Brett Rants

An Autumnal Walk in the Park

A History of My Engagement with Computers

Low sun and clouds reflecting off of a pond in the middle of a forest, images have nothing to do with the text, and are taken from a walk in a forest preserve, this is a nice view, and so, starts the page off with a bang, also, this is a backwards retrospective, and makes sense in a certain way

I like computers... now.

Actually, sometimes when folks hear me say that, they misunderstand. I mean, I like computers. Sure. But then, don't we all? So when I say I like computers, what I really mean is that I spend a fair amount of my free time thinking about their internals and that I've taken on Computer Science as a sort of intellectual hobby.

Of course, I did not always relate to computers in this way.

My first serious thought about computers was, maybe (but probably), when I was thirteen. And as I recall, it was in a vacant lot across the street from where I grew up that I first thought seriously about computers (or at least, that location is tied to the memory).

As another odd little footnote, I'll just randomly sort of throw out there (for whatever it is worth) that about half of the lots on the street where I grew up were vacant. Or in other words, vacant lots figure prominently in my Bart Simpson years.

But, anyway, I was in this lot... and I remember thinking about computers, what they were good for and thinking about something along the lines of a stock market analysis program. Of course, I couldn't do a stock market analysis program back then, but I think I was trying to come up with some sort of rationale for why my parents should shell out $100 for some eight bit newfangled computing wonder that did not have anything to do with playing games. And a stock market analysis program is what I came up with.

My parents did not fall for it.

They did not buy me one of those newfangled eight bit wonders.

I did not become a computer boy genius.

And I am not now a Dot Com Internet Billionaire.

Of course, none of those other things would (most likely) be true now, even if my parents had bought me a computer way back then, as I would have just used said eight bit wonder to play the (relatively) stupid computer games of the day.

But then again, let's face it, one had to be a virtual System's Administrator to play any sort of game back then. It's a skill set all of it's own. And many a career in the computer industry has been built on less.

Same preserve, this is the farm area, a nice little walk, there were cows and pigs here, but none shown, a field in a farm, barns in the background, wagon and plow in the foreground, windmill to the side, green grass, early fall

In high school, one of my friends had a computer... an early (real early) Apple, if I remember correctly.

The big game (that we played) was Lemonade Stand. Lemonade Stand sucked. I mean, Lemonade Stand really sucked. If I recall correctly, the basis of the game was selling lemonade (hence, the name), which one accomplished by deciding how much lemonade to prepare each day based upon a weather report.

Hint: don't mix up much lemonade on rainy days, as it just won't sell.

There was, also, some planetary settler game (likely called M.U.L.E, but at this remove, I hardly remember), which was equally inane... some kind of expert system (a simple if/then tree) meshed with a random number generator and viola: Game!

Eh, it sucked.

I mean, I read a lot of junk about computers. Seriously, I (self) describe my competitive advantage when it comes to computers as a willingness (nay, a desire, maybe even a compulsion) to read boring ass journal article after boring ass journal article (the boring ass 'ness of any individual journal article being a matter of opinion).

But whatever, I read a lot (like a lot), as reading has been (and remains) my number one hobby, pastime, and/or way of life... like, throughout my entire life.

And when I say I like computers, one of the things I mean by that is that I have consciously decided to focus my reading on things related to computers. So in other words, I have read my (fair) share (actually, quite a bit more than my fair share) of articles about computer (and/or gaming) geek culture (whatever exactly that might mean). And often enough, these sort of publications mention Star Trek or Star Drive or Star Warriors or whatever that first Star Settler Simulator was called back on that punch card behemoth (whatever they called that particular punch card behemoth machine, so maybe I don't know as much as I claim to know, as I can't even remember the name of that stupid computer, I mean, I'd say it was a DEC-10 if I had to guess, but that just just sounds wrong, so what are you going to do, look it up, I don't think so). Anyhow, all these guys (only slightly older than myself) go on about Suck Star (or was it Star Suck) and, well, from all that I've heard about Stellar Suckitude (and judging from it's numerous progeny), it probably sucked... like big time. I know Lemonade Stand did.

But the focus of this rant isn't the history of sucky computer games, so maybe I should move on with the story.

After all, at some point (maybe right here), I should mention that I took a computer class in high school, but I just didn't see the point. It wasn't... um, elitist enough for me, as it was not obviously mathematically driven nor did it have any intellectual cachet... at least, not in my neck of the woods.

