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Interview With Regina West, Author of The Long Way Home

Regina West

Regina West is a romance and erotica novelist who signed with Pandamoon Publishing last year. She is a mother of two boys, plays classical guitar, lives in Lakewood, Colorado and is a huge fan of chocolate. I asked her a few questions and this is how it went.

Her first novel, The Long Way Home is due out in a couple of weeks. (See review posted July 11, 2014). Earlier this year she and I talked about her upcoming novel and her life in the Rocky Mountain state.

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Elgon – Imagine for a moment that you’re a famous, bestselling author. They’re making a movie out of your most recent book. What do you do next to top that you’ve already achieved?

Regina West – I gotta say…if that happens, I doubt I’ll bother topping it.  I’d keep writing, sure, but I’d spend an inordinate amount of time rolling around naked in my piles of money while sipping umbrella drinks at my beach house in Tahiti.

EW – Creative people tend to be spontaneous. In particular, most people think that writers are at least a little crazy. Tell us the most unusual thing you have done in your real life that doesn’t directly relate to writing.

RW – I am way too much of a control freak to be spontaneous.  Crazy, yes.  Spontaneous, not so much.  I suppose the most unusual thing I’ve done was go-kart racing.  Most of the time, I was the only girl racing, and, believe it or not, I was good at it.  Not many women have that claim to fame.  I tend to think of myself as a NASCAR driver – driving too fast, doing fishtails in empty parking lots. Just ask the Colorado Highway Patrol.

EW – Creativity comes in many ways – for example, painting, photography, sculpture, music and theater. What other things do you do or have you done that are examples of using your imagination or other artistic talents?

RW – As a child, I took dance lessons for many years and spent a great deal of my spare time choreographing routines.  Even now, if I hear a catchy song on the radio, I can envision dance steps in my head.  In adulthood, I began taking classical guitar lessons and fell in love with that, but, unfortunately, with all the other things going on in my life, I’ve had to put it down for now.  I truly miss making music.

EW – Where do you see yourself at this moment in your life had you never decided to write a book?

RW – I think I’d be right where I am now.  Writing is a lovely, all-encompassing experience, but the pay sucks.  So, for the most part, I think I’d still be working full-time, spending time with my kids, and generally growing as a person.  I’d probably spend far less time on social media, though.

EW – Family and relationships are important in peoples’ lives. So, it is little surprise that there are relationships between characters in books. How closely do the interactions in your books mirror your real life?

RW – Well, I write romance, so I take the sexual tension everyday real-life people might feel and ramp it up about a thousand notches.  That said, there are bits and pieces of me and people I’ve known in all the characters I’ve ever created, so the interactions are similar, albeit far more dramatic.

A prime example from The Long Way Home is when my introverted main character, Twilah, meets her future best friend, Victoria.  Victoria is bold, outgoing, and has nothing to lose, which chafes against Twilah’s more cautious nature, so her first reaction is an odd mixture of curiosity and mistrust.  I’ve had the same initial response to my extroverted friends.  It can take a long while for someone who spends a lot of time hiding behind her personal inner walls to understand someone with no walls at all, but once the trust is built, these two opposites become inseparable pieces of a puzzle.

Many thanks to Regina West for taking the time to answer a few questions.  The Long Way Home, her first novel, will be released through Pandamoon Publishing on July 30, 2014.

About The Long Way Home:

Forty-two-year-old Twilah Dunn has it all – a thriving ad agency in Los Angeles she shares with her business partner who is also her fiancé. But one phone call changes everything and leaves Twilah with a dead father, a cheating fiancé, and a score to settle.

She returns to her small hometown in North Carolina determined to sell her father’s horse farm and use the money to buy her business out from under her cheating fiancé, but her plans change when she sees the farm’s dilapidated state. She can’t bear the thought of leaving it that way.

Against all reason, she trades her fast-paced, high-stakes city life for a down-home, country one to restore her childhood home to its former glory. But she knows she can’t do it alone.

She hires sexy, forty-something cowboy Aidan Perry to help her do it. Soon, she can’t keep her mind or her hands off him, but rumors of his dark past loom. Besides, she’s been burned before by mixing business with pleasure.

Will Twilah push through her fear and let herself love Aidan? Will his mysterious past prove too dangerous? Has she really left Los Angeles behind? For some, the way to happiness is the long, winding road home.

Contact Ms West on her website or the social media links below:

Blog: http://www.reginawest.com

Twitter: @ginawestauthor

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/reginawestromanceauthor

Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7223916.Regina_West

You can also learn more about her book at:

http://pandamoonpublishing.com/pandamoon/reginawest.html

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#TheLongWayHome #ReginaWest #NewReleaseBooks #MustReadBooks #PandamoonPublishing #writing #NewAuthor #Colorado

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Put off that beach trip… Review of Regina West’s The Long Way Home

My advice: put a hold on the beach trip until your copy of Regina West’s new novel arrives. The Long Way Home is this summer’s must read. But you don’t have long to wait. It’s due out at the end of the July in eBook and paperback.

