My Dad was an engineer for Hewlett Packard. He worked in a division that did a lot of classified instrumentation work for government contractors. That’s how we wound up in Central Florida- he supported all sorts of secret missile technology over at Cape Canaveral and Martin Marietta’s Orlando test range. I never knew what he did- but he did bring home all sorts of cool pictures. I had one of an F-4 Phantom launching a missile, and another of a missile being launched by a submarine. My dad would bring my brother and I to work. We got to go to the space center and saw space launches firsthand. I watched history. I was there when the Apollo-Soyuz mission launched.

The first computer I ever had in my house was an HP-150– my dad brought it home from work. The fact that it had a touchscreen was amazing to me.

I had a Commodore 64 that I got as a Christmas gift after asking my parents for one in 1983. Unlike its competitor, the Tandy TRS-80, I thought that thing was amazing with its 64 kilobits of memory. When I got it, I also got a data storage device that looked like this:

A 60 minute cassette (30 minutes per side) would hold about 200kb of data. It would take a long time to load anything, because the stream rate from the device was around 3kb per minute.

My mighty C64. I once spent a weekend typing a word processor into it by hand. The program had been published in Hexadecimal in some computing magazine or another. Having it allowed me to type documents on a daisy wheel printer that my Dad gave me for my birthday. Man, that printer was loud.

I spent a lot of time learning how to program that computer. It ate up uncountable hours of my time, as I learned how to use sprites and other cool but relatively tame (by today’s standards) program features.

I eventually got a 5 1/4 inch floppy disk disk drive. It wasn’t long before I discovered that I could use a hole punch to make my floppies double sided and save a lot of money. I remember my Dad telling me that no one would ever need more than 10 megabytes of storage for personal use. He said, “Do you have any idea just how much data that is? The entire library of Congress can fit in 100 megabytes or so of memory.”

Just a few years later, I had a calculator that held 10 megabytes.

I didn’t just use it for programming and other geek stuff. My favorite game at the time was Raid On Bungeling Bay. It was designed by the same guy who would go on to develop Sim City, a game I learned to love on PC while I was in the military.

That’s how I grew up- my engineer dad and I doing stuff that, at times, was blatantly illegal. I remember spending weekends in the mid 70s using the company’s WYSIWYG editor (BRUNO) to copy Atari and Intellivision software cartridges and then burning our own ROM chips. (BRUNO is crunching, nom, nom, nom) I think that makes me one of the very first software pirates. Seriously, we used expensive mainframe computers during the weekends in the late 70s to play games. I remember playing text based drag racing games, text based games like Star Trek, Oregon Trail, and others. I remember working with some of the engineers at my dad’s workplace to build our own video games using our burned ROM chips.

I actually have pictures of me (as a child) with Bill Gates, David Packard, Bill Hewlett. I remember that my Dad didn’t like Bill Gates, calling him a “long haired hippy.” He didn’t particularly like MS-DOS (kids, ask your parents) when it came out, either.

I (as most of you have) seen things come about like Microwave ovens, pagers, car phones, bag phones, cell phones, then came texting, and finally smart phones. I saw the development of personal computing. I had a ringside seat to all of it.

I grew up in a world where so many things were being invented, and I was fortunate to meet the people who were doing it, and to play with million dollar machines that were changing the world.

My dad would be 82 years old this coming week, if he were still alive. He’s been gone for almost 20 years, and I still miss him every day. He was only 63 when he died. His father (my grandfather) died at the age of 54. My great-grandfather died at 47, and his mother died at 48. My family history, it seems, isn’t conducive to a long lifespan. My own health issues tell me that I a take after that side of the family.

