Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Square Peg - Computerese (Bear in mind, this was written in the early 80s, so youngsters may have to use Google)

Copyright S. Bradley Stoner

I just found out I was living in the stone age. I still use a typewriter. I write. I type. Apparently I'm out of it. Up to date authors process words. They use "word processors." Computers. They connect their computers with their editors' computers and ZAP the piece there. No fuss. No yucky envelope glue or stamp glue on your tongue. No messy ribbon ink or carbon on your finger tips. No more crumpled sheets of paper because you made a mistake.

Emily was gone on vacation. I had total silence. I could concentrate. I decided to take the plunge. I rented a computer to try it out. It's a good thing Emily took two weeks. I spent the first week learning an entirely new language. Computerese. It was fascinating. Ordinary words took on whole new meanings. Ordinary objects took on whole new descriptions. There were lots of acronyms and abbreviations. If you use a computer, ordinary English no longer suffices. Computerese is better than Esperanto. You can awe people with Computerese. Esperanto gets you weird looks.

By the start of the second week I was getting into it. I could sit in front of the VDT (video display terminal) or CRT (cathode ray tube) as it is sometimes called (to me it had always been a TV screen). I could turn it on. I could give it commands via the KEYBOARD. It would obey. Promptly. I could write on it. CURSOR, the little space marker on the VDT always told me where I was. I never mis-spaced. I didn't have to worry about the lines being uneven. I now possessed AUTOMATIC JUSTIFICATION. If I made a mistake, I could BACKSPACE it out of existence or use the DELETE KEY. I didn't have to worry about my spelling. I had SPELLSTAR. Zap in the code and it found the misspellings and flagged them. Another code and it fixed them. I guess I went a little crazy. I had POWER!

I didn't notice it. My friends did. They asked me what was wrong. I didn't even recognize the problem they thought I had. I just smiled smugly... secure in the knowledge that I knew something they didn't. Knowledge is power. I wasn't aware that it could be abused. I didn't know I was about to be hoisted on my own petard.

I talked in terms of MODES now. I no longer had moods. I solved HANDSHAKE problems with PARALLEL and RS-232. BASIC was no longer "fundamental," it was an ASSEMBLY LANGUAGE with new and exotic words only other HACKERS could understand. I learned how to CREATE A DOCUMENT FILE. Create a NON-DOCUMENT FILE. I learned how to SAVE them. I learned how to rearrange them using  K BLOCK. I learned how to destroy them... the absolute power of DELETE A FILE. It was a trip. It was like being God. I could create, destroy, and rearrange at will without leaving my throne. I was omniscient, omnipotent. The VDT was my window on my world. The KEYBOARD my thunder and lightning. I WAS GOD! I was bonkers, and I didn't know it.

Emily had been back two days. I had told her that I'd call her when she got back. God doesn't call anybody. You call God. (In other words, I forgot). She called me. The phone rang. Twelve times. It takes a while to go from God mode to phone mode. I answered. "What are you doing?" she asked impatiently.

I smiled smugly to myself. I tried to conceal my excitement. I tried to sound casual. "Oh, nothing much. Just sitting here playing with my Wang." Emily slammed the phone so hard my ear still hurts. She hasn't talked to me for days. She won't answer her phone. She sent back the flowers.

Oh, God! Why didn't I get an APPLE??!