A Tale of My Wedding

A year ago, I got married. Something that until a couple of years ago, I never thought I’d do. I’d been bitten hard, and I couldn’t do it. Couldn’t even imagine it. It takes the right person, and the right situation, to make something like marriage seem feasible, even exciting. And until a couple of years ago, I don’t think I was even mentally ready for it. It’s a big commitment, one that many people don’t really appreciate. It’s just a “thing to do”. Witness the divorce rate…

Today is the first anniversary. We’ll be going to Mozart in the Mountain, the first concert of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra’s season. (Obviously, I’m writing this entry in advance.) I’m also arranging a night at the Banff Springs Hotel as a sort of celebration. Hopefully it all goes well. But this entry isn’t about this year’s anniversary. I want to tell you a story about my wedding, and how things don’t always go as planned. To set the stage, I give you two words:

Food poisoning.

This all started on the Tuesday before, 23 August 2005. Exactly how, I can’t tell you. Not because I don’t want to, but because I don’t know. We’ve talked about this endlessly trying to figure out exactly what happened. All I do know is that I ingested Campylobacter jejuni, a rather nasty gut bug that takes a few days to incubate and do its thing. There are a couple of possibilities, but nothing that I would consider conclusive. When when you’re “best friend” happens to be Murphy, you know that it doesn’t matter — you were going to get it anyway.

Skip ahead to Friday, the 26th. My friends Stuart and Therese were in town for the wedding with their daughter, and we’d all gone out to Chilliwack to have dinner with my family at a cabin they’d rented. Clams, mussels, and steak. At the time, we were waiting for news of Teak picking Chris up from the airport (having flown in from Japan) and we would all meet at the Mission Best Western, where Therese and Stuart were staying.

It took a while for Chris and Teak to get back. Teak took a few wrong turns in Vancouver (which is very easy if you don’t know where you’re going) and they ended up having to stop for dinner along the way. Stuart and I ended up waiting in the hotel’s restaurant/bar (Therese baby-sat, under the intention of swapping with Stuart once Chris arrived).

Around 23:15, I decided it might be necessary to go to the bathroom. I’d only had 1/2 of a bottle of beer, though plenty other liquids (I had a bit of a headache, but nothing I’d consider bad). When I stood up, I knew something was wrong. There was that twinge of nausea that suggested something was amiss, and I really needed to go to the bathroom.

When Chris and Teak finally arrived just after midnight, my head was swimming. I couldn’t see straight without a lot of effort. There was no way I was going back to Chilliwack that evening (I was supposed to stay with my family). I begged Teak and Chris to crash in their hotel room. I managed to (somehow) drive back to their place in Maple Ridge (about 20 minutes) without causing an accident. I pulled out my sleeping back, curled up on the floor, and proceeded to suffer a tired, awkward, sweaty, and painful half-sleep until my alarm went off at 7:00 the next morning.

By that point, I’d made a few trips to the bathroom. None of them were to vomit, thankfully, but every trip just reinforced that something was wrong. Teak’s Advil didn’t bring much relief. The pressure of the things that needed to be done before 13:00 however, allowed me to concentrate on other things. That, and a stop to the 7-11 along the way to pick up Gatorade seemed to help a bit.

While Alex was getting her hair done (I hadn’t seen her since early-afternoon the day before), I ran around setting up tables, arranging placements, getting chairs into their locations. Teak and Chris had graciously loaned me their time to help decorating, though we didn’t really need a lot of it. Mostly just to hide the rather unattractive corners of the tent.

An early-morning call to the bakery had discovered that our order for cupcakes would be ready for 15:00 … two hours after when we actually needed them. My head still swimming, I wasn’t in the mood to hear that, and strongly suggested that they recheck their schedule, as I was to pick them up around 11:00, and I could only afford the trip into Abbotsford once. After a few minutes of discussion, they assured me it would be ready on time.

My gut started to feel a little like a saltwater taffy puller. Things were moving, and it wasn’t comfortable. I hadn’t eaten much to speak of, but hunger was the last thing on my mind. All I wanted was to have the day go off without a hitch. While Chris and Teak toiled away with their decorating, I headed to the bakery to get our cupcakes.

By the time I’d arrived back, guests were already in attendance. I was in grubby clothes, unwashed hair and unshaven. Not to mention feeling wholly gross from the exploding infection in my bowels. And to top it all off, the two wait staff that we’d hired promptly asked where they could find the ice.

