Am I Older than Dirt?*

Dr. Doyle’s Editorial and Critique Services  blog served up a blast from technology’s past, which prompted this reminiscence.

I mentioned in an early post that I became a touch typist on my mother’s manual typewriter at the age of ten. I produced a 50-page “novel” shortly thereafter (no wonder I have arthritis in my hands and fingers), and the Smith Corona Electric behemoth I got when I first went off to college ended up traveling around the globe (Illinois to Germany, to Maryland; then Alaska, Hawaii and back to Virginia) before it gave up the ghost.

The first time I used a computer was in 1977, at the National Security Agency. (Yes, I was a spy. No, I don’t have to kill you, now. The statute of limitations has expired, you lucky dog.) It was the size and shape of a large chest freezer, and we had to reprogram the machine by writing BASIC line code every time we wanted output to a printer that outweighed a baby elephant.

My first household computer was a Coleco Adam, which still required magnetic tape for memory and line code programming in order to do anything that remotely resembled Artificial Intelligence. It output to a dot-matrix printer that I wore out and had to replace the tractor feed. After that I graduated to a Radio Shack Tandy with a 5 1/4-inch floppy drive; later upgraded to another Tandy with a 3 1/2-inch floppy, and subsequently acquired an external modem. A Packard Bell with an internal modem, a 3 1/2-inch floppy and a CD reader, arrived in 1997 and lasted 6 years (despite being hit by lightning), to be followed by a Compaq with a 3 1/2-inch floppy, a CD R/W, and a dial-up modem that had to be replaced after five years, and which was supplemented during the next five years by an E-Machine laptop and a Toshiba laptop, both with wireless cards and CD/DVD R/W drives. All three were used in the production of Irish Firebrands. My new “Holstein-Frisian” CPU has more memory than several chest freezers at NSA.

* Don’t answer that.


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