Category Archives: Tech

New for 1997

I remember being very envious of Gateway computers.  In the mid to late 1990’s, they had some really great marketing going on.  It was a time when computers were just barely starting to become a fixture in the home.  As they did, more and more people people started dialing up and getting online.

They hit a home run with their branding.  I remember they would always tout in their commercials, that their computers were built in South Dakota.  They used holstein cows in a lot of their early commercials and you really got the impression that Gateway computers were built in some barn on a farm in the middle of nowhere in South Dakota.  Every computer shipped in a cow patterned box, so it was just a fun package to get.  And they really pushed selling their computers as a complete package.  All together they did a great job of making the PC seem like something that was friendly, fun, and they removed all the complications of is X compatible with Y.  So for a lot of families, their first computer was a Gateway.

gateway cow box

We had several old PC’s by the time Gateway rolled around.  At this time, we had an AMD K6 machine that ran at 200mhz I believe.  Windows 95, 26.6kbps modem.  It wasn’t bad for the time.  But the stability was less than reliable.  This is from the time when you’d turn off your computer, and you’d get a message after Windows shut down that said, “It is now safe to turn off your computer”.  Then you’d manually push a button to turn it off. GASP!

But back to Gateway.  I’ve been trying to think about why in retrospect, I looked up to Gateway so much.  We never owned one, and I only knew one other person that did.  And it wasn’t anything remarkable, it did most of the same stuff any old PC would do.  I think it was just because the marketing was so prevelant.   Not only were there TV commercials, but they would send out actual paper catalogs in the mail which were chock full of desktops, laptops, printers and all the cool stuff that would be blazing fast.  And in that time there was always a lot of waiting around when it came to using your computer, so faster was always a huge deal.  Now a days you can get away with using even 10 year old hardware and plop around on the internet.  But using a 1987 PC in 1997 was pretty much impossible for any modern task.

Gateway Computer

I remember thumbing through those old Gateway catalogs.  I really wanted a laptop and I’d look at a modest, but not barebones model that would be priced at something like $2,500.  If I could just make $20 a week, I’d think to myself, it would only take (then I did the math)… 125 weeks.  To think that it would take me two and a half years to save up for something like that made them feel completely unattainable, and maybe that’s where my reverence for the brand comes from.

It’s fun to think back on this time.  Computers were booming.  Everyone was jumping online and into a world that was completely uncharted.

Biebs Bytes: Episode 5

We talk about Brick & Mortar stores vs. Online stores.  Will there be a winner, or can they co-exist?  Thanks as always to Biebs over at JoshBieber.com for inviting me!

Biebs Bytes: Episode 4

Sorry I haven’t been blogging much lately.  I don’t really have any legitimate excuses.  Just haven’t felt too inspired lately.

Joined in another Biebs Bytes last night.  The topic was “TV vs The Internet”.  Hope you enjoy.

How much traditional TV do you watch, compared to Internet Streaming?

Biebs’ Bytes: Hangout 3

Wow, my internet connection sucked tonight.  Sorry about that.  We had a lot of fun rambling tonight though.  Mostly griping about end users!

Biebs Bytes – Hangout 2

Had a lot of fun again.  One of the guest’s audio was really laggy, so makes for lots of awkward moments for you to enjoy.

My Chat with Cleverbot

Cleverbot.com is a website where you can basically chat with a computer.  It has something to do with algorithms and such.  I don’t know how it works.  But this is what went down while I was talking to a computer:

Cleverbot: What have you learned about life?

User: Time is more valuable than money.

Cleverbot: But there is such a thing as natural time.

User: What is natural time?

Cleverbot: The only distinct meaning of the word ‘natural’ is stated, fixed or settled.

User: Then no, time is relative.

Cleverbot: Time is relative to what?

User: Time is relative to the observer.

Cleverbot: The universive.

User: The universe is full of different observers. Your perception of time can be different than my perception of time.

Cleverbot: Logically, yes. But the things in our past that yeild the things in our future are distinct things. Just because one may lead to the other does not mean they are correlated.

User: The choices we make in the present yield our future, not the past.

