OMG! My First Computer!!!

Blame Lefsetz.

His nostalgia-filled post led to me to look at a YouTube TV ad for the old Close ‘n’ Play record player.

My god! That was evidence of the Space Age we were all living in. Just close the lid — and it plays!!

Adults had the burden of lining up that needle arm. But not we kids. We had technology on our side! Smart People were making the world a better place by making records available to us clumsy children who were never allowed to use the record player, not ever.

Just close the lid — and it plays!

It was like a miracle back then.

After that, I got it into my head again to see if I could finally find some images of my first record player, this absolutely gorgeous portable Panasonic that also had a radio built-in. I went alllll over the damn Net and came up empty. I swear to you, this thing was soooo beautiful that Steve Jobs must have owned one and it forever influenced his taste in industrial design. It really was All That.

But again I was coming up absolutely empty.

I was hating the Internet.

Do you know what it’s like not to be able to find a piece of your past on the World Wide Web? It’s like a part of you no longer exists. It’s like that bit of your life never happened. It’s terrible. I need validation of my entire existence, dammit!

Little did I know the Net was waiting to shanghai me. Google must have been working its algorithms overtime, using a kind of digital ESP, just waiting for the moment to pounce.

Because a random click uncovered the first computer I ever had!

Now you have to understand that to me as a kid, a computer was something Irwin Allen created. And it looked like this:

So filled with visions of that — commanding the Seaview! getting Lost in Space! my very own Time Tunnel! — being able to buy a computer from a store was a damn big deal.

I’d been primed by that comic book ad I’d been seeing:


Source

Just look at that!

“Electronic Computer Brain,” it promised! My god! It could unlock the secrets of the Universe for me. It could answer all these questions adults were too busy for. It might even help me with my damn math homework. Maybe even Social Studies.

It could Solve Riddles! I’d never be laughed at again. I’d tell my friends, “Wait. I’ll ask my computer the answer to that one!” I’d foil their plots!

I’d leap past all of them. Because look at that: It Tells Fortunes too!! I’d know what was in my future. I could stand tall having been given a secret advanced glimpse of what had to be my glorious destiny. Ha! Ha! Ha!

And I’d be smart. Because I’d be the only one on my block with a computer! At home! I could charge the other kids to ask it questions. I’d clean up! The sky would be the limit for me.

A computer! Of my own!

Despite the fact the box looked like this:


Click = big (Source)

I still had visions of blinking lights, teletype noises, authoritative humming, and a satisfying bell sounding after the machine had done my bidding.

Oh my god. What a great world it was to live in!

The day that I got it, I rushed home and opened the box to find … parts. Lots of parts. And instructions.

And … straws?!

Straws?

OK, it didn’t matter. This was a computer. It was an Electronic Brain.

Except I didn’t see anything about what batteries it needed, or a wall plug. Instead I saw … rubber bands.

Rubber bands? And straws?

OK, but there were also these metal rods. That was promising.

I wasn’t a spaz. I was true American male kid drenched in the Space Age. I watched men go into space on TV! I read the instructions. I put it all together — on my own!

It looked like this:


Click = big (Source)

And that’s when I finally began to suspect something was up.

To operate this computer, you had to slide this white handle on the right side. And to program it, you had to move these pegs — those damn straws — around.

And after all that effort, what did you get?

0-0-0
0-0-1
0-1-0
0-1-1
1-1-1
1-0-1
1-1-0
1-0-0

Wait.

What?

Where were the lights? The clacking sounds? The hum? The ding of the bell?

Where the hell was any answer that resembled English?!!?

This was … math!

I was rotten at math!!!!

Even worse, this was a special math. Something called binary math!

How the hell could I command a submarine with this? How could it clear the confusion of childhood for me? Where was that big payoff I had been expecting?

It wasn’t there.

This wasn’t a computer for me.

This was something for those Smart Kids who understood math.

They’d be able to look at “1-0-1” and have the mysteries of existence unveiled to them. They’d see “1-0-0” and immediately know how to build a time machine. And understanding the mysterious “1-1-1” would not only show they were smarter than me, it’d be telling them their fortune, not mine!

Me? I couldn’t do anything with this.

It just wasn’t fair.

It would be near twenty more years before I touched a computer again.

It would be an Apple II+. By then I realized that the Irwin Allen computer didn’t exist. I had learned what GIGO was. And a book by Ted Nelson …

… opened my eyes to what stupid machines they really were. They couldn’t answer any questions unless we told them how.

I’m sure there were kids who got great use out of their Digi-Comps. They probably had their lives changed and went on to do great things and get rich. They probably went on to work for NASA, maybe even Apple. They probably also realized they needed to make computers easy, for morons like me, who were math-disabled.

As for me? Well, here I am.

I’m still rotten at math too.

Additional:

Wikipedia: Digi-Comp I
Digi-Comp I v2.0 (still for the Smart Kids!)
Build Your Own Digicomp Mechanical Computer!

1 Comment

Filed under Other Hardware, Personal, Video

One response to “OMG! My First Computer!!!

  1. “Binary math” = “Discrete Math” at UMKC in 2000 or thereabouts.

    Calculus? No problem. C++? No problem. Trig? No problem.

    Discrete math? O.M.G. It kicked my ass. (Granted, out of 30 people in that class, 2 people passed, one with an A+ and the other with a C. The rest of us were SOL.)

    I escaped with my already-obtained English degree clutched to my bosom and never looked back.

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