Computers I have known

At a company I worked for ages ago, it was traditional for every new hire to introduce themselves at the next all-hands meeting.

There were no strict guidelines, but one new hire gave a particularly boring speech1 about his programming background — so filled with minutia that someone finally heckled “what was your first computer?”. The new guy paused, but gamely launched into a (long and boring) answer.

Naturally, as a joke, the next hire got the same question, and the next one. But somehow the answers started to get a little interesting. We all (I’m guessing) had strong memories of these exciting new devices that we’d ended up basing our careers on, and hearing somebody else’s helped us bond a little bit. By the time the company was effectively shut down, I looked forward to hearing each new co-worker’s answer.

The first time I saw a computer was in kindergarten. Mr. Simpson, an upper-grade teacher, asked my teacher if she had any kids who’d be interested in seeing one. Sure enough, she did, and so one day Mr. Simpson wheeled his Commodore PET (on an A/V cart) down to the hallway to show me. I still remember playing Frog!, which blew my little mind.

By third grade, we had all manner of computers around the school. My classroom had a teletype terminal for a while (complete with acoustic coupler)2; elsewhere in the school were a TRS-80 Model I and a few Model IIIs.

In fifth grade, my family bought a Commodore 64 (with a tape drive), which quickly became my domain. This was where I did my first real programming (often learning from the listings in Compute! and Compute!’s Gazette magazines). Meanwhile, my best friend got an Apple IIe. By the time I graduated from high school, it and its peripherals had gradually been replaced such that we had a Commodore 128 with a disk drive and dedicated monitor. It wasn’t a bad little machine for playing games and writing papers.

When I went to college, I saved up and bought a Mac SE. That lasted all through college (though it was definitely showing its age my senior year; MultiFinder was incredibly unstable with 2 MB of RAM). After graduation, I basically retired it; I believe it’s still in use as an aquarium. For the next few years I borrowed roommates’ computers for internet access.

Soon after Meghan and I started living together, she bought a new iBook, and I mooched off her computers for a while before finally getting the first-generation MacBook Pro, with a used PowerMac G4 Cube (onto which I jury-rigged Mac OS X Leopard3) as a server.

That old MacBook Pro is now the kids’ hand-me-down (it still plays Minecraft just fine), and I’m writing this today on one of the shiny new ones. And with the way touchscreen devices are changing how I use computers, this may be the last traditional computer I ever buy.

  1. I could be misremembering and/or misinterpreting this. ↩︎

  2. Sue Pulford had a curriculum included The Hobbit and introduced me to Dungeons & Dragons. It’s not an exaggeration to say that she was the single most influential teacher I’ve ever had. ↩︎

  3. I dropped into the firmware at startup and informed it that it was using a faster CPU than it really had; this was enough to get it past the pre-install system check. ↩︎