My Digital Age

In my first few years out of high school I had no idea and no real thoughts about getting into any aspect of the computer industry.

Oh, I had some interest in computers, having done some simple (programmed) graphics work on my brother’s Atari 600KL, played around with my sister’s Atari 800. I also had a friend named Gary Click whose Apple ][+ was probably the first computer I ever used (outside of playing Star Raiders in a store). Gary opened a computer store called Chip & Digit in the teeny and remote community of Hawthorne, Nevada where I was living. I spent a fair amount of time hanging out at the store, talking to Gary, and playing with various pieces of software.

Logo I did for Gary's store

One notable thing about Gary was that he has writing an animation system for the Apple ][ which he—unfortunately—never published, but it was an intriguing concept, one that I saw done on the Atari ST some years later. Gary coulda been a first! Anyway, the system was similar to what had been tried for videophones: instead of sending full frames the computer would compare each subsequent frame to the previous one and store only the bits that changed (the difference between frames/logical XOR). This meant the computer didn’t have to store and redraw each and every frame, just store and draw the changes.

I forget if Gary asked me or if I begged him to let me, but I did a simple animation for him to try on his system. I had a cartoon character called The House Mouse (that I’d used in a comic strip I’d drawn in high school…a Batman send up called Catman), which I drew in an Apple “hi-res” mode (280×160 with 6 colors…sort of…effectively 140×160). I believe I drew this with a Koala Pad, which was a bit twitchy, but sure beat the joystick approach! The animation was pretty rudimentary: as I recall—it was just a series of frames of the character rubbing his hands together—but it worked! I’d done my first real animation outside of stop-motion, and my first computer animation!

[ screen: these are the pixels I was working with.”]

An example of Apple II graphics resolution: Not that you couldn't draw better pictures than this!

Unfortunately, in an era where modems were not so common and file-conversion not the norm, this animation nor even one frame of it ended up in my hands, and I must assume it is lost to the ages.

Anyway, around this time I was thinking of bumming a couch off a friend of mine in Carosn City to look for a job, when a guy came into Gary’s computer store looking for someone to do a contract job of data entry for a mining company for 3-weeks. Gary suggested me, and arranged for me to meet the guy. I had a miniscule amount of experience with a word processor, so Gary hooked me up with a guy who had the same kind of computer the mining company had on site—a Kaypro II—and I learned my way around WordStar and dBase enough to land the gig.

The first computer I got paid to use!

Well, the three-week gig ended up being a full-time job, as the company was impressed enough by my work to keep me on. In fact, they got work from one of the other field offices and gave it to me so I was busy all the time. Now mind you, this was not creative work at all…it was mechanical data entry and report writing, but it was stuff I was good at and I could do easily, and, hey, it paid bills. There were several upshots:

  1. In this pre-Mac era there were no mice and no GUIs, so the most efficient way to work was by memorizing scads of keyboard shortcuts, something I still do to this day, which makes me much faster at most software than most people I know.
  2. It gave me my first experience going on-line, using a then blindingly fast 1200  baud modem to log into the company’s mainframe: a Univac!
  3. It got me a professional credential using a computer, in an era where that wasn’t yet quite so common.

And, best of all, it paid for me to buy my first computer…okay, my first three computers. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

UPDATE 2/22/2010: I spoke to Gary today and he said he actually booted up his old Apple and was able to run his old software…so maybe there’s hope of finding that House Mouse animation after all!


2 Responses to “My Digital Age”

  1. 1 Barry
    February 22, 2010 at 7:02 am

    I was about to ask you why your friend was called “naked Gary Click” but then I looked at the keyboard and realized that this was most likely a typo. 😀

    • 2 mmolyneaux
      February 22, 2010 at 6:00 pm

      Fixed. That was a pretty funny typo, though. Not as good as my all-time best, a K/L transposition that resulted in “a pointed Lick to the groin”!

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