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My First Computer: Remembering In Black And Green

Many people can remember the first computer they owned. Whether the experience was euphoric or maddening, the experience seems to be emblazoned into our minds like burn-in on a two decade old monochrome monitor. The topic can illicit tears of joy or sobs of frustration. But either way, there always seems to be a fondness and nostalgia surrounding our first computing machine.

The first computer that made its mark on my life wasn't even mine. My elementary school had a computer lab full of these fascinating beige boxes with multicolored fruit stamped on the top. They were the Apple ][e. My school had spent thousands of dollars on each computer in the 80's and still had them around. The computers came equipped with black and green monitors and a floppy drive. Looking back, the computers were practically medieval. But for a child having his first experience with a personal computer, they were the most glorious machine I had ever laid eyes on.

I can still remember the first time the teacher let us insert a 5.25 inch floppy into the floppy drive that was as boxy as the computer itself and boot up the system. Our first lesson on the computer involved a program called Logo. It involved a small digital turtle that doubled as a cursor on a blank screen. The student could draw lines, shapes, and whole pictures by "telling" the turtle what to do by typing commands into the computer using a simple programming language. If your school was rich enough, a robotic turtle with wheels for feet could be hooked up to your computer to draw your pictures on large sheets of paper. Unfortunately, going to a small catholic school, we weren't able to take our lessons quite that far.

As I reminisced on these memories, I thought it would be interesting to go further back in time and ask my step-father, Bruce Barnes, what his first experiences were like with his first computer.

"Gaming is all I did", he told me. "It was about 1983 and I had a small Texas Instruments computer, a TI-99/4A that had cartridges that fit in the top. It didn't even have a monitor, you plugged it into a TV."

He told me that he played all sorts of games like Munchman (a game similar to Pac Man), Parsec (a space combat game), and Tombstone City (a survival game in which you face off in a western ghost town against space aliens). He spent hours on each of the games and had many, many more games by the time he stopped using the computer. And this was long before modern game consoles.

Paul Pellerito, a pharmacy technician from Louisville Kentucky, told me about his experiences with his first computer.

"We got a Packard Bell 486dx with Windows 3.11 for Christmas in 1992." he remembered fondly, "It was big, heavy and beige. My brother and I took turns staying home from school so we could play with it in 8th grade! This was back before the World Wide Web."

He told me about his experiences with the three months of Prodigy that came with the computer. But his brother and he signed up for the free email service from Juno instead and used the Web's predecessor, bulletin board systems (BBS), to play games.

"My brother was hooked on Tradewars on the BBS!"

I asked a friend now living in Vancouver Canada, Chris Roller, when he got his first computer. At the time, he said, he was living in Colorado.

"I wish I could remember exactly when. I would have been 5 or 6 at the time. My memory from there is comprised only of the strongest parts. We had an Apple //c+."

He told me everything he remembered. Including a special purchase his father made at the time.

"I remember very specifically that it had 2 disk drives. I remember them being side-by-side under the monitor. My dad paid $200 for an additional 5.25" floppy drive and that was a 'good deal'."

Chris also told me about King's Quest, the first computer game he ever played on the Apple //c+.

"I doubt I understood how to play it properly. But heck, I'd type commands and things would happen in the game! Pretty neat, right?"

Nick Wells, an Information Systems Manager in Grand Rapids Michigan, told me about his father's computer which was the first computer he used.

"It was my dad's DEC Rainbow 100. It had a color monitor, but was mostly black and green. It ran DOS 3.0.2. My dad had written his own checkbook program using Fortran and we had a word processor."

He told me that the computer was the height of technology in those days.

"It booted off of one 5.25 inch floppy and saved your data to a second. It had a 20MB hard drive that cost a small fortune."

Whether we remember our first computers fondly or scornfully, they will always hold a special place in our memories. Like a cherished and fragile floppy. Think back to your first computer. If your anything like me, you'll find yourself remembering it all over again in black and green.

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Tags: Apple, computer, memories, obsolete, retrocomputing, TI

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