Tuesday, June 14, 2011

8-bit Nostalgia

In 2005, I was looking for new ways to get my team at work to embrace their inner geeks - and I remembered how fondly people talked about their first computer, which in many cases was an 8-bit home computer before PCs made their way into the home.

Over the next few months, I set off to build a mini collection from craigslist and eBay - collecting up bits of circuit and plastic that would give someone I worked with 10 minutes of joy as they relieved their first computing experiences.

A few months ago, my 11 year old asked, "How do you learn to program computers?" - I pulled out the C64, the disk drive, the monitor, and a few books. Within minutes, he was coding in BASIC and calling over the rest of the family to see his creations.

I'm in discussions with a local museum to display these 8-bit computers as part of an upcoming exhibit. I pulled them all out & took some quick pictures - I thought I'd post them in case you wanted to find a few minutes of nostalgic joy with me. BTW, if you live in Central Florida and want to play with one or all of these, send me a note, I'm happy to share.

(I also have some PC stuff, old handheld games & video game consoles - but that is an entirely different post!)

These are in order of my ownership or encounters with them as a kid.

The Timex Sinclair 1000 was my first computer. I wanted the VIC-20, but my grandfather received a Timex Sinclair 1000 FREE for taking a timeshare tour. Using the Timex Sinclair was torture - that keyboard was painful, and with the 16k ram expander inserted, you had to tape down the CPU to keep it from tipping backward!


It is as small as it looks. No, it is actually smaller.

I love a keyboard with BASIC keywords on it.

Ahhh, the VIC-20. My first "real" computer. I remember that a friend had the 16k RAM expander, so I would write programs in segments, then go to his house to pull them all into RAM at once, then test them. I had to go to his house to run the programs after that. I couldn't tell you what I was writing, only that I needed more RAM!

Yes, that label does instruct you to type SYS 32592 - IIRC you needed to restart the VIC without the BASIC emulator in order to have enough RAM for the game.

Tape drives - simple, and somewhat effective. I didn't have this model as a kid.

This was the tape drive I remember.

Prepackaged software even came on cassette.
A Jr. High friend (One of the smartest people I've ever met, need to find him again...) had an ATARI 400 - I remember entire nights of playing Ghostbusters on his ATARI 400.

These computers all had VERY distinctive looks. I the ATARI 400 design could have influenced the movie TRON IMHO.

And the ATARI 400 had METAL in it. That cartridge slot HAD to be MILSPEC!


The kid that lived behind my grandparents (where I spent summers) had a TI-99/4A - I'd take the VIC-20 down to my grandparents house, but since they only had one TV, I'd go to his house when my Grandmother's soaps came on.

After some time with the VIC-20, I begged for a C64, and some combination of raking leaves, saving and begging allowed me to obtain a used one. I slowly built up a full system like you see here. I even had the VIC line printer... I had a good friend in the next neighborhood that also had a C64, so we'd pool our disk drives to "backup" software. The C64 also brought my first model - a 300 baud VIC modem - MANUAL dial. I still can't believe my mother let me drag that long phone cord back to my room so often...

I never owned a "COCO", but a good friend in High School had one, and it was also the first home computer of several coworkers.

Some manufacturers couldn't accept the ATARI joystick as the standard...these analog sticks were great for some games, but terrible for others...

1 comment:

Alison said...

My dad got a C64 when I was in 7th grade, at the latest. I left Evans in 10th grade (we moved to NC), because he got a job with Compute! publications, working on their Commodore magazine. I ended up doing some software reviews for them a few years later. As a result, I spent a lot of time on various generations of that computer and recognize a lot of the stuff you've got. Funny seeing it again now, after all these years.