My history with computers

Honestly I don’t remember the first time I used a proper desktop computer. I believe it was in the computer lab at my elementary school in the late 1980s. Maybe fourth or fifth grade. I want to say it was an Apple II, but I’m not sure. I really wasn’t paying much attention and we really didn’t go to the computer lab more than a couple times. I don’t know why. For whatever reason though, computers didn’t really impress me at the time. I guess I hadn’t quite aquired my gadget geekiness yet.

I do remember the computer lab in middle school. I think there were two of them. Although again I can’t be sure. I think one was mostly for typing. The other lab was more interesting. Those did have Apple II machines in them because I remember the 5.25″ floppy disk drives and playing around with the thing that moved up and down to engage them. I don’t remember exactly what we did for class work, but I do remember playing a text based adventure game with a friend where you could put in any number of commands for your character to do and it would return the outcome of your choice. I was really impressed by how you could give it pretty much any command and it would return options to you. Even Siri on my phone seems more limited than what I remember that program being able to do. But again, my memory is foggy on all this. That was over 24 years ago.

Now it would be wrong for me to leave out game consoles, but technically they are computers and if we want to skip back a few years, the Atari 2600 was probably my first real intro to computers, followed by a Nintendo Entertainment System(NES) at some point in middle school and my obession with video game systems back then. But we hardly considered those computers. They weren’t the same thing, even though technically they are computers.

I believe it was around the end of middle school that my parents and I went to a computer shop to check out buying a personal computer. At the time they were still pretty expensive and I remember the guy at the shop giving us a demo of a Macintosh machine with a scanner and he scanned in a page from a book. I think he had asked us what we might do with a computer and my mom probably said something like she did art, so he showed us the Macs. But I remember wandering over the PC section while they were talking to the sales guy and really liking the IBM PS1. I’m not sure why, I think i just liked the design.

We didn’t get a computer then and there. But maybe a few weeks of a month or so later my dad brought home a Packard Bell 16MHz 386 machine with a 40MB hard drive and 2MB of RAM. I remember being unimpressed for the most part. I think I was disappointed it wasn’t a more powerful machine, but I got the impression that he had gotten it for free from work so it wasn’t a choice. At that point I should have been happy with any machine and it was cool. i just wasn’t blown away. Partly because I didn’t know what to do with it. You could type papers, play solitaire and mess around in Paint, but that was about the extent of it for me. I wasn’t like some kids who learned to program or anything.

In high school I had more experience with computers and a clearer memory. I took a typing class which is where I really learned to type for the first time. I don’t remember what kind of computers those were, but they were older than what the other labs had because they were only used for typing. They might have been Apple II machines as well. I just remember my teacher telling us they had a 1GB server in the room and it cost a small fortune. But we also had two other computer labs. I believe one was a Mac lab and the other was a PC lab, but I could be wrong. I just remember being in one lab and there was a game someone was playing that I was really impressed with. The graphics were so clear and the animation was really good. No idea what that game was. Some kind of mystery game I think. But I do remember one of my classmates playing the Deep Forest CD and I liked the music, it was strange and different. I also remember using the lab upstairs which I think was the mac lab and where I took my first digital photo. A very pixelated and blocky image which I then drew on in some paint program before printing out. I think I still have that print out in my photo folder from high school.

Back at home we still had that Packard bell machine for several years, all through high school and I got better with it. Eventually I got a modem for it and got on some BBSs. Briefly though. I didn’t really understand them that well and kept getting kicked off. I also tried playing doom on it and couldn’t because I didn’t have enough ram. It required 4Mb or ram and back then that was several hundred dollars. Our machine only had 2Mb or ram. Even then it was only a shareware version of Doom which a friend of mine Jerome told me later that I tried selling to him. Which goes against the concept of shareware.
When we got AOL  things took of more. Suddenly I was chatting with people and other things. That was really cool. But limited. Eventually we cancelled AOL
I think it was around senior year of high school I got AT&T internet access. At first I didn’t really understand it. I was used to the walled garden that was AOL. I didn’t realize the internet was so much bigger and that you could use a browser like Internet Explorer to go to websites. Once I figured that out, I was hooked. Suddenly the computer in general was much more useful to me and I got on all kinds of websites and wanted to do more.

