Connecting to the world

The “old” days with a 300 baud modem and a Model 100.

Each morning, I get up around 0500 (5:00 a.m.), start guzzling coffee, and go to work on a computer with multiple monitors and a broadband connection to the world, editing updates to a political news website that began just under 23 years ago in our den in Arlington, Virginia, just outside of Washington, DC.

Editors and reporters connect via online conference as we map out the stories followed for the day.  In this day in a year of topsy-turvy national government of our country, most of the stories will, of course, deal with the latest antics of our Donald Trump.

I also used the same setup to update a local news site for the community where I live.

Sitting before computers each morning began for me in 1981 when I bought an Atari 800 computer and a modem and began interacting with online services like Compuserve and America On-Line provided the landscape for digital interaction and online publishing.  I used a Radio Shack Model 100 portable computer back then.  It ran on AA batteries and displayed work in eight lines on a LCD black and white display on the case.

The Model 100 turned into an invaluable tool when I worked on the 1984 elections.  I wrote the daily “message of the day” for the “Voices for Victory” program in the Reagan-Bush Presidential campaign, connecting online through a 300-baud self-contained modem with rubber cups on a telephone handset, often in phone booths at airports, in a motel room or in an airline “club” like United’s Red Carpet or TWA’s Ambassadors rooms that turned into between flights havens.

Compuserve allowed me to scan the headlines of the day on an Associated Press wire service, exchange rudimentary email messages with campaign operatives and send out my daily political briefings.

The Model 100 evolved into the 200, with a flip-up screen. They ran on an old CPM operating system but the IBM Personal Computer (the PC) came along about the same time with programming based on BASIC.  At home, I had an Atari 800, based on the same electronic chip as the Apple, then an Apple II and finally plunged into the IBM world.

When Apple introduced the Macintosh in January 1984, it brought computer graphics capabilities into the homes and I brought my first Mac in 1985, using it to create graphics, edited photos and share online with a 1200-baud modem that seemed incredibly fast at the time.

While working in Congress on Capitol Hill, I helped introduce Macs into offices of Congressional representatives.  We were changing how offices on Capitol Hill worked, changing from word processing minicomputers to micros with much more capability.

MacWorld magazine featured me in a feature about computerizing Congress, along with a photo of me standing in a House Science & Technology hearing room.

Caption from MacWorld: Doug Thompson, administrative assistant to Congressman Dan Burton, is Capitol Hill’s unofficial Macintosh expert. He uses Macs to run a completely automated office.

The den in our condo home in Arlington had a Mac on one end of a long desk and a PC on the other with separate printers and paper everywhere in the crowded room.  I exchanged emails with new contacts around the nation and the world. I left the world of partisan politics and joined the National Association at Vice President for Political Programs.

At the time, the Realtors offices were served by a word processing system based on Wang minicomputers.  It was basic, prone to shutdowns and didn’t use email.  The Senior Vice President, Steve Driesler, approved my request to start bringing PC-based, networkable computers into the offices and we created a network with email, word processing , spreadsheets and a desktop publishing system.

I built the Realtors office system around the WordPerfect word processing system that also had a networking system based on its Office program.

On the road, I used a PC-based laptop with a built-in modem phone line port that I would use at motel/hotel rooms and airline club rooms.  Wi-Fi began to pop up.  Starbucks coffee shops offered one.  So did Borders bookstores and other locations.  Email systems improved.

The phone “beeper” I had carried for more than two decades became a Blackberry email device that would let me receive and send emails, first in metro areas and later around the country and some areas of the world.

During the terror attacks of Sept. 1, 2001, my Blackberry became the only communication device that worked in and around Washington as regular and cellular phone lines were overwhelmed and mostly unavailable.

Blackberry added remote phone capability about that time and my unit was my first “smartphone.”  Now we use iPhones.

In many ways, the electronic madness that now controls so much of our lives today began, for us, with a rudimentary computer with a 300-baud modem back 36 years ago.

Back then, I sat in airport phone booths with my Model 100 laptop attached to rubber cups to a phone with that 300-baud connection to the world.  Now, a President with a smartphone creates headlines and controversies with “tweets” sent wirelessly day and night.

Have we come a long way or are we digging ourselves into deeper holes into which to bury our heads?

Who knows?


© 2004-2021 Blue Ridge Muse

© 2021 Blue Ridge Muse