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Growing Up With Computers

By mcgrew in Technology
Wed Mar 30, 2005 at 08:31:10 AM EST
Tags: Technology (all tags)

As another birthday comes closer with its ugly reminder of how short life is, it makes me think of you younger folks.

Because while you grew up with computers, my situation was just the opposite - computers grew up with me.

ENIAC, the first electronic programmable computer (i.e., a building sized pocket calculator) was patented just short of five years before I was born. From the application:
"...With the advent of everyday use of elaborate calculations, speed has become paramount to such a high degree that there is no machine on the market today capable of satisfying the full demand of modern computational methods. The most advanced machines have greatly reduced the time required for arriving at solutions to problems which might have required months or days by older procedures. This advance, however, is not adequate for many problems encountered in modern scientific work and the present invention is intended to reduce to seconds such lengthy computations..."

From the ENIAC patent (No. 3,120,606), filed 26 June 1947.

The monster was switched on in fall of that year. It was the prototype for all computers that followed later, including the one you are reading this on.

As I was taking my first breath, having been pulled into the world with forceps after a 72 hour labor, the phrase "rock and roll" was still three months into the future. The computer as we know it today did not exist, although ENIAC, the keyboard-less and monitor-less prototype, was almost five years old.

By February 1949, when the ENIAC completed the computation for Project Chore, an Ordnance Corps contract with the University of Chicago, operating difficulties had been reduced to a minimum. Running times were longer, down times shorter and reduced in number. The Chore contract and others completed during this period proved the ENIAC's worth. Other machines, among them the Bush differential analyzer and the Bell relay calculator, would have required a prohibitive length of time to complete the problems that were assigned to the ENIAC, and the latter was much faster than any digital system then in existence.

The ENIAC led the computer field during the period 1949 through 1952 when it served as the main computation workhorse for the solution of the scientific problems of the Nation. It surpassed all other existing computers put together whenever it came to problems involving a large number of arithmetic operations. It was the major instrument for the computation of all ballistic tables for the U.S. Army and Air Force.

In addition to ballistics, the ENIAC's field of application included weather prediction, atomic-energy calculations, cosmic-ray studies, thermal ignition, random-number studies, wind-tunnel design, and other scientific uses. It is recalled that no electronic computers were being applied to commercial problems until about 1951.

EDVAC and ORDVAC, both faster than ENIAC, began to share the Computing Laboratory's work load with the ENIAC in 1953.

Before ENIAC, a computer was a human being whose job it was to do arithmetic. Electronic computers were completely unknown to most people outside science and the military before the 1952 election, which is what brought computers into the public's awareness. From USA Today's In '52, huge computer called Univac changed election night:
In a few hours on Nov. 4, 1952, Univac altered politics, changed the world's perception of computers and upended the tech industry's status quo. Along the way, it embarrassed CBS long before Dan Rather could do that all by himself.

Computers were the stuff of science fiction and wide-eyed articles about "electric brains." Few people had actually seen one. Only a handful had been built, among them the first computer, ENIAC, created by J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly at the University of Pennsylvania in the 1940s.

In summer 1952, a Remington Rand executive approached CBS News chief Sig Mickelson and said the Univac might be able to plot early election-night returns against past voting patterns and spit out a predicted winner. Mickelson and anchor Walter Cronkite thought the claim was a load of baloney but figured it would at least be entertaining to try it on the air.

On election night, the 16,000-pound Univac remained at its home in Philadelphia. In the TV studio, CBS set up a fake computer -- a panel embedded with blinking Christmas lights and a teletype machine. Cronkite sat next to it. Correspondent Charles Collingwood and a camera crew set up in front of the real Univac.

By 8:30 p.m. ET -- long before news organizations of the era knew national election outcomes -- Univac spit out a startling prediction. It said Eisenhower would get 438 electoral votes to Stevenson's 93 -- a landslide victory. Because every poll had said the race would be tight, CBS didn't believe the computer and refused to air the prediction.

Under pressure, Woodbury rejigged the algorithms. Univac then gave Eisenhower 8-to-7 odds over Stevenson. At 9:15 p.m., Cronkite reported that on the air. But Woodbury kept working and found he'd made a mistake. He ran the numbers again and got the original results -- an Eisenhower landslide.

Late that night, as actual results came in, CBS realized Univac had been right. Embarrassed, Collingwood came back on the air and confessed to millions of viewers that Univac had predicted the results hours earlier.

In fact, the official count ended up being 442 electoral votes for Eisenhower and 89 for Stevenson. Univac had been off by less than 1%. It had missed the popular vote results by only 3%. Considering that the Univac had 5,000 vacuum tubes that did 1,000 calculations per second, that's pretty impressive. A musical Hallmark card has more computing power.

(Emphasis mine).

My interest in these monsters started with a 16mm film a grade school teacher showed about these "electronic brains." It told of ENIAC, the story of the election the year I was born, and showed a technician shutting one down for debugging. "Imagine," the narrator said, attempting to emphasize how accurate these devices were, "if the teacher would kill you every time you got a question wrong!"

I was hooked.

In 1964, my family went to Texas on vacation to see what I remember as "the World's fair". Google, however, tells me that the World's fair was in New York that year. Whatever this exposition was, it was there that I met my first computer, and played my first computer "game."

The game was "States and Capitols," and I wished that they had one of these things in my school. This was a lot more fun than a paper and pencil test!

They had the thing hooked up to a loom, and they had monitors with primitive light pens. You could create a design for a cloth bookmark, and the computer/loom combination would weave a bookmark with your design!

It was the coolest thing I had ever seen in my life. "I want one!" I said. My dad just laughed. The thought that a human, let alone a middle class family, could own a computer was as outrageous as the thought of a device that could cook food with radio waves, or a device that would save TV shows for later viewing.

However, I did manage to build a computer of sorts from plans out of a Popular Electronics magazine. This "computer" was actually an electric slide rule, made out of couple of pieces of wood, a battery, a switch, two potentiometers and a dial. It actually worked, although you weren't going to plot any moon shots with it.

Yes, I was quite the nerd, reading science fiction, building electronics, and using a slide rule. By the time I was ready to graduate high school, though, I had sworn off of electronics. Discrete components were out, integrated circuts were in, and I didn't see the fun in them. I mean, hooking the leads from an amplifier circut to a speaker and a battery and a jack wasn't all that demanding. I decided that rather than engineering, when I got to college I would study art.

In 1969 I was a junior in high school and worked at a drive-in theater. That was the year Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made their trip to the moon. Of course, the news kept showing the computers, and the papers kept talking about them.

I wanted one. I wanted to go to the moon, too.

I took my little Panasonic portable TV to work, and my boss freaked out. Movie theater people hated television.

"Sorry, George," I told him, "but the first moon landing is only going to happen once. We're incredibly privileged to be alive right now. You can fire me and I'll go home, or I can watch it here. But I'm watching it!"

George relented. We only had one carload of people that night; everyone was obviously at home watching the moon landing. As the lander was touching down, the lone carload's occupants came in to the concession stand. "Is there a TV in here anywhere?"

We all watched the moon landing; me, George, the other kids who worked there, and our lone carload of customers, on my little twelve inch black and white TV set. That's one small step for Neil, one giant leap for a young nerd watching it on TV at work.

By 1972 I was in the US Air Force as a driver, working on the flight line in the Aerospace Ground Equipment (AGE) unit. One cold, snowy night a half hour from the swing shift's quitting time, a call came in for two air conditioners way over on the other side of the base. My tractor had a top speed of about ten miles per hour - I was looking forward to a beer, and here I had to drag these damned air conditioners out. I was going to be working late. Hell!

A half an hour or so later I arrived at the facility, swearing, with air conditioners in tow. To my amazement there were two guys standing outside in the snow waiting for me.

"What the fuck do you need a God damned air conditioner in the snow for? I demanded.

"Oh, man," one replied excitedly, "this is so cool. You have to see it!" These guys were bouncing around like kids at a birthday party. One showed me around as the other hooked up the hoses from the air conditioners and turned them on.

Inside was what looked like a library. Every room was filled with rows and rows of what appeared to be bookshelves. However, instead of books, these shelves held printed circuit boards. There must have been thousands of them. I was duly impressed, and had nerdily forgotten about the beer I had wanted so badly.

"Cool. But what is it for?" I asked.

"Ahh," he said, "come in here," and led me to yet another room. This room was huge, and had little in it that I recognized. It was straight out of a science fiction movie, only less corny looking.

"Ok," I replied stupidly, "what is it?"

"It's a C5 simulator! Come on inside!"

And inside the contraption was the cockpit of a C-5A cargo plane, at the time the largest aircraft in the world. We had several C5s there at Dover, which was, of course, why they needed a C5 simulator. And two SUV sized air conditioners to cool the contraption's circuitry.

It was identical to a C5 cockpit, right down to the bolts and carpets. The only difference was that the windows were ground glass rather than clear, for projecting images on.

They let me "fly" it. It was incredible! It sat on hydraulics, so when you accelerated, it felt like acceleration. Likewise banking, diving, etc. You could even crash the thing! This was even cooler than the other computer I had seen back when I was 12.

Again, I lusted after a computer of my own.

In 1974, the first PC (or "microcomputer") was introduced, and I missed it. It was the Altair, with switches on the front for input, lights for output, and 256 bytes of memory. That's right kids, not gigabytes, not megabytes, not even kilobytes. Bytes. It was nothing more than a toy for nerds, having no practical use whatever. So it was probably a good thing that I was in Thailand at the time or I would have probably blown the three months' pay on one.

Some couple of years later I met my first privately owned computer: a "pong" game a friend had. Yawn. Yes, Pong was as mindlessly boring in 1978 as it is in 2005.

By 1982 I had gotten out of the Air Force, gone through college, been married for six years, and was living in Florida and working at Disney World. There I met even more computers, mainframes all. I never got closer than eyeshot, but that was closer than most people ever got. These computers controlled the amusement park's rides, animatronics, and just about everything else.

By then, the Commodore Pet had come out, and the Apple, and the TI-99A, and a few other makes. I wanted one badly, but didn't have the money. Finally, Britain's Sir Clive Sinclair did what Apple later claimed to do - made a computer "for the rest of us." Unlike Apples' "rest of us" which was "those of us normal, non-nerds only with a boatload of money," the Sinclair was affordable. Only a hundred bucks! ...which was still a lot of money to me at the time, but I could scrape it together.

I learned to program in BASIC. I then proceeded to learn how to program it in machine code, since its 1 MHz chip that also powered everything about the cheap device was simply too slow for the games I wanted to play. I had to design and write the games myself, since there really weren't any that I could find.

A year later, I got another computer, this one in color! It was a Radio Shack MC-10. I fiddled around with it and figured out how to hack its text-only display into graphics with software, and sold a few copies of the graphics program.

We moved back to Illinois with our new baby, where I parlayed my knowledge of computers into a paying job. I still work there today, writing programs, writing reports, and helping clueless users. I still have my soldering iron despite swearing off of it (and still use it), and I build my own computers now. The baby's younger sister just turned 18, and the wife is now an ex.

