It’s funny how nostalgia strikes without warning sometimes. I was sitting at my desk, checking out some articles on Digg, and found something that I wanted to print out. As my HP Deskjet gently hummed away and spit out its color image, I was immediately flashing back to 1986 and I could hear in my head the sound of my old Commodore dot matrix printer. That was quite a piece of machinery, harshly grinding away line after line as the computer paper was fed, creating such a racket you had to leave the room. Ah, those were the days.
How It All Began
I was 10 years old when my parents bought my brother and me our first computer – a Commodore 128, complete with 1571 floppy drive and the aforementioned dot matrix printer. I would pore over the user manual, trying to learn everything I could about this magnificent contraption. I started off with some simple “Hello World” equivalent programs in BASIC. I soon progressed to drawing different shapes and colors on the screen, with accompanying sounds. My uncle would challenge me to create digital artwork — my shining achievement being a snowman with a top hat and pipe.
I found myself reading magazines from the library (if I recall correctly, OMNI magazine was one of them) and started programming some music. I can still remember the delightfully electronic MIDI version of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony emanating from the computer speaker. I eventually wanted to make something useful, and created a rudimentary database system to catalog my baseball card collection. I remember the data entry being laborious and a pain, but somehow it was still great fun.
In addition to getting my first taste of programming and how technology would shape my life, I also had a lot of fun playing games. The C64 was one of the most successful computers ever sold, and with that came a gigantic and rich library of computer games. I loved all the Epyx Olympic Game series – Summer Games, Winter Games, California Games. Plus, I had the most ass-kickingest joystick known to mankind, the Epyx 500XJ. Video games were a blast back then.
Back To The Future
By all quantitative measures, the technology on my desk today blows away my old C128. I’ve got processing power thousands of times greater, storage and memory that was unfathomable 20 years ago, dual 20-inch high definition displays, and access to the sum of human knowledge at my fingertips. But I tell you, there was something about that entire experience as a kid… discovering something new and exciting. It felt more real.
My C128 is probably sitting in a box in my parent’s garage somewhere. I think I’ll head over there to do a little “spring cleaning” and see if I can resurrect it for old time’s sake….