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What is it with those old computers?

My first exposure to a computer in a home was with a fellow who had an RCA computer. This computer had no resemblance to "home computers" like the Commodore VIC-20 and
Radio Shack TRS-80 computers which became popular a few years later. It vas very primitive by almost any standard. It looked like a little calculator, with a small keypad. I believe it had 1K memory on its main board. He had added an external board with 1K of "extra" memory. The computer had no high level language like BASIC, so he did everything in machine language. The main thing I remember was playing tic-tac-toe against the computer. The monitor was a small black and white television. I was impressed that he had built, expanded, and programmed this thing on his own.

John H. is an old and dear friend of mine. He was the first person I knew well who became involved with computers. He purchased a brand-new Radio Shack TRS-80 (original model) home computer system. He learn to program in basic, and as time went on, he expanded his system to 48K RAM, (up from the original 4K), Level II BASIC, and multiple disc drives, (to replace a flaky cassette interface). He still remembers the challenge of writing programs that would run on a machine with very little memory. He now has computers of different types, up to a Pentium II tower system.

My interest in computers continued to grow. I also felt that I needed a hobby that would encourage me to use whatever mental capacity I had. I also was sure that computers would continue to affect our lives more and more in the future. At that point in time, I didn't know that the Internet would become a link to the world, that computer hardware would become so powerful, and that it would reach the point where it would be a real disadvantage if you couldn't use a computer. I just simply felt that it would benefit me to learn a little bit about computers.

I finally got a computer of my own. It was a thrill to become the proud owner of a Timex 1000 computer. It was purchased at K-Mart when they were discontinuing the computer. It had 2K RAM, BASIC, and used a TV and an audio cassette recorder to complete the system. I purchased the 16K RAM pack with the computer. I had lots of system crashes when I used the extra. memory. I never was particularly happy with that machine, but there are still many users of that computer and the Sinclair ZX-81 which it was based on. The last I knew they were still very popular in England, and there are (were?) incredible hardware extensions made for them.

The second computer I got was a 64K Radio Shack TRS-80 Color Computer 2.  It was very reliable for me, and I added disc drives later. It had a good implementation of  Microsoft BASIC
and had color graphics and limited sound capabilities. I even got a 300 baud modem pack for it, and used it to connect to local BBS systems. I had enough success with that computer to encourage me to continue with the hobby.

Many of  the computers that I have were "rescued" from the Salvation Army store, yard sales, etc. I have had to repair and/or upgrade most of them. Some of  the machines were stripped of hard drives, memory, etc. and discarded. Computing can be a very expensive hobby if you must have the newest, fastest machine with all the toys all the time. My hobby has to support itself. I usually find computers and components for cheap, and then try to make them run. Once in a while I sell a machine to keep things going.

There are many paths you can follow as you become involved with computers. Some people enjoy searching for the hardware and software. Some people like to build and repair the beasts. Some people simply like to collect them, like you would collect stamps. Others like the experience of  learning different operating systems like CP/M and languages like BASIC. It is easy to forget that most of the machines we call obsolete were powerful enough to run small businesses with not too long ago. This is a hobby you can be involved with even if you aren't rich. Depending on your natural talent, and your level of interest and commitment, there is virtually unlimited potential to learn.You can even turn your knowledge into a career or start your own computer based business, if  that works for you. Love him or hate him, Bill Gates wasn't born a billionaire.

I have met some nice people, and have become friends with some of them through this hobby. I must also thank my wife for her patience and support. She isn't into computers, but has lived with the time and space requirements I've burdened her with. I  hope to keep learning and hope to share some info and links on this site.

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