• Tom

The Bygone Days of Exciting Tech


I remember my very first computer. It was 1978 (no old guy jokes now)... I was just finishing up college, and I had a few 'leftover' scholarship bucks to spend (most unusual for a poor college student - long story). For quite a while I had been looking at (and drooling over) a newer style computer called the Commodore PET (Personal Electronic Transactor).




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"Newer" style?!? (I can hear anyone under the age of 40 saying this) Well, you have to remember - this was 1978. Personal computers - especially those all-in-one units - were items no one had really heard of before. Only a few years before this I was in high school, where I was lucky enough to have available an 'Introduction to Computer Programming' class. Yep, that's the class that started me on the long road that ended up being my career (thanks Mr. Steve Wright!) I remember looking through the magazines at the newsstand in downtown Kalamazoo, and came across a copy of Popular Electronics - where, on the front cover, was the world's first 'personal' computer kit, the Altair 8800!


Altair 8800

I hastily bought that copy (for a whopping 75 cents) and read over and over that article about how one could build their own personal computer.... not even thinking about how backwards it would seem today - no keyboard nor screen, only switches to input data and lights to display the output (results). No, that didn't matter.... all I could think about was "I know this is going to become a very big thing - and I want one!"


I wish I still had that original copy of the magazine - I showed it to everyone including my high school computer teacher. The response I got from most was "Personal computers? Nice idea, but that will never happen!" But that didn't dampen my spirits nor reduce my excitement. I knew there was something to this new fangled toy.


And that, my friends, was the first time I experienced what I call the 'Tech Fever'.



The PET

Well, back to the PET. By the time I had purchased the Commodore unit (for $795), personal computing had expanded, now becoming more numerous with pre-assembled stand-alone units. The Radio Shack TRS-80 came first, followed by the PET. By today's' standards, the PET was puny - only 8K (8000 characters) of memory, a 12" B/W screen (with special graphic characters used to build all sorts of cool games), a chiclet keyboard... and the only way to save programs you wrote was done by using the built-in tape recorder! But wow, for the time, the PET was cool! I remember spending time late in the evenings (and nights) working on programs with the PET - things like a pretty neat Bill Tracking program I found in one of the many home computer magazines, which I typed in (yes, typed), and then enhanced to make it even better than it was. And ahhh.... it was still there - that 'fever' - that feeling when the computer industry was new and tech was something not 'ordinary', and exciting things were happening almost every day.


My own PET, on a poor man's version of a computer desk!

I would even go so far as borrowing my Dad's new Pontiac Sunbird and drive to Ann Arbor to go to the only computer store around the area, where I would spend hours wandering around looking at all the cool software and hardware available. This was a big deal, because at that time things like software and additional computer components were mostly available only via mail order.


Radio Shack Days

A couple of years later I had outgrown the PET and moved on to a Radio Shack TRS-80 Model 3. I believe this model was around $999 (I had to finance that from Radio Shack) and had more capabilities - a full 16K (16,000 characters) of memory (woo hoo!), larger keyboard, better screen, a 5.25" floppy disk (no more tape drive thank goodness) and more software capabilities. Later on, I finally broke down and took my Mod 3 to Ann Arbor (again) to have an additional 360K 5.25" floppy disk drive put into it. And wow, when I got it home and fired up both of those drives (which now allowed me to store TWICE as much stuff, and get to it a lot faster) - well, I was as happy as a kid in a candy store. Again, that 'fever' took hold of me...


IBM Enters the Game

A little later on, IBM joined the party with their standard, the IBM PC (which almost all personal computers are still loosely based on today). We got some of those at work, and I quickly became pretty efficient with them (probably most folks considered me an 'expert' in PCs by that time) And oh wow, I had to have one of those at home! Unfortunately, I couldn't afford an IBM, so once again Radio Shack came to the rescue with their less expensive Tandy 1000.




