Thursday, 10 January 2013

My First Computer - What Was Yours?

During the set up of my new Mac, my thoughts turned to how far technology has come since I purchased my first computer. Sadly my own skills have lagged far behind but I perservere.

Apart from an Amstrad which I had throughout the 80s, my first experience of a computer was the Apple Mac, similar to the one above. A 9" monochrome screen and a cumbersome, although strangely smooth, keyboard was responsible for my delight. It cost a fortune in 1991, but it was worth every penny to be able to type reports instead of spending days writing them only to have them typed later by a secretary.

It was really a glorified word processor because there were few websites then and it took around 3 or 4 minutes for a page to load.  Nobody I knew in the UK had an email address so my emailing was confined to family abroad and various businesses associated with work.

My modem was similar to this one and came free from my first service provider which drifted into the ether long ago.

Can you remember your first tentative steps into the world of IT?


PJH said...

First was a week loan of a ZX81 that my dad managed to borrow from work. It even had the 16K expansion 'brick' that wobbled and lost stuff if it wobbled too much.

Next was a Ti99/4a that my dad actually bought.

Then a BBC Micro (Model B for those that care) - again, dad bought that one. School installed Econet (networking for BBC's) during this time with a classroom of 14 BBC's.

Then before my computing hiatus during which PC's became ubiquitous, another BBC Micro (Master 128 this time.)

dognamedblue said...

my first one was a [texas instruments] TI99a :)
no screen & plug in software
oh happy days!

The Boiling Frog said...

My first step was via one of these (well it was my dad's).

Had a number of simple but addictive games on it.

Joe Public said...

Oh happy memories.

Mr Sinclair (or rather, Timex, Dundee) provided my 1st computer - yup - the Spectrum.

And you had to have a 'spare' TV as its screen.

You also had to buy a tape recorder too, as "memory" to store anything on.

Someone at work had a thing called a 'Spreadsheet' for the Spectrum which he copied for me. It was (at that time) an unimaginable concept.

Other early devices providing fond memories are the Psions which I persuaded my employer to buy for me. [The company's founder was David Potter, and "Potter Scientific Instruments" PSI began the PSION]

Their mid-1980s Organiser II had 4 x lines of output.

Then came the Psion Series 3 followed by the Series 5 acquired in the late 1990's.

My Series 5 was still used nearly every day until late last year! I used it out on the road mainly for one thing only keeping & accessing contacts.

The reason for it's longevity (excepting the well-known design defect of the screen-connector which had to be replaced every 2-3 years) was that it'll still do something I needed which probably few of todays "smart" phones are capable of. It would search names and phone numbers 'mid-string'. [e.g. look for 'ubros' & it'll return SubRosa.]

Not even an iPhone4S can do that. Readers are invited to try that with their 'smart' phone - all of which seem to presume you know the 1st letter of whatever you're searching for. [OK if your contact list is of 10's then no real problem; if of 100's its a bit of a problem; if of 1,000's then you've no chance.

The Boiling Frog said...

Ah Psions, I loved them...a missed opportunity they were eventually.

JimS said...

My you were posh! First and last time I saw one of those was on loan to my employer. Not very impressed when we found the floppy would only come out when the Mac said it could! (Shades of Unix).

My first bit of kit was a Motorola 6800 development kit with a whole 512k of memory and six character display and hex key pad. I added 4k of memory an alpha keyboard and circuitary to output to a TV.

Then came a UK101, 4k but with built in BASIC. Wrote a few games ans spend ages fixing other people's from magazines!

First 'real' machine? Probably my Triumph Adler. Z-80 based with disc drives. Choice of BASIC or CP/M. CP/M supported early version of WordStar. Spent ages reading the manual to find out that it didn't quite do what you wanted. Also had a ROM-based wordprocessor with 16 commands, all displayed on one screen. It was 'fast' and because you knew what it couldn't do you didn't waste time looking it up. I still maintain that the 'delete' key is 90% of the utility of the WP. Built my own 300 baud modem from a Maplin kit. Just about got to communicate with the mainframe at Strathclyde University, letter by painful letter.