About a year after high school I wanted to get a new computer. The one we had at home didn’t even have a CD-ROM, which some of my friend’s had on their family computer for a couple years at that point. Including Pentium processors. So they could play the cooler games like Myst and so on. All of which I kind of missed out on at the time. So my goal was to get a new machine, but they were still a couple thousand dollars or more. I figured out that if I built it myself I could save about half the cost. So I learned everything I could about the hardware from the internet and computer shopper magazines and pieced together a machine from money I had earned that summer working on a construction site with my dad. The parts were all bought from dealers at a computer show at an indoor flea market.

The machine I built was an AMD K62 running at 300MHz I believe. Hard to remember now. I think it had 64MBs of ram and I know it had a 4GB hard drive. I don’t remember the video card or the sound card, but I remember it wasn’t a Sound Blaster card which were the cool cards at the time. But I did get a Creative DVD-Rom and that was awesome. It allowed me to play DVDs and was my first DVD player. I would hook the machine up to my Sony Trinitron TV or my parents 46″ projection TV and watch movies and they looked so good compared to VHS. About a year or so later I added a DVraptor firewire card that allowed me to hook up my new Sony TRV900 DV camcorder and edit videos with Premiere 5, which was horrible crashy software. Could barely get anything done. A year or two later I got Vegas Video 3 and that was so much more stable. I cut on Vegas Video for many years after, including my first feature film cut on Vegas Video 4 I believe.

At some point after building my first computer I went to visit my friend Steve in college and back then we were all becoming computer geeks to a degree. This was the late 1990s. We had AOL instant message, ICQ, Scournet, Napster and other programs. The whole free music thing was booming, especially on college campuses. When I visited Steve one time he showed me that he learned how to build webpages. Back then, people having their own webpages was a thing and usualy it was just a page or two that was more like an about page with some links to other cool pages and maybe your favorite music artists listed and stuff. This was before social networks. Although Livejournal was right around the corner.
I was amazed that he had learned how to make webpages using HTML. I wanted to learn it myself but I hadn’t figure it out yet. Eventually I got a copy of Microsoft Frontpage 2000 and was building pages with the wysiwyg and looking back and forth at the code. I got better at figuring how what the code represented and memorizing it. Within a couple years I was better at building websites than he was.

Around this same college era I remember going into a CompUSA and seeing the Mac computers. This was when Steve Jobs came back to Apple and released the new bright colored blue iMac. I loved it. All the computers up until that point had been beige with the exception of the hugely expensive Silicon Graphics machines that were lightning blue. it wasn’t long after that they had the G3 Power Mac out at well. I wanted one but couldn’t afford one. Within a couple years Apple had an iMac with a firewire jack on it and was heavily promoting video editing. This really impressed me. No other computer companies were pushing video editing on the masses as part of a stock machine you could buy in a store and that spoke directly to me as an aspiring filmmaker. But it would be couple more years till I would get a mac myself. Mostly because my funds were limited and I was too busy buying video cameras, tripods and other things. it was easier just to keep upgrading the first computer I build, one or two parts at a time than buy into a whole new machine and an expensive one at that. But I definitely developed that Apple lust over those years.

imacFinally I got my hands on an open box iMac DV in indigo blue and it was great. It was running OS9 and had a DVD-Rom on it. I paid $700-800 for it and it was great. But I only kept it for a couple weeks before returning it because I needed the money from that machine along with the money from the sale of my Sony TRV900 to buy a Canon XL1 video camera. The XL1 was cool but I only kept it for a year and didn’t use it as much as I had hoped I would. Looking back, I think i would have been far better off keeping the TRV900 and the iMac. I would have stil had a nice digital video camera and a Mac to edit the footage on. But I was young and dumb.

It would be several more years till I would get another a mac. A brand new white Macbook. Which was my first brand new store bough computer. But I wasn’t good at my finances at the time and overextended myself and needed the more for something else, so again returned the mac. Finally a couple years later I bought another white Macbook, this time used from ebay. I used it for a good year or two until I got the idea that I was going to sell it to upgrade to a newer macbook, but then after selling it, again got into trouble with money and didn’t end up replacing it. At the time I still had a desktop PC during all of this, so the macs I had bought were really just add-on computers, it was hard to keep them and justify spending the money when I needed the money, when I still had a perfecly operational desktop PC.

