What Was Your First Computer Experience?


I was talking to one of the kids I work with (I think he’s like 25 or something) and we were talking about the first computers we ever used.

The first time I ever saw a computer in real life was probably in 1985 or 1986.  I was in first grade.  They brought it in.  They explained this would be the computer for the class room.  They showed us how to boot it up (with a 5 inch floppy).  The program that it ran was what I found our many years later to be some kind of CADD.  It had a little triangle called a “turtle” and it could draw lines.  If you wanted it to turn one way you typed in a 90.  Which I thought at the time was an odd code that I should probably write down.

I didn’t need to worry about it because that was the last time I ever got close to that computer.  If it got used again that year, it certainly wasn’t by me and I don’t remember it.

But that was my first computer and my first computer experiance.  We have a huge diversity of people here, so I thought we might have an interesting discussion about this.  What was your first computer experiance?  When was it?  What was the computer?  (The Wikipedia has great links to computer systems with pictures.)  Tell us about it.

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  1. user_280840 Inactive

    John, you were the person I was really hoping would reply. You are kindly invited to elaborate on your post.

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  2. user_280840 Inactive

    So if anybody is curious, John linked to a very fully descrption of the UNIVAC 1107. So please read it. Can I ask some random questions? The earliest computer printers I remember are 1980s trackfeed printers. Your UNIVAC piece mentions printers. Can you describe them? Were they track feed printers that printed on wide green bar? Or were they something else? Also, what did it smell like? Not the printer, but like the whole UNIVAC set up?

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  3. Guruforhire Member

    My dad brought home a TRS-80 in 1986 from a yard sale.  I got some BASIC books from yard sales, and learned to reprogram the various video games I got from my uncle to make the game do and say the things a 6-10 year old thinks are dirty.

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  4. Seawriter Contributor

    1973.  My high school offered its first-ever computer programming class, and I took it.  We used teletype terminals to connect with an IBM mainframe in the school district’s admin building. (The rumor was it also did payroll, prompting a few students to (unsuccessfully) attempt hacking in to cut a check for themselves.) We stored our work on paper punch tape.

    At one point, while sitting at a terminal, I turned to the kid in class considered the real computer guru, and said, “You know, I’ll bet by the time I graduate from college I can buy a computer with the power of this one that will sit on my desk at home for the price of a used car.”

    He looked at me.  Then laughed.  Then told the rest of the class what a moron I was.  After all, why would anyone want a computer of there own at home, much less need one.

    Lost track of him after high school, but to this day I wonder if he ever ended up working for Microsoft — long after their startup days, of course, as one of the software engineers in the bullpen.

    Meanwhile, desktop computers have been putting bread on my table since 1979 – the year I graduated from college.  And a lot of the money I earned has come from the computer in my home office.


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  5. user_280840 Inactive

    The first computer I had in my house was a TRS-80 (thank you, Wikipedia). I had an uncle who died in 1989 and somehow we inherited it from it. (I have no idea why he would have it.) We had some games for it, including one called Color Baseball, which I played on the black and white TV I had it connected to. It also took programming from an exterior cassette tape drive. We had a couple of “games” for it. I found the audio very jarring.

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  6. user_280840 Inactive

    And Seawriter, can you tell me more about the teletype terminal? From what I can tell they looked like electric typewriters from the ’80s? But there wasn’t a monitor or anything? Or was there? So you’d type stuff in and then what?

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  7. macandwally@gmail.com Inactive

    CDC 6500 for a FORTRAN programming class in 1974.  We used punch cards and would watch a monitor for the status of our jobs.  The first program we were assigned to write had to do with bowling scores.

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  8. Seawriter Contributor

    Fred Cole:And Seawriter, can you tell me more about the teletype terminal?From what I can tell they looked like electric typewriters from the ’80s?But there wasn’t a monitor or anything?Or was there?So you’d type stuff in and then what?

    No monitor.  It was like one of the teletype machines you see in 1950s movies about newspapers.  Rattled like a son-of-gun, spitting out ALL CAPS on newsprint quality paper.  At least that is my memory.


