My computing history
Posted by tim in It wouldn't fit in any other category... on July 12, 2004

Yes, people are probably going to be offended by this entry, but I am posting the truth as I see it.

The people of today, including those just getting started in computing, are highly spoiled.

When I started, the machines I had to work with were very outdated, and would just barely run the current software, if at all. My first computer was a 33MHz box with 4MB of RAM. When I got this computer, all it had was a 5 1/4" floppy, a 3 1/2" floppy, a 400MB hard drive, a 16 color video card, and Windows 3.11. I was expected to keep up with the current technology, so I installed Windows 95 on it. Still, without a CD-ROM or modem, I worked with that computer. Windows 95 would take about 20 minutes to boot, and programs were quite laggy therein.

About 2 years after I started playing with technology, I was given a bunch of fried hardware. This included a 2x CD-ROM. I was ecstatic. I thought I'd now be able to install and play games, listen to music on my computer, etc., but I was wrong. The games and other software that was available was written for a Pentium II or higher, not to mention, I had no sound card. Once I finally spent the $60 on a Sound Blaster 16 ISA sound card, I got it installed and tried to use it. Unfortunately, it would only work under DOS, since the system was so weak. For about another year I continued to work with this system.

Next, I was given a 486DX/2 with 16MB of RAM. I still had to use my 400MB hard drive and my 16 color video card, but I didn't care. This computer was so much faster than what I had been working with. It was at this point that I installed a copy of Microsoft Visual Studio 6.0 that was given to me as a gift. For about 3 years I worked with this computer, developing software, learning the language of Visual Basic. It was around this time that I finally got a modem: 14.4Kbps. After talking with my dad about it, we got the internet. At this point, my learning rate both increased and leveled off at the same time. After I got AOL Instant Messenger and ICQ, I began to meet people, random people, and began making friends in the vastness of the internet. Thinking I had contacted an old friend from school, I was talking with a guy from Arlington Texas. This guy asked me what I wanted to do with computers, and at the time I said graphic design. He asked me for my mailing address and sent me a CD with a bunch of outdated yet bootlegged copies of graphic design software. I basically didn't learn anything more for a while after that.

Next, my sister was given a Pentium 166MHz machine with 48MB of RAM. It came with Windows 95 installed on it already, had a sound card, CD-ROM, 56Kbps modem, and a "huge" 1.7GB hard drive. Along with it, she was given a monitor that would do 800x600 at 32bit colors! How exciting! Even though the current machines were topping out around 1GHz, we were quite happy. I ended up getting an education licensed version of Windows 2000 Professional, and installed it on that system. Yes, I was back to the point of waiting nearly 20 minutes for a boot, but it ran so much smoother than Windows 95!. The same person that gave me this copy of Windows 2000 gave me a copy of Windows 98 for my computer. After installing it and getting a more stable system and better hardware support, I decided it was time to get some "modern" hardware.

After working for a couple of weeks at a good-paying job, I set out to get a CD burner. I ended up with a Sony CD-RW drive, which I actually have in my current machine right now. This burner was a 16x write, 4x RW, and 40x read! The first time I used a CD in it, I said to my sister, "This sounds like it is getting ready to take off and fly!" Shortly thereafter, I got the equipment to network my computer with my sister's. With a whopping 10Mbps network, we were now sharing files, and amazingly, sharing the internet connection.

She, then, got another computer given to her. This time, a 200MHz Pentium with basically the same specs as her previous, but with a 20GB hard drive instead. I was given her old 166MHz box, and quite happily, set it up with Windows 2000 and all my development software. At this point, we started having issues with network-related viruses, So I got a $20 copy of McAfee Anti-Virus. Installed on my machine, I felt like I was trying to run with a boulder chained to my ankle.

Eventually, I set my old 486 up as a server, running Windows 98, to share the internet connection better between my computer and my sister's. Faced with the problem of connecting and disconnection, I wrote a client/server application that would allow us to connect and disconnect remotely.

Soon, my sister's computer was upgraded to a 366MHz AMD K6/2, and I was given her 200MHz processor. Unfortunately, the 200MHz chip wouldn't work in my computer, so I was stuck with the 166MHz I had.

