The Daily Whim

The Daily Whim

Thu. Jan 19, 2006

A Decade Ago

A decade ago today, Jan. 19, 1996, I opened the box that contained my first computer.

It was a Micron PC with a 100mhz Pentium 1 processor. It standardly came with eight megabytes of RAM, but I’d spent an extra $320 to upgrade it to 16MB (in those days, 256MB of RAM would cost you ten grand at $40 per MB). The contents of the 850MB hard drive could today be fit into the RAM of my current computer, with room left over to run the OS.

I was certain I was going to break it, and totally clueless. When I first hooked it up, and was amazed that it even booted properly, I opened up Wordpad just because there wasn’t much else on it at that time. And I immediately became convinced they’d sent me a defective keyboard, because when I typed “Reid” it came out “rEID.” Seriously, I was mad … how was I supposed to use my new computer with a defective keyboard? Then I saw that little green glowing light under the words “CAPS LOCK.”

Yep, a decade ago today, I was the definition of clueless newbie.

A decade ago on Feb. 14, I got my first “real” Internet connection, with a company then called Mindspring, now morphed into Earthlink (I’d used Prodigy the few weeks before that).

Back then I was “fotodude,” because usernames could only have eight letters. I mostly used the software provided by my ISP on the seven floppy disks in the install package. There was Netscape 1.2 for the web (now with tables!), Eudora Light for e-mail, and this thing called Free Agent for Usenet, where I spent a good deal of time in those early days. And I did all of this at a download speed of about 3KB per second, if the wind was blowing right. My ISP was a company with a three legged dog and a dress code that said of you were in a meeting, shoes were a good idea.

A decade ago in March, I went from thinking I would have to hire someone to build my first web site, to thinking maybe I could learn this HTML stuff myself.

A decade ago April 14, I put up my first web site.

A decade ago in July and August, I did my first blogging, though nobody called it that back then.

A decade ago, in hindsight, it was all pretty primitive and ugly. But I revelled in it. And have left the artifacts of those days in place on this site both to keep me humble, and as a reminder that things I once was pretty mediocre at (or worse) can get better.

Sometimes all it takes is ten years.

This has been your Net Grandpa Advisory for this month. More will likely follow later this year.

Peanut Gallery

1  LM wrote:

I still have a pre-layers Photoshop book; I keep it at work because all the young’uns just love to look through it.

And I don’t know whether to end that with “heh” or “sigh.” ;-)

Comment by LM · 01/19/2006 08:18 PM
2  Reid wrote:

That must’ve been version 2.5. Version 3.0 had just come out by the time I got my computer, and I remember watching a, um, borrowed copy try to open with that 16MB of RAM. It would, but wouldn’t do a whole lot after that.

By version 4.0, I owned my own legal copy, and had upgraded to a whopping 80MB of RAM!

And like you, I’m not sure whether to feel “old,” or “experienced.”

3  Steve Stewart wrote:

Man, the 7 floppy discs and the books and that Mindspring Dialer…I forgot all that.

It sure was an interesting time, wasn’t it?

4  LadyNiniane wrote:

I’ve got you beat…

1984 or ‘85 – Kaypro II with two (count ‘em!) floppy disk drives and a whopping 64Kb of memory. And a 2400-baud modem, and a program that could make my little green screen look like a 3270 IBM mainframe terminal. And I did real, live, honest-to-goodness work on it.

(Well, and I played Adventure, the original 350-point version and the larger, 500-point one with the expanded cave. The systems group had a running thing going – every morning you came in and announced to the group what your current score was and whether you had found any new sections in the map.)

And it was portable!

‘Course, the thing that makes this kind of reminiscing feel strange is recalling just what you paid for that first computer. I seem to recall taking out a loan for it, and being grateful that my company was willing to buy the modems, since they cost almost as much as the computers themselves.

5  Reid wrote:

Well, since I wasn’t exactly an early adopter when it comes to computers, it’s not hard to beat my decade old mark. I was lucky there were geeks that had preceded me, so I had someone to turn to for help.

