Friday, January 1, 2016

Hey, Hey, 16K

Computers have become an integral part of our society.  We communicate with them, keep up on the news with them, find the answers to questions of all kinds with them, view pornography with them and exchange ridiculous quantities of cute cat pictures with them. We use them in our work and in our recreational activities.  They've created a whole new class of time vampire called social media.  I'll bet there are a lot of people who, if they had to go without facebook, twitter or any other form of social media for even just one week, would be at a loss for what to do with themselves and might even begin to experience withdrawal symptoms, not unlike those of my loyal readers who have been checking for a new Halmanator post since last August.

Today, most everybody uses some form of computer on a regular basis; if not an actual laptop or notebook computer, then a tablet or a smart phone.  In fact, it seems to me that desktop computers are on the wane, as opposed to being on the desktop where they belong.  You hardly see them anymore outside of office environments.  Rather, they tend to be inside the office environment, where they do belong.

I personally am still sitting at a desktop computer as I bang out this blog post.  I still prefer desktop computers to laptop or notebook computers or tablets for two basic reasons; for one, I like to play games on my PC (as opposed to using a game console, which I do not own) and, when I play games, I want a full-sized screen and speakers to help immerse me in the experience in a way that a notebook computer or tablet simply cannot do.  The other reason why I prefer desktop computers is because, being a basically introverted personality type, it gives me an excuse to shut myself away from everyone for a while, up in my attic den,  That's where I keep my desktop computer, so that's where I must go when I need to use it for anything.

Getting back to my original point, though, computers today are commonplace and are used by pretty much everybody.  Even my technologically-challenged sister-in-law, who once changed her mind about enrolling in a college program because registration had to be done on-line, (in hindsight, probably just as well) now has a smartphone.  It was not always thus (meaning almost everyone using computers, not my sister-in-law owning a smartphone, although that was not always thus either).  I recall (fondly sometimes, I must admit) the late seventies and early eighties, when the first personal computers, like the Commodore VIC 20 and 64, the Radio Shack Color Computer, the Atari ST or the early Apple and IBM PCs were strictly the domain of geek hobbyists, like myself.

Back in those days, only real geeks used computers!  The personal computer industry saw to that.  To begin with, there were no namby-pamby point-and-click, GUI interfaces!  No-sirree!  Back then, if you wanted to use a computer, you had to type arcane commands like:

DIR C: /S|MORE (meaning "please give me the directions for making s'mores") or...

LOAD "$",8 (load eight dollars into my bank account).

Back then, if you did not know the correct commands to get the computer to do what you wanted, all that you typically got out of the machine was the dreaded SYNTAX ERROR message which was almost always unhelpful except for those rare occasions on which a syntax error was exactly what you were looking for.

Because most people were too busy having actual lives and interacting with members of the opposite sex to bother learning the arcane commands necessary for using a personal computer, those of us who did learn them felt the smug sense of superiority that comes with belonging to an elite secret society, much like the Freemasons only with a dorkier secret handshake.

Of course, even back then, those of us who used computers tended to spend a lot of time playing games on them, and this is another thing that set us apart.  You really needed a strong interest in gaming, of the sort that defies all logical explanation, to enjoy computer gaming back then.  Today's games are multimedia smorgasbords with Hollywood style production values.  I can easily understand why a game like the one below would appeal to a wide audience.

It's a little bit harder, though, for most people to understand what kept us early gamers playing games like the one below for any amount of time.  I should note that the narrator is definitely "one of us" - I can just tell, even without his giving me the dorky secret handshake.

And yet, countless nerds like me spent countless hours tanning their pale complexions by the light of the CRT, late into the night, playing this game for hour upon hour, usually unsuccessfully as it was actually a surprisingly hard game to win at!

Incidentally, the comments following the above video on YouTube included this one:

"I LOVED this game!  I used Norton Tools to hack it and change attributes.  Give myself unlimited armor, strength etc...   I tried to download it for my MAC but it said unsupported CPU :(  I want to play this again!!"

Yup. He's "one of us" too!

I'm most gratified to learn that I am not alone in looking back on those pioneering days of personal computing with a fond sense of nostalgia, as the video below, which celebrates those halcyon days of nerd-dom, aptly illustrates.