It was 1983 and the wonder of the personal computer was rounding the corner.

While I was spending the better part of a year researching computers to buy as the family Christmas gift that year, a fledgling organization was taking shape in Barrie so people could learn how to make the greatest use of this new device.

Until now most computers were housed in air conditioned rooms (and took up the whole room) in universities and the odd business.

So, a personal computer that sat on a table in your home was a miracle.

That year I chose a Commodore 64 with a 5.5 inch floppy disk and a software program that taught about fish. I bought it at Woolworths, that retail anchor in downtown Barrie, so important to those of us who remember $1.44 days, a great electronics division, wonderful BLT sandwiches at the lunch counter, and busy housewares, plants, fabric, and clothing sections. And they sold computers, too.

By today's standards it was slow going. But in 1983 it was that first step into a whole new world.

David Jackson had just bought a Commodore PET. It had 16 K of memory. Ours had 64 K. Woo-hoo!

This means that to copy a simple essay of 2000 words you'd need to divide and copy it onto at least 2 of the floppy disks.

While I was grappling with the DOS language, David Jackson was signing membership card #31 and joining the Barrie Users Group. BUG formed a quarter-century ago so those taking the step into personal computerland could gather and learn, share knowledge, stimulate each other's knowledge and generally grow with this new technology.

Today, BUG users are typically on Windows XP or Vista users and the 16K personal computers have been replaced by the simplicity of a mouse and minute memory cards worth 1 gigabyte which is 1000 megabytes. A megabyte is comprised of 1000 K... so one million times more than in 1983. And we don't copy anything onto a floppy disk anymore.

Growth has been so fast, it's hard to look back to those days and even consider how far we've come.

But, the Barrie Users Group keeps on computing along... challenging each other to learn more, know more and make greater use of their computers.

On October 25, the group, which has had as many as 125 members, will fling open its doors for an open house that not only celebrates the past but gives a peak into today's computer challenges. Aladdin Banquet Hall on Essa Rd will host this quarter-century celebration for a group of forward thinking people who invested in the first personal computers and now are branching out to include digital cameras and video equipment.

From 10 am to 5 pm you, too, can share information technology as BUG takes you through those who dabble, those who program, and those who use the technology in its highest form in the workplace.

Today the club boasts 25 members, some just wanting to get the most out of their technology and some who are leading the pack.

Wherever you sit in this computer age, this open house is an apt celebration in a time when not only the computer, but cell phones and pda's are linking us to the phenomenon of the 90's and onwards... the internet!

To share knowledge, to get help and ask questions, to learn about software, to use the computer all day long, now and then, or regularly... this is the purpose of BUG.

The group meets monthly at Barrie Public Library and the $50 annual membership is likely the best bang for your buck that you'll see in awhile.

For more info, log on to www.barrieusersgroup.org and check it out!

And thanks, David Jackson, for taking that PET to the next level!

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