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Voyage to Atari in the 21st Century (Part I - Toys to Mainframes)



My initial impression of computers formed in the 1960s and early 70s watching Star Trek, as well as reading a bit too much science fiction. Themes that seemed to be pure imagination were rapidly becoming reality. I watched the first lunar landing on our old Black and White TV (sitting a bit too close) and believed that people would be on Mars befpre the end of the century. The first 3/4 of 2001 seemed like a reasonable view of the near future, and HAL was just misunderstood - or a least the victim of misunderstandings, like GPT-4 today. I received my first "computer" when I was around 12. a LOGIX-600 from radio shack (https://www.samstoybox.com/toys/LogixComputer.html). Really a logic trainer, but it occupied me for 100s of hours. However, my first real experience with a computer was when my high school class toured a locall university and we were allowed to play a text version of Lunar Lander on a teletype machine. My following undergraduate years were the time of mainframes, VDUs, acoustic modems in the labs, and punch cards (I still tend to end a line at 72 characters) for old times sake.


During university I got a summer job with my ecology professor and was allowed to use his DECwriter (https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/c/c5/Decwriter.jpg/640px-Decwriter.jpg) at lunchtime. It had an APL keyboard (https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/9/9f/APL-keybd2.svg/640px-APL-keybd2.svg.png) that he was using for modeling, so I wrote my first game program (blackjack) in APL - drafted while waiting for a delayed ferry ride. I also took the introductory computer course in COBOL (required to keep COBAL teachers occupied, I suppose) and then scientific programing with FORTRAN 77. This led to another summer job developing and applying programs to digitize records of fish swimming paths. During this time, I was even hired by a graduate student to assist in their statistical analysis.


My first experience with personal computers was helping my physiology (marine biology) professor (https://csz-scz.ca/wp/news/in-memorium-dr-ronald-odor/) assemble his new Apple II - which he ultimately interfaced with a microscope. He used stepper motors to track developing larval squid - really ahead of his time in so many ways. I guess this period is when I developed a mixed passion for computers and biology - and at an opportune time. And the advent of accesible personal computers stongly influenced my graduate and subsequent professional career (see Part II to follow).


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