Twilah Dunn is a partner in a successful, LA-based, advertising firm. In fact, her ideas and skill with the clients has made the firm what it is. But one day her comfortable life is turned upside-down. She receives a phone call from her old hometown. Her father with whom she did not have the best of relationships has died. She goes to the house she shares with her fiancé needing comfort from him but instead catches him in bed cheating on her with her best friend. Suddenly, her trip back to her North Carolina roots to settle her father’s final affairs takes on a completely new purpose. In the process of getting away from her present she discovers a new potential for a future she never expected.

Although The Long Way Home is a romance in every sense, it is also about relationships. This well-crafted love story brings together two people whose pasts have all but defeated them. Drawn to one another by circumstance as well as mutual need, Twilah Dunn and Aidan Perry discover deeper connections to the people of a small Southern town and the land of her ancestors as the two of them address intense desires for one another.

The book is introduces us to memorable characters and through realistic dialogue. The pacing effectively delivers the combination of mystery and suspense along with the steamy bits you expect from the genre. The result holds undivided attention from start to conclusion. Regina West distinguishes herself as a storyteller, creating a compelling tale about friendships and family where traditional small town values collide with reality of the modern life.

Regina West

#mustreadbooks #bookreview #newreleasebooks #TheLongWayHome #ReginaWest, #newauthor

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The Zone – Being Creative On Autopilot

 

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Fried Windows strikes a few chords with a lot of people who read it. What’s interesting is how many different things people take from it. Some have asked me If I planned that, or did I intend for this to be in there. Not wanting to be as evasive as this sounds, the answer is yes and no.

Any author of fiction will tell you about his or her method of writing – where and when they do it, and what the experience is like. For some it is scheduled at a certain time of the day. For others it is more spontaneous and serendipitous Others will tell you about being in The Zone.

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It’s a place that, if you’re lucky, you get to where the words flow well and almost everything you write is pretty darned close to perfect and magical in the first rough draft. No, it doesn’t last for more than a couple of hours or  maybe four. When you emerge from the state you are drained and pretty-much unable to write anything else. But what you’ve written is a keeper.

That’s not to say it might need some revision. It’s not to say that something else might need to connect with it to complete the vision you wish to convey. But you know you won’t discard what you just wrote. It is good enough that even in a raw state you just feel there is something special about it. It shines.

Maybe if you stayed in The Zone all the time you’d burn out or wind up a babbling idiot – not that I’m not getting there for other reasons. I believe writers and other artists can force their minds into an alpha wave state similar to dreaming but do it while conscious and functioning. While there we lose track of everything else and the creative energies of the universe flow through us.

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Okay, that’s out there. I’ll grant that. But I know there are some artistic folks reading this nodding their head right now

What separates authors from writers is the ability to find The Zone on a fairly regular basis. For a while, because of a lot of other issues in my daily existence (I won’t call it a life because it certainly didn’t merit being called that) I drank in order to get there. I believe other artists use drugs or alcohol to read a near meditative state of consciousness. Others can find it in different ways. When I wrote Fried Windows, for example, I had quit drinking. In response to a personal challenge I wrote a poem and from that exercise I reconnected wight he feelings and sensations of being a child. Also, I relayed that the child I had been fifty years ago was still there alive and well inside of me.

I’m not saying that a writer can’t produce good stuff worthy of accolades if he or she was not in The one while writing it. It’s just being there kicks things up to another level. When you can  connect with The Zone daily for a period of time what you write has universal appeal. Others will pay attention to it and enjoy in a special way.

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I don’t know if being The Zone is a gift or blessing; it just happens. After a while, if you have been practicing putting your feelings into words and expressing everything you sense in as much detail as possible, you make the connection. Reading the words of other authors who are adept at doing what you strive to achieve will help you get there. But at some point you really must shut out the world around you and allow whatever it is that compels you to write, your inspiration, to drive the process.

Being in The Zone is a high and like a drug it gives you an emotional surge and a physical rush. After you’ve been there you can’t wait to get back there. Connecting regularly with your muse or whatever you term what it is that gives you the experience is something you cannot turn away from. I sort of think that inspiration is only a guide, showing you the way that will lead you to The Zone. It takes some effort and concentration to be creative but that lays the foundation for finding you way top the euphoria of achieving art at a higher level of consciousness.

My mind is far from the adventure land that some may believe it is. I will admit to not being normal and even state proudly that I have never wanted tone considered normal. There are a lot of things going on in my head including fears, self-doubt of unrealized potential and misguided ambitions. In everything I have done in life, though, I have attempted to be the best I could b. Writing has been the only thing I have done that allows me to feel accomplishment without questioning why I did it. I answer to no one else when I write. I do it because I must for my survival as a human being.