I’d forgotten the ice.

After the fastest trip yet seen from the house to the corner store and back, I retreated to the basement to try and get ready. I figured a hot shower would help. All it did was call out to the dull ache in my lower back. The shave was like scraping nerve endings. I looked like I hadn’t slept in a week. I suited up nonetheless, determined not to let some lousy, stupid illness put an end to something that we’d been planning for months. Ache or no ache, the show had to go on.

Everyone seemed to notice immediately that I wasn’t feeling up to scratch. But most people — including my lovely wife-to-be — were convinced that it was only “nerves”. I humoured them and went along with it, but knowing full well the difference between nerves and illness. For the most part, it wasn’t too bad, I was able to work with what we had, mingling and wandering around, before we actually went into wedding mode. Tie and jacket added, we started the service.

Like most things in our wedding, it was largely unplanned. We had an approximate idea of what we needed, but we didn’t rehearse (no need to) and didn’t know how long it would take Paul to go through the speeches. In reality, I have no idea how long the service actually went. All I do know is that the shoes (new) combined with a lot of standing and the seemingly full-on assault to my inner abdomen was wreaking havoc with my back. Spasms periodically shook through my spine and it was everything to bite my tongue and tell Paul to move it along a bit quicker.

To this day, Alex still says I didn’t enjoy my day. It wasn’t that I hated it, far from it — weddings are meant to be wonderful days, and we’d planned ours in that way on purpose. But I couldn’t enjoy it as much as her. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t drink. I couldn’t think clearly. I didn’t get to partake of all the mingling that I’d wanted to. Taking the photographs afterwards was almost torture. I looked for every opportunity to sit down. In fact, one of my favourite pictures of us was when we were seated, and I was resting my head on Alex’s shoulder from sheer exhaustion. It looks angelic in print, even if it belies the torture going on underneath.

The lack of clarity of thought really cut out a few things that I would have liked to do, namely get pictures of myself with those in attendance. As such, we have very little with those who came from afar. It’s my only regret of the day. The event wrapped up around 18:00 with people heading out into the evening. When most people had left, I headed back downstairs to get myself out of my suit and into something that felt less restrictive. The bed in the room I was changing in looked so inviting that I just couldn’t resist laying down for a moment.

Alex found me there, passed out. When I awoke, the room spun in wild circles, like a midway ride gone wrong. I had to shut them almost immediately to prevent nausea. Alex let me rest another 30 minutes before we left for our hotel room in Langley. The trip there was hell. Every bump in the road sent pains up my body. Even the cool breeze didn’t help to clear anything. A card that Chris gave me sent me bawling from emotional overload. Though only a 30-minute trip, even 30 seconds was too long to get there.

The running joke of the wedding night is this: hot and sweaty, without a lot of sleep. And that was just me.

Despite a hot bath and almost having to call the biohazard disposal team from what had escaped from me (again, no vomiting), I still fired up the furnace of illness, actually forcing Alex to sleep at the far edge of the bed from me. It was too hot, even for her. The opposing chills that came were equally intolerable.

The next morning I actually felt marginally better. I ate for the first time in almost a day and a half — a carrot muffin — before we headed out for our honeymoon. The idea had originally been to drive to Fairmont, a drive of about nine hours. But that had been scrapped even before my illness, when we realized that it was just unrealistic. Revelstoke seemed much better for our first leg. But even though I felt good enough to drive, we didn’t even make it as far as the Coquihalla Toll Booth. My system was going down again. Thirty minutes from Kamloops, my hips felt like they were imploding, my legs wouldn’t stop shaking.

They say married men live longer than single men. It’s not because they’re married, it’s because single men don’t have someone to force them to go to hospital when something’s wrong.

For the record, the Royal Inland Hospital is a very nice facility that offers some really decent healthcare. They triaged me right away, including a bracelet and a urine test. I had to wait only a few minutes to get a bed, my own heart monitor (and blood oxygen monitor), and a nurse that checked in on me to get more information about how I was feeling. Alex was more distracted by all the gadgets in the curtained area than about me at this point — the problems with marrying someone in the health care industry…

The trouble really came when the doctor came in. A decent fellow, he thought maybe the shellfish could be culprit, but he seemed doubtful. He carried out a conversation fairly nonchalantly, repeating most of the same topics the nurse had covered not long before. He was so smooth about it that he almost managed to get me to miss the blood test and IV he wanted to put me on.

