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old computers

Things have been changing at an ever increasing pace recently.

I still remember how when I was in high school we were sent to this special trade school where we were supposed to learn an occupation. Probably it was just in case we chose not to go on to university after graduation. Anyway, the occupation I eventually chose to learn was that of a ‘computer operator’. It probably sounds weird today but back then if you knew your way around computers that already qualified as a job.

They had these old computers with monochrome displays at the trade schools. I still remember the specs, 512 kb of RAM, 20 MB hard drives, and yet still somehow those old computers could do stuff that seemed totally amazing at the time. You could run games on them. They were pretty simplistic games with monochrome graphics but we enjoyed them very much nonetheless. They ran DOS, so you could only run one program at a time. They taught us to write programs in BASIC. Each line started with a number, for some reason the first line started with a 10, the next one started with a 20 etc.

It’s strange how the memories of those times have become vague and elusive. I can still remember facts but I don’t really remember how I felt. Well, probably I sort of do. I do remember that after spending my first couple of hours on those old computers I was hooked, addicted, I wanted to come back for more, which I did.

Those old computers were crap next to the sort of machines we’ve got today. Hell, you couldn’t even really play music on them. Those old arcade style games had sound, sure, but the sound was crap. Still, something drew us to them. I wasn’t the only one in that computer class. It was something inexplicable. This feeling as if they offered us a window into Plato’s world of ideas. Plus they were for programming. BASIC wasn’t much of a programming language, at least the version that we used on those old computers, but still suddenly you had this machine that you could program, that you could get to do thing for you. It was an amazing feeling.

These days, imho, one of the things that I think kids really miss out on when it comes to computers is that few of them are really given the chance to realize that you can not only use them as a consumer to check emails or social networking sites but you can create things on computers. Sure there’s still people who eventually realize that and go on to become programmers etc but to the majority modern computers, and especially laptops and tablets, have turned into dumbed down consumer appliances, which is a shame, imho.

Part of the problem is that all the mechanism behind modern applications have really grown in complexity since those early days of GW BASIC. Now when I look at all the stuff behind web applications I can’t help asking myself did things really have to get so involved in the end? Couldn’t they have chosen some simpler way of doing web programming. In the past spaghetti code  was regarded as a bad thing, today in web programming it’s the only kind of code you get, there’s simply no way of programming for the web differently once you get down to the very basic level of style sheets and HTML with chunks of embedded php code for good measure. I often can’t help pondering whether they (whoever they are) could have come up with something cleaner.

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