A while agoI wrote in this blog about not being in competition with other writers. I truly believe that. Every writer had his or her reason for doing what they do. All that matters is that we write better today than we did yesterday or the day before. If we can continually improve we will eventually write something others will want to read. A part of that is finding the path to The Zone. Once there it’s obvious why we do what we do. It’s like everything else in the world shuts down. We float in our imaginations for hours.

There is are not breaks from the moment of being in The Zone. The phone may ring but it goes unanswered and unacknowledged. Cars drive by outside your house or apartment but no one hears. Anyone with the great misfortune to know and live with you will be ignored. While in The Zone hours elapse that seem like they passed in seconds. The duration is evident from the pages generated and the feeling of satisfaction when the words are read even if you wonder where some of them came from.

The Zone is unlimited and not exclusive to those of us who can dream wide awake. It is a level of heightened awareness that transcends being alert. All artists experience it. I’ve known professional musicians who feel it when they have written hit song, for example. When it comes it seems easy and you wonder how you ever missed making the connection before.

When I wrote the core sixteen short stories that followed the first 5000 words of Fried Windows I had those feelings daily for about a month. At times during the revisions, when I was writing connective pieces and additional story elements, I felt it again. It was like I knew the connection was there and what was emerging was magical, beyond anything I had ever written. That’s why I had no doubt the book will be successful. Everyone who reads it shares the magic that somehow passed through me while I was in The Zone for those periods during its composition

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Geek Week Special: Twenty Years On A Computer, Part 3

As I continued to attend the monthly computer fairs and watch some of the vendors build machines from parts, I was gaining confidence that I could actually do this myself. All I needed to know was what went where and why. Asking a lot of questions of computer savvy people, reading everything I could about PC’s and doing some searching of the forums on Compuserve helped.

Somewhere in that process I actually reconnected with a couple of people I hadn’t spoken to since high school. I learned that since I moved away and pretty much dropped off the face of the earth as far as my classmates were concerned, some people thought I might have died. We exchanged emails for a while and brought one another up to date about life events. Obviously I hadn’t attended any class reunions and that continued into the future as between a father of three, living far enough away that it would require taking time off from work and working for retailer who refused to give me more than one week off at a time combined to making the idea nearly impossible. But I was using the computer in different ways and finding that it was useful.

Also my kids, especially my son, were beginning to take a more active interest in it. So I began to consider upgrading to a new computer and letting my son and daughters have the existing computer. My wife and I discussed it a few times. She suggested saving the money to buy a new one at the store but I was adamantly set on building my own because I believed I could save money and have a much better machine.

For one thing, I wanted to get a bigger monitor. In order to drive that to full color at a high resolution I would need a graphics accelerator with its own memory. I knew what kind of sound card I wanted as well as the processor and amount of RAM. I was looking at the future, running the new operating system everyone at the computer fairs was talking about, so I needed to build a machine that would be designed to run Windows 95.

In April of 1995 my son and I flew down to Florida to visit my parents. While there we spent some time at the amusement parks and went to the beach. It was a father son trip intended to be a bonding experience as my son was approaching nine years old.

When I returned to work I felt as if I were coming down with the flu. The symptoms were so severe that I actually called out sick – which was something I never did before. I had a extremely high fever and couldn’t get out of bed all weekend.

Since I had a heart murmur that was diagnosed when I was in the military my primary care physician was a cardiologist. I knew of the dangers of bacterial infections and always pre-medicated prior to dentist visits. I was very careful. However, while I had been in Florida, I had cut my foot on a sharp rock while at the beach. Through that wound, whether it was while I was in the ocean or in the shower after coming back from the beach, bacteria entered my bloodstream and began attacking my heart valve. After suffering through a weekend, with my elevated fever, at times approaching 104 F, my wife insisted I go to the doctor. They ran some blood tests and immediately sent me to the hospital where I would be treated for a month and eventually have open-heart surgery to replace my defective heart valve. Scary times.

While I was in the hospital there was little else to do than sleep, watch the O.J. Simpson trail on TV or read. Everyone brought magazines and books on computers to the hospital. Quite possibly I learned more about PC’s in that month than at any other period of my life.

When I was finally released I was recovering for a couple of months and had even more time to learn about computers. Once I was allowed to drive again, I attended a computer fair with every intention of buying the components to build my dream computer except when I had someone price that out for me it seemed it was going to cost a lot more than just having someone build a computer for me with the same specifications. I opted for the latter.

