a few that I’ve used way back in the dawn of time. This one was my introduction to the wonderful world of Apple. I used it doing clerical work in a summer job, oddly enough at the place where I find myself working today. I remember thinking it was kind of fun and I liked the bright stripy apple.

Then right after I graduated from college, I started using this, courtesy of dear old Dad, who got it from his employer for home use before any other kids on the block had one. It came in handy because I was living at home trying to figure out what to do with my life, and one of the things I was trying was writing for the local newspaper. Of course there was no such thing as a modem, so I would write a story (delighting in the cutting and pasting as I clacked away on the metallic keys, wishing like hell Id had one for all those English paper I’d written) and then print it out on a dot matrix printer, natch. I’d drive it to the newspaper office, where someone would actually retype the whole thing for typesetting purposes. Amazing.

Next in line were various 8088 clones with two 5-inch disk drives (one for the program disk and one for storage) and no hard drive. They frequently choked and blew away whatever you were writing, and in our newspaper office we DIDN’T EVEN HAVE A PRINTER, for God’s sake, so our editor often said with a bright smile, “You’ll be AMAZED at how quickly it comes back to you!” as the reporters cursed their way through rewriting stories they’d just written. You never wanted to hear anyone say “plink” because that was some sort of error message -- “P LINK OVERLAY” -- that was akin to the future Blue Screen of Death. Blue screens were not yet available, of course, though we had orange blinky text on a black background, which was a hell of a lot easier on the eyes than the migraine-inducing bright green letters of the IBM PC.

Then I moved to a daily paper -- woo hoo! -- which had ancient dedicated word processors that used Atex, except I was in the bureau so the stories had to be transmitted over the phone line, and once again, sometimes the damn computer would chew them up in the process, and once again we had no friggin’ printer, so you’d finish a story, save it, press “send” and pray like hell. but for those breaking news stories of local Planning and Zoning meetings ending at 10:00 at night when you couldn’t drive back to the bureau in time for deadline, there was this nifty device, which would send anyone who once enjoyed writing into a fit of screaming obscenity and/or a feeling of sinking slowly to the bottom of the ocean as you tried to compose a story when you could see only one line of it at a time. Usually in some darkened corner of the town hall. And then tote the computer and some black rubber cups and wires to a payphone, and shell out 25 cents of your own money to send the story from the TRash-80 to the office.

Then I found the Macintosh, and It Was Good. Only in the last year have I ben forced to use a Windows machine once again for work (though I still have my beloved Mac laptop at home, of course), and boy does it suck. How the hell did Microsoft get so far with such an inferior interface? I mean other than by ruthlessly stealing from the competition or buying them out or just having them taken out to the woods and shot. Oh well. At least Steve Jobs can take his iPod and stick it far, far up a certain anatomical passageway belonging to Bill Gates.

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