Dale and I wrote and sent out this missive to our colleagues in the Computer Services Division of Natal University 30 years ago:
"Our little laptop, weighing 3.58kg and measuring 52cm, was delivered to us in Germany on 1 June 1991. At the time of writing he is 2½ months old. He came without a manual, so we are not sure of his BIOS, and most books here have been written in a different language. We are still searching for Xy Write way to handle him. Every time we get an 'abort, retry, fail' message, only 'retry' seems to work!
We reboot him frequently to keep his hard drive spinning and then he has a good DOS (between 3.3 and 4.01 hours). During the last two weeks, however, we have found it unnecessary to reboot during the night, as his power supply maintains him for longer periods. However, we have found this form of demand run extremely exhausting and frequently feel we need a parity check ourselves! It is often difficult to debug him after rebooting - sometimes we encounter lost clusters either through corruption of his FAT or perhaps a virus. We then have to clear up his hard drive, usually with a complete reformat. Sometimes we have to refresh his whole spreadsheet. As with all babies, he cannot communicate his problems to us as he uses a different protocol/hand shaking, so we are often in despair when he gets into an endless loop of crying. We keep resending packets of information in the hope that something will get through. Hopefully his CPU will be able to process the information and archive it for future reference.
With regard to housekeeping, we are using disposable disk sleeves as we find them the most practical - they have to be changed so frequently!
Now that he keeps his flashing cursors open for longer periods, he needs to be entertained and this has resulted in ASCII number 1 being displayed on his VDU (☺). He is also beginning to support his own hardware at last.
What a trial these first few months have been - computers are much easier to understand... but don't give as much pleasure!"
BIOS - Basic Input/Output System
Xy Write - word processer for DOS and Windows
DOS - the Afrikaans word for sleep, and computer terminology for Disk Operating System
Demand run - to process data as needed
parity check - to detect errors to maintain the integrity of data
to debug - to find out what's wring and fix it
lost clusters - when a hard drive loses track of stored data files
FAT - File Allocation Table, a directory of where files are kept
hand shaking - an exchange of information that allows 2 machines to communicate
endless loop - a programming error resulting in no functional solution
CPU - Central Processing Unit
ASCII number 1 - a standard code for information interchange, the smiley face being number 1
VDU - Video Display Unit/screen