Technology moves fast

Sometimes I feel like the technology space moves slowly. Cool new devices appear every few months, but I want neat new things every day! When I feel like this, it’s tough to remember that technology moves quite quickly compared to most industries. I was recently at a book sale and picked up a techno-thriller from 1996 called Back Slash. As pulpy books go, it wasn’t half bad. Until I arrived at this passage about twenty pages into the book:

To the right of the desk, in an oak cabinet custom-built by Crane, were three midtower computer cases. Each housed a Pentium-based computer system capable of 166 MHz processor speed. Each had 128 megabytes of Random Access Memory (RAM) and a 1.6-gigabyte hard drive. The video card of each held two megabytes of memory, and he could channel the output from the three machines to either of his two monitors. He could also link them in parallel for greater computer power. Twenty thousand bucks, right there. ….

Directly above the desk, the shelves held a variety of easily accessible accessories: a 5-1/4-inch floppy-disk drive–in case he ever needed it, two 3-1/2-inch disk drives, two one-gigabyte tape-backup drives, three multidisc CD-ROM players, two 28.8-kilobytes-per-second fax modems, and on one shelf, ten 4.3-gigabyte hard-disk drives.

Crane figured he could store much of the Pentagon’s data here if he wanted to have their crap on hand.

I had to put the book down and leave it. The description of a “cutting edge system” was so jarring that I could no longer suspend my disbelief. A videocard with two megabytes of memory? Geez. It makes 1996 feel like this:

Technology

[Image CC-licensed by Steve Jurvetson.]

It makes me want to rev up my grumpy-old-man voice:

“Back in my day, we had 300 baud modems and we were grateful! Sometimes you’d type too fast and you’d have to wait for the modem to catch up.”

“You know, in our high school typing class we had to use mechanical typewriters. No joke.”

“We had to type programs into our Commodore 64 from magazines. And in those days, the magazines didn’t even have checksums!”

What old timey technology story would you tell?

76 Responses to Technology moves fast (Leave a comment)

  1. Monty Python style:

    “You were using computer with your modem? Lucky SOB! I had to read my email by whistle-connecting at 300bps to my Fido uplink AND listening to the incoming packets”

    “I had to play Panic on a matrix printer, because my Apple ][ didn’t have a monitor”

    And real stories:

    “We were using punch cards to program AND we had to punch them ourself”

    “We had to write our own machine code to load programs from a cassette player”

    “I could tell the speed of the modem connection by listening to the handshake. And I was even able to whistle the 300bps handshake and get a connection” (of course, nothing happened after that :-))

    “We had to share one external floppy and if you were careful, you could unplug it without turning off you Apple. And PnP didn’t even exist!”

  2. Heh

    The good old days when the phone company used to beat us with sticks until we begged to be allowed to by their modems at £600 a time.(which was about ½ my starting salary)

    We where so far a way from the exchange that the signal was a bit iffy so to use the acoustic couplers you had to whistle at the carrier tone down the line to get the carrier up than jam the had set in and quickly close the cover.

    I half seriously considered getting one of our electronics shops to make up the 25$ modems that Steve Garcia had a design for in BYTE one month – trouble was that would have been illegal at the time – we did take the modems I brought apart and improve them though.

    I can also remember when 8 inch floppies where £100 pounds a box from HP – and when HP where reassuringly very very expensive (w had one bit of test kit that in today’s prices was around .25 million )

    One of the Engineers got a new HP calculator and it was faulty. His office was like when elephants die the other elephants mourn them – where people where coming into his office to see this mythical thing a HP bit of kit that didn’t work (he joked that he was going to make a black arm band and go into morning for HP)

  3. Well I remember how ecstatic I was when I managed to load the first game (Ikari Warriors) on my new HC (Romanian’s version of Commodore 64) using a cassette recorder – those were the days of the good games, no 2-dvds-super-realistic-modern-games.

  4. So many thoughts came to mind reading this.

    1. In 1976 a friend invited me to get an email address on the USC-ECL node of the Arpanet. My portable terminal, was a 30 (or so) pound TTY-43 teletype terminal with roll paper. I lugged it around and people were amazed by the technology. I was too.

    2. My first PC was by (Dr.) Wang. It had a 10mb had disk when all my buddies were on 1 or 2 floppies. I paid about $4,000 for that computer. The best part was that it had Wang (document-oriented) word processing, in many ways the predecessor to MS Word, while most people were using page-oriented crud.

