Friday, July 15, 2005

Satisfying My Inner Geek

It doesn’t take much to make me happy. Really. I just figured out how to add links to the sidebar of blog and I’m so excited that they actually show up! And they actually work!

There is a lot of geek lurking within me. I was the kid who took Science in summer school—for fun. I had a great teacher my 5th Grade summer (I was entering 5th Grade). His classroom had microscopes and gadgets and stuff that wasn’t available at my local Catholic school. One of the concepts he taught that summer was Base2 and how computers worked.

This was the time before silicon chips, when computers took up entire buildings and were named “Univac” and “Multivac.” Instructions were fed on punch cards and results came out in long strips of punched tape that had to be translated. But the basic workings of a computer were (and still are) simple. They are switches and switches are either “on” or “off.” On is symbolized by “1” and off by “0.”

Our teacher had a long board with a string of lights. Behind each light was a switch. Behind each switch was a student. The number one was represented by the first light on. The number two was the first light off and the second light on. The number three was the first light and the second light on. He compared that to place values in Base10, which is what we use in everyday life.

“Oh, I get it!” I said and by the end of the session I was doing simple addition and subtraction in Base2. Or Base3. Or Base12. I couldn’t add or subtract in Base10, but I would willingly spend time that summer with oddball bases. It became kind of a game among a group of us in class.

In high school, I had the opportunity to learn Fortran 14. My typing improved, too, because I found it was easier and quicker to type my own punch cards than to have the punch typists at the local community college do them. After I wrote my first program--adding 2 + 2--and realized how much time it took, I came home and confidently told my parents, “Computers will never take over the world. They’re too stupid.”

I didn’t actually do any more programming until personal computers were introduced at work and I began to learn DOS. This was back in the days when even Bill Gates thought that a 64KB machine was memory enough for anyone. We had canned word processing and spreadsheet programs (WordStar and Lotus 1-2-3), but renaming a file or looking for a file on a disk required I learn a few commands. Once we moved to PC’s with hard drives, I actually needed to create a menu to find the word processing, spreadsheet, and database programs. Other than the IT programmers, who were paid to be geeks, the rest of us in the office were stumbling around, discovering how to make things work by trial-and-error. When we discovered something useful, we shared. About that time, I bought a used Compaq “luggable” from my S-I-L for use at home. It came with a set of DOS manuals which I used for reference.

I left office work after DS#2 was born. The luggable and its daisy-wheel printer, did what I needed it to do. About a year after DD#2 was born, though, Hubs decided we needed a “real” computer. It had Windows 3.1. It had a hard drive. It read CD’s and 3-1/2” floppies, but not 5-1/4”, which was, of course, what all my programs were on.

Best of all, though, it came with a modem. Since we had a dial-up connection and only had 5 hours/month of access, I got really, really good at finding what I needed to find quickly. I learned Windows. I learned how to use MS-Word and Excel.

Our latest computer runs Windows XP-Home. I don’t use DOS at all anymore. I don’t know how HTML works, but I know how to copy and paste and plug in values. (That’s how I got through Calculus. :) I think about taking a class in HTML. But that would be so unlike me. Maybe I’ll just buy the Dummies book…