Fans of Old Computers

Proud of the fact that you could sort punched cards faster than anyone? Still got that CP/M boot disk "just in case"? Admit your age and post pictures and stories from the good old days.

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New Member - 38 years old going on 60...

12/29/2009 1:28 AM

My first computer I owned was a Commodore 64, but it was far from the oldest computer I used or tinkered with. I cut my teeth on a HP 2000 timeshare between 7th & 8th grade programming BASIC during a "Head Start" summer camp at St. Louis University High (SLUH), where I later attended high school. At my grade school they had a TRS-80 which was pretty lame, and a Commodore VIC-20, which I liked better. A friend from school had a VIC-20 he was going to sell and while I was saving up the money, I decided to buy a Commodore 64 instead. In high school I found out that we had two computer labs, both systems donated from business who wanted to get rid of them. One was the HP 2000 and another was a DEC PDP-11 mainframe. I remember getting into the mainframe via one of the terminals... they had either amber or green monitors with separate keyboards... much nicer than the dinosaur HP 2000 terminals with the B&W screen with the keyboard encased. I remember programming BASIC & Pascal, and wanting to learn assembly & fortran on it. I also remember using the "SATURN" word processor and it also had a simple spreadsheet program. There were about 5-6 students a year or two older that wrote programs for it... (Dave, Pat, Chuck, Chris, John, and a couple others) one had a racing game (think ASCII Spy Hunter), another had a network space game. I remember that it had a punch card reader and a 132 column dot matrix printer... There was supposedly one student who would program machine code/assembler into the PDP-11 using a hexadecimal keyboard... 16 keys from 0-F. I also liked the computer rooms because they were two of the only air-conditioned classrooms. Eventually the school was donated a Mac Plus lab so the facilitator tried to sell off the mainframe... most of it was gone, including the tape drives and most of the monitors and the dual 8-in floppy drives. He tried to sell me a small setup with a cabinet, hard drive, monitor, and keyboard. I had about a half-dozen boards... video board, I/O board, memory boards, drive controller boards, etc. I remember mounting the hard drive in the cabinet... it weighed about 80 lbs and was a 20 MB hard drive... 15 MB on three permanent platters with 5 MB removeable platters. I never did get it fully up and running... I think there were a couple bad chips on the board, so I returned it. I remember outfitting my Commodore 64 with a Blue Chip 5.25" floppy drive (a 1541 knockoff)... I also had a cassette player that used regular cassettes... I had a 300 baud Modem Master (although I later purchased a Avatec (?) 1200 baud modem I was going to hook into the back, but I had to make my own cable, but I didn't finish that either... I remember going to various BBSes... The Magic Realm, The Spider's Web, Ken's BBS, etc. One of the older students (Dave M.) wrote a BBS program in CP/M (remember the Z-80's?) that Ken's BBS used. He had a Kaypro at home he used. I didn't like or have the money for Compuserve or Prodigy, so I just called up BBSes. I remember the apps & games I played on the Commodore... GEOS, COMAL... there was a word processor from Compute's Gazette I remember entering... they published the hex code. I also remember using hex editors... I remember playing EOS and other games. In high school, I remember hearing about the Timex Sinclair (monomembrane keypad... 16k memory... it had a thermal-burn printer I was told)... and the Coleco Adam. I was the first to attempt using a computer for drafting in my Engineering Graphics class... I tried out a program called MacDraft... I wasn't an expert using it, but I could never get it out of snapping to a grid. Made for poor drafting. Just before graduation I was offered an old analog computer (which I never setup) which is still sitting in the garage. After I graduated I joined the military... they I saved up enough money to buy a Commodore 128... I wanted a Commmodore 128D (with the motherboard with the built-in floppy drive in a different case than the keyboard) but could only find a used 128.... I chose this instead of an Amiga, the Atari 'computer' (800?), or the Apple IIs. After AIT I was looking for a job until the next college semester started... I was offered a job programming children's software for a Wash U professor who had done so before... he wanted it programmed in assembly for an Apple II... but I didn't know assembly, and despite his having about 7-8 Apple IIs around his house, he insisted that I buy my own to do the programming... I taught myself assembly and was working on learning the graphics system when he decided after about three months that he wasn't going to pursue the project... so I was stuck with an Apple IIc+ which I paid about $800 for and really didn't want... He was a pompous ass anyways... always bragging about how his son was at CalTech and working at JPL... If he was like his dad, he was probably wasting a few billion tax-payer dollars on some boondoggle that he later decided wasn't worth the effort. I ended up selling the Apple IIC+ at a consignment store, and maybe cleared about $150, or less than $100 after consignment cost. In college I started using the Mac II labs on computer, although eventually I scored an account on the Sun Sparc station in the lab... I didn't use it much, however, since I was unfamiliar with UNIX. I spent a couple years using the Macs, but eventually I discovered the PCs... The dorm I was in had several people with PCs and I'd bum time on theirs when I had the chance... a friend eventually sold me his old 486 DX-25... it had a small hard drive (maybe 40 MB), a monitor, keyboard, and serial mouse... it also had a graphics card, drive controller card, sound card, 3.5" floppy, 5.25" floppy, and 32-pin memory... I still have it (although it's not running)... so started a long history of collecting, building, trouble-shooting, and rebuilding computers...

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