The one that got away…

A while ago I mentioned that the first computer I programmed was an IBM 5100. It was not, however, what got me into computing in the first place. For that I can thank the Coco:

I can still remember seeing one of these in Radio Shack in a mall on the edge of Chapel Hill. I was 10 and was shopping with my mom and my grandmother. I wandered into Radio Shack and they had a Coco set up playing whatever crappy game it was that came with the system. Although I don’t remember this, I supposedly asked my grandmother, “When you die, could you leave me enough money to buy a computer?” (Gimme a break, I was just 10, after all.)

I guess I must have kept up asking for a computer, because my dad came home one day with two books on computers and gave them to me, saying, “before you can have one, you have to know how to use it.” Looking back now, I think he was completely crazy: one of the books was on BASIC programming and the other was a “how computers work,” and both were, as they might say today, “not age appropriate.” But I slogged through the latter book, working my way through AND and OR gates and microprocessor design and such. I didn’t understand it all, but I have to say that a lot of the information that I got from that book has stood me in good stead over the years.

The BASIC book was more frustrating because I had no computer to type the programs in to. That’s where the 5100 came in — I can still remember going over to the Duke Physics lab and typing in the little slot machine program in the back of the book. I don’t think it actually worked the first couple of times, but the rest is history. And the irony? I never actually owned a Coco. The first computer that I owned was an Apple ][+. I’ve never actually owned a Tandy computer, but I’m indebted to them all the same…

(For reference, here’s a picture of the 5100:)

5 thoughts on “The one that got away…

  1. Alfred Thompson

    Ah memories. I remember the 5100 (and the improved 5110 and 5120). Being a bit older than you these were not the first computers I programmed. I didn’t actually program those but my wife worked for a company that sold software for them. She did documentation and training for the company. She’d had enough of programming by then. I remember thinking (I worked for a mini computer company at the time) that these little more personal computers were going to change everything. I still had no idea how much it was going to change though.

  2. Karl

    Harhar..the grandmother part was funny….

    My first computer WAS a coco-II, never had the Apple though. I sill have my coco-II, and a handful of game cartridges. I don’t have the book anymore though. I’d type in the BASIC code that was in the book, not really understanding much/any of it (i was 6), run the program and watch what would happen.

    I remember the book, the glossy pages was all the different programs and a screenshot of what they looked like (this was a color computer and all the programs did was showcase the awesome 3-color capability of the system).

    Here is is:


  3. Alan Michas

    I also remember the IBM 5110, 5120 and after that the System/23 (Datamaster) with fond memories. The BASIC was really nice. It had ISAM files and a disk sort so you could develop real business applications. It’s a pity that MS didn’t base their version of BASIC on the IBM version. If they had we might not have been having all the C# vs VB.NET wars that have been taking place recently.


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