I still remember the day I was first bitten by the computer "bug".
I was living in the beachside community in San Diego called Ocean Beach.
The year was 1979. In OB (as we called it) there was a small stereo repair
store on Voltaire Street. Originally, it was called the "Mad Man's
Workshop" though the owner decided to change it to "Audio Repair
Shop" in hopes of attracting customers who did not want to entrust
their systems to a "mad man". I enjoyed doing business with
the "mad man". He was always friendly and dedicated to providing
good service. One day, I was in his shop and saw him working with something
that looked nothing like stereo equipment. It was a TV screen and a typewriter
style keyboard. He told me that with this device he could write onto the
screen the way a typewriter writes on paper. But even better than a typewriter,
he could move what he had typed around the screen without having to retype
it. At first, I was not impressed, but as I thought of it more, I realized
that this was exactly the kind of device I needed. As a writer who hates
to type, it would be ideal to be able to edit my writing and correct my
mistakes before printing them out on paper.
In 1980, I moved to the Bay Area and heard about the Silicon Valley. That
is when I discovered the device I had seen at the Mad Man's Workshop was
really a computer. It became my goal to own one. My first opportunity
to buy a computer came in 1986. The company I was working for had recently
given its employees about $700 each in bonuses. I was making contact lenses
in Point Richmond and was not earning very much. Everything I made was
helping to pay for the house we bought in 1981. I knew that if I didn't
use the money to buy a computer, it would be spent on something else and
my dream of becoming a serious writer would never be realized. The problem
was that $700 wasn't much to spend on a complete computer system. Even
a foreign made IBM clone cost several thousand.
At the time, we had a housemate who bought a Commodore 64. He took me
to a Commodore show in San Francisco where we saw the new Amiga. Since
it was being sold as a game machine, I was not very impressed. It was
also rather expensive. I was more impressed by the C-128, the upgraded
C-64. It was equipped to run the CP/M operating system, which I foolishly
considered as an argument in favor of the purchase. I could get WordStar
for CP/M, I thought, and would not have to worry about losing my files
when upgrading to a new system. Against all better advice, I opted for
Having an expert Commodore user in the house helped sway me to the machine.
I found that I could purchase the computer and 5-1/4" disk drive
for about $500 at Toys-R-Us. My first monitor was a Black & White
TV, which limited my view to 40 columns of text. Mike, the C-64 owner
provided me with my first word processing program, a public domain program
I typed from a book. It was written in machine language, which meant I
was typing in rows of 3-digit numbers. At the end of each line an error
checker informed me if I had typed the line correctly or not. If I was
wrong, I had to search the line for the number I typed wrong. After pages
of number typing, I was ready to buy a printer. Venturing into a computer
swap meet, I made my next mistake. I bought a box of computer paper and
an Epson printer. I thought I could just plug the printer directly into
the computer, but I discovered I needed a special interface. I found one
at a store in town, but more problems arose. The printer and interface
didn't like my word processing program. Then I really needed Mike's help.
He typed up a number of codes that instructed the C-128 to send my letters
to the printer.
Now I was in business. At work, I proudly announced that I had bought
a computer. All my co-workers responded with the same question—"Why?"
While writing was my primary interest, I was also was intent on using
it to manage money. I had been placed in charge of keeping the house finances.
The household member who was previously in charge had moved out. I quickly
discovered he had done a terrible job, and I started to sort out the mess.
I had Mike construct a special program for me to deal with bills and deposits
for our eclectic, communal household. Being a Trekkie, Mike had the program
open with the Star Trek theme and stars twinkling on the screen. I used
it to figure each person's share of the utility bills, long distance calls
(which were always the biggest headache), and rent deposits. He designed
the program to do exactly what I told him I wanted it to do, which was
my next mistake. The program was quite complex and unwieldy. I would find
myself unable to correct mistakes easily or get out of something without
a lot of difficulty. Many times, I would just shut it down and start over
again. If I made the same mistake again, I would get even more frustrated.
To make matters worse, Mike moved out as a result of friction that developed
between him and the rest of the house. I was on my own. I mentioned my
dilemma to a more knowledgeable person who simply answered, "Why
don't you just get a spreadsheet?" I had heard of spreadsheets, but
never knew what they really were. I was surprised to discover that they
were designed to handle problems exactly like my house financial tasks.