  5. JP

    All i remember is…
    a vic 20
    a green screen
    my own virtual lemonade stand

  6. Nice discovery Matt – my first PC was a machine made by Oric – like the Commodore 64 it was tape loaded. To load a game used to take about 20 minutes – and the possibilty that the game had not completely loaded was quite high, resulting in another 20 minutes. Now that’s a long time to wait for a teenager!

    It did ignite my interest in programming and helped me to get ahead of the crowd (my older friends think of me as a long-term geek!).

  7. I guess mine would be the first computer I built. It was based on the National Semiconductor SC/MP, and had 256 bytes (that’s bytes, not MB, or GB) of RAM.

    It had 16 toggle switches (8 bits of data, and an 8-bit address) with which to toggle in your machine code, and 8 LEDs to display its output. (Actually it had slide switches, as I didn’t have enough money for toggle switches: it’s much harder to toggle in programs with slide switches.)

  8. Going back many years, one of the old timer computers in my secondary school was a Comodore Pet, which didn’t have graphics at all.

    My proudest moment was persuading the computer to display a circle on the screen by calculating the diameter positions and then poking the memory to write directly to the display memory.

    Something today we wouldn’t even think about as an issue – but at the time I was damn chuffed with it, and still think it was one of the best programs I ever wrote.

  9. The first computer I used in ’77 didn’t have a screen; it was a terminal that printed on a roll of paper. I felt so lucky when they got a new one that used fanfold paper instead.

  10. Ah, I remember seeing an 8″ floppy drive at my college and thinking how old it looked as I used newfangled 5 1/4″ floppy disks.

    Of course, at home I had a VIC20 which I’d write programs for in BASIC, then save them to an audio cassette. The programs couldn’t be very big, seeing as the poor thing only had 4 kilobytes of RAM…

  11. Ha – our first computer had massive disks that were the size of aeros, not sure what they were for but the ‘cabinet’ for the computer we used later as a cage for monkeys (small ones – thats where they slept when they weren’t running around the room)… and that needed to be connected to a ‘dumb terminal’ which was a keyboard and greenscreen connected to each other…. Then we had a portable which meant that it was the size of a LARGE desktop but there was an integrated CRT, and allowed you to put the keyboard onto it … wasn’t exactly portable, but the hard disk 40mb was removable as an unreliable catride …

    Did manage to install flight simulator on it … and plug it into an EGA screen … thought the joystick was crummy ….

  12. matthijs

    But what if your turn it around? Say you really crave that cool new macbook Air right now, saving every penny you have to get your hands on it. You can’t wait for the new version to ship. Now think about 10 or 20 years from now. You will laugh thinking about how silly it was that you so badly wanted that brick of a slow, heavy, clumsy machine that you spend all that energy and money on getting it…

  13. Jalaj

    I’m not too old for an old story but at least older than cutting edge technology described in the book. I used to practice on BBC Microcomputer in my school in 1987 that carried softwares Logo, Pascal, in seperate ROM chips which our teacher would sometimes mount for us to use, BBC BASIC being default installation… never heard of anything like HDD at that time… we had external FDD that supported dual sided floppies (The File system was separate for each side of floppy, though it didn’t required flipping the side) and yes we heard that some advanced computer named IBM-PC was in market that was costly and unconditionally required AC

  14. When I was in high school (mid-70s) the computer terminals (read: TYPEBALLS!) connected to the IBM 360 mainframe via a modem. You know, the big plastic ones that held a telephone cradle. That’s right, you picked up the phone, (rotary) dialed the mainframe, and when it picked up you put the handset into the cradle. Warp 6, Mr. Sulu.

    Of course, I was one of the first kids to have one of those new-fangled red LED digital watches when they came out. Ooooh.

  15. Paper tape program loading on a PDP-8 with a front panel octet boot.

    You can’t even explain any part of that to my 11 year old son or a 20 year old CS major.

    Try explaining what a mechanical carburetor does. You might as well tell them you beat your laundry on rocks (that they would understand).

    We recently bought a house and the previous owner left her old TV for us (thanks!) – I bought an RF adapter and hooked it up to an old DVD player so the kids could watch movies in the basement. They spent hours looking for the remote – it was so old it didn’t have one. Then I had to explain the UHF dial.

    -OT

  16. Hmmm, first time in a computer – must have been in 1977 when my physics master managed to gain some time on the local college’s machine. Big electro-mechanical teletype type input – output on to fan-fold perforated paper, storage on a loooooooong spool of punched tape. Forst proper program was written by two of us. One of us launched a “missile” and the other had to “shoot it down” – well one of us plotted the curve of a parabola and the other had to guess where another parabola might intercept the first and plot that parabola. Such fun.

