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A Computer in Every Home
by Gordon K. Uyehara

It was late 1981. We had the first IBM PC on our block. The ‘A:\>’ prompt glowed bright green after boot up if you remembered to put the correct floppy in. Simplistic and bulky, this computer was equipped with dual 5.25" floppy drives and 64K of RAM (and no hard drive, thank you). At the time, I didn’t know much about this mysterious apparatus except that it was expensive. In retrospect, my father was either crazy or displaying uncharacteristic foresight in dishing out that kind of money on something neither of us knew how to operate. I was the one expected to learn. With me being an unmotivated and clueless teenager, it was a big gamble. What would cause someone to make this kind of purchase? It seems the great gears of free enterprise were already turning to direct consumer awareness towards the personal computer. A computer in every home, indeed.

My younger friend from down the street came over and typed in a short basic program. When it ran, it counted numbers up in a continuous loop. This was my first experience with source code and since I eventually chose computer science as my field in college, it would not be my last. My IBM PC and Epson MX 100 dot-matrix printer served me well in those days. The computer was mainly used for programming assignments but I did a few papers with it also (using those crude, text-based word processors). I vividly remember compiling C programs late at night for Dr. Wesley Peterson's systems programming class and going to the kitchen to get something to eat while it was processing. It took a while to run those things. With the indestructible Epson cranking away at the source code printout, it was really noisy too. My parents never mentioned anything about the noise while they were trying to sleep. They must have been thinking, "Well he’s actually making use of that damn contraption; let’s not say anything." I’m pretty sure it disturbed the neighbors.

The 8088 IBM PC still worked when it was eventually retired (although it had undergone numerous upgrades along the way). It was replaced with a top of the line Gateway computer in the winter of 1990. The new machine was fully loaded with Intel’s 486DX chip running at 33 MHz, 4 MB of RAM, and a 120MB hard drive -- all at a fraction of the cost of the IBM. The 286 and 386 computers were already passé. The Gateway shipped with Mac OS "look-alike" Microsoft Windows 3.0 operating system. I did mostly word processing and spreadsheets on the new PC (okay, played some games too since the graphics were better). I also started learning more about the insides of the computer. At work, I observed an IBM technician replacing a hard drive in one of the PS/2s. Fascinated by how modular the computer was, I experimented on an IBM 50z. I removed the outer case and took some of the components out and then put them back together (with no extra parts left over I might add). This is when I realized that the technicians weren’t really repairing as much as they were replacing.

It wasn’t long before I started thinking my Gateway was outdated. By the time I actually did replace it, however, it was already the spring of 1996 and Intel had just released their 166 MHz Pentium chip. The generic computer I purchased was powered with the Pentium100 because it wasn’t as pricey. Along with the computer, I bought a HP 660cse color ink-jet printer. Now, things started to really get interesting. I could get quality graphics on the monitor and match it with an eye-catching printout. As an amateur artist, my imagination started to run wild with the possibilities. Prior to the emergence of quality, color ink-jet printers, consumers had no low cost option for producing high-resolution color printouts at home. The advantages of having a computer in the home were becoming more obvious in a very tangible way.

When the motherboard died on that generic computer (late 1997), I decided to build my own computer from scratch. From watching others repair computers and from my own work experience, I had enough knowledge to make my next computer. I purchased most of the components from mail order companies and built a Pentium 233 MMX computer with 64 MB of RAM. The HP printer was replaced with an Epson photo printer with even better resolution. I am still using this computer today for producing artwork and composing music. Yes, by current standards it is a bit old and some of the processing takes longer than it should, but it still works fine. Perhaps, though (and after seeing how much technology my money can now buy), it is time for an upgrade.

As I contemplate the system that will further enhance my computing experiences, I reflect on how the personal computer has developed from a somewhat limited tool to a highly adaptable, multi-functioning machine. Each computer (in conjunction with the right software, of course) could progressively do more than the last. While it is true that the original PC could be adapted to different tasks, today's personal computers have an exceptional amount of ability right out of the box. Most systems have the ability to connect to the Internet, display high resolution graphics and videos, play multimedia presentations, process and store large amounts of data, and if the built-in capabilities aren't enough, there's a plethora of highly sophisticated specialty devices that can be interfaced to handle almost any task.

How has the personal computer changed my life? As a tool, it certainly has life-enhancing capabilities. One that I place a high value on is being able to get answers when I need them. With an Internet connection, I can do research on whatever interests me. Whether it is trivial or of great importance to my well being, the answer is often easily within my reach (or at the very least, I can get pointed in the right direction). This kind of individual power is unprecedented. No other device in the home has ever facilitated in the attainment of information the way a computer has. In addition, it helps me communicate with people who share my interests, it assists in the running of my small business, and it even allows me to help in the processing of information for 'SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) at Home'. Other people use their computers for investing, shopping, and for enhancing their children's education among other things. From the beginning, there was always great potential for the home computer but now one can see that the possibilities are truly endless. To be sure, the hardware and software components that comprise a computer system are important, but what is really profound, is what can be accomplished with a tool that helps free the intellectual and creative spirit. I know my home wouldn't be complete without one.

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