Early Years
   
 

I was first exposed to computers in high school where we had a HP2114A mini computer.  To run a program you first had to load in the language that was on punched paper tape through a high speed optical tape reader, then the program through the same reader. 

Of course you could always load in everything in binary through the mnemonic touch switches on the front panel.  But that would take you forever to do and if you made an error, there was no undo.  In that case you would have to restart the computer and start from scratch.  Real fun. So you made sure that you do not make any mistakes.

 


HP 2114A

ASR-33 Teletype with paper tape puncher

Once up and running input and output was by teletype.  To save your program you would have to create a paper punch tape through the teletype.  If you tore the tape by accident you were up the creek without a paddle.

I took a course that was more of an introduction to computers that briefly went over a few languages like BASIC, FORTRAN, COBOL, Assembler and what is now a dead language, conversational machine language or "CML" which was all in binary..

Quite often you would find me on the computer during my free time.

I took a class in my senior year on data processing. We were taught how the intricacies of computers and data processing. One of the things we learned was Hollerith and how computers were able to read punch cards and tape and what the holes meant. We use to write to each other in 'code' using Hollerith.

Right after high school I took a more intense course on computers through GTE Sylvania which included a lot of electric and electronic theory. Shortly after my path took a different route which was working on high performance street cars where I built my own street car then on yachts where I designed and built my boat and it wasn't until many years later that I was reacquainted with computing.

Paper punch tape The first computer that I owned was a Timex Sinclair 1000.  It had a Z81 processor running at 3.5Mhz with 2K RAM and an add on 16k RAM module.  I did some BASIC programming on it but since there was no way to save the programs and as soon as I turned it off everything was gone.  It also had a lot of other limitations as well.

 

 


Timex Sinclair 1000 with 16K RAM pack
VIC 20 with cassette player
VIC-20 with cassette player/recorder

Next I bought a used Commodore VIC-20.  That had a 6502 processor running at 1Mhz with 5k RAM.  Although the processor was slower than the Timex it had more functionality like built in color and sound where the Timex was black and white with no sound.  Plus the VIC had a cassette player so I was able to save my work to tape.

 

But there was a drawback there as well.  If I wanted a particular program I had to fast forward the tape to where the program or data was then the computer could access it.  Plus if there was another program behind the one you were working on, you couldn't append it for you would over write the next program or data file.  So I would wind up having more cassette tapes with computer programs and data than music cassettes.

I learned about this great piece of technology that would save the day for me, the floppy disk.  That would allow random access to the data faster than the tape and would allow creating or appending files without endangering those already on the disk.

With cash in hand I went to PC Richard and Sons in Carle Place to buy a disk drive.  The salesman was not enthused and simply talked down to me telling me that the disk drives are good only for mailing lists.  He even refused to sell me the disk drive.

So I left discouraged without a disk drive.

The VIC 20 had it's limitations and I hit them pretty fast and it became apparent that it's useful life came to an end so maybe not buying the disk drive was a good thing.  I was able to muster up a little over a thousand dollars and invested into an Atari 800XL with dual external floppy drives, an external 300 baud modem and Panasonic dot matrix printer.  The computer had a 6502 processor running at 1.79Mhz, 64K of RAM which exceeded my previous machines.  The Atari had a preloaded bastardized version of BASIC and ASCII as well.

The dealer also included a word processor, spreadsheet and database programs as part of the package.  Now computing was stepped up a few notches though everything was machine specific.

 

Atari 800XL
Atari 800XL with 5 1/4" floppy drive
Atari 130XE
Atari 130XE

Eventually the 800XL gave way to an Atari 130XE which had 128K of RAM and an external Hayes 2400 baud modem.

I started to write a digital marine navigation chart with the Atari but never had the chance to complete it. Today they are very popular on boats and they use a different technology than what I was using.

 

 

The Atari had it's own set of limitations which really hampered what could be done with it.  It really was not a powerhouse by a long shot.  A new CEO came on board of ATARI and proclaimed that the ATARI was nothing more than a game machine.  The end came quickly.

From there I moved into the world of true computing by buying an IBM clone with a 286 processor, DOS 3.1, VGA monitor, 20MB internal hard drive and 5 1/4 inch floppy drive.  It came with Lotus 1-2-3, Wordperfect, DBase and several other programs.  The Hayes modem and dot matrix printer from the Atari plugged right into the PC.

Adding hardware was a real pain. The external modem died and I decided to put in an internal one.  I had to configure DMA's and IRQ's to make sure there were no conflicts, which always was the case.  Adding a mouse was also a nightmare for the same reason.  I had to find an empty DMA and or IRQ that the mouse supported but way too often something else needed those same resources.  Oh the fun of installing a serial mouse and the number of curses I said.

 

IBM AT
Early IBM AT

Every time I walked in the house with a new piece of hardware for the computer, my wife took the kids to the park to protect them from the curses I was going to say.