And let's face it, I am not a detail oriented guy. I can barely spell. I (obviously) can't remember the proper name of that DEC system (was it a nine or a ten, to be honest, punk, at this point, I've lost track of the numbering system, too). And (more importantly) without a GUI, I doubt I could write a single line of code. So, I was not cut out for the early years of computing. I simply wasn't.

I mean, I may have been a geek. But I've never thought of myself as a geek. I thought of myself as one of the 'smart kids'.

Meaning, I had Dungeons & Dragons and Star Trek could suck it... as could computers.

OK, I was wrong, these are not all from the same park, this is from a sculpture garden, a short little path, and this image is of a Stonehedge Looking display, rocks set on end in a circle, I liked it

Eh, maybe I was a geek. Let's see. I read Science Fiction and Fantasy to excess. I did not get a girlfriend until the last half of my senior year. So that means, I was seventeen when I first kissed a girl. How about you? And I spent most of my time playing games... not computer games but real games (the kind that have forty eight page long rule books) like Avalon Hill's Third Reich or pen and pencil games like Dungeon & Dragons (I really should spend a post or two ranting about that waste of time) and video games, which I was amazingly good at.

In fact, I would say I was obsessed with video games.

Eh, maybe I will touch base on that whole D & D obsession for a moment and link it with pinball and video games. See, I wasn't overly popular in school... nor was I overly unpopular, so there are worse places to be. Nor did I have a girlfriend. And looking back, I am convinced that a large part of the appeal of both D & D (and the importance of levelling up) and video games (I kicked ass and got high score consistently... not to mention had acquired over the years an ability to play pinball on most any machine for about as long as I wanted on a single quarter... or on a bad day, two quarters; thus, I believe my obsession with these two pastimes) was (if I had to guess) as much about external validation as anything else... as in, the rest of my life was sort of boring and pathetic... perhaps much like the life of your average teenager, who would much rather read a book about someone else crossing the galaxy than actually crossing the room and talking to some stranger... even if said stranger had been in every class I had ever been in since kindergarten.

Sorry, but saying hello was simply not something I was ever going to do.

Anyhow, after I got out of high school (escaped, some would say), it would be many a long year until I touched a computer again.

Ha!

Now, this is a funny story!

Once I bought a pen stylus printer on the hope (call it a dream) that I would one day have a computer to connect it up to, but I think I just threw the printer out. Looking back, I really should have simply taken the device back to the store where I bought it (Radio Shack) and returned it... but, you know, I'd never done that before, so I never even thought about returning it.

Whatever.

Moving on.

I recall having an idiot for an instructor (no sense calling such a fool a teacher) in some junior college word processing course.

And I have forgotten virtually everything (so, blocked it out, I must have) about my first college level course in programming. Seriously, I cannot remember if I passed or not... just that I stopped going about halfway through, so I probably did not achieve a passing grade. But then, it was junior college, so you never do know. Maybe I squeaked by.

Finally, in '95 or so, I bought a computer (at Sears, no less) along with a copy of Civilization. And that was love at first sight. But beyond X-COM, I'm hard pressed to remember another title worthy of mention.

Eh, I played Populous on Sega... and some other turn based fantasy war game, but I don't remember the name.

Anyhow, it would be about here that I got serious about my studies and earned an associates degree in electronics. Of course, I'd entered that course of study (after hitting the wall of linear algebra, while trying to study electronics on my own) with the intent of programming EPROMs... and/or descrambling a cable TV signal (for strictly scientific purposes, I assure you).

Oh, and just by-the-by, those just happen to be two things (that I shall bother to enumerate out of a vastly larger set of things) that I still can't do.

Oh, well.

On the other hand, I did learn how to bias a transistor... a skill I never did use the once.

And that I do believe is the story of my formal education as it relates to the exciting hi-tech world of computers.

Oh, wait!

I should also mention that I aced the Linear Algebra class that I eventually would take in junior college, mainly because I showed up with a TI-92 (a behemoth of a hand-held calculator, truly a thing of awe and wonder), which, when I asked the teacher if I could use said mini-computer on the in class tests, she said yes... though I doubt she realized I could literally type the test questions (you know, like, exactly as written) into that there TI-92 and it would handily spit out the correct answer.