If you haven’t already heard, I don’t like needles. I hate them. Loathe them. Despise them. And now he wanted to put something in me not for a few moments, but a few hours to … do something (I didn’t ask what). I immediately started reacting by suggesting that there must be some other way. The doctor, wisely, looked at my new wife for support. She just looked at me, smiled, and softly said: “Suck it up, buttercup!”

For the record, it was the best thing that could happen. Blood tests ain’t my thing, and while I didn’t dig the IV (having to take it down the hall to the toilet to deliver the ol’ poop-in-a-hat test was something I never thought I’d have to do one day), I felt immeasurably better for having taken the two litres of saline. The majority of my issues were due to dehydration, and this was the best way to get me back on track.

The doctor also informed us that the bacterial infection could potentially spread through body fluids, so we had to keep our respective distance for a few days. On our honeymoon, no less. The ultimate torture for newlyweds. But at least the cramping was gone and I didn’t have any relapses. It wasn’t until I got back to Calgary that I found out what I’d actually had (not the shellfish, that much was certain). Source unknown, but culprit found.

One day, down the road, we’ll probably get remarried. Something fun, simple, and easy. And hopefully free of nasty bacteria.

People need to learn why CSS is good

Sigh.

Just when I thought this topic was in the past, to be revisited in the same manner as when historians look at how the Black Plague ravaged Europe. But no, it’s back. I’ve had to don my somewhat dusty Web Practice Lead hat at Critical Mass to once again defend the faith from tyranny and the inequities of evil men. (Sorry, sudden Pulp Fiction flashback.) That should read to defend against ignorance. But I digress…

There has been a slight push in the industry over the last few months to return to using tables for web page layouts, rather than the industry standard CSS presentation. Keeping our finger on the pulse of the industry, many of us at Critical Mass have seen the arguments. Some even begin to question our own direction.

This is a good thing, by the way. I want those questions. As Grace Hopper once said, the most dangerous phrase in the language is: “We’ve always done it this way.” Bring the arguments. Bring the discussion. Just come armed and educated.

The movement back to tables is an uneducated position. Despite all the arguments for the movement, the one thing it seems to be ignoring is why the W3C standards exist. They’re not there because a few people thought it was a good idea. They’re there because a group of people far more educated than I spent the time to figure out what the best method would be.

Yes, CSS is complicated. I will completely agree that in many ways, CSS is far too cumbersome for most developers. I will be among the first to stand up and say that support is not complete and correct. I’ll gladly point fingers at Microsoft’s regular aberrant behaviour. CSS is not perfect, and anyone who uses it with any depth will come to realize that there are issues with CSS’s specification (never mind the often haphazard way the browsers implement the specification).

BUT

Critical Mass does not represent most developers. We have gone beyond what most developers contend with. Our interfaces are richer and more engaging than the majority of designs out there. We deal with clients who expect results better than middle-of-the-road, and that’s what will drive us to use the right technology for the right reasons.

As strange as it sounds, we work towards segregation: separation of content, presentation, functionality, and structure. This isn’t just the W3C standard — this is common sense. Anyone striving to do proper development, in any language, should be doing this. If you tie the structure to presentation, you’re going to have a fun time making edits when that presentation changes. I’ve seen this happen hundreds of times before. Veterans in this industry can tell you horror stories of having to change the structure of a website across a thousand files, a tedious task that took weeks. Yes, this can be automated, but the connection is the point — it should never occur.

In this article, they split CSS into CSS and CSS-P. This is an interesting, albeit incorrect direction. Critical Mass (as well as most decent developers) adhere to CSS 2.1, which doesn’t break down into two parts. It’s one standard that happens to cover the appearance of fonts and colours, and handle the layout of a page. And that’s what people need to understand.

This requires an understanding of CSS beyond how to use CSS for fonts. From a hiring perspective, we do require that all new hires have an understanding of CSS. While we do not require skills along the lines of Jason Santa Maria, Dave Shea, or Dan Cederholm, although it’s very cool when someone comes in the door who writes great CSS. We do want to see people laying out pages in CSS, even if it’s rudimentary and potentially awkward. Only with that understanding can people learn.