    Of course, being evil, we would often cut a short portion of the middle someones punch tape storage and stick the remiander back together. A very short section would totally corrupt their program.

    Error codes were printed on the fan fold as 2 numbers of up to 100 each and we had to go to huge wall chart and check our error numbrer rows and colums to see what the actual error was……..oh happy days!

    Arouond that time the Cray 1 came on line (not in the college I hasten to add) at $8.5m, (1975/75 dollars), 5.5 tons and a dedicated cooling system. And the desktop you use today is over 130 times more powerful and it costs $??

  17. My first computer was an Amstrad PCW (http://www.old-computers.com/museum/computer.asp?st=1&c=189 ). It could hold a whopping 180Kb (on floppy, no hard drive), and even had 265Kb RAM – so I doubt I’m even in the running for comments about “old times” (It even had BASIC, so got to get started with high level languages before having to know about ASM etc.)

    I did have a couple of the disks that I think Gerry is talking about (I used to have a fairly large collection of old hardware) – they were about 2 foot wide , and nine inches high, and held 64 Kb of data (they were great to learn about hard-disks, though, you could actually see the arm moving through the huge plastic case.

    My prized possessions (before I had to give most of it all away) were three original IBM PCs, a load of old Apple LCs and an Apple II. They still worked (apart from two of the IMBs – I blew their CPUs since they hadn’t thought of making chips that can only be fitted in one way, and I was young back then, sigh)

    As far as the internet is concerned – I remember that for every image you uploaded you would spend about 30 minutes making sure it was compressed to the smallest possible file size, and tried to keep the entire page (including graphics) under about 20 Kb (I wish people still did this – My parents can still only get dial-up where they live, and the quality of that has deteriorated over the years as ISPs focus on broadband.

    (I also remember using Yahoo when it’s address was http://users.stanford.edu/~bla bla bla – it was really revolutionary back then.)

  18. Myself and a friend once tried a very, very early VOIP using 9600 modems connected directly to each other, we’d have been better off with yoghurt pots, and 2 miles of string!!!

  19. This discussion is taking me right back to my youth. A friend of mine had a BBC Microcomputer which was designed to run basic for educational purposes. We spent many hours and eventually were ecstatic when we managed to get the tiny speaker to speak the word “fish” – not an easy thing to achieve when you have to use phonetics!
    I also remember spending hours typing code into a Sinclair ZX81 from a book of games. None of them worked correctly!

  20. I was a keypunch operator (in which holes were punched in cards to represent characters – if you mis-typed, the holes couldn’t be filled back in – you had to start over) before PCs were invented, but when they were, I had to get my hands on one. My first was a TRS-80 that set me back $1200. It had 16k (notice the k) of ram (I’d upgraded from the standard 8k). Data was saved to an ordinary cassette tape (in an ordinary cassette tape recorder), and it almost never worked. I lost a book I was writing many times that way (and I eventually gave up). Finally, the entire justification for buying it was that I wanted to hook up to my college’s computer lab from my home, so I bought an acoustic modem for it. (The kind where the old fashioned phone earpiece gets placed into rubber cups to dial in). The speed of the modem was 300 baud as well, if I remember correctly. Based on when I graduated from college, I’d guess I bought this baby sometime in 1979 or 1980, but the old noggin is a bit fuzzy on the timeline.

  21. Shawn Shepherd

    I was big into the books that you would read a few pages and then you had to make a choice. The choice you made determined which page you read next and thus the flow of the story.
    I took this idea and wrote interactive stories on my Tandy CoCo. That was real neat till I found my first BBS!

  22. Paul

    I still remember the sick feeling in my stomach when I dropped the 2,000 card deck with all my dissertation research on the way to the card reader.

  23. I typed lots of programs into my Commodore 64 from magazines. And in those days, sometimes my own programs where printed and probably some people typed them into their Commodores.

    I seems to me that those times are long forgotten.
    However when I recently googled my name (I’m vain;-) I realized that there are still magazines about 80s homecomputers.
    One of these offers a disk image for download which contains one of my programs.

    Geez. It makes *me* feel like an old device;-)

  24. Adam

    haha, i feel like a youngster… i barely remember modems (except for how slow nasa’s website was on one) and i didn’t know what baud was until learning it from a computer book :P
    Oh well, just imagine what kids born today are going to think when they are in their 20′s, I can only imagine it would go something like this…”you mean you used CABLES to connect to the internet?!?”

