My Introduction To Computerization In Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea, or P.N.G., as I will refer to the country from now on, is known as “The Land Of The Unexpected” and it certainly lived up to its reputation, as far as I was concerned.

My first surprise after being met at the ram-shackled airport (which has since been upgraded) and driven to the office by my future flat mate, was that I had to climb up eight flights of stairs in 100% darkness due to a power cut, which rendered the lifts useless. This was no great coincidence as the power went off, for several hours at a time, about two times a week on average.

Next I discovered that the computer, that the original advert for the job had stated that the company made “considerable use of” was still in the box it had been delivered in. “Oh that was just a misprint in the advert,” my future boss blurted out when I quizzed him on it. Yeah, and Santa Clause really exists, I thought to myself.


My future boss quickly changed the subject slightly. “The smaller box next to the computer is the U.P.S. You must use that all the time,” he said.
“A U.P.S., what the hell is that?” I asked
“The letters stand for ‘Uninterruptible Power Supply,” he answered. “As you have already experienced, power cuts are a common event, but with the U.P.S. between the wall socket and the computer, it will provide enough electricity to enable the computer to run for an additional ten minutes or so, which gives you and your operators enough time to back up your work and turn the computer off properly, so you don’t lose anything.”

Once I, with the help of my two future operators, who had been employed a few days earlier and had spent their time reading manuals, had unpacked the computer, the three consoles a printer and the U.P.S., we were, surprisingly enough able to put the “jigsaw” together without too much difficulty. When speaking to me the girls spoke in perfect English, but when they were speaking to each other the spoke in a funny sounding language, which sounded to me like a cross between English and French with some completely unfamiliar words thrown into the mix as well. Little did I know then that fifteen years later I would be 95% fluent in the uniting language of P.N.G., Melanesian Pidgin. Both girls turned out to be excellent operators and assistants and I could not have had two better subordinates anywhere in the world.

During the set-up process, I discovered my first hard drive. It was 14 inches in diameter, 2 inches thick, and had to be screwed into the computer using a special plastic handle. It’s capacity was a “huge” 5 Megabytes which seemed to me at the time to be mammoth. Though its capacity was tiny compared to today’s standard drives, it was big enough to store the whole accounting program, so my days of sitting, doing nothing but changing program discs at the whim of the computer were finally over.

The data though, was still stored on 7 inch floppies, which meant that creating and maintaining a system of back-ups was extremely important.

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