When people cry that “tables are the only way to go” for websites, they have given up on the standards and all the benefits that come along with them. They have opted to cut themselves short on skills and knowledge and allow the site to suffer long-term. I cannot accept that anyone would willingly throw in the towel to lose out on the flexibility of using CSS over the rigidity of tables.

Arguments such as speed, ROI, tables already being in databases, and standards that are too heavy are grossly uninformed. Speed is pointless because any sufficiently complicated design will necessarily have a sufficiently complicated table — and that’s easily larger than using CSS because you have to download the table on every single page. CSS downloads once. ROI is self-defeating because most people only look at the development phase and neglect the far more costly maintenance phase. Well-developed CSS will always allow for faster (hence, cheaper) maintenance. Yes, tables are in a database … and if that’s your argument, you’ve completely misunderstood the need to separate systems. And that’s not a discussion I’m getting into now.

It’s the flexibility that we want. CSS can change quickly (assuming you’ve architected your CSS appropriately) and the same structure can be reformatted with many CSS files. I challenge anyone to show me how to do CSS Zen Garden in tables. And remember, any sufficiently powerful tool is by its own nature more complicated — simple isn’t always better.

All of that said, I do have a concession…

Despite the need to follow standards (knowing why we use them), there is an overriding condition that we must be aware of at all times: We have to follow budgets. And if something is too difficult to do in CSS, we will build it with tables.

Though I will immediately point out (should this condition arise) that if you are going to tables because it won’t work with CSS, that I would question the reasons why. If it’s an infamiliarity with the technology, then more practice might be required. Or that the CSS is already too complex, and there’s a cascade problem. Specificity is important, and the key is to know when to use global settings and when to use specific references.

And of course, we should ALWAYS use tables for tabular data. But you already know that.

So why is this coming up? Why is there the movement back? In a word: AJAX (oh, how I hate that acronym). The last time we had a major buzzword in the Web Development field, it was DHTML. It’s equally as annoying as AJAX because it caused everyone to think a new technology existed. (In both cases, it’s just promoting something that already exists in a novel way.) The buzz has had a positive spin, forcing a lot of previously less-skilled developers to need to learn the standards to implement AJAX correctly. The speed at which people have had to learn is a concern, and those having trouble with CSS are running back to tables.

To those people: slow down. Don’t panic. The solution is there, you just need to spend some time and play a bit with CSS. Maybe you need to do it at home. If you think CSS isn’t worth the time and effort, you really need to think about how you’re approaching your project. I know from my own experience that tables are a dead-end. And if you talk to the best developers in the field, tables are only good for presenting tabular data. Long live CSS.

My Expectations of a Technology Team

I’m a tough person. I don’t settle for mediocrity in my own work, or in the work of those who work with me. There are the minimum height bars, and then there are the ones I set. Knee-capping height, some even high enough to deliver serious abdominal or even cranial damage if you’re not careful. Normally, I subject only myself to these standards, and beat myself up when I don’t achieve them. But as I’m also a manager, they do creep into others’ reviews.

In 2005, I think many people thought I was an outright ass for marking people as hard as I did. I gave “average” marks to otherwise outstanding people who made one or two mistakes. I considered them serious mistakes. Not ones that would get people fired, but ones that I really felt needed direct attention. There were repercussions to myself though, and I was brought to task for those marks. Not for the marks themselves, but for the way it was communicated. How are people to know what they’re being evaluated against?

Continue reading “My Expectations of a Technology Team”

Game night with the Asian Brother Crew

Chris arrived on Sunday afternoon. The surprise went down on Sunday night. While over dinner, someone wondered if we were going to have a game night.

Dummy me, I’d never thought of that.

Years ago, when Chris and I used to live downtown, we used to have game nights. We bought a Sega Dreamcast and a Sony Playstation 2. We don’t have a lot of games, but the ones we do have were good for getting people together and playing against each other. Most of the games we have are Japanese — ones you can’t get in North America. (You can’t get them at all now, but even when they were on the market, they weren’t sold in North America.) Games such as Rival Schools and Powerstone 2. Then there’s the heavy duty fighting games like Soul Calibur.

None of these I particularly like. I’m not a fighting game sort of person. I’ve generally prefered single-player games. (Yes, you can joke about this all you want.) Gimme the old-school games like Doom and Quake, and more recent ones like Grand Theft Auto. Mano-a-mano scenarios never really appeal to me too much. MMORGs like World of Warcraft are ones I tend to avoid.

