Thursday, November 5, 2009

an apology and history lesson

A few postings here and elsewhere have raised questions and possibly hurt some feelings so a little history lesson from the point of view of a 45 year old guy who had a bit of an odd childhood even by the standard of the day ;)

K.S. I did not mean to be flip about “old things” and actually thought that most people would probably laugh but would know what I was talking about.  I knew modems would be outside of many people's experience even a bit older ones since you have not been able to purchase a dial up modem easily for some years now.  I am not sure your age but will work to take into account the fact that I probably ramble about a  great many things which would confuse even a person my age.

After consulting my niece and nephew I have been informed that modems and phone lines are in fact quite outside of many but not all young peoples experiences and that a better description may be in order.  Also many people my age actually have no idea what some of things I take for granted are as well... Guess I am an out-lier in more ways than I hoped...

Phone lines are a means of talking before radio (cell phones are just two way radios with some extra goodies inside) phones were affordable, carry-able or common place.  You could only talk on the phone one at a time or your computer could talk on the phone but not both at the same time.  If you were using the phone your brother could not call his chum, likewise if he was playing a game with his friends “online” (and that is another story for another day) or sending an email you could not  call your friend (stress on the singular).  About the time I was in Jr high school there was a feature added to phones called “conferencing” where I could call another two or three people but the limits on that were even pretty oppressive LOL.  Prior to that several houses shared the wires “party lines”  and that also is a story for another time.  Funny today the same limits apply to conferencing on cell phone.  Someone somewhere is not getting the message that things change, especially where technology is involved gahhh.

Many of you may be familiar with a cordless phone in your house.  This uses the phone lines and then makes the phone into a radio and the headset into a radio so it simulates a cell phone over shorter distances.  Your Directv or other satellite TV  also may need a phone line to call and exchange information about your pay per view etc.  This is now changing as more and more people never even install a phone line (and I didn't know how many people that had become LOL).

So you plugged your computer into the wires in your walls and called computers who did nothing but wait for you to call.  Much like you would browse to facebook or myspace today you would dial “Ken's cooking BBS” or “Dial Your Match Pawtucket” or what ever.  These machine would only have a few people able to connect at the same time if you were lucky. 

Many of the features you would expect on a social networking site today were present though often in a format youth today would probably not recognize.  EVERYTHING was text based including the games.  Most of these machines at first did not talk to other machines, so what you did on “The BBS #1” stayed there.  People did eventually (by the time I was frequently phoning BBSs) figure out how to have these machines call each other and exchange little briefcases full of messages so that I could call  “Ken's” and have my message be spread to several other cooking BBSs before 24 hours had passed (of course today this is instant).  As the Internet grew into a toddler there was also something called Usenet (still available today but sadly mostly unused by the common people) which could be accessed even if one did not have an Internet connection (also dial up for quite some time) using gateways which would take the information from a BBS and exchange it with a Usenet server somewhere which then put it out on the bigger Internet.

This brings me to the first computer I used to manage recipes.  It could not even count to a meg let alone consider that much memory and the gigs of today would give it a headache for a week.  It had a whopping total of 256 characters of memory installed (think 2 SMS texts worth of typing) and was eventually upgraded to 4096 characters (roughly 30 texts worth of typing).  The storage device was a cassette tape (like music comes on though even that is becoming as dated as phone lines LOL) machine with special controls the computer could manage. 

When I wanted to find a recipe I would rewind the tape, start the search and the machine would start the tape in a fast mode.  Each time it found a recipe it would slow down to normal speed and read the recipe in and see if it was the one I wanted before either telling me about it's find or moving on to the next recipe on the tape.

This machine was mostly used because I could and was actually a much larger PITA than it was actually worth.  However as soon as I got a Commodore Pet  and eventually a Vic-20 (and many many other antiques made by Commodore, Apply, IBM, etc.) with a floppy drive (made out of the same stuff as a cassette tape but flat like a dinner plate inside an envelope with tiny holes where information was read/written while the floppy was spun inside the envelope) which held more data and was randomly accessible. 

I also had a printer now and it was actually useful to put recipes on a computer but storage space was still an issue. 

These floppies were almost as large as your side plate at ~5 inches and held 170,000 characters of information each for the best ones available at the time and much more commonly about ¼ to ½ of that.  The machines could only understand about 64,000 characters of information total and Bill Gates the CEO of Microsoft for most of the companies lifetime once said “All anyone will ever need is 640,000” or similar a few years later (about when I was in high school).

For this reason I have developed a habit of reusing my space as I work on a recipe.  Only recently forcing myself to learn to keep all versions because it has actually been useful to go back to some of those once in a while.

Hopefully that explains some of the “crazy talk” I have been exhibiting recently but always feel free to log in and send me an email or leave a comment with questions or whatever :)

On a side note I made some awesome computer music with that machine, including playing the National Anthem of the US at a few sporting events.

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