14 Apr Thoughts about Personal Computers
I’ve had my feet dipped in the waters of personal computers and even some mainframes since you could program on an Atari. When the hell was that? But I moved on to a wonderful Kaypro. (Guess what famous sci-fi movie was written on a Kaypro? Hint the author was in Tibet sending script pages to the director with an acoustic coupler modem. Don’t you miss the high-pitched handshaking squeaks?)
Eventually, I had programmed the Wordstar (word processing) program on the Kaypro with something called Magic Keys or SmartKey? Something like that. It was just a way to reprogram what keys did. The CTR-C which was used (I think) to copy something. That was built in. But since I was writing screenplays at the time, I reprogrammed a bunch of keys to do the formatting that’s customary in scripts, and to write common phrases such as: FADE IN:, CHARACTER 1 NAME, CUT TO: FADE OUT etc. So I knew Wordstar really well.
And so one day, when I was broke, and the screenplay writing biz wasn’t working out too well; I showed up at a temp. employment joint that was looking for people who knew Wordstar. And I got there, and they sat me down at – I think it was an early IBM PC — did they run Wordstar?
Anyway, the first problem I had was – I looked at the machine and had no idea how to turn it on. Someone had to show me. Then it went into boot mode and I was in DOS. With a blinking cavet.
Again, I was sort of lost. On the Kaypro, which ran some OS called CPM, there was a specific key I had reprogrammed to launch Wordstar.
Now I was in a different Operating System with a Green flashing prompt. Again, I had to explain that my machine at home was different and the woman who was going to give me the test was really very understanding. This whole world of Wordstar Temps was new to everyone. She started Wordstar for me. The screen was much bigger than my Kaypro screen. But very familiar.
So next to me, she just wanted me to type what was on the page and save it: If I remember, it was Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll.
But no, that would’ve been crazy.
And I typed it fine. Who could tell anyway if there were typos.
But then she began to see if I knew various key combinations to cut and paste, to move paragraphs, to format stuff, and all the usual moves you need to make in a Word Processor. And I tried to explain how I had re-programmed all those keys with Magic, no maybe it was called SmartKey, so — I didn’t get the job. But she encouraged me to return when I knew the proper key combinations.
Went home. Deleted all the macro programming. Practiced using the default settings. And returned in two days. That began a period of a few years where I was greatly in demand, not only for Wordstar, but for Word Perfect, Word, dBase, Lotus 123, and some CAD applications I had picked up while temping at an Architecture firm.
And so, after that I got into (paid) the year and a half C Programming sequence: 4 days a week (nights), and tests just about every night. I was scared that my lack of math skills would hurt me; but I was wrong about that. It’s good to have a firm grip over arithmetic (at least) but I only understood “ompotries,” Geometry, Trigonometry, Astrology, and some elementary physics.
But my life at Columbia is for another day.