The Big Five-O

A whirlwind tour of my history in computing.
This month marks my fiftieth issue of Linux Magazine and my twentieth year working on, in, under, and with computers.
My first computer was an IBM 360, accessed via JCL and stacks of punch cards. Next came an early PDP, followed by the venerable legion of Vax 11/780’ s of Purdue University’s vast computing network. Around 1985, a Sun 1 workstation graced my graduate school office, the first of many such beasties.
I remember running talk and finger across the then-fledgling Internet. (I suppose .plan files are the prehistoric equivalent of My Space.) Email addresses were often strange incantations including names of well known servers, exclamation points, and percent signs, which combined to manually direct a missive from Point A to Point B. If I’m not mistaken, % usually meant” Bounce this off a satellite,” the intercontinental connection of choice.
It was fun to discover some obscure little Unix command and pimp your shell environment. I can only imagine how many thousands, maybe millions, of hours have been spent playing Rogue or Hack and later Nettrek.
I got hooked on windowed systems using SunView, and still fondly recall the little round buttons and pushpins of Open Look. Building your own widget toolkit was all the rage — that and converting archaic vinyl into shiny platters called CD’s, nee compact discs.
I first touched a Macintosh around 1989, and I purchased my first laptop, running Windows 3.0, around 1992. To this day, I still cannot decipher the machinations of DOS boot configuration. Perhaps that’s why most of the computers I bought afterwards were made in Cupertino. Of course, Windows didn’t offer Glider, either. (For a cheap, legal flashback, visit http://homepage.mac.com/calhoun/Glider% 20PRO.html.)
I spent the 1990’s building computer games for the personal computer at a little company called Berkeley Systems — the headquarters of the Flying Toaster. I have no idea how many personal computers I burned through. While something of a blur, I know I had a Duo, a delightful little machine, and recall booting A/UX on a Mac IIfx. I even had a Newton, a generous reward for finishing YOU DON’T KNOW JACK on time. The Newton was a huge boost to my geek quotient, or GQ. Only my 17″ PowerBook, purchased some six years later, lent me such street cred, at least among the geekarati.
Nowadays, there’s more computing power in my electronic ignition than my dad had in his original Hewlett Packard calculator. The computer power sitting on my desk easily eclipses the five-figure workstations of a decade ago at one-hundredth the price. I can recall asking a corporate capital committee for money to purchase a 1 GB hard drive that was at least twice as large as my PC tower.
I remember Perl 1.0, the release of the first Web browser, the birth and death of countless startups, the Unix Wars, the birth of the minisupercomputer (I worked at Convex), and the rise and fall and rise and fall of Silicon Graphics. I’ve lived through hand-coded HTML, Geocities, Pathfinder (you do remember Pathfinder), and now blogs. My first generation iPod is still kicking.
Heraclitus (c. 535-475 BC) had it right. Paraphrased, he wrote,” The only constant is change.” Or, as the wiser Twentieth Century philosopher Groucho Marx once said,” Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.”

Martin Streicher is the Editor-in-Chief of Linux Magazine.

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