Happy Birthday PC!

david.colker@latimes.com

Your first kiss. Your first car. Your first job. And of course, your first computer.

Remember the excitement of opening the box, removing all the components, poring over the manual, and then making your first call to the help line? (It was probably closed.)

It might have been love at first sight, but for the next few weeks, you wondered what could have ever possessed you to get such an infuriating, time-consuming machine.

Eventually, you would make peace with this mass of silicon chips, rainbow-colored wires and whirling disk drives. It would transform many parts of your life: writing, sending mail, shopping, balancing the checkbook and even dating.

But this rite of passage into the Digital Age is swiftly becoming a thing of the past.

Children born in the last decade or so can't remember a time when personal computers weren't part of their lives. If there's not one at home, there are computers at school, in libraries or at a friend's house.

There were several personal computers before the IBM PC, including the Altair, Commodore PET and the Apple I. But it was Big Blue's machine that first won the hearts of serious business customers and ushered in the era of personal computing.

To celebrate the anniversary of the landmark IBM PC, we asked readers to wax nostalgic about their first computers--their trials and tribulations, their wonder and bewilderment. We received nearly 100 submissions and added in the memories of some celebrities. Here are a few of their stories. Many were edited for brevity.

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Apple I (1976)

It came with a case and a keyboard--the video output was to a TV. I used it to learn BASIC, and I had it turning lights on and off inside our house. It drove my wife crazy because I would sit at it for hours with my back to her, typing in numbers and ignoring her completely.

She was the first person I knew to use the term "computer widow."

Dana Custer

(Computer technician)

Santa Clarita

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Commodore PET (1977)

I remember leafing through a copy of Popular Science magazine and seeing an ad for a Commodore computer that had 8- or 16 kilobytes. It had an awful-looking screen, and it was $795. I thought I'd better get one because I had sons who were going to be in high school and might want to know about computers.

Later, I moved up to the 64 KB model and thought that was silly because it was more memory than I would ever possibly need.

I got them for the kids and then found I was fascinated by them. The first ones had tape drives. You would get a program like a word processor, put the tape in and then walk away for about a half an hour while the computer loaded it. But the first time I used a spell checker and it corrected a word, I thought, "We are getting close to God here."

Bob Newhart

(Comedian/actor)

Los Angeles

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Kaypro (1978)

In 1977, I began what would turn out to be a 17-year career writing scripts for Bob Hope. At the time, I was using an IBM Selectric to churn out the jokes and sketches. A friend of mine, Bruce Howard, was writing scripts for "The Dukes of Hazzard" on what he claimed was a revolutionary new device called a word processor. One night after dinner, he demonstrated the strange new machine, and of course, within minutes I was hooked. I had to have one. It boasted a then-gigantic 3-by-5-inch screen that was green with yellow letters all in one type face--Times Roman.

One night, after discussing script changes at dinner with Bob Hope at his home in Toluca Lake, he asked me to retype several sketches. Ordinarily, changes took a day or so, but on this night, I rushed home, typed the changes into my Kaypro, hit Print and was back in less than an hour. He was truly mystified and couldn't imagine how I'd accomplished such magic.

Ironically, he didn't think his secretaries needed the expensive new devices--they used to retype his monologues and TV sketches on electric typewriters until well into the 1990s, when he gave in and computerized the office.

Bob Mills

(Writer)

Studio City

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Digital Group (1979)

It came as a kit from a group in Denver--I remember assembling it during Super Bowl XIII.

It was more a toy than for any serious business purpose. I'm an early adopter.

At the time, Radio Shack sold a keyboard kit that could only use uppercase. I played around--doing some rewiring and adding some things--so that it could do both lower and uppercase.

Boy, that eight years of college was well spent.

David Bradley

(A designer of the IBM PC)

Chapel Hill, N.C.

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IBM PC (1982)

I still have my working IBM PC with dot-matrix printer and crude, very early 3-D digitizer. Being in the violin shop business, I used them for appraisal writing, letter printing and to digitize the shape of a violin.

I mostly use Sony Vaio computers now. But occasionally when kids come to see the "Oldest PC," I give them a demonstration.

Kyozo Watanabe

(Violin maker)

Los Angeles

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Sinclair ZX Spectrum (1982)

I was living in Italy and had been pondering for some time the new, intriguing notion of a personal computer. All I could find in Milan, however, were wildly expensive office automation wares. Then while vacationing in Britain, I happened to be at the very same trade show where soon-to-be-Sir Clive Sinclair announced the Spectrum.

