For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be a writer. When I was a teenager, hopped up on hormones and a subscription to Analog, I began writing a perfectly horrible story longhand in the dank, musty attic of the small house we lived in. Safe to say, that early effort never will see the light of day. It’s been in a landfill for nearly fifty years, and rightly so.
The writer bug lay dormant in me for a good ten years before I once again got the itch to put words on paper. 
Unlike my teenage self, my 20-something self had a cheap, portable typewriter on which to torment the English language. Naturally, nothing came of those efforts either.
Then came the year 1986. That was the year I bought my first computer, a Commodore 64.
[For those who don’t know, the 64 referred to the amount of memory the machine had. 64K bytes was quite a lot in those days, and the C64 created some wondrous results with that tiny bit of RAM. Or rather, with the less than half of it that was left over after the operating system did its thing.]
Eventually I had quite a Commodore setup, with the keyboard/CPU, a Commodore color monitor that cost more than the computer, not one but two Commodore disk drives, a color thermal printer, a RAM expansion cartridge, and a CMD 100 megabyte external hard drive. I also had a fantastic joystick that I wish I still had today.
A lot of people dismissed the C64 as simply a toy on which one could play games. Play games it did, but it was so much more. I stumbled upon two wonderful software programs for the C64 that turned it into a lean, mean, data processing machine.
One of them was called Trio. It was a word processor, a data base manager, and a spreadsheet, all rolled into one. Trio was quite handy, sort of a mid-1980’s version of Microsoft Office. I still have it almost 30 years later.
There was another program called WordWriter 3. As you have already surmised, WordWriter 3 was a word processing program. It was nothing compared to the programs that were to follow, such as of course Microsoft Word. But for its day, it was really something.
The sobering thing is, in about 1986 or 1987 I used Word Writer to begin creating a novel that I am still working on today.
I just spent forty-five minutes upstairs, going through boxes of “stuff” looking for the Trio and Word Writer software. While I didn’t find either one, I did find some other cool things, which I will probably wind up writing about at a later date.
Besides the cool stuff, I also found a lot of fodder for my shredder and/or recycling bin. Wow. And I know somewhere in that pile of brown cardboard boxes there lurks one box that is full of nothing but old junk mail from before I moved into my condo in February of 2003. What makes that even worse than it sounds is, I paid good money to have Lile Moving and Storage movethat damn box (and all the others, of course) from my apartment to my condo!
One box I found contains the packaging for all the games I bought for my C64. It’s quite a collection. None of the packages have their associated disks in them at the moment though. The disks are all in two plastic disk storage drawers which I also still have. One day I am going to have to go through them all and put the disks all back in their proper packages. Then I’ll list the whole lot on eBay for whatever seems reasonable.
I have some really cool games, but most suffer from one built-in limitation. Namely, you cannot save your last score or position. Every time you die, lose, or simply stop playing the game, your then-current score is lost forever. The next time you play the game, you have to start over from scratch.
The real highlight for me was when Operation Wolf was released for the C64. That game had been extremely popular in the arcades during the mid-1980’s and I really loved playing it on my Commie for free.
To return for a moment to the subject of writing, the C64 vastly improved my writing and the experience of writing. No more having to completely re-write a whole page just to correct one poorly-worded sentence! (Not that I had many of those. Ahem.)
Eventually though, rather than being used as a tool to allow me to write fiction, my C64 became what I now consider to be my first social networking link. My C64 introduced me to several friends whom I never would have gotten to know otherwise. How?
Through Q-Link, aka Quantum. Once I joined Q-Link in December of 1987, everything changed.
Today we have Twitter, MySpace, Facebook, etc. But in 1987, social networking for owners of Commodore 64’s and 128’s meant Q-Link.
For now, I’ll just mention one of the lasting contributions that Q-Link made to personal computing, and that would be those ubiquitous little things that are now referred to as “emoticons”. 🙂
They originated on Q-Link, where they were referred to as “Q-shorthand”. I suppose emoticons sounds cooler, it’s certainly shorter and easier to say. But the ‘Linker in me likes Q-shorthand better.
There were quite a few Q-shorthands. Those that I remember are:
🙂 A smile, naturally
😉 A smile and a wink
😀 Laughing, similar to LOL or LMAO or LMFAO (Tsk, tsk, that one could get you a TOS violation buster! You better hope there are no QGuides around!)
:’-D Laughing so hard it’s brought tears to your eyes
:-))))) A really BIG smile
[ ] A hug
[[[ ]]] A BIG hug
[[[ Lydia ]]] Making sure the person being hugged knows it
:-/ or 😐 Chagrined
😦 Sad
:’-( Sad and crying
Also, double colons before and after one or more words were used to denote action. For example, ::running:: or ::running FAST:: meant you were running away from someone. And ::ducking:: might have meant you didn’t run quite FAST enough and they caught you. 😉
Every once in a while I use the double colon convention on Twitter. The interesting thing about that is, I have close to 2,000 followers on Twitter, and I doubt many of them (make that any of them) knows what ::whistling off-key:: really means. And no one has ever asked.
Shortly after writing the above, I in fact did post a message on Twitter using the double colon.
No one has commented, yet. ::sigh::
For more information on Q-Link and the earliest days of social networking, check out my web site Remember Q-Link at www.qlinklives.org.
Right now Remember Q-Link is offline for a few weeks as I rebuild it. It will soon be back and then you’ll be able to see the real beginning of Instant Messages (known on Q-Link as OnLine Messages, or OLMs), online gaming with avatars (Lucasfilm’s Habitat, eventually reworked and renamed Club Caribe). File sharing, playing music online (SIDs), and online airline reservations all were available!
And it all began in November of 1985 on a humble little online service running on a Stratus fault-tolerant mainframe computer located in the town of Vienna, Virginia.
It all came through a phone line and into the homes of thousands of people across the United States and Canada via a dialup Commodore modem whose data transfer rate was 300 baud.
Eventually this was replaced by a newer Commodore modem that sprinted at a blistering 1200 baud.
Now THAT was progress.
[NOTE: If you’d like to be notified when Remember Q-Link is back online, send a note requesting that to this mailbox. Be sure to put “Q-Link” or some recognizable variation thereof in your subject line, otherwise your message will be routed to my junk mail folder and vaporized. Thanks.]

Copyright © 2012 by Al Evans. All rights reserved.

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