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.

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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MP3 and Me

As people who know me can attest, I am not one to live on the bleeding edge of technology.  I like it my gadgets well enough, but I’m not usually the first in line to get the latest and greatest.  In fact, I usually wait and buy something at the end of its product cycle, only to have it soon obsoleted by something else.

Yesterday our middle daughter and I went to the mall to buy her a new 8GB iPod Touch.  She’d had a Mini for quite a while until it finally died last winter.  We thought about trying to replace the battery, because that appeared to be what was wrong with it, but never really got around to it.  So, using money received as gifts from her recent birthday, the balance being the gift from Mom and Dad, she paid for about half and went home happy.  I also had decided to look at MP3 players, because I liked the portability, but didn’t really want to shell out $150-$300 for an iPod.  The selection of non-iPod MP3 players at the mall was very thin, so I spent some time looking around online.

Sansa FuzeSometime in the new few days I will have a new SanDisk Sansa Fuze 4GB (black), 8GB MicroSD card, clear hard case, and assorted cords and adapters in my eager hands.  From what I’ve read, the Fuze is a highly rated non-iPod MP3 player with FM radio, is not so good for video, faulted for its proprietary dock, but otherwise a good value.  I’m looking forward to being able to listen to music in the living room without having to have the computer up all the time, and to bring more music along in the Jeep without having to take up all the console space with CDs.

I’ll let you know it works out, because everyone’s excited to hear about someone using the latest technology from three years ago.

Stuffing the Vocabulary Box


One million words.  Supposedly the English language can now claim over a million words in its lexicon.  Only if you include words like “webinar,” now a fairly old addition, “weisure,” “staycation,” and now “naycation*.”  Blecch.

I mean, I know the language is continually evolving and changing but, really, people ought to be embarassed to say some of these words.  I try to avoid using them at all cost.

But they couldn’t come up with something better than “Web 2.0” as the millionth word?  That’s been around since 1999 fercryinoutloud (now there’s a word)!

*What do you say to someone going on naycation?  “Non voyage!”