Sunday, June 19, 2011


I got my first computer around the time I was transitioning out of the 'Lego' phase of human nerd development and into the 'science-kit' phase. It was, in fact, a science-kit computer, which was basically a rudimentary circuit board which I 'programmed' by connecting pieces of wire into a series of pinholes. If I wired the circuits correctly, I could perform simple calculations by placing a pre-printed strip of paper in front of the row of bulbs at the top of the board, and sliding a set of sliders into place. The bulbs would light up the numbers and the answer would magically appear. Pretty crude, but I thought it was amazing.
When I was in high-school, we had access to a 'computer lab' where we learned to program a computer using BASIC. The computer was actually a teletype connected to mainframe at the University of Louisville, which we accessed through a timeshare system using a dial-up connection. And when I say dial-up, I mean we literally had to dial a rotary phone and place it into a special cradle so it could 'talk' to the mainframe. I really didn't learn much programming in the computer lab, though. We mostly just used the phone to make crank calls.
In college, I took a class where I learned to program micro-computers to use in the composition of electronic music. I say I 'learned' to do that, but I honestly don't remember much at all from that class. I was a lot more interested in making music than learning programming. I spent most of my time playing around with the ARP 2600 synthesizer, which was programmed using patch cords, not unlike an old telephone switchboard, or my science-kit computer.
My first 'home' computer was a Commodore 64 that I plugged into an old black and white TV set to use as a monitor. The CPU was contained within the keyboard, and the only other piece of hardware was the external 5.25 inch floppy drive, about the size of a child's shoe box. I used the C64 to to create a spreadsheet to balance my checkbook, but not much else. My biggest achievement with it was taking apart the floppy drive when one of my disks got stuck and successfully putting it back together.
When first I started writing screenplays, I had to rely on borrowed computers. At one of my paralegal jobs, I had access to an early IBM Thinkpad, which I managed to smuggle home with me. I wrote my first screenplay on it, using good old WordPerfect 5.1 for DOS.
Yes, those were the days, my friends.
Eventually, I broke down and bought myself a Compaq notebook with 170 MB of memory (total) that ran Windows 3.1 and had a PCMCIA slot, allowing me internet access with a 56k modem. I logged on to AOL, picked out my screen name (MYRDHINN) and never looked back. I was now part of the technology revolution!
It was an exciting time to be alive.
By the time I made my move to Hollywood, I was ready for a technology upgrade. The little Compag notebook was not suitable for writing screenplays. I bought my first PC, an eTower 400i, running Windows 98 with a whopping 4 gigabytes of memory and 250 MB of RAM. And with a few minor upgrades, I have been using that machine ever since. I increased the RAM, added a CD burner, installed an Ethernet port, and replaced the power supply.
And the damn thing just kept on working.
For several years, however, I have been contemplating getting a new computer. I figured I should have a laptop so that, if need be, I could write my screenplays from anywhere -- say, on location on a movie set, for example. I watched and waited as the technology improved and the prices dropped, until it got to the point where they were practically giving them away.
And then I made my move.
The machine I am using now beats the pants off my old computer. It has tons of memory, it's super-fast, it has WiFi, and it can go anywhere. When I wanted to move all of my files from the old computer to this one, I was able to store over 4000 separate files on a thumb drive. The total amount of memory required is less than the available RAM memory on this computer. It has a webcam and a DVD burner. I can write screenplays, record music, make movies and video-chat with my family.
And who knows what else?
It's a far cry from the crude science-kit computer I once found so amazing. But it's still just a tool. An unbelievably powerful tool, but still just a tool.
The question is: what am I going to do with it?