Taming the Microcomputer Revolution

Taming the Microcomputer revolution

By Lawrence I. Charters

FASO Today, First Quarter, March 1988, pp. 10-11.

Do you find the Microcomputer Revolution revolting? Do you sometimes think you’ll be the last person on planet Earth to learn how to use a computer? Do you still have trouble getting a vending machine to operate properly?

Actually, even “computer people” have problems with vending machines. As for the computer revolution, FASO’s Microcomputer Training Division at NAS North Island is hard at work helping people control their machines, rather than having the machines control their users. The division has developed several courses to teach basic computer skills, open now to all AIRPAC personnel in the San Diego area. Since the world does not revolve around San Diego (except during Super Bowl week), these courses will also be offered at outlying FASO detachments in the near future.

For those thinking they can squeak by without using a computer — think again. Under the Navy’s first microcomputer contract, jointly sponsored with the Air Force, 30,000 Zenith Z-120 microcomputers were authorized — and over 40,000 were purchased. A second contract was then signed, authorizing 90,000 Zenith Z-248 microcomputers over three years. As of December 1987, little more than half way through the contract, over 225,000 machines had been ordered, and the total may well reach half a million machines at the contract’s close. It goes without saying — but we’ll say it, anyway: if you want to work for the Navy, you’ll probably have to use a computer.

Cartoon of trained microcomputer
OK, I’m trained — now what?

Microcomputers can be used for an almost unlimited number of tasks, but the main uses are word processing, database management, and spreadsheets. “Word processor” sounds sort of like “food processor”, and to some extent it is: words are sliced and diced until ready for serving. Since virtually everyone needs to write memos, reports and threatening letters at some point, word processing programs transform a computer into a “magic typewriter,” capable of producing perfectly typed, perfectly spelled documents without having to resort to erasers, white-out fluid, or your tenth grade English teacher. It should come as no surprise that Introduction to Word Processing is the Microcomputer Training Division’s most popular offering.

“Database management” sounds even stranger than “word processing.” What is a database, and who cares how you manage it? As it turns out, a database is merely a collection of information, and  database management refers to the computer’s ability to act as an electronic filing cabinet. Popular database uses include maintaining inventory lists, maintaining command rosters, tracking equipment and building maintenance, and similar tasks. Introduction to Database Management is the division’s second most popular course, with keen competition for the limited seating.

Spreadsheets are harder to describe, but are basically large pieces of (electronic) graph paper. Numbers (or words) are entered in rows and columns, and are automatically added, subtracted, multiplied, divided, or even sorted, in any and every way possible. These “number crunching” abilities can be put to use to keep OPTAR reports, prepare training statistics, track flight hours, maintain softball team statistics, or even produce a recall roster. Since most spreadsheet programs can also produce impressive graphs, the Introduction to Spreadsheets course is not limited to ” bean counters”; every class seems to produce a surplus of art critics as well.

All these uses — word processing, database management, and spreadsheets — are covered in the division’s newest course, Introduction to Software Integration. In five days, students learn how to take parts of a spreadsheet, for example, and incorporate them into a word processing document, or merge selected portions of a database into a letter. A large portion of time is also devoted to telecommunication s, the art of computer to computer communications. Graduates of the course should have no difficulty in using a computer to call FASO’s computer bulletin board (619-437-7967), where they can leave flattering messages about the wonderful computer articles in FASO Today.

Helping people cope with computer technology is a constant battle, since the technology itself is constantly changing. A special custom-built class just for FASO personnel was held in December 1987, and plans are underway for a Computer Literacy for Managers course and, possibly, a word processing course aimed at Xerox 860 users. If you have a suggestion, or need some help, rest assured we’re always open to suggestions. We also welcome chocolate cookies, brownies, and other kinds of bribery. Keep this in mind: the turn of the century is just twelve years away. Do you really think you’ll survive in the 21st century without making friends with a computer?

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