So, when my cell phone lit up, with an unknown Caller ID number, I knew it had to be in response to my ad in The New York Times as tech talent available for contract work. “Your hands on the keyboard.”
Who was it?
Boutros Boutros Ghali (Secretary General of the United Nations at the time)? No, it wasn’t. No, it wasn’t.
Edward Olcott calling collect for Bernard Olcott? Not that time.
My Dad? He would call me every once in a while when he had need of me.
How about Harvey Burgermeister? You didn’t think of that name, did ya?
Harv was a pudgy postal worker in Queens, NY – and he will go down in history as my very first customer. In that first phone call, he explained that he wanted to buy a personal computer for his home. Would I be able to help him select the right PC and then train him to get him started with e-mail and internet? Of course, the answer was yes!
I scheduled an appointment for the next day at his apartment. On the following day, instead of getting off the 7 train at Grand Central, I stayed on to cross a second river, the East (not really a river at all)! Plunging deep into Queens — the same sprawling borough that Dad had done everything to escape — I got off at what was for me an unfamiliar stop to potentially launch my own personal break out. A couple of blocks this way and that and — voilà! A nondescript building beckoned in the summer twilight, matching the given destination address.
Harv was low key, a man of few words. He listened patiently as I explained to him how I would drag him into the computer age. Basically I bought for my customers what I bought for myself, a mail order PC from Micron Electronics (bankrupt in 2008). I suggested a scaled down version for him to avoid wasting money on excess wherewithal. He agreed with my proposal and so I called up, right then and there, my customer service rep at Micron to order Harv’s brand new unit. Micron was great on the turn-around – they could deliver a newly built machine within about a week.
Our next appointment was based on system delivery. Harv would notify me.
A week or so later, Harv called. Showtime!
I have always likened the delivery of a new PC, all pieces freshly packaged in big painted cardboard boxes, wrapped in clear or bubble plastic sheets, protected by huge Styrofoam frames, to that of a the arrival of a new-born. There were always two cartons – one for the main computer, called the “CPU” (although, technically speaking, the CPU was actually the processor chip inside, on the mother board), and a second for the color monitor. I didn’t waste my client’s time with amber or green screens. People wanted to see the colors of Windows 95!
After 15-20 minutes of unpacking and connecting all cables, it was time to fire up the new machine — the moment of truth! This was the instant when the quality of the Micron hardware would become evident. Would it boot up into a series of set up questions as expected? Or frazzle out in a shower of sparks? That would have been bad for business, akin to hiring the Three Stooges to put up wallpaper in the boudoir.
Micron was a good provider. Moe, Larry, and Curly? Not so much!
Once up and running, it was time for Harv to take the place of honor in front of his new PC. I explained the main screen, the icons, and the start button (no different from the current one in today’s Windows 10!).
But the Operating System is just that, an OS. You don’t do your work on an OS. The OS is just a container for the applications like Word, Excel, Internet Explorer. Like I have written before, I never understood the cult-like fascination for the Mac OS. Pretty, it was. But so what? It’s not the real beef of the computer.
I showed Harv the mouse and how to click icons to engage the applications, like Internet Explorer. “Here,” I said to him while getting up from his new workstation, “you try it.”
Harv sat down in front of his new PC and started moving the mouse. I pointed at Netscape as I wanted to show him America Online and get him started with e-mail. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him move the mouse. On the screen however, the cursor remained stationary.
“Over here,” I said again, tapping the Netscape icon repeatedly on the screen. He pushed the mouse forward. But still, no cursor movement. Not good.
We switched places. I moved the mouse. It was working. I showed Harv how I moved the mouse and pointed out the corresponding cursor motion on the screen.
I got up, he sat down yet again. I watched the screen as he moved the mouse for the second time. Nothing.
Was the mouse broken? That would have been embarrassing – a training session busted because of a broken inexpensive piece of hardware? Micron would hear about this!
Then, instead of watching the screen, I studied his mouse actions. All of a sudden, I noticed what was going on. Something I had never seen before. Or since.
Harv was holding the mouse over the mouse pad! I mean he was picking it up, about an inch above the pad. In thin air! Mouse levitation!
“Flying mouses, huh?” I thought to myself as a self-styled technical skeet shooter. “Well, we’ll see about that.”
“No,” I said gently, pressing his hand down to the mouse pad, “maintain contact with the pad in order to use the mouse.” I released my hand and up his came back, again, hovering the mouse above the pad! Another angelic rapturing electronic rodent!
I looked around for a heavy object, found a book nearby, and placed it on top of his hand. “Imagine this book on top of your hand,” I directed, “pushing it down on the mouse pad.” He moved his hand with the book on top and we both watched the cursor jolt on the screen.
“Double-click this icon,” I directed, “and I will train you to get online with e-mail and internet.” With a fair amount of trouble, Harv managed to double click the Netscape icon.
The rest of the session had me creating an e-mail address, training him to send his first e-mail (to me), and showing him the wonder of the World Wide Web. Primarily this consisted of showing him a variety of sites, like Yahoo and Playboy.
And, of course, trying to keep his mouse grounded, at least most of the time.
We constantly changed places in front of his new desktop so he could practice under my supervision. As noted, the mouse levitation thing proved to be a persistent problem. I left him that evening with the encouragement that, through practice, he would get the hang of it.