Saturday, July 14, 2007

Old Computers

Check out this 1982 Atlantic Monthly article about the wonders of owning a home computer.
...many people suspect that IBM will wage a counteroffensive with a DOS of its own.
His Processor Technology SOL-20 system, a computer I hadn't even heard of, had 48K of RAM and could use both upper- and lower-case letters, and cost about $4,000. The heavy-duty business machines had 64K of RAM. The weird Osborne, the first portable computer, weighed 23 pounds and had a monitor the size of a postcard. And it was a big seller.

Donna Bowman reminisced on the computers she's had a couple of Mondays ago, going back to a TRS-80. Our family got a TRS-80 Color Computer sometime around 1981 or 1982. It had a whopping 16K of RAM, and we never even graduated beyond cassettes and cartridges to a disk drive, but we did have the "Extended Color BASIC." We never got a real printer for it, though my dad did fiddle around with trying to convert an old teletype machine to a printer. Maybe it didn't do much by today's standards, but I played games more interesting than those on game machines of the time and learned how to program in BASIC, which was a lot of fun.

Sometime in junior high (Christmas 1985 or 1986) I got a Commodore 64 that was my machine until its disk drive finally conked out for good, sometime around my senior year of high school (1990-91), maybe in the summer before college. With the C64 I played a LOT of games (many of them cracked), did a lot of BBSing (local calls only), fiddled with BASIC while learning PASCAL at school, and wrote all my school papers, which I printed out on my "Near-Letter-Quality" dot-matrix printer. If I had a good old Atari joystick I'd get an emulator and play a lot of those games today, but without the joystick, it's not the same (this is the cue for me to Google "atari joystick usb").

Man, I haven't done any real (i.e., non-HTML) computer programming since learning C in college. I never even got to object-oriented programming. Seems like these days there are applications like Excel (actually, I use that do most of the number-manipulating I'd be programming, if I were programming. But it seems like I'd find useful things to do if I relearned a programming language or two, though. What do people use these days to program web applications like, say, Marty O'Brien's county-counting site?


At Saturday, July 14, 2007 at 6:05:00 AM PDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fascinating article, Adam. I've never been much a computer guy. My mom, a secretary, learned word processing in the early going and then furthered her career by becoming a trainer, going from office to office to show people how to use the new toys. As a result, we had serviceable, WP-capable computers in the home throughout my high school years, but nothing we could play games on, and nothing with a modem. And as a further result, my knowledge of computer terminology and cutting-edge tech has always been limited. Basically, every computer I've ever had -- six in all, counting the one I shared with Donna when we first got married -- has seemed perfectly adequate to me, until I've gotten the next one, and seen how much I was missing. (Although my last three computers have all been more or less variations on the same thing, so the days of radical advances may be over.)

I once wrote a big article for the Charlottesville alt-weekly on a local on-line gaming company -- this was in 1995, before on-line gaming was much of anything -- and it was like traveling to Japan and trying to write about the food. I knew just enough to sound like an idiot. A year later, Donna bought me a copy of Tracy Kidder's THE SOUL OF A NEW MACHINE, about the building of a new computer, and while it was fascinating, I still felt lost.

I'm a smart guy, and yet computers leave me flummoxed, even now. I blame my Mom.


At Saturday, July 14, 2007 at 7:38:00 AM PDT, Anonymous Erich Schneider said...

Popular languages for web application development these days are Ruby, PHP, and Perl for the server-side part, and Javascript and Flash for the client-side part. It's also helpful to know SQL, because most web sites use a SQL database for their persistent data storage (MySQL being a popular free database system). XML is also useful to know something about, as it is used all over the place as a data interchange format. (You will hear people mention "AJAX" as something behind modern "Web 2.0" web sites - it stands for "Asynchronous Javascript and XML".)

Knowing nothing of the above I would probably suggest starting with PHP (although I myself don't know it).

At Saturday, July 14, 2007 at 1:38:00 PM PDT, Blogger Theodore said...

In my closet here, I've still got an AT&T 6300 XT-class machine -- in working order!

We also still have our Atari 2600 hooked up to the big-screen TV, and play it every couple of months.

I sure wouldn't mind a C64 though; I have fond memories of hours of great gaming with my cousins on theirs. Ironically, I think the best computer baseball games came from that era.

For a programming language, I recommend Python. I learned it a few years ago, and can't believe I didn't long before.


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