The computer sitting on the desk here in my apartment is several orders of magnitude more powerful than that first computer I saw at the exposition in 1964, and even orders of magnitude faster than the computers that calculated the moon shot trajectories. It was worth the wait!

Do you remember your first computer?


Voxel dot net
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Favorite computer:
o Babbage 5%
o ENIAC 0%
o IBM 3%
o Burroughs 1%
o Apple 26%
o Dell 5%
o Cray 12%
o Home grown 19%
o other 25%

Votes: 56
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o Google
o patented
o In '52, huge computer called Univac changed election night:
o Also by mcgrew

Display: Sort:
Growing Up With Computers | 140 comments (103 topical, 37 editorial, 0 hidden)
This is an excellent (2.33 / 3) (#5)
by mikepence on Mon Mar 28, 2005 at 07:49:05 PM EST


C64 (2.50 / 2) (#6)
by urdine on Mon Mar 28, 2005 at 11:35:27 PM EST

I started with the trusty Commodore 64.  My introduction to "pirated games," too, at the age of 10 when my Dad would bring home floppies traded at weekly "computer club" meetings.

Funny, my Dad bought the thing for $1000 to "help with school" but all I did was mess around on it, playing games etc.  Now of course I make a tidy living on web stuff, so maybe it was a good investment after all.

Yarr, ye olde school piracy! (none / 0) (#27)
by LilDebbie on Tue Mar 29, 2005 at 09:56:42 AM EST

Back in the day, I used ye Fast Hack'em Disk Copy program to trade games with me cousins, yarr!

Later, I would "borrow" Doom on 16 3.5" which I neglected to label and had to guess what order they went in.

My name is LilDebbie and I have a garden.
- hugin -

[ Parent ]
Perhaps your weed was too good (none / 0) (#90)
by mcgrew on Wed Mar 30, 2005 at 05:32:25 PM EST

Doom II came on two floppies. I think you're thinking of "Word Perfect," which wasn't nearly as fun as Doom, unless you were ripped out of your skull.

"The entire neocon movement is dedicated to revoking mcgrew's posting priviliges. This is why we went to war with Iraq." -LilDebbie
[ Parent ]

Doom II floppies... (none / 0) (#105)
by pornosheep on Thu Mar 31, 2005 at 05:26:41 AM EST

Actually Doom II has 5 1.44MB floppies. I'm looking at the box right now (I have a small collection of old games which I plan to put on CDs or DVDs eventually).

[ Parent ]
I thought it was 4 HD 3.5's for doom1 [nt] (none / 0) (#139)
by neozeed on Tue Apr 19, 2005 at 10:02:21 AM EST

Unless you're alive you can't play. And if you don't play, you don't get to be alive.
[ Parent ]

Hope you enjoyed (none / 1) (#8)
by Kasreyn on Tue Mar 29, 2005 at 12:36:17 AM EST

being a member of a generation that got to pioneer a new tech. Must be nice.

Those unfortunates of us born in the 1970's and 80's get to be in a trough instead of a crest: too young to be part of the computer revolution, too old to be part of the nano revolution.

"Extenuating circumstance to be mentioned on Judgement Day:
We never asked to be born in the first place."

R.I.P. Kurt. You will be missed.
Yeah, sure... (none / 1) (#109)
by paranoid on Thu Mar 31, 2005 at 11:07:39 AM EST

What a moron. Are you really so stupid and illiterate? Can you actually comprehend what yoг are reading or is your comprehension limited to caustic moronic remarks?

Fucking dimwit. There will be a nano revolution. And an AI revolution. And a genetics revolution. And then I will find you, the retard, who used alias "You must accept a cookie" on Kuroshin, and will kick your sorry ass. But I sincerelly hope you die before that.

[ Parent ]

An "Argument From Incredulity" nt (none / 0) (#116)
by MrMikey on Thu Mar 31, 2005 at 07:13:55 PM EST

[ Parent ]
Not true! (3.00 / 2) (#10)
by pornosheep on Tue Mar 29, 2005 at 01:14:02 AM EST

Those unfortunates of us born in the 1970's and 80's get to be in a trough instead of a crest: too young to be part of the computer revolution, too old to be part of the nano revolution.
This is clearly not true! I bought my first computer in 1987, when I was 10 years old. I know very few people that have actually owned a home computer before that. Maybe if I was born in 1967 I would have bought one a little bit sooner (say 1984-5). Unless you were working in some company or research facility, chances are you'd still get a computer at that approximate time.

The point is, I still got to see much of it: BASIC, the birth of "CD-rom" and multimedia, assembly language, the DOS nightmare, tweaking autoexec.bat and config.sys, writing programs with 64k segments (ouch!), the BBS, the Internet (back in 1994), the Web, the draft C++ standard, the birth of Linux, the GNU revolution, Java etc etc

I feel I have missed very few things which only occured in "research" or "company" environments. Sure, drum memories and punched cards and full height disks (I own a half height -- NOT 1" -- hard disk that still works...) are cool, but chances are you'd never see them at home...

In my mind the most important distinction is between people that used the command line and people that didn't. I (secretly) believe that windows-only users rarely attain the self-discipline that is required to properly understand the workings of a computer. Some of them do, but it is a different generation nevertheless.

[ Parent ]

my first computer (none / 1) (#12)
by ccdotnet on Tue Mar 29, 2005 at 02:10:02 AM EST

bought my first computer in 1987, when I was 10 years old. I know very few people that have actually owned a home computer before that

Now you do: my first was a (clone) Apple ][ purchased in 1980. On boot-up it would display "PANASIA" instead of Apple at the top of the screen. Couldn't afford the 80-column card so it was only 40 columns, but my "green-screen" beast was the best games platform in town, for many years.

[ Parent ]

I bought my first computer in 1980. (none / 1) (#47)
by MrMikey on Tue Mar 29, 2005 at 08:08:50 PM EST

It was a Commodore VIC-20, with all of 3,583 bytes of RAM, and a cassette tape for storage. By the time I was done with it, I'd made a four-port expansion bus, a 32K memory expansion, and a (flaky) video card. Ah, those were the days...

[ Parent ]
our generation (2.66 / 3) (#13)
by ccdotnet on Tue Mar 29, 2005 at 02:20:12 AM EST

Those unfortunates of us born in the 1970's and 80's get to be in a trough instead of a crest: too young to be part of the computer revolution, too old to be part of the nano revolution.

Not true at all. I'm in that generation. Rode the crest of the wave of home computing, async comms and bulletin board systems (BBS), the command-line Internet, this academic oddity called "the web" in the early 90s, through the commercialisation of the Internet, the Y2K scare, the dot-com boom/bust cycle.

And before we die, our generation will make Darwin turn in his grave - the first genuine human-computer interfacing.

Take a number and get in line.

[ Parent ]

the first genuine human-computer interfacing (2.50 / 4) (#15)
by MrHanky on Tue Mar 29, 2005 at 05:47:09 AM EST

I believe they call it a terminal.

"This was great, because it was a bunch of mature players who were able to express themselves and talk politics." Lettuce B-Free, on being a total fucking moron for Ron Paul.
[ Parent ]
human-computer interface (none / 1) (#18)
by ccdotnet on Tue Mar 29, 2005 at 06:14:48 AM EST

I believe they call it a terminal.

Typing and mouse clicks slow down the speed at which we enter/receive data by a thousand fold. Sure, best we've got at the moment, but we were talking about what we'll see in our lifetime - those of us born in the 70s and 80s.

I type this at 120wpm, but look forward to 120tpm (thoughts per second) :-)

[ Parent ]

Yeah, whatever (3.00 / 10) (#22)
by MrHanky on Tue Mar 29, 2005 at 07:37:44 AM EST

I spent far longer considering which word to use -- 'terminal', 'keyboard/monitor', 'console', '/dev/tty*' -- than actually typing it. People write badly because they don't think well, not because they type slowly. I can imagine bloggers will love being able to write at 120 'uh, you know, lol' per second, but who wants to read that crap?

Lack of information is hardly the worst problem facing mankind these days. Lack of good information is unfortunate, and the main cause of the situation is that everyone with half a brain pollutes the net with mindless gargle about whatever they fancy momentarily. Google only gives you a smaller cup, but you have to drink from the same sewer.

Yes, I'm offending just by posting this comment. But then again, no one comes to K5 for good information, so I suppose it's alright.

"This was great, because it was a bunch of mature players who were able to express themselves and talk politics." Lettuce B-Free, on being a total fucking moron for Ron Paul.
[ Parent ]

na (none / 0) (#83)
by emmons on Wed Mar 30, 2005 at 04:14:07 PM EST

There's TONS of good information online, it's just that the signal to noise ratio is so damn low and we don't have a good uniform system for categorizing and searching the "good stuff" that would allow us to cut through the crap.

The quality is there, it's just damn hard to find.

In the beginning the universe was created. This has made a lot of people angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.
-Douglas Adams

[ Parent ]

yep. quality is... (none / 0) (#119)
by The Amazing Idiot on Thu Mar 31, 2005 at 11:03:00 PM EST

Quality is there, but finding things on the net is like trying to swim in an ocean 2 inches deep.

Its all there.. If you can find it.

[ Parent ]

What? (2.85 / 7) (#31)
by NoBeardPete on Tue Mar 29, 2005 at 03:26:36 PM EST

I was born in 1979, as my father was finishing his PhD in Computer Science. I am one of the oldest people I know for whom the internet has always been there.

When I was in early elementary school, I had a sheet of paper with directions on how to dial in to the University server (pick up phone, dial this number, wait for screetches, put phone in cradle, etc), to play a few of the games there. I remember I mostly liked some vaguely Roguelike D&D game, plus the one where you hunt grues. By fourth grade, I was playing a game called 'Empire' online, which involved telnetting into the appropriate IP address to play something similar to multi-player Civilization. In my first game, I think turns happened every 12 hours, and a game would last months. My country fared poorly, and was mostly conquered. From the dinky island I was exiled on, I figured out how to forge messages to other players making it look like they had been attacked by allies, and I ruined the coalition that had taken me down.

Not long after, I started playing some MUDs, the text based predecessors of the current MMORPGs. I mostly played Diku MUDs, which involved lots of running around killing monsters with groups of friends, but I also fiddled around with Lambda MOO shortly after it came out, and some other non-combat MUDs as well.

By the time I got to high school, I was already spending time on several mailing lists and some Usenet groups, getting into big discussions about politics and religion. In retrospect, I must have been insufferable. I was always civil, and didn't degrade into just spamming any of these lists, but I think I was often off topic, and probably much too sure that I was right and others were wrong.

When I was a kid, I used to use the old Unix 'talk' and 'write' commands to chat with my dad when he was at work. When I got to college, they had an instant messaging system that people mostly used from the command line. It made instant sense to me. When the GUI clients for it started to catch on, I thought they were somewhat frivolous. By the time I was a senior, most of the incoming freshmen already used AIM, and were uninterested in using our campus-specific system, even though it had a lot of perks as compared to AIM. After I left college, I broke down and got AIM, as I was soon cut off from the campus network.

