Thursday, January 17, 2008

Our First Computer

We got our very first computer almost exactly 10 years ago. It wasn't new, but it was pretty close. We bought it from one of Jules Moms friends. She was a bit of a nut job who bought the thing brand new but could work it. I not sure how much we paid for it, but it was a Pentium 120 and I think it had 16MB of RAM in it. It came with all the standard peripherals. Keyboard, mouse, speakers, monitor and a printer. It even came with a desk (which we still use).

We were pretty excited to get a computer. We'd heard all about this Internet thing and we wanted to surf it up. We got the system home one day and fired it up. It was sweet! It ran Windows 95b, which meant nothing to us. This was our very first experience using a Windows based computer and we didn't know what the hell we were doing.

We poked around for a bit and clicked on some things. Somehow we managed to find solitaire and pinball. This was all fun and everything but we were more interested in checking out the Internet. I plugged the modem into the phone jack and we went about trying to get "online" (I don't even know if we knew that term yet).

We jumped around and clicked on anything that said "Internet" or "Connection" but no matter what we did nothing happened. So then we started clicking more stuff and started changing things we had no idea about. Like modem settings and IRQ's and memory addresses. All those things that you shouldn't mess around with. But no matter what we did, we couldn't get any web pages to show up. We even got some books from the library but that didn't help us any.

"Great!! It's Broken!! We spent all this money on a computer and it doesn't even work!"

We ended up taking it to a computer place to get it fixed. We explained the problem to the technician. Basically everything seemed OK except we couldn't get the Internet to work.

The first thing they guy asked us was, "Who is your ISP?"

We looked at each other, shrugged and stared blankly back at the technician.

He tried again, "Who is your Internet provider?"

He might as well have been speaking Chinese. We didn't have a clue what he was talking about. I was thinking to myself, "the computer is our Internet provider. Duh! Doesn't this guy know anything?"

Then he explained that you had to sign up with a company before you could get on the Internet. His business just happened to be an ISP. They provided Dial-up service through a company called Opti-Link. He signed us up and told us what was included and what the cost was.

This was a bit of a bummer because we were under the impression that the Internet was free.

Eventually we managed to get all set up we were on the Internet at last!

Finally we could look up all those addresses we'd been seeing on commercials. Now we could "do the Emails" and "surf the Interwebs". This is when I signed up for the Hotmail account that I still use today (before Hotmail was bought by Microsoft). Yes we were the toast of the town. All of our friends would come by and be amazed by the wonders of the World Wide Web because we were the first ones in our crowd to have a computer.

We had all sorts of problems with that computer for the next couple of years. We had to reinstall Windows at least once. Another time we filled the hard drive up to capacity because we weren't deleting anything. We just kept saving. I don't think we saved anything to a floppy disk for the first year.

Another time we got a stick of memory and wanted to put it into the computer. To us this was the equivalent of brain surgery. We weren't about to mess around with the guts of the computer. We got hooked up with "a guy" who could do it for us for cheap. We took him the computer and he kept it for weeks. We had to hound him for days and finally insist that he return it in order to get it back. I now know that it takes about 3 minutes to install a stick of memory so I don't know why he needed to keep if for so long.

All this computer stuff was great and all but I came to realize that I had no clue what I was doing. I didn't even know how to use Windows Explorer to find files! My Documents? What's that? If there is one thing I can't stand it's not knowing something.

My complete ignorance of computers motivated me to take a course and when I do things I do them all the way. I didn't just take some Mickey Mouse 'how to use your PC' course. I took a full MCSE - Network Administrator course and I followed that up with a programming course.

In the span of 2 years I went from a total know-nothing to a full on computer expert. I have been making my living working with, supporting and developing applications for computers for the last 6 years.

Now that I have all the knowledge I do I can really appreciate how foolish we must have seemed to that poor technician we saw to get the Internet fixed on our computer. I deal with people like that all the time. I think my experience as a computer illiterate helps me to empathize with those people that are just starting out.

Still. Every time I think about it, it makes me laugh.

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