Again, the shuffle started. My sister was given a better computer, which I don't remember the specs of, and I was given her 366MHz computer, but she kept the hard drive and RAM. Here I was now with a bigger and better computer, running at a whopping 366MHz with 48MB of RAM. I was given the game Quake II as a gift, and I played it religiously, thus, puting my software development at a halt. After I beat the game, I was back at work writing software and teaching myself the basics of development, and I was given yet another game: Quake III. Here again, I played religiously. Unfortunately, this game ran at only about 15 frames per second video, and I had to shut down nearly every program that was running in order to play it, with the exception of my anti-virus. One day, I decided that I was going to play without the anti-virus running, and I got hit with the worst virus infection ever. This virus nearly disabled my computer, corrupted many of my files, and caused the internet, which was already slow, to become even slower.

It was at this point a friend told me about a free anti-virus program called AVG Free Edition. After I had cleaned up from the virus infection and lost a good portion of the files that I had been working on for several months, I decided to try this free anti-virus program out. Sure enough, it basically crippled my system, but with the virus still running wild on the internet, I had to keep it running.

Eventually, I had saved up enough money (about $120) to get a 40GB hard drive for myself. Now, I was back to work, writing software. At this point I got swept up in the "mp3 craze" and had downloaded nearly 500MB of music over the internet. Again, I got hit by a virus and lost nearly all of my files, including my "huge" collection of music.

After I had saved up more money, I bought myself the computer I am now using. This computer wasn't "top of the line" at the time, but it was close to the top. An Athlon XP1800+ with 128MB of DDR RAM, 64MB shared video, 40GB hard drive, 40x CD-RW, and a 56Kbps modem, it proved to be a computer of much potential.

Now upgraded to 768MB of DDR RAM, an additional 120GB hard drive, a 128MB video card, and downgraded to my old 16x CD-RW due to a hardware failure, this machine has been nearly rock-solid. Sure, there have been the headaches with the upgrades and viruses that have hit me over the past few years, but all in all I am quite content with this system. Now, I am running Slackware Linux v10.0 and dual booting with Windows XP Professional, and I use this system for nearly everything. This computer has gotten me through an Associates of Applied Science degree in computer programming, and is currently my means for earning income. I am currently working on several web development projects, but focusing on a single project that I have been contracted to do, and I have been asked to do another development project. I use this machine for development, research, experimenting, and practice for everything I do. Even farther from the "top of the line" than I was when I got it, I feel that I am gaining on technology. This fall I begin working on my Bachelors of Science degree in computer programming, and I am fairly confident that when I complete I will be able to afford the newest machine on the market.

For the last 6 months or so, I have been thinking about starting an organization to help teenagers and younger learn computing. I am not the normal person, in the sense that I can basically teach myself given the proper resources. Because of my realizing this, I want to help kids to learn computing practices the proper way. I have a vision of helping kids in low-income environments to learn software usage, hardware usage, and even on to more advanced topics such as programming and networking. Because children learn at a much more accelerated rate than adults, they will be the prime beneficiary of technology education. So, rather than teaching in a university, I plan to teach kids. I may not be doing all of the teaching personally, if at all, but I would like to coordinate it so that others who are good with the younger age group will teach them.

Since I am now looking at the future and making goals, thinks may change. These goals may never be reached, but I seriously hope they are. The Open Source revolution needs to be started, and the easiest place to start is with our future: the kids.

Now, since I am starting to ramble, I leave you with this challenge: Because you yourself have most likely learned what you know about computers via the wayside school of technology, why not help make a better path for a kid like you were? Even though you may say you know nothing about programming, or you don't know how to network, you can still help. Planning and ideas are needed to get this project started. I would like for everyone who reads this to at the very least post a comment, stating what they wish they could have been formally taught, or how someone could have explained something better while they were learning. If neither of those fit, why not share how you feel the resources for technology could have been better placed for you? Still not something you feel you can comment on? What did you enjoy about how you learned?

If you have more than just a little bit to share, please, go register at the DigiVisions site and post in the forums. This project can't be done by me alone, so please, offer what you can.

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