So, um, I got an A+ in the course.

Advantage Tech!

Um, but let's see, did I learn anything?

Who knows?

I think orthonormal means something lies within a referenced dimensional space, while orthogonal means it does not.

But I'm not overly confident about that. So, twenty years later, did I earn that A... or was the only person I cheated myself?

Or you know, did I do my homework and show up on the first day of class with a prepared mind and the tools that would allow me to excel?

Oh, right!

Maybe I should mention I was on the debate team for a week and a half. So, I'll happily argue either side of anything. But I'm pretty sure that's a different story.

Opposite stonehenge in the walk, there was a lone rock monolith, this is from the backside where the sun was shining, I like the close up of the rock, the brown lichen, and the crack

Wow!

A lot of words there!

So, not that many here.

Almost none.

I spent 25 years as a generic office employee, during which time the highest level math I used was figuring out the area of a circle. Though to be fair, I did get to use a computer... after I brought my old gaming machine from home to replace the typewriter I had been using at work.

But there is almost nothing in all this time I would call having an interest in computers.

I mean, I knew a few DOS commands, so I could get my computer games to work. But that was about it.

I was not interested.

I did not care.

Rather than programming computers, I was doing such things as playing with clay (call it pottery) and casting metal figures (call it lead poisoning).

Oh, and I also really liked that Magic the Gathering game.

Back to the forest preserve, this is a woodwalkway path through a reed filled, marsh, bog, prairie lowland type area, brown grass field, shoulder height, surrounded by trees in the distance, coming to the end of a nice day

And then (yes, and then), I moved to Hawaii.

Now, moving to Hawaii does not usually hold a place in the story of one's life... but more especially, it does not tend to figure prominently for one who is about to become obsessed with computers.

Surfing? Maybe.

Computers? No.

Part of moving to Hawaii (on June 12th, 2006, a date, which shall live in infamy... and/or a date I committed to memory, so as to better keep track of the changes in my life) involved switching my current boring old office job (perhaps I un-exagerate) into something that could be called telecommuting.

Now, I was not the first to telecommute. But whether you are impressed or not, I was quite proud of the fact that I'd managed to find a way to solve every last one of my paperwork, telephone, and networking dilemmas on an island three thousand miles from anywhere.

So, be impressed, as I was... or not.

The choice is yours.

However, ironically enough, all the I.T. type obstacles that I had to overcome at the time were not very interesting to me. I was just proud that I had done it.

Anyhow, telecommuting... how to say this?

I suddenly had a lot more free time.

And then, the writing was on the wall (as it had been since I was hired decades ago) that sooner or later, I would be without a source of income... and that all this new-found free time was (perhaps, just perhaps) a once in a lifetime opportunity... so, like, I should really take advantage of it.

Well, it turns out it wasn't a once in a lifetime opportunity, as being a slacker has become (more or less) a way of life for me.

But still, the thought was there. My job was taking, like... well, sometimes under an hour a day (sometimes more). And this meant I had a lot (like a lot) of free time... along with a super huge (as in, a heaping large) amount of stress over the future.

I needed to find a way to make money... or at least, make myself more employable, once the situation changed and this dream-like (near retirement like) lifestyle went away.

So, I took to writing.

Oh, but I took to writing.

I mean, look around this website boys and girls and you will find post after post, story after story, and unpublished book after unpublished book. And a large portion of this work came from this time period in my life.

Now, don't ask me why, but I suppose I knew (deep down in my heart) that being a highly paid (or even a poorly paid) writer was a long shot. So, I also decided to specialize in some intellectual endeavour, which could be monetized at some arbitrary point down the line should the need arise.

Though, the topic of said specialization did not (overly) matter.

Um, just in case you don't know this, Hawaii has some awesomely cool cloud formations. I mean, the cloudscape is out of this world, comprised (as it is) of multiple layers of near ever-present continually interacting atmospheric conditions (caused by the meeting of mountain, ocean, and air) that produce pretty cool visualizations: multiple cloud fronts blowing at different rates, speeds, and directions, taking on different patterns and shapes... so, like, there could be a low level wall of fog that never seemed to go anywhere, fluffy clouds higher up, drifting gently by, topped by thin streaks in the upper atmosphere with a mind all of their own, and along with all of that, there were near daily rainbows (both in the morning and afternoon, often lasting for hours), caused by a perpetually storm front that hung around for more or less my entire three year stay on the island.