As I get closer to the age of the deaths of the four generations before me, I admit that I spend more time thinking about that. I can trace my family back to the early 1700s. I wonder what changes they saw…

Categories: funMe


Differ · November 19, 2023 at 7:09 am

“I wonder what changes they saw…”
Not nearly the level we’ve seen. I think the rapid pace of change is a significant part of the reason that our society is as messed up as it is. Human beings aren’t wired for that rate of change. And I doubt it slows down much in the future.
I fear we have greatly overreached our ability as a society to understand the underpinnings of our technology. More and more people relying on the surface applications of tech with no understanding of the layers and layers of architecture and learning underneath and the historical background thereto. Most people would struggle to understand a steam engine. If we crash it will be a VERY hard reset to early 1880s tech; forget elites overseeing 15 min cities and pods’n’bugs….
That prospect is what keeps me up at night.

Skyler the Weird · November 19, 2023 at 8:23 am

My first computer was an Atari 800 XL. It had a program recorder similar to the Commodore one pictured. I still have it though the program recorder and the 5 inch floppy disk drive don’t work anymore. My kids hooked it up to an old Analog TV and it still runs the Atari 8 bit game cartridges.

I still have the Atari German Language Course on 8 cassettes. I remember the minutes listening to the bird tweeting sound as the software loaded. I had a few War Games on cassette too. I remember if you didn’t finish, there was no save feature way back then.

It was expensive too. About $1200 for the whole setup. Comparing the XL to my current HP desktop for the same price is like comparing Apollo 11 to the Starship Enterprise. It’ll be amazing to see the technology in another twenty years if we old farts are still around.

EN2 SS · November 19, 2023 at 8:24 am

‘As I get closer to the age of the deaths of the four generations before me, I admit that I spend more time thinking about that.’

I’ve now lived longer than my father and all nine of his brothers. I used to think about that, but have decided that from here on out it is all gravy. Relax and enjoy life, for no man knows the time of his passing. Love your family, love life, love God, the rest will take care of itself.

Don Curton · November 19, 2023 at 9:14 am

I remember in middle school going with my friend to his uncle’s house and waiting like 45 minutes to upload a text based star trek game from a regular cassette player to his homemade computer. Then playing for hours.

In high school (circa 1983) we learned to program on Radio Shack trash-80’s. Yup, people of our generation saw lots of changes. Kids today have no idea.

Chris in Nanuet · November 19, 2023 at 11:03 am

Your content is greatly appreciated. My father passed in 2009 at 73. He had a cell phone, didnt like to text and refused to use a computer. The majority of his family lived into their 80s. Moms side into their upper 80’s and 90’s. I’m 54 and greatly resist the tech we are bombarded with but realize it’s thoroughly not going anywhere until someone throws the kill switch.

Keep up the great work.

AZFloyd · November 19, 2023 at 11:31 am

I had a TRS-80 Color Computer that came with 16k memory. I spent a summer working to pay $150.00 to get 32k. IIRC, it was literally additional RAM chips soldered on top of the existing RAM chips. When the Commodore 64 came out and replaced the Vic-20, we were all “whoa, what are you going to do with all that RAM.”
I played text adventure games similar to Zork. Good times. Poor kids today.
I often wonder how history would have played out if IBM hadn’t picked Gates’ OS to run IBM’s home PC’s. For the record, the Amiga OS was way better than crappy MS-DOS.
I currently don’t have a cell phone nor consistent internet access. My daughter wonders how I survive. It is actually kind of nice not having access to all the news which is mostly bad. Since I didn’t have the internet this fall, so I spent my time watching the trees turn their beautiful colors and relish not having all the “noise” in my life and simple pleasures like the sound of rain.

Aesop · November 19, 2023 at 1:14 pm

Had a C-64, and the floppy drive.
More importantly, they didn’t sell a monitor. You hooked it to your TV.

So I had a 25-inch color TV monitor when Apple crap was still running on an 8-inch monochrome screen.


    Aesop · November 21, 2023 at 10:45 am

    Bonus: Played the original MicroProse GunshipAH-64 game on it.
    With stick figure graphics.

    Had dozens of homebrew games from the local swap meet, floppies sold for $1-2@.

    Pong was for losers.