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  9. Seawriter Contributor

    anonymous: It was probably a Teletype Model 33.  This was by far the most widely used terminal for interactive timesharing before CRT terminals became common in the 1970s.  More than 600,000 were made through 1976.  They could be connected directly to a computer or operated over a dial-up telephone line at the speed of 110 baud (that’s baud, not kilobaud!).  It printed 10 characters per second, and the electromechanical keyboard limited typing speed to about that rate.

    Oh yeah.  Sounds like it.  It did couple acoustically via a modem.  And 110 baud was blazing hot in 1973.  1200 baud was considered hot eight years later.

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  10. WillowSpring Member

    First computer I worked on was an IBM 360 around 1965 or 66.  I was at the University of North Carolina and the 360 was run by UNC, NC State and Duke.  Each campus had a computer room with card readers and high speed line printers (like JW described)  My first programming professor was Fred Brooks – who had just led the OS-360 project and later wrote “The Mythical Man Month”

    My first program was an attempt to produce a 3D graph on the line printer using its ability to ‘over-strike’ the line.  That is, it would print a line of symbols, but not advance the page and print another line on top of the first.  The idea was to build up ink density (to reflect the value at that point) by selecting appropriate symbols to overprint.  Unfortunately, I misread the command for ‘overstrike’ and used the command for ‘page eject’ instead.  The result was about a 10″ stack of printout with a very nasty comment from the operator included.  As fast as those printers could print, the eject speed was amazing.

    The first computer I actually touched was a Raytheon 520 – a mainframe in a large air-conditioned room with raised floor.

    The first computer I owned was a Kim-1 single board computer using the MOS Technology 6502 chip

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  11. Ed G. Member
    Ed G.

    Tandy 1000 in the mid to late 80’s. No printer. We had a few games that I very much enjoyed especially Space Flight, Thexder, and Space Quest. We bought a book of games to program on our own, and we did that too. I was fascinated with changing the screen background color and teh font color. Other than that it wasn’t of much use.

    We also got a classroom computer sometime in the early to mid 80’s. Ours also sat in the back of the classroom, hardly ever to be used. I did get tp use it twice; I got the math program stuff out of the way quickly so I could get on to playing Agent USA.

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  12. user_1029039 Member

    I played that same turtle game in about the same year; I think it was an Apple IIe. Some of us figureddout how to draw stars and things, and if you put in the right numbers it would keep drawing forever and evef and never close up a polygon.
    And yes, the seat time was parceled out in about the same way. One computer, thirty kids. You pretty much had to have one at home to learn anything, which fortunately we did. Commodore VIC 20, cassette tape drive, b&w TV, cartridges for games. Learned to program BASIC to generate Dungeons & Dragons characters.

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  13. user_1029039 Member

    Also, I still like text based adventure games. Any other fans here?

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  14. Belt Member

    I cut my teeth on the Apple ][ systems in Junior High, around 1983.  By the time I graduated from High School, I was showing the teachers how to do stuff.  I got a major in CompSci at my hometown college, and worked on the usual IBM systems, as well as the administrative PDP and VAX systems.

    Just for fun lately, I found the Applesoft Basic code for the old game, Taipan, and I’ve been pulling it apart.  Might be interesting to see if I can adapt that to VBS or some other platform.  Perhaps something running on a webpage?

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  15. user_1029039 Member

    Oh, excuse me. ][e.

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  16. user_1029039 Member

    Also, not for nothing, that Apple ][e didn’t even have spell-check.

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  17. user_337201 Inactive

    About 1988 my dad brought home a 286 with a black-and-orange monitor. Learned BASIC and a little Pascal. Played some cool games like Wombat and Classic Concentration.

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  18. WillowSpring Member

    Mention of the ASR-33 Teletype brings up memories.  In my first job, I was a lowly Engineering Aide – although I thought the title was impressive, it meant that the technicians told me what to do.  Because of my lowly status, I was assigned a seat in the same room as the ASR-33 which was used to connect to a time share service, but was very noisy.  The head of Engineering gave me permission to use it when I wasn’t busy.

