Boomers and seniors are often not given enough credit for being tech-savvy even though many were instrumental in inventing technology over the years. Here is Karl’s story, what he calls his “fall and rise” using computers and transferring earlier tech skills to today’s technology. Very impressive!

cover Karl’s story—This is a story about my computer activities and how I am keeping out of mischief now that I have retired. This story begins with the time when I really had no use for computer work until I changed my attitude. Instead of the rise and fall, I guess you could say the fall and rise. Having earned an electrical engineering degree from Northeastern University in the days of vacuum tubes instead of diodes, I think I was capable of handling the challenge.

It started in the 1960s when I took a course in Fortran, which had been designed by IBM as a scientific or numerical calculation program. I took a course at Boston College given by a very friendly priest from Mexico. Aside from the study of Fortran we had to study his translations, such as ‘Ressie pro kul’ which was his version of reciprocal! We had to write the program out with a single letter in each square on a piece of 1/4 inch graph paper. Then there were about four sites around the campus where we could access a teletype machine, by appointment. After the program was typed in it was saved by activating a roll of oiled paper that punched holes in the paper. We learned that you didn’t put that paper in your shirt pocket unless you wanted a grease spot on your shirt.

Earlier, as a student in the Needham, MA school department, we were fortunate to get a grant from Digital Equipment Corp (DEC) for  a couple of their new PDP 8 computers. I hope you never had to boot up one of those. That computer had a row of switches that you threw manually in a pattern, taking about three minutes to boot up the computer. There were a series of lights that flashed as you did these actions and the school principal, also our English teacher, referred to the machine as “the blinking idiot.”

HDRThese machines had programs such as Basic designed by Kemeny of Dartmouth College and Focal designed by someone at Bolt, Beraneck, and Newman in Cambridge, MA. They were very similar; one said ‘type’ and the other said ‘print’ or similar terms. By that time I had become the Director of Math for the town and was involved with the elementary program. I learned that Logo had been developed by Seymour Papert at MIT and others with a catchy little ‘turtle’ to do graphics on the screen. Well, that was interesting but now, attending conferences I found that ‘C’ was the new language of preference at the upper levels. That did it! By that time I knew four computer programming languages; people working on a degree were allowed to learn one of those as a second language skill. I did teach a course in Basic programming at the secondary level.

As a humorous story, I mistakenly spelled the name of a teacher, Marsha as Marcia. She complained and I assigned penance to myself by writing Marsha 500 times. I wrote a program, printed it out and gave it to her. She laughed and I was forgiven.

Fast forward to 1988 when I retired. I always enjoyed photography and joined a club in the neighboring town of Norfolk. I might say it is a fantastic club which grew so large the fire department made us move. We went to the senior center in Wrentham where we have a membership of 150 and a waiting list. Sometime after, I had gone to Vermont to watch my grandson’s bike race down the mountain. I wanted to show those pictures in some efficient manner so I inquired about how to do so. A member suggested that I use IrfanView. It is a free download and all you do is hit the space bar to go from one scene to the next. This was after my daughter offered me an old computer they were replacing so I installed Adobe PhotoShop Elements 5 to touch up the images.

By this time I was getting hooked on things I could do with my computer aside from writing BASIC programs. The first thing I did was to buy an Epson Perfection V500 Scanner. This allowed me to scan up to four slides at a time. We had taken a camping trip across the country one summer and had a whole bunch of slides that no one looked at. At the Stony Brook Camera Club people were showing off books they had produced. The process was done by a program called BLURB. Again a free download. With the kindness of one of the camera club members I got this working and made three copies of our trip across the country.

Later, I replaced the old computer with an HP w17e, a stronger and larger capacity computer. Now, with full use of the scanner as a copier I purchased a printer. This replaced my trips to the copy center. After several years I replaced my printer with a Canon iP7220 printer. I still didn’t like my prints and I found out that with a Canon printer you should use Canon paper. That helped but at camera club they had Spyder to borrow. Using that I improved my  quality of prints greatly.

As I continued on, I made a couple of more books. One was a four season book with flowers and views arranged by seasons. I liked it. As time went on, I saw a demonstration of OnOne software at the club and I got a copy and worked with it some. Another demonstration was of Lightroom. I did not like that but it was because I spent a lot of time on their very nice tutorials. Later I thought it was OK, but by that time Photoshop Elements was up to #10. When Photoshop Elements 12 came out I thought that was as good as it gets, especially in the EXPERT phase with the diverse options available. That is what I use now.Christmas

During the past 5 years I watched my wife develop Alzheimer’s Disease. As I thought about things and not knowing what to expect I thought, wouldn’t it be terrible if she started to clean out things and destroy all the wonderful recipes she had. So I went through her file box and folders and took out all the recipes that I knew so well. I scanned them. It was amazing to me that printed copies, handwritten copies, and even recipes torn from the side of a carton all scanned well. Using Blurb I put together several nice cookbooks that are as important to me as a photo album for memories. I use those recipes today.

Finally during last summer when she was in a nursing home, I spent a lot of time in the backyard where I have many flowers, plants, and weeds. Not knowing how things would progress, I decided I would take many pictures of different items with the idea of making another book soon. At present I am working on that using a title, “Around The Yard.” Another current project is studying the history of Walpole, MA, working with primary sources to write a history of the churches in town and preparing it for publication.

If you have any questions, please comment below and I will respond.

Editor’s Comment: Thanks so much to Karl West for his interesting story about his use of technology over a number of decades and the excellent photos included in this blog post. I am particularly impressed by Karl’s work with photography, writing books, and keeping memories as HIS technology focus, instead of what many think of technology today…Facebook, texting, and mind-numbing web surfing.