Sunday, March 6, 2011

Computer History for Curtis Siegmann

    My first experience with computers was when I was in 7th or 8th grade(1973?). Our high school had a time share from the mainframe at Ripon College and the teletype machine was in a small room next to the math rooms at the school. My brother was in high school and used the computer with a class or a club. He often brought home long thin rolls of yellow punch tape with computer programs on them. I had fun playing with the rolls but didn't really think too much about the implications of computers in society at the time.

    When I got into high school it was mostly the math nerds/math club members who hung out in the computer room. It wasn't a place to go if you cared anything about your social status. In some math class in high school we had a little bit of experience with the computer for a couple of weeks. We mostly just played a few games that were already programmed or watched the teletype machine print out a picture of Snoopy with bitmapped X's and O's. The whole experience didn't affect me much and interacting with the printout of the teletype machine and writing then and saving programs on punch tape seemed very tedious to me.

    A few years later I learned how to program FORTRAN and later Pascal in university. I did poorly in the courses. The whole computer thing interested me somewhat but I didn't do well and often though it was way too much work, especially the time we had to do a program on punch cards (they were already legacy but our professor thought it a worthy task). I think back now on all the basic programming knowledge I actually did learn and it was to prove useful in the years to come. I actually liked Pascal programming language much better than the BASIC or FORTRAN at the time because Basic and FORTRAN were much more linear programming whereas Pascal was a lot more modular.

    Several years later during my student teaching, I taught word processing to middle school students in Madison, WI, in the district's first computer lab. Loaded each unit with DOS by 5 1/2"disk and then loaded WordStar on every unit by disk - every time! It was a good experience but I still wasn't really into computers. Everything was still too tedious.

    For the computer experience that had the greatest effect on me we need to fast forward to 1992. I was coming home (the first time) from teaching ESL in Taiwan for 2 years and few months before I left, I bought a notebook computer with Windows 3.1 loaded with Word, Excel and Corel Graphics applications. I had previously worked a little bit on some Apple computers but never really liked it for some reason. This time however, I became immersed in learning what I could do. Maybe it was because for the first time I had my own computer. Maybe it was the user interface?

    I really enjoyed playing around with Excel and was learning to write macros and make flat-file database forms. I also liked the Corel graphics, just playing around with it to see what I could do with it. My computer high was short lived because when I got back to Wisconsin, my notebook died and there wasn't anyone around (that I knew of) who could fix a Taiwan notebook.

    A few months later I applied for a job at a motorcycle repair company who wanted something done in Excel. I thought I could do it so I went in and bluffed my way through the interview. While there they said that they had changed their minds and wanted it done in MS Access database instead and asked if I could do that. I lied and said I could ( I had never even heard of Access). I went straight out and bought a book on Access and studied it thoroughly even though I didn't have a computer to work on. I was amazed at what Access could do. I never got a callback for the job but I was on my way to learning and becoming immersed in modern computing.

   A while later when I finally got my own computer to work on I started really learning Access as well as more Corel Graphics. I produced a fine database in Access for a home construction company I worked at as a general laborer. A few years later when I returned to Taiwan and was involved in a curriculum development project, I was the "tech guy" for the project and created a database to enter and store lesson plans and supplemental materials as well as writing many lesson plans and creating graphics for numerous others. My experience with computers at this school got me the position of Director of Online Education when the school decided to embark on entering the online education market. That's a story for later.

   Just about everything I know about computers I have mostly learned on my own (except for two programming courses I had way back), experimenting, tinkering, reading books and help files and searching the net. I believe the turning point in my computer history was my fascination with Excel on my first computer, lying about knowing Access and then actually learning how to use it. Since then my computer skills have helped me or advanced me in just about every position I have had.


  1. I did a snoopy of Xs and Os in college! My Snoopy even earned me an outdated computer text book from my professor. The programming language was COBOL and VDTs were still in my future. Every COBOL program I did in my undergraduate program was punched cards. My keyboarding wasn't the best so I had a lot of throw aways.

    Congratulations on getting Access to work for you. It's original form took a lot to learn. I luckily was able to teach databases to Middle Schoolers on Appleworks. I found that much easier than Access.

    Thank you for sharing your computer history.

  2. Curtis,

    I can imagine how interesting it has been watching computers transform from a Mainframe into the models available today. Thanks for sharing your great history and background (I wish I could of been around to use a punch card computer!)