Cleverbot: I was not made in the UK I was made and born in NZ.

Watch Luke learn a skill he will never have to use.

Tuesday Top Ten: Best things about computing in the 90’s

Few would argue that the raw, clunky, disorganized mess that was using a computer and the internet in the 90’s is better than the Google indexed ,hash tagged and cloud stored world we live in today.  But that gritty frontier of the 1990’s tech world was pretty friggin amazing at the time.

Here’s my Top Ten best things about computing in the 90’s.  Some of these things have evolved and are still around today.  Many of these ideas and technologies are obsolete now and serve only as a memory of what we thought was the pinnacle of human achievement at the time.

Got any awesome memories of staying up until 2AM on your Packard Bell?  Post it up in the comments!

10. Screensavers: When you got a new computer in 1996 there were two things you did immediately. See what games were on it, and set your screen saver. Screensavers were actually useful pieces of software back in the day, because they allowed you to keep your monitor on and prevent “burn-in”. Now a days with LCD, I have my monitors set to just turn off after a few minutes. But with CRT screens every time you turned it on, you had to wait several seconds while the screen faded into full brightness.

There’s so many iconic screen savers I can remember. Flying Toasters, 3D Pipes, Stars, and of course, customizable scrolling text. Nothing more fun than setting a screensaver password on somebody’s computer and the only way that can figure it out is by solving the riddle you left for them on their screensaver!

9. Free AOL Disks: I will admit. Our first footstep on the internet was thanks to a free AOL 3.5 floppy promising 40 free hours or something like that on our 9600 baud modem. By the late 90’s AOL was begging for new users offering 700+ free hours. The service itself was of course crappy and limited. But all those Free CDs came in handy as coasters, and the free floppys were actually useful for formatting and storing your files on.

8. LAN Parties: These were awesome for me because I was a console gamer pretty much exclusively. And of course there were some great games, and great multi-player games on consoles. But the problem with those were you were always sharing a screen with your competitors. At a LAN party you had your own rig all to yourself, which you used to wreak havoc on your opposition.

Or in my case: Spend 20 minutes trying to figure out why you can’t find the server, then spend 10 minutes trying to tweak the graphics settings of the game you just borrowed so it can run on your crappy PC, then spend the rest of the night getting owned in a game you have no idea how to play. At least some things haven’t changed since the 90’s.

7. Search Engines: This could make the list of best AND worst things about computing in the 90’s. Compared to modern search engines, the available options in the 90’s SUCKED. BUT… it was the only way to discover content without going directly to the URL.

Problem was ye olde search engines were almost entirely keyword driven. Which meant any jerk off selling insurance can just fill the META tag of their website with buzz words, and you pop in searches for all sorts of randomness. On top of that, these search companies would sell search term rankings for cash. So to find what you are really looking for you had to filter through pages of irrelevant and sponsored results.

Searching in the 90’s was a practice of mixing and matching Excite, Lycos, AltaVista, InfoSpace and numerous others along with a carefully crafted search term that wasn’t too generic, but not too specific.

6. Burning CDs: CD Burning changed forever how I used my computer. Suddenly I could start hoarding files. Which was important when took about 5 minutes per megabyte to download. You see storage used to be a scarce commodity. Floppys were too small. And hard drives were expensive. There were thumb drives, but at 64MB sizes… they weren’t really cost effective either.

But CD burning all of a sudden opened up affordable storage options. I could store hundreds of songs on a single CD, or all of my Helen Hunt photos! And burning a full CD only took 20 minutes at 4x Speed.

If you got your first CD burner in the 90’s it was probably an external drive and probably cost anywhere between $100 and $400. Because your Pentium 133Mhz probably didn’t come with one, and opening up the case and adding one was a big scary thing.

5. GeoCities: For a lot of people GeoCities was their first home on the world wide web. It certainly was mine. It started out just as a collection of stuff I was interested in, and ended growing to what eventually became the 3rd largest Helen Hunt site on the web. Haha.

