Spurred on by this week’s BBC dramadoc ‘Micromen’ here’s a nostalgic backup of my early computing experiences.

Chapter 1.

1977 At University computers were kept in locked rooms and their worshippers sat in the coffee bar with stacks of punch cards waiting for their allotted time slot to run their COBOL programme or similar. Not for the likes of philosophy students like me, though we did from time to time consider whether computers could have feelings.

c. 1983 – lying on the living room floor trying to load games off a cassette player and onto my flatmate’s Sinclair Spectrum ZX.  The beginning of a lifetime of waiting for computers to do something you thought they could do faster.

c.1985. The Amstrad PCW 8256 arrives at work (First of May Bookshop, Edinburgh) and we collective members are ushered into the magical world of Locoscript and, thanks to Greg (computing wizard from Heriot Watt University), I learn the rudiments of CP/M.  With Greg’s know-how we set up a rudimentary database to analyse trends in booksales, but the dream of an integrated stock-control/sales/ordering software application remains just that and the trusty old card-index remains the brains of the operation.

1989 Joining the Edinburgh Film Workshop Trust as a permanent employee I get to use the Ataris which were the workshop’s IT system.  Bright white screens and a graphical user interface make them a kind of poor man’s Apple and when one of my first tasks is to spec a computer upgrade I encounter the PC vs. Mac debate for the first time.  My value for money argument wins out however and the next computer we buy is a PC running Windows 3.11 and Ability integrated software which has a word processor, spreadsheet and database operating under a common interface.  Whilst decidedly unsexy in its black-on-orange or orange-on-black screen livery, its proves to be very functional and I laboriously create a programme budget template which in one form or other is used for several years.  We also buy a modem and attempt to use email with those few people who have an account but the fax machine remains the crucible of communication with the outside world.

1990 My first home  computer!  An Amstrad PC1512 (Who knew then that Alan Sugar would become a top TV talent, what mighty oaks from tiny Acorns…)

At home and critical to productivity and legibility in writing my Master’s thesis on the development of independent film in Scotland, I become adept at using WordPerfect with all its keyboard shortcuts but my favourite bit of software was PCOutline, a ‘Terminate and Stay Resident’ (TSR) app that allowed you to quickly organise and rearrange text in outline form (a ubiquitous feature of word processing packages today).  I used it to transcribe interviews with filmmakers.

Sometime around 1990/1 I bought a modem (14400 bps if I recall correctly), subscribed to Prestel and with a copy of the Dummies Guide to the Internet made my first tentative steps online to the accompaniement of the ‘whoosh-whoosh, chunga-chunga clang-clang trill-dweet-dweet-dweet-trilllllll’ of the modem logging on.  I can remember downloading my first two pieces of shareware, a Bio-rythm generator and a Fractal Generator but the online world of Bulletin Boards appeared only for the serious computer-heads, not me.

Chapter 2. Going portable

My first portable device was a much loved PSION mx which, despite its monochrome and rather dim screen, was a neat thing.  A proper keyboard, modem, spreadsheet and database and replacable batteries.  I downloaded a kind of Halliwell’s film guide (pre IMDB!) to aid my poor recall of directors, plots and years.  Sadly one day the PSION just gave up the ghost and I moved on to…

… an HP IPAQ.  A neat, touchscreen (stylus operated) windows-derived o/s palmpc which  managed to sync with my work and home PCs, much to my amazement.

More recently (2013) I finally found a device that did pretty much everything I used to rely on Black and Red Hardback notebooks for and made the move to a mini iPad.  With the added advantage of online backup and synchronisation of notes etc. with other devices I said my final goodbye to the notebook and am now totally electronic (as far as note taking is concerned and excluding my longstanding habit of writing in the margins of books).

Chapter 3. Through Windows to Mac land

The iPad was the beginning of my gradual migration to mac devices which, as a Windows user of three decades standing, is quite a shift.  I now have an iPhone and a MacBook Pro for work, though we still have a PC at home.  However I find myself using the macbook far more.

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