Forty years of geekitude

TRS-80 Model 1It was forty years ago this fall, in 1977, that I bought my first computer. I had little experience with computers prior to that – a few weeks working after hours on an APL system at the U of T, mostly to play games against the machine, reading a few magazine articles on the coming ‘personal’ computer wave. Nothing seriously hands-on, experience-wise, and no programming skills either. But as soon as I saw one, I had to have it. And so I bought one.

Since then, I have not been a day without one, and generally had more than just one in my home. As many as six or seven at one time, back in the early 1980s, all different brands. But that was when I was writing about them, editing computer books and writing computer manuals.

My first computer was a TRS 80, Model 1. TRS stood for Tandy Radio Shack. It was a 16KB computer (yes: that’s 16,384 bytes of memory) In comparison, my current laptop has 8GB, or 8,388,608 kilobytes: 512 times the Model 1’s amount of RAM!

It was powered by a Zilog Z-80 eight-bit processor. My current machines all run 64-bit, multi-core processors. It had no USB ports, didn’t use a mouse, and had no audio card. Smartphones today are more versatile and more powerful. But not as much fun.

Before I bought it, I debated for a week or two whether to get the TRS or the competing Commodore PET, powered by the 6502 processor. It had similar limitations in memory and input devices, but came with a green and black screen integrated with the keyboard in one unit. But the TRS was sold at a nearby Radio Shack store within walking distance, and they also offered nighttime classes to teach the basics. The PET was only sold at stores downtown, so I bought the closer one.

I had to boot it and load programs from a cassette tape player. A year or so later, I upgraded to a 64KB RAM system and dual floppy (5.25″) drives. Each floppy could hold about 160KB of programs or data. It had a standalone B & W monitor that didn’t have any graphic capability, although canny programmers used the blocks in the ASCII character set to create pseudo-graphics (a bit like today’s Dwarf Fortress game displays, but only in B&W).
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Six years ago…

Anniversary cartoonI received a notification last week from WordPress noting that I registered with them six years ago. Six years with their blogging platform… happy anniversary to me… what, no flowers? Party favours? Is this my modern life: email reminders from software companies?

That got me thinking about dates and anniversaries. And in trying to recall them all, keep the dates straight. Pull the weave apart and follow the threads backwards.

Why are we humans fixated with numbers that are easily divisible by five and ten? Is there any more relevance, more importance to an anniversary of 5, 10 or 20 years than one of 7, 11 and 19 years? Is it some biological need for a certain type of mathematical order? A need for a tidy whole number divisor? An innate tidiness?

Or is it really a cultural association that has been artificially built and reinforced by commercial interests to sell certain products at identifiable times of our lives: jewellery, flowers, cards and so on?

Is six years some sort of personal milestone that is somehow different from, say, five or seven years? Is six years a “yeah!” or a “meh…” event? And would ten be a “hooray” event simply because the number 10 resonates better than nine or eleven?

Well, to be fair, it’s not much of an anniversary either way. I didn’t spend the last six years exclusively with WordPress. I set up an account, tinkered with it, and experimented with a test blog hosted on their servers. I spent a lot of time looking at what their product could do, at the merits of self- versus WP-hosted services, and at issues like stability, users, plug-ins, etc.

I also tried some of their competition, too. For my purposes, I felt WP was superior in most aspects. But then I’m a bit of a tinkerer: I like to get at the code and hack a bit, especially the CSS and HTML. Coincidentally, it was the same year I started playing the ukulele (and charango, but that didn’t last, while the uke has).

But despite having kept an account with WordPress, for most of the decade I’ve been blogging, I used a mod installed on my Invision-based tequila forum instead. (I am now curious and must check to see if those early WP test posts are still online somewhere, though as far as I recall they were left in draft mode, not published for public amusement).

After several years with Invision, I was unsatisified with the mod and wanted more features, control, and more stable software. My old archives are still online but all my new material – almost 700,000 words worth – written in WordPress, is here.

I finally made the move to a self-hosted WordPress blog in December, 2011 and after some tinkering, and test posts, I began to blog continually with the WP software here in January, 2012. So perhaps WordPress should have sent me an anniversary remind of that date, instead.

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