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ATPM 5.07
July 1999


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Hot Apple Pie: For That Downhome Goodness

by Chris Orcutt,

Back When I Was A Kid...

The other day at Best Buy, I observed a kid (12 or 13) complaining to his parents about the computer they were planning to buy. The kid said it didn’t have enough memory, the modem wasn’t fast enough, it had an outdated sound card, blah, blah, blah—you know, the usual.

Okay, the family was shopping for a Windows machine when they really ought to have been shopping for a Mac, but that’s not the issue. The issue is, the kid who was whining had no clue how far the technology has come, and more importantly, no appreciation for what he’s got now. What I wanted to do was give the kid a wedgie and kick him out the door; however, I thought it would be more productive if I put my thoughts into this month’s column.

Now before you think I’m just some 29-year-old curmudgeon who likes to pick on adolescents, let me inform the younger readers (and refresh the memories of those of us who lived through it) what the world of computers used to be like.

First of all, the Macintosh didn’t exist until 1984, and even once it came out, most of us couldn’t afford it until two or three years later. Back in the Dark Ages—the late 70s and early 80s—you had a few choices: TRS-80, Apple II, Commodore, Atari, and (hiss) the IBM PC.

The bottom line about this period in personal computing history is that as exciting as it was, much of the technology was crude—like early planes and automobiles. The ideas were there; they just didn’t have the technology to bring them to graceful fruition.

My first example is modem technology. With the first modems, you stuck your phone handset in a cradle and prayed that the device and the handset would hear each other. These things were so temperamental that any outside noise would cause your screen to fill with _)&(^`~%}. As a preventive measure, I used to wrap mine in dirty clothes (and I had a lot of ’em, believe me), then shove it under a stack of pillows. Problem was, I’d start worrying about the unit overheating and setting the house on fire, which meant I couldn’t go to sleep with it running. To download a file of any size (like over 100K), I’d have to stay awake by drinking Coke after Coke (which explains the problems I have today with my teeth) and reading the information as it appeared on the screen.

Gradually modems became a little more streamlined, but they remained slower than turds. I remember what a big deal it was to go over to my friend Jason’s house and stay up all night downloading textfiles on his 1200 baud modem. Back at home, my own Whiz Kid setup had only a 300 baud modem. To give you an idea of how slow 300 baud was, imagine that all you had for a modem was a 300 baud sucker and you wanted to download The Phantom Menace trailer. When I was a kid downloading 50-100K files, I used to be able to go out to the kitchen, make a snack, come back and it’d still be downloading. If you were downloading the Star Wars trailer (15 megs) with the 300 baud modem, you could leave the room, go to college, do a year in the Peace Corps, come back, make a snack, and it still wouldn’t be done. :-) So look, you younguns out there, I don’t want to hear your whining about how you can’t connect to AOL at full speed with your 56K modem. You don’t know what slow is.

Now let’s talk about storage. A former student of mine whined about how his 8 GB hard drive just isn’t big enough; he wants a 20 GB drive now. When I was ten, I had a cassette recorder, okay? Yeah, that thing you play tapes on. If you wrote a program in BASIC that you wanted to keep, you cued up the ol’ tape recorder (the manuals tried to call them “tape drives,” but they didn’t fool me) and saved it on there. God forbid if your program tape got mixed up with your sister’s Pat Benatar tapes; if she didn’t record over it, she’d get her ears blasted out by the “eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee-ooooooooooooooo” sounds of your program.

Yes, I got a disk drive—eventually—after all the other kids on my block had had one for like two years. It used the original floppy disks that truly were floppy and held 300K of data. I thought I’d never need that much space.Then everyone got hard drives and we said, “Ten megs? Never in your lifetime could you fill that.” Now my friend Jason uses old computers with 10 MB hard drives in them as nightstands.

What about memory, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you. My first computer had 16K. Not 16 MBs or 16,000K, 16 K. With that little memory, you were lucky if you could type your name on the screen without the computer exploding. Still, I considered myself lucky compared to the pathetic schleps with those 1K Sinclairs. Now there was some computing power! You hooked it up to your TV and got one letter on the screen before you had to shut it off so you could type another letter.

Yessir, those times were rough, but all in all, I’m glad I lived through them. We didn’t have much, but we were thankful for what we did have. And we didn’t whine about how slow things were, or how little space there was, or any of that—we improvised; we made do.

Fact is, the technology today is remarkably fast and reliable. And this is coming from a guy who’s had three faulty iMacs. Come on, you can download freakin’ movie trailers today in five minutes and watch them on your computer! What more do you want? I try telling these kids about playing Star Trek on an Apple II and how the only graphics you had were keyboard characters and they laugh at me.

Kids these days. What’s this country coming to? What’s our future gonna be like if we’ve got to count on a bunch of sniveling technology whiners? For my part, I hope I kick the bucket before then. I guess I just miss the good ol’ days.

apple “Hot Apple Pie: For That Downhome Goodness” is copyright © 1999 Chris Orcutt,

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