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Friday, February 2, 2018

The Insult That Made A Man Out Of Mac Computers And Other Non-Sequitors

Computers… sh!t!, to paraphrase the opening line of the movie Apocalypse Now.

At work yesterday (or today as I write this), I stupidly installed the MAC High Sierra operating system atop the one I already had on my computer, where it began to install, and then after a 10-minute wait it was thoughtful enough to decide it was time to calculate how much time was remaining.

That calculation took 10 minutes only to come back and tell me it would be 44 minutes before the system was installed, at which point it remained at that magic 44-minute mark for the next 15 minutes before shrinking all the way down to 43 minutes remaining.

My dad was a computer programmer in the mid- to late-1960s—you know - you can picture one of those sterile chilly rooms with the apartment building-looking ceiling high computer towers where the magnetic disks would revolve 1/10th of the way around clockwise every few seconds—real space-age stuff for those of us who lived through the late 1970s.

My dad, figuring the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, mistakenly purchased an Atari 400 computer for me, featuring a tan, orange and brown flat membrane keyboard, a modem where you placed the wired telephone receiver onto it—but remained at the mercy of anyone using the house’s second phone to make a phone call; a tablet that I think was to allow you to draw an image and then use a program to color it. I don’t know… I can’t draw and never used it. There was also a cartridge space where my dad thought I could stick the BASIC cartridge into to learn how to write computer programs. I used the slot to instead input video game cartridges. There was also an external hard drive where one could input a 5.25-inch floppy disk (not those smaller 3.5-inch diskettes that came later) and a tape recorder device that both allowed one to input video games.

Yup… I played text adventure games as well as the most basic of video games such as Pac Man and Defender.

My dad, computer genius that he is, tried to teach me by talking to me how to write computer programs.

Fail. I’m visual in the way I input, and it appears that 40 years later I learned nothing of what he was trying to teach me back then.

In the ensuing years as a summer student worker still in high school (around 1982), for some reason I was with a university student as we were asked to do some work on their computer system… and I accidentally wiped out six months of student records for the Toronto Board of Education.

For me this was a good thing, as I wasn’t a very good student, what with being almost two years younger than my same grade peers.

I mean, I was smart, but no one in high school could figure out just what I was smart at.

Luckily, there was a back-up of the files from the day before, so we only really lost one day’s work for the Board of Education.

I’m pretty sure I was moved elsewhere to some other menial job for a 16-year-old slacker.

It’s true… I was a slacker. I had stopped trying around Grade 5, at the age of eight (going on nine later in the year).

I had just completed some test at my brand new school (where, ironically my son now attends), and someone asked me how I did on a test. After saying I got 110% (bonus questions), someone said “Of course, all you Brown guys are like that.”

Have you ever been able to pin-point that exact moment in your life when it all changed?

That’s one.

I made a conscious decision to not be that stereotypical Brown guy—that browner—that guy who annoyingly does well in school. I just wanted to fit in and be a Canadian kid. I like hockey. I know more about the history of the sport than most people on the planet.

The current me wishes that I had not done what I had done. I stopped studying, doing the barest minimum of homework and somehow just used my memory of what was said in class to scrape my way through all the tests… it’s how I floated my way through elementary school, high school and university… For university, after my first year, I took only classes that had essays and no tests.

I did study in grade 13 (which we had in Ontario and Manitoba until recently), but if it wasn’t for music and gym, I wouldn’t have been accepted into university. It’s tough to shut off and turn on good study habits.

Of course, this was after I nearly flunked out of high school with my 149 IQ. Yup… they tested (3x, actually: 144, 147 and 149) because I think they wanted to make sure I was not a kid in need of special education. I was… I needed visual stimuli - I needed to see how things worked in order to understand it.

I had actually failed enough Grade 12 classes to be forced to repeat it and finally be in classes with kids my own age.

I was still shy, by the way. That’s what happens when everyone is one to two years older than you in elementary and high school.

My second defining moment in my life—that I am aware of—was on my first day of college.

That first day, all of the people were lined up behind each other in their respective classes in a first-come/first-served order, to sign in to our respective programs, ergo I was in a line for university graduates going to community college to do journalism. There were 17 of us, I think. Something like that.

One guy in front of me begins to talk to the guy directly behind me after recognizing his voice as someone he had once talked to while at a summer job.

They were John H and Scott B, both of whom had worked at different Pittsburgh Paint shops.

For whatever reason, I who had never entered a paint store in my life, decided to join their conversation.

I haven’t shut up since then.

Whatever shyness I had beat into me, it suddenly went out the window. You can’t be shy and be a journalist. At least not a good one.

Anyhow… that work Mac High Sierra update took about 75 minutes, and without access to a computer, I decided to hand write this blog entry… and then typed it up during lunch.

It’s just a peak into what made me who I am now… and if you need that "Japan angle", while at college, one of my fellow classmates - she was the one who wanted to go to Japan on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme.

I had no frickin’ interest in Japan at all. None. I had frickin’ interest in her however, so because she applied to JET, I applied to JET. Because she applied to the Toronto Star Internship Program, I applied to the Toronto Star Summer Internship Program.

If we wasn't over before I got into both, and she didn’t, we were by then. Actually, we never were. I liked her, but I was not her type except as a friend.

Thank goodness in Japan that wasn’t the case for me with other women.

That’s enough of that.
Andrew Joseph
PS: my current immediate boss at work is a guy I went to journalism school with. I was the better journalist. But while he went to work immediately in the field, I worked the summer at the Toronto Star before skipping the last month of that contract to go to Japan on the JET Programme.
PPS: That all worked out... so my advice to all you kids is to simply not try in school and trust to luck to get you through.
PPPS: I'm kidding of course. I did begin trying again in journalism school, because I think I figured it was this or the Armed Forces. I don't mind the Armed Forces, but I dislike the haircut on myself.

3 comments:

  1. Computers lie ... especially about time. Prior to the internet, they were notoriously bad about losing time without adjustment.

    I always wanted to know the secret behind dynamic tension ... and Mac was my hero, too. I guess I read too many comics in the 60's/70's (it was in the back of EVERY one ... or so it seemed)

    Happy Friday! Was sick with flu-like symptoms which took me down for a week. Last time I was that sick was 15 years ago. Going to hide away from superbowl madness that is happening all around me ... cheers!

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    1. 15 years? I'm at around 10 and going without being sick.
      Years ago, DC Comics put out their Doom Patrol comic book that feature Flex Mentallo, who when he flexed he gave off comic book lines of power that took people out. It was a parody of Mac, but the whole book was dark and serious and for about 30 issues starting at #19 (I think) it was the best and weirdest book on the planet. Then he got his own series. Those two books were written to make the reader feel like he was tripping on acid: https://www.amazon.com/Flex-Mentallo-Man-Muscle-Mystery/dp/1401247024/ref=pd_sim_14_3?_encoding=UTF8&pd_rd_i=1401247024&pd_rd_r=TW0PBDQ1NSDWWQFYV5NQ&pd_rd_w=VfICf&pd_rd_wg=i7HJV&psc=1&refRID=TW0PBDQ1NSDWWQFYV5NQ
      Cheers,
      AJ

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    2. Oh... this and the next blog entry are stream of consciousness writings by me... they all are, but these two were written without me knowing what I was going to write as I wrote it. By the way, I've been working hard on the Pioneers of Aviation blog recently - check out my latest on what really caused the Space Shuttle disaster back in the 80s.

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