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How I became one of the Linux Geeks Pt. 1

Posted by jrswift on August 26, 2007

My experience with computers go back quite a few more years than I’d like to admit. Back in high school, we got a couple of TRS-80’s and I used to play around with them quite a bit. There wasn’t really much you could “do” with one other than write simple programs in Basic that would then run on the screen. You saved your data on a cassette tape. No floppy drive. No hard drive. No color. That would have been back in the late 70’s or early 80’s. After I graduated I think they got an Apple but I missed out on that.

My first instinct (not usually as good a guide as people think) was to study Computer Science which, at that point, was essentially Computer programming, and I did take a few classes before deciding that it really wasn’t for me. Learned PASCAL (long since forgotten) and that was what we did our programming in. I really have no idea what sorts of mainframes we were interacting with back at the computer labs at the University of Kansas but I’m sure they were running some sort of UNIX. At the time it didn’t interest me all that much so I only learned enough to get by.

There was a bit more interaction with computers in my Grad School days, mostly using some early word processors like Wordstar or Wordperfect and sending some data down the line for a bit of simple regression analysis but I never became very adept at any of those things and the increasingly mathematical/statistical bent of the whole social science world ultimately drove me away from the academic world towards the far more down-to-earth, if less lucrative, field of retail.

Back in the late 80’s/early 90’s, I spent a couple of years sharing a house with a good friend and one day he brought home a computer. I had never had access to a computer at home before and I probably got far more use out of it than he did. God only knows what he paid for it at the time. As I recall, it was a Hyundai (yeah, I thought they made cars too), had a 286 processor and ran DOS with some sort of window-making software on it that wasn’t Windows. Think it might have had 1 Meg of RAM and made a 20-40 Meg Hard Drive. We also had a fabulous 2400 Baud Modem and a Dot-Matrix printer so we were stylin’ for our day.

A few years later, about the time he remarried and I moved out on my own again, I purchased an Acer Desktop. It was a 486DX33, had a full 4 Meg of RAM and maybe a 100 Meg Hard Drive. Think it also came with 9600 Baud Internet Modem and it ran Windows 3.1. This was quite a change of pace and a pretty decent system at the time. I was a very early user of the Internet and also used to dial in to all those BBS’s as well as online providers like Prodigy, Delphi and, yes, AOL. Ultimately upgraded that computer quite a bit, adding a graphics card, faster modem and 16 Meg of RAM and managed to extend its life well into the late 90’s. Actually did quite a few things with the old computer those days. Learned enough HTML to put together a pretty decent (at the time) web page, played a few games, ran a spreadsheet program (Quattro Pro) and did a lot of email and chat. Made a fair number of online friends around the country, many of whom I later met. Sadly, the computer finally conked out and, at the time, I had no real resources to replace it. So several years went without a home computer.

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