I grew up with the internet. When I was a child, I used a young version of the internet we see today, small, peopled almost exclusively by academics and researchers. I grew up with it, saw it expand, develop new facets, become influential to the world at large. I don't ever remember a time when I didn't use the internet.

Those of us born in the 1970s and 1980s may not have seen the computer revolution, but we have certainly seen the internet revolution. And this has been a huge revolution. It has reshaped our lives so much.

We have so much information at our finger tips now. You want to find out, say, how to roast your own coffee beans? It'll take you about 30 seconds with google to find a good guide that'll walk you through it. Or maybe you hear someone mention a branch of Christianity called Preterism, that holds that Christ's second coming has already passed. You're intruiged, and want to hear more. It'll take you a few moments to find hours worth of reading material. Maybe you ride your bike a lot, and are curious as to your state's laws on their use. Maybe your garbage disposal is jammed, and you'd like a little advice on how to fix it. Or maybe you don't just want to read, but to talk, maybe about politics, or technology, or philosophy, or anything. There are thousands of sites where you can spend as much time as you want doing this.

This is new, and it's big. Those of us born in the 1970s and 1980s got to live through the internet coming of age, and that's huge.

Arrr, it be the infamous pirate, No Beard Pete!
[ Parent ]

Hmm, good point. I stand corrected. :) -nt (none / 0) (#63)
by Kasreyn on Wed Mar 30, 2005 at 03:25:36 AM EST

"Extenuating circumstance to be mentioned on Judgement Day:
We never asked to be born in the first place."

R.I.P. Kurt. You will be missed.
[ Parent ]
The internet's dark side... (none / 0) (#91)
by mcgrew on Wed Mar 30, 2005 at 05:33:45 PM EST

I'm a hyperlex, a readaholic. I used to practically live in the library. I don't think I've stepped foot in there since 1998 or so. The last dead tree book I read was something about programming javascript.

"The entire neocon movement is dedicated to revoking mcgrew's posting priviliges. This is why we went to war with Iraq." -LilDebbie
[ Parent ]

Right, whatever. (2.50 / 2) (#44)
by Adiabatic Expansion on Tue Mar 29, 2005 at 07:25:48 PM EST

Spoken as somebody who has truly done nothing worthwhile to advance the state of the art.

[ Parent ]
Medicine (none / 1) (#87)
by emmons on Wed Mar 30, 2005 at 04:27:09 PM EST

I think something that people don't think about often enough is that right now, medical technology is where computer technology was at in the '20s. We're currently mapping and understanding the genome, and starting to do our first experiments with gene therapy.

Somtime in my lifetime, I am convinced that we will reach a point at which we have enough understanding of how the body physically works to engineer cures for diseases and test them using computer simulations. The possibilities will be unlike anything ever imagined.

In the beginning the universe was created. This has made a lot of people angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.
-Douglas Adams

[ Parent ]

Apple IIe (none / 1) (#23)
by j1mmy on Tue Mar 29, 2005 at 07:53:16 AM EST

My elementary school had a couple of them and educational software like Logo and Mathblaster and Carmen Sandiego and such things. That was third or fourth grade, I think.

C64 (2.66 / 3) (#26)
by LilDebbie on Tue Mar 29, 2005 at 09:51:42 AM EST

And to this day, I still think it was as powerful as computers need to be.

Unfortunately, it burnt out when I left it on while attending mass one fateful Easter. I've never forgiven God. I had Zork I-IV on 5.25"!

My name is LilDebbie and I have a garden.
- hugin -

hehehehe (none / 0) (#59)
by justAnotherProphet on Wed Mar 30, 2005 at 12:48:23 AM EST

The best reason I've seen to hate God to date!

[ Parent ]
my impression (none / 0) (#42)
by khallow on Tue Mar 29, 2005 at 07:17:17 PM EST

This is grade A +1 FP material. Keep up the good work!

Stating the obvious since 1969.

Thank you, sir. (none / 0) (#92)
by mcgrew on Wed Mar 30, 2005 at 05:34:12 PM EST

"The entire neocon movement is dedicated to revoking mcgrew's posting priviliges. This is why we went to war with Iraq." -LilDebbie
[ Parent ]

In 1978... (none / 1) (#49)
by MrMikey on Tue Mar 29, 2005 at 08:18:42 PM EST

I was a Junior in High School, and our electronics lab received three TRS-80 Model Is. I took the manual home, read it, and started writing computer programs the next day... and I've been doing that continuously ever since. I was jealous of the neighboring High School's lab... they had Apple IIs.

Of all the computers I've owned, the one that makes me the most nostalgic was the Commodore Amiga. That machine was a decade ahead of its time, and if Commodore hadn't had it's corporate head up its ass, it would have been Amigas rather than IBM PCs that would have set the standard. That machine had hardware-based area fill and line draw, hardware-based digital stereo sound, and a multitasking operating system. You could display a figure juggling reflective balls, with reflections, and stereo sound, and just slide that screen down and keep working, because the CPU had hardly any load at all! The hardware was doing all the work. It would be many years before an IBM PC could do something similar.

Not quite (2.50 / 2) (#52)
by tzanger on Tue Mar 29, 2005 at 09:22:20 PM EST

The Amiga was a nice machine, granted, but it wasn't that great.  You most certainly could not take your rotating reflective balls and put them in the corner and work on other stuff with stereo sound and keep working -- unless you were maybe working on a text document...  The hardware was taking care of a lot of the heavy lifting but the I/O bus was completely hosed from moving that data around.  The object textures and whatnot still had to get from main mem to the video chip, and the stereo sound samples still had to get to the sound chip -- IIRC the sound chip just did the D/A and mixing on its own, but if you were doing anything else (sample effects, etc.) you were still doing it on the host CPU.

What I miss about the Amiga was the full schematics in the back of the manual.

[ Parent ]

Actually (none / 1) (#64)
by xL on Wed Mar 30, 2005 at 04:18:39 AM EST

If I recall correctly, the Amiga distinguished two types of RAM that could be attached to the system. There was Chip Memory and Fast Memory. The, Chip Memory was limited in size to 512KB, 1MB or 2MB (depending on the specific chipset), expansion RAM was normally mapped as Fast Memory. The difference between those two was that Fast RAM could only be accessed by the CPU unhindered whereas Chip RAM could be used by the custom chips for DMA, sharing access with the CPU.

[ Parent ]
A modern computer with 1700 bytes of RAM (3.00 / 3) (#50)
by MichaelCrawford on Tue Mar 29, 2005 at 08:48:58 PM EST

The Oxford Semiconductor OXFW911 FireWire/IDE bridge chip, commonly used to make firewire hard drives out of common IDE drives, has a 32-bit CPU about 1700 bytes of RAM and 64 kb of Flash ROM.

I implemnted an Advanced Encryption Standard hard drive encryptor that ran entirely onboard the 911. This made encryption transparent to the host computer's operating system. I just needed a small user interface app to supply the password.

One problem was that I need 512 bytes to hold a disk sector during encryption and decryption, a huge amount given that was was nearly a third of the available RAM. I deal with this by entering all the global variables into a spreadsheet, and changing some to save space. For example, some four-byte integers didn't really need all that available range, so I could change them to two bytes.

(There was only global variables and stack in my firmware. It didn't have any heap allocation.)

I wasn't able to get it to run as fast as I needed it to, which was the reason I published an Ask K5 here to get help with ARM Assembly Code Optimization.

In the end the product was never released. I was able to make it work flawlessly, but the 911's ARM7TDMI CPU runs at only 49 Mhz, and AES's algorithm requires a number of repeated rounds of encryption. I was able to get it to run a lot faster in assembly than I could in C, but in the end it wasn't fast enough to be useful.


Live your fucking life. Sue someone on the Internet. Write a fucking music player. Like the great man Michael David Crawford has shown us all: Hard work, a strong will to stalk, and a few fries short of a happy meal goes a long way. -- bride of spidy

1700 bytes? Feh.... (2.50 / 2) (#51)
by jandev on Tue Mar 29, 2005 at 09:20:13 PM EST

My 1982 ZX81 had 1K! 1024 bytes! A typical BASIC program consisted of a comment line followed by a number of dots or whatever character you preferred. Lines 2-6 were a for-loop which queried for that same number of byte values, which were POKEd into the well-known memory locations for the dots you entered in the first line. Finally, you did a USR (machine code subroutine) to the first of the bytes you just entered. The thing displayed 25x40 lines of fuzzy characters on my little b/w portable TV.

Of course I didn't have a proper cassette player (the only supported form of persistant memory), so if I wanted to play a game a second time I had to enter the whole friggin' thing again. Later I got a 16k extension pack, which solved the immediate memory problems :)

1983 brought me a 16k TRS80 model 1 with printer and cassette player (and a 'proper' monitor). Having read about Forth at the time and interested in what programming that would be like, I attempted an interpreter for a self-cooked Forth-like language in Z80 assembly. Never worked of course, but heaps of fun.

After that University, which brought me a BBC Electron (with build in assembler!), and in 1986 a dual diskdrive, 640K PC clone (last I know someone was still using that thing for wordperfect). IMHO it was all downhill from there.

I reckon my SMC wireless router has more horsepower than any of these mentioned above.

[ Parent ]

1982? Feh! (none / 0) (#76)
by 87C751 on Wed Mar 30, 2005 at 11:47:48 AM EST

My 1981 Sinclair ZX-80 had 1024 bytes of RAM, and Integer BASIC.

  • The square root of 4 is 2
  • The square root of 5 is between 2 and 3
Of course, my first computer was a DigiComp 100, which I built in 1971. You had to crank it.

My wristwatch has more computing power than all those mentioned above, combined.

My ranting place.
[ Parent ]

The Oxford 911 is still manufactured though (none / 0) (#82)
by MichaelCrawford on Wed Mar 30, 2005 at 04:02:33 PM EST

The 922 has higher performance, and a whopping eight kilobytes, but the 911 is still made for lower-cost applications.

The chip package is about the size of a dime, and includes CPU, RAM, Flash ROM, IDE controller and FireWire Link Layer core.


Live your fucking life. Sue someone on the Internet. Write a fucking music player. Like the great man Michael David Crawford has shown us all: Hard work, a strong will to stalk, and a few fries short of a happy meal goes a long way. -- bride of spidy

[ Parent ]

Mine was a terminal (2.75 / 4) (#53)
by MichaelCrawford on Tue Mar 29, 2005 at 09:24:41 PM EST

I couldn't afford an IBM PC. I bought a Televideo 910+ ASCII terminal (a "glass tty") after working the summer of '83 as a research assistant for an astronomy professor. Along with my Hayes 1200 baud SmartModem, it set me back $1500.

The reason I wanted it was that that way I could log into the Caltech student VAX (running VMS, not Unix!) from my room in the student houses, which I found much more comfortable than going to the terminal lab in the computer science building, especially late at night.

