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Computers evolve – and data does have weight!

The very first computer we bought in 1982 was a Xerox 820-II, which Xerox had just brought out.Together with a Diablo printer, it cost the enormous sum of  $11,000. Our Risk Management company, which we had started four years earlier, was in full swing and could afford it.

In actual fact, I bought it while the Treasurer, my wife Beryl, was in England at her stepmother’s funeral. Our third daughter had just graduated from secretarial college (as such was called then), La Salle College, Montreal,  and she helped me decide which computer to buy. When she got used to the 820-II, she repeatedly made it go berserk, because she had, and, as far as I know, still does hold, the record for accurate speed typing at La Salle. Today, it is in our basement gathering dust.

Xerox 820-II

And what could it do? Well, to start with, you had to insert a 5.25-inch disc with the CP/M operating system on it. It was a brilliant OS and I know at least one person today who uses it in preference to Mr. Gates’ Windows. After it booted up, you removed the OS and inserted your program disk. We used both Wordstar for word processing and Supercalc for our numerical and financial entries.

The 820-II had two 5.25 slots (not shown in the photograph) and the second was used as your data disk, onto which you saved your data. When writing in Wordstar, if a word had to be italicised, you entered a certain code, then, when you were printing, the Diablo printer stopped, you had to remove the, say, Times New Roman daisy wheel, insert the Times New Roman ‘italic‘ wheel, press print and, after it had printed the one word, it would stop. You then had to reverse the process by removing the italic wheel and re-inserting the normal font wheel. Ah! As you can imagine, we used italics sparingly. But it worked. Mind you, the screen was only 11 inches diagonally and showed 24 lines with 80 characters per line white on black.

And what can we do now with computers and how fast are they evolving? We all say, if you buy a computer today, it is out-of-date tomorrow. Not literally true, but it is true, figuratively speaking. And the power of today’s computers is amazing. What I hold in my hand today is far superior to the main frames of even ten years ago.

But, here’s an interesting point: did you know that the data you enter actually weighs a part of a gram? I was reading an article from the New York Times, which had been re-printed in our local Halifax “The Chronicle Herald” about the whether an e-reader gains weight as you add books to it. Only the most sensitive scales can record weights as small as 10 to the -9, so it is not quite possible to weigh data yet, but, theoretically, is in the order of an atogram, or 0.000,000,000,000,000,001 grams. Now these numbers are getting beyond my ken, but the article said that that weight is one-millionth of the increase in weight when the e-reader’s battery is charged from empty to full.

That should allow you to sleep tonight!

Dormez bien! Schlaf gut! Duerme bien!



My Beloved (wife) since 1955 and I are retired from our own Risk Management consulting business and, with our few funds saved during our business years, we love to experiment with foods and wines, either cooking them ourselves or dining out, and travelling throughout North America or other countries. We are also greatly involved in our Anglican church and choir both here and where we have wintered for near 20 years in Palm Springs, CA, USA.

2 thoughts on “Computers evolve – and data does have weight!

  1. I remember that old computer and how wonderful we thought it was. Particularly as I typed papers on that old non-electric typewriter. I don’t even know if my kids would know that is now, or how to use it :).


  2. Not only do I remember the computer, I also recall how impressed everyone in our neighbourhood was when we got it! Sadly, I also remember a time when the school computer used to tally all of the scores for it’s students actually took up the better part of a room! Ach! Now THAT causes me to lose sleep!

    Oh, for the record, I tried to italicize the word “THAT”, seen above, for emphasis, but could not in this limited WordPress comment window . After searching the sides, back and entire circumference of my Mac and the HP printer next to it, I am left with the sad realization that it must be missing it’s Diablo Italic wheel – and they say we’ve made progress – perhaps not!


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