[dba-Tech] "Computer Connections: People, Places, and Events in the Evolution of the Personal Computer Industry."

John Colby jwcolby at gmail.com
Sun Aug 7 17:04:01 CDT 2016

My first computer was a home built (in 1976) s-100 (a standard bus in 
the early days) based Zilog Z80 microprocessor with a whopping 24 
kilobytes or static ram.


It ran the Zapple monitor and had a cassette interface and loaded 12K 
Zapple basic, which took 4 minutes to load.  And crashed often.


Those were the days when if you wanted something, you bought kits from 
advertisements in the back of Popular Electronics.  I was a Data Systems 
Technician in the Navy and so I understood electronics and trouble 
shooting, but not programming.

My second machine was another home built (in 1981) SBC (single board 
computer) which had an 80186 uP and 256K of dynamic RAM.  Back in those 
days you could "stack" ram chips on top of each other (only two deep) 
and so I doubled that to 512 KB or Dynamic RAM.  It had a Serial chip 
for a dumb monitor and a floppy disk interface, and I purchased a double 
drive 1 mbyte floppy.  It ran CPM and Turbo Pascal, and later Turbo C 
from Borland.


Hot stuff in 1981.

It was on this system that I really learned how to program.  In 1980 I 
went to work for a graphics terminal company called MegaTek Corp. based 
out of Sorrento Valley California, back before Sorrento Valley was even 
a real place.



I was a field engineer and later a bench technician fixing their 
graphics terminals.  One day (in 1983?) I found 5 engineering samples of 
their low end graphics terminals in the trash.  Of course I dragged them 
out and hooked one up to my SBC.


This machine was a full on graphics terminal with all the bells and 
whistles, and cost about $15,000 at retail.  I fixed them but had no 
clue how to program them, but I had a friend who was a programmer 
writing their drivers for the DEC VAX machines that they would normally 
run on.  He helped me get my SBC set up and running Turbo Pascal, and 
showed me how to write a subroutine for each instruction of the graphics 
terminal.  He wrote a few then turned me loose.  A few months later I 
had written drivers for each of the (unknown number) of graphics 
instructions for drawing lines, scaling, spinning and moving these lines 
around on the screen, all done by the terminal itself, driven by my 
SBC.  A couple of months after that I had a three-D sphere drawn out of 
triangles which I could rotate, scale and translate (move across an axis).

And so a programmer was born.  :)

This was all in the early 80s.  By 1986 I was trading DOWN to an Epson 
PC clone.  The only thing more powerful than my SBC was that it had a 8 
mb hard disk.  Ooooooohhhhh.  It ran DOS and various flavors of dos clones.

That was one of two computers that I bought assembled, after which I 
built my own from parts from places like local computer stores (the rage 
back then), CompUSA and later NewEgg.

And yep, in 1987 I bought Lotus 123, DBase and Wordstar, but my focus 
was programming in Turbo pascal and Turbo C.  Then in 1991 I ran into 
this completely bizarre "event driven" thing called Access, which ran on 
Windows 3 and the rest, as they say, is history.

Just an aside, in 1984, Megatek had a Vax 11/780 which ran the entire 
company, from programmers to stock room. It ran 1 million instructions 
per second and could address one mByte of RAM.  And I DREAMED of owning 
one of these things.


Today I own a Samsung S7 phone which has 4 cores, each running several 
ghz, and has 4 gbytes of ram, and it is my own supercomputer (only 
dreamed of in 1984) in my pocket.

On 8/7/2016 12:13 PM, Arthur Fuller wrote:
> I still remember the date on which I purchased my first computer:
> 15-Mar-1983. It was a Taiwanese clone of an Apple II  called Unitron, and
> the guy I bought it from had installed a CP/M card, I think from a company
> whose name began with Z but I don't think it was Zenith. Anyway, I bought
> the computer used, and it came with no hard disk (it was 1983), just a pair
> of floppy drives that each could store a whopping 128k of data. The box
> came with several disks, including WordStar, dBASE-II and Supercalc. I
> hated Apple SOS 3 and vastly preferred the C/PM side. I fell in love with
> dBASE-II and discovered a really cool trick wherein you could another notch
> into the opposing side of the 5.5" disk, and then copy stuff to the newly
> exposed side. So, in my basement way, I invented multi-tasking, on a 64k
> box. I had WordStar on one side of the disk, and dBASE-II on the other. I
> used to run WordStar to write code, then select Run from its menu, quickly
> flip the disk in its floppy drive, and then type "Do". It was the trend
> back then to shorten dBASE-II to "Do"; hence.
> None of this and my subsequent career would have been possible without Gary
> Kildall, the creator of CP/M, whose memoirs
> <http://spectrum.ieee.org/view-from-the-valley/geek-life/history/cpm-creator-gary-kildalls-memoirs-released-as-free-download>
> are
> now available just back there, at the link.nine words previous. It brought
> back a flood of memories.

John W. Colby

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