My First Computer

My parents always did a great job at Christmas. There are two Christmas gifts that have stood the test of memories 30-40 years later.

The first was an aircraft carrier about 3 feet long that had a wire-guided plane you could land on it. It worked similar to this. My dad decided that the short wire that came with it was inadequate, so he grabbed his fishing line and rigged up a 30-foot guide line that ran the entire length of the house. That upped the fun and difficulty. I was probably 9 or 10 at the best, but even now I can picture the whole thing: the plane mounted on the table in the front room; 30 feet of fishing line going through the family room and landing in the doorway to kitchen. I’d hit the button that would launch the plane, pilot it with something that looked like a control mechanism from a Cessna, and attempt to grab the guide wire on the carrier. We probably pissed my Mom and the dog off equally. Too bad we didn’t have a cat or that would have really upped the challenge. Update: this is it.

The second was a Commodore 64. I have no idea about the thought process behind why they got me this. The computer revolution was just starting. I was in high school and had taken a couple of computer classes. I think my parents may have realized that computers were going to be a thing, heard about the Commodore 64 and bought it. There was a lot of angst on their end. The gift did not show up until Christmas Eve. I had just left the house to go to my friend Dave’s house and never saw the UPS truck show up.

Back then, it didn’t even have a floppy drive. It had cassette player you would load the program with. The day after Christmas we went to some small computer shop and I got a few games to play. One of them was called Gato which was a great submarine simulator. It was a lot of ASCI code showing the ships I was shooting at, but looking back that was some serious programming chops in the early days of computing. He also realized that I liked D&D-style games and bought me Zork. Zork was one of the first interactive fiction games by a great company called Infocom. While EverQuest and World of WarCraft probably hold the top places for hours played in a game, Zork comes close. This was before the internet where you could just Google your way out of a problem. A lot of my analytical skills and thought processes came from playing that game. I remember having an entire notebook with maps I had made and notes on what I tried to do to solve various puzzles. I still have the games loaded on Frotz on the iPad.

I also learned some basic programming. You could get Byte magazine which would have programs printed in it that you would then type by hand into the computer. Two years of typing classes in school didn’t do shit for my typing. Typing in thousands of lines of computer code, however, did wonders for learning that skill.

The Commodore gave way to an Apple IIe, which later ceded the way to a Macintosh in 1985. That Christmas, though, changed my life.

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