When I returned home with the new computer and a 15” monitor I was excited but my wife was less than enthusiastic. She thought it was stupid to have bought a computer the way I had. I should have waited and bought a ‘real’ one, meaning a name brand machine, certainly not a no name clone. Still I was happy for a while. The machine was much faster, sporting a Pentium 100 MHz and 16MB of 66MHz memory and graphic card with 1MB of RAM onboard. It was running Windows 3.11, which was designed for workgroups, something to do with networking which I didn’t intend to do but otherwise the operating system worked the same way.

That machine became my playground for learning everything about repairing, upgrading and replacing components. Systematically I changed out everything on that computer over the next year, except for the motherboard and processor. Always wanting a faster machine, I added memory, switched graphics cards, upgraded the sound card and eventually ordered a 17 inch monitor online that was delivered to my door a few days before Christmas. The kids’ computer received the 15” monitor.

I didn’t upgrade to Windows 95 right away, although I did stand in line outside at CompUSA the night it was released to get my upgrade copy. I had heard it was always wise of wait until the bugs were identified and fixes made. So, I waited a couple of months and read everything I could about the upgrade process and the experiences, good and bad, that people were having with it. Finally, when I felt comfortable that everything would work fine, and that I had the necessary drivers for everything on my computer, I inserted the install disc in my CD-ROM drive and began the process.

At first it went smoothly. After an hour or so my computer was running Windows 95. But not every program I used with Windows 3.11 was functioning properly. Some of the programs that ran in DOS didn’t like the new version of DOS that supported Windows 95. Other programs needed to be upgraded. So it took a few weekends to address the problems. At times I needed to call Microsoft tech support. I took notes. Some of the problems I was experiencing baffled the first level support people so I talked to second level techs at times. Some of the problems were so unique that they called me back when they figured out a work around or a solution.

Microsoft tech support walked me through editing the system registry, exiting out into DOS to use the text editor to rewrite certain system files and even showed me a couple of back doors that I wasn’t supposed to remember – but of course did. Problem-by-problem I received a crash course in computer software troubleshooting and an education directly from Microsoft experts. Eventually, from having so much experience reinstalling everything from a clean format of my hard drive I became something of a Windows 95 guru.

On the hardware side of everything, the only way to make my computer any faster was to upgrade the level two cache memory on the motherboard. It was a minor tweak to the speed but, in addition to upgrading to a 120MHz process – which was the fastest my motherboard would support, I wanted to maximize the performance. So I ordered the computer memory chips for my board along with a tool to extract the old memory chips and install the new ones to take my system from 256 kB to 512 kB.

That upgrade worked well for about an hour before I experienced a system failure from which my computer never recovered. Obviously I had performed the work properly, otherwise the computer would have never rebooted after installing the new cache memory. But something failed. Perhaps the motherboard was never intended to run the things I had installed. Maybe it was just overworked or I caused a hairline stress crack in one of the silicon layers in the process of removing the old cache and installing the new. At any rate, it was pretty clear that I needed to replace my motherboard. So I went to a computer shop with my tower and had them verify that the motherboard was fried. They recommended a new motherboard that would support everything I had already installed but also it would support up to a 200 MHz processor – one that did not yet exist using something called MMX technology.

Although I considered having a go at installing the board myself, I opted to allow professionals do it. It took them less than a hour.

I couldn’t believe how much faster my computer was after changing the motherboard. The memory and processor were the same as was all the component cards. Still it booted up faster and the execution of everything seemed crisper. I used that computer, upgrading the graphics card and sound card again and upgraded the hard drive. But of course when the new MMX enabled processors came out up to speeds of 200MHz, I had to have one of those. And it sort of worked in my motherboard except that the system kept crashing. A phone call to the motherboard manufacturer’s tech support confirmed that although the design supports a 200 MHz processor, it was made prior to Intel actually finalizing the processor design. I was now the proud owner of a processor that didn’t work with my motherboard.

#computers #upgrades #processors #motherboards #technology

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Integrity in Life and Writing

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These days the word ‘integrity’ may have lost a lot of its meaning for most people. After all we are lied to constantly from every direction until we come to accept that nothing is really as it seems. We suspect everyone and everything, even expecting that our institutions are not always honest with us. But one of the many good lessons I learned from my father years ago was to be honest and truthful. My dad taught me to have integrity because, as he said, you have to be able to sleep at night with a clear conscience.

I bring this subject up because over the course of the past couple of weeks I’ve learned a lot about the modern state of affairs in the publishing business and a lot of what I have learned disgusts me. Maybe what is going on hasn’t infected all levels. I hope that is the case. Certainly no one associated with my publisher condones the activity. And as far as I know all the authors with whom I associate do not participate in any unethical activities regarding the promotion of their books. None of them would risk losing their credibility with their readers and fans. Still I’m appalled that what I have heard is going on and is perhaps a lot more widespread than I might think.

