Gizmodo and Lifehacker’s Kevin Purdy both have blog posts on Father’s Day today talking about what their dads taught them about technology. Building on that theme, I can thank my dad for getting me interested in computers at a young age.
I was 9 years old when my dad bought the family its first computer, the Timex Sinclair 1000 (the American version of the Sinclair ZX81). Small and compact with a whopping 2KiB of RAM, we hooked it up to an old black and white television and used a tape deck to load and save programs. My dad also bought the 16K ram expansion module and later the TS1500 which had 16K ram of built-in and was slightly bigger with a better keyboard. I remember spending hours copying machine code from computer magazines and hoping I didn’t make a mistake so I could play a game like Breakout or loading pre-bought tapes with games to play. A few years ago when my dad came to visit, he surprised me and brought me both computers (in their original boxes!), manuals and a bunch of tapes.
A few years later he bought an Apple //c and I spent probably thousands of hours with it over the years. I remember playing games like Choplifter to The Bards Tale, programming BASIC and Logo and later, having a modem and finding the wonderful world of BBSes. I remember we had Compuserve briefly (it was expensive!) and I think I spent a few hours playing one of their RPGs, but I don’t remember if I got yelled at for the hourly fee. I remember that we had an early modem and when we upgraded (to maybe 1200 baud?) how excited I was because how much faster it was. A number of years ago I bought an Apple //c and accompanying monitor. I never did find the space in the house to set it up and there it sits in its box…
I don’t remember my dad using any of the computers all that much – probably because I was hogging them every minute I could. I think he did some home finance stuff, but I wouldn’t say my dad is a computer expert by any means. I look at my son today who sit on his PC and play games for hours at a time, and now that summer is here, I think to myself he should get outside and get some exercise and fresh air – and now I’ve officially turned into my father.
A few years later we would get a 286 running GeoS, not MS-DOS. I remember being at Sears, and being smart-mouthed and opinionated like any teenager, telling my dad to invest the money in the 386. We got the 286 and a year or two later I still remember vividly getting Wing Commander – but I needed MS-DOS 5 to use the himem command so I could play it and talking my dad in to taking me to Babbages and buying it for me.
That computer lived in my room and I don’t have any memories of my father using it. I’m sure I’ve never said it, but thanks dad for buying these computers for me as a kid, it played a large part in forming who I am today.
Last summer my son and I talked about using some of his free time to constructively use his computer (rather than all the games he loves to play). Just this morning we were talking on the way home from breakfast about carving some time out every day on a consistent basis and going through Invent Your Own Computer Games with Python. Between that and Snake Wrangling for Kids he may pick up some programming skills this summer, something I never did.
My daughter has one of my old laptops, and plays GCompris on it, and I downloaded Sugar on a Stick last week for her to try out too. I hope my kids can look back someday, as I am today, and remember the experiences of using their first computer as fondly as I do today.