    I used the opportunity to write a simulation (in Basic) of the product we were building – pattern recognition system used for Radar signal processing.  That impressed management enough that I was given more programming work to do.  So I could say that my career was started with an ASR-33

    Later, I worked on several projects using a Raytheon 703 minicomputer.  That is, instead of a room full of equipment, it was about the size of a refrigerator.  It used the ASR-33 as the input and output device.  To write a program, you would type on the ASR and produce a paper tape.  This was then fed through the ASR and an interim output was produced on another tape.  That tape would be fed back through for a final pass.  The programs could be pretty large and the resulting tapes were quite ungainly to manage. I can remember taping pencils at appropriate points to allow the tape to feed over them without tangling

    The tapes were also fragile and could get torn easily.  A programer learned how to patch and splice the tapes to avoid needing to retype the whole thing.  That also meant you learned to read the tapes by recognizing the letters from the hole patterns.

    Oh the good old days!

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  19. JohnnyF Inactive

    Undergraduate at NC State around 1962. There was an IBM 650 in the Statistics building. It took input from punched cards. Somehow the first thing that was read from the first card was an instruction. The rest went onto a drum storage device. As an undergrad we had to punch our data and code with a manual punch, although there were typing type desks which the staff used. As the program ran you could follow, sort of, the progress on the console lights. The output was delivered on another stack of punched cards which we carried over to another machine which printed their information. Other machines were able to read from the cards and reassemble data in different columns, and  I think maybe add sums. This was controlled by patch boards with short wires plugged into an array of holes.. The patch board which simply sent column data to the printer directly from the cards was called an 80-80 board…I haven’t thought about any of this in years.

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  20. Mark Belling Fan Member
    Mark Belling Fan

    Not necessarily my very first experience with computers, but I have fond memories from elementary school in the early 90’s of the weekly visit to the school “computer lab” to spend an hour playing Oregon Trail on those old Apple computers with black and green monitors. Ford the river!

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  21. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake

    Fred Cole:

    The program that it ran was what I found our many years later to be some kind of CADD. It had a little triangle called a “turtle” and it could draw lines. If you wanted it to turn one way you typed in a 90. Which I thought at the time was an odd code that I should probably write down.

    Oh, the Logo turtle! I used to love that little turtle as a kid. They couldn’t teach me to touch-type worth a darn in elementary school (so technically, I failed third grade), but they could get me to create the most elaborate patterns with that little guy. It was like being able to design my own spirograph.

    I wish someone had told me that making the Logo turtle do pretty designs was a form of programming. I might have hated computer science a lot less in later life.

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  22. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake

    But my first experience with computers ever was seeing my dad (an engineer) violently curse out the aging tektronix machine in our basement. One of my earliest memories. I was only two or three at the time.

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  23. EJHill Podcaster

    A Commodore 64. Had to have that Micro League Baseball game. How many times did I have to simulate the 1975 Big Red Machine v. the 1927 Murderer’s Row to prove National League Superiority?

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  24. Basil Fawlty Member
    Basil Fawlty

    My early experience in school was similar to that described by JohnnyF. The first one I owned was an IBM XT clone made by Leading Edge. For some reason, I thought a wide-carriage dot-matrix printer was also a good idea. I can still hear it. I also played around with Unix-based minis at work until PCs took over the territory.

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  25. BastiatJunior Member

    Second semester of College, 1979.  IBM 370 Mainframe.  We used punch cards to write Fortran IV programs.  Since I was in college until 1986, a Commodore 64 got me through the final years.

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  26. James Lileks Contributor
    James Lileks

    TI/99,  which stored data on cassette tapes and ran cartridge modules for playing games or doing anything enjoyable and worthwhile. Played my first text adventure on the thing in 1983. Also wrote programs like

    10: GOTO 20

    20: GOTO 30

    30: GOTO 10

    Which was about as much programming as I ever did, aside from HTML, which probably isn’t programming in the true sense, but since you can screw up everything by leaving out a single character,  it’s as close to programming as I’ll get.

