Thursday, June 13, 2013

Bumper Stickers

I've just about got the Chromebook up and running again. Though something did occur to me (after an offer for an antiquated laptop - an absolute beast at the time but still...). Bumper stickers for computers. Things like:

My other computer's a chromebook :(

Or:

My first computer was a TRS-80

Which has me thinking about the "good old" days. For as long as I could remember, I wanted something to do with robots (because in the 80's, robots had personalities and would do stuff for you. It was their mobile form factor that had people excited even more so the artificial intelligence) or computers. Actually... back that up. Computers were just these foreign machines on TV whereas robots were just plain awesome. That is until I went to this science museum type place in Canada where we spent an inordinate amount of time playing with the computers (although the liquid nitrogen presentation was cool too).

From that day forward I was hooked. Fascinating devices with funky control mechanisms (I really struggled with the mouse but at the very least walked away with a print out of my name drawn incredibly roughly with a mouse). The frustration on the guys face while trying to explain the mouse to me is the same frustration you see nowadays (nice to see that some things don't change).

That was when I was... 6? From that point on, any opportunity to have a play on a computer was tops! It usually resulted in going somewhere with my parents and finding that they had a console plugged into a TV and everyone watching on as I struggled to make heads or tails of whatever game. Sometimes they were just way too easy. Other times I just couldn't figure out what the hell I was meant to do.

I'm getting to a point... honest I am. The frustration of not knowing what I was doing was really quite normal. Anyway, when I was 11 or so, I had been asking for a typewriter. My presentation was just kind of crap and yet it seemed to be the emphasis at school. It didn't really matter about the content. If it didn't look good, you didn't get the marks. I came home and my mother handed me this leather pouch. I opened it and found something with a keyboard! My excitement about getting a typewriter lead to disappointment as I realised it wasn't a typewriter at all. It was a computer. It couldn't produce anything that I could use for homework / assignments. Still... it was a computer! And given that we weren't the wealthiest of people - and computers weren't terribly accessible (I remember my father coming home and me asking him if he'd made $550 that day because Farmers was selling Amstrads at the time for that amount) - just having a computer was pretty darn cool.

The problem was though, that I had absolutely no idea how to use it. It had belonged to my parent's insurance guy and had a few things on there related to his work activities - though I quickly figured out (by accident of course) how to blank it out. And then figured out that some programs needed files to exist (there was no hierarchy - you'd turn it on and you couldn't really tell the difference between text files and programs except that I think programs had bas kind of just glued to the end of the name). So the scheduler (calendar) and address book both needed some files to be manually set up.

I remember spending a day on a mission. That's what I used to call it. You had something and you wanted to find something about it. So you'd go down to the library and spend some time finding any sort of reference to what you had. And then you'd try stores - surely if they sold similar things, they could tell you a little something about it. Which more often than not, they couldn't.

It wasn't until I was in high school that someone showed me a bit of basic. Suddenly I was hooked. Programming was the best thing eva! I could put together quizzes and make it go *bleep* and even, eventually, draw lines (leading to Cartesian Planes being no problem when I get to them in maths).

Jump forward to today. It's hard to remember the sort of lengths you'd have to go to to learn something or figure something out. Nowadays I have boxes fill of electronics bits and pieces and know that if ever I need information on any of it, I can just look it up on the net.

Moreover - I/We take this for granted. We don't really remember just how lucky we are. The information age suddenly came along and while it was all new and fantastic, now it's just a part of life and being used for pushing information (marketing) at us in every which direction. I recently decided I should set up filters for all of the junk mail I get - clothing and computer retailers sending me stuff on a weekly basis that then gets pushed to me wherever I am via my cellphone (thus filtering them to another folder stops that from happening). So while we were imaging robots with AI in the 80's, I don't think we ever really anticipated that we would become the robots (the amount of information that we process through these days along with augmented technologies - i.e. your cellphone/tablet is an extension of your finger nowadays - go-go-gadget).

So while I'm whinging about Chromebooks (Chromebrick?) and the like - it should all be taken in context. This wealth of information has us with a fundamentally different outlook on life. The Bakers can get out of the bakery a lot more easily than ever before (The Bacchus', Baxter's etc.). If we're trapped the first thing we do is check our cellphone signal. Even swiping is a fundamentally different action than anything we've ever done in the past - my father really struggles with it and reminds me of my first attempts with a mouse.

So.... about those bumper stickers then...

[Update] It just occurred to me that this post catches me out in a lie. For any of you who have seen my speech for the NZOSA, you'll find that I contradict myself in regards to this post. I say something about doing nothing but playing Warcraft II and Command and Conquer on my first computer. That was a complete lie. My first computer (nor my second) was able to play any of those games. I desperately wanted an x86 compatible machine once I'd seen those games.

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