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 Old Goat

In 1984 The Kid (in mid-transfer to Old Goat) bought an Apple IIc, Apples first portable or compact computer. That was what the c stood for, compact. With a printer and an external disc drive it cost $2100, with all its 1 MHz speed capability. Man of man, did it seem those ancient days. It had 128K of RAM.

The external disc drive allowed for keeping a program disc in the main drive to run the thing while having a disc in the other drive for storage, rather than constantly switching the discs. It didn't have internal storage. Everything was on 5 1/4 floppy disks.

It came with 5 floppy disks with some software on them:

1. Introducing the Apple
2. The Apple At Work
3. The Apple At Play
4. Inside the Apple
5. System Utilities 

The Monitor was a whopping 9 inches and there wasn't all that much in graphics. It was beautiful if you liked green lettering on a black background, real colorful, eh? The Old Goat thinks the printer was a DOT Matrix type, rather than an Impact, but either way it still used the dreaded ribbon.

The main software was called AppleWorks and it was wonderful. The Kid had word processing, a spreadsheet and a database. The Kid could calculate his budget, could keep lists of his records (uh, for those of you who are not fellow Old Goats, records used to be these vinyl round things with a hole in the center on which was music that you put on a turntable and then played with a needle [Heh! Heh! I know, sounds pretty silly, doesn't it!]) and books. (In a few years the Old Goat will probably have to explain books too once everyone gets nimble with the Kindle.)

And the Kid went to town keying everything he'd written up to that time with that Apple IIc onto 5 1/4 Floppy Disks. The future was now and he had no idea how fleet the future can become yesterday. He should have learned way back in his salad days when he was plugging programs in control boards for such Job-of-the-Future equipment like an IBM 85 Collator. (No, that isn't spaghetti, it's a program.)

But he didn't.

During the early 'eighties The Kid had some influence over the capital budgeting for a big bank. He brought in the idea of sticking these newfangled computers on peoples' desks and even talked his boss into plopping such a project into the business plan. His boss's boss was the Senior Vice-President who ran the whole Operations Department. (In later years this would be called Information Technology, or IT for short. To some IT came to be a bigger monster than that Clown in the Stephen King novel of the same name.)

Well, the boss's boss, who was a brilliant man and a great guy, thought The Kid was off the wall. (Bosses' bosses thought The Kid was off the wall when he wanted to do digital storage and bosses' bosses thought The Kid was off the wall when he wanted to do Check Imaging and it seemed like somebody was always saying The Kid was off the wall. This Kid wasn't off the wall, he was outside the box.)

"Those little things may be fun to play with at home, but have no future in business," said the boss's boss. "The Main Frame is king and always will be king," and so the boss's boss killed the project, much to The Kid's disappointment. 

A year of so later The Kid-turning-Old Goat became the first person in that big bank to have a PC installed on his desk. The Main Frame had its place, but there was a new machine in town and it changed everything. Soon there was another desk sporting one, then another and another until they dominated the desk tops like TV antennas dominated roof tops in the mid-1950s. Main Frames were dead as king, PCs were becoming king, long live the king! Ah, but there was the rub!

The PC was King at work. The Apple was the hobbyist's hobby horse. This was a battle where the better machine hadn't won. 

The Kid-turning-Old Goat made a decision. He wanted his home computer to be on speaking terms with his work computer so he could work either place. However the Apple and the PC didn't get along. Mr. Jobs and Mr. Gates spoke different languages, so Kid-turning-Old Goat pushed his trusty IIc aside and installed a Compaq Presario, the first in a serious of four such towers to come under the Compaq and then the HP banner that graced his home workstation.

Fine and dandy, The Kid-turning-Old Goat had entered the world of Microsoft Windows, freeze-ups  and crashes, virus threats and Trojan Horses and cords and cables running hither and yon beneath his feet. And now he sat staring at his lifetime of the written word compressed in a bunch of flabby Floppies that weren't on speaking turns with the PC. He wanted his work in the computer, so it was keying everything all over again. He was beginning to think that sticky "e" key and the carbon paper might not have been as bad as he thought.

Now life has moved on and it is the Old Goat who sits behind a keyboard many hours in his remaining years, still pecking out little essays, poems and sometimes stories. Floppy Floppies and hard Floppies have come and gone and all his life's work sits resident on an invisible internal hard disk that will hold gigabytes of data. Backup to the PC is to CDs, which resemble records (see explanation of records earlier in this piece). It seemed a perfect world until one day he are sailing along and struck an iceberg called the Blue Screen of Death and all was gone. It is a good thing the Old Goat was diligent on backing up to those CDs.

But The Old Goat had it with the instability, foibles and failures of the Microsoft miasma. Standing over the stagnant remains of the last Presario, The Kid rose in his memory and his first love strummed upon his heart strings and the memories came back of the Apple of his eye. 

And the ugly gremlin from Microsoft now even speaks to the handsome polished perfect fruit of Apple. All can be right in his world again. He buys an IMac.

And they typed happily ever after -- well, we don't really know that! I mean, life isn't over and you know, the Old Goat is not all that old, so things happen and nobody should say the end with such assurance that everything will always be well and happy.

Yet,  haven't we surely reached the apex of all known technology? The Future is here today, right? Nothing could possibly come along and improve on today, right?

Hey, what's this thing. Its thin and cylindric. Hmm, you move this pointy end over this piece of paper and it makes marks. How interesting. Why you can write with this thing. Now why hasn't anyone ever though of this before? Hmm, thin and pointy? I think I'll call it a pen...

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