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Eric Bruno

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Good Old Days

July 30, 2009

My first computer was a Texas Instruments, TI-99/4A, in 1982. I was 13. I learned what it was like to program a computer, writing simple games and attempting more difficult tasks. Although I did this all in BASIC, I learned a great deal about problem solving, learning by trial-and-error, and not giving up from the frustration that working with computers can sometimes inflict.

But what was really cool in those days was that each computer model on the market was so different from the others. Different OSs, different hardware, wide-ranging differences in capabilities, and so on. When I moved to a Commodore C64 a few years later, it was a night-and-day change. It was capable of so much more, and soon I was also. And when a friend of mine received a C128 a few months later, I was very envious!

I continued with BASIC, but began working with machine language (hand assembling the assembler into raw numbers). Mostly I wrote high-performance machine language routines that I could call from BASIC to perform tasks that BASIC performed too slowly. For example, I added pop-up menus in machine language to a strategy game I wrote since it could very quickly display the menu, accept and choice, and restore the part of the screen it covered. From this I learned about determination, not getting discouraged, and once again to never give up. Hand assembling code and debugging it only by reasoning about what could be wrong certainly demands a lot of energy and determination.

Right around this time I submitted my first article for publication in Home Computer Magazine; a periodical born from 99'er Magazine, and dedicated  to the TI, Commodore 64/128, IBM PC/PCjr, Atari, and Commodore Amiga computers. I was rejected with each submission. Fast forward to the year 2002, and you can see that my publication fortunes have since taken a complete 180 degree turn! 

The point of all of this is two-fold (besides reminiscing):

1) In the good old days,  it seemed that each computer brought with it so much change that it was extremely exciting to dream about, and then actually acquire, a new one. Going from a TI, to a C64, to an Amiga, and finally to a Windows 3 computer were each such huge jumps that it fulfilled someone who loves to learn and conquer. The move to a Mac in 2006 revived some of those feelings for me. Is it the same today, or do computers and OSs now have only incremental improvements even years apart? Let me know your feelings on that.

2) The second point is to take each experience, as thrilling or as frustrating as they may each be, and make them a learning experience. Determinism is the one thing you need when working with computers at any level. Therefore, what really makes me call these early years in my computing life the "good old days" wasn't so much the computers or technology (they pale in comparison to what we have today). It was due to the amount of growth in learning, and the thrill I got from the problem solving along the way.

What about your best and worst computer experiences, from your early days with technology until now? Are there any entertaining or educational experiences you want to share? Add your comments below and share with us all.

Happy Coding!


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