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Keatah

Magical Moments With Classic Computers

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We all talk about our favorite games. Our favorite hardware. Our high-score moments. And even the feel good stuff when reviving a failed classic computer. But what were some of the first most magical moments you had when discovering something on a classic console, computer, or even red-led handheld? I'll start:

 

Surprisingly a major magical moment was when I discovered the Fidelity Chess Challengers. Red LED handhelds were already becoming old hat. And I wasn't yet old enough to understand how they worked. But with the Chess Challengers, well.. That was something special.. That a box of those black I.C. chips (still not understood by me) could play a game of chess and think like me, better than me, was mind blowingly astounding. How could that possibly be? What was in there? I was just a year or two shy of understanding that there programs inside ROM chips. So you can understand my confusion at that early juncture.

 

Another impressive feat were the early astronomy programs on the Apple II like The Planetary Guide, The Star Gazer's Guide, Tell Star, NightFall II, and a host of other PD stuff. While now a few years older than the Chess Challenger days, I understood what programming was about and how it worked and well on my way to modding GBBS and Tele-Cat II and AE. I was still completely baffled with the astro programs. I mean how could some bits of silicon possibly know how the stars and planets moved? I would soon discover celestial mechanics in all its glory and would look forward to the 286 - 486 years, when such programs reached incredible realism and complexity. And when star charts could be printed in minutes rather than hours on the Apple II.

 

Today it's still fun to play with those programs just to relive the magic and mystery of it all.

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My parents bought me a Commodore 64C computer in 1988 or so (just the computer, no storage devices etc).  Kind of like a reboot of the early 1980's when we got a Vic 20, lol.

 

Anyhow, the box came with a really nice assortment of disks and games which I couldn't use, so I simply boxed them away and continued to poke around on the C64 and also playing any cartridge-based games that I could get a hold of.

 

One day while bored, I pulled out some of the manuals and read about GEOS and QuantumLink. 
My feeble elementary school mind didn't full understand what these things were, apart from being on disks that I could not use.  But I came away impressed with seeing images of a Mac-like desktop, and then reading about all the cool things you could do with Quantum Link (Ie: online shopping, chat rooms, book flights, etc).

 

A year or two later, my mom was able to get a disk drive from a co worker and I remember hooking it up for the first time (and fumbling my way through the load commands) and being literally blown away by how advanced the C64 truly was, when paired with the proper peripherals.  GEOS really impressed the hell out of me, once you got it set up correctly.  A nearly 10 year old computer that was running what looked like a low res version of the Mac OS and had MS Works apps included was simply too much.  It fascinated me so much that I would dabble in it constantly and even wrote some of my school papers with it.  I felt like I finally had a Mac, which were extremely expensive in those days. 

It was at that point I realized WHY the C64 was so revered...not just for its gaming capabilities, but also for the productivity software which all the boring older people seemed to enjoy.

 

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In college I met other people with Atari STs, so we did the natural thing-  hooked them together and played Midimaze and other multiplayer games.

 

Online gaming wasn't really a thing yet, so this was novel

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For me the big moments have always been around the user group experience.

 

A lot of fun of meeting at the Dallas Infomart, levels of user group meetings, the basement parking lot computer sales.  Just mind blowing.  That was around 1985.  Went to the Dal-ACE computer meetings for my Atari 400 computer.  The ST was starting to come out, most of my friends that got the ST wish they never sold their 8-bit Ataris to buy one.  Soonafter like me they upgraded to Macs and PCs, I went to college, and I had my Atari 400 in tow for the occasional game in color as my Mac games were all in sharp and clear graphics... but also black and white.

 

After college and getting married around 1999 it was fun going to the last few meetings at the Infomart before the user groups were kicked out of there.  I was just amazed to learn there was still an Atari user group there, and to learn all about the Atari Falcon, TT030, the Atari Jaguar, the Atari Lynx... all of which I only passingly heard about since I could swear with no internet at the time I thought Atari dried up around 1991.

 

The Atari user group sadly was winding down, but it was fun getting to learn all about what I'd missed in the last decade and a half while I was doing "life" stuff.

 

And Atari Computing magazine, that just amazed me.  Such a professional magazine showing me a world that I thought was long gone.  I still look at that cover and strangely still blows my mind with that X-Files cover.

 

 

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The first magical moment for me was in the 80's when I connected the Sinclair ZX-81 to the TV of the dining room and I typed a three-lines basic program.