Later, I didn't need to use my modem anymore as they ran serial cables into all the student rooms, so I could log in directly, and at 9600 baud!

Unfortunately, I found that by logging into different machines over the campus network, going back and forth in a big loop, I was able to bring the whole network down. The student sysadmin who helped me fix the mess I made said "please don't do that, our network is fragile.

The first real computer I bought was a Mac 512k with two floppy drives. I used it to do my first GUI programming, writing an application called CircleDraw that made it easy to draw patterns like my logo (just in black & white though). I still have the first hardcopy I was able to make with it.

I used to bring the source and binary to CircleDraw with me to job interviews, which eventually won me my first job writing commercial software.

My first commercial program was a keystroke capture program for the Mac called Last Resort, meant to recover your text after crashes, power failures, or if you just deleted important text and could not undo. The executable code and data together required only 8 kb. I got a lot of letters and phone calls from writers who told me Last Resort had saved their novels from disappearing. Last Resort was published by Working Software, which is long-gone now.

My roommate upgraded our 512k to a Mac plus equivalent with a ROM upgrade, some RAM (just 512 kb more at first, but when we got the cash, I added another meg, so we could run Multifinder!), a SCSI port soldered directly to the pins of the 68000 microprocessor, and a 105 MB (that's MEGAbyte) hard drive that I bought used off an add on the usenet news for $750.

It used to be really hard to come by computing power back then. A megabyte of memory was a significant investment.

My old roommate still has that old Mac plus. It still runs. He has to fix it with a soldering iron from time to time. He plays games on it that won't run on modern Macs.


Live your fucking life. Sue someone on the Internet. Write a fucking music player. Like the great man Michael David Crawford has shown us all: Hard work, a strong will to stalk, and a few fries short of a happy meal goes a long way. -- bride of spidy

We need another moon landing. (2.57 / 7) (#55)
by waxmop on Tue Mar 29, 2005 at 10:18:49 PM EST

For a brief moment, science became cool. It seems like every nerd talks about the moon landing like a damn religious event -- entire lifetimes of work seem to have been inspired by watching that.

We need something like that again. I don't think it has to be a manned space mission, or even anything necessarily connected to space. We just need something that affirms in everybody's mind how much more valuable scientists and engineers and inquisitive people are to society than entertainers.
fuck meatspace man I gotta level my dwarf cleric lonelyhobo

sadly... (3.00 / 3) (#57)
by cbraga on Tue Mar 29, 2005 at 10:52:39 PM EST

I think that it'll be very hard for anything to capture the same excitement of back then. In the 1960s television was a novelty in itself and the wonders of technology were right at the living room to be marvelled at.

Today however everybody is desensitized to technology. I don't know, but it seems that the latest technological breakthroughs for the home are more than ten years old (cell phones, the Internet, PCs). There's nothing that excites people like that anymore and science fiction seems like a moribund genre.

Even going to Mars wouldn't raise eyebrows, people will see it as a natural extension, nothing extraordinary.

What new technological frontier need we to break to bring new scientific excitement and compete with the professional entertainers?

Moon bases?
Teleportation to distant stars?

ESC[78;89;13p ESC[110;121;13p
[ Parent ]

The next mojor event (2.00 / 2) (#60)
by D Jade on Wed Mar 30, 2005 at 12:50:51 AM EST

Will be when they find the cure for cancer. You won't be able to watch them do this on TV. But it will be HUGE!

You're a shitty troll, so stop pretending you have more of a life than a cool dude -- HollyHopDrive
[ Parent ]
Stupid nitpick (3.00 / 3) (#68)
by waxmop on Wed Mar 30, 2005 at 09:00:33 AM EST

Apparently cancer is an umbrella label for a whole bunch of diseases that have lots of stuff in common, but lots of differences too. So its more likely they'll pick off cancers one-by-one in a very boring way rather than invent a magic serum.

Or at least that's what people tell me. I only took a biology course for non-science majors.
fuck meatspace man I gotta level my dwarf cleric lonelyhobo
[ Parent ]

Heheh (none / 0) (#98)
by D Jade on Wed Mar 30, 2005 at 07:06:42 PM EST

Yeah it would be cool if there was a magic serum. But that's what I mean. It won't be as exciting, but it will still be kind of cool...

You're a shitty troll, so stop pretending you have more of a life than a cool dude -- HollyHopDrive
[ Parent ]
Part of the problem are the science nerds (2.60 / 5) (#61)
by godix on Wed Mar 30, 2005 at 01:41:09 AM EST

Nerd: We put a rover on Mars, ain't it cool!
Average guy: Yes, I know. It was called Viking and happened 30 years ago.
Nerd: No no, I mean we put ANOTHER rover on Mars. Ain't science grand?

Nerd: The X-Prize has been won!
Average guy: Someone going to space quit being news in the 1950s.
Nerd: But this wasn't the government! Wow!

Nerd: We built a space station!
Average guy: I hate to inform you but Skylab burned up on re-entry decades ago and MIR went down several years ago.
Nerd: But this space station is cool, it'll advance science.
Average guy: How?
Nerd: Uhhhhh...

Nerd: We found a planet in another solar system!
Average guy: That makes what, 150 now?
Nerd: But we did it with direct observation this time!

Nerd: We found water on Mars today!
Average guy: Wow. Water. Impressive. Did it ever occur to you that you could turn on a faucet to find water and save several million dollars?

Nerd: Look at this cool picture from Hubble!
Average guy: It'll look great in a calendar with any of the millions of other cool Hubble pictures.

Nerd: We think everything is really strings and what we interact with are their vibrations!
Average guy: You need to lay off the LSD kid, it does things to you.

For the last decade or so the science nerds have been hyping up and getting excited about things that aren't really new or are new but are so esoteric that the average guy can't really get excited about it. When scientists come up with something that's new and has pretty pictures that can be shown on a tv set the average guy will get interested. Until then it is little more than science nerds over-hyping what's happening. It's gotten to the point that even the news channels, who are starved for stories, have quit paying attention to the science nerds.

- An egotist is someone who thinks they're almost as good as I am.
[ Parent ]

Rather, the symptom. (none / 1) (#95)
by bjlhct on Wed Mar 30, 2005 at 06:12:32 PM EST

The problem is that these things aren't significant enough. The nerds, having nothing they can impress the average guys with, try anyway. The average guy right, here. String theory is crap. Simply scaling SS1 to LEO from what it did using the rocket equation gives you something as expensive as the shuttle, and that's before re-entry shielding. The nerds have been convinced that the ISS is useful without any evidence for it. Astronomy (past the solar system anyway) useless in a practical sense.

We don't need to send a man to Mars, we need to send Joe Sixpack to LEO. The parent post recognizes the problem you present and asks about big problems to solve that the average guy will care about.

[kur0(or)5hin http://www.kuro5hin.org/intelligence] - drowning your sorrows in intellectualism
[ Parent ]

Not my first, but probably the oldest I've used. (none / 1) (#56)
by smallstepforman on Tue Mar 29, 2005 at 10:29:24 PM EST

Back in 1986 during a Digital Electonics class, we used an unknown box for lab work with the following characteristics:

- display was made of 4 7-segment LED displays - the keyboard had 20 buttons, 16 of which were hex characters, and the other 4 were GO STOP READ and SET. - It had 32 bytes of RAM. Bytes. - to program it, you'd first type in an address, hit SET and then a command / data in hex, then SET again. - to execute a program, you'd type in the start address (in the Program Counter) and hit Go. - to view output, you'd type in the address, and hit READ.

The fun we had trying to write the smallest application to multiply two numbers (the CPU had no multiply instruction).

These days, I just do new array[5*1024*1024] and not think twice about it :(

That sounds like a development board. (none / 0) (#100)
by static on Wed Mar 30, 2005 at 09:38:59 PM EST

My dad had one at work. It had an Intel 8085 CPU, 256 bytes of RAM, the keys and display, and a monitor ROM. Assembly was manual! The 8085 also doesn't have a multiply instruction...


[ Parent ]

An IBM PC-Jr with 128KB of RAM (none / 1) (#58)
by esrever on Tue Mar 29, 2005 at 11:05:35 PM EST

It booted off a BASICA cartridge (it had two cartridge slots - w00t!), and it had a low density single side 5 1/4" disk drive.  I loved it.  I was 4 years old.  I still remember loading and playing BASIC games on it (me the 4 year old):

load "game

I still remember being amused by the idiosyncrasy involved in the fact that you had to open the quotes with the 'load' command, but you didn't have to close them.

I remember teaching myself the analogous DOS commands when we got DOS 2.1 on floppy disk and were able to boot that instead to play DOS games.
We had that computer until 1990 when it got retired in favour of a 286 (teh raw power!!!11!!1) with its own harddrive.

Oh the memories.

Audit NTFS permissions on Windows

Vic-20 (none / 0) (#69)
by wiredog on Wed Mar 30, 2005 at 09:27:06 AM EST

Bought (new) when I was, I dunno, 16 or so? It was the first computer I owned.

The first computer I used was a mainframe owned by the Fairfax County Schools, accessed by tty over phone lines. The 'computer room' used by the programming class had 2 glass ttys and 1 real tty.

Wilford Brimley scares my chickens.
Phil the Canuck

Texas Instruments TI-99/4A (none / 0) (#70)
by Drog on Wed Mar 30, 2005 at 10:04:11 AM EST

My fist computer was the Texas Instruments TI-99/4A. I had the the speech synthesizer and everything. My older brother, then in high school (I'm 5-years younger), even created a game company for it, creating games in Extended Basic -- I created the graphics. I wonder what ever happed to that machine. My folks probably gave it away, along with my Colecovision and Apple IIe clone.

Looking for political forums? Check out "The World Forum". News feed available here on K5.
I loved the TI-99/4A!! (none / 0) (#104)
by JohnLamar on Thu Mar 31, 2005 at 03:07:02 AM EST

That was really my first computer. My grandparents got the TI-99/4A when they bought carpet in the early 1980's. I used it at age 5 (1980) and later played with the BASIC features, which you reached by not using a cartridge.

Since my Grandpa used computers at work he bought this monstrosity:

http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&category=1247&item=5179760 677&rd=1

I got the machine later and hooked it up a few times, but that was the time of the Pentium. I wasn't that interested. I tucked it away but my brother got it out during his "smashing" phase. He took a hammer to both items, the main unit and the enormous disk drive.

The worst thing you've ever seen
[ Parent ]

US-centric? (2.33 / 3) (#71)
by gidds on Wed Mar 30, 2005 at 10:18:15 AM EST

Interesting article, but to read it, you'd think that the entire development computers was entirely a US affair.

And of course, that's not the case. Pascal was French, Babbage British, Konrad Zuse German, Alan Turing British, Tommy Flowers British, Howard Aiken American, Freddie Williams and Tom Kilburn British, Eckert and Mauchly American, and so on. (I'm English, but I'm trying not to be too biased...)

There are several web pages which detail some of this early work, such as this one at the Alan Turing site, and this one on a site looking at the Manchester Mark 1.

