Surfin’: Computers and the Internet -- A Backward Glance
By Stan Horzepa, WA1LOU
They’ve come a long way since the 1970s.
We take computers and the Internet for granted today. I first became interested in computers when Wayne Green, W2NSD, started writing about them in 73 magazine in the 1970s. Back then, you had to build your own from scratch or from kits.
While I contemplated how to go about getting my own computer hardware, I bought a book and taught myself BASIC (Beginner’s All Purpose Symbolic Instruction Code). I wrote some programs and was itching to get my hands on a computer to try out my creations. I knew I did not have the skills to build one from scratch, nor did I have the skills to program in machine language, which was how you programmed most of the kit computers. So I kept writing programs, while reading about the computer hobby in W2NSD’s magazine Byte.
Then in 1977, Apple, Commodore and RadioShack all came out with assembled computers. There were no Apple or Commodore stores, but RadioShack had stores everywhere, so I called my local RadioShack and bought the first computer -- a TRS-80 -- ever sold out of that store.
The TRS-80 had built in BASIC, but it was lacking in other ways. For example, it only displayed upper case characters, but I installed a modification to display upper and lower case. It lacked a word processor, so I wrote one in BASIC. Printers were a rare expensive commodity, so I built an interface between my TRS-80 and the Model 33 teletype printer I used for RTTY to give my computer hard copy capabilities.
Eventually, I added a 300 baud modem to the mix and started dialing up Bulletin Board Systems (BBS), but that was expensive because all the good BBSs were a long distance phone call away and long distance calls were not cheap. CompuServe -- an early Internet access provider -- came to the rescue and provided all the benefits (and more) of a BBS via a local phone call.
I was so enthusiastic about computers, that in 1981, I started writing about them in a new QST column called “On Line” where I expounded on the virtues of using computers in ham radio. And then came the Internet.
Today, all of that -- and a lot more -- is packed in a hand-held wireless gadget that weighs less than a quarter pound and fits in my shirt pocket. Thinking back to where this gadget came from, maybe I should not take it for granted.
Until next time, keep on surfin’!