  25. My first computer expereice was with Fortran and those punch cards.

    The first PC I owned was a leading edge d2 12 MHz machine with a 20 meg hard drice dual 5 1/4 floopy, EGA moinotr, 1 meg ram expanded. The thing I recall most was that I could turn it on and then go brew a pot of coffee, By the time I had just fiinshed the first cup, it would be fully booted up and ready to go. I used Dbase to manage my sales territory and Lotus 123 as my spreadsheet program.

    In high school 1973, all I wanted was a bomar brain calcultor to help with physics. I never could make that slide rule work. $128.00 for the led calcultor that could only do the basics, now you get them free at trade shows. Oh yea I had the led watch too that required two hands to see what time it was.

  26. This made me think back to my first home PC… a trusty 3 MHz Texas Instuments TI-99/4A. Ahhh… the memories of saving TI Basic code to a cassette tape and the joy of listening to the sound from the speech synthesis peripheral: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TI-99

  27. MikeTek

    This post is hilarious.

    Another great example of this sort of thing is the movie Hackers. In one seen the hacker gang gathers around a new laptop one of them had procured, while the owner brags, “this baby has 28.8 bps…” Really hilarious 10 years later. I recommend everybody bundle up one night soon and watch it. It’s one of the most ridiculous movies you’ll ever see. Angelina Jolie is in it, as well, starring as Kate Libby or “Acid Burn.”

    I remember very well when I was in about 5th grade being over my friend Jon’s house after school.

    “Wanna play Jeopardy on my computer?”

    “Yeah, sure,” I said.

    “Ok, let’s go load it up.”

    I remember him flipping the on switch, the hum of the 15 inch monitor coming alive, the orange type of the command prompt. He unsheathed the 5.25 floppy disk, inserted it, locked it in place, typed “load Jeopardy” and hit return.

    “Ok, let’s go eat – it won’t be ready for a half hour,” he said.

  28. When I was about 10 I had a Texas Instruments TI99/4A (25 years ago). I had some issues with it. I asked an adult for help. She thought she could solve the problem by typing correctly. e.g. holding the hands correctly, looking at the screen and not the key pad, touching the keys with the right fingers (no pigeon peeking)… typing correctly did not solve my problem.

    http://www.old-computers.com/MUSEUM/computer.asp?st=1&c=236

  29. Bill D

    I’m a young’un compared to you old-timers, but I certainly remember writing a game comparable to SkiFree on an Apple IIe, with >s marking the outer boundaries of the track. I also remember purchasing the Rio PMP-300, the second portable MP3 player ever sold. 32 mb internal memory, baby! The thing held less than a CD’s worth of music, but man, I was the king of the Magic: the Gathering tournament!

  30. Back then I was too young, so I don’t remember anything :D.

  31. Mine is a little more recent, but it’ll show my age/youth.

    In my third year of college, I was sitting in the computer lab and heard a group of freshmen say “If you can’t find it on Google, where do you find it?” I wanted to scream (no offense Matt and the rest of Google) “TRY THE LIBRARY! We have 11 on this campus.” I knew then that the time of the internet had come.

    I still love watching Hackers. It’s an old movie … old … yeah. It’s one of Angelina Jolie’s first. Listen to them talk about her new computer. “Twice the speed of the Pentium.” Cracks me up every time.

  32. @Paul Avery

    I had that same CPU :)

    Before that I worked with a computer we had to flip a series of 9 switches hit enter – depending on the program we were loading we could be there for what seemed like hours, Lord forbid if you made a mistake… No screen, just lights. I think it was “‘insert brand name here’ – 1000″ to signify its first millennium technology.

  33. BottomTurn

    and you forgot to mention, that when you were programming your C64, using a magazine, you had to find out the mistakes in the program by yourself, as there were no blog speaking about the type mistake line 75 .. hhahhhahh

  34. [blockquote]Paper tape program loading on a PDP-8 with a front panel octet boot.[/blockquote]

    Man, most of you folks are so young it makes me wanna cry (or hurl)

    I got my start selling used DEC minicomputer equipment in the 70′s. PDP-8′s were my first specialty; eventually when DEC closed the product line completely, I convinced my boss to buy out their entire remaining inventory for fractions of pennies on the dollar; we made TONS of money off that for years, selling to people whose applications worked best on that platform, or to Europe. Heck, the first entry in my FBI file was because I sold some PDP-8′s to a guy who eventually ended up sending them to Rumania (hey, how would I know I was supposed to ask, I was a teenager) I later moved on to DEC10 and DEC20 gear, and eventually ended up in Large Disks and Mag Tapes, mostly for VAX and MicroVAX.

    We were the first in the state to carry the Commodore PET when it came out; one of my friends and co-workers wrote a highly popular game for it called Toker, which we sold for him – and yea, it was about THAT.

