Jonathan Horak

TLC 321

April 17, 2002


“In The Beginning… Was The [Apple IIe]”


     When I first used a computer in elementary school I couldn’t have imagined wanting to do anything else. If I wasn’t playing Number Munchers I was trying to conquer the Oregon Trail. Forty-five minutes was never enough time to beat Oregon Trail and we all knew it. When the bell rang and our allotted computer lab time was over you could hear a collective murmur of “aww, please one more game.” Our teacher would then proceed to remind us as we left to collect as many “Box Tops for Education” as we could. More funding for the school seemed to be a mantra at Durkee Elementary. I would go home and beg my mom to go grocery shopping so that we could buy foods that had the label on them. But that was because I knew what the funds would truly offer me: more time on a computer. My school never seemed to have as many computers as students and as a result, lines would be formed for every computer. Waiting for an Apple IIe in middle school always put me into a poor mood.

     And I am not kidding. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a computer of my own. Michelle, a girl I grew up with, had a computer. I really didn’t care what kind it was. That was immaterial. For some reason, she always brought printouts from her computer up to school. To this day I believe she did this to spite me. Every sheet of crisp white paper with black ink blotted on it would without fail stir jealousy within me. This jealousy would boil all the blood in my veins. I attribute this to the fact that I knew I was missing out on something, but could do nothing about it.

     At the same time, however, I am truly appreciative of the time I did get to spend on computers at my middle school. The time that Stephenson had on the Teletype at his school was even scarcer then mine, which really puts things into perspective now looking back. His first interactions were very different. He used a glorified telegraph, which would connect via a modified telephone to a mainframe across town. Whereas I sat in front of a completely autonomous machine with capabilities that more than likely rivaled the mainframe that he communicated with.

     When I entered Chinquapin (a college preparatory boarding school outside of Houston) as a 7th grader I finally had the freedom to use computers when I wished. And I did every chance I got. This time around though I was playing Carmen Sandiego on Pentium 486s with Windows 3.1. And another ability had entered the fray: the capacity to save and load games. [Side note: I am sure the opportunity to resume Oregon Trail from a save existed on the Apple IIe’s of my childhood. Only at the time I didn’t know of such a feature.] Over the course of a couple months of playing Carmen Sandiego for a little bit every day I finally beat the game. After Carmen Sandiego I began to venture out. I started to harness the word processing application Microsoft Works to send letters home.

     My biggest break finally came in 1997 when the director of my school appointed me to a new chore crew -- officially christened the computer crew. (Tuition at Chinquapin is almost entirely paid by donors. In order to give something back to the school, students maintain the campus.) He chose me because I had gained a reputation as a student who would always troubleshoot his classmates’ computer-related problems. As a member of the computer crew I was taught quite a bit about how computers work and how to fix them. Because I had to take computers apart quite often, I began to understand the functions of each individual part. In December of that year I was commissioned by my mother to be the liaison between the interests of my family and a guy we knew who built computers. With my bargaining power and knowledge we managed to get a fully capable homegrown PC with a 266 MHz Intel Pentium II processor.

     Having been accustomed to the ins and outs of computing I began to tinker with our new PC. I had got on the ‘net earlier in the year at Chinquapin for the first time but finally was able to do so in the comfort of my own home. I developed a knowledge and understanding of the web very quickly. As for our computer, I learned how to format and uninstall Windows (something I still enjoy doing, for I get a sick pleasure out of watching Windows pay for its transgressions). Since that day that I first got a home computer, my knowledge of technology has vastly improved in many other ways. I am proficient in using many powerful programs, such as Adobe Photoshop, Macromedia Dreamweaver, Macromedia Flash and so on and so forth. I have constantly wanted to learn more about computing. So one day in my junior year of high school, I decided it was about time for me to be weaned from the ubiquitous OS that is Windows. An operating system many of us have become merely comfortable with. I tried the tank of an operating system “made of space-age materials and jammed with sophisticated technology from one end to the other” (pg. 7). That OS was Linux. I liked it a lot. There was one problem though, incompatibilities with my laptop.

     I realized I was doomed, temporarily, to use the Windows OS. I know that it is a clunker. Up until recently, it was only a glorified MS-DOS. I agree with Stephenson when he calls the OS a “colossal station wagon” (pg 6) for in many ways it is. In comparison, I only got a couple of days where Linux actually ran smoothly (I blame this on my laptop and not the OS) but could nevertheless definitely see many more capabilities in the system. Had my laptop accepted Linux I am almost positive that I would be using it today.

     There is something exciting about tinkering with technology for me. I would have enjoyed spending time on my computer until I got everything organized in such a way as my room is. And one of the reasons why I believe I like computers so much is that I can be as anal-retentive as I want to be. I have a set filing system that I archive in a certain way. Much like the hangers in my closet that must all be the same shape and color. And my desk, which must be free of clutter. Of any sort.

     Another factor is that I always want to be on the verge of history that is in the making. One of the problems for Stephenson was “cruft” or code layered upon code, “which over time turns into a giant clot of bubble gum, spackle, baling wire, and duct tape surrounding every operating system” (pg. 133). What I realized midway through is what I believe has made Microsoft and Apple the leaders of their respective markets. They listen to what their users want and pile features on to remain at the top. This system is in no means perfect, but many would also argue (myself included) that what is the point of an operating system that the masses couldn’t even learn to install.

     Infatuated with technology I constantly try to expand my knowledge of computing. I see a lot of similarities between Stephenson and myself. We both seem to never want to settle with the status quo. And I would argue this is the reason that he moves from OS to OS throughout the book. Finding flaws in any OS is something we all can do, but learning to deal with those flaws and see the bigger picture is another. In many ways we are all using a glorified piece of machinery that basically allows us to create a new portal of interaction with others or compute large amounts of data. In a sense, computers have arguably changed my life and how I interact with the world. I would say for the better. But I guarantee those who don’t see me for a couple of days when I lock myself in my own world of geekdom would disagree.