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Doug's Mailbag: You Never Forget Your First

Readers share their first PC memories:

In elementary school, I snuck into the library as often as I could to play with the Apple computer there. I honestly don't remember the model. My junior high school was in the stone age -- it didn't have anything there.

I went to high school from '84 to '87, and our school got a brand new IBM PC lab during my first year. I didn't realize how very lucky I was to learn on what would become the industry standard! I spent all four years of high school either taking classes on the IBM PCs in that lab or as a teaches aid -- anything I could do to spend time on those machines. I learned Basic, and Pascal, as well as (of course) DOS. There was lots of other stuff I picked up too, like Wordperfect and MS Word.

I begged my parents to buy me an IBM PC but my parents were worried that it would just be an expensive toy that I would get bored with. So my parents went to the clearance rack at Radio Shack and bought me a discontinued TRS-80 MC-10. It was basically a knock off of the Timex Sinclair. They told me if I really used it then they may someday buy me an IBM.

I spent hundreds of hours playing with that silly little RadioShack computer. I wrote my own games for both my little MC-10 and also for the IBMs at school. I learned so much off that horrible little box. After a little over a year of solid (almost nonstop) pounding on that MC-10, my parents realized that I had a genuine interest and bought me a used IBM PC for just under two grand -- a small fortune at the time. It was fantastic machine, much better than the ones at school. It came with 256k ram and had CGA color. The ones at school were standard monochrome, not even the enhanced Hercules monochrome.

IBM had a factory in town so many of my friends had folks that had IBM PCs at home. Through those friends I came in contact with all sorts of software -- from games like MS Flight Simulator, Midnight Mission Pinball, Zork, Gato, to business software like Wordstar and Supercalc. I remember my friends and I hearing about a guy that had something called CAD software, so we drove across town to play with AutoCAD for an evening. It was a weird way to have fun, but it worked for us!

Over the last years of high school and the couple of years after, I spent countless hours learning all I could about my little IBM PC. I even started souping it up, like one would a car. I added a 300-baud modem, upgraded the ram (which back then involved expansion cards, dip switches and dozens of individual little chips) and even replaced the stock Intel 8088 processor with a NEC V20 processor that ran like 30 percent faster. Eventually I worked my way up to buying my first hard drive. It was a 10mb ½ height RLL drive, which I paid $300 for.

Thinking about it now, I kinda miss those days, when the insides were incredibly complicated and only a relatively small community of folks really knew how to work on them.
- Dennis

In 5 words: Tandy 600; HP 110 Portable.

Both were battery-operated portables running off NiCads, and were capable of running 12 hours or more between recharges (thus putting just about any recent notebook to shame).

Both ran something kin to DOS 2 and MS Works 1.1 or so, and had proprietary 3.5" disk formats (non-standard media bytes, and worse -- each differed from standard DOS floppy format in numerous ways).

I'll date myself as well! My first PC was an Apple II+ with two 5.25 inch floppies! Got started with it back in the summer of 1982 after I finished grad school. I was working for the U.S. Forest Service in Research Triangle Park, N.C., and I wrote a program to do financial analysis of Forest Management scenarios. The program ran on one floppy, and you could save your data on the second!

Oops, I just used up too much space to fit on one of those 5 ¼'s!

My first computer WAS an IBM-PC. I bought it barebones, with no floppy drives, which I installed later myself. Bought my own monitor with yellow pixels instead of the standard green. Still had it in 1990 when I took it half way around the world and back and installed my first dial-up modem. Funny, I can't remember if I ever put in a hard drive. Sigh, all those floppies, all those viruses...

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Posted by Doug Barney on 08/17/2011 at 1:18 PM


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