There were a lot of milestones in computer design: the first general-purpose digital computer (Babbage's Analytical Engine), the first analog computers (an integrating machine by Lord Kelvin and his brother James Thomson), the first working general-purpose program-controlled digital computer (Konrad Zuse's Z3), the first use of vacuum tubes for extensive digital data-processing (Tommy Flowers, at the Dollis Hill Post Office Research Station), the first fully functioning electronic digital computer (Turing's Colossus), the first working general-purpose stored-program electronic digital computer (the Manchester Baby), and so on. How you view the history of computers depends a lot on exactly which criteria you use; ENIAC was just one of many.

(Complicating this is the fact that a lot of that early work was kept secret for several decades, especially that at Bletchley Park.)

Three much later British pioneers are also worth mentioning. As you said, Clive Sinclair's ZX80, ZX81 and ZX Spectrum brought cheap computing to the masses, remaining popular until the 16-bit Ataris and Amigas took over. Acorn's legacy can still be seen: their BBC Micro series had a power, flexibility and depth far ahead of its time. And for their Archimedes they designed a new processor, the ARM, which not only pioneered RISC technology but has descendants in a lot of current mobile phones, PDAs, and other devices. And then there's Psion, who invented the PDA, of course.

I'm a child of the '80s, so I've grown up with home computers: my own milestones were a Commodore Pet (first use), a ZX81 (first home machine), a BBC Micro (which I got to know inside out; I rewrote parts of its ROM, and helped turn one into a laser harp), a couple of Ataris, a few Psions (of which my 5mx is still invaluable) and now a Mac.

It's interesting to think that the Psion in my pocket has an order of magnitude more speed, and three orders of magnitude more storage, than even my beloved Beeb, let alone those early machines...


Reminds me of an old computer joke (3.00 / 3) (#86)
by therippa on Wed Mar 30, 2005 at 04:25:43 PM EST

Q: Why don't the British build computers? A: Because they can't figure out how to make them leak oil.

[ Parent ]
Rubber keys (none / 0) (#133)
by werebear on Wed Apr 06, 2005 at 12:27:33 PM EST

You think leaky oil is the worst we Brit's can do ?

I cut my teeth on the old ZX Sinclair Spectrum (with a whopping 48 K !) and the infamous bouncy rubber keyboard of nastyness. To this day the thought of how utterly horrible that keyboard was to use makes me wince.

Good introduction to the basics of ... er ... basic though. Many cold & dark winter evenings spent typing in or adapting programs from computing magazines. (Usually to have the fsucking thing freeze up before you got the chance to save it on tape)

I'm still undecided whether Sir Clive Sinclair was a visionary or a loon. For amusement value google the 'Sinclair C5'. Way before Segway was a gleam in it's daddys eye this was an 'innovation that would revolutionise personal transportation' - that sank like a stone. Ergonomically apalling, esthetically painful, slow and dangerous as hell - the recumbent users profile was so low that only a kamikazee would consider actually taking one out onto the road.

Of course in Britian we take a sort of perverse pride in being really, really bad at some things.

OTOH sometimes we don't: there is an argument that Collossus (debateably the first digital electronic computer) won WW2 in Europe cracking Enigma codes.

[ Parent ]

Well of course (none / 1) (#94)
by mcgrew on Wed Mar 30, 2005 at 06:10:05 PM EST

It's a history written in the first person. Were you to write it I imagine it would be a bit UK-centric.

Were it not a first person account I would have certainly spoken of Babbage and Lovelace, or the German guy who built a computer out of relays in what, 1920?

But gee, it's pretty long as it is.

"The entire neocon movement is dedicated to revoking mcgrew's posting priviliges. This is why we went to war with Iraq." -LilDebbie
[ Parent ]

Fisr person (none / 1) (#103)
by the womble on Thu Mar 31, 2005 at 02:29:59 AM EST

A first person account that starts with stuff that happened before you were born and covers a lot of things you have not seen yourself?

[ Parent ]
I miss my old TRS-80 (none / 1) (#72)
by J T MacLeod on Wed Mar 30, 2005 at 10:22:52 AM EST

I would sit in my mother's lap and play.  I wasn't more than 4 years old, perhaps 3, when I first started learning BASIC at the same time I was learning to read.  

Sadly, it was then that my parents separated, and the TRS-80 was put away.  My book on BASIC was lost, and I didn't get to touch another PC until my father got both a PCjr and my grandmother got a Tandy 1000 (I take that back--my grandmother borrowed a Macintosh from her school.  Despite my fascination with the mouse, I have ALWAYS hated Macs, until OS X.).  Shortly thereafter, my father got a 386.  None of which I did much with aside from a few really poor, if ambitious games, although I got to surf CompuServ on the 386!  

I didn't get a computer of my own until I inherited my grandmother's old Tandy 1000, but without a BASIC manual, I didn't get to program for it.  I almost had that puppy online with DOS versions of Lynx and Kermit, but it didn't like my 2600bps modem.  

...of course, by the time I was trying to get the Tandy online, we were in the days of Pentiums.  Hey, I was poor.

I surfed compuserve on the MC-10 (none / 0) (#96)
by mcgrew on Wed Mar 30, 2005 at 06:13:24 PM EST

300 baud modem, wow the incredible speed... of course, it was all text back then.

"The entire neocon movement is dedicated to revoking mcgrew's posting priviliges. This is why we went to war with Iraq." -LilDebbie
[ Parent ]

C64 and 64C (none / 0) (#73)
by avatarxy on Wed Mar 30, 2005 at 10:58:11 AM EST

My parents bought a C64 just around the time I was born - I remember learning to program, looking up "PRINT" in the dictionary to make sure I wouldn't somehow break the computer by misspelling the command.

A few years after that, I think the C64 b0rked, and we replaced it with a 64C.

Anyone remember typing in programs from the back of Compute Gazette? I still have all our issues, from sometime around 1983-1989.

Went on to a 386 40MHz, followed by a 386 25MHz (but with 4MB RAM instead of 2MB!), a P75, and on up... if it weren't for the slowness of the 1541, I think I'd still use the C64.

Oh yeah - GEOS anyone?

Liza (none / 0) (#77)
by CrackHappy on Wed Mar 30, 2005 at 03:06:15 PM EST

I distinctly remember manually typing in the "Liza" program from the back of a computer magazine.  You know, the computer psychiatrist...

Man did I ever have fun with that, changing the default strings to display some rather offbeat and colorful remarks to questions.  

My first computer was an Atari 400.  I remember loading the BASIC cartridge and having to save my programs to a cassette tape!  Did anyone else ever take their cassette programs and load them into a standard tape deck and listen to the beeps and whistles?
Wherever you go, there you are. You want to email me, take the two periods and everything between out.
[ Parent ]

Beeps and whistles (none / 0) (#127)
by p3d0 on Fri Apr 01, 2005 at 02:47:30 PM EST

My theory on the beeps and whistles was that the tape deck was just a modem. They'd record the outgoing signal from the modem on the tape, and when they played it back, the modem thought it was downloading data from another modem. Or something like that.
Patrick Doyle
My comments do not reflect the opinions of my employer.
[ Parent ]
them beeps and whistles... (none / 1) (#129)
by GenerationY on Fri Apr 01, 2005 at 07:07:53 PM EST

oh happy days. with the Zx Spectrum it would sort of leak the noise through the speaker so I heard every game load in. Its weird, I could probably still tell the difference between the header, the noise made by  loading in the loading-screen graphic and what a good burst of machine code sounds like. Indeed, hum the following into a tape recorder and you will have a ZX spectrum copy of Jet Set Willy (sorry Rusty, I hope the RIAA or whoever don't get on your back for this).

(loading graphic displayed)
(thats the sound of hand-crafted machine code Localroger fans).

...hey you guys are leet haxors, I'm sure you can figure out the rest.

[ Parent ]

I remember Compute! (none / 0) (#115)
by p3d0 on Thu Mar 31, 2005 at 04:15:31 PM EST

I remember enslaving my little brother to read the BASIC code to me because I wasn't a touch-typist when I was 9.
Patrick Doyle
My comments do not reflect the opinions of my employer.
[ Parent ]
Commodore VIC-20 (none / 0) (#74)
by puppeteer on Wed Mar 30, 2005 at 11:12:09 AM EST

...sold to my dad in a Moosehead Beer wooden crate for probably $25-30 when I was 8 or 9. I remember spending hours in BASIC to make a little ascii bird fly across the screen. Notably, the fellow my Dad bought the VIC-20 from is now my boss. I ended up as their Network Admin.

Not my first machine (none / 0) (#75)
by Benny Cemoli on Wed Mar 30, 2005 at 11:26:57 AM EST

But my oldest. Company I worked for did a job in the late 80s on a simulator for a commercial airliner down in Miami. Cockpit mockup on hydraulics. Iron-core memory. The operating program booted off a punch tape. The start of the tape was spliced onto the end so it was one continuous loop.

My first computer was in 1976, a remote terminal ... big selectric ball ... wide green paper ... acoustic coupler and a 110 baud modem to an IBM mainframe.

We had big hair and big dreams.

We wrote programs in APL, which wasn't as weird then as it seems now. Now it seems downright unnatural, although as recently as 1985 I have had lengthy conversations with a friend who seriously insisted that APL was the best possible language for most coding tasks. If you have never seen APL it's actually quite interesting. I'm only partly joking when I say it's the only programming language whose source code is tougher to comprehend than raw assembly opcodes. I actually put an 8086 numeric coprocessor into my Dad's PC so he could run things written in APL.

In Minnesota I worked with an old guy (older even than mcgrew, if that's possible) who had worked with Seymour Cray back in the ur-time of computers. He would occasionally bring in little bits of paleo-tech (like iron core memory and integrated circuits the size of a Texas cattle ranch ... I believe each circuit was whittled by hand). Every now and then he would remark on what a bunch of spoiled pussies we were with our mice and keyboards and megabytes (megabytes!) of memory on our little plastic and tin 486-DX2 boxen.

"the fabric of space quivers at the touch of even a microbe."

My first. (none / 0) (#78)
by BigZaphod on Wed Mar 30, 2005 at 03:24:43 PM EST

Anyone else here have an Atari 800?  That was my first computer.  Complete with tape drive!  I was about 7 or 8 years old and the time and immediately got into BASIC programming from library books and such.  I often did not understand what I was doing, but that didn't stop me (still doesn't, generally).  

Those were the days!  I got in trouble for not going outside to play so often it is frightening to think back on it...

My history:
- Atari 800

- Some 8088 or 80286 clone (only lasted about a week, my parents couldn't figure it out at the time and I was too young to really get into it).

- Laser 128 (Apple II clone)

- Commodore 64

- Commodore 128

- Tandy 486SX 25Mhz 4MB RAM!  120MB harddrive!!!

--> from that point on I made my own PC systems and often had two or three up and running at any given time running Windows, Linux, BeOS, OS/2, etc. until...

- 15" PowerBook G4 1Ghz, 1Gig (titanium)

- 15" PowerBook G4 1.67Ghz, 1Gig (backlit keyboard!!)

