My History with Computers

My first experience with computers was in 1982 or so, when I took a short summer course in which I got to bask in the green glow of an Apple IIe. I still have the floppy disk which holds (or perhaps by now, I should say, "held") the work that I did programming in Logo.

A couple of years later, a dozen or so IBM PCs were installed in my senior English classroom in high school. Our class got to spend a couple of weeks working with them, and then we moved into other classrooms to resume our regular studies while other classes had their turns with them. I don't remember exactly what we did in class, but I do remember that we were allowed to return to the room after school in the afternoon and use the computers. I played with Flight Simulator, which rekindled an interest in flying that I had several years earlier. And if not for an extreme susceptibility to motion sickness and a general dislike of air travel, I'd probably be a pilot today.

Fast forward through my college years, when a lack of money and a lack of parental enthusiasm for personal computing led to many late nights of pounding out papers on a Smith-Corona typewriter. Computing in the mid-to-late eighties for me meant doing exercises on the Plato system, running statistics through the Apple IIe in the physics study room, and going down to one of the computer labs in Keller Hall in the wee small awful of the early morning so I could use the terminals to run biological simulations on the mainframe.

Photo: Tandy 1000 RL After graduating in 1990, I started working full time and earned enough money to buy myself a Tandy 1000 RL for Christmas — 9.54 MHz of smoking 8086 power, Deskmate, Tandy enhanced CGA, a 720K floppy drive, and one expansion slot. Okay, I didn't know any better, but at the time, It was what I wanted — a basic, relatively inexpensive entry level computer that I could learn on.

Along with it I bought a 1200 bps modem and a 9-pin dot matrix printer. The next day or so, I bought my first software package, Microsoft Flight Simulator 4.0, which I was delighted to find actually ran in color under TCGA. Over the months that followed, I added a 40 MB hard drive, increased RAM up to the system maximum of 768 KB, and upgraded to a 2400 bps modem. I started subscribing to PCM, a magazine geared to Tandy owners

I bought that system to learn, and learn I did. I learned I should never buy a computer like that ever again. More importantly, I learned MS‑DOS. Yeah, the learning curve was a bit steep at first. But it really wasn't that hard. Once I learned some basic commands, figured out how directories work, and picked up on some of the conventions, using a PC became easy and fun. It wasn't long before I could see the workings of DOS inside of applications, and in so doing gained insight into what those applications were doing. Knowledge of DOS lets me manipulate the system, create my own shortcuts, perform simple and basic tasks without taking my hands off the keyboard to reach for a mouse, and do something as simple and useful as view ASCII text files without having to start an application. I enjoy the feeling of empowerment and control, and miss it when I use computers that try to hide the nitty-gritty stuff behind the scenes.

The Library School Years

It wasn't until I entered library school in August of 1991, though, that I really got into computers. I had an interest in library automation, which I suppose was inevitable considering my technological interests and my work experience in libraries with the Ulisys and DRA Atlas online library systems. I took many of the computer and automation courses, and got lots of valuable experience. Not only did I learn a lot about library systems, but I also learned about running computer operations, about networking and telecommunications, and about how different pieces of computer equipment work with each other — all skills that would later prove immensely valuable.

Of course, we studied about the nature of information, and how to analyze it, organize it, store it, transport it, and retrieve it. I also became interested in how humans interact with computers.

This was also the time I was first introduced to the Internet. The faculty at the library school felt that e-mail was such an important communications tool that all incoming students were automatically given accounts on the university's Internet-connected Unix system. We thought this was the greatest thing since sliced bread. We e-mailed each other, played with early information-finding tools like gopher and archie, transferred files back and forth, telnetted to far-flung library catalogs, signed up for electronic forums to eavesdrop on discussions between real working librarians, and spent hours reading and sending messages in Usenet newsgroups. Eventually, I got a little burnt out on it for a while, but the experience gave me enough perspective to avoid get caught up in the hype that surrounded the Internet when it came into widespread prominence a few years later.

Back then, the university's link to the rest of the Internet was a T-1 line, which could move 1.5 Mbps, and was rarely filled to capacity. The hottest new thing in telecommunications was a service called Switched-56, which let businesses have high-speed 56 kbps data connectivity on an as-needed basis. A decade later, I signed up for cable modem service, giving me a 2 Mbps connection, because dial-up service, at nearly 56 kbps, was just too slow.

New Orleans, 1993

In the summer of 1993, I attended the American Library Association Annual Conference in New Orleans. That was the year of the debut of the Internet Room — a room next to the exhibit hall full of computers for conference attendees to check their e-mail and explore the Internet. One of the programs loaded on these computers was the Mosaic web browser. I had no idea what it was, couldn't quite figure it out, and certainly didn't realize the significance of what I was looking at.

My Current Job

When I began as a systems librarian, I had to take care of our integrated online library system, Geac ADVANCE, which ran on a C.ITOH minicomputer in the library. I studied Pick, which is a database-oriented operating system that the library system ran on. I had to manage ASCII text terminals, and got good at figuring out why they would lock up or display funny characters on the screen. A couple of years later, when we migrated to the CARL library automation system, which ran on a mainframe at the university's main campus, I had to learn a lot about datacommunications and TCP/IP networking. In those days, most of our subscription research databases came on CD‑ROMs, and I built and managed a Novell CD-ROM LAN (years before CD networking became easy) so that several people could perform searches at the same time. With the rise of the World Wide Web, and our migration to the client-server Voyager library system in 2000, I had to learn about Windows networking and security.

I first started learning how to create web pages back around 1995. After my first crude personal home page got found by an Internet search site and was thus accessible to the world, I quickly became serious about designing a web site that I didn't mind people looking at. That was the beginning of this web site in its current form.