elyCindy Ely is a free-lance writer, residing in the Nashville area. She has written thirteen screenplays ranging from children’s stories to action/thrillers, including; World Without End, The Adventures of Dixie North, based on a book set in Alabama, The Haunting of Cable Creek, Dead Looker, and The Children’s Hour. A CD-ROM for The Children’s Hour is under production.

Several of her articles have been published in newspapers, magazines and now the internet. She is currently working on a book called Taliwinds, about her eight years of experience as a flight attendant.

 

The Computer Age

By Cindy Ely

My experience with anything electronic has always been a healthy one. I was one of the first purchasers of an Atari video game system. I bought the first CD movie player when I saw Gene Kelly dance across the screen promoting it. I have gone through four VCR’s and have strung over three thousand working Christmas lights every year, which is a feat by itself. My husband has always said, “Anything that plugs in, sucks up electricity, and raises my electric bill, is the perfect gift for Cindy.” But computers? They’re something NASA scientists use for Apollo missions and space shuttles, right?

Articles in magazines, newspapers, even television ads ware talking about the home PC. But what did I need with a home ‘computer? I had a portable word processor for my writing, and my husband had a huge filing cabinet filled with tax returns, investment portfolios, and warranties on the electronic gadgets wa had already invested in.

“With a home computer you can chuck all of the files in your filing cabinet,” stated the overzealous computer store employee. What she didn’t say was that you’d have to throw out all of your files, or get another filing cabinet, simply for the storage of the numerous computer books you’d need to operate your new electronic nightmare.

The sales clerk was eager to please. “You need a Pentium ninety megahertz C-P-U with sixteen megabytes of RAM, sixteen bit sound card, five hundred and twenty eight megabytes local bus I-D-E hard drive, a CD-ROM drive, three and a half inch one point forty four megabytes floppy disc drive, S-V- G-A seventeen inch color monitor, two high-speed serial ports, on-board S-C-S-I socket, integrated twelve bit A-D-P-C-M business audio, ten bay vertical case with two cooling fans, MS DOS six point two with windows and a mouse.”

l looked over at my husband. His brow wes sweaty, the blood was drained from his face, his mouth was ajar, and his hands were clammy and shaking. Could he be getting one of those computer viruses I’d heard so much about?

I turned to the sales clerk knowing full well she’d been pulling our leg and asked, “Are you a trekkie?” “No,” she replied a little embarrassed by my accusation.

Was this some elaborate plot from the Klingon Empire to take over our world by instilling their language into our technology? All I knew was that I felt like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. l just wanted to tap my shoes together three times and go home.

When I arrived home I ran to my dictionary to look up one of the words the saleswoman spoke that had stuck in my head, but Webster didn’t know what a megabyte was either. And who was this mysterious Ms. Dos?

l was determined to solve this caper. “Let’s go to the book store and buy a computer magazine,”l said enthusiastically.

After thumbing through twenty computer magazines, we randomly chose one, mainly because of the colorful graphics on the cover. But to no avail, this would confuse us even more. Who was it that said, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing?” This was enough to encourage the most reformed smoker to light up.

Six months later, my husband and I felt confident enough to approach another computer sales person.

“Are you looking to buy a computer?.” the salesman asked, eager to make a juicy commission.

My husband stiffened, his chin raised up, his eyes fixed on the salesman. He was loaded for bear this time and no one was going to humiliate him again. “I’m looking at a four eighty six D-X two-sixty six with eight megabytes of RAM, seven bay tower, voice–mail fax modem, sixteen bit advanced audio, S-C-S-I two CD-ROM, MS DOS six point two, windows three point one one and a hi-res mouse,” he blurted, as if he’d been practicing for the speech in front of a mirror at home.

The salesman smiled, “I see you’ve done some research on computers.” My husband’s chest pumped out ten inches. “A little,” he replied.

A little? The truth be known he’s read so much about computers he could probably build one.

“I’II have to see if we have one in the warehouse,” replied the salesman. He turned and headed for the back of the store, patting his wallet with every step.

Then, a sudden thought struck me like a bolt of lightning. Wonder if they don’t have the model in stock? Would my husband short circuit if he had to wait a few more weeks for his newfound toy? Was he prepared for the technobabble which might ensue if he had to consider another model?

We waited with baited breath for the salesman to return. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, we spotted the salesman walking toward us. He had a smile on his face as wide as the grand canyon. We would get our machine and he would get his commission.

After handing over enough money to put a child through the first two years of college, we were the proud owners of a personal computer. But we weren’t home-free yet.

“Have you decided on a printer?.” asked the salesman, who by now had noticed the flashing neon sucker-sign on our foreheads. “I would suggest the Hewlett Packard deskjet five twenty.” Visions of a desk complete with pylons, swapt-back wings, and four engines, popped into my mind. I feared that one more mindnumbing word or number might explode what little brain I had left. I could tell my husband was surrendering to the salesman too. He just nodded his head ‘yes’ and pulled out his credit card. We were vulnerable and the salesman knew it.

