When I was a wee lad -- around 9 or so, I got my first game console. It was a "Pong" knockoff that only played Pong. I think we got it through mail order from Sears or some place. A year or two later my parents made the mistake of buying an Atari 2600 for the family. Things have never been the same since.
Computers had been around for a while -- for business and government, that is. But consumer-grade computing (or home computing), well, that was starting to really take off in the 80's. I recall seeing Wargames for the first time. David Lightman became my hero. And he gets the girl! Yeah, right. The only part of the movie that's implausible. :)
Around '82 my parents bought a computer for their office work. It was an Olivetti word processor. I can't even find a picture of it online... it's quite obscure. At the time I didn't know what CPM was, but it wouldn't do me much good anyway. This thing was wired to run word processing software and nothing more. How disappointing. So I waited some more.
By '84 I was dying to get a computer. Of any kind. Desperation was setting in. I was looking high and low for something that would be affordable enough to persuade the folks. The TRS-80 Color Computer was one I looked at (we had TRS-80s in our school so I had a little exposure to "Trash" BASIC). The TI-99 4A was another. The Coleco Adam looked interesting -- a friend of mine got one. I even considered the Commodore 64, although the 128 was going to be out soon and I just couldn't wait for it.
The Apple IIc was announced in April of '84 and thereafter I was dreaming at night about it. Portable and cool. Cool only like Apple can do. That was what I wanted. Every time I came in range of a computer store I would look for it. Any time I saw a magazine with a picture of it, I would glean all I could from it's pages.
The IBM PCjr was what we settled on. I think perhaps because it was relatively cheap (compared to the Apple IIc anyway) and came from a well-known and established company. It was family-friendly and expandable. It wasn't my first choice, but I was thankful. My parents probably had no idea what they were setting in motion and I'm sure they regretted it at times in the remaining years I was at home. I don't think I've had a proper night's sleep since.
The Jr. wasn't the most popular device in the world, but at the time it was really a neat computer. Ahead of its time in some respects. It had a wireless keyboard (infrared). It had a port for a light pen and joystick. The graphics were ahead of the basic CGA as it could do 16 colors instead of the basic 4. And the sound chip was more advanced, capable of 3 sound channels (compare).
My early experiences with my Jr. are vague, but I do recall getting severe hand cramps from all the typing. I learned to type on a little toy typewriter at age 10 or so. (Sadly, the thing was missing the semicolon key, so the right-most home row letter was "L".) The cramps didn't come from learning to type, but from long, extended periods of typing. I was typing in everything I could into the thing. Such a creative outlet.
Learning to program
I had a book with some BASIC programs and a few COMPUTE! magazines. I would type up those programs line by line. Not knowing or understanding what I was typing. I just typed. And typed. And then I would type that magical three-letter word:
And then I would always see that error message. Hmm. Line 70?
LIST 70 ... compare character by character to line 70 from the magazine. OH! I didn't put in that comma there. So I would retype line 70 and hit F2 (which was short for "RUN" in BASIC). Hmm. Error on line 80. Sigh.
And that's how I learned BASIC. It was a slow, sometimes painful process. But very rewarding in the end. Eventually I got Cartridge BASIC for the Jr. which let me save my programs (prior to that, all that hard work vanished once I turned the computer off. I probably typed in some of those programs 3 or 4 times each. And naturally only one could be in memory at a time.)
I started writing my own programs. One that would let me use the computer as an electronic typewriter (writing to our Brother daisy-wheel printer in realtime).
INKEY$ and the like. Drawing programs (
LINE, oh the memories), silly games and such.
Thanks to a friend, I also got an early introduction to database programming. I couldn't run dBASE III+ on my PCjr, but I could run dBASE II. Primitive, but it introduced me to storing data in rows and columns. Indexing and data analysis. And writing code without line numbers. Blew my mind.
It was a great time. Back when the "net" meant CompuServe and your email address was two numbers separated by a comma. And broadband was 1200 baud. So many new things to learn and do. I still enjoy that about computers. There's always something new to learn and do. You never get bored. From BASIC to dBASE (and Clipper!) to C and assembler to Pascal to C++ to Perl to Java. Lots of languages under the bridge.
And there's still more to learn and do.
