Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Besetting Sins

You would think I had learned my lesson with computers from my experience sabotaging a Sears store. I did hold off for a long time. In human years. Maybe not so long in computer years.

It was 1982, and my Dear Professor was going through his midlife crisis. (I had one too, but it was caused by his!) He decided one day he didn't want to be a lawyer anymore. He wanted to be a professor instead. This would involve changing jobs (the local university just happened to have an opening in their law school for someone with his particular expertise) as well as eventually going back to school. Oh, and getting a new technological marvel called a home computer so I could type all his papers for him. Wasn't he sweet?

It was billed as the first portable computer with the option of running on a battery.  Supposedly, part of the screenplay for the film 2001 was written on one of these slick gizmos in Ceylon (that's Sri Lanka now) and sent to Hollywood via dial up modem.

Ozzy weighed 25 pounds, had a whopping five inch diagonal screen, 52 characters wide display, and ran the included software (Wordstar, Supercalc, and Basic) from a 92k floppy disc.  It was about the size of a portable sewing machine.

In those days, the operating system was CP-M, and CP-M begat MS-DOS, and MS-DOS begat Windows, and Windows eventually begat Vista.  The Mac was only a spark in the motherboard of an Apple III, and the lawsuit between Xerox and Apple over the rights to the computer mouse was only a few years away.  I remember them discussing that at one of the IBM user group meetings.

The Osborne came with an outrageous 64k of ram.   Not gigs, not megs, but kilobytes.  But oh, what that 64k could do.  Once I figured out how to use the Epson printer that was Ozzy's sidekick, I was  addicted.  It didn't matter that the company went belly up as soon as we moved to New York, this was the day of computer user groups.  I found being the token female in a crowd of male engineer computer freaks was an advantage.

The larger user groups had their own printed magazines.  You could learn how to tinker under the hood, so to speak, with programming language even if you weren't bilingual just by following the instructions in the helpful articles.  The first Osborne group was nicknamed FOG, and helped many a newbie find their way out of it.  If  you think current computer manuals are difficult to understand, you should pick up an early one written by a 20 year old programmer at MIT!

Fast forward to today.

This trip down computer memory lane was prompted by a visit to an Apple store the other day with Principessa.  Computers have come a long way, baby!  (fortunately, Virginia Slims, the first cigarettes specifically marketed to women with that slogan, have come and gone.)  And because of that visit, I am now the grandmod(?) of an 8 gig iPhone.

Apples of the computer variety are aptly named--Eve wouldn't be able to resist their gleaming 'pods,




or 'puters


any more than she did that first apple of the fruit variety.  And neither could Principessa.

I guess this besetting sin runs in the family.