My first computer was a TI-99A. I had to use a television as a monitor, so the TI included a short cable for connecting the two. However, the short cable required the computer to be so close to the TV that the picture syncing pulses canceled some of the data traveling on the cable. It was useless. I considered fabricating a longer, shielded cable, but I wondered what other surprises TI had in store for me. So I traded it for a Commodore 64 instead.
The C-64 came with a whopping 64k of memory. That was all the memory in world. I was a little while realizing that once the thing was powered up the operating system consumed about half of that memory, leaving 35k of usable memory, or room for about 35 double-spaced pages of usable text. With a keyboard as the only means for entering data 35k was enough. I was usually fed up with computers by the time the memory was consumed.
A cassette tape machine soon became available. It was extremely slow, but it gave me a means for saving my data. That was when I began using the C-64 as a crude word processor. At best it left much to be desired, so I still relied more heavily on my Sears portable for stories and articles. Then came the modem. A period of time passed before I understood the value of the modem.
The first ones I saw were definitely a what-you-saw-was-what-you-got device. It worked for keyboarding with another computer user – chess, or simply rag chewing. In order to connect I had to dial the number on the phone, wait until it began ringing, then switch the line to the modem and wait for the connection to occur. When that happened it connected at 300 baud. When I was finished I had to use the command <ctrl +++> to tell the modem to hang up. I saw no advantage, so I passed on that, even after the sale price plummeted to $10. A few weeks later I heard by word-of-mouth about Electronic Bulletin Boards systems that could be accessed only by using a computer and modem. After seeing a demo I had to get involved.
I beat feet back to the store to claim one of those $10 modems, but I was too late. They were gone. After numerous phone calls I located an improved 300/1200 baud modem. I climbed aboard my motorcycle and braved a chill factor of near zero degrees for 50 miles and then cheerfully handed over $175.
The BBSs were a hoot. I had access to Cloud 9, Rino Kitchen, The Machine, Dales’s BBS, Comm-Line, Bill Board, and many others from which to choose. But my favorite was Dr. Rom.
Dr. Rom hosted a static message board, bulletins, computer news, and FIDO NET, a worldwide computer network. Equally as interesting was the fictional character, Dr. Rom, an impulsive person who apparently lived in a loft over where the computer sat. I was blessed to have his password, and I raised Old Ned with folks who thought he was a living, breathing person. They kept me in stitches.
There is more to this story, so I’m breaking it up. Please stay tuned.