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Update: My Journey Through Computerland

Posted 07-01-2020 at 12:29 PM by zaivala
Updated 10-06-2020 at 04:05 PM by zaivala (Update)

OK. I'm old. People ask me to tell them about my journey with Linux, but it goes back further than that.

When I was a Senior in High School (1969), living in the Los Angeles area, we first heard about pocket calculators. We laughed. Who would want to pay $250 for something to help you with basic math? Sure, the idea that computing had come that far was exciting.

I went to college, Sterling, Kansas. The school had a mid-frame computer, a new thing for them, and was starting a computer science course. The computer was a Buffalo I think, but it may have been a Mohawk, and was running the brand new language, Fortran 70. I was told I did not have sufficient math credits to get in, and the courses I needed to take to catch up were filled with mostly athletes -- a group of individuals who always liked to bully me, and it was no different at this school. But I had a friend in the computer science department, and I got snuck in from time to time to play either of the two computer games on the system -- Star Trek and Hammurabi. I never got to play Star Trek that much, and don't even remember the basic game play.

My interest in computers continued about the same as my life -- always intrigued, never jumping in with both feet. In 1978, I took a class in BASIC at Alexander City State Junior College, Alex. City, Alabama. I completed the first 6 lessons (of 9) with top marks, but lesson 7 required knowledge of trigonomentry, of which I had none. Since I was insufferable getting the first 6 lessons done, nobody wanted to help me. I ended the class incomplete, but the professor gave me a C in the class anyhow (my other classes were also incomplete, resulting in an Inc and an F). Part of the reason was being despondent about not being able to finish the BASIC class, part of it was it was too expensive to get to and from school on what I made. I even hitchhiked a number of days when I didn't have gas money, but it got too depressing and I stopped trying.

Fast forward to when I lived in Denver the second time (1973-1978 was the first time, 1980-1990 the second). I had just gotten some amount of money, don't remember from what, and there was really nothing I had to do with it. While I could have saved it or something, I walked into a store which was selling Texas Instruments TI99/4A computers for $165, including a cassette tape recorder, two game cartridges and two joysticks. While I wasn't really into games, I knew I wanted to be in computers. I got this system... and found the BASIC employed was a bit rough, but I at least managed to recreate some of my better programs in college. But to move forward, I needed to have disk drives. That required the Expansion Box... which was $400, empty, the drives cost extra. I never made it over that hump, and the TI eventually became discarded.

During this time, I also had a friend who got permission for me to work in her office, Education Commission of the States, and train on the word processor they used, which was NBI. That was a lot of fun, and got me away from just using a typewriter. (My handwriting was so poor that, in 7th grade, my school waived a required course for me to take a semester of Typing. I have been using a keyboard ever since, that would have been 1965.)

In 1986 or 87, I met a woman whom I eventually moved in with and married. She was a QA engineer at Digital Electronics in Colorado Springs. She worked from home at times, so I had access to her VT-102 terminal and 2400 baud modem when she wasn't at home. I would modem into the VAX cluster which she administered ... and play Hack, a variant of Rogue. (I still play Nethack, an updated version.) Then I got involved in the BBS world, and a local sysop loaned me an IBM 5150 he wasn't using. (Eventually I purchased it from him.) This machine had the famous 8088 processor at 4.77 MHz, had originally come with 256 Kb RAM on the motherboard and two full height 5.25" floppy drives (double desnity). One of the floppy drives had been replaced with a half-height high density 5.25" floppy drive and a 10 Mb hard drive, and there was also a RAM expansion card to improve its memory capacity to 640k (it literally could go up to 720k, but DOS could only address 640k so there were some chip slots left empty). So now I'm running DOS 3.1 and getting heavily into BBSing using Fidonet (I used some Mustang BBSes but didn't like them as well). I also managed to swap my 10 Mb hard drive, along with $100, for a 30 Mb hard drive. What would I do with all that space???

In 1990, I moved to Michigan. At the local library I stumbled upon the 11th Edition of The Secret Guide to Computers (then 3 volumes). I was enthralled, and have nearly every edition they published from the 18th up to about 2015, which is when I noticed that Russ Walter refused to discuss Linux, and so it was no longer of as much value to me. I strongly recommend this book for new users, and you can find most of it for free online at https://secretfun.com .

It wasn't too long before I needed to upgrade. I found that my 5150 box's 5 expansion slots were already obsolete, as the new computers with 80286s had 8 slots and the new motherboards would not fit into my old box. I managed to get a new box, motherboard, and a few other items and migrate my cards, drives, and peripherals into the new box. So now I had built my first computer, which was about 1989. I was running DOS 3.3, and had just come upon a DOS extender called 4DOS which was exciting, and was running WordPerfect 5.

