Saturday, September 4, 2010

Computers on Stamps and my Love Affair with the Machine

A few months ago, I visited a link in Delcampe, a stamp auction site, about "Cyber Philately: Computer Stamps- from Abacus to Internet", and a I was transported back in time to my love affair with the "ultimate machine".

Pocket computer- desktop- laptop- notebook- netbook- tablet PC. In a nutshell, that's the evolution of my computers.

Back in 1983, when I was in second year high school, my dad brought me from Japan, my first computer- the Casio PB-300 (picture below), a pocket computer with a built in thermal printer. To my knowledge, it was first the first computer with a built-in thermal printer but had only 2KB of RAM compared to mammoth 4GB of today. There were no elaborate graphics and software programs then. You can only see 12 characters in a line on a monochrome LCD for simple games and computation of algebraic formulas which was very helpful in my elective Calculus subject in high school.

I remember programming a basic shooting game and did some print outs of the program. Years later I saw the prints fade to oblivion. As far as I can remember, there were only two of us who had a pocket computer then-his name is Gene Cagas, now a pastor based in Cambodia. We had weekly competitions of creating the best programs. One time, he conceded defeat when he saw me making a simple shooting program (how complex can a program be, given only a line). In this program random alphanumeric characters would show up and when you press a button, the duration should be right enough to cause an arrow to hit it. If you press to short or too long it would undershoot or overshoot the target. Anyway, I had a really memorable time with my friend Gene. We always reminisce about it during our reunions. Unfortunately, this computer is now forever lost- I never knew if it was stolen or a relative of mine got it (most likely the latter).

During college in the 90's, I had several desktop computers, mostly cloned. I would just choose the sound card, video card, disk drive and all other parts and have them assembled by the supplier. Mostly, these desktops were optimized for gaming, an aspect of computer which I love until now. It was during this time that the internet became popular but dial-ups were sluggish. There was no broadband or WiFi then. I had these desktops during my medical technology years until medical school and residency.

During my fellowship years in 2002, I got myself my first laptop-the HP Compaq Presario. It was in vogue then and very expensive at 90 thousand pesos. It was impressive during its time- with 512 gigs of RAM, 60 GB of memory and Invidia video card capable of handling 3D games and graphics effortlessly. It had no Bluetooth and WiFI. I mastered Counterstrike and Unreal with this laptop and finished Half-Life- a science fiction, first person shooting game and my all-time favorite computer game. My weekly presentation of cases, journals and studies where done with this laptop. During my various symposium and seminars, it traveled with me.

After I finished fellowship and became a consultant with an aching back, the laptop became too heavy for me, so I switched to a notebook- the Acer Travelmate. This was definitely much lighter and smaller but less powerful. I don't really need the extra power because I rarely play graphic intensive video games, with its decent ATI Radeon video card, during these years. This time though, it already had a bluetooth and LAN. It was during this time, that I was into music composition and home recording using software synths like Rob Papen's Blue, Albino, Moog, Vanguard, etc. using the MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) keyboard. I had to get myself a Creative Audigy soundcard which fits snugly into the PCI port to play MIDI and sound intensive programs requiring ASIO like Ableton Live and FL Studio. I did my first home studio recording using this computer- mostly Electronica and Trance music.

When WiFI became ubiquitous, I shifted to a netbook- the Asus 1000HE. I got this because it is very light at two pounds and excellent for surfing. I got a Buffalo wireless router so I can surf anywhere at our home- which led to its eventual demise after using it for less than two years. While surfing at our comfort room, it slipped and broke the plastic edge. Although still functional, it was now cosmetically challenged. I gave it to my wife and got myself a new computer- the Tablet PC.

I was not really impressed with iPad. I mean why buy something expensive just to read and surf? I did some research on this, because I wanted a gadget that works like an iPad but had strong computational skills. These qualities I found in my new tablet PC- The Asus T101 MT.

It's lighter than a notebook but has multitouch features. I had problems with the netbook at night and during traveling when it's very difficult to use the keyboard. With the touch feature, this problem is eliminated. Play Chess, Scrabble or Plants and Zombies on the plane--no problem-- you just touch the screen to move or control the pieces. The websites are a pleasure to surf- you just touch and drag up or down, right or left or flick to scan or change pages. It has an Expressgate feature, a separate OS (operating system) with allows it to boot the system in 5 seconds so you can quickly connect to the internet, view your pictures, listen to internet radio or use Skype. You cannot, however save files in this OS, you have to shift to the Windows 7 OS. by just pressing a button. As of now, I'm very satisfied with this computer. With its handwriting recognition software, I wish I had this during my student days to take notes during lectures. Now, I give lectures, so I just use it for presentations.