The nights were almost legendary. Fifteen, maybe twenty people all crammed into our living room, jostling each other, taking turns in the trash talk and game play. We’d start after work on Fridays, and the action would go on until early in the morning. We were loud. Very loud. I’m amazed to this day that we never once got a noise complaint — or the cops showing up at our door.

Thankfully, a basement in a detached house is a lot more soundproof than even a concrete apartment. Even if the room is a lot smaller.

For a brief moment, it was like old times. Different place, but the old same faces, the old same habits. Most of the skills had gone rusty over the years, and indeed different people won than could have won four and a quarter years ago. It’s hard to believe it’s actually been that long, that long since the Asian Brother Crew got together in such merriment. A reminder that things change and time passes. It’s saddening and happy at the same time.

Pizza. Fresh-baked oatmeal and butterscotch-chip cookies. Potato chip flavours we would never normally think of eating. Round robin matches, with much victory and loss. Some games that would no longer load (ages defeats us all, it seems).

Virgil left shortly after dinner. The others held out for much longer, but it was a school night, and people were due to leave before too long. The gaming slowed, and the waves of departure began. Two people here, three people there. Soon, it was just Chris, Kaz, Alex, and myself.

I slept poorly. It was over. As I had thought would happen — I blinked, and the time passed.

This morning, I gathered myself to go to work. Chris and Kaz met me at the door as I prepared to leave. I hate saying goodbye. But I had to go to work, I had a scheduled client call at the time I would normally have taken them to the airport. Ironically, the call was cancelled.

Chris is on his way back to Japan. With luck, our paths might cross again next year. But it will be increasingly more difficult for this to happen. Though I really want to go back to Japan, I’m not sure when that might happen again.

But it will happen. That I am sure of.

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Calgary Transit Sucks

I was having a discussion with Doug down in the Bistro this morning, and I came to a rather interesting realization: Calgary Transit sucks.

Let’s have a realistic view, here. Calgary is the third or fourth largest city in Canada. We’re over a million people (we recently had our one millionth baby, but I suspect we’re actually well over that number in population). We have a massive city by area because Calgary hasn’t quite figured out that we should be building up, not out.

Continue reading “Calgary Transit Sucks”

Dragon Boats and Best Friends

Two major things happened this weekend. My friend Chris came to town for a visit! But more on that in a moment…

Gary and I had grandiose plans about setting up a dragon boat team at the office. But the plans never materialized (we simply forgot) and due to a reshuffling within the Topmade Dragon Boat Club, the team I was on last year was not rostered this year. I was left teamless, and I wasn’t too keen on signing onto a new one. So no dragon boating for me this year. That didn’t stop Alex and I from biking down to the North Glenmore Park to drop in on the festival this weekend and see how it was going.

We arrived just after noon, and immediately noticed something. We were spectators. Amazingly obvious, I know, but there’s an important point to that: no adrenaline. It was almost boring. There was nothing to keep us truly interested. We chatted with Colette, who was revelling in her team’s 2:06 time (one of the fastest that day); we watched a couple of races (and watched Arnold, our former coach, guide a team whose boat capsized back to shore), and wandered through the thin array of shops before heading out.

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Our primary goal was actually the Glenmore Reservoir. Or more importantly, biking around it. I had always thought that the reservoir was a joke — it’s a small lake, and something that one could do in about 20 minutes. Not worth the time. Or so I thought.

You have to go west from North Glenmore Park over to the Weaselhead Flats, where the trail goes right through the nature preserve there, crossing the Elbow River. Then around the south side of the lake through stands of birch and tamarack trees, skirting the edge of the Tsuu T’ina nation, which occupies the southwest corner of Calgary.

The whole time, we were trying to avoid getting rained on. As is typical of Calgary, the formerly sunny day had shifted very quickly to cold and rainy. We got to the Good Earth Cafe in Glenmore Landing before we got too wet, thankfully. Emerging as the rain passed, we continued through Heritage Park and up to Rockyview Hospital. There we could see the dragon boat races from a distance. We arrived in time to see the 1,000 mixed race. I shuddered at the thought of having to run that long. Sang and Mark had joked that we should join them for the race.

