Monday, 16 February 2009

Spectrum days

Some time after, according to my OH, the rest of the world became interconnected via the Interwebs, he is groping to join the world of geeks.* Now, for him to be in this position is grossly unfair, because back in the dark ages, he was the one who dragged the entire family into computing. It happened thus:

First, my great-auntie Marie left me a diamond ring. My grandma told me about it when I was 12 or so, but that she would look after it until I grew up. Well, I remembered the story, but I never entirely believed in the ring (I hadn’t seen it) so I was quite surprised when, after Grandma died in the early 80s, my father said, “Oh, by the way, there’s a ring for you. I’d sell it if I were you” and handed me something enormous with 3 diamonds set in white gold. I couldn’t really imagine wearing it, and it sat in a shop window in Carlisle for several months, so that I was completely staggered when we received an offer for it: I’d never really believed that it represented money, in the same way that I hadn’t really believed its existence. But we left the shop in Carlisle on a Saturday morning with a large roll of £50 notes, and a couple of hours later we were the proud owners of a ZX Spectrum with 48KB RAM, a tape cassette player, a television set and a large yellow teddybear for younger son, who was too small to get to grips with BASIC.

I think it became clear early on that I had no talent for coding, but OH and elder son took to it happily, and my proofreading years began as I waded my way through pages of machine code looking for a missing colon. Meanwhile, OH was writing his dissertation with the aid of Tasword, an early and primitive word processing programme, younger son was helping Paddington to transport small animals across rivers, and the entire family quickly became au fait with computerspeak. In fact, we even attended an early computer fair and drooled over such unlikely objects as microdrives and, oh wonder of wonders, an early mock-up of the Sam coupé, a computer mostly famous for barely existing. Later we upgraded to an Amstrad word processor and the fact that I had learnt to use it was largely responsible for getting me my first post-childcare job.

So it is ironic that a household which took enthusiastically to personal computing from its earliest days has for so long had one member who was barely literate. I had put my old iMac at OH’s disposal, but it was hardly practical to bring it out for occasional use, and pre-broadband, it was quicker for him to ask me to type a letter, so nothing really came of it. But for the past year or so he has been nagging me to hand over my retired laptop, and I kept putting off, partly because it meant clearing everything off it, partly because it meant making time to be helpful. With a deep intake of breath at Christmas (which brought on a coughing fit), I duly reinstalled the network card, plonked it on the dining table and announced it was ready to go. It’s at moments like these you realise how complex some of the repetitive tasks performed daily actually are. When it’s a struggle to remember how to save a Word file to My Documents, setting up Headers and Footers becomes considerably more time-consuming. “Where did Google go?” he said this morning. A perfectly good question, if you haven’t got into the habit of always opening links in new tabs. Just to add to confusion, sons and I all use the same browser, but in different ways, so three sets of advice are available. I foresee conversations which go thus –
OH: I don’t think that’s the way I did it last time.
Either son: well, that way won’t work very well, why were you doing it like that?

OH: because your mother told me to.

ES: well, she’s wrong.
Bloodshed may easily ensue.

*geek: if you want to find whether you qualify, you can try this quiz, which made me laugh.
My results?
You are a geek liaison, which means you go both ways. You can hang out with normal people or you can hang out with geeks which means you often have geeks as friends and/or have a job where you have to mediate between geeks and normal people. This is an important role and one of which you should be proud. In fact, you can make a good deal of money as a translator.


elizabethm said...

This made me laugh. I think I must go and do the quiz now!

Juxtabook said...

My parents taught me to use a BBC B machine in about 1981 but now I have to help them with their pcs. Funny isn't it. Fond memories of old computers. I used to buy a magazine with games printed in (as in 'black and white' nothing techonologoical as a means of transmission) and you typed about 3 pages of text in and then spent a week trying to work out where the mistakes lurked. It seemed very cutting edge, as did the weird noise the cassette player made if you loaded anthing you had record to tape.

mountainear said...

This is almost the story of my married life...husband - in his prime at the cutting edge of adverting/design industry now has to ask me 'How do I?' He always had a girl/minion to do it for him whereas I has to struggle along by myself and through necessity got to grips with all sorts of IT and computing.

BBC and Amstrads - we could well be talking about dinosaurs couldn't we?

GeraniumCat said...

I obviously struck a chord, here! What a long way we've all come since the early days of computing. I could never have imagined then that I would be sitting here now, writing something that would appear instantaneously, and could be read anywhere in the world!