What Michael said #3

The first spreadsheet program that I learned was SuperCalc for DOS in the pre-Windows days. Then came SuperCalc for Windows with a whole new interface to learn. The same path was followed for word processing: WordPerfect for DOS and then WordPerfect for Windows. All were purchases for the personal computers that my group possessed. The rest of my workplace was on a mainframe computer (actually a ‘mini-computer’, the DEC PDP 11) so my lot was really ahead of the game and we could go our own way. Unfortunately the rest of the place eventually caught up with us and then it all became ‘corporate’.

One of the first corporate decisions was to adopt WordPerfect Office as the ‘productivity’ software of choice. From my perspective that was fine for the word processing part of the package, but not so good for the spreadsheet as I now had to learn Borland’s offering for Windows: Quattro Pro. It also introduced Paradox as its database offering and Presentations as its slideshow application. Not to worry, though, we picked up on these until not that many years later it all changed again. Microsoft ruled the corporate world, so it was “Goodbye” to WordPerfect, Quattro Pro, Paradox and Presentations and “Hello” to Word, Excel, Access and Powerpoint.

Learning the new programs was tedious when you could do things so much quicker with the software that you had left behind and, often, the WordPerfect offerings were better than Microsoft’s. Add to that the translation of numerous macros from one language to another and things really got tedious – so much for increasing productivity.

Nevertheless, for the next decade or so things were reasonably stable and we had the internet to ourselves; no mass access to the World Wide Web in those days. And then the Web came to everyone, or so it seemed, with the burgeoning of social media. Friends Reunited looked interesting, but then it was MySpace and finally Facebook. (I got on to Facebook in 2015 and left it in 2016 thinking: “What’s wrong with the pub?“). But now we have, among others: Messenger, WhatsApp, Tumblr, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Google+, YouTube, Viber, WordPress, Yammer and Snapchat. All of which can be used fairly superficially (easy!) or can be delved into to exploit their real power (a bit harder).

What impresses me is how younger folk take to the ‘harder’ inner workings of these newer applications so readily, and how it seems to get a bit more difficult as you get older even if you have lived with Microsoft since DOS version 3, can program Windows applications using an object-oriented programming paradigm and even wrote reasonably complex code on the old Hewlett Packard programmable calculators in reverse Polish notation. Personally, I take comfort from Michael Graham’s war-time confession

What Michael said:

Many of us strive to keep our bodies supple, but we do not have much success with our minds. I remember that I only just managed to learn the elements of wireless telegraphy during the last of my ‘teens; but the boys who followed me knew it all.

Plus ça change! Time to take up brain-training methinks (or maybe just Sudoku).

Postscript#1: Graham was writing during the 1940s when it generally was ‘the boys who followed’ and not the girls. Sad to say that in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) it is still mainly ‘the boys’ that follow even 80 years after Graham’s quote.

(My workplace is trying to work towards greater inclusion and gender equality in STEM subjects. One of our tools is Yammer where my skills encompass the easy-to-access shallow end of its capability; I won’t be stressing my grey matter to delve into its depths).

Postscript#2: As a Brit of a certain age, my preference would be to refer to the object-oriented programming paradigm as the object-orientated paradigm. I once googled why the former prevails. Mostly, it seems, it is because ‘to orient’ is the common American usage of the same verb that UK English would reference as ‘to orientate’.

Interestingly, North Americans that comment on the issue find the verb ‘to orientate’ to be irritating (or should that be irriting?) whereas ‘to orient’ seems irritating to the Brits (apparently orient is more common than orientate in British use today, but I suspect that may be due to its use in computer programming paradigms – you don’t see it used much elsewhere).

My understanding is that evidence indicates that orientate evolved in UK English from orient, so it seems be an example of an English word that evolved further in the UK after North America was colonised whereas its original form was maintained across the pond. I recall the author Bill Bryson making the same point about other words that we Brits now refer to dismissively as ‘Americanisms‘ when, in fact, they are the original British forms of the words that we now use.

Personally, I think object-based would do!

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😎 Former scientist, now graduated to a life of leisure; Family man (which may surprise the family - it certainly surprises him); Likes cycling and old-fashioned B&W film photography; Dislikes greasy-pole-climbing 'yes men'; Thinks Afterlife (previously known as Thea Gilmore) should be much better known than she is; Values decency over achievement.

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