    Back in the day, we had 200mb hard drives as big as washing machines, with cakebox disk packs, that sold *used* for $30k and upwards. Early PDP-8 and PDP-11s with hundreds of modules in a six foot rack. There’s probably more processing power in my watch now.

    I think I still have some parts lying around the house – I know I have a DEC Rainbow microcomputer with four floppies and no hard drive (swap swap swap swap) It was actually a pretty darn cool box in its day – the monitor functioned as a dumb terminal in vt100 or vt220 mode, and the box would run either MS/DOS or CP/M.

    Ah, memories….

  35. Wow, there’s an experienced and eloquent set of folks that lurk here. :)

  36. The first computer I ever used was in the National Bureau of Standards in Maryland, about 1973. I used to play a game called “Star Trek” which was basically a vector & distance approximation and calculation game. I think we also had something that resembled mine sweep, although I was only eight at the time, so my recollection may be wrong.

    The terminal used track feed 11 x 17 paper and was LOUD. I think the whole thing was connected to a PDF 11, which was in a huge rack. The memory was in 2 slide out trays and you needed to reset the base memory tray before you could boot the system. This required another machine to be running so you could clear the memory, so if it crashed you either had a spare on hand or you had to go reset the board. The best part about the whole thing was that the room had to be air conditioned to about 62 degrees, which made it the coolest place in Washington during the summer!

    My father also brought home the acoustic coupled terminal with a thermal printer. Because he had perfect pitch, he could actually whistle into the phone and login.

  37. Ugh; I wrote a long entry about PDP8s and PDP11s and Commodore PETS and DEC10s & 20s and washing machine sized 200mb disks for $30k, the first entry in my FBI file and so on.. and pressed submit and it disappeared! Gack. Well, I was there, did all that.

  38. Opps, sorry about that last post; my original finally showed up.

    Ok – show of hands – who remembers the ASR-33 teletype? eh? eh?

  39. Well, for those of you that are in the film and video production world, and have been for a while, perhaps you’ve heard of the first production non-linear video editor?

    If memory serves, it was called the Montage, though Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-linear_editing_system#History) fails to make specific mention of it.

    That article claims a CMX system was the first – I used the term first production system. I actually used the Montage. I can’t recall anyone using the CMX system. These devices were trying to do what the Avid and Final Cut and others do so well today.

    But the Montage used a bank (this is mentioned in the article) of some 100 clone copies of VHS tape to achieve “non-linear” access while editing and playing back your show.

    It was exciting. It was not pretty. ;)

  40. Charles

    I remember a lecturer at my college showing me the Internet in 1993. The web would be practically useless for another year yet. He showed me downloading a random file from Microsoft’s FTP server. I was blown away. I bought a modem a few weeks later and a few months later I was racking up £1000 a month phone bills – we didn’t have free local calls in the UK then.

    I have another memory of using Infoseek as my primary search engine in the mid-nineties, before Altavista came along. Infoseek charged a $9.95 monthly subscription for their search engine from what I remember. Imagine that!

  41. I remember sneaking into the Stanford computer lab in the 70′s as a kid to see what all the fuss was about.

    Just typing on something other than a typewriter was mind-blowing!

    What? I just sent a message to someone in another state? How cool is that!?

    The question is, was I a Geek before, or did the computer turn me into one? :)

  42. My first computer (1981ish) was the TI-994A. Cassette tape storage, oh boy!

    When I entered Va Tech College of Engineering in Fall 1986, $2K got you an IBM portable, ~24 pounds, 8088-4.77Mhz, 640K (maxed out – who needs more?) two 5.25″ floppy drives, CGA graphics (320x240x16 colors). I was the only guy in my hall of the dorm to get the optional 9-pin dot-matrix printer, only $541.

  43. EGOL

    * I produced punch cards (see DazzlinDonna’s description above) containing the data for my M.S. project. My “deck” was about 2000 cards long. That was about four boxes of cards. Students doing these types of projects had lockers in the keypunch area – otherwise we would need donkeys to carry all of the cards around. To run the data you would have to put 2000 cards through the card reader. It took ten or so minutes for all of the cards to be blown through the reader. It sounded like a machine gun. To run a job that big would hog the entire computer and bog down processing of the smaller jobs being run. Jobs requiring that level of resources had to be run after midnight. I would often go to the computer center at midnight so I could run my jobs and get fast turn around. I also had a small deck of about 100 cards that I would use for testing and debugging.

    * I was lucky for my PhD project because the university started allowing us to use terminals. That eliminated the card deck (this was in the early 1970′s). But you still needed to work after midnight to get jobs run quickly.

