Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Personal Computers and me in genealogy

In an earlier post, I described my computer experience before, and other than, personal computers. In this post, I'll discuss my own personal computer experience, especially as it applies to genealogy.

I had watched the computer industry grow, and was envious of those who could program their Radio Shack, Commodore, Atari and Apple computers that came out before 1983. I was able to use the IBM mainframe computers at work for my hobby interests, which was studying radio wave signal strengths and propagation paths. Note that I didn't start genealogy research until 1988.

In February 1983, I finally convinced my wife that we needed a PC, and we bought an IBM PC for over $3,000, with a 4.77 mhz 8088 processor, 64 kb of RAM and 64 kb of hard drive storage, with a green screen 12” monitor, two 356 kb disk drives, a dot matrix printer, running DOS. We bought it through my brother-in-law's company, which gave us a discount. I used the EasyWriter word processor for almost everything, including transcribing family memoirs. Unfortunately, I can't access these files any longer, although I still have them on the 5.25" disks. I used this computer until 1992.

In 1992, I bought an IBM clone PC for about $1,500 from a local computer shop; it had a 33 mhz 386 processor, about 1 mb of RAM, about 64 mb of hard drive, a 1.4 mb disk drive, a 15” color monitor, running Windows 3.0. With this computer, I was able to use a 300 baud dial-up modem to access bulletin boards and the Prodigy computer network. I also started using the Personal Ancestral File genealogy database program. I eventually upgraded to Windows 95 and added more hard drive, RAM and a faster modem. This computer's hard drive failed in November 1998, and I had to pay $300 to recover the files from the failed 386.

In late 1998, I bought another PC clone 1998 for about $1,200 from another local computer shop that had a 350 mhz Pentium II processor, 64 mb of RAM, 6 gb of hard drive, a 3.25" floppy drive, a Zip drive, a CD drive, a 17” monitor, a 56kb modem, an ink jet printer, a scanner and Windows 98 as the operating system. When I purchased this computer, the data recovery service installed the files from my previous computer on this one. I bought FamilyTreeMaker 5 in late 1998 to use as my genealogy database program. I upgraded this unit with a cable modem in 2001, which made internet surfing and research much easier.

After six years on the 1998 PC, I decided to buy a new Dell computer in October 2004 before the 1998 unit failed. The Dell Dimension 3000 had a 2.6 ghz Pentium 4 processor, 256 mb of RAM, an 80 gb hard drive, a CD burner and DVD drive, and a 17 inch flat screen monitor, using Windows XP Home Edition. I was able to transfer all of my 1998 PC data to the new computer using an external hard drive. I also bought a new HP 2350 all-in-one printer/scanner/copier unit that produced outstanding quality color photos. I invested in a 19-inch flat screen monitor in October 2006. The hard drive crashed on this unit in February 2007, and my son-in-law installed a new hard drive. He was able to recover most of my files (the exception was Outlook Express emails). In early 2008, we added more RAM so now I have 1 gb of RAM. I am using this unit at present.

In November 2006, I bought a Dell Inspiron E1505 laptop which I used as my primary computer when my Dell desktop hard drive crashed in February 2007. I just hooked it up to my external hard drive and captured my backed up files, and hooked it to my cable modem directly. I've since used it, using a router, to access the Internet while at home watching TV, in various libraries, and on the road at hotels and my daughters' homes. My problem is keeping the information on it synchronized with the desktop. I use my USB drives for the important files, and occasionally just copy whole directories off of the external hard drive to capture what I've missed. I don't use any synchronization program on the computer at this point.

I'm still using FamilyTreeMaker, having upgraded from FTM 5 to 8 to 11 to 16 (buying ther latter for $16.95 with a 12 month trial of Ancestry last October). I still use Microsoft Word for documents, but have added OpenOffice 2.2 for spreadsheets and presentations.

So what have I done with the obsolete hardware and other stuff? I put the 1983 IBM hardware in the trash can in about 1992. I still have some of the parts of the 1992 and 1998 computers - like the towers, monitors, the keyboards, the printers, a scanner, etc. in the garage in boxes that could be taken to the computer recycling centers whenever I have the opportunity - I always seem to miss the dates due to a genealogy meeting. We also have a fine collection of other electronic equipment - two stand-alone word processors, another monitor, several digital cameras frozen in time, and lots of wires and cables from many things in boxes in the garage.


Chris said...

Recycle San Diego will take your stuff so you don't have to wait around for an event. If you just have a little it is cheapest to deliver it to them. I've gotten rid of several computers, printers and a scanner with them.


They are in Clairmont Mesa so you would have a little drive.

Anonymous said...

Ah yes, the good old Commodore 64K. We got ours in 1982, I was 6, and spent countless hours playing games and writing simple programs (I can not for the life of me remember the name of the software we had..Zortek, or something similar seems to stick in my mind, though). It was a neat little thing (my dad even ran a local television station out of our basement using that computer) and I loved it..
People I work with are always amazed at how fast I type..what they fail to realize is I've been typing on computers for 25+ years. :)