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Friday, December 9, 2011

Treading the Tech Trek, part 2 This will make more sense if you start with the first Technology Trek entry dated 12/6/11

While the school department was entering the world of computer use in classrooms, they were walking in the apple orchard. But at home, Rick was introducing us to the world of personal computing (PCs). It changed our evenings forever!

We had lived without a television for six years ... we had begun our marriage with many wedding gifts, one of which was a black and white portable television, complete with rabbit ears for reception, and a halo antenna for UHF, those high-numbered channels like 38 and 56. It lasted for six years, and it died when we were moving into our first home, on a wooded hilly lot, with no reception. Busy winterizing the cottage, we had no time to worry about watching television, and our young daughter was already, at five, becoming an avid reader and board game player. We were happy.

But Rick came home one day with a Radio Shack TRS 80 (later known as the "trash-80." It was intriguing. It read programs on cassette tapes, and came with a matching cassette tape player. It had no screen, though. It had only 32 bits of internal memory, but a cable that would hook up to a television screen. Rue the day.
It also had an internal read drive which took cassettes that resembled 8-tracks, and on that, we could run such programs as Logo, Math Blaster and, of course, a word processing program whose name I have forgotten. In time, we found a smaller green monitor, and the television took its place in the living room, with a black wire attached to an antenna on the roof that would pick up the channels from Boston. Our evenings were never quite the same again. But I digress...Trish, now eleven, remained an avid reader but in her own room. The board games were put away.

In time, we outgrew the TRS-80; Rick was working nights in a manufacturing plant that built the outsides of computers ... and the surrounding structures for printers, among other industrial structures. A group of men there were working on constructing their own home computers during their dinner hours. they called it "govenrment" work, referring, I think, to work of the people, by the people, and for the people, and he joined them. They purchased the inner workings at electronic shops, and welded their own outer bodies of scrap. He came home with one a few months later, with the software to run it on five-and-a-half-inch floppy diskettes TeleWriter was the name of that software, and it required 64K of memory. It was another new language for me to learn, but I succeeded in writing student profiles on it, relishing the ability to backspace and delete typos, and save my data on one of those diskettes. He bought a dot matrix printer, and I could then print out my work. It was an incredibly slow printing process, mechanically not unlike the ball letters on an electric typewriter, but stopping to load the memory of each line before printing across. Many minutes passed.

One night, he surprised me with an upgraded PC, one with more memory, and an upgraded TeleWriter program, using 128 K of memory. He set it all up in the playroom-turned-office, and we turned it on. We had an amber screen now, but still the dot matrix printer. as it clicked and whirred and blinked and hummed, we waited. He told me that some of the commands may have changed a bit with the upgrading, and left me to sort it out. Within minutes he was back, responding to my calls ... it would not read my data diskette, as the upgraded format had changed. And I had to print out my carefully stored student Individual Education Goals and Profiles for the deadline the next day. Looming tragedy further darkened the night.

As it was now nearing midnight, Rick called one of his fellow workers/computer enthusiasts who had not yet upgraded the innards of his computer, and arranged an immediate swap. Within a few hours he was home and had installed his friend's computer, connected it to our amber screen and dot matrix printer with the right cables, and I began printing out the reports, line by painfully-slow line. I finished the profiles and goals just in time to get changed for work at 6:15 am.

Of course, nothing I did at home on the computer could be transferred for editing post-meeting on the school computers, for they were apples and ours were, well, oranges, I guess. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs had had their falling out, had separated, and the two were irreconcilable in those years. An apple data diskette could not be read on a PC platform, and vise/versa. Eventually we had to give in and buy and apple for home use. We bought a used Apple IIGS. I have no idea what GS stood for, but it worked with a mouse, and unfortunately, the port for the mouse was damaged, and so it worked inconsistently. We could still use word processing, with the arrows as commands rather than the mouse, but we had to start each document over, and we had to buy a different printer with the apple format. My irritation at these changes grew ... I had learned the language of Appleworks and Clarisworks at school, but only some of my work at school on a IIE would transfer accurately on the IIGS.

My friend, Ruth, meanwhile, had bought a new Apple IIC, (the "c" for compatible,) and her computer would transfer about 80% of what we did at school on a IIE. We found a program through a colleague named "Sideways" and so could type our goals and profiles in what would later be called "landscape" for printing on school forms. We diligently planned to spend a morning working with the new software on our profiles and goals for the students' plans. It seems cumbersome looking back, but at the time, we were young, and brave, and knew we could do it.

The Apples gave way to the MacIntosh ... which was dependent on a mouse, of all things ... more progress and changes ahead. Our own skills would evolve with the technology.

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