Dwight Watt - Watt Thoughts #138 6/4/2007


#138 - Looking back at Computers

My first experience with an electronic home computer was a Timex computer I bought from K-Mart for $1000 in 1981 or 82. It was also marketed as a Sinclair computer. Each month as I paid $100 on loan I saw price drop same in K-Mart. It had 16K of memory and a 5 diskette drive which was selling point for me as I had used cassette tape on a Radio Shack TRS (remember when called trash) 80 and said I wanted diskette. Only program I remember writing was one that played star Spangled banner a few lines. Had a few games.

I said electronic on it as in 1963 Santa Claus brought me a plastic hand worked computer called a DigiComp I. It had 3 bits of display and was programmed with plastic tubes stuck on parts. You could do real programs on it. I still have it (had to replace a few parts when restored recently) and have original manual. Had a counting game, tic tac toe, and lunar landing (in 1963) simulation. A guy sells a reproduction in cardboard today and a users group is at Yahoo. It displayed 3 binary numbers and it was not until I took Assembler in graduate school I realized what it did (but it worked neat).

I used 80 column punched cards in college to program and 96 column cards at one of early jobs on a system 3 (they were about size of credit card). Still have those college programs on cards (COBOL, RPG, FORTRAN, PL/I, Assembler, SNOBOL). Took my first course in high school and we used a teletype machine that connected to a time-share HP. It used paper tape (I have those rolls but again no way to read them) and BASIC.

I remember telling my students probably in 1982 as 10 meg hard drives appeared I had no idea what anyone would ever need a 10 meg hard drive on a PC for. (You can add that on the e-mail that supposedly quotes Gates as saying in same time period no would ever need more than 640K of memory) but I really said it. Now I have a 250 gig removable drive I use between desktop and laptop and carry two 1 gig USB drives in pocket everywhere.

I used a 300 baud modem about 1993 to connect my home PC to college PC so I could work on college network at night and on Internet (pre WWW). However donít anyone think of taking away my WiFi-G and DSL and Cable for Internet now.

As I have told students for 25 years now, this is not the field to go in if you donít want to keep learning. I just finished a college credit class and learned ColdFusion (if you had told me in 80s or before I would learn Cold Fusion in 2007 I would have wondered how I would end up in nuclear work )FYI it is a program to work with databases ion Web. It is a changing world and what we are all doing today will sound like ancient history in 5-0 years and who knows what we will be doing. I started in programming on cards, then PCs and diskettes (8 inch on first mid-range I taught on in 1981) to PC repair, to Windows and Office to WWW to pictures on computers (initially scanned and now 6 megapixel cameras (that fits in my palm and pocket easily) (did <1 megapixel to 1.5 mp to 4 (on CD) to 6 on memory chip) to networking (token-ring and shared to Ethernet to Lantastic and Coax to Windows and Cisco and Unix). Just think what we are doing with web pages now versus a few years ago. I started doing web pages pure text in 1995 and now they have graphics, lots of pictures, and audio and video (and recorded my own), etc. Just remember though that some people have not been able to leave dial-up yet.

Dwight

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