Here it is. The first book I ever wrote in its nearly final form
Go ahead, have a look. For free. Its original copyright is from 1988, so it’s old. Read on if you are curious about its history. But have a look for a particular take on history. It’s a blast from my past. Keep in mind that many of the graphics I drew on computer, pixel by pixel in some cases. I’m especially proud of keyboard on page 10, the shape of the 3.5” floppy dries on the PS/2, Model 25 on page 14 and the Platter layout on page 222. (These are document page numbers, not PDF page numbers.)

The Background

Many years ago I taught computer literacy courses. If you needed to learn how to use a wordprocessor, spreadsheet or database, we would teach you. Thing is, I taught at a community college campus extension office. Our office was (and still is) based in Iowa City, IA., home of the University of Iowa.
The main campus was in Cedar Rapids Iowa. In the lat 80’s the main campus was migrating from a vo-tech focus to more of an associates degree format, but it still had auto repair, truck driving, etc. It also taught PL/1 and other, mainframe languages, and it also taught about then-called, mini-computers. Students in Cedar Rapids would learn how to use mini computers, look at programming languages like COBOL and PL/1 etc. Regardless of whether that was or was not useful (it was at the time, and probably still is today), the Iowa City campus had more traditional “non traditional students.”

This involved people trying to get their GED in their early 20’s, or older people looking to take some training, say, on these new things called PC’s. The largest age range in any of my classes was something like 17 to 87, I believe.

Bottom line, one size did not fit all. What was going on 18 miles North was not what was needed in Iowa City at our campus. It was really Gretchen Moine, the Dean of the Iowa City Campus, who kept us going and fighting political battles. The main campus tried to get us ousted, but we fought back and got certified, taking the NOCTI (National Occupational Competency Testing Institute) exam and had to continue taking continuing education credits each year. One year I spent a week at Lake Okoboji Iowa. It was terribly rough.

During the Fall semester of 1988, I was reviewing the recommended books for a class I had already been teaching. The main campus had changed the books and we were considering whether to use the same books or not. The students were going to be expected to spend nearly $100 on books that were not relevant for what they wanted to learn. Also, most of our students were part time. So $100 was quite a bit of money, especially for irrelevant books that we could not use. Off the cuff, I said “Don’t order any books, I’ll write one.” And they actually listened to me.

I remember parts of that Fall break well. Ultima IV had recently been released for the Commodore 64. My friends James, Bob, John and I played pretty much 24×7 taking turns on the same characters. It was an epic game.

So here’s the thing, I committed to write a book for a semester-length course on four subjects
Basic computer usage (how to use a keyboard was a new thing back then)
  • How to use a wordprocessor (originally WordStar, we switched to WordPerfect 4.x – still my favorite word processor, reveal codes was the best ever)
  • How to use a SpreadSheet
  • How to use database
I had waited until my semester ended at the University of Iowa to start working on it. And I was playing Ultima IV. In the first week of my two-week fall break, I wrote the outline, and played a lot of Ultima IV.

In the second week I managed to bang out around 130 pages with basic info, tutorials and exercises. The first time I used it was in Sprig of 1989. I distributed it by first printing it (I’ll get to that) and taking it to a photocopy shop. Students paid for individual copies. I originally intended to add $1 per copy for myself, but the photocopy shop never got that right, so no commission for me!

I wrote the book in WordPerfect on a 1st generation Leading Edge with 2 3.5” floppy drives (I think, I don’t think I had 5.25” floppy drives, but I may have). Though I had replaced the 8088 with a NEC V20 chip, so it was tricked out. I used one drive for WordPerfect (version 4.0 I think) and the other for my book.

WordPerfect always got the formatting right. It never crashed. It just worked. My document was split across several chapter files. To print the document required about 4 hours. 1.5 – 2 hours to generate the table of contents and the index, and the rest of the time printing on my 1st generation HP InkJet. I remember buying a font cartridge for that printer, it helped quite a bit.

I added to the book over the next 2 or so semesters, then it became minor tweaks. I think it was used until around 1993, I’m not exactly sure. I’d estimate 40 total classes with an average of 25 people per class used the book, so that’s about 1,000 copies total.

I have had one copy in my book collection since I moved from Iowa City to Dallas. I suspect it is the last remaining copy. Every so often I considered scanning it but just never did.

Until today.

So I’ve finally got an 82.5 MB PDF of the original document. For context, a 3.5” floppy on an old IBM PC XT held 720 K. My entire book easily fit on one floppy with room to spare. So this PDF is probably 800X as big as the original source files.

This file is a blast from my past! On the one hand it’s a bit embarrassing. But I used it, as did at least 3 other instructors, so I think it was useful. Given that the course manual was written in one of the tools used in the course, I have to image that was a strong message, but I was too young to think about that and certainly I never asked.

Hope you’ll have a look and a laugh!