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click, click, clickity, click Adventures in the Big Empty
by Geek Jane

Chapter One
The Origins of Geek Jane, or, From Whence I Came

The term "geek" in and of itself is interesting...the geek's origin was that of a freakshow performer who was usually kept caged up in the manner of a "wild man" and did such barbaric things as biting the heads off of small animals like chickens and snakes. The interesting thing not many people know is that these "geeks" were actually homeless winos and other such vagrants that were so desperate for a meal or a bottle that they would literally do anything to make money. So perhaps being a geek then wasn't a career choice that could get you very far, but at least you got to travel, meet exotic animals, and eat them. Geek, in Low German, is pronounced "geck", which I suspect might be derived from the sound people made whilst watching said performer bite the head off of something that was still alive:

(various snarfing and chomping noises)
Crowd: "GECK!"
(various gecking noises)

The classic image of the geek perhaps isn't applicable in these here modern times...well, I take that back. In some cases I've met Geek Guys that just about fit the bill. You have to wonder about those geeks that never seem to change their clothes from day to day, or bathe, or trim their nose hair, not to mention the strange clucking noises coming from their cubicles...

Welcome, reader, to my world, a glimpse into the daily doings of a female Geek. To get things started, allow me to tell you a little about myself. I've been a geek since I was a wee bairn, my father first introduced me to computers when I was six years old. He had a (modern, at the time) TRS-80 Model III, complete with tape recorder and then later dual (Gasp! Moving up in the world!) 5 1/4" floppy drives. I remember playing Pirate's Adventure and Robot Attack - both had to be loaded from cassette and it took forever!


Then one day we were visiting the local Radio Shack dealer (hey, man, wanna RS-232 cable?), and my father was triying to explain to me the great mystery of the newest innovation - Hard Disks. It was just like a floppy disk, he said, except you never took it out of the computer. I was completely thrown for a loop by this, I could not figure out why you would want such a thing. I remember the computer store guy leaning over the counter conspiratorially and saying to my father in a low voice, "Twenty-five Mega-Bytes is all you're EVER gonna need."


I did a web search just now while writing about the dear TRS-80, and what do you know but I found not only a great wealth of TRS-80 worship pages, but one very thorough site full of history, information, and ALL of the software ever available...I am in awe, I am not worthy:


I'm getting misty-eyed looking through all that stuff. I saw a screen shot NEWDOS/80 (my father's DOS of choice) and I almost cried. For now, I will
continue with the story of my life, but a RadShack worship series is definitely in the works in the near future. Something for you, dear readers, to look forward to.



Another aside (you're in my world now, which is rife with tangents), my dad still uses his DMP-100 dot matrix printer. He called me up one day a few years ago because he had just bought his first PC, and wanted to figure out how to attach the old clunker to it. He ended up networking the TRS-80 Model III and his new 486/25 PC, plus got the printer to be accessible by both.My first question was, "But, Dad, why?"


I started programming in BASIC when I was seven, I even found some floppies (for the TRS-80, there's that wistful sigh again) from 1981 the last time I was visiting my dad in 1998, and they were still good! I don't remember the brand name (BASF, maybe?), the logo is an elephant's head with the phrase, "An Elephant Never Forgets" in a circle around it. The stuff I wrote myself consisted of a couple of choose-your-own-adventure type games a la Scott Adams, some early animation attempts depciting a worm crawling into his hole (single-line ASCII), and a couple of automated mad-libs. I was actually quite impressed at my young creativity in these endeavors. I remember Dad giving me my very own 5 1/4" floppy, I was so proud I could burst.

The TRS-80 was my weekend companion for many a year, I read every book I could get my hands on about BASIC games, I loved playing them but hated typing in all that code. Once in a while I would look through computer magazines for the "free software" selection, which was about twenty pages of code. Only once was I ambitious enough to spend one sunny summer weekend entering a mammoth program, only to become extremely frustrated because somewhere in 4000 lines of code I had forgotten a slash or a colon so the dragon picture was all screwed up. I never did figure out what was wrong, in my eight-year old ire I deleted the whole mess.

My parents being divorced, I only saw my father on weekends. To tide me over during the weekdays, for Christmas one year he got me the Timex Sinclair 1000. A wonder in microcomputing, the TS-1000 was the size of two slices of bread (the thick french toast kind) laid side by side, not with keys but a sleek keypad that was covered with a textured membrane. It plugged into any standard television set equipped with one of those little TV to COMPUTER switch boxes attached to the UHF screws in the back. Such excitement to be had!

