Happy Birthday Commodore!

Thirty years ago I was seriously itching to get into the brave new world of personal computers. No longer content with commandeering terminals at the local college, no doubt keeping actual college students from getting work done, I pored over catalogs from Radio Shack, Sinclair, Apple, and Commodore. I put together dream systems with not one, but two (!) floppy drives, and in my wilder moments, a 5MB hard drive. And I wouldn’t just run the embedded BASIC (bleah!) but prove my real abilities as a budding computer nerd and run CP/M.

Apple IIs were around, my mother even had a TRS-80 Color Computer my parents had bought when she went back to school, and I couldn’t get my mitts on my own computer fast enough. It took me a good year to save up the $595 to get my own Commodore 64 when they came out. Initially I had to settle for a cassette tape drive to store and load data and programs (zzzz….), but gradually expanded my system to include the 1541 floppy drive and 1702 color monitor. I’d hit the big time!

I had a lot of fun with my Commodore 64, writing lengthy BASIC programs and tinkering with FORTH (though I never did really get to run CP/M or any other “real” operating system until I graduated to the IBM PC). I wrote programs in 6510 assembly language, ported a favorite Star Trek game from the college time-share system, used VisiCalc, played games, even used dialup online services like Dow Jones News/Retrieval (at 300 baud), and reached a pretty solid “intermediate” on the computer nerd scale. Then I graduated from college, went to work in a non-computer related (except to use them) occupation, and have been gradually left behind by younger, nerdier people.

Thirty years later I still consider myself an advanced user, but as a computer enthusiast, the Commodore 64 was really when I hit my peak. Looking over that last sentence it seems kind of sad, doesn’t it? It isn’t really, because, like a lot of people, I simply moved on to other things.

I wonder if I still have that old 64 in the attic somewhere….?


Communications Blackout

For the last sixteen weeks we have had intermittent contact with our eldest daughter on her study-abroad semester in Uganda. We have been content with the occasional email, Facebook status update, wall post, or message, a text here and there, and a few computer to mobile Skype sessions.

Loss of SignalAfter completing her formal study-abroad program our eldest went with a few of her friends from SIT:Uganda and spent a few days on the beach in Mombasa. Sitting on the beach, reading, and sipping piña coladas sounds fine enough, I guess. But now we have to endure the communications blackout of her being in transit.

Instead of taking the bus from Mombasa to Nairobi (saving her eight hours of travel, and us eight more hours of anxiety) we booked a flight on Kenya Airways through KLM. She was already booked on KLM from Nairobi to Amsterdam anyway so it seemed like a good fit. What we hadn’t counted on was the inability to communicate. Final reminders about flight numbers, confirmation numbers, etc. It might have been easier had she not been without a computer, too, courtesy of some asshat in an Internet café in Kampala swiping her little sister’s netbook and dropping it in a puddle.

So for now we’re taking things on faith, reading the re-entry guide from SIT (PDF). And refreshing the screen on the KLM and Flightstats web sites. Tomorrow we hope for the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things unseen.

My Brain… Hurts!

If you’re like me and lead a fairly sedentary life despite the best of intentions, you know what it’s like after you get some unaccustomed exercise. A day or two later and your muscles are complaining because of the hike up (and, even more so, down) the mountain, raking leaves, or what have you. After another day or two of sitting at a desk, in front of a TV, or behind the wheel, it’s back to normal – until the next time.

"Shh! I'm studying"My brain’s been feeling this way a little bit lately. For some time I have been reading about and going to the occasional conference session on performance measurement and performance management. Pardon me a.) for being late to the game, b.) stating the obvious, and/or c.) boring you to tears, but the application of various kinds of performance measurement and performance management has become more and more important in local government (and, consequently, in what I do) over the last twenty or thirty years. Not long ago I received an email from the Collins Center for Public Management at UMass Boston about an online course and I thought it was time to take a more serious, organized approach to learning more.

Unaccustomed exercise? Oh, yeah.


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Bzzt. Pop! (Smoke.)

Among the things your computer isn’t supposed to do:

Unfortunately, mine did. Well, at least the one I use for work did. That means part of today was spent trying to get the old laptop updated enough to be usable, failing, and being set up with a temporary computer while “Smokey” goes in for service.

Technology. Wonderful when it works.


Over the holidays I was complaining to one of our daughters (ten points if you can tell me what building they’re standing in front of)

that Rhapsody had turned its back on me. After waxing so, um, rhapsodic, about it only a year ago the twenty-five free plays a month have dwindled to… let me see… ummm, none.  Okay, I know a big part of the Internet is about making money, but I was really not happy to have my listening (and exploring) habits crimped by Rhapsody’s profit motive – though you can still get a fourteen day free trial.

Fortunately, not all is lost.  As our youngest (L) enlightened me, there are other sites where music is still available for (at least for now) an indefinite time, for free.  In particular, she turned me on to Grooveshark, a music sharing, streaming, and recommendation site.

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