Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Things that make me feel old

Here's one: watching my kids play games and watch videos on the computer.

I remember when I was little, my mother sometimes took me to her office, where she let me sit in front of her computer and play with it. She introduced me to this exciting new game they had, where you could type words onto a screen... and then press keys to move up and down in the document! And INSERT lines! And DELETE lines! She told me it was a "FULL-SCREEN EDITOR"! An amazing innovation in text editing!

Well. Consider that at home, we didn't have a computer, not even a terminal with a screen. We had one of those teletype machines, where everything was printed out onto a scroll of paper. What was it, about 300 baud? That's 300 bits per second. Bits! I remember playing (I think it was this) Kingdom and ending up with a printout of my game, recording all the poor peasants dying of starvation due to my mismanagement and so forth. It was way more fun than Hunt the Wumpus. Later, when one of my parents brought home a VT100, that was, like, so cool.

But I did like typewriters, too. We had an old manual typewriter that my parents let me have. I used to type pages of random gibberish on it. I'm still typing random gibberish today, so some things haven't changed. I wasn't as enterprising as my mother and her siblings, who used her family's typewriter to forge excuse notes back in the day. (That was more impressive since it was a mechanical Chinese typewriter. I don't even know how that works. Really complicated, apparently, as the teachers didn't think children would know how to use one.)

My mother must have had some affinity for "high tech", as even though she was a literature major, when she got out of school she found a job with IBM. That was in the days before people had things like "computer science". The old days when she could introduce a simple binary insertion sort on some database (I think it was) and have it be a vast improvement in efficiency! I don't know what was in the code before she changed it: maybe the sort where you compare the new element to every single old element until you find the right place to put it? The old days where she was able to find jobs easily because she could write code in assembly language. The old days where she could bluff her way into working for NASA ("yes, I know trigonometry") and quickly learn what she needed to know.

By 1980, I got a chance to play ADVENT on my parents' workplace computer. Probably some grad student introduced me to it. Wow. This was so much more fun than a text editor. (Yeah. You can see how being distracted by computer games has been a problem for me since forever.) And since this was before you could look up walkthroughs for everything on the Internet, when I got stuck, I printed out the source code for the game. It was in FORTRAN. I didn't know FORTRAN. D'oh! Still, you could more or less figure it out from all the text strings in the code.

But nowadays the kids walk around with 2 or 4 or 8 or (this year) 16 gigabytes of storage in their backpacks, and that's the cheap flash drive they use for their schoolwork.

*dodders back inside and sighs*

Well, that's my reminiscence of the day. (Aka my warmup for my NaNo, which is nothing to do with any of this, but at least I'm getting practice typing words again.)

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