by Kevin Kwilinski
In mid the 1970s when I was 6 or 7 years old, Steve Jobs sold his VW van and set to work building the Apple I with Wozniak. It was a home computer kit that you put together yourself. By 1978, the more advanced and already assembled Apple II was available. By 1980 the Commodore VIC-20 was released and many others would soon follow.
In 1981 when I was 12 years old, my 13 year old cousin Brian and I pooled our money and purchased a Sinclair ZX81 kit. We couldn’t afford the fancy pre-assembled machines and although the Apple 1 sold for $666.66 the Sinclair ZX81 kit was only $99.95! I remember carefully building all of the components onto the circuit board and the first time we “booted” it up and saw words on the TV screen. We were cautioned by our parents to not break the TV!
The following year my parents purchased a TI-99/4A home computer for Christmas. This machine was a cross between a computer and a video game console since it also accepted game cartridges. My brothers quickly dominated the gaming side but I was much more interested in learning how to program the thing to do something “useful”. During the phase of teaching myself to program in “TI BASIC” I wrote many lines of code and spent hours debugging simple scripts. But the worst part was that the machine had no storage of any kind so when the machine was shut off (to do something like install a game cartridge) the entire program was wiped permanently from memory! I learned from a science magazine that a cable could be built to connect the computer to a tape recorder and you could then save the program as a series of beeps onto the cassette tape. This was a major improvement and allowed more “advanced” experimentation. My “Mona Lisa” was programming the computer to show a fireplace complete with a moving flickering flame and the sound of crackles… sort of an early screen saver. I remember the pride I felt as my whole family stood around the TV watching that silly moving flame and asked me how I did it.
These experiences significantly altered the course of my life and helped make me the geek I am today. Thank you for your contribution Steve Jobs.