For some of it I suppose Amazon is partially to blame. It wasn’t intentional as I can’t see why any business would support such a thing. But here it is, bold faced and out in the open. A short time ago I was asked in a quid pro quo sort of way to post a review for a book that I had not read in exchange for someone doing the same for me and my latest book. Of course, I declined the offer for reasons of personal integrity. If I review a book I have read it. And I expect the same of others who review my books.

It makes me wonder, though. How many of the reviews others have posted on Amazon are real? I’d like to think the vast majority are and those that aren’t the author knew nothing about. But now I have some doubts because some authors are writing their own reviews and providing the verbiage to others to post just to pad-out their totals with five-star reviews.

I don’t agree with all of Amazon’s policies or practices but, as the 800-pound gorilla that they are in the publishing world, everyone has to deal with the reality that they account for upwards of 80% of all books sold. They have acceptance criteria for reviews that sometimes allow for mistakes and people taking advantage of the system. Every author is exposed to the possibility of people posting nasty and untrue things about their books and it’s a long, difficult process to get Amazon to remove a review once it has been posted. So, for the most part, you live with the unfair criticisms as well as the honest ones.

However, I’m appalled that not only are some authors writing reviews for others to post on their behalf but also some reviewers charge fees for the service they offer, whether or not they actually read a book. This smacks in the face of credibility for both the author and the reviewer. I’m sure if Amazon had proof of such things going on they would remove the reviews and perhaps ban the reviewer as well as the author. But how do you prove such a thing is happening?

I’m only aware of the practice because I was approached and ensured that it is done often. It was explained to me that there is additional promotional support offered to books having many favorable reviews. Gained attention for a new book may push it into the ranks of a best seller in a genre or category, which will help push the book even higher on recommended lists. Apparently 50 reviews is a magical number that opens a lot of doors for authors in getting recognition. As I’m not there yet I can’t say directly if this is the case but what was explained to me makes some sense of how the process works.

I’m reporting this to make others aware that some reviews may not be true and honest appraisals of a book. Be especially suspicious of reviews that gloss over details or seem especially slick as if they are promotional pitches. Also, I want to assure everyone that every review posted for my books has been the legitimate result of someone reading the work. With Fried Windows I sent out a number of advance copies to fellow authors and reviewers. At no time did I pay any fee to anyone or make any arrangement other than the customary ‘I’ll read your book if you’ll read mine’. That is totally legitimate and highly ethical. The reviewer receives a free copy of the book in exchange for the review and there is no guidance or expectation of the review rating.

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When I post a review for something I had read it is an honest appraisal. The reason my reviews are mainly in the four and five star range is a reflection of two things. First, I do not post any reviews for any work that I feel does not merit at least 4 or 5 stars. It’s a personal thing. I know how hard it is to write a book a publish it. If a book needs serious attention in editing or structural revision I will inform the author separately and decline to post a review. I offer to review the book again once the problems have been fixed. Second, no one pays me for my reviews. I don’t consider myself a professional book critic. I tend to find the good in every story and give far more weight to the quality of storytelling than the mechanics of language. I ignore a lot of wrong words and mistakes, though I will note them and mention them to the author so they can be fixed.

I don’t post reviews for books I don’t want to read. Generally I will read a variety of genres, but there are some types of books that I do not prefer and generally I don’t read those. If I am not familiar with a genre I will mention it in my review and judge the book on its merits as a story not how well it fits into a specific genre. As my own work tends to span several genres I hate the necessity of categorizing books especially since Amazon and others require a book to be assigned one or a very few genres. Labels serve as an aid in searching for books of similar subject matter. I get that. A reader wants to know what he or she is getting in advance of purchasing it. I’m just saying that all fantasy or sci-fi books are not the same and the fact that mine are considered in those genres may not reflect the actual content of the book. My stories contain romance, mystery and many other things as well.

I’m not sure how Amazon can effectively police the review process. That’s up to them. I don’t want to see them go to an extreme where they require verified purchases for the posting of reviews because that will prevent legitimate reviews based on author/publisher supplied advance readers copies (ARC’s). That would be unfair to the author who is operating within accepted industry standards for receiving critical attention for a new book prior to its official launch.

The matter rests with each individual author and his or her artistic integrity. Rest assured that to the best of my knowledge every review posted for any of my books is a real review from someone who has read the book.

#reviews #integrity #authors #Amazon #books

 

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Geek Week Special: Twenty Years On A Computer – Part 2

The computer I’d purchased a few months before became a puzzle to me. When that happened it became an irresistible source of fascination. I’m like that about solving problems. It’s my sort of OCD.

The next time I went to The Wiz to look other games for the kids that would work I decided to hang out and eavesdrop on the conversations between the sales persons and the customers, figuring I might learn something. Whether anyone knew what he or she was talking about was immaterial at that point. If they knew anything about computers they knew more than I did.

