Alunissage (alunissage) wrote,
Alunissage
alunissage

How do I feel old? Let me count the ways.

A thread on a messageboard about how to start learning programming, full of references I didn't get, impelled me to write up a little timeline of my life and computers. Mostly for my own distraction -- anything to keep from thinking about my life at this moment -- but others might find it amusing. Added the 1980 line even though it's not relevant because I find it funny and somewhat emblematic.


1972: my dad gets the Altair, programmable in binary by flipping switches

1974: I'm born

1980: Dad teaches me to say "Quantum theory suggests random fluctuations in an empty space may produce particles" by rote because it was so funny to hear a six-year-old say it. (Years later I get to upstage a classmate in my 7th grade biosciences class who was stumbling over the words in an oral report by rattling it off, utterly flooring him as he wasn't expecting anyone else to be familiar with the stuff he'd researched to present. I don't even remember my own report, something about Hoyle/Wickramasingh and hemoglobin in plants maybe, dunno. But I'll remember my classmate's reaction forever.)

1981: we get the Apple II+ and I learn about running programs from cassettes. Big excitement when we get our very first floppy drive, and another one not long after. Somewhere around this time I learn a bit of BASIC, probably 1982-3. Not much; I remember writing nine very short programs to convert between temperature scales, which is why I'm incredulous that people wouldn't know how to get from C to F and vice versa.

1982 (roughly): Dad teaches me how to count in hexadecimal, on my fingers. Which is to say he was actually teaching me to count in hex in binary, each finger representing one binary place.

1983: My fifth-grade class has what is the first exposure to computers for many students in it when we learn a bit of BASIC via bubbling in cards. We send off rubberbanded packs of cards, one per program line, and get printouts a week later. Imagine debugging when you have to wait a week for every run output. Because I suck at bubbling (not the programs themselves), I only got about eight to work out of maybe 40. Not my proudest moment.

1986: Some more BASIC, inexplicably part of my bio-sciences class. Probably the same reason as why we were taught Latin instead of geography that same year, because we were super special smart kids. I still suck at geography and never did get much out of biology (which is probably why I manage a biology lab today). Also in the 85-86 school year (7th) my math class includes modular arithmetic and symbolic logic, in addition to covering the first year or two of algebra. Fun, and a snap after learning the basic concept of hex years previous.

1989: My first Pascal class, also the first language besides BASIC I learned. Had to start the semester a week late, took my first quiz two days later and got a B-, never again scored below an A- in the following two and a half years of Pascal. My teacher was still telling that story to her students ten years later, to encourage them after their first, usually lousy, test results.

1990: AP CompSci AB exam. This was seen as difficult by many students and completely intuitive to me. No question what my scores would be, of course. Taking Pascal was rather like studying how my brain worked, simply giving me names for the way I already knew things worked. Naturally, I planned a CS major to go with my music one.

1991: college freshman taking electrical engineering. Find out I have a negative aptitude for this (except phasors) and decide to drop to a CS minor, so I could still take the programming classes.

1992: Take my first college programming class, in Lisp (Scheme, technically). Forget almost all of it, but half a dozen Unix commands and very basic knowledge of vi stick with me, as does a smidgeon of BSD mail. That fall, I take the next class, which alternates two weeks of C with two weeks of Assembly, just enough time to forget all about one when studying the other. Assembly also totally fails to stick with me, although the concept of RISC computers was cool, and learning C is like taking Portuguese when you're used to Spanish, or something like that: it's so similar to what you already know that you just constantly translate rather than really learning the new language. Memory of Pascal gets me through almost everything, but some minor but crucial difference in pointer handling results in an infinite loop in a short program, another not-proud moment.

1994: Every CS class I would take is in the same time slot as a music class I must take, so I ultimately give up on CS, somewhat sadly as the next class would have been all C and I was rather looking forward to just concentrating on ONE thing. I start a cognitive science major, only to switch to linguistics after a semester, finding that some of the thought processes and analysis which made programming so appealing carried over to linguistics.

1998(ish): One of my best friends, who ended up in CS after starting with geology and/or creative writing, I forget, describes Perl as "a lovely, lovely language" to me. I file the comment away for future reference.

1999: I go on the web for the first time, with, I think, a 2400 baud connection. Very first site takes 20+ minutes to load.

2000: I meet my geek, who's been programming in C since he was 6. Despite my lack of contemporary computer skills, he still thinks I'm intelligent and offers many times in future years to teach me. I decline because I feel I need the structure of a class in which to learn. Nevertheless, we have some laughs together at computer stupidities and dumb C errors.

2001: I start my job as lab manager and find myself doing...something, I don't remember what...in Linux. I use the only text editor I know of, vi, even though I only remember five commands (i, a, r, x, ZZ).

2003: With some leisure time, I find myself thinking that it would be interesting to take a look at Perl. Before I even get as far as an actual computer keyboard I'm rehired as lab manager and am too intimidated by the actual programming going on around me to continue. Also no longer have time to consider taking a class.

2005: I read threads like this and feel like Methuselah. Or maybe Rip van Winkle.
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