My friends (and bonus extra family) the Flints were early adopters of the idea of being early adopters. Among the many ways they changed my life when I was wee, in addition to showing me the first VCR I’d ever seen (and condemning me to a lifetime of obsessive movie collecting), they also gave me my first hands-on experience with the electrical thinkin’ box known as the personal computer.
It was, naturally, an Apple II. It ran at 1MHz, had 4K of RAM, and graphics resolution of 40 x 24, showing two colors. No matter how many orders of magnitude more powerful personal computers (and game consoles and cell phones and refrigerators and watches) are today, nothing in my lifetime has quite equaled that jump from nothing (no computer) to something (a computer) – from zero to one, as it were.
It’s extremely difficult to believe that 30 years have gone by. I have friends that are younger than that. Real, dear friends, not just kids that are barely driving and sporting letterman jackets with embroidered graduation years that make me scowl, but actual thinking adults with their own credit cards and keys. The first generation that has never known a life without personal computers. The best that they’ll be able to do is dimly recall the dark ages when their computers weren’t all connected to each other.
I remember being completely, pardon the pun, transported by the hours we’d spend exploring space and blowing up Klingons (sometimes called Klarnons for legal reasons and represented in near photo-realism by the letter "K" in a grid) in AppleTrek. These were the days long before hard drives, even before diskette drives, when you had to load programs using a cassette drive. Cassette drives used regular audio cassettes – small plastic boxes with gears and about 8 miles of fragile magnetic tape that were normally used to record music. They were just like blank CD’s, except for the moving parts, poor quality, and the fact that they sounded progressively worse with every play.
Anyway, cassette drives allowed users to store programs and load them on demand, provided that one could anticipate that demand about 45 minutes in advance, 90 minutes if it was important enough to try again if it didn’t work the first time. It was eventually proven that using a cassette was actually slightly faster than simply rewriting the program every time you wanted to use it.
As it happened, the long load times were actually one advantage I had to not owning one of these machines myself. All I had to do was make a phone call – "Erik – I’ll be there in an hour. Start loading AppleTrek now. Yes, now!" – and that was that.
By the time we got computers in school (originally reserved for those of us in a special class), I was already off and running – I had a head start on the head start. I had so much experience under my belt that I actually dared suggest that one of the games we’d play in class, Lemonade, was boring! I may have been the first slightly disaffected computer geek in all of western Washington.
A year or two later, we got our first computer at home, an original IBM PC, followed almost immediately by my first copy of Flight Simulator, and it’s been there ever since. But it all started with the Apple II, and a supremely generous family. A lifetime of interest was born, like so many of the best things, out of the smoldering wreckage of a Klingon (or Klarnon) battle fleet. Or at least a series of blank spots formerly occupied by the letter "K" …