Thursday, November 27, 2008

My First Computer

Sometime in the early 80's, I decided I needed to know more about computers.

...I was thirty something then.

So I walked into the local Radio Shack in Calgary and bought the deluxe Coco—the 16K version, not the basic 4K over sized calculator. I honestly don’t remember what it cost (I’m guessing over a thousand though). It was only a keyboard with the guts of a computer. You hooked it up to your colour TV which served as the monitor.

No such thing as hard disks or even floppy disks. You saved anything on a tape drive (extra, of course). The keyboard had Chiclets for keys. (Still better than today's mice keys on a Blackberry, et al)

…needless to say, you couldn’t watch TV at the same time
…no such thing as multitasking back then I forgot about computer programming in university programmed everything in Fortran using keypunch cards

If you wanted to do anything with it, you pretty much had to program what you wanted in a language called Basic. You could buy cartridges that slid into the side of the computer. I think I bought one called VisiCalc which was my first exposure to computerized spreadsheets. I used it as a glorified typewriter mostly.

...I actually used it to develop forecasts in my work
...I think this was a major reason I got a transfer back to Toronto

The tape drive only stored data sequentially. It couldn't rewrite over an existing file because it would write over anything in its path. I had to buy a supply of cassette tapes (The same kind you used to record music, but quality wasn’t as important) to save the myriad of screwed up programs that I began to write.

As far as a printer goes, I went out and got a black & white dot matrix printer (I’m not sure if you could buy colour then. It was somewhere in the neighbourhood of $800). It worked on the principal that a bunch of small pins hammered a typewriter like ribbon onto paper that had tear off edges full of holes that fed along wheels that had larger plastic pins in them.

…the paper often fell off the wheels
…ribbons didn’t last very long (cartridge format I think)
…and you had to clean the pins periodically

…couldn’t even buy a cable at the local Radio Shack
…had to get it custom built at a local computer geek store (two different connectors—proprietary Radio Shack and serial if memory serves me right. Most people used parallel to parallel in those days)

You could try to use ordinary typewriter paper, but you had to feed the sheets in one at a time and they seldom lined up properly especially if you started it off crooked.

…computers two & three weren’t much better
…that will be another story
…memory chips were a $1,000 a megabyte in number three (they're now pennies a megabyte)

…all of these items ended up in my personal garbage dump possibly before you were even born

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