Computers

The casual observer of ye olde blog here might have noticed that I’m kinda into this computer thing… I mean, I’ve been doing computery stuff since the late 70’s after all.

For me, it all started when my father got an OSI “Challenger 1P” in ’78 or ’79. Now, I wasn’t allowed to come within arm’s reach of this machine because my father was a bit territorial and no one was allowed to touch his stuff… But the fact it was in the house was enough to get my interest and get me reading up on it.

The next machine to enter my life was a Tandy TRS-80 model 1 my father brought home in 1980. It was the same story in that I wasn’t allowed to touch it, but the TRS-80 had a lot more documentation and it was easier to read up on it.

In 1981 I entered Junior High…

At school there were four Commodore PET machines in vacant a corner office, and no one did anything with them. They had clear vinyl dust covers on them when I found them, leading me to guess that A) even the teachers didn’t have any idea how to use them and B) that meant it was okay for me to monkey with them.

Remember, this is the mimeograph and overhead transparency era, so something like a personal computer just didn’t fit into the curriculum – yet.

I would spend the occasional recess in that corner office figuring out the vagaries of loading things from tape and playing with the classroom programs the machines came with.

Eventually though, with relentless pestering (and probably assuming I would soon void the hands-off policy on his machines), my father finally caved and bought me a Sinclair ZX-81 in March of 1981.

The ZX-81 was a $99 kit in 1981, which is about three hundred dollars in 2022 money, and that really got me started on both hardware and software systems. I also became even more of a social outcast by adding ‘geek’ to my already well-worn ‘nerd’ moniker from being a gamer.

I found that I had a legitimate talent with computers, and by the end of my first month I’d written my first text adventure based on my AD&D world… The problem with the ZX81 is it had no storage when I got it, so everything I wrote I wrote on paper and typed in every time I wanted to run it.

My father eventually gave me his old Radio Shack portable cassette recorder, and I got that plugged into the ZX81 to save and load stuff. And a month or two after that, the routine showing off of things I’d written prompted my father to get me a 16K ram expansion and an actual keyboard for the ZX-81. And by summer I had filled my big tape case with software I’d written for the thing.

Some time in 1982 I managed to score a Commodore VIC-20… The VIC-20 was a $299 machine in 1982, which is roughly a grand in 2022 dollars – so it was a pretty impressive thing to have.

The VIC was where things really started to take off for me with computers; it had a pretty descent processor that was the emerging industry standard for personal computing (6502), enough ram to be useful, a nice keyboard, and enough bells and whistles to be entertaining to write things for.

In 1984 I started High School at Skyline… Probably my favorite part of starting High School was that Skyline had a computer class – if you could call it that…

Computer Operation and Data Entry was an elective, and it was integrated into the math department. And even though the school had owned a half-dozen Apple IIe machines for a couple of years at this point, the class is really self-study because no one in administration had a clue what to do with the systems.

The computer lab itself was right off of the library, on the second floor, so it was easy to get books and take them to the desk for reference.

Most of the self-study course work used Apple Logo, which bored me to death, but I could get the lesson done in 5-10 minutes, do the typing drills really quick, and then move on to my own projects… The machines at the school also had “Koala Pads” which, while primitive, kinda got me into the tablet thing decades before tablets were a thing…

Outside of school I’d been working in 6502 assembly for a year or so, using the VicMon cartridge on my VIC-20 (I blew past BASIC in a couple of months because BASIC eats up too much of the limited VIC-20 memory). The Apple machines also used a 6502, so most of my time on the school’s Apple IIe’s was either learning stuff I was interested in (D/A converters were my thing in 10th grade, I wanted to build a robotic arm), working on my own programs, or reverse-engineering games to see how they work.

My first legit ‘software hack’ was in 1985, on those machines at Skyline… Using a hex editor, I removed the copy protection from a friend’s copy of “Karateka” so that I could play it too.

A couple of times up there in the computer lab I got so focused on whatever it was I was working on that I missed my next class, which was Graphic Design. Fortunately, it was another elective, and I wasn’t too worried about it.

This was the beginning of the end of school for me. I started to evaluate electives by how much time they took away from whatever hardware or software project I was working on…

For my machines at home, I’d been trying to talk my parents into springing for a Commodore 64 now that they’d come down in price – mostly to get my hands on the 6510 and its extra I/O lines… But then I saw some news about Atari’s new “XL” series, and they looked pretty sweet.

And then there was Apple’s ad for the “Macintosh”, which was amazing, and the whole ‘mouse’ and ‘graphical user interface’ thing looked absolutely killer… There’s no way I could get one though as they were really, really expensive; $2500 in 1985 dollars or $6700 in 2022.

I really wanted a 68000-based machine though… Someday!

