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Box o' Hopes and Dreams

If I have to think of what things have changed my life, the answer is simple: computers. I have owned quite a few. If I had kept them, I would have an interesting museum of old technologies.

Commodore VIC-20
My first computer at home was a Commodore VIC-20. It was an odd computer, soon replaced by Commodore with the C64 — the best selling computer model of all time. (More than 3 million of the original C64 were sold!) I have a real fondness for the early years of the home computer: Atari, Commodore, Apple, Tandy, Texas Instruments, and many others were competing to get technology into the home. They were all more interesting than the modern Apple Mac and IBM PC to me.

Magazines like BYTE, PC World, PC Magazine, Compute, InCider, A+, and dozens of others included program code. You could enter BASIC, machine code, Pascal, or C programs and then change them to see how things worked. Today? The complexity of software no longer makes it possible to include code in a book. Games take dozens of programmers.
Commodore VIC-20
Released: January 1981
Price: US $299
CPU: MOS 6502, 1MHz
RAM: 5K (3.5K for the user)
Display: 22 X 23 text
176 X 184, 16 colors max

I wanted to write using my computer and its noisy dot-matrix printer. Writing by hand has always been a challenge. As a result, I wrote several text editors for various computer platforms. I coded TextRite for the VIC-20, a simple editor that allowed me to write a page or so of text — about the point the computer would run out of memory!

Timex Sinclair 1000

In addition to the VIC-20, my father purchased a Timex-Sinclair "DIY" computer. This was the ultimate in "small" computers. About the size of a book, the TS-1000 was fascinating. The membrane keyboard was a pain, and the computer was stuck in only black and white. The VIC-20 was an amazing machine by comparison!

Timex Sinclair 1000
Introduced: July 1982
Price: US $99.95
Weight: 12 ounces
CPU: Zilog Z80A, 3.25MHz
RAM: 2K, 64K max
Display: 22 X 32 text

Atari 800

My junior high had Atari 800 computers. These were way, way ahead of the VIC-20 and the Timex-Sinclair. These were fascinating machines. There were floppy drives, cartridges, and the best games around were on the Atari. I did have "Apple Envy" though, because Apple computer seemed to be in most other schools. I only used one Apple IIe before college. The Atari and Apple computers even looked similar.

Atari 800
Released: November 1979
Price : US $999.95
CPU: MOS 6502,1.8MHz
RAM: 8K base, 48K max
Display: 24 X 40 text
320 x 192 monochrome
160 x 96 with 128 colors
Expansion: 4 internal expansion slots
RGB video output
TV video output
Storage: external 90K floppy drive
OS: Atari OS

Tandy 1000

After using the VIC-20 into high school, my father purchased the computer that truly changed
my life: a Tandy 1000. The Tandy 1000 ran Microsoft DOS 1.1 — the newest and most exciting operating system. Over the years, I would upgrade to DOS 2.x and 3.x before upgrading to another "IBM clone" computer during my second year of college (an Epson PC-AT with a 10MB hard drive).

Using the Tandy, I learned QuickBASIC, TurboPascal, COBOL, and experimented with a dozen or more computer languages. By college, I was also working as a programmer for the university, using REXX, C, FORTRAN, and more. I definitely found my place, surrounded by technology.

Tandy 1000
CPU: Intel 8088
RAM: 256K (Expandable to 640K)
Ports: Edge Card Tandy Printer, DB9 Serial, Tandy Joystick x2 & Light Pen
Display: TCGA 16 Colors & CGA 4 Colors
Storage: One or Two 5.25" 360K Floppies
Operating System: MS-DOS

Using the Tandy 1000, I write a fairly complete word processing system, which I used for several years. I expanded the features and copies were used on IBM computers at my high school. My skills came in handy when I helped setup a computer lab for the school newspaper and yearbook.

Apple Mac IIci

After college, I would go on to build PCs, while developing a passion for Apple's Macintosh line. The first Mac I owned, not counting the Macs on my desk as a university employee, was a wonderful IIci. This was a great machine... much, much better than any PC.

The Mac was not a programmers dream, unlike the PCs I owned, but it was light years ahead of the PC when it came to graphics. I got a copy of Aldus PageMaker, Microsoft Word, and was in heaven. These were amazing applications. WordPerfect on DOS and Lotus 1-2-3 were not nearly as exciting as MacPaint, PageMaker, or even Word.

Apple Mac IIci
Introduced: September 1989 $6,700 ($8,800 with 40 MB hard drive)
Discontinued: 1993
CPU: 25 MHz 68030
FPU: 25 MHz 68882
ROM: 512 KB
OS: Apple System 6.0.4 to 7.6.1

What I Use Today...

At the moment, my wife and I have a Mac mini, a G4 "Lampshade" model, a MacBook Pro, and a PowerBook G4. We gave away our last two PCs during the summer of 2007. Since my MacBook Pro runs Windows and DOS, there was little reason to keep so many computers around the house... especially for just two people.

Why This Matters to Writing
I write about technology for a magazine publisher in California. I've written for a couple of newspapers, as well. Answering questions and helping other people is always interesting, leading to new ideas.
If I were to write about all the ways in which computers affected my life, I'd be writing a book. Instead, I simply wanted to reflect on how far the computers have come.


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