Saturday, October 20, 2007

Dave Kopperman and the Temple of Doom

Raiders of the Lost Art, Part II
(Bear with me - a lot of preamble is necessary to establish just why and how I irretrievably lost my first portfolio. This is very much the streamlined version of Dave Kopperman's computer salad days, just what's pertinent to the subject at hand.)

There were three waves of home computing, as I see it. We are in the third one, now - the age of complete saturation, where computers have fit into homes and society in such a way that it seems like we're living in a science-fiction novel from the 1950s. The first wave was back in the dawn times, and the relics from those days are the TRS-80, the Vic-20, the Timex Sinclair, etc. This was the point when people were buying computers just as expensive curios. Save for the dedicated few who knew how to do the things that only computers could do, and cared to do them (see: ASCII art), the shared feature of these computers were their staggering impracticality. They were useless, in real world terms.

Point of illustration: A friend, Dave, had a Vic-20, and all I can recall it doing was run a program called Biorhythms, where it asked you for some very limited parameters, and then it plotted out your ginchyness, or lack thereof, for the coming month. In other words, it was a random number generator attached to a monitor, or a TV, since in the waning days of the First Wave, true VDT's were sad things that could only show one color, and couldn't handle anything else. As if to drive home the lameness of the whole thing, the TV that this was hooked up to had been zapped at some point, and there was a permanent purple haze in the upper left-hand corner of the screen.

Still: The Shat Shilled, as you can see:

Still, lame as it was, the Vic-20 actually straddled the First and Second Waves. The color graphics were more advanced, it was priced to be affordable, and really aimed at a family market. In a way, the Vic-20 and other early lame ducks primed my generation for the wave to come. When I shot cartridges into our family's TI 99-4a, to play - oh, I don't know, Tombstone City? - I could see the potential for coolness there, but really I wanted it to be much, much cooler. Certainly, cooler than this:

At some point, I'll go into a long reverie about the family 99-4a, but that's still First Wave, and, my first episode of portfolio loss (see yesterday's entry) takes place during, and as a direct result of, The Second Wave.

The Second Wave of computing, which is where we now focus our attention, came in pretty much with the Apple II and the IBM-PC (please note: these periods do overlap). This is a brief period we're talking about - maybe less than five years - but it completely set the path for society that we're still on today. This is a flashpoint, Only those of you who are of a particular age will remember the particular anguish that came with trying to choose a computer platform to commit to in the pre-Macintosh days. I don't use the Macintosh because of some pro-Apple mentality (although I am a Mac user), but, looking back from this point, it's pretty clear that it serves as the line of demarkation for home computing.

Of course, during the height of the Second Wave, there were many possible futures for home computing. Bear in mind that the Mac was a high priced business machine at first (setting the stage for its eternal air of the boutique machine for elitists), and an entire chapter of the Second Wave played out after its introduction, with computers that had superior graphics to the Mac (even the Apple II line stripped ahead, with superior graphics and sound for its own GS), credible adaptations of arcade games (which the Mac lacked), color (the Mac was B&W). And price. And while most of my computer-nerd friends were into their machines for the best gameplay and sprites - leaving many to gravitate to the Commodore 64 - when it came time for me to get really, really serious about begging my Dad to let me get my own computer, I whined endlessly about how getting an Apple IIc was going to elevate me into being a perfect student who always kept his room clean.

At this point, I can't quite recall what my main reasoning was for going to the IIc. I can say that I liked the Apple's we had in the art department at school, and I had friends who were Apple hackers and early BBS geeks and had shoe boxes full of pirated games and other programs on 5 1/4" floppies, guaranteeing a complete free library of software, and I can say any number of other reasons, but the real reason is that I was a sucker for Apple's marketing and industrial design genius. That computer felt like sex to me, from afar. Hey, sex was several years in the future for me, so what did I know?

I was so focused on getting that machine that when I picked up the brochure for it, and noted that it had a full-size reproduction of the entire computer keyboard & CPU in it to show just how small and portable it was, I folded it out and pretended that it was a real computer and I could really use it. Yes, the 'sex' comparison wasn't strictly a metaphor, because at this point, most of the sex I was exposed to also came in centerfold form.

Next: In which Tron has its way with me.

P.S.: This does raise a question - who do you trust more to sell you a computer? Shatner or Cosby?

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