This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, November 20, 1991

November 20, 1991 - A Tale of Three Computers

In 1983, I bought my very first computer. It was called a Kaypro II, and it cost $1,795. At the time, that was a heck of a deal. Most computers cost at least $2,500 back then, and often twice that. The Kaypro even included a full complement of software: a word processor, a spreadsheet, a database program, and a couple of programming languages.

I put a lot of time into that computer. So much time, in fact, that my wife and I began calling it "Baby Kay," because I was always giving it midnight feedings.

But in retrospect, Baby Kay was pretty crude. She (it only took two days for "it" to become "her") had two disk drives, which TOGETHER provided more or less permanent storage of just 180,000 "bytes" of information. (That's 180K, as we say in computerese, where one byte equals one letter or mark of punctuation. To look at it another way, Baby Kay could work with a maximum of about 90 pages of double-spaced text at a time.) She was a "portable computer," as in portable sewing machine, weighing in at about 18 pounds.

I bought my second computer in 1987, which I put on my desk at work. This machine, also made by Kaypro, was an IBM-XT compatible, which meant that it had one 360K disk drive, and a "hard drive" that stored 20 megabytes of data -- that's 20 million, 360 bytes -- an 112-fold increase. This computer I christened "Butch" -- on account of he was a lean, mean, computing machine. Cost: $1,795. Again, I got a terrific bunch of software bundled in with him.

Well, these days, the most popular computer is something called a 386SX -- a computer whose "brain" runs rings around Butch, and usually comes with a 40 to 60 megabyte hard drive. Cost: about $1,795 (including a top notch color monitor, a snazzy new operating system called Windows, some extra "memory," and a good printer). It happens that the library will be buying a couple of these newer machines before the end of the year.

In less than a decade, the personal computer has gone from a barely legitimate and scarcely tolerated business intrusion to an absolute business necessity. In libraries, not only does our central computer system provide our circulation and cataloging system, our desktop computers are in constant use for everything from budgeting, to comprehensive and detailed policy manuals, to connecting to other library databases through phone lines.

Meanwhile, at home, I did break down and buy myself yet another computer. This one is a Toshiba "laptop."

It's not quite as "pumped up" as Butch. But it only weighs about six pounds, and folds to the size of a regular three ring notebook. It does have a 1.44 megabyte disk drive, a wonderfully legible little screen, a keyboard that is a sheer delight to use, and can run on batteries for about two hours. Cost: about $500. Now I can carry my computer into the living room, or take notes when I'm at meetings or doing research somewhere. I'm writing this column on it, right on the dining room table.

The new computer, incidentally, is called Basho -- a tribute to the Japanese poet who defined the verse form called haiku, and to the Japanese technicians who have built such a light, elegant, and compact computer.

In short, the computers of today are now smaller, faster, do more, store more, and cost less than ever before. The automation industry is at last approaching maturity: the product has not only become more affordable, it's become less intrusive, more ordinary, and as indispensable as the typewriter was just 10 years ago.

And I have decided that I have all the computers I need -- at least for now.

No comments:

Post a Comment