No Room For Commie · November 19, 2023 at 3:39 pm

Pappy was career Army and he taught me to hate commies to the point of intoxication.
So thankful that he slapped the shit out of me and set me straight regarding the original imperial executive Ape Lincoln.
We had a TRS-80 with the green screen and the local PC guru got online with it after donating his still working Commodore Pet to a museum.
Got extra credit on HS when the English teacher thought I had used a typewriter on a report, it was actually the Trash 80 printer.

Dirty Dingus McGee · November 19, 2023 at 4:00 pm

I think every era had advances that seemed incredible to the older people of that era. Take 1900-1920; People went from horse and buggy to being able to fly, all manner of electrical appliances became common, the rising use of telephones in a private home. Then jump to 1950-1970; going from a car with 130 hp to one with 300 and AC, airplanes going from prop to jet and carrying up to 400 people, the use of transistors in electronics giving rise to computers

For the record I’m on my 67th trip around the sun and I’ve also seen a thing or 2. In 1989 I had my first cell phone, the good ole bag phone. Bell South, 35 cents per minute for a local call, incoming or outgoing.Didn’t really get into computers early, started in the mid/late 80’s but not in programming, just using. Blew some minds at the drag strip in 1989 using a Zenith laptop to adjust the ECM in a drag car I had built. A friend that was a geek for programming set up the program for me. Now? Your the oddball if you DON’T have this ability on your modern drag car.

Anonymous · November 19, 2023 at 8:02 pm

I still have my first computer, a C=64, 1541 5.25″ drive and a dot matrix printer. I also have my SX=64 luggable portable computer and my C=128 with 1571 5.25 and 1581 3.5″ drives. The C=64 was amazing for its time. I had a 3-D CAD program that used a light pen and also a voice recognition system called Covox. I learned a lot from those Commodore machines and that started me on a 25 year career in software development. I haven’t used any of that old hardware in many years, but I’ve convinced my wife that we need to keep it, in case it is valuable some day.

BraulerBob · November 20, 2023 at 12:27 am

My first computer was a hand me down Texas Instrument TI-99/4A from my grandfather. He also had two 8 MB Hard drives for it. It was the coolest thing I had ever seen at the time. This was about 1980-81. He used it to trade on the stock market. I had fun using it to play games with the Atari-Like cartridges. I still have it and it works when hooked up to an old color TV.

Feral Ferret · November 20, 2023 at 2:36 am

I had a C-64 with two 1541 5.25″ drives and a dot matrix printer at home. I also had the same setup at work with the Commodore monitor on that one. I had a 300 baud modem for each, later upgraded to 1200 baud. All of the floppy drives has a toggle switch mounted for switching the device address.I ran a database,spreadsheet, and word processor on both. At work, I had an early form of email called MCI Mail. I also used the one at work to make special effect sounds for work (I worked at a TV station). At home I used my C-64 for ham radio, using it with an interface for doing radioteletype (RTTY). I had over 300 “flippy” disks at home and most were games. Having two drives made copying disks really easy.

It’s too bad that today’s programmers have gotten used to writing such sloppy bloated code since memory is cheap now. They could learn a lot from the programmers back then.

Matthew · November 21, 2023 at 7:02 pm

I think it’s interesting when people talk about how antiquated MS-DOS is and how even super geeks of today have never even heard of it. The first computer I was trained on was a Univac AN/UYK-7 with a teletype as an interface. Later I worked with a Honeywell 6060 that was the biggest installation in WWMCCS. It was the size of a grocery store, and the OS was GCOS.

    Divemedic · November 21, 2023 at 9:22 pm

    I remember watching my dad use punched tape. My brother and I used to play with the handheld tape winders.

      Aesop · November 22, 2023 at 7:09 am

      We had punch tapes in BASIC to load “Hammurabi” and “Lunar Lander” and play on the science department’s computer the size of a Hammond Organ, via teletype printout, during h.s. lunch breaks.

      My college stats class, we had to code 80-column IBM punch cards to do our research projects.

        Divemedic · November 22, 2023 at 9:22 am

        I had forgotten about Lunar Lander.

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