Saturday, October 11, 2008

A Byte About Me

0 - My first introduction to computers was in the late 70's at the university where my dad worked. They had a room full of teletype terminals which were connected to a big computer in some other room. They had a user account that would run games if it wasn't too busy. We played a text game called "Star Trek". It would print out what the surrounding quadrants had in them, and you typed in your commands. We used a lot of yellow continuous feed paper. We made up for it by recycling the paper-punch programming cards for craft projects.

1 - In grade school, they had a Tandy TRS-80. The designers of the "Trash-80", as it became to known, thought they could sell 50,000 units. The company decided to only make 3500 because they figured if they couldn't sell them, they would use them themselves. They eventually sold 250,000 units. I programed the TRS-80 to show a WWII submarine with waves moving past it. How is that for foreshadowing?

10 - My first computer was a Sincair XZ-81. I paid $99 for a kit, but they ran out of kits, so they sent me one assembled, which would have cost $149, for the same price. Amazingly, you can still buy a new kit for $200. It had 1 kilobyte ram and ran at 3.5 MHz. It saved and loaded programs on a tape recorder. I programed it to show balls bouncing according to the effects of gravity, and simple orbital paths.

11 - It is a good thing they sent the XZ-81 assembled, because latter I paid $300 for a microcomputer kit, which, when I was done soldering it together, let the magic smoke out of the power supply and I couldn't get it to work. I was too embarrassed to ask anyone for help, so I threw it in the trash. I delivered a lot of papers for that experience.

100 - In highschool they had about a dozen Apple IIs. They were all connected to a thing called a "hard drive" which could store and retrieve 5 megabytes of data. Man that was a lot. My project was a program where you could save text messages which could be retrieved later by other users, kind of like "electronic mail". I don't think I ever got it fully working, but it was a neat idea.

101 - My next computer, which luckily wasn't available as a kit, was a Radio Shack color computer. I think I paid $399 for it. You can get one on Ebay now for $23 + shipping. It came with 4 kilobytes of ram. I got bored with programing in Basic because it was so slow. I taught myself assembly language and made a counter than ran so fast the first digit was a blur. Man that was fast. I later upgraded it to 16 kilobytes because my programs were getting larger.

110 - When I was in early in my Navy career, I bought a Commodore 64. They retailed for $595, and are now available on Ebay for about the cost of shipping. It was the first computer I owned with a "disk drive". The external drive was almost as big as the computer itself. I think I mainly played games on it. I once got so mad when playing a game that I took the disk out and cut it up on the spot. Solved that problem.

111 - When I was stationed in Hawaii, I bought my first laptop, a Toshiba T1000se. I think I payed well over $1000 for it. I don't see any listed on Ebay right now. It had 4 megabytes of memory and ran at a blazing 9.54 MHz and had MS DOS 3.11 in ROM so it booted quickly. I mainly used it to play submarine simulation games like Silent Serice II and 688 Attack Sub, which is kind of crazy considering I was living on a sub at the time. Toshiba latter sold some CNC technology to the USSR which allowed them to make advanced submarine propellers. There was some kind of boycott, and I was a bit embarrassed about owning it. I ended up selling it for $50, which is what it cost me to replace the battery to get it ready to sell.There you go. Eight bits (a byte, get it?). Catch the binary numbering? I didn't even make it into the Windows era. Oh well, tune in latter and I'll tell you about the hand-me-down 3-GHz, dual-CPU Xeon, workstation they gave me to run Linux on at work. Talk about fast . . .

Now I'm thinking about going back for another try at the ZX-81 kit. Maybe I can keep the magic smoke in this time.


Eldon and Janeil Olsen said...

You've been through a lot of computers and learned a lot from each one. No wonder you're such an expert.

velvetelement said...

It sounds like you were doing some things in your youth that later happened with the big companies. What do you see for us in the future of computers? Between you and Carl you two could come up with some new fangled contraption and make millions! Mooohahahahah. Really I am jealous because I know nothing about computers.

g said...

that's amazing ken. it's not been that long ago that i learned how to send an email!

it looks like the recumbant is coming together quickly. how close are you?

Imagitext said...

And I thought Mom spent a lot.