The first programming language I learned was BASIC. A soldier buddy of mine bought one of those little Sinclair computers with the membrane keyboards. This was when I was the Army, stationed in Germany in 1980. I knew of some of the home computers like the Commodore Pet and the Apple II (which I ended up getting), but this was a lot less expensive and tiny. The friend lent it to me to try out and in a half hour I was coming up with ideas and writing a little BASIC code to see it work.

I was fascinated. At the time I was an electronics technician, learning radio and television repair in high school and staying with it into the Army. There was never a plan to do anything else and it would be another fifteen years before leaving electronics for IT. The computer was a new fascination and it wasn’t because it could be a typewriter or a television set. There was no Internet and I had no interest in playing electronic games. This was simply a device that could do what I programmed it to do.

I decided to go to the credit union and apply for a loan to buy a computer. The Apple II was my choice and I mail-ordered it from the states. I waited six months, but the biggest reason was because there was a choice between the Integer BASIC package with a mini-assembler built-in or AppleSoft BASIC (written by Microsoft?) without the assembler. Programming was a bigger interest than anything else, so I chose the former. I opted not to get a floppy disk drive, so a portable tape recorder recorded all of my programs.

My days were filled with coming up with ideas about what to write. Writing code is much like writing an article, but the language for coding is very limited. The Apple used a CPU (Central Processing Unit) chip called the 6502. Being in electronics, I was interested in creating controllers that would use simple TTL circuits to control switches and the like. The 6502’s memory-mapped I/O made programming real easy. Back then, 65,535 bytes were plenty to write the code, store it and still have I/O space for the controller.

After a while the bug wore off. I was at a remote site by this time and concluded that the home computer was a fad. No one would spend the time to make it useful and there was no future for them. I sold the Apple, then left the military. It was 1982 and the period after the Army was one of frustration. I couldn’t find a job in electronics, so there was the convenience store up the street. Also, my best friend in high school’s dad hired me to work in the supply room at his company (my friend runs the company today). I saw no future in electronics at this point, but the Commodore VIC-20 was just $299! So back to a computer it was and this thing was no Apple.

1984 was a good year. An Army buddy contacted me saying they needed technicians in Virginia. That was it for the slump. An Apple IIe was ordered and I started learning again. Now I was interested in another language discovered through a module for the VIC-20: C. BASIC’s system of sequence numbers and GOTOs clouded my mind and learning how to write C code was a challenge. This was self-learning. My salary was under seven dollars an hour and my foray into VA education through the GI Bill required that I pay up front and get reimbursed. Since I had a career, there was no need to go to school and never was there a thought of making a career in computers at this point.

In 1988 I bought a Packard Bell XT with an Intel 8086 processor and the ugliest orange-screened monitor. Armed with DOS 3.1 and Microsoft BASIC, I quickly learned that people were buying these things to replace their more-affordable typewriters with dot-matrix printers. Businesses were using Lotus 1-2-3 and Quattro Pro. I discovered that Quattro Pro could be used for data storage and much of it was used for inventories. The idea of telling computers what to do was quickly being replaced with computers telling us what to do.

Hewlett Packard made our test equipment and they also had these computers that provided the IEEE interface to connect with the test equipment. Engineers could use HP-BASIC to program test sequences for the products. I quickly learned it and was doing engineering prototyping by that time. But computers were still something that would never mean much at home. I would be proven wrong later, but it was 1989 and I was about to learn a whole new world of computing while leaving RF electronics for digital equipment repair.

With a new company came two new things: Unix and TCP/IP. Still a niche where colleges and the military could connect but for consumers it was Prodigy and America Online (later to be called AOL). I saw little of Unix and networking was still a few years away, but now there was a new way of thinking how to connect one computer to another. The modem sound became familiar and the messaging system on Prodigy was limited. I had a pen pal in California and thought about what it would be like if everyone communicated this way. By this time I finally learned C!

It would be until 1994 before I would discover something that would get me on the Internet and help me escape Microsoft. The next few years after that would be my favorite time period. I would escape from the electronics world and go into Unix administration and engineering.

More to come in part 2. Today’s image was the first I took with the Nikon D50 in 2005.