Computer History

Com­put­ers have been a part of my life for as long as I can remem­ber. Part­ly through a child’s imag­i­na­tion of what com­put­ers and robots could be, and also because of a life-long inter­est in tech­nol­o­gy. My par­ents, very ear­ly on, real­ized that com­put­ers were going to help them in their pro­fes­sion­al and per­son­al lives. They also under­stood what a part these machines would have on their son’s futures.

The Early Days of Apple

My mom was a school teacher dur­ing my very young years, and as any­one my age will tell you, that means she was exposed to the Apple ][ (or II +/c/e). I think some com­bi­na­tion of the edu­ca­tion­al influ­ence that Apple had and also the mar­ket­ing of com­put­ers to home users appealed to her. My par­ents decid­ed to get a com­put­er for us to use at home which would help give us an advan­tage at school. They bought an Apple clone, due to the low price. That com­put­er was a VTech Laser 128, which was, in some ways, supe­ri­or to the Apple II. It had an built-in numer­ic key­pad (like your mod­ern desk­top key­board) as well as an expan­sion slot.

VTech Laser 128

VTech’s Laser 128: My very first com­put­er (image cour­tesy of old-computers.com).

I had a num­ber of games (Zork, most­ly) and was able to write some sim­ple pro­grams in BASIC. The most ambi­tious thing I ever attempt­ed write was a full screen, col­or ani­ma­tion of a Tolkien-esque dwarf swing­ing a bat­tle-axe down­ward. I nev­er did get the ani­ma­tion to work. It end­ed up being a seizure induc­ing series of slow­ly drawn series of mul­ti­col­ored lines which would then flick­er in some sort of vio­lent man­ner. I took me over two days, and unfor­tu­nate­ly, unless my mom has some 5–1/2″ disks and graph paper stashed away some­where, it has long since been lost.

The original Apple Macintosh computer

The orig­i­nal Apple Mac­in­tosh com­put­er (image cour­tesy of old-computers.com).

My par­en­t’s love for Apple hard­ly end­ed with my Mom’s inter­est in the Apple II. Very ear­ly on, they pur­chased a Mac­in­tosh com­put­er for my Dad’s law prac­tice. It was a neat lit­tle box, which had the guts build into the mon­i­tor, rather than the key­board (as I was used to). My par­ents even had a spe­cial com­put­er desk for it, with a mul­ti­col­ored Apple stick­er on one end. I was extreme­ly hurt to find out that there was no pro­gram­ming to be done on this machine. How­ev­er, this feel­ing was lost once I dis­cov­ered the pro­grams it came with: MacWrite and Mac­Paint. My par­ents had exposed me to a new world of com­put­ers and my Laser 128 sat with­out use for a long time (it would lat­er be donat­ed to a local ele­men­tary school). My broth­ers and I each had a small col­lec­tion of 3–1/4″ flop­pies (or Mac disks, as we called them). I even got to be quite hand with Mac­Paint, if I do say so myself.

From the Mac to a PC

As com­put­ers became more com­mon in the work place, my par­ents began to notice a glar­ing dif­fer­ence between all of my father’s legal briefs and the oth­ers: Chica­go ver­sus Times New Roman. Even when using the New York font on the Mac, you could spot the dif­fer­ence quite quick­ly. While there were no doubt more tech­ni­cal and less expen­sive ways to over­come this, my par­ents made a deci­sion to invest in a IBM-com­pat­i­ble com­put­er (there were oth­er con­sid­er­a­tions involved, of course). This would allow them to use Word­Per­fect and Aldus Page­mak­er, two very hot pro­grams of the time on Win­dows 3.1. They bought a com­put­er from a mom & pop com­put­er store (they all were in those days) in Knoxville. It had such lux­u­ries as a modem and hard dri­ve, which while both avail­able on the Mac, weren’t fea­tures we had at the time. Any­way, hav­ing a PC at home would lat­er make me pret­ty pop­u­lar with friends, who did­n’t feel like hang­ing around the school library after hours to do their papers. Sev­er­al of my high school class­es made use of com­put­ers for reports, which arguably made Typ­ing class the sin­gle most impor­tant thing I learned in four years of high school.

Going Online = Going To College

It would have been at least one or pos­si­bly two PC’s lat­er that we tried using an online ser­vice via the modem. There were only a few then, and no inter­net. There was, if I remem­ber: Com­puServe, Prodi­gy, and Amer­i­can Online. I believe we chose Prodi­gy. It was a DOS-like inter­face with some BBS’s and maybe a few oth­er fea­tures. It was­n’t much to look at, did­n’t have many fea­tures for kids at the time, and was incred­i­bly slow on a 1200 bps modem locat­ed in the moun­tains miles away from the tele­phone cen­tral office. Need­less to say, we nev­er used any­thing oth­er than the tri­al log-on. I would­n’t use an online com­put­er for a few more years, until I began col­lege.

