Computers for all ages
Computers for all ages was something I thought about after a conversation with an electrician. The tradesman came to my home to fix an electrical fault and asked, “How is it you know so much more about computers than me?” He continued with, “You are if you don’t mind me saying a lot older than me?” Indeed I am a grandmother with ten grandchildren. When he visited I was working on developing a database. This would keep track of the sire and dams and grand sires and grand dams of a Wagyu beef herd.
My reply was that I was in the right places at the right times.
First Right Place – Teesside North East England
The first place I was in at the right time was Teesside in the north east of England. The first computer I ever saw was in 1966 when I was 21. My first husband Tom was working for Teesside Survey and Plan. TSSP had offices in Stockton on Tees, over the Fine Fare Supermarket.
This was a transportation study on Teesside to work out the best development of the road and rail network in the area. Naturally, there were lots of traffic surveys and data analysis was very important.
The best way to do that was by computer. However computers were in their infancy in the mid 60’s. Notably developments had taken place during the second world war. Computers were used to help in doing the myriad calculations needed to trace the trajectories of rockets. Teesside Survey and Plan did not have a computer. Very few businesses did then. They hired computer time on the large main frame computer at ICI Billingham.
The first computer I ever saw
Lots of businesses wanted to use the computer at Billingham. Sometimes TSSP could only get one or two hours in the middle of the night. The computer at Billingham was enormous. It filled a whole large room. Despite its size it was not as powerful as my laptop is now. Punched cards were the means of putting data into the computer. There were quite a few punch card operators in those days. It must have been a boring job punching holes into a card. The holes and not holes represented binary code. TSSP employed its own punch card operators and information collected in the surveys was punched into cards.
There were hundreds if not thousands of cards which had to be punched and fed in the right order to the computer. I occasionally went with Tom to ICI in Billingham in the middle of the night. I was working at Billingham Campus School and we were living in a flat in Middlesbrough within a stone’s throw of Ayresome Park where Middlesbrough FC played from 1903 to 1995.
Early difficulties in computing
As you might think there were many hitches to running programs. The output was on long continuous computer paper with perforations at the side to hold it firm in the printer. Sadly the program did not always run. The message “Program aborted due to error” was similar to the “blue screen of death”. When this happened it was back to the drawing board. On one occasion I remember a member of the team, an American called Ernie was rushing into the ICi building. He wanted to make sure he got the full hour paid for. Unfortunately he tripped and dropped his box of punch cards which went everywhere so no run that night.
Tom went on training courses to IBM in London to learn Fortran a computer programming language. He became very interested in computing and used them a little in his work as a Town Planner. After TSSP finished he worked at GLC London and for Lancashire County Council in Preston Lancashire (my home town).
Second Right Place – Port Moresby Papua New Guinea
Surprisingly the next time I was in the right place at the right time was in Port Moresby Papua New Guinea in 1980.
I was Staff Development Officer at Police Headquarters in Konedobu. My job was to see that civilian staff in the Police Department got the necessary training. People were using computers more and more in business and the academic world. The University of Papua New Guinea began to advertise computer courses. One of the research staff attended a course in learning BASIC programming. She told me the lecturer had said that it would not be long before people had their own home computers. This seemed an amazing concept at that time especially when I thought of the huge ICI computer back in Billingham.
Wang Word Processors
I was in charge of the secretarial staff at Police HQ. The WANG company approached the department about buying WANG word processors. We went to a demonstration which showed their potential. This was the first time I had seen a word processor. An operator typed text via a keyboard onto a screen and the operator could edit and change the document. This was a great development for the administrative world.
Third Right Place – Atherton Far North Queensland
We left PNG to come to Australia in 1981. Tom was starting his own consulting business. He decided we should get a WANG computer which we did. We set it up on and close to the dining table in our home in Tolga. It had a monochrome monitor and this and the keyboard were on the table and the WANG was on the floor close to the table.
The WANG was the size of one of the old tower PC’s. Strangely in comparison to today’s machines the WANG had no hard drive. It had two 5 and a quarter inch drives and the system disc went in one and the data disk in the other. It seems very primitive now but at the time to produce save and print documents and edit them was an inspiration. I worked on the WANG for three years and then we got ambitious and decided to move onto a new computer. Tom wanted to be able to do spreadsheets and databases for his town planning consultancy work.
An IBM computer
Tom did some research and decided on an IBM computer and we went to see an IBM computer at System Services in Cairns. We committed ourselves to buying it there and then. It cost over $10 000 dollars which was a huge amount. Compare that to what one can buy a computer for now. This was the first time I came across Microsoft Programs and learnt Word word processing and Multiplan spreadsheets. Tom was involved in Home Ownership Schemes for Papua New Guineans.
I developed quite a sophisticated spreadsheet for calculating the viability of home ownership loans. This linked the applicant’s salary to the interest rate on mortgages offered by his bank. There were five or six banks offering mortgages and the macro I developed looked up the name of the bank and inserted the interest rate and then calculated repayments.
Borrowers could spend unto 25% of their disposable income on repaying the loan. This is unlike the situation in the US which caused the Global Financial Crisis when people were allowed to borrow far more than they could pay back. I also developed a database of the home ownership blocks of land using Dbase 111 Plus and also developed an accounting package using the same database program. So again I was in the right place at the right time and had a practical use for the computer software I learned to use.
Fourth Right Place and Right Time – Far North Queensland
Again I was fortunate that in the early 1990’s there was a demand for computer courses. However, there were few people with the knowledge to teach computing. Johnstone College of TAFE appointed me to teach computer subjects first in Ravenshoe and then Atherton, Mareeba and Cairns. Because TAFE were hoping to establish themselves in Ravenshoe we ran a Business Administration Certificate III course. The course was in the classrooms of what had been St Barnabas Boarding School. These are now part of Ravenshoe High School.