From that time on, I used PC clones. I had to use Windows 2 Runtime at one job, and it really was bad, but better than GEM Desktop. I moved to several other places, and upgraded my computer or bought used ones I could manage to afford. I remember one 386 machine, and a 486 DX/2 I continued to own when I "moved" to Asheville NC in 1998 (crashed my car there, and had no reason to leave, long story).

This is the time I was getting tired of Windows already, and started looking at Linux. I don't know when I got the Red Hat 5.1 book or the copy of Slackware, but they were too daunting for me to try. I've always been a bit timid, and as I said, I tended to let life happen to me rather than jumping in with both feet. So when I got a copy of Mandrake in 2002, and it loaded on my machine without me entering the serial number of all my internal devices, I mean it JUST LOADED and found everything, I was quite happy. It wasn't good enough to replace Windows for my uses -- I'm just a typical desktop user who mostly did Internet and word processing, not a coder or gamer (I have noted in my life that gamers always have more expensive gear than I can afford). And then I was disappointed when an upgrade of Mandrake would not install on my machine. A short while later, I did find a copy of SuSE Linux (not long before they created openSuSE), and it ran pretty well, but again, it was dual-boot time, not time to throw Windows over the rail just yet.

In 2006, I was running Asheville Homeless Network, and used some of the funds we raised to get a few Asus EeePCs for the more stalwart members to have so that they could have a better life and an easier time looking for work, These computers had Linux on them, which I insisted on. I'm not sure what I was running at home at the time, but I was probably dual-booting to some version of Linux. We first got the 701 models, and then when they turned out to be too small for some members got 901s.

At some point, I got just so tired of Windows that I went back to Linux. This time I went with Ubuntu. I could use it for everything I needed, so I soon stopped dual-booting. I joined LinuxQuestions 3/14/08 and Ubuntu Forums (with UbuntoOne) 3/12/08. I was happy until, with 12.04, they moved to Unity Desktop. 12.04 would not install on my computer, ahd while people kept telling me that there were ways to install 12.04 with a different desktop, nothing I tried worked. So it's back to Windows 7. At this point, I was living in Blaine, TN, the first of 3 addresses there. I moved into Knoxville for a year, and purchased a couple Windows 8 computers, which upgraded to 8.1. I was not happy. When I moved back to Blaine, I had a Windows 7 Dell tower desktop, I don't even remember what happened to those Win8 laptops. And then, Windows prodded and prodded for me to upgrade to Windows 10. I did so. I saw all the security holes people had talked about. I closed all the ones I could, and found there were some which I could not close. I reverted to Windows 7, and found the holes that were opened in Windows 10 were still there. So I got mad. I downloaded Linux Mint 17, and deleted Windows. Forever.

I've been running Mint since that time, with no Microsoft influences in my life (I changed from Microsoft Office to SoftMaker Office in 2008 whiile still running Windows, and kept it when I moved to Linux). I was completely impressed with how far Linux had come, with Linux Mint 17, and started looking at other distros to see if they had kept up. I have found that most of them have, and keep hopping in my multibooting life to check them out.

In August 2018, I heard that mintCast was looking for new hosts. I answered the call, with no prior knowledge of what I was doing, and Rob Watkins accepted my application. Of course, he accepted ALL the applications, and set up onling meetings to train the new crew -- whoever could show up got the job. I can't tell you how much more I've learned in my time on mintCast, from our show and from listening to so many other good Linux podcasts. And at some point, I bristled at being called a "dirty distrohopper" and decided to double down. I talked to my mintCast co-host Tony Hughes, and, with his help (couldn't do it without him), started Distrohppers' Digest podcast in April 2019.

This discourse is void of lots of Real Life Occurrences. I'm on my 6th wife, have a long, fulfilling, and total unsuccessful music career (CD available at https://mordewis.bandcamp.com ), and have had more addresses than some people have had pairs of shoes. It has been a fun ride with just barely enough success to stay alive. I also have not discussed the myriad of tablets and phones I've had, but we all know that Android_is_not_Linux[TM].

I hope you've enjoyed this trip down Memory Lane. There are bound to be omissions and inaccuracies in it, my memory is not my best feature.

- Moss

NOTE: This essay is now included in Full Circle Magazine, Issue 160
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Comments

  1. Old Comment
    Quite a journey in the world of computers. Don't worry about the inaccuracies in your journey down memory lane; a lot of us (me included!), have the same problem.
    Posted 07-01-2020 at 09:18 PM by greencedar greencedar is offline
 

  



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