 

Second one and most recent was five years ago when I bought and restored an Apple IIe. The sound of the 5 1/4 floppy turning into the drive disc was music for me...

 

Edited by Papalapa
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Creating my first simple game using "PM Graphics" on my 800

 

Playing Populous via modem against my friend across town

 

Playing DM Doom via modem and then via a "LAN" with 8 people

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Too many, given I started on a PC (386sx16, then a 486dx33) at the holidays of 1990 into 1991.  I got to see how the old DOS PC there could really give the NES a run for its money, yet it was a bit of a reality check given the fake 'PC' stuff hip and hot tv shows and movies did in the 80s to seem all high tech as it wasn't going to be doing that.  An early few wow moments though that were magical are moments that transcended the NES in nice ways.

- My first PC game I bought was Simspons Arcade Game and it blew me away enough how strangely similar yet harder than the arcade game it was (I own it CIB still today, not my original though)

- My first shareware was Wolfenstein3D, no idea at all I could first person shoot things, and happily nazis and wrecking sometime later Hilter into a mush pit with the glory of Deathcam

- My first introducing me to the jaw dropping world of space flight and soapy cinema pieces with Wing Commander, damn that game was above and beyond

- Which only got eclipsed by ... TIE Fighter (and X-Wing) being able to fly for both sides, all that speech, models, the flight handling, all the things to do it was living the movie then more around it too.

- Star Trek 25th+Judgment Rites -- new TOS episodes? Play them out, and some written by original writers like DC Fontana...yeah I'm on board.

- Lucasarts again... Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, still own my original talkie CD, mind blowing, utterly amazing best of the genre hands down...the 4th movie to me until the nice Crystal Skull surfaced decades later.

 

As a side to the games, let's all have a WOW shout out to the demoscene, and in particular the stunning work of Future Crew in particular with Unreal, then Second Reality -- I could (and did) watch them over and over, too much.

 

I could put Doom but that's cliched by now isn't it?  Same with Quake, it's obvious even if you're not a FPS fan why those were WHOA times anyway.

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Probably one of the first magical moments for me with computers was being with my best childhood friend and doing some disk swapping while playing the original Leisure Suit Larry on his family's Tandy 1000.  Truly mind blowing as the computer experience was so different that on a gaming console.

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Mine was the introduction of Visicalc. I had written a number of financial programs that used a two-dimensional array internally. Visicalc showed me what should have been obvious; any location on the screen could be used as a field to be changed as needed and the sizes and functions of those fields adjusted on the fly. 

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One of mine was around 1987-88, when I walked into my usual Commodore store and they had an Amiga on display. I was young and programming in Basic on a TRS-80 and C64 at that epoch, so I was "knowlegeable" enough to know about colors: I proudly asked "How many colors the Amiga has?"

The clerk opened the Workbench Prefs, and explained me: "Son, on this machine, you can create colors."

 

My mind exploded when he dragged those 3 RGB sliders that I was seeing for the first time.

We had to purchase one a few months later.

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My mind just got blown this past winter while attempting to rewrite the ProDOS operating system on the Apple II.  The original OS is 16 kb.  I did it in 6kb and not only is it up to 4 times faster, especially with Saves, but I realized I can easily change it from its original support for 32 Mb Hard drives to support 8 GB hard drives with very little overhead.  Support for 128 Gbytes is also doable, but would require a bit larger OS, but still can access 16x 8 Gb volumes separately to still make use of a 128 Gb SD card.

 

Also started programming with the 65816, and wow, talk about efficient coding for a 16-bit computer.  There is absolutely no need for such bloated programs.

Edited by Iamgroot
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I will always remember one moment from my years at university as magic. 

 

I grew up with the Amiga 2000. It was a simple configuration. We had one 3.5" drive and one hard drive. My father used it for work while I used it for my games.

 

When I got to university, I only knew that Amiga. So I bought what I knew in 1992, an Amiga 4000. It was great! I could use all of my old games and all of these new features. But I couldn't use any IBM software, something that my university loved. I didn't need any of it looking back. If I had done my research I would've found compatible software for my Amiga. But computers were still new to me. The only software I knew was what the store gave me and I could find from the computer club. The fledgling visual arts department was the only part of the school that even understood my Amiga.

