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Personal History of Computing

posted Sep 14, 2016, 6:04 PM by Heath Smith   [ updated Sep 14, 2016, 6:29 PM ]

As a teenager in the mid-80's, I had the privilege of working with a Tandy TRS-80 Microcomputer System. An old black and white television set was used as the system monitor and a cassette tape/recorder for the “hard drive”. I recall writing simple BASIC programs that would loop text and playing a text based game. I believe the game was called Pirate Adventure.  The Tandy TRS-80 was my first computer but was just a curiosity.

In about 1990, my family purchased an IBM compatible 286 computer. As an add on, we installed a three button mouse. Again, not much was done with the computer, but I learned the ins-and-outs MS-DOS.

During this time we lived in a small town in central Oklahoma. I had gotten an 11 meter ground plane Citizens Band (CB) antenna from my uncle and a Connex 33 radio from a local CB radio enthusiast. One evening , while scanning the frequencies on the radio, I heard female voice.  The voice said, “Hello, is anyone out there?”. I responded and during the short exchange she said she was in Paraguay as her signal faded away.  Afterward, I searched out Paraguay on an old globe we had and discoved she was in central South America. I was struck with a new enthusiasm for the hobby of radio.

By 1994, I had purchased an IBM compatible 486 desktop. It had a 1G disk drive and 8MB of RAM. I recall the 8MB of ram cost about $250 reportedly due to a market shortage caused by a factory fire. After getting the new desktop home, it began having issues.  At first I thought it user error, so I proceeded to tear down the newly assembled computer and troubleshoot the issue.  I determined a memory card was bad.  The process of tearing this machine down and troubleshooting it broke the ice for building and upgrading desktops.

The 486 ran Microsoft Windows 3.1 and it's graphics driven user interface. With this computer, I acquired a modem and joined the Internet Age. AOL was my first exposure to dial-up Internet. I soon realized in the chat rooms of AOL that AOL was not the internet and sought out a service for direct connect to the  World Wide Web.

The next rendition of my desktop was a Pentium 586 133 MHz system that I built about the time Windows 95 came about. This was the first system that I built myself from scratch. And like everyone else that purchased Windows 95,  I beta tested the experiment for Microsoft.

My first exposure to Linux was around 2001. I picked up a copy of RedHat version 7.1 from a local electronics store and I was able to get it loaded and operating with no Unix knowledge or Linux experience. Curiosity about alternative operating systems drove the experiment as I was frustrated with Windows 95. I still have my “set-up” disks that I created for restoring all of the programs I used after routine “fresh installs” of Microsoft’s flagship operating system.  

Linux presented a steep learning curve and I struggled to grasp the new commands, syntax, file system and configuration. Although I sought a replacement for Microsoft products and particularly Windows 95, I was not ready to dive into Linux.

Through the years I went through phases of switching between Microsoft and Linux. I tried converting more than once, but I would always reverting back to Microsoft products due to complications or road blocks in the Linux system of which I'm sure were due to my lack of knowledge.

In 2014, I made the conversion from Windows to Linux.  Debian was the distribution of choice and Wheezy was the release code name.

Several factors ultimately resulted in the conversion. I was able to get Linux to work (more likely Linux was ported to work) with hardware that I commonly used for amateur radio purposes. In addition, Windows XP was being phased out by Microsoft and would not supported any longer, forcing, in some cases, to abandoned older laptops as they would not efficiently run the newer Windows. Windows 7 seemed to be a good system, but short lived as Windows 10 was being pushed by Microsoft. I had paid for DOS, Windows 3.1, Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows XP (at least two copies), and Windows 7. In addition, I’d paid for at least two versions of Microsoft Office. Linux had grown into a system that I could use and I had grown to be able to use the Linux system.  It was time for change.

Today, I run Debian and I still build my computers from scratch.  I generally always have an amateur radio hooked up and enjoy operating digital modes over the HF airwaves.  I believe I’ve even contacted Paraguay a few times.
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