Joined the rest of the modern world when Mr Sugar gave us the £400 PC, in my case a 1640MD, mono-screen with single 360k floppy to which I added a 32Mb 'hard card'.

Now we get Gigs-on-a-stick. Are we any smarter? I wonder!

PJH said...

@JimS "Now we get Gigs-on-a-stick. Are we any smarter? I wonder!"

Um - you're way behind the times old man. I present to you the 1TB-on-a-stick.


English Pensioner said...

My first experience was at work was a PDP8 computer used to track aircraft for Air Traffic Control. To start it you had to enter instructions in machine code via front panel keys which would then run the paper tape reader to load the program. It had just 8K (yes Kilo, not mega or giga) bytes of core store, but even so could track 125 aircraft.
My first personal computer was a BBC model B, which was followed by an Archimedes, as I enjoyed writing small programs in BBC Basic.
Now, an HP laptop, with gigabytes of memory and a huge hard drive, enables me to sit in a comfortable arm chair and surf the internet!

Dioclese said...

A Sony SMC70 running on a transformer for 120V. It was imported form the States and ran Lotus 1-2-3 release 1 - note not 1A which was the first UK release.

For about a year, I was the UK leading expert on Lotus 1-2-3
AAhhh!!! the good old days.....

Carl Minns said...

I got a second hand Commodore 16 for Christmas. in the mid 80s. I was so chuffed. The graphics were excellent!

Weekend Yachtsman said...

Amstrad PC1640. I still have it.

Its first hard drive (didn't come with one originally) was 32Mb, filled one and a half full-length ISA slots, sounded like a 707 taking off, and - get this - cost £240. That's for the hard drive, not the computer...

Those were (not) the days.

Anonymous said...

I started with progamming lesson at high school which involved writing out all the commands required onto a gridded sheet. They were then sent to Edinburgh Uni and it came back with a pile of punch cards and a note saying if it had worked or not.

At work in the mid-late seventies I used a terminal hanging off an IBM 34 mini which was anything but.

A Commodore Pet was next which used a cassette tape for loading programmes etc, We played land Concorde at lunchtimes. Not a great graphical experience.

Then a twin 5 1/4" floppy drive Sirius which gave us word processing and spreadsheets. We did some pretty cool admin stuff on that.

Nest IBM PC then the XT and AT versions. Apricots, Toshiba laptops at £2500 a pop in the early 80's. I even used Panasonic laptops which were £4000 in the mid 90s. Lots of clones as well and I used to build clones for clients.

I got an order for 18 at once and started a wee production line building them. They all stopped loading MS Windows at the same point. luckily one of the sale guys from the hardware parts supplier was on holiday in Scotland at the time and he came in and verified the fault and organised a very quick swap out of the boards. Whew!

Now I'm on Macs. I've a 27" IMac, a 13" MacBook Air, Ipad Mini, a gen 5 Ipod (best amplifier), a Gen6 Nano, the latest shuffle and of course an Iphone 5.

Great kit and wonderful just to look at.

SadButMadLad said...

Mine was a Sharp MZ80K. Integrated VDU and tape deck with square keyboard. An all in job. Still got it up in the attic. My dad got a Amstrad PPC640 luggable laptoppy thing as his first. I've still got that too. School consisted of punched cards and paper tape sent to Man Uni to run on their mainframe.

Lord Monty said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lord Monty said...

I've still got my first computer. The ZX Spectrum 128k +2. Built in tape deck and a proper keyboard. 128kbytes of storage. Quite cutting edge stuff at the time.
Games loading was a bit slow and the graphics weren't too good but it worked ok.

subrosa said...

Jings,PJH, I've had to look most of these up because I haven't heard of them, but you've had an interesting selection.

subrosa said...

Had to look that one up too dognamed blue. It's an education.:)

subrosa said...

Ah, I know that one BF.. Phew!

subrosa said...

I must admit the Spectrum appeared in my house not far short of 35 years ago Joe. It wasn't for me though, but I paid for it. Right enough, I remember now buying an old TV to use as a screen.

I'd a friend who swore by Psions and goes on about them still.

