My magical moments in computing (part 1.5)

This is a continuation of my series of magical moments in computing. I started in the previous post to reminisce about my magical moments in computing. As I mentioned in that post I was bound to miss a few things here and there. So here's some additional bits from that early period.

Many folks realized that I was computer-crazy and helped indulge my insatiable need to immerse myself in all things computer. At my dad's workplace they had what I believe were Superbrain computers (and possibly terminals). Somewhere along the way I managed to finagle disc from them. It was a 5 1/4" disk, but it was hard-sectored (later on it got dismantled in the interest of science). I think that was the only time I'd ever seen or owned a hard-sectored disk (most of the ones that folks had were soft-sectored disks).

My mom worked at a high school. One time I got a tour of their data canter. This was my brush with some of the oldest equipment I recall seeing in person. I recall them showing me disk platters in a cake-like container and letting me type my name into a punch card reader. I don't recall if I managed to still have that punch card.

Every now and again I'd have a day off of school that didn't coincide with my mom's school schedule. So sometimes she would take me to work. Early on I'd find things to do while her students did their projects, but later on the library had a few Apple II computers. If memory serves at least one of them was the Bell and Howell Apple II version, which was kind of like Darth Vader's Apple II with its dark gray casing and dark gray floppy disk drives. The head librarian, Mrs. Concato, liked me and let me stay there for hours on end. Most of the things they had for those computers were educational, but it didn't matter: it was computer time.

For the longest time I felt like not a lot of folks understood why I felt that computers were so magical. Over time people would ask me about my interests and I'd tell them "computers". They gave that "oh" look that folks today wouldn't quite understand. It'd be the equivalent of a young child saying they were interested in the savings bonds or retirement accounts. But one Christmas I received a copy of the game Centipede from my Aunt Sally and Uncle Ron. It was completely unexpected. I don't know if they realized how important it was not only to receive the game but also the tacit acceptance of this thing that I was interested in. It was pretty magical.

Even more magical was watching my grandmother and my great grandmother, both of whom had no interest in computers or anything technical at all, have a go at playing these games. I believe my grandmother got a pretty nice score. I think I still have a picture of that somewhere.

It was also amazing to see computers and video games in department stores and places like K-Mart and Meijer. There was usually a group of kids around these machines trying out various games or typing in simple BASIC programs. More than once folks would type in something like:

20 GOTO 10

(Though sometimes folks would put in something like "KMART SUCKS" or what-have-you. It meant more computer time for kids like me, but also meant that we didn't have to rely on specialty shops like Computerland, which didn't last long. I still drive by the location (that has been several things over the years and is now up for lease) and pine for those days of having a complete store dedicated to computers. Sure they exist now, but it's not quite the same as it was back then.

My Uncle Ron took me to his office one time at Schoolcraft college. He was the registrar and had a terminal that I played around on. He also took me over to their computer center. I can still picture those computers humming away in there.

All of these folks realized and helped nurture (or at least indulged) my interest in computers. I was still learning about them, and they gave me ample opportunities to explore and learn more.

We'll return to our regularly scheduled part 2 next post.