 

I went back to the store where I bought the computer. I remember seeing some cheap IBM compatible machines, the university told me all I needed was a PC AT compatible system. So I asked them about it. But, instead of showing me the IBM compatible systems, they showed me a circuit board. They said it would run my IBM software inside my Amiga. I didn't believe it. They assured me it would, that I could return for a full refund if it didn't. So I bought it. I went home and put it inside my Amiga. I went to the computer club with my system.

 

I watched my Amiga boot MS-DOS. And I was even able to install Windows! It was like I was in the computer lab! That blew my mind. I didn't think it would work yet it did. I had two computers in one desktop case.

That card turned out to be an A2386SX. I used it for my whole time at university. Of course it got blown out of the water by other systems. My roommate bought herself a Pentium system and played this little game called Quake in our senior year. I was so jealous of it. But at least I could run what I needed to pass my courses.

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19 hours ago, Colantia said:

I watched my Amiga boot MS-DOS. And I was even able to install Windows! It was like I was in the computer lab! That blew my mind. I didn't think it would work yet it did. I had two computers in one desktop case.


That card turned out to be an A2386SX. I used it for my whole time at university. Of course it got blown out of the water by other systems. My roommate bought herself a Pentium system and played this little game called Quake in our senior year. I was so jealous of it. But at least I could run what I needed to pass my courses.

Sounds similar to my university experience which was around the same time.   I was perfectly happy with my Atari ST for school work until my friend got a 486 and showed me Doom 😄

Edited by zzip
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On 1/26/2022 at 4:40 PM, Krebizfan said:

Mine was the introduction of Visicalc. I had written a number of financial programs that used a two-dimensional array internally. Visicalc showed me what should have been obvious; any location on the screen could be used as a field to be changed as needed and the sizes and functions of those fields adjusted on the fly. 

This resonates with me. I played computer games, and I knew about word processors, but VisiCalc blew me away. Suddenly, I understood what a normal person would want a computer for besides games. All sorts of possibilities opened up. I was hooked.

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Word processors were killer apps to me at the time. Just being able to backspace was a hoot. Moving whole sentences and paragraphs around was next-level. Loading and saving boss-level bonus. And as we entered the Windows 3.1 epoch, incorporating a solid GUI in MS Word, utterly miraculous!

 

Early on I used Magic Window on the II+, and the ProTerm editor in the ProDOS days - it was so simple and distraction-free. I clearly recall my gradeschool teachers (and high school even, can you believe that?) not wanting to accept papers I typed up. Whether they were one page or three. It didn't matter. I now wonder if it had anything to do with me having an ungodly expensive Apple II at the time. Printer + disk drive pushed it over $2,000 easily. Maybe they were just trying to push cursive writing and penmanship. Fuck'em! It didn't work! I still print like a child's scrawl. Ha!

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One early experience that sticks with me to this day concerns my first computer, the VIC-20. The year was 1981 and I was 14.  I took it over to my best friend's house on a Saturday and we hooked it up to the 'big' color TV in his parent's lounge. We were playing Scott Adams' 'The Count' with the VIC lying on the light green carpet in front of the TV and we were sitting on the carpet as well. It was our first exposure to a text adventure. Anyway we were stuck on the bit where its dark. At that moment my friend's Dad came back from a lunchtime session at the pub. He was a few sheets to the wind and he plopped down in his chair and stared at the big text on the screen for a few minutes as we tried to figure out the puzzle. Then all of a sudden he blurts out as he reads the screen.. 'It's too dark to see!' and then followed it up with 'LIGHT THE TORCH!'. My friend said 'Dad we don't have a torch'. We kept typing and trying to figure it out and his Dad kept yelling 'Light the Bloody Torch!' and friend was yelling back 'Dad we don't have a torch!'. This went on for several minutes until he lost patience with us, grabbed his newspaper and left the room. To this day my friend and still chuckle when we think about it.

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Getting my first PC was just overall a magical experience.  Learning how to use DOS, getting finicky games to run, picking up games marked down to a few bucks on clearance racks.  The games were so complicated compared to what I was used to (console games mostly), and it was easy to get lost in them for hours and hours.  I have so many pleasant memories of sitting down to play classics like Ultima VI/VII, Wing Commander, Ultima Underworld, and Realms of Arkania late at night, then looking up from my monitor only to realize it was now light out.

