My first home computer was a VIC-20 when I was in high school, circa 1980-1981. The monitor was a small TV I had in my room. I had a cassette tape drive for storing programs. I went through the handbook that came with it and taught myself programming in BASIC.
My second computer was a Commodore 64 with a 5.25″ floppy drive. Big time! I wrote programs (still in BASIC) that did astronomical calculations I learned about in Astronomy class. Once, I typed in this huge long program from a computer magazine because I wanted to switch my keyboard to a Dvorak layout; I don’t know if I mistyped a character or didn’t have enough computing power, but it never worked.
At that time, I should point out, the only computer-related course in high school was Computer Math, and you had to have algebra and probably something else complicated to take the class. I couldn’t understand why math was necessary to use a computer. I still can’t do math, and I get along just fine with my PC.
I took an Introduction to Computers class in college, but I already knew everything, because they were teaching BASIC, and I had learned it all from my practice on the VIC-20. The class used TRS-80 computers. I didn’t want to be a programmer (maybe my sad experience with the Dvorak keyboard effort put me off). I wanted to use programs written by other people. I remember spending some of my time in the computer lab playing a game called Taipan. (Note: I just found it online and whiled away about two and a half hours.)
For home, I bought a text-based computer game, which a co-worker recently looked up based on my description and determined was probably Zork. All I remember is I ran into some creatures called – or described as – rat-ants and they had something I needed, but no matter what I tried, they wouldn’t give it to me, so I gave up.
My dad was in the Navy and had some experience with computer interconnectivity, and he suggested I should have a modem. He said I could use it to talk to other people with computers. I couldn’t even comprehend how I could find these people and why I would want to communicate with them. I said I didn’t think I needed one.
What I really wanted was a word processor. I bought the software, but it was very simple, as you can imagine. My biggest problem with it, though, was that it didn’t have true extenders; the letters all had to fit within the same shape, and it made the text really hard to read.
I ended up using Windows PCs at a couple of jobs I had, but it was about 1993 or 1994 that I got a Windows PC of my own, picked up one of those free AOL CDs, and came to appreciate the uses of a modem!
Now, I never do any programming, but I use the internet all the time, of course, and I use the computer for writing letters (on those rare occasions that I write a letter); scanning, saving, and repairing old photos; maintaining a family tree; and making notes for stories that I hope to get around to writing someday.
My old VIC-20 and Commodore 64 are somewhere in my old bedroom at my mom’s house, in their original boxes. Back when I was using them, I couldn’t have imagined everything I do with computers today, much less writing a blog to share my thoughts with other people who have computers at home.
VIC-20 Photo is from Wikimedia. I cut away a portion of another old computer in the background.