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So You Want to Buy a Computer

So You Want To Buy a Computer?
Australian Society of Anaesthetists Newsletter Volume 93, Issue 3, August 1993


This is the first page of what could become a regular feature of the newsletter. The focus will probably be on computers and/or research methods. It does not yet have a title. I rather like ‘hit any key to continue’ but I am open to suggestions. There will be a mystery prize from a mystery company for the best suggestion. If you have any interesting or amusing research or computer adventures please send them to me (Dave Sainsbury) care of the Anaesthetic Department of the Adelaide Children’s Hospital, North Adelaide South Australia. This month I will set the ball rolling with some advice for computer buyers. Next time I will discuss that woderful invention EMAIL.

This new-age form of communication has almost driven me into lunacy (I nearly sold my computer!) If any readers would like to have their EMAIL addresses published they could drop me a line by EMAIL: david.sainsbury@adelaide.edu.au Perhaps someone could explain to me in words of less than ten syllables how to send a program by EMAIL as well as a simple text file?

Have I got a deal for you!?

Rule number one: Whatever you buy will not be worth ‘zip’ in 5 years time. So whatever you buy you need to get your money’s worth within that time. The following chart describes my computer folleys.

Year     Computer        RAM      Floppy disk   Cost  Value 1993
1983    Apple II        48K       5¼"   134K   $3000    $200 

1988    Ultra '286      640K      5¼"   720K   $3000    $750 

1992    Sharp '386 DX   10,000K   3½" 1,400K   $7000   $5000 

RAM stands for random access memory. It is the short term memory of the computer. Like our short term memory it is volatile. Turn the power off for a few seconds and all is lost. (This form of electronic ECT can be used as a last resort when a computer refuses to behave itself).

Disk memory is non-volatile and is used to save the operating system (personality of the computer), the programs (skills of the computer), and data (specific memories).

The price of the Sharp was inflated by the fact that it was a portable with an active matrix, thin film transistor, colour liquid crystal display. Hard to say after a few beers but beautiful to look at… if you like that sort of thing. In fact an equivalent desk top machine would have weighed in for around $3000. As they say in the trade you can now get considerably more ‘bang for your bucks’. I had a library of 70 floppy disks for my Apple. All of that could now be loaded into the RAM of my Sharp!

But why should you always spend $3000? Why not buy last year’s model and save some money? The answer is software. The traditional advice in buying a computer is to first define your needs. Then find the software that will meet those needs. Finally buy the computer that will run that software. The drawback to this solution is that you need a computer to run the software before you can see if it meets your needs. In some cases you cannot clearly define your needs until you have some idea of the software solutions that are available. This chicken and egg problem usually means you have to borrow a machine and software for a few months, develop a significant addiction and then make your purchase.

The universal need of computer users is to have a machine that is easy to use. The first generation of computers had limited memory and speed so we had to talk to them on their terms. Arcane hieroglyphics were required to find out what was on a disk: ‘CATALOG’ on an Apple, ‘DIR’ on an IBM. The graphics interface was a giant step forward. Developed by Xerox, Implemented on the Apple Mac and institutionalised by Microsoft Windows. Graphics based machines demand a fast computer and a lot of memory. They allow you to run programs by ‘point and click’.

The next major step is ‘Object Oriented Programs’ (OOP) and object based programs. These allow word processors, data bases and spreadsheets to freely exchange data. In fact they simple become specialised ‘windows’ onto the same array of information. Customising programs becomes a matter of pointing to lists of program properties and choosing the ones you need. ‘Point and Click’ programming is becoming a reality with software like ‘Access’ & ‘Visual Basic’ from Microsoft and ‘Toolbook’ from Asymetrix. This new generation of software demands fast (486) machines, large drives (200Meg) and at least 8Meg of RAM. It will cost $3000 but you will be getting the equivalent of power steering, ABS breaks and an air-bag in case you crash.

EMAIL: david.sainsbury”AT”adelaide.edu.au  Last Update:02/05/2005



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