At work, when there was a chance, I picked the brains of everyone who owned a personal computer. They told me I needed to defragment my hard drive from time to time and that there was a program in DOS for doing that. Who knew that was important? Also I learned about how HIMEM.SYS, the magical file that loaded at the DOS level during the boot process, would allow Windows to load into upper memory. You see, it was a kind of shell game, actually. Everything had to fit into DOS memory for the computer to be happy, but Windows needed far more than the 640 kBs of room allocated. HIMEM.SYS performed a trick loading a 10 kB flag into DOS memory to redirect Windows into upper memory where it could find enough room but in the profess DOS believed all of it fit neatly into DOS memory. Nice trick.

Around that time was also the first occasion I heard the infamous quote attributed to Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, that he could not conceive of anyone every needing more than 512 kb of memory. Some of that philosophy was related to the laws of the legacy architecture of the first IBM PC.

Yes, it sounds silly, doesn’t it? But that was exactly what was going on. Beneath which shell is the pea hiding? Later on, as Microsoft persisted in their attempts to make a better operating system, this little trick resulted in what became termed a memory leak that necessitated periodic rebooting of the operating system to clear out the flags resident in DOS memory.

There were problems with DOS memory beyond how Windows loaded, though. Because of HIMEM.SYS, loading a DOS game from Windows didn’t work. The program could not access the sound card, for example. So, with games like the Disney one my daughter wanted to use I needed to exit to DOS and load the game there. However, the reason he game was telling me I didn’t have enough memory was because I had to boot up the computer into DOS from the start.

My friends explained that playing with the order of execution of all those strange 8.3 files names that displayed on the screen while booting up in DOS could remedy the problem with my daughter DOS game.

As 1994 wore on, started buying copies of PC Magazine and other publications in more effort to learn everything there is to know about PCs. Also, my wife at the time invited her Korean friend and her American ex-GI husband over to dinner. He was reportedly a computer guru of some kind. If he knew anything at all about DOS he knew more than I did.

He helped me edit the order of execution in AUTOEXEC.BAT and CONFIG.SYS and the result gave my daughters game enough memory to play properly. He resolved several other mysteries about how everything worked together as far as the computer was concerned. He invited me to attend a computer fair with him the first weekend of the upcoming month. It was held at a nearby hotel. He promised that I would learn more than I could ever want to know about computer if I went there, watched and learned.

Often since, I’ve wondered if that was the real beginning of my quest for more knowledge, that if I had not gone to the computer fair would I have continued to pursue learning everything I eventually would about computers? I might have found the answers to all my questions in a different way. But the fact was that going there excited me to learn more about building PC’s. That became one of my objectives, actually building my own system from component parts. Still, I knew I had a long way to go before being at that level of skill or understanding.

Also, it was while I was at the show I first learned or other operating systems besides Windows 3.1. There was Windows NT 3.51, OS/2 Warp 3.0 and I heard some talk about a rumored revolutionary new version of Windows that was to-be-released sometime in 1995.

Most of my free time I was converting pages of text into digital files. The scanner worked, sort of. The OCR program was not very accurate, so I ended up editing the ext. So I wants sure how much time it was actually saving me. Eventually I ended up manually transcribing the pages, typing them into a digital format because, in doing so, I could revise what I’d written years ago. I very long and involved process of converting thousands of pages of notes, stores and journals began that would take the next three years or weekends and some vacations.

As the document files grew I noticed how slow my computer really was. Repaginating changes to existing large document files took seconds to complete. So I ended up creating multiple documents, one for each chapter, in an effort to minimize the lag when the document needed to update with any changes I made. Still, it was considerably faster to editing things on the computer than it was to retype a page or cut and paste thing together using scissors and tape. I could already see the potential benefit of a computer for creating a book.

In the next installment, I go from knowing enough about computers to be dangerous to actually learning to build one from scratch, the essential step to becoming a computer technician.

#nostalgic #computers #PC’s #DOS #Windows #computertech

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Geek Week Special: Twenty Years On A Computer – Part 1

As a computer geek I have officially proclaimed this a Geek Week and as such I’ll be posting a nostalgic story about my personal evolution with computers. Some may find the references to older hardware quaint. Others may empathize with my quest for knowledge as I recount going from computer novice to computer guru. But I think anyone who has ever used a personal computer will be able to relate to a lot of this.

Actually, it was twenty and a half years ago that I started to use a personal computer. It’s just that except for playing solitaire most of the time I sat at my desk staring at the Windows 3.1 screen filled with icons wondering why I ever paid $1600 for a machine that substituted for a deck of cards.

I worked in retail management, so I didn’t have a lot of free time anyway. The computer was something I resisted buying for as a long as possible because I’d heard they become obsolete really fast. It was January when my now ex-wife decided we needed to look for a computer, ostensibly for the kids because our son was seven going on eight and our oldest daughter was in kindergarten while my youngest was in preschool. I suppose it sort of made sense. We could foresee that the kids were going to grow up in a world of computers and we wanted them to have every possible advantage in life.

