Pick Me!

A weblog by Laura Moncur


How Quickly It All Changes?

Filed under: Personal History — Laura Moncur @ 5:20 am

Hugh Elliot is back and Standing Room Only has reminded me that I lived at a very momentous time in our history: that dawning of the computer age. I saw so many things come and go during this time.

It was eighth grade and I was saving my program on a tape recorder with an Atari 800. I thought that I had forgotten that joy. If you listened to your program on a normal tape recorder, it sounded like beeps and screeches. The tape machine could play music, though. I’ll never forget the sound of Weird Al Yankovic blaring while we programmed in Basic. Back then, the programs were fun. They were games. We made the screen change colors. We made it say the phrase, “Ataris are cool” over and over until it filled the screen.

Back then, I never thought about programming something useful. I didn’t have a computer at home and I was only allowed a couple of hours after school once a week. What good would a useful program do me? Sure, I could program the computer to tell me what day Easter would be on each year, but why would that help me?

When we were first married there was a window of time when it was more practical to program it ourselves than to wait for an application to take care of the problem. By then, I had relegated the programming to Mike. He had written the BBS from scratch. Mike, could you program the BBS to have another room just for me? Sure, but right now I’m programming it to give a different quote every time you press return without typing something?

And that was it. That was the mythical gleam in Mike’s eye. It was an Easter Egg in his BBS program. Now, the idea of a bulletin board system is just as archaic as saving one’s program written in Basic on magnetic tape. The BBS has been replaced by chat rooms and text messaging on cell phones. No more calling the BBS in the middle of the night, only to get a busy signal. We can all be on it at once.

What are you doing? Have you slept at all? No, I’ve been typing in quotations for the BBS. That was the first wave of the collection. Mike’s sarcastic collection of quotations was growing. All I could see was that he had to go to work on no sleep. My vision was a little myopic. I didn’t know about the Internet and back then it was still lurking quietly at the universities and government institutions. It was waiting.

It was waiting for Mike’s quotations. It was waiting for Hugh Elliot’s thoughts and ideas. It was waiting for Real Live Preacher‘s inspiration. It was waiting for me. I have seen so many changes in the computer industry pass over the years. Things changed so often and so quickly that I thought it would always be like that. Over the last four years, the industry has stabilized. The changes are slower. Sure, the processor speeds are doubling every year, but the computers are so fast now that it’s hard to notice. From the ground, the speed of light and the speed of sound look the same.

They call the old times the “Good Old Days.” I don’t subscribe to that. I would call those times good, but by no means were they better than right now. You couldn’t pay me enough to go back to programming on an Atari 800. My telephone has more processor power than that old monster (we still have it, sitting in the basement alongside the Atari 2600). I lived at a momentous time in history. I am grateful to have experienced those times, but there is no place I’d rather be than right here right now.


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