About Me: What I Do for a Living

I‘m a fulltime database analyst and Web developer for a municipal Public Works department.

…but back up a bit. Before I got into computers, I taught high school English and journalism; drove a cab; cleaned hospital floors and rooms; delivered furniture; and loaded and unloaded many, many cartons of books in the warehouse of a large book publishing firm.

I’ve been involved with computers, especially software, since early 1979. In the earliest days, the only computers I interacted with were IBM and Amdahl mainframes, running a mix of MVS and VM/CMS operating systems. (God. I can’t believe I still remember those abbreviations.) My favorite programming language — “first love” — was Fortran. Later, because my employer’s R&D division had developed the Linux operating system, minicomputers entered the mix. My first training in what were then referred to as “IBM personal computers” was in, I think, 1982 or 1983. It would be a few more years until I had one on my desk at work, though.

My very first personal computer was a CP/M-based thing manufactured by Monroe Systems for Business (for whom The Previous Missus worked). That’s an ad for one over there on the right, from Computerworld’s issue of December 20, 1982. (Hat tip: Google Books.) It had a black screen; the text it displayed was the color of amber. The very first PC of my own was manufactured by Olivetti — the Italian typewriter folks — but branded with my employer’s logo, and marketed under the same three initials by which that employer (THE phone company) was known. I bought it in 1986, and replaced the hard drive and the monitor once each. I didn’t own another PC until 1993 or (probably) ’94.

I use Microsoft Windows at work, and Ubuntu Linux at home.

My home computer is a Dell Dimension 4550, circa 2004. Other than at the very beginning, I’ve almost never owned anything but a Dell. They just run. We once got The Missus an HP computer, because she had to have a computer for her work and her Dell had been lightning-fried. (The HP was dead in the water within two or three years.) Other than that — and her first PC, built by a friend in the years before I knew her — she’s owned only Dells, too.

Whenever someone who doesn’t want a Mac asks me where to buy a new computer, I never direct them anywhere but Dell. Some of them decide (for one reason or another, usually price or convenience) to get a different brand at Best Buy or Wal-Mart or whatever. A couple years later, the same people are often back in my cubicle asking where they should look for a new PC. I don’t gloat. I don’t tell them I still have the same computer which I had three of their computers ago. I just say, “Dell,” and off they go to the brick-and-mortar.

Software I know well enough to use without much forethought but still occasional research: Windows; Microsoft Word; Microsoft Access, especially VBA; Macromedia Dreamweaver and Coldfusion; HTML and CSS; SQL; PeopleSoft Query; OpenOffice.org Writer. In order of descending preference, my Web browser of choice is: Google Chrome; Mozilla Firefox; Opera; Safari (Windows edition); and Microsoft Internet Explorer. My graphics program of choice (cross-platform, y’know) is called Gimp. I like to fool around sometimes with software to do this or that with audio files, but am not very good with it.

I own a BlackBerry smartphone, which isn’t really all that smart. It’s two or three years old (as of mid-2011).

My rule of thumb when buying tech hardware and most software: name brands, all the way. I don’t care about the latest and greatest, the fastest, the most fully-featured. I want the hardware to be as invisible as possible. I want to work with and through the hardware, not on it. I hate hate HATE hardware problems, in the same way that I hate flat tires. Don’t wave test-performance results at me, proving that I can do something five seconds sooner if I’d just switch to [fill in the blank]. I don’t care. My work-work — almost everybody’s work-work — doesn’t require the equivalent of a Jaguar on the desktop. Because, like a Jaguar, it will only end up p!ssing me off because it’s not spending enough time actually getting me places.

But I’m not a Philistine or Luddite, either. I love learning new technology.

The best thing about it? To become an “expert,” you don’t really need to know about everything. You just need to be curious. You need to know a little about research (it helps to have a good memory). And you need, above all, to be unafraid: confident, if not fearless, that it’s almost impossible to do something with a keyboard and mouse that can’t be easily undone. The computer won’t break. The only skill you really, really need to master — it has worked for me since 1979 — the only skill you need to master is: how to undo.

And all those things I just said about technology? They apply to writing, too. Isn’t life funny?


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  1. I’m not really sure how I ended up on your site, but I was in the middle of reading when my computer crashed. All I could remember was something about chasing my hat……finally found my way back here and will probably be back, if for no other reason than you used the terms Philistine and Luddite.

    • Welcome, Poietes (and that’s one of the best online monikers I’ve seen in a good while).

      But yikes — hope it wasn’t something you saw HERE which crashed the computer. Let me know if you remember what it was; I’m enough of a non-Philistine to care, and enough of a non-Luddite to think about investigating and even fixing it. :)

      I’ve just spent a bit of time poking around your place, too. For now I’ll just say, you tire way too easily of your own writing!

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