I initially got it with just a floppy drive (now smaller and almost double the capacity); but when hard drives came out and became less expensive, I finally broke down and ordered a 20MB internal drive for $299 I believe (yes, that's 20 megabytes - i.e. about 20,000,0000 characters of storage; today's typical 500GB - gigabyte - drive stores about 25,000 times as much and costs around $50 or less!) I remember it well... when I finally got that drive installed and turned on the computer and it started up from the hard drive - starting up the computer in about 10 seconds (rather than minutes with the floppy)... well, let's just say there was some happy yelling and even a nerdy Dilbert 'happy dance'!

Yep, there it was again, that 'fever'.


Windows Takes Over

Later on Windows came out and pretty much took over the world. I had got to the point that I could build my own machine myself, so each one I got or built was more powerful than the last. And yes, sometimes I would wait by the mailbox for a new part or upgrade to come in. For a computer nerd, these were exciting times! Newer hardware, faster machines... things seemed to change overnight! I remember going to a Windows World conference in Chicago with some buddies of mine from Upjohn, right when they were releasing Windows 3.1 (A big deal then!)




Bill Gates himself (if I remember) was there, and I remember all of us sitting there wide-eyed listening to lectures and tutorials, and then strolling through the vendor booths to see what new cool stuff was coming out. Again, all of us had and felt the 'fever'.


Today (or What's The Point of this?)

So you're probably asking why I went through all this history? Because, maybe 5 to 8 years or so ago, tech became... well, BORING - even for a 'tech head' like me. Why I am not sure, although I have some ideas: Idea #1 - Tech is everywhere now. Those smart phones we carry around (which anyone under 29 is staring at all the time as they walk into you in the store) are probably 10,000x faster and a whole lot smaller than that PET computer I first purchased. Plus, during those 'Tech Fever' days, we were all concerned about getting the fastest processor, graphics card, and memory we could get. These days... well, really, who cares? Unless you're a gamer, everything is fast and most machines come with enough memory for just about anyone except those of us "Power Users"! And storage capabilities... things are in terabytes these days (i.e. 1TB is about 1,000,000 MB, or about 50,000x bigger than the 20MB drive I had in that 'state-of-the-art' Tandy 1000!) Not only that, but some of us even have a computer INSIDE us! [i.e. My DBS (Deep Brain Stimulation) that I have been writing about]. Not only is the neurostiumulator in my chest a battery, but it is ALSO a computer managing those electrical signals sent into my brain - a computer probably 1000x more powerful than the PET that I first owned, and about 1000x smaller! (Can you imagine carrying a 35 pound steel box computer around on your back as a neurostiumulator??) Idea #2 - Software now is available instantly via the Internet. Who remembers going into Best Buy (or Circuit City, now extinct?) and having rows upon rows of boxed software that you could browse through? Now, you're lucky to see ANY boxed software when you go into a store - everything is available online instantly! Reason #3 - The Internet. Need to know something or check out the latest software or hardware? Just go to your browser and look it up! I remember a time before the Internet that the only way to find out that kind of information was to dial-up with a modem using AOL or CompuServe (who remembers those?), or to wait till your next version of 80 Micro or Byte magazine was delivered. Now it's instantaneous; and magazines are a thing of the past - 80 Micro, Byte, and many others have long since went the way of the dodo bird. In fact, even Radio Shack is now extinct.





Is The 'Fever' Gone?

The point being that it's been a LONG time since I felt anything near the excitement that I felt back then. Once in a while, I'll get a small glimmer of that 'fever' when I try out a new home automation gadget or a new phone, but it's rare and nothing like it used to be. Technology has become so advanced and so commonplace that it just isn't, well... exciting anymore! Even when a new Operating System comes out now no one really seems to care (who remembers all the hype and excitement around the release of Windows 95? I sure do!)







Technology has become so commonplace that no one really notices anymore when something new comes out. And if something really new and innovative does come out - mostly it's just a rehash of an older product (maybe a little faster, a few more features, etc.) Probably the next big thing that people will really think is cool and take notice of will be Artificial Intelligence (maybe).

Well, the 'Tech Fever' may be gone - maybe even forever - but I remember those days fondly. I remember- and reminisce - about those bygone days when tech was EXCITING and FUN! How about you??



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Hi, I'm Tom, from whose brain these Deep Brain Thoughts flow! Thank you for visiting my blog, and keep coming back to enjoy future ramblings!

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Last Updated: 2019-04-10

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