Tech #1: Remberances of Our Computer Past

In preparing my post this week on Computers 'n Miniskirts, I happened across a bunch of great vintage electronics material - I was in heaven. I've mentioned the Obsolete Technology site, which has a great selection of advertisements for "ancient" electronics. I don't think kids today can fathom how incredibly pathetic computers in the late seventies and eighties were. I think back and wonder how on earth I spent hours on my VIC 20 doing basically nothing. Exclamations like "Look! I made the line turn blue!" were not uncommon. Yet, at the same time, the fact that Matthew Broderick's lousy Texas Instruments could take over our military's defense system in WarGames seemed plausible.

This guy has his TRS-80 and thinks the whole world is going paperless. He's ripping his tax forms, because now he's doing it by computer.... yet, without TurboTax to send it via the Internet, I'm curious how he got his taxes in. I'm guessing he printed them on his dot matrix printer. I'll bet you the IRS consumes more paper now than they did when this ad was made. I don't know about you, but where I work, they've been saying "we are going paperless" every year. Yet, every year there seems to be more and more paperwork.

Get it? He's the Incredible Hulk and the Tandy is "simply incredible". Yeesh. Lots of celebs put their face on the these new home computers. My main man, Bill Shatner was the guy for VIC 20- so that's the one I got. Roger Moore did Spectravideo, Isaac Asimov did the Radio Shack TRS-80, and Bill Cosby was the pitchman for Texas Instruments.

There was also a period of time when nerds were the sole proprietors of personal computers. I'm sure high school computer clubs of today are not exactly your Homecoming Court, but it was pretty extreme in the early eighties. By the nineties, I think computers became so omnipresent that the stigma was no longer viable.

Thinking back, I began with the VIC 20, then Commodor 64. After that, I had an IBM 286. I remember the big 5 inch floppy, those horrible dot matrix printers, the monochrome monitors (then CGA, VGA and SVGA) that took up half the desk, using BASIC, and everything was super expensive. I think it's safe to say that 20 years from now we'll all laugh mockingly at 2009 computer technology, and our current setup (where you're sitting right now - at your desk or on an iPhone) will look just as dated and laughable as the picture below.


  1. It is weird, isn't it? We look at the world we live in presently and it seems like it is the way it's supposed to be, all is normal and fine and will never be so far out of date. But it will. When you blog 20 years from now (OH YOU WILL!), do a sequel!!! :)

  2. The year was 1982, and I was playing Dungeons of Daggorath everyday after school so I could get to level 5 and defeat the evil wizard. Remember the audio tape drives? It sounded like a fax machine when you were loading the game on your Tandy TRS-80. I am amazed to say that I had hours and hours of fun playing this game which only had 8 KB (that's right, kilobytes) of RAM. Elvish swords, mithril shields and solar torches were used. It even had a player "health" indicator - the heartbeat. The faster your heart was beating, the closer you were to death. Incredible game for it's time! Game programmers of the 80's have my respect. It wasn't just a bunch of eye candy special effects back then.

  3. I remember in elementary school in 82-83 (or thereabouts) when they'd walk us up the hill to the high school to use the computer lab and that was THE highlight of the year. How many times could one type out the BASIC program that made the screen fill up with "HI!" and still think it was the most amazing thing ever? From experience I can tell you about 100,000.

    The only thing we had before that was making a calculator say "BOOBIES" or "HELL" when you turned it upside down.

    At home we finally got a TI 99/4-A, the kind that used your TV as a monitor and had a tape deck as the disk drive. Man, between that and the Atari 2600 I was the coolest kid on the block.

  4. I had the "Imagination Machine", similar to Jewbacca and the basic programming, but also had two little joysticks hardwired to it at the top for playing some pretty awful games, even back then.

  5. The first time I touched a computer was my senior year in high school 83-84. Other than maybe an Atari which my cousins had. I couldn't get it to anything.

    The first computer I owned was a 486 that was given to me as I started grad school. I was pretty impressed with myself when I made the colors change on some program dBase IV or something like that. WordPerfect had a blue screen with white words. I miss that.

  6. Speaking of celebs, there was a Charlie Chaplin look-alike that did IBM commercials. My mom thought that was wrong.

  7. Our high school was the first in the district to get an on site computer. It was one of those free standing, floor to ceiling jobs with a paper print out. The game we played on it was "Stone thrower." to guns faced each other and you changed the force and azimuth of your shot to try and kill the other guy.

    Fast forward to the 21st century and my first game CD for my windows computer. The game on the disk? "Sure Shot." A game when you faced off against your opponent and, by changing force and azimuth, tried to blow up his gun. High speed graphics, 265+ colors, THE SAME DAMN GAME!!!!

    Some things never change.

  8. wings- Too true. Maybe by then we'll get that virtual reality which futurists have been promising for twenty years!

    hitch- You have brought me back big time - I haven't thought of that game in ages. Well described - you should've written this post!

    ffjewbacca- And I well remember the "progression" from the Atari 2600 to Intelivision to Colecovision, to Nintendo and Sega, etc... yet, I was at my happiest playing the simplistic games on the Atari (Missle Command, Asteroids, etc.).

    cellprint- I'm going to have to look up this Imagination Machine. Don't recall this one off hand. Sounds pretty bad, but I'll bet you loved it back in the day.

    retrohound- does this look familiar?

    100 print "hello"
    200 go to 100

    Hours of enjoyment! (sad, really)

    Wendel- I must admit, I love playing the Wii. However, these new games definitely are designed for the low attention span - not many kids today could sit and play the original Asterioids without sinking into a coma.

  9. In the first photo it looks like John Holmes is chatting up that young lady.

  10. What?
    And asking her home to see his "hard drive"?

    How big a memory stick he has?

    And I am not even going to get started on floppy drives.

  11. Those were the days. I still prefer the classic Atari games over the fancy ones today. You had to love it when the old pet computers used numbers and letters for the graphics on their games.

  12. I'm loving the beards in pics #2&4