Computer rule now.  Sadly, though, they are often not as much fun.  I'm not entirely certain why.  Maybe it is just an age thing or something.  I do know that when I got my OSX machine I felt a certain spark come back that I thought Windows had somehow killed.  Even so, it just isn't the same as spending an entire day typing in some BASIC program from a book and waiting 10 minutes while it saved to tape.  :-)

"We're all patients, there are no doctors, our meds ran out a long time ago and nobody loves us." - skyknight

Amstrad CPC464 (none / 0) (#79)
by nusuth on Wed Mar 30, 2005 at 03:31:50 PM EST

The first computer I've ever used was some kind of Apple in '82. I played a racing simulator on it. After that I used a ZX81 for a few months, although it was not mine. I've got my first computer on December 1984, a CPC464 with a Z80 at 4MHz, an integrated tape deck, 64kBs of memory and 32kB of ROM. It had Locomative Basic 1.0. It was a real joy to program although it had bad video primitives (eg. no sprites, no collusion detection, no easy way to trade off resolution and number of colors with memory usage) and worse sound (both correctable with sufficient time spent with machine code, which I did.)

In February 1985 I'd seen an Amiga and lusted for it ever since. My first PC (June 94) was nothing compared to it. I still love the suckers. They were miracles of an ancient time.

Atari 400 (none / 0) (#80)
by cheeze on Wed Mar 30, 2005 at 03:48:26 PM EST

I started out with an Atari 400/800, the one with the keyboard on the case. It didn't do much beyond some Basic and a few games. I moved from there up to a Tandy 1000 that my parents bought for x-mas. I used and abused that thing for probably 5 years. I remember it had a mouse on it, but it was a linear mouse or something, where if you moved it in one direction, the mouse would continue to move in that direction until you moved the mouse back to center. It was HORRIBLE. After that, i didn't do much with computers until I went to college. I got a 486-33mhz (overclocked 25Mhz) with 4MB ram and windows 3.1. I think I paid like $650 for it, and it was used. That computer ran for a few more years until I left it running in the sun. It didn't have any fans, so it just burnt up. Ahhh....the good ole days.

1401 6600 300 360-20 8 10 7094 224 11 (none / 0) (#81)
by MonkeyMan on Wed Mar 30, 2005 at 03:55:25 PM EST

ibm 1401, cdc 6600, wang 300, ibm 360-20, pdp 8, pdp 10, ibm 7094, ddp 224, pdp 11. In that order.

I cut my teeth on an Apple IIe (none / 0) (#84)
by Sesquipundalian on Wed Mar 30, 2005 at 04:16:44 PM EST

And liked it so much that I saved $1,200 of paper route money to buy a complete Commodore 16 with printer and tape drive from the K-Mart near my home (I was eleven at the time).

Sadly the Commodore 16 was discontinued right after I bought it, and no software was every really released for it. I wasn't about to let all that money go to waste (it had taken me over a year to save), so I taught myself BASIC 3.5 and 6502 assembly code. It took me two years before I could write a really good multi level version of pacman.

Eventually something went ker-sizzle, and I had to move on to a Commodore 128 (at least I could still use the printer and display), and then a couple of Amigas (new printer, new displays). I gave up Commodore when I got into consulting and have been a PC fan ever since. Now my home office looks like the war room at the beginning of Tommorow Never Dies.

Best PC feature ever? (IMHO so far); Multiple monitors attached to one computer.

Did you know that gullible is not actually an english word?
moniters (none / 0) (#93)
by jueston on Wed Mar 30, 2005 at 05:46:06 PM EST

"Best PC feature ever? (IMHO so far); Multiple monitors attached to one computer."

i have 5 moniters attached to my computer. 4 of them via a matrox video card and the last one through my motherboards intigrated video... i only really use 4 of them at a time but i paid next to nothing for the set up, so it doesn't matter. i got the matrox card from a friend[i have no idea where he got it] and the moniters i just aquired over time they are all old and mis-matched.

[ Parent ]

then you would love this place (none / 0) (#102)
by Roman on Thu Mar 31, 2005 at 01:38:31 AM EST

this place where I worked on a contract for 3.5 months last year. I was building software that runs video simultaneously from multiple feeds in multiple windows (Java front end / JNI / C++ logic / C drivers.) about one third of a GB given to the JVM allowed up to 70 video windows. That's my pic, but on the back you see the 4 cubes in a wall formation, an FRC (fault resilient computer) and an LCD panel with a browser and a java applet that controls what runs on the FRC. It's a beautiful setup.

[ Parent ]
heh, (none / 0) (#112)
by Sesquipundalian on Thu Mar 31, 2005 at 02:27:14 PM EST

..on the back you see the 4 cubes in a wall formation..

Them there cubes wouldn't happen to be refugees from a planet of benevolent sentient robots, on the run from an evil tyrant dicator robot that often morphs into a gun, now would they?

Did you know that gullible is not actually an english word?
[ Parent ]
you know too much (none / 0) (#113)
by Roman on Thu Mar 31, 2005 at 03:25:25 PM EST

now you will die.

[ Parent ]
Tic-tac-toe (none / 0) (#85)
by evilway on Wed Mar 30, 2005 at 04:17:32 PM EST

WIPO: The tic-tac-toe machine that some MIT students built out of Tinkertoys.

IBM 5150 (Original IBM PC) - Still Works! (none / 0) (#88)
by Kneejerk Analyst on Wed Mar 30, 2005 at 04:54:53 PM EST

My first programming language was FORTRAN IV in high school in the 70s. We coded using Hollerith-style cards in which we used a pencil to blacken the character we wanted in each column. Very tedious. Then in university I was in the last first-year class to use keypunches. In second year we used DECwriters, and if we stayed late enough were able to get onto some of the VT-100s that were just being introduced. In the second semester we were introduced to CP/M, UNIX, and then in third year, VAX/VMS (my favourite OS ever). By this time I had my IBM PC. IBM's Technical Reference Manual was awesome - one of the appendices contained a full BIOS listing and I remember writing some little multi-tasking applications by revectoring the timer interrupts, and playing around with direct disk access. I ended up doing a lot of my assignments at home - I still have the Assembler, C, Pascal, and PL/I compilers somewhere, along with Windows 1.0, the corresponding Windows SDK, and the original Microsoft Mouse. Ah, memories...

Them olden days (none / 0) (#89)
by pyro9 on Wed Mar 30, 2005 at 04:59:10 PM EST

For me it started in grade school with an old Honeywell tty (chain and hammer printer w/ keyboard) on a 300 baud modem to a Honeywell mainframe.

In high school, it was an Apple ][+. That was when I got into 6502 assembly coding. I learned a lot by tracing the boot code of game disks to hack out the copy prevention.

From there, a C64 at home. More assembly language hacking. Fortunatly, the 6510 was just an improved 6502. About that time, I got into BBSes. Since I didn't have any decent software for the C64 at the time, I had to write a simple Xmodem and terminal program for the 1200 baud modem just so I could download a real terminal program from a BBS. At first, I had to assemble code by hand and cram the binary into memory with a simple BASIC program. Finally, I got a real assembler.

Then the IBM PC, and FIDO net. By that time, I considered hacking games a lot more fun than playing them. Though it was a different instruction set, all that assembly programming came in handy when I had to hack the BIOS to get my XT clone to accept a V20 processor (Otherwise it would fail the POST because the CPU test returned 'too fast to be OK').

Finally, on to a real job and no more time for games. But that did pay for long distance BBSing, and eventually a shell account for internet access, which could emulate a more proper connection using slirp. The web was just coming into being at the time. Hacking DOS internals, Desqview, etc. Somewhere in there, I downloaded SLS Linux over a period of weeks and managed (barely) to get that installed. Learned unix CLI as I went. The job also paid for a small LANtastic network (before Ethernet). Implementing clustering over LANtastic in DOS using mailbox directories.

Hard to believe all that was only 20-30 years ago. The machines I use today barely resemble any of that, but at the same time, they are a natural progression and what I learned then still applies today (with a lot of updates anyway).

The future isn't what it used to be
Total howl! (none / 0) (#97)
by Sesquipundalian on Wed Mar 30, 2005 at 06:44:55 PM EST

I had to write a simple Xmodem and terminal program for the 1200 baud modem just so I could download a real terminal program from a BBS

I had to write one of those too (except mine had to do PUNTER instead of XModem, and my modem was only 300 baud).

Did you know that gullible is not actually an english word?
[ Parent ]
Down memory lane with the old and obscure (none / 0) (#99)
by fossilcode on Wed Mar 30, 2005 at 07:35:07 PM EST

My first systems were an HP 2000 and an IBM 370/138. Remember the days when anybody said "DOS" you knew they were talking about IBM's DOS/VS operating system that ran on smaller 370's?

Other systems not mentioned here were the Honeywell DPS-6, the Honeywell DPS-8, the IBM System 3 and the IBM Series I (we had two guys in our shop who only did Series I assembler). My personal favorite to this day is the Tandem NonStop series, now manufactured and sold by HP. Although they don't call it a Tandem, everybody else does.

"...half the world blows and half the world sucks." Uh, which half were you again?
Go to school instead! (1.33 / 3) (#107)
by javito on Thu Mar 31, 2005 at 07:53:06 AM EST

We all know you are 11.. I mean, with that reply YOU MUST be 11!!!!! Shame you didn't have the chance to have fun on a Sinclair Z80. Now pickup your books instead of whinning about being a l33t h4x0r LOL!

My powerfull 20 Mhz PC! (none / 0) (#108)
by mclow on Thu Mar 31, 2005 at 10:26:03 AM EST

I was born in 1981 and my first computer has been a 286. I was so proud of it: it had 20 Mhz instead of standard 16s!

As an eleven-year-old... (none / 1) (#114)
by p3d0 on Thu Mar 31, 2005 at 04:12:34 PM EST

...you haven't grown up.
Patrick Doyle
My comments do not reflect the opinions of my employer.
Missing poll option... (none / 0) (#117)
by onemorechip on Thu Mar 31, 2005 at 10:49:40 PM EST

Deep Thought!

I did my essay on mushrooms. It's about cats.

My first PC... and newest (none / 0) (#118)
by Chuq on Thu Mar 31, 2005 at 11:02:29 PM EST

I normally don't reply to things like this, but I just built my newest PC yesterday so the timing is right!  With all the upgrades and bits and pieces, the memory fades a bit..

Mid 80s - C64

1987 - PC XT, mono monitor, no HD, no mouse (soon upgraded to colour card/monitor, mouse, 20Mb HD, 3.5" drive)

1993 - 386DX-40, 110Mb HD, 4Mb RAM (by the end of its life was a 486DX-40, 110Mb+200Mb HDs, 8Mb RAM, and had a 2x CD-ROM drive)

1996 - Pentium 133, 16Mb RAM, 1.7Gb HD

1997 - Pentium 200, 32Mb RAM, 3.2Gb HD (this was the first machine of my own - the previous were upgrades of the family PC.  I think me taking it to LANs prompted the move!)  The first 3D gfx card, an 8Mb Creative Voodoo2, was added to this one.