    * The university had a text-editing program named “WYLBUR”. I had the university’s second MS thesis produced on WYLBUR and the first PhD dissertation produced with it. My friends all had to type theirs using multiple carbon papers or hire a typist to produce it (huge demand for typists back then). I sent mine to a line printer. Before WYLBUR, when your thesis or dissertation went to committee and they marked it up with comments and changes you had to retype the whoole freeeking thing over again. WYLBUR saved me that hassle and the cost of a typist.

    * I was one of the first people at a government agency in our state to use computer mapping . I used a program named SYMAP to make contour maps of economic variables across the state. I used paper maps to get the lat/long of each location where the state boundary changed directions (had not yet been digitized). Those points would be printed on the contour map so we could place a clear mylar with roads, cities and political boundaries atop of it for geographic reference. (I’ll skip the fun details of matching scales and map projections to the character matrix of a line printer). Back then a mash-up was about nine pieces of 11×17 greenbar paper printed on the backside by a line printer, taped together to make a wall-size map of the state, then throw a clear mylar with the geography on top.

  44. I jumped into the game late, but have been fascinated with technology and the old machines for a while. I do appreciate the easy to use PCs of this modern era though. Thanks to the guys – and gals – that worked to get us here. Even though I sometimes think the old geeks hate that their hobby is mainstream.

  45. In the non-computer field – I was a huge X-Files fan in the 90′s, and I distinctly remember being distracted by two things – first, how Scully could do FBI field work in those heels, and second, how she and Mulder had cell phones that would work anywhere and everywhere, with unlimited calling outside their immediate radius (I was limited to about three area codes around Detroit without running up huge roaming charges plus long distance) – and nowadays, we don’t even give these things a second thought. And that wasn’t all that long ago, either.

    We still haven’t solved the problem of high heels though.

  46. Yeah, I typed up a “Wizard of Oz” game out of a magazine into my Texas Instrument and saved the entire file on a cassette tape. It took me all summer to type the game in, and it never did work!

  47. I had a TRS-80 Model 1 Level 1 with a whooping 4K of RAM. You had to load programs from cassette. Programs came in black notebooks with cassettes embedded on the inside cover. I remember if you accidentally hit the computer table while it was loading to memory, the program would get corrupted and you would have to start all over again. Later on, I upgraded to a Model III with 2 5.25″ hard drives. We would cut holes in the diskette jacket so you could use both sides (they were very expensive back then). We would also use other Basic programs like Z basic which would let you format a few more tracks for extra disk space. Sometimes the diskette jacket would get bent and it would stop working, so we would open it up and put the diskette in a newer jacket. The hot item at the time was a “Winchester Drive” that could hold 5 MB. Of course I remember thinking, 5 MB – you would never run out of room –)

    In high school I did my homework using the TRS-80 word processor – I think it was called SuperScript. It was kind of like the old Word Perfect. I printed on to a daisy wheel printer which was very good quality for it’s day. Once my friends found out I had a Daisy Wheel, they would come over with programs that would print out PG-13 images of women using ASCII characters.

  48. Nice post!

    My 2nd computer was a TI 99/4A.
    I used to spend hours typing code manually from a magazine, just to play a little. Type: 6 hours / Play: 30 minutes, and only when the program finished compilation.

    To save my code I use a regular music tape, because floppy disks were luxury.

    It wasn’t strange that the next day that tape were completely unreadable…. but that was life.

    Ahhh… and my first computer was a Superbrain with 64Kb of RAM. The O.S. was CPM/64 and it was one big monster, green screen, keyboard and 2 floppy disk drives all in one. The best game I had was Elisa and a version of startreck were your ship was an “*” and the klingons were “k” on the screen.

  49. les

    First computer in 1963 was IBM 650, front end was punch cards back end was 407 accounting machine. We were able to produce a payroll per pay period, same as today.

  50. Great post.

    If you read our blog – that has been the theme, with examples spanning the conception of Silicon Valley.

    It is amazing how one area of the nation has been the tech driving force that has changed the world

  51. We had TRS-80′s in my school too. And mechanical typewriters, but we had some electric ones too. My husband could tell many more good stories though.

  52. John

    And I had my first car phone fitted in 1986 – over £2000. And that really was £2000. Not £2000 at today’s value.

  53. I used to vow that I’d never spin yarns about “the old days” when we wore an onion on our belt…

    Then, just this morning, I found myself telling someone that using DreamWeaver to code is “cheating” and that they had at least better know how to hand-code EVERYTHING that DW creates or they’re worthless in my eyes.