When we arrived home with our three hundred pound boxes of nuts, bolts and chips, we rushed into the house with our cargo. Looking like two eight year olds on Christmas morning, we tore through each box, anticipating an easy hook up.

After deciphering ten three-inch thick computer books and rearranging the furniture to make room for our new electronic toy, we plugged in the system. Noises emitted from the machine. Lights flashed like a carnival midway. Success was achieved. “It’s alive! It’s alive!” I shouted with a crazed look on my face.

The monitor displayed a white screen with several unidentifiable abbreviated words. “Let’s try them all,” l exclaimed adventurously. With the precision and deduction of Sherlock Holmes, we deciphered each coded message.

It took several months before I was confident enough to try a CD-ROM. I chose a game one of the many computer magazines said was popular among my age group. ‘Plug and play’ it read with bold letters on the cover.

My first mistake was reading the instruction booklet included with the game. The game would run through DOS not windows. This was to be the first quandary of many. I approached the problem like a chemist approaching a hazardous lab experiment. One wrong step could be the end of life as we know it.t.

I followed the instructions exactly and pressed the keys. Suddenly, the screen went black. Four words appeared on the monitor, System failure error. Abort. Had I somehow tapped into the national security system and detonated a nuclear bomb?

Thoughts of the movie War Games popped into my mind as I scrambled for the wail outlet and unplugged the powerful weapon sitting on my desk. I could almost hear the FBI, CIA and KGB agents knocking down my front door.

My husband spent hours reasurring me that I had not caused the wanton death and destruction of our planet and our life savings.

The computer sat immobile for days before I dared to touch it again. Finally, when I mustered the courage only a silver star recipient could appreciate, I turned on the machine. This time I was going to ignore the instruction booklets and make an educated guess.

After several attempts, I was given the privilege of computer rendered graphics and muffled keyboard music. I felt like a brain surgeon who had successfully completed an intricate operation. Yet, somehow I was disappointed. I expected more from this expensive gadget. With all of the hype about computers, I half expected holographic figures to jump off the screen and fix me dinner. Now I’m told, that’s called ‘virtual reality.’

Still, I am glad we decided to invest in a home computer. The word processing software is far superior to my old word processor that processed data as slow as an earthworm going after coffee grounds. And the games are getting better too. I’m hooked on 3D graphics.

But there is more to computers than just word processing and video games. It’s the best babysitter I’ve found for my husband. Every night after work he closes the door to the computer room and doesn’t emerge until bedtime. For weeks l wondered what he was doing behind closed doors. He had told me he was working on the computer. I expected to find him writing business letters, performing business transactions, maybe even programming his own game or composing an academy award winning song with his Midi file. Instead, I found he had been playing endless hours of video solitaire.

Anyone who doesn’t have a computer will eventually be wrought with frustration when their child comes home from school and starts spouting this new foreign language. Keeping up with technology is challenging, but necessary in this day and age. My sage words of advice to an amateur keyboard surfer would be to spend the time, have the patience and enjoy learning your computer. Most importantly, don’t mention the word ‘internet’ to a teenager.

The following computer terms have been redefined for easier understanding:

1. Reboot – This term was first conceived when the computer programmer pressed the wrong key and erased the program he’d been working on for months. He wes so upset he decided to literally ‘kick start’ the machine. He wes wearing boots at the time.

2. Nanosecond – the amount of time it takes Mork to fly to Ork.

3. Bytes – something you do before you swallow a piece of pecan pie.

4. Gigabytes – something you do when you clamp down on the inside of your cheek while eating an overdone steak.

5. Megabytes – this term is used when people don’t chew their food properly, they swallow it whole, resulting in the Heimlich Maneuver.

6. MIDI – a style of seventies clothing used to hide ugly kneecaps.

7. Megahertz – a word used in place of cursing when you stub your toe in front of an innocent three year old child.

8. MPEG – An expression I use after a long day at the computer. When translated it means, My Poor Exasperated Gourd.

9. Bit map – An atlas often used to lose travelers while on vacation.

10. Sound blaster – a teeneage car stereo capable of producing seismic shock waves throughout a quiet suburban neighborhood at all hours of the day and night.

11. Morphing – the facial expression a parent makes when reviewing their child’s report card.

12. Cyberspace – a nineties term for the twilight zone.

13. Edutainment – when people can’t make up their mind about whether they’re learning something from a computer program or just having fun.

14. Hard drive – something you have to do to avoid a driver who has just cut you off because he’s talking on his cellular phone.

15. Mouse – a rodent that seeks shelter inside the walls of your home all winter long. (Don’t tell me they can get inside computers too!)

16. Glitch – a rapid eye movement from staring at a computer screen all day.

17. RAM – an action you do to a computer with your head when it shuts down just before you ware able to save the file you’ve been working on for five hours.

When all else fails to work…REBOOT.