Friday, August 22, 2008

In Praise of Technology

I often suffer from back pain, and it could become debilitating in the days before I got a Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulator (TENS Units). With that, and adhesive electrodes to apply to (or around) the areas where the pain is distinct, I'm able to manage the pain, and avoid complete debilitation. At least I have been able to so far (knock on wood). And it wasn't that long ago that no such solution was available, especially to the end user, for easy purchase on the Internet.

I may have mentioned my love of my old TRS-80 Color Computer before. All right, I know I have. My first word processor, Telewriter, was basically a big modal window you could type in, with the innovation of allowing the use of lowercase (something not available as a standard on the Color Computer until the CoCo3, I believe). It was awkward, and there was no real formatting, but I liked it well enough and used it until I acquired VIP Office (or something like that), my first suite of "office" applications that included my favorite modem terminal package (VIP Term) and Word Processor (VIP Write) and a not-quite-a-spreadsheet math program (VIP Calc) and some sort of disk editing application--that was back in the days when people who used word processors and power users who would directly edit blocks on their 5.25" floppy disks were one in the same.

Amazingly, I was able to find a review of TRS-80 Color Computer word processors from 1983, that was unfortunately pre-VIP Write, but still interesting to a nostalgic Color Computer nerd such as myself.

VIP Write was vastly superior to Telewriter which, in itself, I still found superior to a plain old typewriter. Even so, it didn't allow any formatting within the application; you had to insert control character strings to specify bold, underlining, or italic, and the nature of that string would be different for any given dot matrix or daisy wheel printer.

Not today! With the advent of laser printers in in-line formatting for word processors, things got considerably easier. Microsoft Office's Microsoft Word allows you to format text any which way, with columns and tables and insert graphics and colors and special characters and foreign languages and on and on and on.

The robustness of the Windows Business Server products dwarfs the mainframes that I used to play Original Adventure on, via an acoustic coupler modem and VideoText, a ROM Cartridge-based, completely featureless, modem program for my original 4k TRS-80 Color Computer. Not to mention, the quality of games has gone up somewhat from the days of breathlessly playing plodding text-based adventures to the modern days of the Xbox (and operating systems like Windows Vista Home Premium that can share media files with the Xbox 360 via your home network. My, how things have changed.

Of course, back in the days of having most of my programs on a cartridge that I stuck into my computer, we didn't worry about computer viruses or malware. Now, such things are all over the place. Fortunately, technology has responded, with dozens of anti-virus products like Norton Antvirus and Kaspersky Internet Security.

When I first got my floppy drive for the my Color Computer, I was amazed by the 250k of data it could hold. I was fascinated to learn that you could carefully cheat with single sided disks, and punch out the hole that told the drive that it could use a particular side of the disc, and double the storage! Wow. Of course, we didn't even had CDs when I first got my computer, and even though I got my first CD player in 1985, I didn't see a CD-ROM drive until 1988. These days, we can burn on our own CDs and DVDs painlessly, and pretty much every computer comes with at least a CD-R built in, if not a DVD-R. And Blu-Ray drives in most computers are coming.

Then, it was amazing to get 64k out of my bulky machine. Now, laptops and notebook computers have gigabytes of ram and can hold hundreds of gigabytes of data on their hard drives. You can keep the books for your business and do your taxes on your computer, and even file electronically. That's pretty darn cool.

And on and on it goes. While I do wax nostalgic for the old days (and often), it is amazing how far technology has progressed. Sometimes, I think we're a little spoiled, complaining about bugs in the latest 3G iPhone or Windows Vista. Compared to what, not having it all? I love technology. Yes, I loved my old Color Computer. But would I trade my modern-day Macintosh for it? No. I'm a bit nostalgic for my old rotary dial phones. But Would I trade my iPhone? Uh, I don't think so.

Technology rocks. We are spoiled. Which is good. That is all.

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