The Random Comic Strip

The Random Comic Strip

Words to live by...

"How beautiful it is to do nothing, and to rest afterward."

[Spanish Proverb]

Ius luxuriae publice datum est

(The right to looseness has been officially given)

"Everyone carries a part of society on his shoulders," wrote Ludwig von Mises, "no one is relieved of his share of responsibility by others. And no one can find a safe way for himself if society is sweeping towards destruction. Therefore everyone, in his own interest, must thrust himself vigorously into the intellectual battle."

Apparently, the crossword puzzle that disappeared from the blog, came back.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Digital Journey


In the early months of 1977, I was tasked to work on computers. Now, in 1977, there were no personal computers, no desktop machines, definitely no laptops. No, these were massive semi-autonomous processing systems networked with a central processing unit designed to connect a calling phone to a called phone. They were fairly innovative in that the entire system operated in a digital format. (No, that's not me and we didn't wear ties)

I was also tasked to work with , and on, a mini-computer. A DEC PDP-11. This was about as small a computer as they were making in those days. It had a couple of "washtub" hard drive units which maybe stored 20 or 40 megabytes each.

It wasn't until 1981 that I bought my first small computer. An Osborne1 "portable" computer. No hard drive, two floppy drives, a 5" monochrome screen and 64 kilobytes of memory. Wow! State of the art. And then, a few months later, I got my first modem and discovered Electronic Bulletin Board Systems. There was no internet, no DSLs, no cable modems. Just telephone lines and modems that attained the magnificent speed of 1200 bps. Mine only went a 4th of that.

But it opened up a whole new world. The BBSes, as they came to be called, were very localized. You dialed them up and you basically saw text scroll across the screen. It was magic. There were no graphics, no widgets, no online games. But it was magic. You could find programs for your computer. You could leave messages, ask questions of other computer and modem users and get answers.

Along the way I started expanding and building my own computers. Faster ones, more powerful ones, more capacity. I pieced together several from spare parts and a few purchased parts. There were computer shows and computer swap meets where you could buy and trade parts. Computers are surprisingly simple.

As time went on, I got a faster modem, I got a more powerful computer and another and another. The BBSes found ways to link their message forums by transferring the data between them. I started my own BBS in 1989 on January 1st. It ran until 1996 when the internet started making the BBS an anachronism.

For a few years, I got into the forums. Some political flame wars, some technical assistance (mostly on modems), but I got tired of it. Not tired of computers, mind you, I still played with them. And I still used the internet for gathering information and for shopping, mostly for computer parts. I just lost the urge to interact with people on it.

Still, I liked the internet and I like to write so I guess it was inevitable I ended up here as a blogger. So many things have changed over the years; computers are 100 times more powerful, they can store thousands of times more data, and they have all sorts of fancy gadgets and options now. Still, the most fun, the most enjoyable feature, is the ability to connect to other people.

7 comments:

Argentum Vulgaris said...

(sniff - wipes teary eye) brings back memories. I had a Dick Smith System-80 (Australian copy of Tandy radio Shack TRS-80), 32kb, loaded programmes from cassette tape.

Those were the days... stmfloms

AV
http://netherregionoftheearthii.blogspot.com/
http://tomusarcanum.blogspot.com/

Steven said...

hrm, 100 times more powerful?

I don't much remember the 8086 you built us, but I do remember (very fondly) the 386 33MHz (with no math coprocessor IIRC) with 4MB of ram and a 60MB hard drive.

My new $1000 computer is 4 cores all running at 2,833MHz, 4,048MB of ram, and 2x500MB hard drives (not to mention the >2TB of externals). With a 30" 2560x1600 100dpi monitor. Including a $130 graphics card with another 512MB of ram and a staggering amount of processing power, soon to be utilized for general processing with OpenCL under Mac OS 10.6.

It's pretty crazy to remember how much I used that 386 and how much I learned and how much fun I had playing Descent with the keyboard and no sound...but how little has actually truly changed since then. I guess I spend all my time on the internet instead of BBSs, but that's still not too far of a stretch.

Also...the Osborne? The $10,000 "laptop" that basically flopped? You had one??

Douglas said...

Av -Yeah, yeah, and a bigger screen... but could you lug it around airports?

Steven - You have to calculate in the program bloat. Don't be picking on my Osborne, it was only $1795 and, yup, it flopped. So did many others. Only a few survived the computer wars of the 80s and 90s. Commodore, Atari, Amiga, Tandy (Radio Shack), TI, and many more are all gone.

redchair said...

Hi Douglas
This was so terrific! I love every word of your description. What a beautiful place to grow up in.

I sometimes think that our generation grew up in the 'last of the best of times for kids.'
Vikki

Douglas said...

Vikki - You commented one too far.. :) It was a beautiful place, still is for the kids in the area I guess. I wonder, too, if we had it better than our own but I suspect that is a lament every generation makes about the next.

Douglas said...

Av -Yeah, yeah, and a bigger screen... but could you lug it around airports?

Steven - You have to calculate in the program bloat. Don't be picking on my Osborne, it was only $1795 and, yup, it flopped. So did many others. Only a few survived the computer wars of the 80s and 90s. Commodore, Atari, Amiga, Tandy (Radio Shack), TI, and many more are all gone.

Steven said...

hrm, 100 times more powerful?

I don't much remember the 8086 you built us, but I do remember (very fondly) the 386 33MHz (with no math coprocessor IIRC) with 4MB of ram and a 60MB hard drive.

My new $1000 computer is 4 cores all running at 2,833MHz, 4,048MB of ram, and 2x500MB hard drives (not to mention the >2TB of externals). With a 30" 2560x1600 100dpi monitor. Including a $130 graphics card with another 512MB of ram and a staggering amount of processing power, soon to be utilized for general processing with OpenCL under Mac OS 10.6.

It's pretty crazy to remember how much I used that 386 and how much I learned and how much fun I had playing Descent with the keyboard and no sound...but how little has actually truly changed since then. I guess I spend all my time on the internet instead of BBSs, but that's still not too far of a stretch.

Also...the Osborne? The $10,000 "laptop" that basically flopped? You had one??