    “DOS prompt for FTP and Notepad is all you need! Googly moogly!”

  54. spamhound

    My first video game was the blak and white pong. That as just so hi tech!

    I remember dialing into the Internet with golfernet through my sisters ASU account. That was the only access then.

    Then of course, all those countless hours I spent dialing up different bulletin boards on my smoking fast 1200 buad modem.

    Don’t forget prodigy!

    Now, with my 12 megabit Cox connection, I get bored if I have to wait more than a few seconds for sites to load! I can’t imagine the poor souls who still have to use dial up.

    Time and technology sure fly when your having fun!

  55. Dave (original)

    My 1st Car had the state of the art 8-track player and in stereo too!. Those were the days :)

    My 1st Computer was an Abacus :)

  56. This is fun.

    First PC was a 2kb Timex-Sinclair (I was 12, it wasn’t bad for my needs then). I have “fond” memories of re-typing programs from computer magazines and praying I’d get the save the work onto that audio cassette before something froze… and always enjoyed listening to that audio playback too!

    Eventually, my first modem (1200 baud) quickly gave way to the thrill newer, better gadgets or devices can bring. Doing web dev via modem for four years before DSL/cable even became available one really had to enjoy the work to not go berserk.

    One related story, though it’s not my own: A few years ago I was blown away when reading George Stephanopoulos’ book about his years as one of Pres. Clinton’s top aides. He described one scene when he received an urgent “page” via beeper from the President and had to ask the cab driver to pull over so he could find a phone booth. No cell? This was circa 1993-1995!! Even I had a cell phone by then and I was a broke college kid – not quite an adviser to the leader of the free world.

  57. Funny things written here. Let me add some more fun. I was in IX Std when our School announced they have built a Computer lab for us. It was in 1994! Yes.

    That was the first time I saw a PC in my life. We were asked to remove our shoes before we could enter the Lab. And we had an idea that these TVs (as they seemed to us) are very expensive and so we were very careful even when touching a key on the keyboard. :) It really amuses me now to think of all that. I dont remember the config, never knew that a PC had one, at that time. But all I remember now was the systems were very slow. We used to play Pacman all the time. The initial lessons were taught in BASIC.
    Feel like going back to those days with todays intel and check out the things again. Maybe I will beat my Teacher on it now.

  58. re matts comment on mix of people

    i rember being in the pub with some BT collegues and our DB guru mentioned “oh my first boss was Dijkstra” coll or what.

    I also found out after he had retired that one of my bosses had been the admin for a certain PRESTEL system :-) those of you with an interest in computer security will know the one I mean.

  59. Going with my dad to his work at Singer/Librascope where he showed me the computer he had worked on. It filled an entire room the size of two large class rooms. The guy operating it hit a switch, you heard a whir, and clicks, then after 30 seconds or so the printer started hitting the X, click, whir, click, whir, and the X’s across the green and white paper began to make a pattern. Wait!.. it was snoopy! The paper ripped off and proudly I walked off with it. The whole thing took less than 5 minutes!

    We can add to that my backing up of a 5 mb hard drive the size of small fridge, which took a half hour while I backed it up onto 14″ reel to reel tape. All of this was while I played Duran Duran and did aerobics in the air conditioned computer room!
    dk

  60. Jogi

    Great post :-)

    My collegues often complain that I type too hard, but they understand when I tell them I learned to type on a Siemens t-100 telex machine.

    You were LUCKY to have 300 baud. This paper strip guzzling beauty could only do 50 baud, but some early modders yanked it up to 200 baud!

    The reason the whole machine is inside a piece of furniture is because of the noise.

  61. Ah, I remember when we got our first computer, a ZX-81 (for the US types, I think the US release version was called the TS1000), with 1kB of on-board RAM, upgraded to a whopping 16kB with an external RAM pack! It took 5 minutes to load something from tape, and you had to mark the EXACT volume and tone levels necessary (we used a stripe of nail polish on the dials as markers). I remember we eventually worked out that C60 tapes didn’t work so well, because they stretched over time, and BASF ferrochrome tapes seemed to produce a cleaner signal.

    It was also best not to walk, talk, cough, jump, breathe, or otherwise cause any vibration, so as not to disturb the fairly tenuous connection to the RAM pack, and causing yet another crash… In fact, being in the next room worked well

    >> a techno-thriller from 1996 called Back Slash

    I read that a couple of years ago. I know what you mean – it took a bit of mental realignment to allow that a 166MHz CPu ran a cutting edge hacking rig… I gritted it out for the comedy effect though, and it was a tolerable read. It was going well, until someone used a graphic as a password. Oops

  62. My Oric Atmos 48k… when I got a cassette player for it, I thought it was the bees knees and played games like Hunchback that took 10 minutes to load up from cassette.