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  27. Gödel's Ghost Inactive
    Gödel's Ghost

    Jason Rudert:Also, I still like text based adventure games. Any other fans here?

    You have no idea.

    My first computer “experience” was reading about the ALTAIR and IMSAI and related machines in Popular Electronics in the 1970s. A few years later, Apple and Radio Shack were selling the Apple II and TRS-80, and my older sister’s high school got some. I loaded up the <a href=”http://www.trs-80.com/wordpress/emulation-scott-adams/”>Scott Adams adventure games</a> and played until my fingers bled. I bought my own TRS-80 in 1979, and eventually graduated to playing <a href=”http://www.ifiction.org/games/playz.php”>Zork</a>. Full sentences! “Get all from the table except the bottle” gets the brown sack and not the bottle! I had to understand how that worked, and when I grew up, I wanted to work at Infocom. In the meantime, I went to Indiana University and hung out with people like <a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Douglas_Hofstadter”>Douglas Hofstadter</a> and <a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_P._Friedman”>Dan Friedman</a>. I am currently blessed to have been asked by Dr. Friedman to review the manuscript of his next book, for MIT Press.

    In 1994, I went to work at Activision, which owns the rights to the Infocom intellectual property. I worked with the last ZIL programmer ever, saw actual ZIL source code (which no one should have used, then or now—it was a horrible pre-Common Lisp or Scheme dialect), and patched the Sherlock: The Riddle of the Crown Jewels Mac binary to work on the then-new Mac OS Sound Manager, which we had to do because the source code for that version of ZIP had long been lost—remember, this was well before routine use of version control and cheap massive hard disks and this “internet” thing where people routinely store important stuff.

    I still look in with fondness, from time to time, on the goings-on in the <a href=”http://inform7.com”>Inform</a> community, which has wonderfully taken on the mantle of developing ZIP-compatible interactive fiction for many, many years now.

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  28. user_63567 Member

    Jason Rudert:Also, I still like text based adventure games. Any other fans here?

    I loved the INFOCOM games. I just bought the complete collection for my iPad.

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  29. user_22932 Member

    In 1966, as a freshman at Phillips Academy Andover, I laid hands on a Teletype 33 ASR connected to Dartmouth timesharing system. Kemeny & Kurtz had invented the first version of BASIC, which didn’t even have string variables, although it had built-in matrix ops. It ran on a GE-235 mainframe, which I obtained (and still have) the musty manuals for. It had a LISP interpreter, an Algol compiler, and an assembler whose programs ran in a simulator so you couldn’t crash the machine.

    The following year, Dartmouth switched to a GE-635, which had memory protection and some virtual memory support, although not as fancy as the GE-645 on which MIT developed the Multics system, the progenitor of modern virtual memory and timesharing systems.

    One peculiar thing about most of the old mainframes: they didn’t have bytes. They used wide, odd-sized words, like 20-bit or 36-bit, or 48-bit, and special instructions to pack and unpack 6-bit or 8-bit characters within them. Messy. The IBM 360 fixed that with the first byte-addressable memory, and pioneered the use of hexadecimal in programming, instead of octal.

    I also had a brief experience with Fortran, programmed through punch cards. Dreadful. Had that been my only computer experience, I probably would have lost interest, and done something else with my life.

    In the mid 1970s, I began to program microcontrollers at work, first the Intel 8048, then the 8080, Zilog Z80, Motorola 6809, Intel 8086. They were all programmed via proprietary development systems, rather than general purpose computers. My first general purpose computer was a 286-based PC clone in the early 1980s. My work involved music synthesizers and organs.

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  30. user_63567 Member

    The first computer I ever got to use was a Commodore PET. My Dad was a teacher and was able to bring one home for the summer (late 1970’s) It was magic. Tape drive, monochrome screen, ASCII graphics. They don’t build them like that anymore!


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