 

And that was just playing games.  BBSing ended up becoming a huge part of my adolescence, and I still remember how amazing it was to dial into my first BBS.  I knew what to expect going in, but I was still blown away by the fact that I was logged into and exploring another person's actual computer over our phone line.  I spent a lot of time BBSing back then, mostly at night while doing homework, or when the weather was bad and I had nothing else to do.  Nothing better than a mug of hot cocoa, a raging snowstorm or pouring rain outside, and the pleasant tones of my modem dialing numbers.

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3 hours ago, newtmonkey said:

Getting my first PC was just overall a magical experience.  Learning how to use DOS, getting finicky games to run, picking up games marked down to a few bucks on clearance racks.  The games were so complicated compared to what I was used to (console games mostly), and it was easy to get lost in them for hours and hours. 

I remember the increased fidelity in graphics when moving from the Amiga and Apple II to the PC. Playing Stellar-7 and Nova-9 (still on that kick) in color with synthesized sounds was surreal, especially after the b/w wireframe of Apple II. Just so cool, dark and moody. All of it made more mysterious because I was playing on a serious 486 business workstation. How could a rig without sprites and display lists and graphics co-processors do such beautiful games?

 

3 hours ago, newtmonkey said:

And that was just playing games.  BBSing ended up becoming a huge part of my adolescence, and I still remember how amazing it was to dial into my first BBS.  I knew what to expect going in, but I was still blown away by the fact that I was logged into and exploring another person's actual computer over our phone line. 

Yes. I always tended to imagine the system at the other end of the wires had some sort of hidden super capability, like extra drives on an AE Line (warez-only bbs). Or that it was tied into some secret organization. Something. Anything.

 

AE Lines were simply the unattended mode on a terminal program. ASCII Express let you transfer files and "chat with the sysop". Two major functions which gave us all we needed to trade stuff. It was like going to the computer store without actually going there.

 

3 hours ago, newtmonkey said:

I spent a lot of time BBSing back then, mostly at night while doing homework, or when the weather was bad and I had nothing else to do.  Nothing better than a mug of hot cocoa, a raging snowstorm or pouring rain outside, and the pleasant tones of my modem dialing numbers.

Yes. We did the same thing, sans the cocoa - replaced with a cup-a-soup powder mix. We'd play OO-TOPOS (text adventure on Apple II) an have the soup. It was powerful, I always had the worst smelling gas the next day. Wet too. Silent and heavy. This odour would just appear from nowhere it seemed.

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4 hours ago, newtmonkey said:

Nothing better than a mug of hot cocoa, a raging snowstorm or pouring rain outside, and the pleasant tones of my modem dialing numbers.

Funny you say that, some of my best BBS memories were during snowstorms for whatever reason..

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In my case it was the click of a pulse-dial relay. My modem was made before touch-tone dialing (on modems) was widespread and affordable.

 

We learned quite a bit about the status of the modem by the varying speeds of the clicks and how long they'd last. Or if the modem was going on-hook or off-hook by the speed/pitch of the click - either slower spring pullback sound or a sharper crisper solenoid engagement sound. And there was only 1 red LED indicator light. At 110/300 baud there wasn't much in the way of status anyways.

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40 minutes ago, Keatah said:

In my case it was the click of a pulse-dial relay. My modem was made before touch-tone dialing (on modems) was widespread and affordable.

My first modem had touch-tone capabilities,  but our phone line didn't.  My parents didn't see a reason to to pay extra for it.   But yet they continued to rent the existing phone from the phone company even they no longer needed to in the post=AT&T monopoly.  I'd continue to point out that they'd save a boatload of money by buying a phone,  but whatever, it meant we were stuck with an outdated phone and the wiring was outdated with no modular phone jacks because they saw no reason to upgrade things.   I ended up doing the wiring  myself to put a modular jack in my room.  Well it worked and I was online!

 

Of course once I moved out of the house, my parents suddenly upgraded the phone stuff and got touch-tone and all the other features I had wanted while living there!

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Posted (edited)

So many magical moments! A few come to mind:

 

1975 - learning how to operate a keypunch in high school and writing a stupid simple FORTRAN program to print 22/7 to 20 digits or so. Leaving the cards in the outbox and coming back the next day to find a printout of my first program with the error: missing comma. Magic!

 

1976 - first day of senior year, finding the keypunch gone. Seeing in its place two 16K Altair 8800a magic boxes with rows of blinking red lights and thumb switches, one hooked to a video terminal and the other to a teletype, both hooked to cassette players. Learning BASIC programming and seeing instant results. Magical!

