I got my first computer when I was about 5 or 6 years old, living in Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. It was a Commodore 64 that my Dad bought at the Army PX for about $300. It was around 1983. Even though I was quite young, I distinctively remember seeing it on display with the box which promised all sorts of wondrous capabilities. I begged my Dad for it, thinking it’d be a hard sell. But, he bought it (now that I’m also a father I realize that it probably wasn’t a hard sell at all, I’ve found myself buying cool presents “for the kids”). We then headed home to explain to my Mom why we needed this newfangled computer.
To those who grew up used to iPads and iPhones, this era in computer history is probably difficult to imagine. The Commodore 64 came with no monitor and no disk drive; these were available, but very expensive (the disk drive was the same price as the computer itself). We went the cheaper route initially, purchasing a tape drive which used common audio tapes to contain software (wow, tapes are another couple of technology generations removed from the modern era!). Later, we would eventually get a Commodore disk drive to make using the computer easier. The computer had an RF modulator to hook up to a TV in lieu of a dedicated monitor.
The computer had 64K of RAM (hence it’s name), two joystick ports, and could display up to 16 colors on the screen. When turned on it presented a BASIC prompt, using an early version of Microsoft’s BASIC which Commodore got on the cheap.
This humble Commodore 64 started my lifelong love of computers and technology. Judging by the number of “retro” or “vintage” computer forums, podcasts, and groups I am not alone in this regard. Many people grew up learning the basics of computers on this simple 8 bit machine, along with similar machines from Atari, Apple, Texas Instruments, and Tandy.
Ultimately, I ended up not going into computer programming, although the introductory computer science and Java classes I took at Georgia Tech were enjoyable. But, many people did end up in the computer science vocations, due to the joys of computers like the Commodore.
The concept of vocation is that God calls (“vocare” in Latin) us into various roles in life. We have many vocations at the same time: parent, student, teacher, worker, employer, etc… Through these vocations we help to fulfill the commission God gave Adam and Eve and reiterated to Noah and his family after the flood to tend and care for His creation. I’m thankful for all people in God-pleasing vocations and for the role they play in helping to make the world a little better, a little more convenient, a little more pleasant, a little more beautiful.
This applies to those in the computer science fields as well. Interestingly enough, the software programming attributes which were desired with the early 8 bit computers – tight code with low memory requirements and direct hardware manipulation – are now again in vogue due to the rise of embedded systems and the Internet Of Things (IOT). We’ve come full circle in a sense.
As a side note, when I went to college I gave the Commodore 64 I had to a family member and it was eventually lost to time. Last year, though, I bought a used Commodore 64, disk drive, tape drive, monitor, and software off Ebay and have it set up in my basement (a picture of my setup is attached to this post). It’s fun to have the band back together! Also, if you’re interested in the history of early computing, I recommend a site called The Digital Antiquarian.