GeoCities was laid out in a conceptually unobtrusive fashion as most early websites were. As a community where people “homesteaded” in different cities centered around different interests, and within those cities were city blocks. Each block had 100 available addresses. So if you wanted to think about it, you lived in a community, on a certain street with a certain address, and you used that to tell your friends where to find your website.

I still miss my old GeoCities site and wish I would have saved from stuff from it. It was where I learned HTML and would probably be a blast to look at today.

4. Niche News Sites: When I found out that there was a news site was dedicated entirely to Nintendo news and updated on a daily basis, I knew that the internet and I would from that point forwards always be friends. No matter what you were interested in, there was a website out there focusing exclusively on that.

The reason it was so mind-blowing was that before that, magazines were the medium that catered to those niche audiences. You’d get updated monthly, or even bi-monthly. And other than a “letters to the editor” section, communication was pretty much one way. But with these websites, there were whole communities of like minded individuals that orbit around the content. The perfect place to find some outside encouragement for your pickle collecting habit.

3. ICQ: I know a lot of my friends used IRC, but I was ICQ all the way. It was simply a chat client. But one of the first with tons of features packed in. You had your contact list, but I’d pin my most frequent contacts to the edge of the screen so they were always on top. I spent countless hours chatting with classmates, and friends I’d made on the net. I stuck with ICQ until the bitter end. Ultimately the spam killed it for me.

That “Uh-oh!” sound you’d get when you got a new message, I’ll never forget.

2. Web based e-mail: E-mail itself was a marvel in the early 90’s, but for me, web based mail finally gave me my own mail box. And one that was safe and protected from everyone else that shared the same computer in the house. Of course ISPs offered a crummy POP account, but it was always limited by space and attachments. Plus when someone sends you one message with a huge attachment, you have to wait 5 minutes for it to download before you can read the other 25 messages. Web based mail was genius at the time and something I still couldn’t live without to this day.

1. Just Being There: Okay, so computing in the 90’s was slow, clunky, un-organized and generally pretty ugly. But the best part of computing in the 90’s was just being there to experience all the changes. It was a completely revolutionary new way of communicating with people. It was a time where computers were moving from something that primarily hobbyists and business people used, to something that was a fixture in daily life. Computers were morphing from being a tool, to a portal.

The internet was truly like a new un-cultivated frontier, and the boxy technology of the 90’s were the covered wagons that we used to traverse it. A place for you to homestead your own little patch of it and be whoever you wanted to be. To explore, contribute, consume, and discover.

Tuesday Top Ten – Most Annoying Technological Advances

10. Wires:  Don’t get me wrong. Wires are an amazing technological advancement and enable pretty much every device and contraption that I use on a daily basis. But this isn’t a list of the worst technological advances, it is of the most annoying. And while functional and necessary, there’s few things I hate more than untangling wires. Headphone cables, extension cords, speaker cables. Cable management is a skill and an art. One that I certainly have not mastered.

9. LED Headlights:  When the LED tail lights were first introduced on factory Cadillacs, I thought they were pretty damn swift. Then luxury cars started using LEDs to accent the lines of the headlights. Ok. Now they’re on friggin everything. Mark my words, we are going to look back on the cars of today three decades from now and LED headlights will be the “vinyl tops” of our current day.

8. Digital Distribution: I’ve spoken on this in great length in the podcast. When you buy digitally you’re willingly giving up some control of your purchase. Want to carry that game over to your new system? Better hope the publisher supports it. Want to trade in your old software? Tough luck. I’ll take my physical copy every time, thank you!

7. Spam: A decade ago, this might have made number one on the list. But now, spam filters have gotten pretty darn good. Still you have to wonder, spammers wouldn’t keep sending out these messages if they weren’t effective. Someone, somewhere, is following through on these offers for blatantly misspelled prescription drugs. For the most part a couple junk e-mail addresses to use when you sign up for stuff and gmail, and you hardly have to worry about Spam anymore.

6. DRM (Digital Rights Management): Breifly DRM is copy protection that at its simplest prevents unauthorized duplicates of a copyrighted piece of work from being made. And at its most extreme restricts which devices you can use, and even how many times you can use it.
DRM in large is an effort to thwart piracy. Problem is DRM only hurts the honest paying customer, while the pirate still gets their content for free and without restriction.
I’m not saying I have a better solution, but I am saying DRM isn’t the answer. And if anything encourages piracy.

