I vaguely remember a Maths master telling as about FORTRAN and
ALGOL in the Upper Sixth and I think we did some exercises with
loops. Des Watson, a bright colleague, really got the hang of it
and produced something marvellous for the end of term show involving
lots of matchboxes and beads.
Programming wasn't something that appealed to me, though, and it
was way ahead of anything I needed for A levels so that was that
at the time.
My first full-time job, strangely enough, was in a department called
Accounts Computer in Edinburgh. I got to see plenty of Accounts
on bundles of green and white striped paper but only ever the merest
glimpse of Computer which appeared to occupy a large suite of rooms
across the corridor.
My first actual computer was a Dictaphone Dual Display. It had
a vertical A4 size display, a keyboard which also featured a horizontally
scroll of the characters being typed and a massive standing processing
unit with slots for two 8" floppy disks. I'd set up a consultancy
business and we made good use of it to produce lots of documentation
based on templates and databases of addresses and client information.
I even managed to get it do some calculations with the data before
adding that to documents. We also offered word processing services
locally as the quality was marvellous compared to some on the market
at the time. That helped to cover the massive £11000 or so
it all cost!
The printer was so noisy - a daisy wheel type - that companies
made a fortune selling boxes to put them in. A big perspex lid with
a fan to keep things fairly cool kept it a bit quieter but we still
finished up moving it down to another floor!
The nice thing about it was the fact that it was one of very few
that displayed on the screen something pretty much like you'd get
in print. The codes to make things bold or underlined or whatever
showed on the red scrolling thing but not on the screen.
In 1989 I had a brief encounter with an Amiga machine and was amazed
at the drawing programme I could use. I think it cost about £4500
and wasn't something I could afford or really justify even if I
Next was my first personal computer - an Amstrad PWC 2512 in 1990.
I used that to write my first novel, amongst other bits and pieces.
It used Locoscript. I could get about 25 pages on the 3" disks
and had to remember not to fill more than 50% of a disk or I wouldn't
be able to edit anything.
Its printer was a nightmare - a matrix affair that sort of screamed
as it fired black dots across the paper. Just one sheet at a time.
Printing the 600 page book took weeks.
The first Windows machine had a 166Hz processor, about 128Mb RAM
and Windows 95 so that must have been late 1994. The internet too
- dial-up with LineOne and no time-based charges or limits.
1996 brought a Mesh PC with a 233Hz processor, 512Mb RAM and 4.3Gb
hard drive. I had a zip drive slot on this too and those disks could
hold up to 250Mb compared to the 1.4Mb on the floppies. That's still
going with bigger drives and, I think, a faster processor. It started
with Windows 95 but finished with Windows 98SE which was a lot better.
I was also then using laptops at College for training sessions
off-site at various places wherever enough people could be got together
to learn how to use all this new technology. The first were a dreadful
white colour and had black and white screens.
Next at home was a nice Mesh Shuttle PC in 2003 with a processor
I can't remember, 1Gb RAM and 250Gb hard drive. That had Windows
XP Professional and I managed to avoid Windows ME completely! This
was a neat little machine but the fan was noisy and it developed
a habit of suddenly losing power and smelling of burning! I still
have it and it probably just needs a new power supply and a quieter
fan. I also had a Mesh Notebook which ran fantastically until it
was stolen in my car in late 2004.
College replaced the laptop with a Dell Inspiron, 1Gb RAM but small
32Gb hard drive and big 17" screen. That's still going.
In 2008 the popping Shuttle finally had to be replaced and, being
used for this article, is a Mesh with 3Gb RAM,. 500Gb hard drive
and I have no idea what speed the processor is but it is something
called triple core. It's quiet and pretty damn good. My son is using
an identical machine which appears to be just about surviving, although
it did need a graphics card upgrade to run Need For Speed and has
a tendency to misbehave for reasons we've yet to determine. They
both have Windows XP Media Centre Edition which I'd like to upgrade
to Windows 7 sometime before long.
I also have an ASUS laptop F5V Series with 2Mb RAM and 320Gb hard
drive. It has an office version of Windows 7 (the one with an N)
and, whilst it has survived a pretty tough life, it does seem to
struggle occasionally, gets damn hot underneath and on the tracking
pad and gives up more often than it should.
I really don't know what I'd do without a computer and the internet
- I'm totally reliant professionally and probably addicted personally!
Almost everything I want to do involves one in one way or another
and it is a great time to be alive and to have time to develop with
them. I guess that in a while a computer will be largely just something
that's there. It has never been a 'study' or 'spare room' thing
for me but part of my main living room as the audio and tv facilities
are great. It's got a bigger screen than my TV and it's easier to
find and play tracks than loading CDs on a hi fi!
So, yes, I love computers. Seems like I've been in the right place
at the right time in that respect. They've been good to me to and
hope they'll help me earn a bit more yet too.