We went to the nearest Nobody Beats The Wiz store in Meriden, CT. It was just a few miles from where we lived in Wallingford. They were having a sale on some things, as always and were offering special financing on their store credit card. We had one of those too. I’d heard about PC’s and Macs, of course. The store carried both platforms. I didn’t have a side in that battle because I never thought I needed a computer. The store carried both so I figured we’d get the story and make a choice.

I liked the way the Macs looked as opposed the variety of PC’s but in my wife’s logic PC’s were better because there was more software titles available. As we perused aisle after aisle of boxes of PC software she continued to make her point. Then she stopped at the section for Mac and pointed out how few the options were, with a waving gesture and a vocalized, “See.”

I shook my head. “It looks to me like everything you need to do on a computer is pretty much covered right here, though.” I pointed out that the couple of software vendors representative supported the Apple platform very well. “I mean how many different word processors do you need for a computer?”

“We need PC. It does Windows.” She explained in her customary truncated way with a Korean accent.  She didn’t see my point.  Neither did she want to acknowledge that Microsoft, the maker of Windows for the PC, was one of the software developers for Macs. Her mind was made up and I knew form experience there wasn’t a point in debating the matter further. The number of software titles available was the only reason we ended up looking at PC’s as opposed to Macs.

ibm_ps1_1s

The salesperson was helpful enough in supporting her cause. Personally he owned a PC and claimed that everyone he knew who had a Mac complained about having compatibility issues with PCs. Then he went over the differences between IBM’s line of computers and the various ‘clones’. “We buy the real thing,” my wife said. So we opted for the IBM Consultant line of computers. There were essentially two models we were deciding between. One sported a zippy new Intel Pentium running at a blistering 60Mhz. The price for the latest system including a 14 inch monitor was $2400. The other was last years state of the art checking in at $1600. I was thinking along the lines of getting the best available because it would have at least a year less obsolescence, but the salesperson said there was a error in the Pentium’s math co-processor. Not that it was really going to cause any problems for anyone using it for a home computer but that soured my wife on the Pentium. Also she saw the Intel 486 25MHz model as a viable alternative, kind of ‘on sale’. It looked almost exactly like the Pentium model, ran all the same software and it could be upgraded with a chip to run at 50 MHz. In fact, the salesperson explained we could upgrade the modem from 300 baud to the lasted thing which was a 28,800 bps deluxe modem – except that he said the fasted online services available used either 9,600 or 14,400. The system came with 4MB of RAM and a 170MB hard drive. The RAM could be upgraded as could the hard drive, the salesperson explained, but the system used something called disc compression to more efficiently use its space so it was like having 240 MB of room.

All those numbers and options swirled around in my head. At the time I barely knew anything about computers. When I was in college we used mainframes to write batch programs on punch cards. Right before I graduated the upperclassmen in computer science were allowed to use the CRT terminals to process their programs. I had been pretty good at writing programs, though. So I sort of fancied the idea of maybe buying the software for writing programs for a PC and selling them on the side.

We got the system home, unpacked, hooked up and I turned it on. It booted up successfully to the Windows screen. Success! Now what?

“You figure out,” my wife said. “You show kids.”

Six months after the purchase, I was still trying to figure out a lot of things about the computer. For one, why did I needed AOL, Prodigy and Compuserve? Couldn’t I just use one or the other of them for connecting to this thing called The Internet so I could start sending and receiving emails? Oh, and by the way, who was I supposed to be sending emails to anyway? Except for a few guys at work, I didn’t know anyone who had a computer. Which one of the online services was better? That was the essence of my dilemma. The few times I had been online using Prodigy, I noticed how slow things seemed. I tired AOL but couldn’t figure out how to use it. And Compuserve had all these things called Forums that I didn’t understand.

I mentioned to one of my computer savvy friends at work how slow my computer seemed when it was connected online. He told me to upgrade to a 14,400 bps modem. He said 28,800 was wasting my money since no one used that yet. And the best thing about the faster modems was that they could be used for faxing things in a snap. I could create faxes on the computer and send them out. Oh, and I could buy a scanner and use that along with a printer and my PC would act just like a fax machine.

So, I paid $1600 for a deck of cards and a fax machine. What else could this thing do that was useful?

Somewhere along the line I noticed a word processor was included in a program called Microsoft Works. My friend at work told me Works was an office program for homeowners. He said businesses use programs like Lotus 1,2,3 or Office. The idea occurred to me that something I could do with my computer was take those boxes of typed pages that I had produced in my effort to write the great American novel and somehow convert them into files stored on the computer. That way I edit them without literally cutting and pasting paper. Yeah, that was how editing was done back in the day, you know? Finally, there was something sort of useful I can do with this $1600 machine.