I found out very soon that using the TS-1000 was an exercise in patience to the nth degree. The keypad proved to be most difficult to operate - one could not simply type, as the letters and numbers might not come up at all, or perhaps two or three would show up instead of one, all on a whim. The extra memory module I received with it (to add MORE POWER) was very fussy - tap it, shake it, move it, look at it crosseyed, the stupid thing would fall out, causing the TV screen to turn to fuzz and everything you were working on lost, lost, lost, the horror! Loading from cassette was shaky at best - it took a very long time and didn't always take. Saving was even more tense...I remember many a night spent staring at the TS-1000, praying in my child's mind that the whole thing would make it before it crashed. I had never heard of the term "crashed" in those days, but that is something the TS-1000 was very, very good at. I learned to swear in these years.

Dad, in an attempt to help me out, even crafted a piece of wood that was cut to shape and duct taped to the TS-1000, complete with support for the memory module (which was as big as a piece of New York cheesecake). The memory module was also duct taped firmly, in an attempt to stabilize the operation. After a few more months the TS-1000 became the permanent resident of a box under my bed.

For quite a few years after that, the TRS-80 was the only computer I had very occasional access to, my mother didn't have a computer - at my mother's house we had the Intellivision, one of the first steps up from the Atari game system (which was way cool by its own right). I had a blister on the side of my right thumb for three summers straight. I hardly ever saw a computer, but I did occupy myself with finding ways to get into the Intellivision's code. It was possible, though difficult when all I had at my disposal was that weird keypad-rotating disc thing.

Intellivision gave way to Nintendo. Still no PC. I used computers occasionally in school, early Macs, mostly. I so wanted a computer of my own. Then a friend introduced me to the wonder of the Internet. This was in 1987 or 1988. He had an old dumb term (a VT-100) that he gave me to use, and voila! I was wired once again. I explored Delphi (at the time a UNIX-based text server, with chats and games and the whole bit, like AOL without the pretty pictures) and local BBSes in my hometown in Maine. I learned how to whistle into the handset to crack the passwords of secured sites. I was quite the little hacker at thirteen.

Then I got my hands on a Tandy CoCo2, I was really cooking with gas! I used it mostly to hack local sites and talk to pals online, spending many hours tying up the houses' one phone line. I made myself a little cubby hole in the attic, ran the phone lines up there myself, my mother constantly yelled at me for spending so much time up there.

Sometime around 1990 I got a life, and so computer pursuits were abandoned. I didn't see another until 1992, when I graduated high school. I moved out, went to college with my trusty VT-200 dumb term (the CoCo2 had since died a terrible death in a lightning-strike power surge) and learned that hacking the college network was not a smart idea.

Not long after that I built my first PC, a 386/25, with four, count 'em, FOUR megs of memory. I was prouder than proud. I played Ultima 6 a lot. Three years, one boyfriend, and two computers later, I found myself a college dropout (I had been a music major) working as a foot courier in Boston. I was already the "computer expert" in the office where I worked, so I wondered if I should try to get a job doing compu-stuff. I scored my first job as an Administrative Assistant (read: secretary) for a QA group. I worked my way into the group, then led a team on production of a piece of widely-distributed commercial software, and the rest is history.

I moved to Manhattan about two years ago, after a year or two stint as an independent contractor. I currently work for a consulting firm and am contracted out to a major financial corporation here in the city. I still do QA, my job experience has taken me to the realms of automated as well as manual testing - it all sounds so glamorous, but I assure you it is usually quite dull. I always have access to the Internet, though, which is a good thing.

Obviously there's a lot more detail to my story than I've mentioned here. That, gentle readers, will come in time. If I wrote about it all now, there'd be nothing left for future reports from the Big Empty.
My plans for the future? Go back to school. Learn computer animation and digital graphics, so I can try to land a job doing something fun. That's not slated until 2000, though, so until that time I remain your faithful SheGeek...

Peace, love, and T-connections for all,
- GJ

Back to the current Geek Jane

Geek Jane's Archive:
Chapter 2: Jane Gets In Touch With Readership...
Chapter 3: Jane As Couch Potato, or, What Geeks Watch
Chapter 4: Jane Goes To War, or, Coffee Creamer in the Trenches
Chapter 5: Jane Thinks Metaphorically, or, Wired Vacations

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