1999 - Celeron 400, 128Mb RAM, 8Gb HD.  No CD writer to start with, but gained one along the way.  I still used this machine up

2001 - This was actually built as the start of a basic HTPC.  Celeron 700 with DVD drive/decoder card and dual head video card.

Would you believe, the Celeron 400 remained my desktop PC up until a year ago?  At that time I swapped it will the Celeron 700 and the 400 because a file server. (HTPC needs since taken card of by an Xbox with XBMC)  My desktop PC stands as:
Celeron 700, 512Mb RAM, 13Gb HD, DVD writer (installed early 2004), dual head video card.

In case you are wondering about the small HD size - all my data is on the file server (the Celeron 400) with a few hundred gigs.

2005 - last night, I built my newest machine - Shuttle SB86i XPC, a P4 3.2GHz, with 1Gb DDR RAM, 120Gb HD, DVD writer (from old machine), and digital TV tuner card (well, that bit is coming next week).

After all those years with a Celeron, I can't wait to actually use my first P4 tonight :P

I'd still be using a 400 celeron (none / 0) (#132)
by mcgrew on Tue Apr 05, 2005 at 09:11:31 PM EST

If its CPU fan hadn't died.

"The entire neocon movement is dedicated to revoking mcgrew's posting priviliges. This is why we went to war with Iraq." -LilDebbie
[ Parent ]

Excellent (none / 0) (#120)
by C Montgomery Burns on Fri Apr 01, 2005 at 02:33:53 AM EST

I remember the first computer I was really exposed to; it was the HP 2000 timeshare system.  I think I was about 11 or 12 at the time.

From there it went to the Apple ][.

After that, it went to the Apple //e, which I used for years, I think I probably used that computer for more than any other computer I have owned.

After the //e, I got a Mac SE, which I used for a while, then a Mac LC 520, which I used for a while.

After that, there was a long, dark period when I had an HP Pavilion and an IBM Aptiva.

Then I bought an iMac, followed it up with an iBook, and now my current Powerbook G4.
Intelligent design

My computer history... (none / 0) (#121)
by wolrahnaes on Fri Apr 01, 2005 at 03:52:50 AM EST

I started with computers by playing around on my grandfather's Epson 286. I had previously owned an Atari 2600, but that really doesn't count as a computer. I gained a basic understanding of DOS from that machine, though most of the time I used a loader application called "P.O.P. Menu" (IIRC). When I started school, I was exposed to the Apple //e. I learned there that you could make computers do more than just what the available programs allowed, and this quickly got me on the bad side of the "computer teacher" who truly knew little more than how to power cycle the machine. My parents soon bought an IBM PS/1 with a 25MHz 486SX, 2MB of RAM, and a massive 129MB HD. That was my only computer from 1990 to 1995, when we upgraded to a 200MHz Gateway. Throughout that same time, I was still using Apples at school, and it was still System 7, so it was decent. In '98, I got my own computer finally. A custom-specced 350MHz NEC. In the 6 years I had this machine, I went from liking Macs to hating them (OS 8 and 9....'nuff said...), and the same with Windows (WinME....again..'nuff said...) I began to experiment with Linux, and then I regained respect for Macs when OS X began to get decent (around 10.2). Windows still hasn't totally regained my respect, but the NT kernel is a nice piece of work, unfortunately constrained by too much legacy garbage. In 2003, I won an Acer Tablet PC, and my age of computing mobility began. About 9 months later, a faulty power supply destroyed my old 350MHz desktop, so I sold the Tablet and began the hunt for a desktop replacement type notebook. This led me to my current notebook, purchased in April 2004. 3GHz, Radeon 9600, over 1.2GB of RAM, and a massive wide-screen LCD. Right now I own four computers, having had two die and selling three in the past. They range from a 233MHz first-gen Bondi iMac to my laptop to a 2.5GHz Dell PowerEdge server, to my most obscure one, a quad-processor Sun SPARCstation 20. All of these machines, as well as my Xbox, run some variant of Debian Linux, though the laptop dual-boots with XP Pro, the iMac primarily runs Panther, and the Xbox is usually set to the stripped down Win2K kernel that it runs.

Crap...formatting.... (none / 0) (#122)
by wolrahnaes on Fri Apr 01, 2005 at 03:54:10 AM EST

I started with computers by playing around on my grandfather's Epson 286.  I had previously owned an Atari 2600, but that really doesn't count as a computer.  I gained a basic understanding of DOS from that machine, though most of the time I used a loader application called "P.O.P. Menu" (IIRC).  When I started school, I was exposed to the Apple //e.  I learned there that you could make computers do more than just what the available programs allowed, and this quickly got me on the bad side of the "computer teacher" who truly knew little more than how to power cycle the machine.
My parents soon bought an IBM PS/1 with a 25MHz 486SX, 2MB of RAM, and a massive 129MB HD.  That was my only computer from 1990 to 1995, when we upgraded to a 200MHz Gateway.
Throughout that same time, I was still using Apples at school, and it was still System 7, so it was decent.
In '98, I got my own computer finally.  A custom-specced 350MHz NEC.  In the 6 years I had this machine, I went from liking Macs to hating them (OS 8 and 9....'nuff said...), and the same with Windows (WinME....again..'nuff said...)  I began to experiment with Linux, and then I regained respect for Macs when OS X began to get decent (around 10.2).  Windows still hasn't totally regained my respect, but the NT kernel is a nice piece of work, unfortunately constrained by too much legacy garbage.
In 2003, I won an Acer Tablet PC, and my age of computing mobility began.  About 9 months later, a faulty power supply destroyed my old 350MHz desktop, so I sold the Tablet and began the hunt for a desktop replacement type notebook.
This led me to my current notebook, purchased in April 2004.  3GHz, Radeon 9600, over 1.2GB of RAM, and a massive wide-screen LCD.

Right now I own four computers, having had two die and selling three in the past.  They range from a 233MHz first-gen Bondi iMac to my laptop to a 2.5GHz Dell PowerEdge server, to my most obscure one, a quad-processor Sun SPARCstation 20.  All of these machines, as well as my Xbox, run some variant of Debian Linux, though the laptop dual-boots with XP Pro, the iMac primarily runs Panther, and the Xbox is usually set to the stripped down Win2K kernel that it runs.

[ Parent ]

Wow. (none / 0) (#123)
by mcrbids on Fri Apr 01, 2005 at 04:19:20 AM EST

Other than the fact that he was born *DECADES* before I was, this guy's life sounds much like my own!

As a youth, I had a box of electronics "stuff" that I kept in a shoebox. Caps, diodes, whatever. As a young teen, I was picking up scrap televisions from the local TV Repar shop, unsoldering diodes and caps, and using the plastic film canisters from my dad's X-ray machine (he was a dentist) I was making rectifiers that let you use your bicycle generators to power radios and other 9v appliances on your bikes.

I sold them through a local bike mechanic. My first computer was a TI 99/4A, and I programmed Monopoly into it in BASIC. Except, it ran out of RAM. I had to remove all the (expensive) user inputs, and default to "always buy" prroperty.

As a result, I got very good statistics on what properties are landed on the most, and make the most money from investment. (Hint, Orange, followed by Yellow. Boardwalk/Parkplace are in the middle somewhere)

I work today as a software engineer, writing big applications in PHP/SQL/Linux in multi-year projects that manage school districts all over the state of California. I love what I do, and it's really the same thing as Monopoly on my TI-99/4A, only bigger in scope.

I kept looking around for somebody to solve the problem. Then I realized... I am somebody! -Anonymouse

It was an Atari 2600 (none / 0) (#124)
by tonyenkiducx on Fri Apr 01, 2005 at 06:47:42 AM EST

Nothing says retro computer gear like wooken panelling :)

I see a planet where love is foremost, where war is none existant. A planet of peace, and a planet of understanding. I see a planet called
Wooken panelling? (none / 0) (#125)
by glor on Fri Apr 01, 2005 at 11:21:05 AM EST

So THAT's what happened to Chewbacca!

Disclaimer: I am not the most intelligent kuron.
[ Parent ]

hehe. did you know... (none / 0) (#131)
by tonyenkiducx on Mon Apr 04, 2005 at 05:00:48 AM EST

Atari's 800XL was responsible for the near extinction of the panda bear. It looked nice though.

I see a planet where love is foremost, where war is none existant. A planet of peace, and a planet of understanding. I see a planet called
[ Parent ]
Have come a long way (none / 0) (#126)
by rajmandalia on Fri Apr 01, 2005 at 02:28:54 PM EST

My first computer was the Sinclair Spectrum with 16K. If memory serves me correctly, it was the 3rd Sinclair model, the Z80 and Z81 I believe came before it. The Spectrum introduced color and had those funky command buttons where you keyed in your BASIC program by hitting the Alt or Func (something like that) key followed by a single key that represented the entire command. So it was Alt-P for PRINT. The Spectrum was capable of storing and reading data off regular cassettes but it was a while before I upgraded to attaching a cassette player to the system. So basically I ended up loosing all my work and starting from scratch the next day. Since the Spectrum used a regular TV for display, I would have to fight the rest of the family for TV time. A 2nd TV in the house? What an outrageous idea! I remember when I finally did get the cassette player, I wrote my first data file, a list of stuff. The program would display the list, let you manange it in memory and finally write it back to cassette. Much later, I remember getting a game, The Hobbit on cassette. It was an adventure game, command oriented and had stills of various scenes. We've come a long way since then indeed.

ZX81 (none / 0) (#128)
by GenerationY on Fri Apr 01, 2005 at 04:39:29 PM EST

I was five and I remember my dad enthusiastically saying there was something interesting to see in the garage (where he had his workshop) and my mother, in a surprising misjudgement, warning me that I might not find it that interesting perhaps. It was a kit-built ZX81 running a program called "Brick catch" typed in out of a magazine. This was a "game" simpler than Pong itself, a square fell from the top of the screen and you had to position your catcher (another square) so it caught the brick. Sort of like breakout without any rebound off the bat. I'd never seen a computer game before being a bit young for arcades and so on. I played it for hours. Strange indeed. In a move I am eternally grateful for my parents bought me one of the first "programming for kids" books for the ZX81 so knowledge that one could program it to do what you wanted (if not ability, I wasn't a very patient kid) was there very early indeed.  

Followed the upgrade path to the ZX Spectrum (best computer ever, the day that arrived, well, I don't think I've ever been as excited with my clothes on since) and then a strange diversion to something called an Amstrad PCW which was sold as a dedicated word processor but actually ran CP/M. PCs were to beckon from that point (8Mhz 8086 woohoo). In fairness Locoscript was quite a zippy wordprocessor for the time and sort of straddled the HTML-style wordprocessing markup era and the advent of WYSIWYG outside of thousand pound DTP programmes (the demise of DTP as a market segment I find fascinating, I don't think anyone predicted at the time how mundane it was going to look in but a few short years).