The next day was marked by a breakfast at the Calgary Farmers Market, a glorious five-minute walk from our home. We stocked up on food in preparation for our houseguests, arriving that afternoon. After a quick wipedown at home, we headed up to Marda Gras, a nearby street festival. We stayed long enough for a pass up and down before running to the car and off to the airport.

It wasn’t hard to find Chris, despite all the people waiting for AC 173’s bags to appear on the barrage carousel. (Calgary Airport is getting slower and slower every day, I swear.) He’s the only black man in Calgary at the moment, I think. Kaz was a bit harder to spot — she blends in better, but Chris managed to point her out to us.

Chris and Kaz’s arrival was a secret. Only Teak, Jordon, Alex, and I knew that they were here. Chris wanted to surprise the Asian Brother Crew, the group that used to all hang out in our apartment downtown. The plan was to have everyone gather at Silver Dragon. Teak had been egging the group on all week about an “important announcement”, which everyone wanted to hear. (The speculation, which I helped fuel, was that Teak was getting married, or even more of a shocker, had gotten a girl pregnant.) It was all part of the fun.

We arrived very late — 30 minutes after the prescribed time. Alex and I took our seats at the table, and Teak went into a prepared speech. Chris and Kaz waited two minutes downstairs before making their appearance. Teak went through his schtick too quickly, and had to adlib until Chris and Kaz appeared. Half the table shrieked. The other half feined surprise. Tamara cried. It was a great reaction.

And we ate way too much.

Chris isn’t here long, just until Thursday morning. Three and a half days. And I’m not going to see him much because I have to work. I’m going to blink and he’ll be gone again. It’s hard seeing your friends for such a short time, especially when they’re coming from such a distance. We’ve managed to see each other every year for the last four years. I don’t know what next year will bring, but I suspect it’ll be a long while before I see him again.

Happy Birthday, IBM PC!

I’ve been using PC-based computers for 25 years. A quarter-century. And things have come such a long distance since I first sat in front of that IBM in Mom’s office. This has all come to light as a result of an article I came across in PC World about the 25 Top PC Computers, as a way of celebrating the 25th anniversary of the first IBM PC.

I had been introduced to computers at an early age — the Commodore PET and the Apple II in the late 1970s. Several friends had Commodore VIC-20s and 64s. The concept of computers was hardly unfamiliar, but the matte beige and grey box before me was … unusual.

First off, it was big. Really big. Most of the computers I’d seen at that point (save for the PET) were little more than keyboards, visually-speaking. This had a keyboard, a monitor, and a big, strange box that you had to turn on and off. By today’s standards, it was little more than a glorified calculator:

  • IBM Personal Computer, Model 5150
  • 4.77 MHz Intel 8088 Microprocessor
  • Green monochrome monitor, text-only
  • 128k RAM
  • 2 x 360k single-sided 5.25″ disk drives
  • Wide carriage Epson 9-pin dot matrix printer

For the record, it wasn’t my computer. It was owned by my mom’s employer, who wanted her to use it for bookkeeping. But the PeachTree software she had to use was so cumbersome and difficult that the computer gathered dust for the longest time until I got around to using it. It wasn’t the easiest computer to use, either. You had to boot off of floppy disks, and regularly had to change disks to load software. Thankfully, I didn’t have to flip the disks over, as some systems required back then.

I taught myself DOS 1.1, which was the only operating system I had. BASICA (BASIC Advanced) was also provided in a separate manual (though the program was on the DOS disk). I read the manual, looked at the sample programs, and taught myself BASIC. I wrote a number of programs, including what could technically qualify as a database (long before I knew what a database was). It stored all the statistics of my Transformers.

I used the system for years, writing my essays on an early version of WordStar, but I couldn’t really do a whole lot. Without any graphics to speak of, I was always behind my friends who were playing “Impossible Mission”.

Curiousity, a common thread through my life, got the better of me and I pulled the cover off one day. Inside was a mess of stuff that made absolutely no sense to me whatsoever. I didn’t know what a single thing was in there, except the obvious stuff (power supply and disk drives).

One summer, my dad got me a job working as a general labourer in the shop at his company. In the office was a IBM PS/2. It had a 30 MB hard drive, which I’d never encountered before. Despite some mocking by the other guys in the shop (they’d mash on the keyboards and claim they were “computer experts”), I learned how to create and manage directories. Which prepared me for my next computer.