I was sent off to col­lege with a scrapped togeth­er Win­dows 3.1 machine. I had was able to use a ter­mi­nal pro­gram to log onto the uni­ver­si­ty’s modem pool. If I remem­ber cor­rect­ly, there were 24 modems to dial into my fresh­men year. This meant you spent an hour or so let­ting the machine re-dial over-and-over until one came free. You could then check your e‑mail account, chat over IRC, use Lynx to surf the web, etc (IRC chat­ting was the hot thing of the day). My sopho­more year, Microsoft released Win­dows 95 and soon there­after all my pals and I were pass­ing around copies to install on our com­put­ers. I remem­ber Jason J. had it on his old mono­chrome-screened IBM Thinkpad with a Dali back­ground. One of the first things he did was make use of the 264 char­ac­ter file name. We were all sick of using license-plate-like names for our files and pro­grams. It was this eight char­ac­ter shack­le that led to such non­de­script names such as winword.exe and prpleflr.gif, just to name a few. Any­way, Jason had named a down­loaded image some­thing to the effect of:

The love­ly and tal­ent­ed Sheryl Crow sit­ting on a Fend­er ampli­fi­er hold­ing a red Gib­son gui­tar while play­ing a G chord.jpg

Sony VAIO PC70

My first name-brand PC, a Sony VAIO PC70.

In an ear­ly attempt at wish­ing for on-the-fly plug-and-play periph­er­als that USB would lat­er bring us, I fried my com­put­er while attempt­ing to con­nect a par­al­lel print­er cable. While it was on. Stand­ing in my car­pet­ed bed­room. For­tu­nate­ly, I was liv­ing in Nashville on a co-op at the time, and was able to (with some help from my Dad) go buy a new com­put­er. Tired of the mom & pop per­pet­u­al-upgrade box­es, I went with a brand name. I bought a Sony VAIO desk­top, the first one ever. It was a big pur­ple tow­er with a match­ing pur­ple mon­i­tor (the PC-70). The VAIO was actu­al­ly ahead of it’s time in many respects, not the least of which was the fact that it was­n’t beige. Also, it had two USB 1 ports before Win­dows 95 or Apple Mac OS either sup­port­ed them. There weren’t even many USB devices to be found in 1997 even if the oper­at­ing sys­tems could sup­port them. It also had a kind of work envi­ron­ment on top of Win­dows, called VAIO space (seen in the pho­to to the left). It was use­less, but showed Sony’s will­ing­ness to put extra effort into mak­ing top of the line com­put­ers.

I had also been a big fan of CNET, and had final­ly decid­ed I was going to drop the uni­ver­si­ty’s dial-up modem pool in favor of a real ISP. I would, like all of my peers, change e‑mail address­es and ISP’s more often than home address­es over the next sev­er­al years.

Making An Online Home

In the next sev­er­al years, I would learn a lit­tle HTML and begin to dab­ble in the idea of hav­ing my own web page (lat­er to be known as web sites). I began to use Microsoft­’s Front­Page to write every­thing, and would con­tin­ue to do so for sev­er­al years. While I had some (crap) online, I reg­is­tered JasonColeman.net in late 2000 and actu­al­ly put up an entire site. Then, after leav­ing grad­u­ate school and get­ting a real job, it went untouched for most of the next three years. Final­ly, in Decem­ber of 2004, I decid­ed that using a blog for­mat would allow me to update the site eas­i­er and more reg­u­lar­ly in the fash­ion I had always intend­ed. Much of the con­tent from that old site can be found in the sta­t­ic pages on this site.

I don’t remem­ber a time when I did­n’t have a com­put­er in my home, either as a child or as an adult. As I grew up, so did per­son­al com­put­ing. When I need­ed com­put­ers for a new task in life, they were expand­ing to fill that need; whether it was draw­ing on Mac­Paint as a child, writ­ing term papers in Word­Per­fect, writ­ing pro­grams in VB, or using spread­sheets in my research. As my world view expand­ed and I net­worked as an adult, so too did the world of com­put­ing through local net­works and the Inter­net. Per­son­al com­put­ing is as much a part of my every­day life as tele­vi­sion or dri­ving have ever been. It was­n’t my gen­er­a­tion that invent­ed the tech­nolo­gies you’re using right now to read this, but we were the ones who made it main­stream. I’ll nev­er be a famous pro­gram­mer or tech vision­ary, but I will always strive to stay on the cut­ting edge of tech­nol­o­gy because I grew up on that edge, thanks to my par­ents. It is the world I grew up in and the world I live in.