Sunday, September 19, 2010

Well - I'm already behind before I start

No excuses - it just didn't happen before now. However, I'm going to post my autobiography of a computer user here.

Autobiography of a Computer User
By May Thiessen
1961 I was born. My dad was working for the National Research Council (Division of Building Research) at the time, while working on his master’s degree in mathematics. He told me he used an analog computer at the time. It looked a bit like a large adding machine (the old ones with the handle on the side). He said it took them three days to input their experimental data and three days for the computer to churn before it would spit out a number. They had to repeat the procedure three times and average their final result. They were calculating the slope of a line. However, I do know that I was around computers and techie stuff all the time growing up. These were the huge computers that took up large rooms in universities.
1974 I remember being hired by my dad in about 1974 to read and record results on some type of monitoring equipment set up in my grandparents’ basement next door. It had to be done at the same time each day, and I was reading a computer generated graph of some type. My dad made a trip to the States about that time and brought back calculators for all of us kids (I have seven siblings). This was no small thing because they were about $100 each. They could do the four basic math functions plus square root. You entered data in reverse polish notation. I started high school that year and was part of the first class that didn’t have to learn how to use a slide rule.
1979 I went to business college right out of high school. I took a class on data processing, which was how to read punched cards. Even then, punched cards were obsolete, and the whole class was a bit of a joke. I got a summer job typing in a computer program for a computer science major – page after page of meaningless numbers – and if I made any error anywhere it wouldn’t work.

1980 While living in Papua New Guinea I was introduced to cutting edge technology – a typewriter that had an entire line of memory! You could type the line, it would tell you how many characters the line was and then go into the line on the screen and add spaces so that the entire document would be right justified, line by line.
1982 I started university. By the time I graduated (1986) we could use gopher (the beginning of search engines) to find and download articles. I paid my way through university typing papers on a typewriter – it had a five character buffer, so if I made a mistake within the last five characters I could erase it before it typed it. Unfortunately, I typed faster than the buffer so it was no help to me. My dad (who always had the latest and greatest) had a programmable calculator, which was the only reason I passed calculus. (Ok, with a supplemental exam). He programmed in the differential equations for me and the university didn’t know about clearing all calculator memories before the start of exams.
1984 I was working for an engineering firm while paying my way through university. I worked for two different firms; they both had Apple IIe’s, and had sample specs on floppy disk so that you could load the spec and just make the changes you wanted for a particular project. Before that we had been using typewriters with carbon paper. Later I worked for another firm that had a Wang word processor. Every document was saved page by page. If you had a 200 page spec, and added a paragraph in page one, you had to go through every page after that, linking two pages together (the max it could hold in its memory), to push the subsequent paragraphs down.
1987 Teaching in rural Saskatchewan, there was a computer lab, and we taught the students to program using Pascal and Turtle – a program that would teach them how to move the cursor and direct it around the screen.
1991 My daughter was born. I was hired by Sir John Franklin High School in Yellowknife to assist with the library automation. By 1993, all the libraries were automated in Yellowknife. I developed carpal tunnel syndrome for the first time from too much keyboarding.
1994 My son was born. I took a summer session class from the U of S on cataloguing. It was all using a card catalogue and books. Any question I had about an automated catalogue or cataloguing any type of electronic resources (laser disks were the latest and greatest back then) was met with the response “I’m retiring next year, I really don’t care – figure it out for yourself!” Email began to be a standard thing around this time, and I sent a weekly email to my parents instead of mailing it. I’d been writing my mother a weekly letter since I went away to high school in 1976. I had many family members who asked to be added to the mailing list, so it became quite an extensive list. It was also a real pain with e-mails bouncing because of changed or incorrect addresses, people feeling slighted because they weren’t on my list, etc. As soon as I heard about blogs, I switched to a blog – I’m guessing that it was around 2000? but I don’t really know when.
Since 1994 The switch to more and more computer use, has been so gradual since then that I’d find it hard to state when and what I did or learned which application. I do know that I still consider myself to be behind my dad and usage and skills (and he’ll be 80 this spring). I used to write programs in DOS, and took classes in building web pages using HTML when that was new, and using Web CT much more recently. I remember dial up modems, and how quickly they became passé. However, so much of the knowledge is and has always been, use it or lose it. When my kids were small I subbed full-time for eight years, so wasn’t using a lot of computer skills beyond email. I’m still amazed at the wide range of skills that people have. I just taught a co-worker how to make different folders to save her email in on Friday and why that might be a good idea. She thinks I’m a technical guru. However, at the other end of the spectrum, I have no idea how to send a text message on my cell phone (which I just finally broke down and bought this summer). I’m grateful that I’m being forced to learn and use new things in this class – and frustrated because I’m finding the learning curve challenging.