[vcf-midatlantic] Nice story about getting into computers in the 80s

Bill Degnan billdegnan at gmail.com
Sun May 30 14:50:01 UTC 2021

Given the choices in 1981, I could not even afford that.  The TImex
TS1000 seemed cheap to me and not worth the $99, which would have been
my entire savings.  So I decided I'd just keep bugging the librarian
at school to use the terminal.  I already had a Atari 2600 for games.
I saw "computers" and gaming as separate at that time.  I was 13/14 in

On Sat, May 29, 2021 at 11:10 PM Jeff Salzman via vcf-midatlantic
<vcf-midatlantic at lists.vcfed.org> wrote:
> OK. Time to throw my story into this ring...
> My first computer came as a surprise. When I was 15 years old, my parents
> surprised me with the notion that they wanted to get a home computer for me
> (or was it for the household?) Na... it was for me.
> I really only had operating experience with Radio Shack computers at the
> time because they were at the local mall. On most mall trips, when I ran
> out of quarters playing video games at the arcade, I went to Radio Shack to
> play with their computers until the manager kicked me out. So it was
> obvious to go to Radio Shack and look at their computers.
> As a snotty teenager, Radio Shack employees had little patience for those
> who came into the store to poke around on the computer systems on display
> and then not buy anything. However, when you bring your parents along, and
> they have blank checks they are prepared to write, the employees suddenly
> grovel over any whim you might have about a computer. Of course, the TRS-80
> Model III and 4 were off the list due to their hefty price tags. So, the
> only other option was the Color Computer. This was 1981, before the CoCo 2
> came around.
> So there I was, in temporary command of a mercedes grey Color Computer,
> with the employee hawking over me, making sure I understood everything
> about the system in order to be happy with what it had to offer. It was
> $499.00, and it came with nothing else. The cassette was extra. Software on
> cassette and cartridge was $29.99, $39.99, and up. It had 4K of RAM and
> that funky flashing cursor that traveled on a 32x16 display.
> The price kind of put my parents off. It was still a contender as an
> option, but they wanted to look around to be sure they were going to be
> getting a good deal. I wasn't aware of any other places to buy a computer.
> We did not have a Toys R Us in the area to see the Atari computers. There
> was a local department store called Mailman's that stocked the Atari, but I
> already knew they cost more than the Color Computer. My parents were the
> ones who found about and knew of a local dedicated computer shop called
> Computers Unlimited. So, we took a trip to that place.
> Remember, it is 1981, and I knew little about the computer industry, much
> less the consumer market.
> When we walked into Computers Unlimited, we saw quite a number of Apple II
> computers. They were a licensed Apple dealer. They were also a licensed
> Commodore dealer. There were a few PET computers on display. PET computers
> were unknown to me at the time.
> I played around with some of the Apple II computers while my parents talked
> with the salesperson about the various costs and configurations of the
> Apple line. After a while, my parents asked the salesperson if there was
> anything else that wasn't so expensive.
> Now you know, there is a time in everyone's life where something hits your
> senses just right that you swear you see a glowing light and hear angels
> singing. This was my time. In what could be perceived as a slo-mo film
> sequence, we all watched as the salesperson pointed his entire arm to a
> display that was on the other side of the room. The first thing I saw was a
> poster for a Commodore branded computer called the VIC-20.
> Well... that poster actually GLOWED in my eyes, and I could hear angels
> singing, because it called to me with its auspicious statement of a home
> computer that had 5K of RAM (25% more than the Color Computer had), full
> color display, and a price tag of only $399!
> Before the salesperson could even put his arm down, I was off in a dash and
> standing in front of the display model. I started working the keyboard,
> making it display the quintessential PRINT "HELLO" GOTO 10 program code. I
> found it to be far easier to use than the Color Computer, as I was easily
> able to correct my programming mistakes simply by moving the cursor around
> the screen and correcting the errors on the spot. Full screen interactive
> editing is what they called it. I couldn't do that on the Color Computer. I
> had to either re-type the entire line on the latter, or use an EDIT
> command. Too cumbersome...
> I was hooked! I had so much fun with the VIC-20 at that display. The screen
> size was weird at 22x23, but I could live with it. I was entertained with
> the notion that I could change text color on demand using the CTRL key, and
> I could make primitive graphics using the C= and SHIFT keys in association
> with the character keys on the keyboard. This was the one! There was no
> need to look further, nor go back to Radio Shack.
> So my parents bought me the VIC-20, a PET style C2N cassette recorder, a
> couple games on cassette (RACEWAY and VIC-21 Blackjack), a home finance
> program, and an issue of Transactor magazine, so I'd have some programs I
> could type in. I still own all of these items today.
> This was in October 1981. Needless to say, I spent the next few weeks
> indoors, and hardly played with my friends. I was too obsessed with having
> a home computer of my own, and seeing what all I could do with it. I
> learned a lot with that simple computer, which eventually led me into a
> career of computer programming.

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