Happy birthday

by Chris Bertram on August 11, 2006

The “IBM PC is 25-years-old today”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/4780963.stm . Me, I resisted at the time, but I’m not sure I could have afforded one. I’m pretty such that the first personal computer I used was a “Commodore 64”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commodore_64 in the early 80s, followed by an “Apple IIc”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apple_IIc when I worked at Verso around 1985 (I remember seeing “the first Mac”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Macintosh_128K in a window by Liverpool Street Station at about the same time). Liking Macs but not being able to afford them meant that I invested in an “Atari 1040STFM”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atari_st in about 1987 which I used at home for about five years or so (lovely crystal clear b&w monitor). I also spent a good deal of time on “Amstrad PCWs”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amstrad_PCW. When I arrived in Bristol (1989) my Department had one (1) “BBC Micro”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bbc_micro in the basement, and there was a great deal of resistance to my suggestion that we should all have pcs on our desks. Some time in the mid 1990s, we all got i386 based clones, and it has been all upgrades to Pentiums since. Except that I just got my “MacBook”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Macbook , and had a new “iMac”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imac delivered to my office.



Tom T. 08.11.06 at 7:36 am

I loved my Atari ST! I had one in college, and I almost bought one on eBay last year for nostalgia value.


Chris Bertram 08.11.06 at 7:40 am

Yes me too. The ST was a thing of beauty and great fun.


Tom 08.11.06 at 8:58 am

Don’t forget the Kaypro!


duaneg 08.11.06 at 9:46 am

You’re not sure?! There goes your geek cred, man!

Mine was the C64. Finest piece of electronic engineering for the mass-market, ever.


Chuchundra 08.11.06 at 10:15 am

The first machine I did any programming on was a Timex-Sinclair 1000. 2K of RAM expanded to a whopping 18K with a 18K extender sticking out the back. My friend’s parents bought it for him and I was over his house quite a bit that summer to play with it.

The first machine I had for myownself was a C64 that I bought in 1983 with money I had saved from my newspaper route.


Russell Arben Fox 08.11.06 at 10:35 am

I agree Tom–remember the Kaypro! I’d have to Google to see who made it and when and for what bizarre purposes, and I’m too lazy to do so now, but I trucked that Kaypro around (in it’s own handy, compact, click-shut, stainless-steel case!) for a few years back in the mid-80s. We also had a Commodore 64 at home, but that was the family’s, so I took the Kaypro to college in 1987. The word processing program I ran on it was called WordStar, I think. There were a couple of computer geeks down the hall in my dorm (they introduced me to an new innovation called the “compact disc”), and they were ecstatic when they saw that blinking, green-on-black screen. Only five or so years old, and already a priceless fossil. They took it apart for me, rebuilt it, and kindly fed the well-oiled squirrels on their treadmill inside who kept it running.


Bill Gardner 08.11.06 at 11:11 am

My first computer was a Z80 from Xerox with two 8″ floppies, a 300 baud modem, WordStar, and some sort brain damaged version of BASIC. Maybe 1981/82? Not as much fun as the PDP-11 in the lab, but an amazing thing to have in one’s apartment.

My true love was the SE/30. I love the Macbook Pro, but much of that is nostalgia for the earlier machine, the first adequately powered Macintosh.


nick s 08.11.06 at 12:11 pm

The Mac/PC era was held off in the UK, I think, by the price, and by the fact that there was the 16-bit stopgap of STs/Amigas in the home, and the ubiquitous Amstrad PCW for office applications. Not to mention the Archimedes in schools.

(Douglas Adams and the Greatest Living Englishman were among the first Mac users in the UK.)


Ted 08.11.06 at 12:24 pm

I always like to thank the hundreds of thousands of MBA’s who bought PCs to crunch numbers using spreadsheets such as Lotus-1-2-3.

Thanks to them, the volume of PC production was ramped up. And the price of PC’s dived.

So today, very capable notebooks are priced in the few hundreds of dollars.

Happy Birthday indeed! Keep punching those keys everybody.


Rob St. Amant 08.11.06 at 12:33 pm

Along the same lines, I think about (and tell my students about) Dan Bricklin once in a while, the inventor of the spreadsheet, who in a just world would be richer than God by now.


Bill McNeill 08.11.06 at 12:51 pm

Typo: “just go my MacBook” => “just got my MacBook”. [fixed: thanks Bill. cb]

Commodores were pretty cool (I fondly remember some text adventure game involving pirates), but my first love was the TRS-80 family circa 1984. There were three Model IIIs in the back of my math class, and I used to skip out on the last half of lunch to write video games on them that consisted of asteriks randomly flashing around the screen overwriting sequences, which I pretended were spaceships. What the hardware lacked back then you had to supply with your imagination.

My first home computer was a TRS-80 Color Computer. The color part was essential for writing a version of the Tron LightCycles game, but what was really great was the assembly language interface. Plug in a cartridge and you could write assembly language subroutines, which would be compiled into lists of integers that could be POKEd into memory and run from Basic. Fantastic, and as it turned out intellectually formative, though I didn’t know that at the time.


Bill McNeill 08.11.06 at 12:52 pm

…asteriks overwriting sequences…

Post 11 didn’t like my CODE tags for some reason.


Bill McNeill 08.11.06 at 12:58 pm

…Sigh…overwiting character sequences of -!- characters bracketed by less-than and greater-than signs to form a TIE-fighter like shape which displays in the preview text but gets treated as an orphaned HTML tag in the published comment. I guess using your imagination to work around computer problems is still required.


Chuchundra 08.11.06 at 1:07 pm



Ich 08.11.06 at 3:35 pm

My Dad bought one of the very first IBM PCs and paid some ungodly amount to upgrade it with twice the RAM and double 5 1/2 inch single-sided floppies. It is still running to this day, although it is a little less useful. I quickly absconded with said PC and have never looked back.


Quo Vadis 08.11.06 at 5:29 pm

In 1985 I bought a 512K Mac for ~1900.00 USD on student discount. At the time, it was a revolutionary user (and programmer) experience, but except for the lack of a hard drive, it was a computer that any PC user today would find reasonably familiar.

It was fun to write programs for because of the sophistocation of the user interface libraries and the bitmapped screen buffer. Because the screen buffer was in the same memory space the program used, one could actually see an errant pointer corrupting its way through the computer’s memory (apologies for the geek speak).


Bill McNeill 08.11.06 at 5:52 pm

Re. the pointer errors described in (16) there was a fun computer game/conceptual art project I used to run on the old TRS-80 machines that went something like this:

10 poke rand(16383),rand(255)
20 goto 10

I forget the exact value for the first argument, but you get the idea. The TRS-80s had a completely flat memory model, so this program would lob little bombs of disorder throughout the machine. Some landed harmlessly in ROM, a few hit the screen buffer and drew random characters, and eventually one would strike a vital part of the BASIC process, forcing a reboot. Completely useless, but I found the idea of a computer program that committed suicide fascinating.

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