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, May 25, 2017

Introduction of the New World

I had purchased an Atari 401. It had been advertised as a computer, not a game console, but it was very restricted as a computer, though most expansive as a game console despite the hype. I could play a multitude of game cassettes through the box, which was fun and my kids loved it, otherwise, there wasn’t much to the system.
There was a keyboard and two cartridge slots above the keys. Besides the usual Atari game cartridges you could also use magnetic tape cassettes. This is what acted as your storage device. You see, you could write rudimentary programs using Basic, but if you wanted to use your program more than once you needed to save it on magnetic tape. Those cassettes loaded very slowly. There was no monitor. You plugged it into your TV. There was no printer so you were plain out of luck if you wanted a hard copy of anything. You could buy some software beyond games, such as Financial Planning.

Then one day in the merry, merry month of May I was strolling through the Christiana Mall and entered an Arrow Camera Shop. I had bought film and other photography equipment there and often went in just to browse. There was a new section at the very rear of the store displaying something beyond cameras and film supplies. It wasn’t even a full section, just a corner in the back and the lone sign said, “Apple Computers”. I wandered on back and when I left that store that day I was the proud owner of an Apple IIc. I bought a printer and an extra external floppy drive as well. The whole kit ‘n’kaboodle cost me $1,200.
There was a practical reason to buying the extra external floppy. There was no internal hard drive in the Apple IIc for storage. There was an internal floppy drive built in the CPU Unit. Everything ran off of floppy discs. There was included in the box software on both 5.25” floppies (true floppies because if you held them by the edge they would flop if you waved them) and on 3.5" discs still referred to as floppies, but these were very ridged and didn’t actually flop. My model only took the 5.25 discs.

You would insert a disc into the internal drive that contained the startup and operating system. You then would remove that disc and put in the Appleworks floppy. Appleworks contained three programs: word processing, spreadsheet and data base. I didn’t use spreadsheet so much in the beginning. I did use data base because all my life I made lists. I listed all the books I owned, all the record album and all the pieces I had written. I guess it is my touch of OCD. The pieces I wrote were typed on 3x5 index cards. On the front I put the title, what byline I was using at the time, date written and type. If it was published I put that info on the front as well.  On the back I put the information of my attempts to publish the work. This was the name of the publication sent to, the date sent and the date returned. The data base made this compulsion to list everything so much easier.
What I used most was the word processor. Oh man, this was like magic. If I added or subtracted any parts of a story I didn’t have to retype the whole anymore.   I loved this machine. It was an answered dream. It was so great I retyped everything I had written onto floppy discs. There was no problem with copies, no messy carbon paper to deal with. I could store what I wrote on floppy discs for future use. This was where having an external floppy drive came in so handy. If I hadn’t got the external, then every time I typed something I wanted to save I had to go through a routine that involved removing the Appleworks disc and putting in a blank disc, doing the save and then switching discs again. With the extra drive I could just save my work and not manipulate discs at all.

If I discovered a mistake or made a change or added or subtracted text to a document I didn’t have to retype the whole thing. No longer did I have to bother with messy things like white out to fix a mistype or carbon paper for backup copies.
The Apple IIc was not the first home computer, of course, but was probably at the heart of home computers blossoming in the consumer imagination. Keep in mind Apple had introduced the initial Apple II model in 1977. Steve Wozniak had created the Apple I in 1976 (Gosh, Woz was skinny in those days). There was a lot going on technically in the 1970s that would lead to the home computer revolution, but it wasn’t until the early 1980s that the public really grabbed the concept. Maybe the first hint of what was to come was when the game Pong was released in 1972, you know, the simple digital ping pong you played on your TV screen. I mentioned how a friend, Dave Mason, was one of the first I knew to have this game. How far we’ve come since.
       In 1973 the Wang 2200 was introduced. An Wang, a Chinese inventor was a pioneer in word and data processing. Remember I put the budget of Mercy Catholic Medical Center on a Wang Processor back in 1979. (By the way, as hard as this may be to believe, the Internet was invented in 1973 as well. It wasn’t invented by Al Gore, but from experiments conducted simultaneously by Xerox in the U.S., France’s Cyclades and Britain’s NPL networks).
In 1974, Xerox came out with the PARC Alto (right). They introduced with his machine such things as the Mouse, GUI (graphical user interface), printing that matched the screen called WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) and E-mail. It was for all intent and purposes the first personal computer. These innovations developed at Xerox would have a profound effect on the Apple people and would next be incorporated into the Lisa and the Macintosh and this changed the world.

WordStar, the first great word processing software was created in 1978. The first great spreadsheet software appeared in 1979. It was called VisiCalc and had been initially developed for the Apple II. (Left is Bob Frankston and Dan Bricklin, developers of VisiCalc.) Also in 1979 Atari marketed their first computers, the 400 and the 800. The 400 was the first so-called home computer I owned.
It was in the early 1980s that the idea of the home computer burst free out of the laboratories and techies. In 1980 something called the VIC-20 was brought out by Commodore. Commodore had greater success in 1982 when they introduced the Commodore 64 (right). Meanwhile, in 1981, with great fanfare, IBM brought out their Personal Computer operating from a MicroSoft system called MS-DOS. Soon we would know home computers by two family trees, Apple and the PC.

1983 was a banner year, the Compaq Portable found a niche and Apple brought out both the Lisa and the Apple IIc. Then in 1984 an iconic TV Commercial ran once during the Super Bowl (and only that one time) showing a shorts clad woman with a hammer run between a zombie-like audience and smash a giant screen showing a man’s face. The allusion to George Orwell’s Big Brother from his novel 1984 was obvious. This ad brought the attention of everyone to the Apple Macintosh (left). If the gist of the ad was that the home computer set us free from Big Brother, what was missed was the new computerized world would allow for the creation of Big Brother.
Anyway, enough about the history of home computers. This is supposed to be about the history of me. Let’s get back to that.
This stuff was not lost on me. I began by the time I had the Atari 400 to push for the inclusion of desktop computers in our division’s capital budget, even offering to teach the employees Basic. My request was rejected in 1982 and again in 1983. Our Senior Manager, George Craig, did not see any future in such gimmicks. He was a solid Mainframe guy. For a large institution like The Bank the Mainframe was the only way to continuing going. He viewed the home computers as nothing more than that, something that might have some use in the home, but not in business. I fought hard. Frankly, I wanted our division to be the first to utilize such technology, believing once we had some and showed the benefits, other’s would follow. (Mr. Craig died on May 30, 2016, age 85. That is a photo of him in later years on the right.)

Then in 1984 these machines were added to the budget. Not for our division, however. Senior Vice-President of Operations, George Craig had suddenly decided maybe we should take a look at these things, so he created a new Division of Office Automation, or something like that. It was set up as a time sharing operation. Believe me, I was down there signing up for as much time as I could grab. I was using the WordStar to write my documents and spending time learning Visicalc.
This new Division started with four computers, three of which were Apples. But the IBM PC was capturing the business world and Apple was becoming the computer of the educational system. Within a few months George Craig switched all four computers over to PCs. Meanwhile, I stuck the desktop computers onto our 1985 budget proposal and this time it got approved, although at first it amounted to only one machine and I got it, a Compaq Deskpro (left).
It was going to be interesting times ahead.

Me with my son Darryl, 1984.

Me with Noelle and Laurel, 1984.

Lois and I, 1984.

1 comment:

WARPed said...

Thanks for the stroll down computer memory lane...I'm sitting at an IBM z/OS mainframe as I type this comment (with 3270 terminal emulation on an HP laptop.)