It was back in grade school, sometime in the early 1970s, that the principal informed us over the intercom that the district had obtained a "computer," which was going to tour from school to school so that everyone would have a chance to see it. My school had the computer for just a week, and we were ushered into the principal's office only once. There, we were trained to excel in a game called "Moon Lander." Do you remember it?
There were no graphics, of course, but only text--mostly numbers. All my classmates crashed into the moon. Later, in high school, we would play Star Trek over the district's time-sharing network. Old-timers will remember how you connected the local teletype machine to the distant mainframe by inserting a telephone into a tight-fitting rubber device.
Star Trek was text-based, too, although the text printed out into arrays that suggested graphics. On a shelf behind my desk, I actually have the code to Star Trek, written in Basic: it's on page 157 of Basic Computer Games, by David H. Ahl, copyright 1978. I once typed it into my first "microcomputer"--the Amstrad PC6400 shown in the picture. I bought the Amstrad when I was in law school. It had "dual floppies"--that is, no hard drive--and it came with three operating systems: MS-DOS, Digital Research's DOS-Plus, and CP/M. It's still in the basement, and I still boot it up from time to time.
In 1990, when I started working at a law firm, I took my Amstrad with me and set it on my desk. Many of the partners were openly derisive: if I insisted on typing, which was a secretary's job, I must remember to keep the door shut. Within two years, however, all of those partners had PCs on their desks, and were attending mandatory classes on how to turn them on.
Although my story is not unique to anyone near my age who was a hobbyist (see this short article, for example, which I just found), I'd like to write a long essay someday about my lifelong attachment to computers, interspersed with the stories that are told in the advertisements contained in the stacks of Computer Shopper magazines I have stored in the basement, just in case I ever need them.
Maybe I'll write the essay on the Amstrad.
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