Some Computer Nostalgica

I thought it would be fun to do a write-up all the different computers I’ve been developing software for over the course of my life so far. I intend to update this post with more details as time (and memory – mine, not the computer’s memory) permits. If you’re not into stories about prehistoric computers, don’t read this post. If you’re not into stories by an old dog complaining about today’s computers, don’t read this post.

We ate stones for lunch back then. Sometimes, there was only stone soup.

I started to get into computers in 9th grade, which was in 1981. Although I wasn’t part of the elitist computer project group, I had a friend who let me sneak in the computer room. Our school had two Apple II+ and an old Wang computer (unfortunately, I don’t remember the model). I do remember the Wang had about 16KB of RAM (magnetic core memory at the time). The RAM module was about at least 1m3 in size). Roughly around the same time, another friend of mine told me that a smallish company in our village was looking for “computer programmers”. So I went and spend the better part of my spare time as a high school and university student developing software in BASIC, PASCAL, C and C++ for various precursors and contemporaries of the IBM PC and, later, the Apple Macintosh.

 

  • Apple II+ – 140 KB floppy disk. 5 1/4″. Single-sided. This was considered mass-storage. Of course you could use the backside of the floppy disk if you knew where to punch a hole. Of course, you would program it in 6502 assembly language. LDA #$22.
  • Commodore CBM II – Considered cool at the time due to its curvy design.
  • Burroughs B20 series – I vividly remember a Borroughs 8088-based early B20 series computer. It came with an enormous monitor and CPU unit mounted next to each other which was so large it occupied most of my desk and thus about 1/3 of my room as a student. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find a picture of this system online.
  • ZX 81 – This was the first computer I bought myself from whatever little money I made. It was a very clever, although quite awkward little computer, consisting of only 4 chips on board. It had 1KB of RAM. No, that’s not a typo.
  • IBM /36 – Yes, in RPG-II. No, I don’t remember any of it. I refuse to.
  • Nixdorf 8870 – Programmed in Basic. All variables had 2 character identifiers. First one had to be alpha, second numeric. K4$ was the string holding the current record read from the database. 5 MB hard drive the size of a medium fridge.
  • Sun 3/60 – Using vi and TeX to write a seminar paper at the university.
  • VAX 11/780 – Taking a LISP course at the university. Fully grokked recursion back then. Never learned to implement a proper loop in LISP. Recursion was all I needed. It’s fun bringing the VAX to a halt by running your student’s assignment. “Who is this user LISP70 who consumes too much CPU and way too much memory?”
  • Nixdorf Targon – 68030-based. UNIX. Pretty cool. You could login via 10 virtual tty’s and start a C compiler in each. vi in your 11th virtual tty was still kind of usable. :wq.
  • IBM PC – Yup, the real one. Not the XT.
  • Novell Netware 2 on a 80286-based file server – Novell’s Netware 2 over 10BASE2 (of course) was so fast that we didn’t compile our C programs locally on our Compaq PC’s hard drives, but used the Novell server to host the files instead.
  • Atari ST – My second “home” computer. Fantastic machine. 68000 processor. MIDI interface. I even bought a Yamaha DX-21 synth to interface with the ST. Way cool.

In 1989, a friend of mine showed me a Mac emulator running on an Atari ST featuring pirated Apple Mac ROMs. I knew I had to have one. In 1989/1990, Apple ran a Mac SE promo for students which I took advantage of. Working with MPW Object Pascal and later, C++. Even a simple build of our system took 15 minutes+, which made for a great excuse to watch Snooker on TV all day. Those were the days. The Mac SE was upgraded to an SE/30 via a logic board upgrade later on. 68030 / 16 MHZ. Blazingly fast at the time.

Here are some of the Mac’s I used over the years: Mac SE – Mac SE/30 – Mac IIci – Mac IIfx – Centris 610, Centris 650, Quadra 700, PowerMac 7200, PowerBook 100, Powerbook 160, PowerBook Duo 210, Powerbook 5300, Titanium Powerbook G4, AiBook, MacBook Pro 15″ (which I’m writing the post on). Plus quite a few Windows PCs, 8086, 8088, 80286, 80386, 80486, Pentium based. But I lost track. Not a lot of personality and soul left in the computers nowadays. See, I knew I would say it 🙂