What Next? Bits and Bytes of Memories

Today, I walked to my mailbox and found a small package, wedged into the tiny enclosure. Wiggling it out revealed a seemingly plain manilla envelope, hand scrawled with my address. To the untrained eye it looked like any other envelope but to me that yellow/brown paper looked like gold. The package is the result of several weeks of searching and scouring both my brain and the internet. Trying to find a memory that seemed so obscure that even Google wasn’t sure what I meant.

I quickly walked home, barely containing my excitement and laughing at how it was even possible that I now had this in my possession. A week ago I had almost given up. I’d rummaged around everywhere, searching high and low, making phone calls, trying to find the remains of this little treasure. But now, I held the riches in my hands and couldn’t wait to open it. With my wife looking on–rather confused by my excitement–I opened it to find three plain looking silver discs. I chuckled at the irony of what they contained. But before I reveal what they are let me give you a bit of the back story…

A couple months ago, like today, I took a stroll over to the mailbox to check the mail. On that particular day, I received one of my quarterly royalty checks–a token reminder amongst the bills that, yes, I’m an author. What was peculiar however was that it suddenly reminded me of my Dad, a Commodore 64, a fish aquarium, the early 80’s, Radio Shack electronic kits and super glue, which might seem odd but made total sense in my head.

Back in the 80’s I was just a little kid, absorbed by any activity that involved connecting colour coded wires with springs. It was a time before the social networks, cell phones and the internet. I remember our trusty mailman would deliver our mail daily–right to our door–where it would slowly pile up atop the oak finished fish aquarium in our foyer. I would sort though the pile of publishers clearing house give-aways (I was always convinced that I’d actually win that one day) and new issues of World magazine looking for the odd envelope for my Dad. Like Me, he too received token royalty checks now and again. They were nothing too special, and would usually end up as a night out for dinner or some other fun family activity.

One thing that did come as a result of these checks was our family’s very first computer, a glorious Commodore 64 with all it’s majestic 80’s charm. I remember being quite excited when my dad brought it home. We pulled all the parts out of the box and quickly began to assemble it. There was the boxy looking TV for a monitor, the keyboard the size of a typewriter, the disk drive with those huge floppy disks and a steel case with the mysterious CPU and whatever else was in there. “Booting” it up required my young brain to memorize a series of keystrokes such as LOAD "*",8,1, not really understanding what it did, but it was always fun typing something similar to

1 PRINT "Jeff is cool"
2 GOTO 1

to show my sister how cool I was…

But this brings me back to my reminiscing by the mailbox while holding my royalty check a few months ago. It made me remember an obscure 1983 TV show called “Bits and Bytes”, produced by the Ontario Educational Communications Authority (now TVOntario). It was an almost laughable technology show, that ran only 12 episodes in 1983, and focused on using these new things called “Computers” to do all sorts of “neat” stuff. In the last of the 12 episodes, entitled “What’s Next”, my Dad made a short appearance to discuss using computers as an educational tool. It was this appearance that sent the mailman to deliver those royalty checks to my Dad, which lead to our first “computer” and ultimately pointing me onto the path I’m on today.

Fast-forward 25 years and things have come along way. As I walked home with my royalty check, reminded of this show, I pulled out my iPhone and tried searching the internet using Google and YouTube for any remnants of Bits and Bytes. I figured It must exist somewhere. But despite the fact that my keychain contains more processing power than that old Commodor (though 25 years later the monitor still works as a TV), Google was little help, revealing only the episode list and a few short clips among the billions of bits and bytes on the internet. After contacting TVO directly, I was informed that the show in question was removed from their archives in 1993–never to be seen again.

But today, hand delivered to my mailbox by the trusty old mail carrier, are three plain silver DVD’s in a manilla envelope. All twelve episodes of Bits & Bytes. It took me awhile but through searching and querying I eventually found an equally obscure gentleman who actually had original video tape recordings he’d converted to DVD format. He was kind enough to send me a copy so, for your viewing pleasure, I present to you my Dad from 1983’s Bits And Bytes, Season 1, Episode 12 “What Next?” (including opening and closing credits for nostalgia sake, he’s at about 2:15 into the clip):

Wow, how “retro” is that? I’m now about the same age as my Dad was then and I’m typing this blog post in Wordpress on my 17” MacBook Pro, connected wirelessly to high-speed internet, while my iPhone buzzes to tell me I have new messages on Facebook and Twitter. Times sure have changed but It only makes me wonder more about what my daughter will experience when she’s my age and what she’ll be reminiscing about when she walks to her mailbox to check the mail 25 years from now.

Editor’s Note: There are actually a few other segments where my Dad appeared as well but I figure the one clip is embarrassing enough :)