The kids for whom the PC was originally purchased had watched me use it a couple of times. My son played solitaire on it. The girls weren’t very interested in sitting in one place long enough to learn much about it. None of them were yet using computers int he classroom. My boy expressed interest in playing some video games if I’d install them. The ones he wanted said they’d work on the computer.

I took a vacation week in the middle of the summer. It was a slower time of year for my departments, so they wouldn’t miss me much at the store. I decided to return to The Wiz and ask a bunch of questions and make my computer useful. First order of business was upgrading the hardware as much as possible. Second was buying some software to entice the kids to using it. Third was getting a printer and maybe a scanner because my wife was thinking about starting a business and she could use the computer for sending and receiving faxes.Also someone at work said there was a way of scanning a page of text and having the computer convert it into a digital file using optical character recognition. I wanted to do that to all those typewritten pages.

When I arrived at The Wiz I looked for my salesperson from months ago, but it was his day off. His boss was there, though. We talked about modems first. His take on it made some sense. Eventually everyone will be using 28,800 and it wasn’t that much more expensive Also adding in the extra memory would make the computer faster as well as dropping in the DX2 math coprocessor that make my machine purr at 50MHz. Oh and there was a 540MB hard drive available. I could have plenty of room for storing all the files I’d be creating with my scanner as well as the new ones I’d be writing. There would even be enough room for storing all my wife’s business stuff for whenever she decided what sort of business she wanted to start.

Oh yes, I bought some games. I needed to get the kids using the computer. After all, wasn’t that why we bought the thing int he first place?

After spending a lot of money that first day of my vacation I had a whole week to get all that stuff installed and working. The memory turned out to be a snap, literally. With the system restoration disks that came with my computer the manager at The Wiz assured me that installing the larger hard drive would be a breeze, especially since I had next to nothing stored on my original hard drive. He suggested I keep it in a drawer just in case the new hard drive ever crashed. I could boot up the system with that. Although it took a while to feed in all those floppy disks in the proper order the hard drive install proved to be simple as well. Getting the printer installed wasn’t that hard either. The scanner, however, took a phone call to IBM tech support. They walked me through doing it, for a fee, of course. It required adjusting some things in what they called BIOS and to do that I had to enter the dreaded Setup Menu that they warned me never to enter unless I was talking to someone in tech support.

After all that, I figured I was pretty savvy. I was ready to tackle the modem install. It said int he instruction that it should be pretty easy. Just set it up the same way as the existing modem. Well, it wasn’t that simple. It urned into a major pain in the butt.

Adamantly I refused to call IBM tech support again because paying for them to explain how to do something that should be user friendly seemed absurd. After all, once they explained about the serial and parallel ports on my machine and something about the COM Port in BIOS, I was able to get the scanner working along with the printer.

My stubbornness persisted for much of the rest of the week as each day I’d wake up and wrestle with different ideas of how to get the modem working. It seemed so simple in the instructions but what it said in the manual wasn’t working at all. I resorted to calling the modem manufacture’s tech support, seeing as it was their product I was installing and tech support for that should be free fir the first month, right? After trying a few things, changing some jumper settings not he card, they gave up, punting to IBM because, according to the the guy on the phone, everything should be working so there much be some conflict, maybe between IRQ’s – whatever those were.

Well, after a week of frustration with this faster modem thing and getting it to plug into properly to what I now considered a made-for-adults puzzle, I was ready to pay the money to learn the secret. IBM tech support confirmed it was an IRQ (Interrupt Request) setting that needed to be adjusted. Also, they explained that since we had changed settings to install the scanner and printer I needed to reassign the COM ports on the modem. It sounded complicated, but tech support told me how to get into the system setup menu in BIOS again make some changes and, once I did that, everything worked.

You’d think that I’d never want to crack open the case again, just leave good enough alone. But after learning how to tweak things a bit I was hooked. I had made my machine significantly faster while upgrading its storage capacity and made it more functional – even if a month after all the expensive upgrades no one but me was using anything I’d installed – except my oldest daughter had tried using the Disney software in DOS that, despite my having installed more memory continued to tell her she was out of memory. Every time she wanted to play the game I had to close out of Windows and reboot into DOS. Sometimes it would play fine but other times it would not.

After asking my friend at work about it he explained how DOS memory worked and that I needed to edit my AUTOEXEC.BAT and CONFIG.SYS to free up memory. Just when I thought I’d figured out everything about my computer, now there was this new wrinkle. Pursuing the solution would take me on an adventure that continued for years. Ever in pursuit of a more powerful computer to do this or that better than my old one, at the end of the journey I became a self-taught computer technician…and that’s another story for next time.

#personalcomputers #computers #geeks #Windows #DOS #upgrades