I'm in the process of buying a new machine now (SLI -- exciting new paradigm or nVidia lock-in scheme btw?), amazing how things have moved on. I wonder if the arrival of a new machine is as exciting for today's kids? Back when we were getting them each purchase did something radically different from its predecessor. The Speccy for example introduced colour, sound and proper animation (the ZX81 pumped out less than 1 frame per second, blanking between frames). The PCW brought a dedicated monitor, a disk drive and a dot matrix printer with it. It ran Infocom adventure games. The PC had a 30 MB hard drive and so on and even EGA graphics were mindblowing after the Speccy. I don't think going from a Pentium 2 to a Pentium 4 has the same effect really.

Commodore 64 (none / 0) (#130)
by skyknight on Fri Apr 01, 2005 at 11:03:50 PM EST

I sincerely regret that nobody explained to me that I could actually program the thing. :-/

It's not much fun at the top. I envy the common people, their hearty meals and Bruce Springsteen and voting. --SIGNOR SPAGHETTI
An amusing anecdote (none / 0) (#134)
by esrever on Mon Apr 11, 2005 at 12:36:22 AM EST

As per this comment my first PC was IBM PCjr.  My parents got a programme called 'Rags to Riches' from Chang Labs that they used for keeping track of their finances (the publishing date on the box is 1984).  Fast forward 21 years to today, and just this past Christmas I had the pleasure of replacing their then-current 5 year old Win98 hunk-a-junk (AMD K6/2 350), with a new AMD box running Fedora Core 3.

One of my tasks in getting it all customised and lovely for them was setting up DosEMU and a nice icon etc so that my mother could continue to run Rags to Riches and keep the family accounts.


Audit NTFS permissions on Windows

An electronic Biography (none / 0) (#135)
by oneicrying on Thu Apr 14, 2005 at 06:30:03 AM EST

I was fortunate enough to be bought an Acorn electron 32k by my parents in 1982. THis forerunner cehaper home model of the BBC was bought to assist my Educationt hough in practical terms, there was very little of benefit educationally in it. Proudly I typed my fiurst programme 10 Print "thank you for the computer" 20 goto 10 My how impressed the parent were, the fact that it took me up to 10 minnutes to load my tape based, games and play 2d games like Boxer, and Starship Command, was neither here nor there, I was a functioning COmputer bod. A few years later, I got a C64C (though I briefly owned a commodore vic20 an even more basic and pointless machine. )And some of the best games ever were availabl ohe C64, and I could begin to flirt with one of my great loves, Music making.. I never had the money to by an Amiga so lost out in terms of raw power.. Something which I would htne strive never to make do with again. My computer life was then barren until my second year at University, where my student loan was spent on a 1ghx Pentium machine with a vodoo card, which I predominately used for word processing, and a Playstatio which was my Gaming console. Two fruitless years followed where Gran turismo was the bee all and end all coupled with Fifa, and Streetfighter.. It was student heaven. In my final year at University I flirted with Unreal and was mightily Impressed.. The "interweb" was alien to me and though, telnet at university had introduced me to soem vaguely techie green screen stuff. Essentially a chance to particiapte in some of the Nets, take off years passed me by, Djing, decks and clubbing were far more important. Moving to London to attend Law school, meant that I could indulge more in the Music making bent, and Q-Base was quickly acquired, installed and rapidly shelved through compelcxity. Ejay surfaced and a chance to begin making tunes presented itself culminating with several gigs, at Ministry of Sound and Legends NIghtclubs.. some of hte capitals finest. Law school slipped by and a job in finance being the 'technically' profficeint junior allowed for me to teach the bosses, of the falue of networking and technology, Through some miracle of chance, I ended up helping to code, an online Decision in Principle questionaire which actually decided which form an array of 1500 products would fit a particular clients situation, I brought in a specialist, and from 4 initially the company grew to 140 employees and 4 national ofgfices all connected. however, there was a secret "interview" technique I employed. IF the peopel were young enough, I would get them into LAN gaming. We worked long ahrd hours,. for great rewaRDS, SO THE BOSSES, WERE TOTALLY AMENABLE TO OUR USE OF THE OFFICE FACILITIES FOR LAN PARTIES, WHICH ENDED UP OVCCURING DAILY FORM 4PM ONWARDS.. (oops sorry for caps, cba to write again)Having got in to the "Tacops " game I was amazed byt he online community, and on holiday in Sweden with my Girlfriend, needed to fulfill my fix by getting to an internet cafe, and playing abroad. To my shock and disgust they only had this game called, Counterstrike.. The rest as they say is history, 3 years ago I knew relatively little about computers. Today I have a 4mb connection, Have just built a 3.2 p4 computer with ram galore, water cooling, Loads of GX power. and revel in my epenis being engorged by the size of my FPS. Its taken some 20 years to finally become a nerd. But i wouldn't have it any other way.
Peace salaam shalom, its all the same thing so stfu and play!
My First Computer (none / 0) (#136)
by network45 on Fri Apr 15, 2005 at 12:15:53 AM EST

Being born in India technology was a bit slow to catch up in the early days. I still remember my first computer was called MAGNA-VISION Home Computer - You could call it a Sinclair ZX Spectrum Clone. The salesmen came home (hey we did not have a Radio Shack to display geeky stuff. Plugged the machine into a TV Screen (well that was at my uncle's house as my Cousin Sister was supposed to be a PRO at Basic. The thing came on boy how I held my breath, a white screen with the words Magnavision blinking on TOP. the first thing hook up the personal stereo to the machine, load up a game called Manic Miner a game where you escape dungeons by collecting keys. Music came from the small speaker attached on to it and boy it did make me feel great to own it. Two weeks into it and I had pulled out the manual titled Programming the Magnavision something called BASIC was given, coded it and hey I could get some text blinking on the screen, DEJAVU YO I could make the machine follow my instructions. A little bit of FRCS (Fooling round the country side) I discovered a shop selling Spectrum PCs boy they had tapes and loads of Games that ran on My machine. It used to be priced at around $4 (approximately 55 INR) for a tape. Thats it that became my favourite hangout, also had access to the Spectrum magazines. Boy basic rocked, took part in a gaming competition for a game called Zynaps, a space shooter. Life was set. From there on my computer was my Girl Friend, no outings, all playing on the fields stopped, no more movies. My next PC was an XT 8088, it did look cool and boy it had a floppy drive. My first date was with a game called Prince of Persia and they a crossword puzzle which I wrote for it. From that Spectrum Clone to today's computer on my desk an ATHLON 2000 XP with 512 Megs of RAM 40 gigs hard drive a GForce-4 3d card with CD writer, it has been a journey filled with love and learning. A computer is definitely more dependable than my Girl Friend, atleast it doesn't dump you.
Reach for the stars even if it means standing on a cactus
My first computer was... (none / 0) (#137)
by neozeed on Sun Apr 17, 2005 at 11:40:09 AM EST

A commodore 64. I nearly got a vic 20, but my parents made me wait for 6 really slow months, until I was allowed to get a computer. Luckily they released the commodore 64 in those months. So in 1983 I was on top of the world with a c64, and a 1541 Single sided, single density floppy drive.

Years later I got a 300 baud modem, and a Q-link account. First it was so amazing, but then I quickly realised that I could read faster than 300 baud. Hell I think my younger brother that was learning to read could read faster than 300 baud...

Unfortunatly I could never convince my parents to get me an Amiga. So I was stuck with that C64 until 1991! By then I had managed to scrape enough cash to buy a 286, CGA graphics, 20 MB hard disk & windows 3.0 . What a disapointment!

A couple of years later, and I managed to get a 386 DX 16, with 2MB of ram, a 40mb HD, a 2400 baud modem, running OS/2 1.3! Finally after all of those years I could BBS & work on stuff at the same time! It was cool, but applications were few & far between.

While helping somone fix Windows for Workgroups, the client offered me the 'older' 486sx20 for a mere $20! It even have 4mb of ram, which meant I could run OS/2 2.0! Now computers were finally getting usable. Outfitted with an "OkeyDokey" (Im not making up the brand!) sound card, I could actually play doom! life was good.

Then later in 1993 I saw a BBS posting about this "Linux" thing, and how it was actually a free unix! Further digging around revealed this SLS thing. So for the better part of 3 weeks I downloaded SLS @ 2400 baud on OS/2 2.0 . Then I took the plunge and went for it, formatting my HD. The cool thing about this is that at college we were running AIX on a RS/6000, and it all made sense! I could even cross compile from my 486 to the rs/6000, and it worked! This was a big help since it was hard to get terminal space on the rs/6000, and sadly it had no ethernet card.

Later we even got an internet connection (nntp & uucp) but it was a start.

As they say the rest is history.

Unless you're alive you can't play. And if you don't play, you don't get to be alive.

Turbo buttons, (none / 0) (#138)
by abhijit bhopatkar on Mon Apr 18, 2005 at 06:48:54 AM EST

Hmm... i miss the "turbo button + 8 seg display showing 33 Mhz." on my 486dx2 i had to use it in order to slow down some games i designed for older 386s which included delays using for loops ....... Good old days :))

Heh (none / 0) (#140)
by ff on Wed Jun 08, 2005 at 04:16:21 PM EST

I guess I have been programming as long as you old timer. ;) Even though I'm some 25(?) years younger.

My first computer experience was Pong. Boring for adults maybe, but for my 6 year old brain it was amazing. Couple years later came the Atari 2600. Weee, but by this time I wanted to write software really bad. My parents wouldn't buy a real computer for me though (too expensive or some nonsense). Finally a couple years later as the TI-99/4A was dying you could pick them up from K-Mart for $50.

The year was 1982 before I finally got a machine I could program on (so much waiting! I was dying). BASIC, Extended BASIC (took forever for a pre-teen to save enough money for that! Sprites!), finally assembly language. As a teen I went to the C64 (BASIC, assembly, LISP), Amiga (BASIC, assembly, C, LISP sucks), and finally PC stuff (just about every language there is). I never stopped programming. I'm like an Olympic athlete who trained all their life for a programming competition.

I yearn for the days of dial up BBSs (none / 0) (#141)
by eodeod on Fri Jun 10, 2005 at 05:19:13 PM EST

Apple ][s, Commadore 64s, the oh so elite amiga. The 80s, the PC goldrush that has to be my favorite era in computing. I've never been able to recapture that time again.

Training the next gen (none / 0) (#142)
by deepeyez on Mon Aug 08, 2005 at 04:52:44 AM EST

I was blessed with starting my computer years with an uncles Commodore 64, before getting my very own Amiga 500 (yeah! take that!). Getting the 1/2 meg upgrade with a built-in clock is one of my bestest memories ...

Anyway, it's nice to now be able to build a machine for my younger brother (14 years my junior) and be the 'wise old computer expert' that I never had. I'll happily provide him with upgrades and broadband as long as he's learning something. Hopefully it'll be as fun as when I was learning ...

Growing Up With Computers | 140 comments (103 topical, 37 editorial, 0 hidden)
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