Living in the Past What was it like to live through the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy’s Assassination and other historic events. It might be of interest to learn how things were done in the past as a curiosity. Descriptions of other events that might be of interest (eg. the first personal home computer).
Computer– an electronic device for storing and processing data, typically in binary form, according to instructions given to it in a variable program. (source: Apple Dictionary). Charles Babbage, an English mechanical engineer and polymath, originated the concept of a programmable computer. Considered the “father of the computer” (source: Wikipedia)
My first encounter with a computer was in an introductory class taken so long ago I am unable to recall where and when it happened. I do recall being awed by IBM punch cards that carried code which when fed into a computer, that looked like a giant reel to reel tape deck, could solve problems at lightning speeds (eg. calculate the amount of money you would now have if you had started with a $1 back in 1492 and a bank paid you 5% interest compounded quarterly). I remember the teacher trying to take away our fear and awe of computers by telling us “computers are only as smart as the programmer” and that we should not be afraid of them.
It was exciting to get my first personal computer back in 1986. It was manufactured by Atari, a company more known for games than for work applications. I didn’t buy a monitor, just used my 19″black and white portable TV as a screen. My keyboard was similar to the one on the lower left in the picture. I used a cartridge which slipped into the little opening above the “6”,” 7″, “8” and “9” keys. Everything about that computer seemed powerful and mysterious. I believe the fact you could so easily correct a typed mistake was my favorite feature. I cannot remember how many apps I had on the computer, but I do remember having to occasionally get out of a program and into DOS so I could run some utility or open a different program. My work was saved on a 5 ¼ inch floppy disk. I remember that I had 48k of storage which seemed mind-blowingly large to me. I bought a floppy disk that had a program called Lotus Works which was a word processing program, a data base manager and a spread sheet program. Even though Lotus Works was intended for work applications, I found it was fun seeing how it worked, although there were times I wanted to trash the whole setup. Maybe computers were not for me.
As nice as that Atari was, I soon tired of it and wanted a computer with Windows on it. Eventually I was able to get a computer with Windows on it and my life became more complicated. Many times I found myself scratching my head wondering what the computer was doing. I had an operating system called Windows 3.1 which was soon surpassed by the release of Windows 95. There were several more operating systems developed and for sale from Microsoft, but eventually I became very frustrated because it seemed like with every upgrade I would have problems with my existing programs. It eventually seemed like the whole computer was out of sync with itself. I had no idea what it was doing.
There have been many upgrades I’ve purchased including changing from a Windows based computer to a Mac system. Switching to their operating system took a long time. Here too there were times I had no idea what the computer was doing or wouldn’t let me do.
I have, however, learned a few things in my thirty one years of computing which have taken away much of my fear of them.
- Always, always make a back-up (maybe two or three to make sure). I once accidentally erased a theme paper I had been working on for several hours. I sat in shock staring at the now blank computer screen. Nowadays, I normally make three additional backup copies (two of them are free online services)
- Get familiar with a new program when there is no outside pressure. Trying to learn a program under a time demand is a good way to put out bad work and also to get sick.
- When learning a new program, use only a few examples. For example if I am exploring a spreadsheet program, I make only a few entries to see how the program handles them. If I am working with a word processing program, I type in a few words to see if my printer is connected, how the program saves my work, what commands are needed to copy and paste. This has saved me a lot of time. At first, I was inclined to type in a lot of words or numbers then discovered something didn’t work and lost all my work.
- When encountering a problem, stay calm-I have learned over the years that when I get an unexpected result, I need to stay calm, believe there is an answer, take a break from the work. When I am calm and relaxed (usually the next morning), I come back to it and assume the computer has reacted properly, that I missed an instruction or I made an error putting the information in. When I am relaxed the problem becomes more like a game or a puzzle and I am much more likely to see the mistake.
- When there is time (i.e. free from pressure), read the owners manual for your software to spot any additional capacities which you may have overlooked when you first started using the program.
I would love to hear of other’s experiences with computers