Monday, September 1, 2014
@Cogdog, Ticker tape, Gandalf, Lazarus, and I.
Ticker tape, piles of the stuff, full of holes flung out in a skip..no sense in it, if you ask me.
What they called a 'computer', the school computer was hidden somewhere above the chaplain's study.
From hearsay, I imagined it looked like some sort of barbaric type-writer on steroids. Only advanced maths types got to play with the aforesaid, I was happy that maths stopped when I was fourteen.
I was hooked.
I spent one day and one night on my maths-literate brother's Sinclair ZX Spectrum, playing 'The Hobbit'. I couldn't tear myself away from the thing when I was rewarded with a faint line drawing of the door to Moria and a dwarf that understood if I typed at him.
The measure of my motivation was a desire to go beyond a rubbery touchless 'key'boardy affair. I could talk to Gandalf, he understood me...up to a point.
That was my first and only addiction to video games.
It lasted about 24 hours. Fortunately, I left to go back home the following day.
Alone in an office in Kentish Town, for my first 'proper job', all I had for company, for about two weeks, was a aerial-less TV and a BBC computer with accompanying instruction book.
After two weeks of painstaking effort, I managed to make a red line go across the screen at mid height and a green line to slant annoyingly.
I decided computing was not for me. No sense in it if you ask me.
1985ish two months later
It was called an Apple Macintosh. It was small, friendly looking, it had something called a mouse.
After about half an hour of messing around, I was producing pictures on Macdraw.
I was hooked, I quickly did another drawing just to make sure that it wasn't a fluke.
Pictures made sense to me.
I bought my first computer, an IBM (remember them?), with Windows 95.
Pretty much like a Macintosh, but cheaper, coming in at a reasonable 8000 francs. I could work with it, I could do stuff which made sense to me.
It had an annoying habit of freezing for no apparent reason. I was terrified, what could I have done to break it?
I spent about two weeks poring through the reference manual, I decided that it wasn't dead.
I proceeded to do what they called a reformatting of the hard-disc. It seemed to take a long time. It talked in a language which I didn't understand, that was scary.
Eventually after much praying (something I only ever do when I am desperate as I am a convinced atheist) a Window(s) of meaning reappeared.
Annoyingly I had to do the bloody reformatting carry-on about six times in the next six months.
IBM Lazarus...a miracle
A student, who had come round for some help with his English looked on aghast.
"Excuse me, what are you doing?"
"I'm reformatting." I replied knowledgably.
"Well, if Windows freezes, you do this..." I reached over for the IBM bible.
"Well," he ventured, "I can show you a shorter way."
With a swift two handed finger combination (which I later learnt to be Ctrl Alt Supp) he made my IBM come back from the dead.
"Bloody hell!" I exclaimed, "How did you do that?"
He showed me his magic trick.
CTRL ALT SUPP
A new world opened up to me. I was an insider. I could speak computer...with a very limited vocabulary.
From that moment on I gained confidence, I wouldn't break the computer.
It was forgiving.
We could get on, I could forgive it its inability to communicate properly when it was under stress, running through its lines, reformatting.
Anxiety I understand.
RAM (random access memory)
I quite get a kick out of being able to understand a few phrases of HTML, it's like the tourist in a foreign country who is able to show off to his friends that he knows how to order a beer. Wow!!!
I do however get those BBC Acorn moments.
I accept computers because they enable me to do things I love to do.
I do get panic atttacks still.
"The f****ing thing, what's it doing now!"
I can fully appreciate my colleagues fear, loathing, and annoyance at the thought that somehow they should learn to use these tools better.
Honestly they would rather stick to chalk.
I get that.
It is a horrible feeling when you feel stupid in front of people when you would rather not draw attention to your short-comings.
Learning to deal with RSS
All this brings me to the trigger for this reflection, a comment of Alan Levine on my last post about how being part of a community enables you to overcome technical problems and to learn from obstacles.
I f**ked my blog syndication, as the result of an over-eager #hashtag sowing.
David Hale and Alan helped me sort out the mess.
Alan commented that it was no bad thing that the syndication process was a bit clunky as I got to learn something about RSS. I agree Alan...up to a point.
However, I am absolutely sure that my colleagues would run away from any connection at the mention of RSS or blog or Twitter.
I have read much written by those who suggest that kids should be taught to code.
I am pretty sure that if I had learnt coding with Scratch, I might have made sense of it.
I am pretty sure that Minecraft might have made sense to me... like the Hobbit.
It's all a question of where we put the entry point, the difficulty of the obstacle for the individual to overcome before they can make sense of what they are doing and enjoy playing and feeling a sort of mastery. I am sure that that depends on the person.
Personally, I feel that no obstacle must be put in the way of people who need to connect to a community who can help them learn.
There are a number of critical moments along this learning path that enabled me to get this far to write this post.
It would be a shame to let people's fear of breaking stuff stop them meeting people who might reassure them that they will be OK.
The f***ing PC's battery packed in just as I was about to post this.