In 1985 my grandmother passed away and left her house in Golden to my father and my aunt. My father bought out my aunt’s half and we moved after my 11th grade year had started at Skyline.

During the 1985 upheaval I got an Atari 800XL as something of a concession prize from my parents, which I updated with two Happy-mod 1050 disk-drives and an XM301 300 baud modem.

I had that 800XL until after I had enlisted and moved to my duty station, so July-ish of 1987. A guy in the barracks had an Apple Macintosh 512K though, and I spent a pretty decent amount of time messing with it. It was greyscale, but I still really, really, really wanted a 68K based system now.

I finally got a 68K machine in September of 1989, in the form of an Amiga 500. My ex-wife and I gave that Amiga a helluva workout over the next couple of years…

I finally replaced the Amiga with an IBM PC in late 1993, mostly for my BBS efforts. And then in 1994 I started work at “Intelligent Electronics”, where things really took off.

At one point in late 1995 my living room / computer cave contained a PowerMac 8100/100 (PowerPC), an HP9000 C110 (PA-RISC), a DEC AlphaStation (DEC Alpha), an SGI Indy (MIPS), and probably a half dozen assorted generic PCs in various states of assembly.

I wasn’t happy with learning one architecture, I wanted to learn ALL the architectures!

August 1995
March 13th, 1997 – file server, Internet server with ISDN router and 56K backup, and the BBS server
March 13th, 1997 – my ‘art station’ with my HUGE digitizer

This sort of madness continued into 1997 when I sold off a lot of it to move to Virginia.

Post-move things calmed down a bit with regard to weird computers and architectures. I tended to use an Apple PowerMac 6500/225 for my personal machine and a handful of Pentium II and III-based machines for games and Internet stuff… The weirdest thing was probably the DEC Multia VX40 I was using as the email server…

In 1998 I picked up an Apple PowerBook G3 (Wallstreet) and used that as my “personal” computer for a couple of years. I also had a couple of generic PCs that I used for EverQuest duty.

In February 2000, after we’d all survived the Clockpocalypse of 2000 and right before I moved to northern Connecticut for a teaching job, the G3 Wallstreet was traded out for a G3 Pismo.

By 2003 the G3 laptop had gotten pretty long in the tooth, so I sold it to pick up a rather generic Compaq S5000 machine and an Nvidia FX 5600 at the local Best Buy (Mostly to play Shadowbane and Horizons on), and then gave the Compaq to Robin before jetting back to Virginia in February of 2004.

In late February 2004 I picked up the first 17″ PowerBook G4, which turned out to have a screen defect…

Apple replaced it and I used the second 17″ G4 until shortly after I started at where I currently work… They wanted me to do PC things, so I needed a PC, so in early October 2004 I sold the PowerBook and bought yet another generic PC.

This sort of thing has continued on for nearly two decades now; around my birthday I’ll get a new Mac because I like Macs – and then some time during the next year I’d sell it and get a PC for a while.

The PCs are usually pretty generic gaming rigs filled with whatever the latest Intel is and some cutting edge video card – so they aren’t really worth mentioning. The Macs though can usually be used to reference a specific point in time as they are specific models… So here’s the full list:

  • Powerbook 165c in 1994 (still have)
  • PowerMac 8100/100 in 1995 (sold)
  • PowerMac 6500/225 in 1997 (sold)
  • PowerBook G3 Wallstreet in 1998 (sold)
  • PowerBook G3 Pismo in 2000 (still have)
  • 17″ PowerBook G4 in 2004 (still have)
  • 17″ iMac G5 in 2004 (still have)
  • 20″ iMac in 2006 (sold)
  • 24″ iMac in 2008 (sold)
  • 13″ MacBook in 2010 (still have)
  • 27″ iMac in 2013 (sold)
  • 17″ MacBook Pro in 2014 (sold)
  • 11″ MacBook Air in 2015 (still have)
  • 15″ MacBook Pro in 2019 (sold)
  • 16″ MacBook Pro in 2019 (traded in)
  • 27″ iMac in 2020 (traded in)
  • 13″ M1 MacBook Air in 2020 (sold)
  • And the latest M1 Max powered 16″ MacBook Pro this year…

That’s a slightly crazy amount of money spent on Macs – though I tend to sell the Macs for close to what I paid for them, or trade them in at Apple for the bigger better machine – so it’s not as bad as it looks.

Still, Apple should give me some stock or something for being such a long time customer. 🙂

A bonus photo of every Macintosh CPU line Apple has used, all running side by side:

Left to right: Motorola 68030 running System 7.1, Motorola PowerPC G4 running OSX 10.5.8, Intel Core 2 Duo running MacOS 10.13.6, Apple M1 running MacOS 11.0.1
Listening to "One and Only" by Queensryche