My first introduction to computers was in seventh grade when my Swedish middle school put up a tiny computer lab with an Apple ][, two ABC 80s and a powerhouse ABC 800 (which had yellow text on black instead of green—pretty damn rad). My friends and I spent way too many hours in that computer lab, including coming in on Saturdays and Sundays and spending all day.
Is the ’80s movie nerd montage flashing before your eyes yet?
I ended up writing a side-scrolling game in Basic on the ABC 80 where you blasted asteroids in the Starship Enterprise. It was very cool to visit a few years later when I was all grown up in high school to find some random kid playing my game.
I also saved up my earnings from lawn mowing and purchased an Atari 400. There was assembly programming. Holy crap that stuff was hard.
But then I started high school and two things happened: 1) I discovered girls and heavy metal; and 2) the high school had a mini computer and all the classes were taught by a math teacher who apparently saw no other use for computers than to solve math problems. Snoresville! I’m busy growing a mullet and listening to Iron Maiden. Later, dorks! I should add here, not that it needs to be added, that my success with heavy metal was much greater than my success with girls.
So high school went by with little computer time apart from playing Missile Command, Star Patrol and Defender on the Atari and any and all games we could beg, steal or borrow on a friend’s Commodore 64. Joysticks were broken.
And then a few years later I ended up at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and took my first Desktop Publishing class in a lab equipped with the Macintosh Plus, a couple of ImageWriters and a LaserWriter. This was a whole new world! I loved those little machines so much. You could make your own books! Books! And fonts! You could change the fonts! And install extensions to change how things worked!
It became imperative to have one at home. And just then Apple released the Classic for just shy of $1,000. Which for a starving student was a huge chunk of change, but doable with some belt tightening.
Then I heard rumors of this “Internet” thing and went over to the computer science department help desk to find out more. Told the bearded guy behind the desk I wanted to get on the Internet and he got all excited, then asked me what kind of computer I had? A Mac, I said, and he visibly deflated, no doubt seeing the tech support calls from the hippie flash before his eyes. But he handed me a floppy with Kermit on it and an Internet manual written by somebody who obviously had English as a third language. I bought a 1,200 Baud modem and spent two weeks making the computer in my bedroom talk to the university server. This is not an exaggeration. So many hours and cups of coffee. (Side note: The amount of energy I had for this stuff back in the day makes me want to take a nap now.)
Once I managed to make the modems talk to each other I could reach the entire world from my bedroom. The first time I connected to a University of Michigan server over FTP from the computer in my bedroom was the closest I ever came to a religious experience. Neuromancer was real. It was happening.
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