 

1977 - going to a big appliance store and seeing those wonderful tiny programmable calculators behind the glass, hearing the salesman tell me, "get lost, kid." Going to a small shop where they let me play with one and read the manual. Hearing it was marked down because a newer model had just come out. Taking home my first computer, a TI SR-56, and staying up late, immersed in its red LED magic!

 

1980 - seeing Star Raiders run on an Atari 800 and deciding that's the micro I want. Learning that a 400 was nearly as great for half the price, and buying my very own. Staying up late, delving into its mysteries and shooting magic Zylons!

 

1981 - staying up late, dialing up the university mainframe, squeezing the handset into my homebuilt modem, typing into my homespun terminal program, and seeing the mainframe respond from miles away. Voodoo magic, it was!

 

2022 - going to bed early, lying there, conjuring magical memories and swyping them into a wafer-thin computer which thinks it's a phone, for all the world to see. Now that's magic! Good night.

Edited by ClausB
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In late 1982, my father visited a small store here in Albuquerque to look at computers for his office. The place's name escapes me, but it's long gone. He brought me with him, knowing that I was interested in computers. I was instantly fascinated with what they were selling near the front. The salesman was describing it to the handful of would-be customers who had gathered around the table. It was called the Ace 1000. That was an Apple II clone, right? What had gripped me, an 11-year-old Atari VCS obsessive, was the apparent free will of the men in Choplifter. They individually ran or stood still, waved to the chopper, and even entered buildings by themselves. Holy cow!

 

I was trying to take this in, knowing at least something about programming because of the BASIC books I had devoured (with no way to apply what I was learning yet), and wondering how this on-screen magic had been conjured, when the guy ran Star Raiders on a nearby screen. He must have been exhibiting an Atari eight-bit on the same table. In any case, the perpetually approaching starfield blew my mind. We wound up leaving without Dad buying anything, which probably disappointed me profoundly, but he was just looking at his options.

 

In '83, he temporarily settled on a Zenith computer, and he brought home a terminal that was supposed to "talk" with the main one at his office. As the terminal couldn't do anything by itself, and he never managed to get the two boxes to communicate across town, it wound up sitting unattended on the desk in our spare room. I sat transfixed, drawing made-up game playfields with # marks after working out that the arrow keys moved the cursor around. I knew I wasn't really programming, and that my fantasized games wouldn't actually come to life, but I still made pretend that I was creating video games, happy to interact with a "real computer" in any capacity.

 

Thankfully, in early '84, he got me a Commodore 64. :)

 

 

There's a companion video to this post, but it's even more verbose. I didn't want to bother the forum with a mere link instead of contributing the actual stuff of threads. I made it for my friend's YouTube channel, and it's mainly about the C64.

Just for some fun Show and Tell, in case anyone's having a slow day at work and wants to return to the mesmerizing world of '80s computing for a little while: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UG9-HWM5NyI

 

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I am a tinkerer, and I recall a breakthrough moment I had working toward a now-silly goal.

 

For reference, this was in the era when Blaster and CIH1019 were making their rounds.  There was an outstanding need for rescue media, and people were still using win9x.

 

 

I recall, that I learned that you can force a drivespace3 compressed volume file to get mounted using scandisk's DOS interface command line. (there is an undocumented /mount argument you can pass to it) This enabled me to use a more robust version of xmsdsk.sys to create a large fat16 volume in a ramdisk, and then compress it with drivespace3, copy the windows folder and other useful bits and bobs for it (such as a program files folder, and pals) inside, then save it on whatever media I wanted to preserve the image with,

 

In this case, an el-torito booting CDrom.

 

The El-Torito CD would load a floppy diskette image into RAM, and boot it.  That image contained drvspace.bin, and other supporting programs-- along with a properly doctored MSDOS.SYS. It would also load an ATAPI cdrom driver, and the ramdisk driver. It would then copy the drvspace.000 file into the ramdisk, run attrib on it to make it writable, then force-mount it with scandisk. This created an "Uninfectable" recovery volume, which could boot to a full GUI, and thus run full versions of antivirus software.

 

Later, I learned that I could further improve this fun little gadget, with ISOLINUX+Memdisk, which would make using the file copy, and force-mounting of the volume unnecessary steps.

 

I was a very happy little nerd back when I got this all figured out.  Cleaned a lot of infections with it.

 

I believe I even used it for a short while after I had a hard disk failure, and had to save money for a replacement. (was rocking a properly configured liveCD image instead, until I could do the actual repair.)

 

 

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