Our Wonderful 386    © 1998Finally!

by

Cynthia Willerth

Determined to obtain some marketable skills and get a part time job, I enrolled in one of Buffalo's business colleges. My goals were simple. Brush up on my typing skills, learn a little more about office procedures, and earn a degree.

That first day at school was a shock. . A technological revolution was changing the world, and I was totally unaware of it. Computers were replacing typewriters. Telephones had all sorts of wonderful options, and the school had bought their first fax Machine.

I was not the only one who was overwhelmed. Joyce who sat next to me whispered, "l've been out of work field for ten years. Got a job with a Temporary Job Placement Service. When I walked into my first assignment, I didn't know how to turn on the electronic typewriter, much less use the computer. So here I am, back at school."

"It's amazing how fast things are changing," I answered. "And now we have a chance to try our luck with these lovely computers."

Joyce gave me a sick look. Neither one of us felt overly confident.

I sat down in front of a machine, one of the many identical ones that were in the class room. The computer's blank green screen stared at me with malice. I imagined it snickering , "She thinks shes going to learn how to use me, does she? " Just wait until I get through with her."

"Does it bite?" I asked an aide who hovered behind me.

He laughed. "No", he said. "These main frames are harmless."

I stared at an ominous key marked Delete. I raised my hand. "Can the machine be hurt by striking the wrong key?"

"No problem," My instructor assured me. He paused. "Of course there was the student who wiped out all the information on the main computer in Rochester. Don't know how she managed that."

These words were not reassuring. I placed my hands on the keyboard and started the first assignment. I didn't know then that this was the beginning of a love-hate relationship.

Graduation came and with it a decision. Life was not worth living without a computer. Now let it be understood that I pictured myself typing out great stories for publication on my computer.. Everyone else in my family would be pursuing their own interests which in no way had anything to do with data processing. After all, no one ever touched my typewriter unless it was a dire necessity.

My friend, Mary, thought I was insane. Why waste two thousand dollars or more on something so unnecessary?. Why not spend it on new living room furniture? Or a vacation?

"We don't need a computer," My husband, Will, scoffed. His experience with computers was limited to a required course during the seventies. The one and only computer available to the students was a monstrous machine that used punch cards instead of a monitor.. It was not user friendly, and had the obnoxious habit of quitting the day before the assignment was due.

"This is nineteen ninety one," I retorted. "Computers have changed since you took that course. We don't use cards any more. We use floppy disks. And the new computers even have hard drives."

My college age off-spring thought it was a great idea. Ruth and Ted even agreed to help pay for the computer.

After heated debate, Will visited a book store. He came home with a new magazine, Computer Shopper. I failed to notice the subtle change in the pronoun my as in my computer to our as in our computer in family discussions. We expanded our vocabulary. Words such as memory and compatibility acquired completely new meanings. Kilobits, hard drive, DOS, and Viruses became common place words.

"Unbelievable!" I said. "Last month we led normal lives. Conversation might have been dull, but it had variety. Now all we think and talk about are computers, computers, computers! Lets stop talking and buy one."

Will's friend, Walter, set up computers as a second job. Of course he would put one together up for us. What did we want it to do? We stared at Will blankly. What did we want it to do? Well, compute, of course.

"Walter needs to know what programs we will be running," Will explained.

"Word processing," I said. "It's got to be able to run Word Perfect".

"There's some really wonderful games on the market," Ted said. "It will have to run games. There's interesting things being done with art programs too.

"I'd like to try some computer programming," Ruth said. "That knowledge should be helpful finding a job."

"Maybe run Math Cad or P Spice, Will said. "They are starting to use those programs at work."

We should have saved our breath. Walter's idea of a computer was one capable of running math programs. He advised us against wasting money on excessive memory. Reluctantly he added Word Perfect to the programs he thought everyone should use.

Our computer arrived one bright October day. We took our new toy out of its box, set it on a table, located an extension cord, pulled out a bookcase to find the nearest outlet, and plugged it in. The monitor sprang to life. We had entered the age of modern technology.

Not everyone in our household welcomed our lovely 386. Conan, the Doberman-shepherd and Sonja, the tricolor collie hated it. Their humans were paying too much attention to this box that invaded their home. The dogs put their noses together and staged a protest.

I walked into the living room and saw my books, my beautiful art books, on the floor under the computer fit only for the wastebasket. I dragged both dogs over to the scene of the crime. "Bad dog, Shame," I said in my best drill sergeant voice, "What's wrong with you? Jealous?" Conan gave me a disdainful look and strode out of the room.

We soon faced the terrible reality that only one person could use the computer at a time. Ted bought computer games. Ruth decided to learn everything there was to know about DOS. Will decided that computers weren't so bad after all . He discovered Solitaire. As far as Conan and Sonja were concerned, life went back to normal. They got their walks, they got their attention and all was well with their world.

My world, however, became more complicated. Whatever happened to the concept of my computer? This electronic marvel was the most used piece of equipment in the house. "Listen, folks, I said. "I need this computer to do the church bulletin. Remember? It's part of my job."

Everyone reluctantly conceded that paying jobs had precedent over all other computer activities.

"Of course we have computer time when the Bulletin is finished, " My daughter insisted. "After all, we helped pay for it."

I never did find the time to write a story. Shortly after Christmas on one horrible gray, depressing day, the computer revolted. It would not do a church bulletin. "Something's wrong with this dumb computer, "I said "What does it mean, insufficient memory?"

"We have too many programs in the Computer," Will said. "We don't need all those games. The clip art isn't necessary."

"Maybe we should get rid of the Solitaire " I snapped "I need that clipart for my job."

"We need to upgrade," My daughter said. "All we have to do is put in a larger hard drive, and add more memory."

Around our house sentences starting with the innocent words, "all we have to do is" precludes months of stress and frustration.. It also must be stated that not one of us had ever done anything on a computer except run programs.

For the next few weeks the conversation ran as follows:

Ruth sat at the computer, while Ted talked on the phone. "We can't figure this out, Mom, Got Tech on the line. Did you need the phone?"

"Let me know when you're finished," I said. No wonder the choir director couldn't call in the numbers of the hymns for Sunday.

"Oh, we have to reinstall the programs, Ma, " Ruth said. "I was upgrading the hard drive and I did something wrong. Did you save your bulletin on a disk?"

I groaned.. "Of course not," I said. "It was on the hard drive. I was still working on it." I glared at her. "You know I have to run the bulletins off tomorrow."

"I'll have Word Perfect up and running in half an hour," Ruth answered. "At least you have this evening to do your bulletin."

"I hate Computers," I stormed. "Especially when they are not working!"

It was the very next week that Ruth said, "Hate to tell you this, mom, but the disks for Word Perfect—There's something wrong with them. We will have to buy a new program. Don't worry, the program's been upgraded. You'll like it."

Our 386 was turning into a monster. More programs equaled more memory which required bigger hard drives which cost more money.

We never did buy another Word Perfect. A fire sealed the fate of our 386. However, 486's were now on the market. They came with more memory and bigger hard drives. "This time," I vowed. "We will buy two computers. One for me, and one for the rest of the family."



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