You're right, lots of today's technology doesn't provide us with what we really want.

subrosa said...

I don't know about posh Jim, but I was told Apple's were idiot proof compared with PCs which had lots o coding to even get started.

I save up for it for months. :)

Have to admire your knowledge about computers though. Doubt if my small brain could have absorbed it all.

subrosa said...

BBCs seemed popular EP. Didn't schools have them too?

subrosa said...

Ah Dioclese, is that your claim to fame? You're fortunate to have one especially when it's connected with the word computer. :)

subrosa said...

The Commodore was popular Carl if I remember. Lots of youngsters used one I think.

subrosa said...

You still have your Amstrad WY? It's soon be an heirloom. :)

Elby the Beserk said...

1967. Our Maths teacher was keen on computers, so he taught us some Algol, which we then used to program various problems (mine, to prove the Theorem of Quadratic Equations), and we all then went down to Hatfield Poly, where they were keyed in onto paper tape, and then run.

1983. Commodore CBMs, programming them for our Library Backup system - sent my first email that year, over our company X25 packet network to Canada.

Ah. Them were the days...

Dr Evil said...

My first computer at home was a Sinclair spectrum. The first one I used was an HP with a green screen in 1981. I cannot remember the model. In 1987 I was using a Mac similar to the one you have posted up.

Woodsy42 said...

My first was a home brew kit from an electronics hobbyist company. I think it was a UK101, just a bare board with keyboard, tape interface and TV out. Came as a pile of components and was a bastard to build!
The first 'real' one was an Apple II. Purists might remember that the Apple II was NOT in the mac line.
It was always rumoured that IBM designed the first IBM Pc to be 10 times better than an Apple II - indeed it was 10x faster, 10x more memory but architecturally very similar. It was the machine that Apple should have built.
But Apple changed direction completely and brought out the Lisa then the first Mac while the IBM design, based on an Apple II, morphed into the modern PC.
I haven't owned any overpriced and underpowered Apple kit since the Apple II

JimS said...

Woodsy, surely an Apple ][ ! Oh what fun we had scanning the ASCII table trying to find a character that could be used in a different way!

I wrote my own version of a game called 'Rhino' and the Pi character served for the rhino, with its tail up and head down!

Now all the fun seems to be trying to find where Microsoft thinks our files should be saved on each succeeding version of Windows. I've never felt rich enough to go the Apple way.

subrosa said...

Ah them were the days right enough Elby. I'm not going to post about this but my new iMac is now defunct. This afternoon it died a death and after 3 hours on the phone to Apple, they've said it's cremated and are sending me one by 'urgent delivery'. I'm now back to my old one which doesn't seem too happy to see me.

These were the days right enough.

subrosa said...

Oh I think that was one of the first Dr. I bought a later one for children's use but sold it off. Just as well I didn't keep it because it would have been worth nothing. :)

subrosa said...

Arg Woodsy, I hate you educated IT folks. :)

Super history of Apple. Thanks.

Woodsy42 said...

Of course JimS - but I didn't trust myself to find the symbols or Blogger to reproduce them :-)

@Englishpensioner - Yes! The first programme I ever wrote (in machine code) was keyed into the front panel of a PDP 8. It was fun the way you could switch it off mid programme then restart days later because the wound core memory remembered without any power.

Elby the Beserk said...


I first used a Mac in 1997, on my first visit to the USA, to see my brother and family in SF. It was a disastrous machine, crashing all the time. It was, however, ancient, and whilst I can fix most Windows PCs, having worked on them since 3.1, Macs are a mystery to me. Not good that yours should have gone so quickly.

I meant to mention that the computer at Hatfield Poly was run by blokes in white coats, and was huge.

Also, we bought the kids one of those Sinclair thingies, end of the 70s I would guess, but my wife trod on it and that was that!

subrosa said...

No it's not good Elby. I think perhaps there's something on this machine that caused it though and I'm thinking of not transferring all data automatically but doing it manually and using Dropbox to keep some archives.

Aye these Sinclairs were wee things and used to lie about on my floors too in the late 70s/early 80s.

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