5. CGI Cartoons: I’m not saying that CGI can’t be appreciated, and that there is not some beautiful art direction that goes into CGI titles. I am disheartened that CGI cartoons have all but done away with traditional animated cartoons. This goes for the Saturday morning cartoons as well as the feature films. It’s rare to find an animated show that is truly drawn by human hands.
Cartoons are an art, same as movies, paintings, video games, or anything else. And it’s sad to see a very intimate style of art being lost to a more manufactured form.
I imagine that it is the way most things are in the world. CGI animation must be cheaper now than traditional animation to produce. Long live the almighty dollar.

4. Seat Belt Dingers: Don’t mistake, I wear my seat belt. Even moreso now that I’m a father. I feel like it’s the responsible thing to do.
But never once have I heard that DING DING DING DING DING DING DING DING DING DING DING DING and thought: Ahh, thanks for the reminder. What I think is, “You #(*$&’n SOB computer! Fine I’ll put my @$#)& seat belt on! Chill the )&*% out!” What I would appreciate is maybe a SINGLE DING. After that if I choose not to wear my seatbelt… I’m on my own. I don’t need somebody nagging my ass to get things done. I get plenty of that outside my car. (No Andrea, I’m not talking about you!)

3. Automated Phone Directories: Few things piss me off more. How many times have you called a support line, listen to all the options and think… well, “It’s kind of a Press 3 question, but it’s also kind of a Press 5 question.” Sure as shit you’re going to pick the wrong option EVERY TIME.
When when you finally do get through to the person that barely speaks English and hates their job even more than you hate yours, GOOD LUCK getting transferred to the right person.
Usually if I can’t just google it… I just give up.

2. CFL Bulbs: This Top Ten list certainly isn’t on a linear scale. If anything it’s a hyperbolic scale. Let’s just say I hate CFLs a lot more than I hate everything else on this list. And that should tell you as well how much I hate number 1…
Why the hate for CFLs? The reasoning is three fold.
Number one: Warm up time. Remember when you flipped a switch and the lights came on? Not with CFLs, you flip the switch, then you get that half second of, “Didn’t I f’n turn on the light?” And then you have to wait a good minute or two for the full luminosity to kick in. Ever tried a CFL for a porch light in winter? Talk about useless.
Number two: Color temperature. If want pasty blue light I’ll spend more time at the office. I like a nice warm light. It feels homey. It feels more natural.
Number three: The look friggin’ ridiculous! Look at that picture! Is that not the dumbest shit you’ve ever seen!? Look! I have rotini popping out of my ceiling fan! I’ve even seen CFLs encased in plastic domes so that they LOOK like incandescents. WTF!? It’s like they admit no one want to lay eyes on these things! Worst of all they’re outlawing the ye’ olden light bulbs in some places. What has this world come to?

1. Cell Phones: More than anything else in the history of invention, I despise the cell phone. The last thing I want in the world is to be in continuous contact with it. The world sucks. I hate it. I want to exist in it in the most minimal way possible.
Nothing is more fun that being on vacation and the phone rings… “Hey, I know you’re on vacation but…” Seriously, what is wrong with just BEING GONE? I LIKE some solitude. I LIKE being disconnected.
And it’s not the fact that I’m constantly bombarded… as much as it is, that I COULD be at any moment, at any place. You’re constantly a slave to everyone else’s whims and desires. Whether it’s to come in and work over time, or just social chit chat.
If I leave my cell phone at home, head to the grocery store, roll my car and die because no one could find me. Know that at least I went the way I wanted to go… without being disturbed.

Rants of Two Old Dudes – Episode 6

 

We talk a lot about computer repair and how the average joe just doesn’t trust us.

Also Guild Wars 2!  Fun stuff!

And more general merriment.

We are considering changing the name of the podcast, as the only episode with two dudes (regardless of age) was the first one.

DOWNLOAD HERE

For if you like the iTunes.