I put Windows 3.1 on it which didn't help with the hardware issues, but the GUI did make using the computer easier.

Windows 95

Windows 95 rolled out making hardware installs easier.  With Windows 95, you were supposed to be able to add hardware and Windows would do the work of installing it.  Microsoft called it plug and play, we said plug and pray.   Sometimes it worked and other times it didn't.

One thing about Windows 95, it was not too bad to use when setting up a network.  I had to configure TCP/IP, NETBUI and NWLINK for network protocols.  Now TCP/IP is pretty much the def acto standard.  I don't remember when the last time I used NETBUI or NWLINK.

Windows 98 made it even easier to install hardware and to setup a small network.  Wordperfect and Lotus gave way to Microsoft Office.  Going on line was with Internet Explorer or Netscape, which I preferred.

Upgrading from Windows 95 to 98 was not too bad.  You just popped in the CD and let it do the rest.  But at the time you could buy the upgrade disk without Internet Explorer.  Once you had Windows 98 installed you could download Internet Explorer from Microsoft for free.  Or you could get the Windows 98 upgrade with Internet Explorer for and extra $35 at Staples.

I questioned the manager at the Staples in Huntington about why are they charging an extra $35 for something that Microsoft was giving away for free.  She became very adamant with me and had me leave the store.  I never did get my answer.  So I bought the upgrade elsewhere without Internet Explorer and used Netscape as my browser.

 

Windows 98
Floppy Disk Drives
Floppy Disk Drives

I wrote my first webpages in HTML using WordPerfect 5.1 which gave way to Netscape's webpage authoring tools.  Now I use Dreamweaver exclusively.  For the graphics I started off with PaintShop Pro which was not a bad little program.  But that gave way to much more powerful programs like Photoshop, InDesign, Bryce, 3D Max and several others.

 

I took up databases starting off by teaching myself DBase which was very frustrating.  Moved on to MS Access which was not bad and had or has a lot of potential for small business operations.  Then I studied what I use now and that is SQL Server and FileMaker Pro which are really nice.  I'm now creating stand alone programs with FileMaker Pro.

At first my early computers had 5 1/4" floppy disk drives.  That gave way to 3 1/2" drives that had much more capacity like 720K for a 5 1/4" to 1.5Mb for the 3 1/2" drives.  There was talk of  2 and 3Mb 3 1/2" inch drives but I never saw one.  Then a new disk drive hit the market, the  CD drive.  It was rumored that you could write on the disk with a magic marker and the disk could still be read. We all know how false that rumor turned out.  And the capacity was over 650Mb per disk.

I really wanted one of those but the original CD drives required a SCSI interface plus they ran over $1,000 each.  Today I can buy one for under $20 and it does not require any special interfaces.

Even memory took a large jump.  My first Windows computers had 8Mb of RAM.  Then there was a price break on memory, I was able to buy 128Mb of RAM for only $210.  Originally that much ran around $400, so yes it was a deal at at time. Now you get get gigabytes for well under a hundred.

I remember buying my first real big hard drive. It was a whopping 1.2Gb of storage.  Talk about excitement.  I'd never fill that puppy up.  Right.  Now I'm looking at solid state hard drives in the terabyte range.

Things have really changed since that little Timex Sinclair.

Today I have several servers running Windows server, numerous laptops, desktops, even a few computers running LINUX in my house.  For data storage I have a 64TB NAS, to get on-line we have a 100Mbps fiber optic connection with a SonicWall firewall and the switches are all Cisco.  And with all of that hardware, comes a big electric bill from one of the most expensive electric companies in the US.  Freaky thing is that I have more computing power sitting in my home office than my former company.

In high school I learned a little programming in languages you do not see very much anymore. Today I know JAVA and VB.Net but not enough to call myself a programmer or developer which is the new term. I went on with my formal computer education and earned my degree in computers, took additional courses covering MSCE and CCNA from another college, studied various on-line MOOCS covering Filemaker Pro, InDesign, Illustrator, and more.

I taught myself to write webpages in HTML at first using WordPerfect then onto Dreamweaver and using CSS. For graphics I first used PaintShop Pro but later moved into using Photoshop and became quite proficient with it and now do custom graphics for a social media website. Some of the graphics are photo manipulations. I have also gotten involved in creating some Infographics as well.

If you visit my Art Gallery from here or the tab on top, you can see some of my work.

At my last job I wrote my own trouble ticket system in MS Access that has features that you cannot find with commercial systems. I tried to make it stand-alone, that is not requiring Access to be installed using the MS Jet Engine but had all kinds of trouble making it work. Eventually I re-wrote the entire program in FileMaker Pro that has the same functionality as my original but with more features. Using FileMaker Pro I was able to compile the program so it is totally stand-alone and can run on any machine that does not have FileMaker Pro installed.

At times I sit back looking at my home network and think that things were a lot simpler with the little Timex Sinclair.  But I wouldn't want to go back.

 
 
 
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