My, er, My Son’s First Computer

I just found the following on a message board I frequent. It’s the first time I’ve ever been asked, at least in the computer world, if “Is this too complicated?”. Too complicated? Well, yes, dammit, it’s all too complicated. And to make matters worse, I don’t even know what in the hell they were referring to!! The message board? Some pop-up ad? The word processing program? The damn computer??


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I will give you one example of my many battles with computers. I have a boatload of them, but for the sake of brevity, we’ll start at the beginning. That would be 1980, when I ostensibly bought my 10-year-old son a Commodore computer. I was very, very curious about these new-fangled personal computers. Apparently, according to all the hoopla, they could do anything. I was hoping that included the laundry, the dusting, putting the kids to bed, etc. Alas, not to be.

Actually, the Commodore probably wasn’t for him, it was for me. I remember I sat on the floor (I was much more agile then) trying to figure it out the day it arrived. I had the directions opened. I have always started any project with the assumption that if you give me directions, I can work or fix or take apart anything. (I was much more naïve then)

Thus, I began my never-ending journey into the horrifying, humiliating, masochistic, addictive world of computers. This was before the days of Macintosh or Windows (eeeeek…don’t get me started on Windows). I believe they call it DOS, which I always pronounced wrong and still can’t tell you what it is.

The directions instructed one to enter a series of numbers and letters, just like they were printed, and supposedly the wonders of the computer would be revealed. Okay, I can do that. Well, I couldn’t do that. I entered those letters and numbers exactly like they were printed. For examples sake, let’s just say they were “X//:09|%!@#$%37”. (And that’s not an expletive, I promise…but I didn’t say my fingers weren’t crossed)

I had always taken pride in myself for my ability as a typist and had always used a manual typewriter. So I copied them just as I would have on a typewriter. I must have typed them 143 times. And each time, nothing happened. What was I doing wrong?? Wasn’t I an intelligent, college graduate who was successfully raising four bright children? Why wasn’t this working??

After intense frustration ensued, and after calming yelling (is that an oxymoron?) at my poor little son to keep his suggestions to himself, at last the great mystery (or one of them, had no idea there were more to come) of the computer was revealed to me. I had always used a capital “o” for the number zero when I typed. Don’t know why, I just always had. Well, this lil’ ole Commodore didn’t like that one lil’ ole bit. But nowhere in the instructions did it differentiate between the two. Not long after that I think they (those big two-headed programmers in the sky) started using a slash through the “0” to denote the number zero. But if it was helpful to the masses, I’m sure they’ve quit by now.

So what did I learn from my first tangle with a computer? I learned to call my son, who works in the Silicone Valley, and ask him to please, please, tell me what to do with the “X//:09|%!@#$%37” thing!…And that WAS an expletive!