Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Ronald Tipton and Patrick Flynn, 2017.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Tap-tap-tap, the Technical History of the Kid

Once upon a time The Kid decided to be a writer. The only thing available in his house when this brainstorm struck was a fountain pen and some onion skin note paper. So this was the medium on which he wrote his first message.

It wasn't very satisfying. The ink smeared easily on the surface and bled through to the other side. He took his allowance and purchased a lined table. This was a bit better. He could write on both sides of the sheet and the lines kept his lettering straight, for his handwriting was never great shakes, or perhaps it was greatly shaky. It was certainly difficult to read (and would deteriorate to total indecipherability as he became the Old Goat). Even at age twelve he knew this would never do.

The nice young librarian at the town library took pity upon him and let the kid peck away at the town typewriter. This limited his "serious" writing to the few hours the Library was open. He began to wheedle and whine for a typewriter of his own. Lo and behold, his grandmother gave him a typewriter on his birthday. It was an old used portable Underwood. It was very similar to the one pictured, except it was older, less shiny and came in a worn black carrying case. It had been brand new sometimes in the 1920s.

But the kid didn't care. To him this was cutting edge technology despite a sticky "e" key. Of all the keys to be stubborn, it had to be the "e" and not the "q". He loved it anyway. It allowed him to write every night for the next ten years.  In 1958 he wrote the first story he was to sell to "Magazine of Horror" called "Last letter to Norman Underwood". (The story sold a decade later in 1968.) It stood as a tribute to the technological marvel he produced it upon, that old Underwood Typewriter.

Sometime in The Kid's twenties, when he had a bit of money of his own, he took a big step up to a shiny new Smith Corona portable. It was all white and looked so streamline with its smooth rounded corners.

But it still came with the same annoyances as the old Underwood, except for the sticky "e" key. The Kid had to keep buying ribbons. He tended to use a ribbon until the keys wore daylight through them and the papers were more embossed than printed. Changing ribbons was a dirty transaction with the new ribbon generally leaving smudges for the first few miles of type, not to mention his fingertips.

If a typo occurred, one dabbed away with White-Out (also tending to smudge and coat his fingertips). If errors or changes were two large, he was required to retyped the blasted thing and to create duplicates meant the horrors of carbon paper (and even more messy fingers).

At one point The Kid even bought a copier. Oh, this was nothing like the Xeroxes to come. This was a clunky plastic bulk of a desktop contraption that required great heat to produce a copy on odd looking paper. He could only copy one sheet at a time and he could only copy eight sheets in a row before the plate got too hot and he had to shut it down to cool. Cooling could take an hour. (And sometimes he burned his ink and carbon stained fingertips on the plate.) [This thing was so ba-a-a-a-a-d, the Old Goat couldn't even Google an image of it!]

Oh how The Kid dreamed there could a magic way to type his stories and not have to deal with carbons and ribbons and heat pads, oh my. And one day along came this possibility...

Sort of...

At lease a first gleam of hope for the future...

The kid bought his first computer, the Atari 400.

It didn't really help at all in all honesty. It was pretty good at running Atari Games, though.

There was no monitor, it hooked up to the TV set. It had no internal storage. It had no printer. There was this flap with Atari upon it on the front. Lifting the flap reveled four cartridge slots inside. This was where the programs went.

The Kid, being all wise,  had also bought an external tape cassette drive with it. This was what the program for Frogger was on, a tape cassette, that took forever to load. By the time it loaded you didn't feel like playing the game anymore, however, tape was also your only storage. You see, he could write his own Basic language programs on this beast and save them on a tape cassette. Big whoop!

It didn't do much for his writing. he could type out a short story and save it to tape, but there was no way to print it. What good was that?

The Kid was disappointed in this reality of the Atari 400, but it gave him hope for something better and sure enough, something better would came along in the years when he was transforming from The Kid into The old Goat.

To be continued.

1 comment:

Ron Tipton said...

Great story Lar! I love reading stories of your early life. Isn't it interesting how the writing bug came out early in both of us? Do you think there was a connection to our love of comic books? One of the real treats of my pre-teen years was trading comics books with you. You always had the best comics.

I anxiously await the next chapter of The Kid!