Computer Literacy Narrative
My history with computers begins Christmas of 1984 when Grandpa gave our family a Commodore 64 computer. It was several years before we had a complete system including disk drive, monitor, and printer. At first I was relegated to typing commands into the basic interpreter and playing cartridge-based games.
Upon graduating eighth grade in 1989, I convinced my family to reward my endeavors with an Amiga A500 computer, which blew the 64 away, holding twenty times more memory, much more speed, a capacity of 4,096 colors at higher resolution with special graphics chips, compared to the 64’s 16 colors, and best of all it had a cool built-in disk-drive on the side.
By 1992 I had saved up half the money required to make the purchase of an Amiga 1200, the descendant of the A500, with more advanced graphics, processing power, and a continued low price tag of around $600. The A1200 and A500 were cheap enough for my family to realistically afford, and gave a great amount of ability for the price. The graphics, sound, and multitasking Operating System were far superior to that offered on any other platform. Unfortunately, Commodore’s management and marketing sucked, and they went belly-up by 1996.
After being discharged from the Army in 1994, I began attending the University of Illinois in Winter of 1995, where I was for the first time exposed to NCSA Mosaic, and was induced to create my first web page. I remember the great effort it had been to find, scan, crop, and convert a small photo of me to augment what I had there. The web loaded a lot quicker before everyone started putting graphics all over the damn place like they do today.
Telecommunications has always been a strong interest of mine. Unfortunately, online services were priced beyond my reach throughout most of my childhood. By the time I came to the University I was finally making enough money to subscribe to a local Chicago Internet access provider. I’d felt like I missed a lot not having the financial capabilities to get on the networks sooner though.
When I first arrived at the University, my interest was in not going in to Computer Science, as I really only liked the Amiga, ever-waning in it’s popularity. That and I wasn’t particularly interested in making Math a great thing in my life. However, I eventually did join the CS department after my first experiences learning code – it was so fun and liberating! Now I had some power over computers, I could write the software, and do things the way I hoped they could be. And, after all, the other computers weren’t so bad. The Unix systems at least seemed to work well enough.
Well, Math of course, is not my strong suit. A year or so ago I met Brad in the Allen cafeteria, and was shocked at his approach of being a Rhetoric major with a minor in CS! Gee … I’d always enjoyed writing for my own personal interest, much as I loathed research papers. And I did hit the 99% percentile on the ACT for “Rhetoric” – whatever that was, I had not known at the time. And come to think of it, hadn’t I placed out of Rhet 105 three different ways?
The next week, I proudly made the switch.
The Internet continues to play a very big part in my life. My web site grows slowly every week. I keep my diary on-line for others to read. I write CGI applications. I’m a hard-core Unix geek, administering two of my own systems, writing my HTML and perl scripts in vi, wowwing friends with afterstep. I work for the networking group at NCSA, for the CSIL as a labsitter, and worked last summer at an ISP in Chicago called EnterAct, where I may very well return this summer.
I now use only Unix, and my old Amiga systems from time to time out of nostalgia and respect for history. I own two Unix boxen, four Amiga systems, and the old Commodore 64. While most of these are antiques, I still lend some systems out to others from time to time to facilitate their computing needs.
My fanatical Unix snobbery does mean that I know very little about Windows 95 or Mac. Because I have good computer karma, I still tend to negotiate such systems better than the average Joe, but I’m by no means a wiz. Instead I enjoy spending my time tinkering with completely open systems like FreeBSD. I am proud and inspired by the idea that there are now several very competent Operating Systems available even for normal users that are built and maintained entirely by volunteer effort. It is my goal to continue to learn and ultimately contribute to this effort as I can.
I hate Windows though. I find Microsoft’s philosophy of “Might Makes Right” peculiarly offensive. It seems a holy war between the dark forces of greed and the efforts of people writing useful stuff for free. I’m proud to say that not one byte of Microsoft code has ever run on any system that I own. In order to push this idea of independence I am even now writing a school paper in the archaic language of troff through vim, sending the job to the Dorm’s NT print server through lpr.