- Google search for IBM PCjr
- Google search for dBASE II
- Mike's PCjr Page
- Oldskool Shrine to the IBM PCjr
- Creative Computing, March 1984 issue
- Apple History: Apple IIc
- Adam Kalsey (Measure Twice): I was Newly Digital
- Anders Jacobsen (Anders Jacobsen's blog): Newly Digital: My first Internet connection
- Andre Torrez (Andre Torrez): Newly Digital
- Andy Baio (Waxy.org): Newly Digital: Hack's Retreat
- Bill Zeller (minimalverbosity): Newly Digital
- Brad Choate (bradchoate.com): Newly Digital (You are here)
- Cameron Marlow (overstated.net): Newly Digital
- Chris Pirillo (C:\PIRILLO.EXE): Newly Digital
- Dan James (CEO Blues): Early Computing Experiences
- Jeff Nichols (Pervasive Computing News): Newly Digital
- Robert Scoble (The Scobleizer Weblog): Newly Digital
- Steven Garrity (Acts of Volition): My First Computer
- Tim Lutero: (Three-Legged Pi): Newly Digital
- Jon Gales (n3rd.net): Newly Digital
- Rob Tillotson (rob's cryptic life): Newly Digital
- Neil Turner (Neil's World): Newly Digital
- Mark Nichols (zanshin.net): In the Beginning...
- Raena Armitage (synapse): Newly Digital
- Scott Gowell (Sinekow.org): Newly Digital
- Richard Giles (RichardGiles.net): Newly Digital
- Christine Selleck (BigPinkCookie.com): Newly Digital
- Navneet Nair (enterFrame): Newly Digital: What was your first computing experience?
- Mikel Maron (Brain Off): Newly Digital - The memories, I can't resist
- Rory Blyth (neopoleon.com): From BASIC to porn - My life as a nerd
- Anthony Brown (Circant): Newly Digital
- Michael Hanscom (djwudi.com): Newly Digital
- Jasmeet Singh (jasmeet.net): Newly Digital
- Thomas Noe (blog.neotech.com): Newly Digital
- Mike Whybark (mike.whybark.com): Online in 1980
- Jason Costomiris (LameZone): The newness of being digital.
- Rainer Brockerhoff (Solipsism Gradient): Newly Digital
- Thomas Chai (Confession of a Terminal Junkie): Newly Digital
- Marie Carnes (Disarranging Mine): Newly Digital
- Scott Woods-Fehr (Something To Forget): Newly Digital
- Will Pate (willpate.org): We Are the Newly Digital
- Regina Snyder Heater (Zuly'z Zu): Newly Digital
- Tomas Jogin (Jogin.org): Newly Digital
- Ernie Hsiung (little. yellow. different.): Newly Digital
- Jake Ortman (UtterlyBoring.com): What are your early computing experiences?
- Ben Yarbrough (Yarbroughs.org): Newly Digital
- John's Jottings: Newly Digital
- David Collantes (collantes.US): Newly digital
- Roy M. Silvernail (Rant Central): Newly Digital
- Elaine M. Nelson (epersonae - snapping links): newly digital and other geeky things
- Bong Kyum Chung (철수네 소프트웨어 세상 / 컴퓨터 세상): 내가 컴퓨터를 제일 처음 접한것은? (Korean)
- Jason Montgomery: Newly Digital
- Gwen Harlow (Ofrenda): Women: Newly Digital, Too
- Chuck Lawson (Nonliteral): Anciently Digital
- Jon Wright (Bored on the Bus): Newly Digital
- Adam Kazwell (AdamKazwell.com): Eating like an elephant, pooping like a bird (Permalink is broken)
- Rannie Turingan (photojunkie): Remix: Newly Digital
- Chris Barna (Your Daily Cup O' Chris): Newly Digital
- Aizuddin Danian (Volume of Interactions): My first computer
- Ian Barton (Ian-Barton.com): Newly Digital
- Darren James Harkness (darren james harkness » web guru.): Newly Digital
- Adrienne Canzolino (collantes.US): Circa 1984...
- Héctor Danniel Paz Trillo (El Refugio): Newly Digital
- Jim Flanagan (Everything Burns): Hot Streak
- Mellissa Pottle (Halla's Ranting): Not newly digital, always digital?
- Jonathan Horak (another pointless dotcom): In The Beginning Was... The Apple IIe
- Louise Yang (RunAwaySquirrels): Newly Digital
- Dori Mondon (saranwarp): it began at an advertising agency in the '80s.