The computers were old monochrome models. Atherton Skillshare donated them to Ravenshoe when they got new computers. These machines had WordPerfect word processing, Lotus spreadsheets and Dbase lll plus. In the days before Microsoft cornered the office market, this meant each of the programs we used was very different in appearance. Whereas with the office suite of programs the menus and screens are quite similar.
I remember teaching a computer class one afternoon, when I saw a large black snake slither through the slightly open sliding glass door. Calmly I told the class about the snake and chaos followed with people screaming and climbing on desks. I phoned the Police and then the Government agent for help and advice but only got their answering machines. The site was being developed to be used by Ravenshoe State School and there were a lot of builders around and one of them came to our rescue! It was all very different from Stockton on Tees but not Port Moresby. I had once found a black snake curled up inside a desk at Port Moresby High School.
After a couple of years TAFE installed new computers in Ravenshoe. They were 486 computers with colour monitors and had the Microsoft Suite of Programs and I began to teach Word, Excel, Access and Publisher.
Fifth Right Place and Right Time – Far North Queensland and the start of the Internet
The next time I was in the right place at the right time was in 1995 when there were the beginnings of the Internet and Computerised Bookkeeping packages. My daughter Catherine moved back to the Tablelands in 1995 and set up a Computer Business in Robert Street, Atherton. I went into business with her and when we needed an accounting package we bought MYOB (Mind Your Own Business) and I learnt this along with Catherine.
The Internet was also developing at this time and I was taught a lot about it by my daughter who had a computing degree from James Cook University in Townsville. Towards the end of the decade there was a demand for people to teach accounting packages and introduction to the Internet courses and again I was well placed and taught evening and day classes at both TAFE and Outcomes in Atherton.
Sixth Right Place and Right Time – Far North Queensland – GST and accounting packages
In 2000 Australia introduced the Goods and Services Tax. I was working full time for Outcomes as a Training Consultant. FarmBiz was a government initiative. Outcomes participated in FarmBiz. This was to introduce local farmers to the concept of computers. The Computers in turn would help them in their business. I organised courses to introduce them to computerised bookkeeping to help them in record keeping and making their GST returns.
Again I was in the right place at the right time. I spent two years running courses and visiting farms. As well, I taught MYOB, Quickbooks and Quicken for GST purposes and the Tax Office’s own spreadsheet program. Interestingly I did two trips to Karumba. We had Farm Biz clients in Mount Surprise, Forsayth, Croydon, Normanton and Karumba. There were some very interesting businesses and characters. Near Forsayth I visited an alluvial gold miner. On his gate was the sign “Trespassers will be shot! Survivors will be prosecuted!” He could only use his computer in the afternoon when he started his generator.
Working for Outcomes, the Training people until 2010, I was in charge of computers and the computer room. We were allowed a lot of latitude to develop our ideas and I was able to produce a website for Outcomes using Dreamweaver. I could also work at home a lot and upload documents to the main server. This allowed our staff in Cairns to access all documents and software which meant another big learning curve for me but gave me more confidence in computers.
Seventh Right Place and Time – Atherton Tablelands – iPads, Tablets and Apps
Shortly after I retired in 2010 I bought an IPAD. A friend of mine had been one of the first to buy an IPAD and when he demonstrated it for me. I had to have one. Soon I was in the world of talking books on long car journeys, playing Bridge and doing Sudoku. I improved my Swedish with the Babbel app. In 2011 my youngest granddaughter Abby was born and I and my second husband Leif looked after her a lot so that my daughter could work. Her company was a delight and she loved the IPAD.
Computers for all ages – the young
She started using the IPAD when she was four months old. The app on the screen is the first one we got for her. When she tapped on the flowers the petals moved. When she tapped on the apples on the tree they fell to the ground. The bee buzzed around and a flock of birds flew past. It was intuitive for her to use the tablet. As she got older she did jigsaws and puzzles and learnt all her letters and numbers from Sesame Street and Peppa Pig apps.
Yesterday (April 28 2019) I heard on TV that parents were advised not to let children spend more than one hour at day watching tv or using an IPAD. I am not sure how long Abby spent on the IPAD as a toddler. We did lots of other things – painting, jigsaws, walking at Tinaroo and Lake Eacham. I think the early IPAD days were good for her. She could read and write before she started school and is interested in many things today. She likes computers and is Cath’s latest trainee.
Computers for all ages – the not so young
A few years ago Catherine decided she would like to learn how to produce apps and asked me to be part of this new business. We both got Mac computers as these are the only machines where you could develop xcode projects which you then needed to do apps. Cath has gone on to do much more advanced app development whereas I have concentrated more on graphics and writing. I have learned to use Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign and Animator. I have written books which I have published as e-books. Cath has written quite a few apps some both for Android and IPAD and IPhone
I wrote a book for Abby about the time a carpet snake fell down my chimney. It was largely illustrated by photographs which I had turned into drawings using Photoshop. Cath decided to use the book as a basis for an activity book. There are jigsaws and crosswords, word searches and spot the difference. Abby loves it but then it is about her. The first app we produced was an Australian Matching Game and we got Abby to say the words for the images. It is lovely now to hear her three-year-old voice saying “Echidna”.
Computers for all ages
Computers have been part of my life for a long time and I have got so much from them as well as many frustrations but they have kept me active in the work force for so long and I feel I still have something to contribute and being able to work with my daughter and grandchildren in this endeavour is wonderful.