Convincing my parents to do this wasn’t easy, but they eventually gave in and bought me my high school computer science teacher’s old IBM-compatible XT computer. Faster than the IBM, and had four different colours to use! Most importantly, it had a hard drive. A huge one, by the standards of the day, and I was able to start doing more advanced things, playing actual games, and seeing pictures (sort of).

Before too long, the lack of colour got to me and I really needed to get something better. A new video card, with a whopping 256 colours! So I went downtown to a place called Ark Computer Systems and bought myself a handy video card which I was told “should work”. It would seem that the trusty XT was too old. The card wouldn’t work. Admittedly, my computer diagnostic skills were fairly weak at the time, so I was hardly an expert at fixing it. I went back to the store to see if they could help. Ultimately, I needed a more expensive card because it overrode the computer’s BIOS with its own to provide the video. I had more colour!

And little did I know, I also had a reputation. When I entered the co-operative education program in Grade 12, the school arranged an interview for me with a local computer company. Ark Computer Systems. When I walked into the store for my job interview, I was told: “Take the tie off, the job’s yours.” That day I was installing an RLL hard drive using the low-level formatter built into the hard drive controller, accessible using a little-known debug command. (IDE drives, which came a couple of years later, took all the fun out of having to do the grunt work to set up hard drives.)

Over the next couple of years, I came to be the primary tech, fixing virtually everything and anything that came into the store. I got so good at one point that I could tell when a hard drive was about to fail just by listening to it. I couldn’t sell computers worth a damn, but fixing them wasn’t a problem.

I ended up with a 386SX from there — a prototype that we’d gotten in to try and win a large contract with an agency of some kind. 16-bit colour, an 80 MB hard drive, and a whopping 8 MB of RAM. (Hey, it was the late 1980s — I was pushing boundaries with that!)

All that experience landed me a co-op job with Digital Equipment Corporation (formerly the #2 computer company after IBM, now a forgotten memory bought up by Compaq and pretty much disassembled), doing user support. The money paid for university and my next computer: a 486 tower. My first CD-ROM drive. A 100 MB Seagate Barracuda SCSI hard drive (which failed a few years later, much to my chagrin).

I worked at a computer store in my last year of university, earning enough to pay rent and food. I worked there a bit too much though, burning out in my final months. Another computer here, a first-generation Penitum. More RAM, more disk space.

My first job in Toronto put me working a lot of hours, partly because I didn’t know any better and was determined to prove myself. To whom, I don’t know, but it still made me work a lot. And it led me to the worst computer purchase I’ve ever made: a Gateway Solo 2100. Boat anchor. I spent almost as much time talking with Gateway tech support to get the stupid thing fixed as I did using it. Ironically enough, I still have the thing (a 66 MHz Pentium). I have no idea why.

Radical Entertainment was a great place for hardware. One advantage of being a videogame company: you get all the latest hardware to play around with. My actual work computer was okay (a Dell, as I recall), but the latest AMD systems were on a test bench. My job: get the latest and greatest for the developers to play with. We drooled over AMD K7 chip. We could literally feel the power when we turned it on.

I’ve gone through a number of computers since then: one at home and three at the office. My current system is a Dell Lattitude D620. If this sucker existed 25 years ago, I’m sure it would have put my friends on their fancy Commodore 64s into apopelptic shock. Dual core Penitum 2.4 GHz with 2 GB of RAM and a 80 GB hard drive, full 32-bit colour with dual monitor support, wireless internet connectivity, and a DVD-RW drive.

It’s amazing how much computers have changed over the last 25 years. And Moore’s Law is still holding out, despite a lot of belief that eventually it’ll have to finally give out. Given that 25 years ago we couldn’t imagine the computers we’d have today, it’s hard to imagine what we’ll see 25 years from now.

A comment on stupidity

When did society become responsible for the stupidity of individuals?

Over the last few years, there’s been a disturbing trend where corporations (and governments, through the courts) have had to start protecting the stupid. Not the mentally disabled — the stupid. Seemingly ordinary people that, on the surface, you’d probably never suspect of being a moron. And yet, these people are the ones who end up affecting the rest of us because they feel they were specifically picked upon and justified in their retribution.

What am I referring to? Cold coffee. Quiet iPods. Notices of the blatantly obvious.

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