And as for “recalling just what you paid for that first computer,” it’s funny, I did think about that when writing this. And the three primary systems I have purchased over the past decade have all been very consistent in price (once you remove the monitor from consideration) ... about $2300-$2500.

In fact, just for grins I went by Dell the other night just to see what a current workstation configuration would cost me (not that I’m in the market now). To get what I’d want it came out to $2288.

6  Paul wrote:

My first computer was a Laser 128, a portable Apple IIe/c clone that my Dad bought in ‘85 or ‘86. It came with a handle and everything! It was pre-loaded with BASIC, which I promptly deleted by typing in a command to delete the program. The intruction manual had a list of commands that I typed in one-by-one to see what they would do. Unfortunately, the command to kill the program was the last one on the page, so the command was on one page and the effect on the next. Needless to say, that was as far as I got with BASIC, as the computer didn’t come with floppies with BASIC on them. Had I been involved with the sharing community back then, it probably wouldn’t have been a problem, but those guys were geeks. That computer became a word processor and game machine, hosting epic adventures like King’s Quest.

We had IBM PC’s in my Computer Science class I took in the 7th grade, which was in 1986. I can’t remember what programming language we used, but it involved something called a “turtle” (a fancy triangular cursor-thing) which moved and did things based on the commands you input. Our Final was to make the screen draw a traffic light which rotated through all three colors, then blinked all three at once three times. If we finished our assigned task for the day, you got to play a game on the computer. If you finished your final and passed, you could spend the rest of the semester playing games. I finished my project in two weeks and spent the rest of the semester playing games. The pattern had been established.

I didn’t get on the internet until 1994, when I met my then-girlfriend who who had a 486SX 27 MHz computer, which I promptly began to upgrade by breaking it and finding better stuff to put into it. Basically, I needed it to play games. I also established a CompuServe account and an AOL account when both were still largely text-based systems that looked like extensions of Windows 3.1. I still have a copy of an email Steve Case sent-out to the community celebrating their 50,000th member. I also belonged to the ImagiNation Network, an internet-based gaming community.

I moved to Japan in ‘95 and was off the Internet until the base got it in ‘97. By then, my computers were primarily gaming rigs, with the internet used to read Usenet and tech news sites like C|Net and order books from Amazon (of which I’m a charter customer, yay me.). Moved back to the States in 2000, was involved in a few sci-fi message boards, then started a blog in November of 2001. I read a post from Reid and bought my own domain in 2002. The rest is history.

7  ruminator wrote:

I might as well toss my two-cents’ worth in…

I had a Columbia PC that I bought in 1984, after working on both big-iron at school and work and a variety of mini’s as well.

That Columbia did a bunch of my Ph.D. research until I bought (with money borrowed from my fabulous in-laws) a 16MHz 80386/387 with a whopping 4MB of RAM. Al of my modeling was done on that box until about 1989, when I entered the real workforce.

My original connect to the ‘net was through a 1,200BPS modem. I talked to the university mainframe through that thin pipe. I didn’t get connected to the ‘net until much later, like 1989 or 1990.

I talked a little about this a couple of times on my own site. But, it’s a quick trip down memory lane. :)

8  emcee fleshy wrote:

I had a Commodore-64, but I’m not sure that really counts. I didn’t know how to do anything with it, and we didn’t have any useful software. We only had those old infocom text-based games and a program that taught basic physics.

When I got to GaTech in 1991, they assigned everybody an e-mail account, and we had access to the computer labs. My sophomore year one of the profs tried to teach a class using this cool new Mosaic program. Unfortunately, it didn’t work. disaster – class never taught again.

By 1993, I was trying to do an entire 15-minute weekly African news radio show on WREK, using things I could find on Gopher. This worked exactly as well as you might imagine – show cancelled in around eight weeks.

In 1996, I got my first real job. The computer had 1MB of RAM.

97-99 were spent in the techno-wasteland of Tambacounda, Senegal. (So far behind the rest of the world that I actually own part of a photo-mat that was founded there just two years ago). The technological breakthrough in my life for 1998 – Musa, my neighbor and best friend, got a telephone.

But since returning to the US in 1999, everything has been high-speed ever since. A rather odd progression.

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