    I remember my brother burning new ports into the back of the Oric.

    When I got my Amstrad 464 plus, I waited 3 months for one cassette to be sent to me to see a demo of optimised graphics… it was a very happy day when it came.

  63. Deathshadow

    When I first started out in computers back in ’76, I got my hands on a intel 4004 processor and a octet of 128bit static ram chips (for a whopping 128 bytes of RAM!) – I didn’t even have it soldered together since I was playing with it as a motor controller and needed to make changes quickly, so I just put it on a wire-wrap board.

    The user interface was genuine power for the timeframe. Nine toggle switches and a push-button, backed up by a 8×8 grid of led’s that showed the states of the sixteen 4 bit wide registers.

    Data Entry was easy – First switch up, set your memory address on the next seven switches, hit the button to set the current ‘pointer’. Flip that first switch down, use the next eight switches to set the value to put into memory, hit the button to put the value in. If the first switch and last switch were both up, it would start code execution from the address on those middle 7 buttons.

    Ah, the good old days of hand-coding your machine language one byte at a time.

  64. Hey I remember typing in those programs from magazines into the Commodore 64 with the blazing hot tape drive for storage….

  65. I remember going to the local university when i was at primary school to see there collection of”cutting edge” synthesisers. That would have been about 25 years ago.
    They had a massive room to house them but there was only space left for 3 children + the teacher to stand in!

    now I’ve got the same capabilities (if not more) installed on my studio PC!

  66. I remember my old Magnavox video game console from 1978 ;-)

  67. Floppy disks! I miss them so… I’m a youngster, I learned to read playing Ultima 4 and Wizardry on an Apple IIe, and we got a 386 when I was in the fifth grade. It had a VESA video card — I was styling when Wolf3d came out.

  68. I must be bloody old, since I remember a time when there were no digital displays! My first computer was a Commodore 64, but as a young kid I was the proud owner of a copy of the first Pulsar Watch with red LED display. To read the time, you had to press a button on the side, so that required use of both hands: forget about checking it while on you bicycle!
    Having said this, I am more into keeping copies of old software together with the machines running it. Anybody like me, still keeping working computers with DOS 3.2, 16-color EGA graphic cards with EGA monitor, or an ancient 5 1/4 floppy with Wordstar on it and a proper floppy reader? I just cannot throw away any dismissed piece of hardware!

  69. Chris_D

    At school, in 1977, we had a teletype terminal with a paper tape reader. 35 students in the computing class, learning BASIC. And just the one teletype terminal….. You had to hand in a paper tape and a printout of the executed program.
    Like Ciro, I’ve kept some of the old PC related stuff. Original boxed Leisure suit larry games (with both 5.25 and 3.5in floppies), Word 1.0 (for the PC) etc etc.
    Anyone else remember the ICL OPD (One Per Desk)- circa 1985; or the Apricot PC (before they were IBM compatible?

  70. ”Sometimes you’d type too fast and you’d have to wait for the modem to catch up.” Oh the good old days. The internet was such a nicer place back then. :)

    I dread to think of the technology that will be available to us in 25 years time. Even 6-7 years ago I never would have thought you could browse the internet with your phone. I love the fact that I grew up in the 80′s and I’ve watch all these gadgets grow and grow, I’m so excited for the future.

  71. I still remember how my friend told me the true story where he hacked an ATM machine with his Atari computer. They can’t event catch him because they don’t have CCTV yet.

  72. w00t to all the ZX-81 users out there. :)

  73. My very first computer was an 8088, with a monochrome monitor, a 5 1/4″ floppy and an external modem. This blazing piece of machinery was custom made for me by Bergoine Computers in Salt Lake City Utah, for just over $6000!

    My first “portable” computer was so big, I had to carry it on one of those fold-up luggage carts! It folded up into a very heavy shape about 18 or so inches across and at LEAST 6″ thick! At the time, i was THRILLED!!! A PORTABLE PC!

  74. James

    Actually, that’s a pretty nice tube tester, and still very useful, as tubes are well used in the audiophile industry…

  75. I miss the actually floppy disks which where actually floppy and my Vic 20

  76. The first program I wrote was on punch cards and I had to load it on a cart and wheel it to the card reader. I could write a couple of statements, punch the cards and see that big blinking computer do it all for me. That was exciting!

    The best part – the new technology kept me excited all these years and still does.

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