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It was at another computer swap meet that I made a great
decision. I found three application programs made by Activision, a company
known more for computer games than serious applications. For $70 I had
a new word processor that worked with my printer (though not without some
problems), a database, and the spreadsheet which answered my accounting
needs. Another wise decision was to invest in a color monitor allowing
me to view a full 80 columns on my screen.
I could go on at length about my other frustrations and unrealized dreams
with the C-128. I sold the Epson printer, thinking that buying a Commodore
printer would solve problems that persisted with software incompatibility.
It didn't. I wanted go get into telecommunications, but the first modem
I bought wouldn’t work for me at all and the company was of no help.
I gave up on it. A second modem worked much better, though I was still
not completely satisfied. I was able to establish an account on the WELL
(Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link) and contacted some other bulletin board
My other housemates started using the Commodore, too. Soon I had to fight
for time on my own machine. I knew it was time for a new computer, but
once again I had little to spend. After reading about handheld organizers
called palmtops, I bought a Psion Series 3. The Psion included a word
processor, spreadsheet, database, and a calendar program. It was a major
advance in my ability to organize my life. I held more computing power
in my hand than I had on my desktop C-128.
When I bought my first Psion I was working as a receptionist in a homeless
service agency called Jobs Consortium. I kept a database of referral agencies'
phone numbers that I could use to make referrals. I used my desktop work
computer to backup my Psion data. Eventually, I started taking staff meeting
notes with the Psion. After transferring the file to the desktop, I was
able to edit and print the notes.
I went through several Psion models until the company stopped making them.
One drawback with the Psion was the small keyboard. I developed the ability
to type with my thumbs years before the invention of the Blackberry. I
actually enjoyed writing with it. I originally created this document on
my first Psion.
A few months after the palmtop, a Macintosh Color Classic came into our
household. More Macs have been purchased through the years, as well as
modems. Before the World Wide Web, I communicated online with the Well,
PeaceNet, Quantum Link on the Commodore, and America On Line on the Mac.
Being able to word process my class assignments on the Commodore helped
me return to college to get my B.A. I am sure that if I had a computer
when I was in junior college three decades ago, I would not have dropped
My two daughters both have diagnosed learning disabilities,
and though I have never been tested, I believe that I am learning disabled,
too. For me, the computer is a tool that allows me to overcome my disability.
Like a wheelchair that helps the paraplegic to get to work, computers
help me to learn and to organize information so that I can find it easily.
I eventually became a computer teacher. It has been fun sharing what
I have learned with others. While at Jobs Consortium, the Internet became
a revolutionary tool in job search. I have helped countless people sign
up for Hotmail and Yahoo e-mail accounts to send their resumes by e-mail.
I also learned how to maintain the agency's web site that was first developed
by a Vista Volunteer. After the volunteer left, the site had no one to
keep it current. Many links had gone bad. The most valuable page was a
list of job search web sites. I found that other sites were linking to
our page because it was so useful. I expanded and organized the list into
various categories. One day, I got an e-mail from someone who discovered
a link that had changed on our page devoted to literacy resources. Suddenly,
the link opened up a pornographic web site. As soon as I received the
message, I fixed the offending link. If I had not taken the initiative
to learn how to use Microsoft FrontPage, it would have been a real embarrassment
for the agency.
Unfortunately, that web site no longer exists, though it can be found
using the Internet
Time Machine. The agency went out of business in 2004. We were actually
in the process of designing a new site and had a couple of volunteer designers
who worked with Dreamweaver. I bought Dreamweaver for my Mac PowerBook
so that I could update the new pages. The agency lost its funding before
the new site could go up.
Even with Dreamweaver, I am not that great with web page design. I found
the program as not as easy to learn as a word processing program like
WordPerfect or MS Word. It is still a lot easier than HTML coding with
a text editor. I finally broke down and took a class at Berkeley Adult.
In the class, I created this site on Tripod. I figured that would be a
good place to tell my adoption story. From
now on, when people ask me how I got a Japanese last name, I can direct
them to my page.