So, you know, with all this atmospheric coolness about, I thought I'd study meteorology. And by this I meant that instead of reading this or reading that (basically, whatever random books I found in the free pile at the library), I would focus my reading on meteorology, maybe set up a weather station, and that sort of thing.

Meteorology lasted about a month, which was about when I realized that particular science (call it Atmospheric Physics) was based upon calculus.

Um, I have no great love of calculus.

Genetic Engineering lasted a bit longer, maybe a year. Who really knows? I really hadn't gotten my study habits down, so I wasn't keeping track (of anything). Not that the lack of any concrete program of study bothered me. It didn't... nor did I care about my degree (or lack of degree) of progress. Rather, it was the realization that I would never be able to put together a competitive lab in my kitchen sink (bathtub, toilet holding tank, or backyard swimming pool) that put a stop to that particular line of inquiry.

All the same, while dabbling in genetics... well, those are some mighty long strings of DNA to rip apart, piece back to together, and try to parse.

So, maybe that was the connection that brought me to computers (because if you want to do any of that piecing and parsing on string of DNA a million billion molecules long, you really do need a computer).

But truthfully, after five or six years of study (sorry, I neglected to write down the exact date of my start), I don't know exactly when it was I decided to look into computers seriously (or exactly why). Whatever the date (whatever the reason), suffice to say, it was love at first sight. And since then, I doubt a week has gone by in which when I haven't read something about computers... often, quite a bit of something.

In short, studying computers feels right. I feel at home. I feel like I can ride this crest of interest for the rest of my life... only occasionally recharging (and refreshing) my mind by taking side excursions into... well, I'd like to say art, but it really is whatever strikes my fancy. Though, if I am being honest, economics and the arts figure in there quite prominently.

Or cannot see the forest for the trees, this is a close up of the brown prarie grass, I was worried that the big leafs might be poison ivy, but there was no long term effect, so good, the top line that starts to show the distance, I am unsure about, as though, I should have cropped it down, but I will not

In the end, I may never get a job working with (on, or for) computers.

But then, I may never need to work another job... with (on, or for) computers... or anything else for that matter.

I mean, it's just not that expensive to keep a computer screen going. And the care and keeping (call it the maintenance) of a sufficiently large array of computers is a major component of my living expenses these days.

Or if that's not clear, rice is pretty darn inexpensive and I'm a cheapskate, so I might just be able to go the distance.

But if I ever do need to work again, I doubt I will find it difficult to find a job working with (on, or for) computers... or maybe I will.

Personally, I don't put much stock in that age discrimination thing.

Then again, my personal beliefs on the subject don't really matter (now, do they).

But one thing is for sure: if I could switch my life around and have gotten the computer bug in junior high, I'm sure I'd be one rich cuss. Of course, that rich cuss would probably want to go out into the wild and build a log cabin or some such nonsense, which, you know, is exactly what I spent my twenties doing.

On the other hand, if I were to build a log cabin today, I like to think I'd do a better job of it than I did in my twenties.

The truth being I probably do everything (and anything) much better today than I did in my twenties.

Which means, maybe I was an idiot in my twenties... or maybe one has the opportunity to learn a whole heck of a lot in the intervening thirty years... even if most of that intervening time was spent pushing paper at a dead end job.

So, yeah. It would have been great to be a boy genius. But I never was one... and I doubt there are as many out there as some folks seem to believe.

A converted silo with stairs leading up to a viewing platform overlooking the grasslands, it was a nice little effect, fun little near playground toy, that would appeal to older folks, this is the doorway, stairs in the background, odd how such a thing can be an adventurous obstacle, perhaps I need to get out more

Anyhow, from there....

Or it it here?

Here we have Stonehenge again, we the shadows of two folks in the foreground, it is a nice little ambiguous couple sort of shot

I'd like to say, I know what I am doing from here. But the truth is it's not the what that I know, but (the who) the how.

I know how.

Years ago, I returned to school, because I hit a dead end in my self studies. I simply cannot see that happening ever again.

Nor can I see running out of things to write about... or problems that I can solve easier with code.


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Now, if you'll excuse me. Civilization IV, awaits. And twenty years from now, who knows? I might just work my way up to Civilization V and VI.

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Brett@Paufler.net