Things changed in late 2009. I decided it was time to completely rebuild my desktop machine. I bought all the parts and started assmbling it. My girlfriend at the time had bought a macbook earlier that year for school with some of her student loan money. A late 2008 aluminum unibody macbook. I helped her pick it out. It was refurbished but basically new. She had used it for school for a while but realized she wasn’t using it at much as she thought she would because of the lab computers at school already. I had literally just finished assmbling my new desktop that day and her I started talking and she said something I said I would totally swap this new machine for a Macbook if I could and she decided that was a good idea. I was shocked, but we made the trade. It was a good trade. The PC was more powerful, but a desktop. She was really only using the macbook at home on her desk anyway, she wasn’t even taking it anywhere anymore and her main computer usage at the time was MySpace and games. She was frustrated by the lack of games on the mac. While she geneally liked the computer, she had only been a mac user for about 6 months or so at the time and wasn’t fully invested in it. So to if she could get a new powerful desktop that played PC games, that would be more beneficial to her. For myself, I didn’t play games. Having a laptop meant a computer I could take with me to work and other places. At the time I had also started working on my social networking project with a friend and we were going to start meeting regularly at coffee shops and stuff so having a laptop would be beneficial. Plus it was a mac and I wanted to get into a mac again. It had been over a year since my last white Macbook. So a good trade. But the important thing about it was, I was now fully macintosh and I no longer had a PC desktop to fall back on. So there was no way I was going to sell this machine or anything. In fact I still have it and still use it every day. In 2011 Apple updated the firmware to allow 8GB of ram so I maxed out the ram. Just a month ago I put an SSD in it and it’s running the latest OS X version El Capitan.

That said I did supplement it with a Mac Mini a couple years ago in August of 2013. My first brand new mac since the initial white macbook I had bought in 2006 and returned a couple weeks later. I’m typing this on the Mac Mini right now. It as a quard core i7 and I added 16GBs of ram. Next will be to add an SSD to this machine and move the 1TB HDD to the second slot. This machine can house two 2.5″” drive inside it. Nice.
I bought it mostly to use as an editing machine for video projects and I do use it for that. But I also casually use it and hook it up to my TV for watching certain things. The wireless keyboard and trackpad mean it’s easy to take those into the family room with me to control it on my TV. The only thing I don’t like about this Mac Mini is the integrated Intel graphics. It’s not enough to run software like Da Vinci Resolve. Which sucks, but it runs all the Abobe apps just fine and FCPX and so on, so not really a big deal. But it would have bene nice to have a dedicated GPU. My Macbook has a dedicated GPU and I think that’s partially why I’ve gotten such long use out of it. Even though by today’s standards it’s not as powerful as the more recent Intel integrated stuff.

Overall I just wanted to document my history with computer, because Melissa came over tonight and we went to the gym after watching a documentary called Fire in Winter about the Ukraine situation and when we got back from the gym we watched an uncut interview with Steve Jobs from 1995 which was an hour and twelve minutes long. When he was running Next before he came back to Apple. Being a Mac user and probably having used an Apple II as my first hands-on with a desktop computer back in elementary school, the guy definitely affected my life.

I kind of wish I had gotten more into computer sooner in my life and went deeper into them. For example I wish i would have attempted to learn how to program back when my dad first brough home that Packard Bell machine. I grew up in teh era of the dot com boom and the rise of social networks and so on. I was at the right age in the late 90’s to have done something really interesting with computers and the internet when it was really all just starting out before we had all these huge companies like Google and Facebook. It could have been me potentially running one of those companies had I taken more of an interest in computers early on. But no real regrets, that just wasn’t me. I was more interested in filmmaking and it paid off because I’ve been doing video production for a living for nearly a decade now. But I also do some web edits/builds. So knowing both has helped.

Even today I still don’t know a programming language even though I’ve wanted to learn PHP for over a decade now. As time goes on, these things just get more and more complicated. It’s hard to just keep up, let alone get ahead. Both on the software and hardware side. I keep up a little bit with what is some of the good new hardware and I still edit some HTML and CSS at my job, so I need to keep abreast of that. But overall it’s a little overwhelming these days to know all the specs on everything like I did when I first built my PC in the late 90s.

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