It had advanced features, such as--this was the real clincher for me--eight colors. I was immediately hooked, although I can't say I immediately became a user because, in my first taste of vaporware, I had to wait until the end of summer for my shipment.

Sandro Corsi

(Computer graphics instructor)

Fullerton

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TI 99/4A (1982)

The first computer to arrive in our house came via the noncustodial dad. It cost about $100. My two boys outgrew it, and we went upward to a Commodore 64 for about double the cost.

But 'twas worth it. Both boys, now men, earn their living as info systems managers, earning way more than Mom who still only has a 386 without Internet.

Nancy L. Pasulka

(Legal secretary)

San Diego

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TRS-80 (1983)

I am a 73-year-old grandmother. At age 53, when writing a long paper for an advanced degree, I was introduced to the concept of a personal home computer. It was shipped to me from Perry Oil & Gas, a Radio Shack dealer in Perry, Mich., because they had good prices.

The word processing program was Scripsit, and to move a sentence or paragraph you marked the beginning and end of the selected content with codes, then marked the place where it was supposed to go with a code. Then you typed in more code to execute the process.

I'm now on my ninth computer, and my five grandchildren have been the beneficiaries of most of my upgrades.

Judy Gorman

(Retired)

Los Angeles

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IBM PC (1984)

I bought a farm in New Hampshire, and the next spring I purchased my PC for $4,000. Two months later, IBM dropped the price to $2,000. I vowed never again to purchase any IBM product and never have.

Tim Cagney

(Screenwriter)

Montrose

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Commodore 64 (1985)

I bought it used for $500. Stop laughing; it got me through college.

Brian Springer

(Computer specialist)

Santa Clarita

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Zenith Portable (mid-1980s)

Weighing 15 pounds and roughly the size of a sewing machine, it packed a memory of 256 KB of RAM with dual 5 1/4-inch disk drives. It cost $1,400. I used it on my first college teaching job and eventually traded it for a good pair of stereo speakers.

Bruce Henderson

(English professor)

San Juan Capistrano

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IBM PC XT (1986)

I got my first computer in 1986 when there were no computers at ABC News. I got it to write a book [his autobiography, "Hold On, Mr. President"]. If it hadn't been for the computer, I don't think I would have written the book at all. Television scripts are different; they are much shorter pieces of writing. I didn't go into print [journalism] because I did not have the aspirations and discipline to be a prolific writer. However, thanks to the ease of using a computer, I could do it. Now they joke that they can't stop me.

Sam Donaldson

(Television journalist)

Washington

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GDC 386 (1989)

I was just out of college and decided I should splurge and get a state-of-the-art computer that would last me awhile, hopefully a decade or two. So I bought the top-of-the-line clone with EGA graphics for about $4,000. It broke down about once a month, and I was on a first-name basis with the repair guy. His name was Minh, and he had two kids and lived in Huntington Beach.

I now stay at least a year behind state-of-the-art and couldn't be happier.

Eric Altshuler

(Software Engineer)

Redondo Beach

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Macintosh Classic (1990)

It was fifth grade in elementary school, and after much haggling I convinced my parents to buy me an Apple Classic. Why? 'Cause it had the best games--"Oregon Trail" and "MathBlaster" looked awesome.

With my trusty ImageWriter II printer, I became the school publisher, producing banners, posters, signs and documents. Teachers would approach me to redo their ditto sheets.

And the ladies. Let's just say valentines weren't the same old boring card stock; they were personalized greeting cards from my publishing powerhouse at home.

Sheetal Shah

(University student)

Los Angeles

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IBM 425C laptop (1995)

My husband and I celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary with our four children and their families. We went to a restaurant for dinner, and they gave us this little black suitcase. Why would they give us a briefcase, as we are retired?

Upon opening it, we were amazed that the children would give us this strange machine we certainly did not want or need. We smiled, lamely thanked them and wondered if it was returnable.

Now we owned a laptop computer and had to learn to use it. We live in an RV resort in Sun City, Ariz., where there is a wonderful computer club with many knowledgeable people eager to help novices. So here we are in 2001, and the little laptop has been replaced with a Pentium desktop processor with more memory. And we are addicted.

We make beautiful greeting cards, surf the Net, scan pictures, download photos from a digital camera, stay in contact with friends and family via e-mail and keep our minds active learning all kinds of new tricks. I am 78, and my husband is 82.

It is wonderful to be part of this new technology.

Jennie Karnofsky

(Retired)

Sun City, Ariz.

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Power Macintosh 8500 (1995)

I'm not an early adopter; I don't believe in it. Ask the early adopters of digital TV how they feel about it.

Harry Shearer

(Satirist/actor)

Los Angeles

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Times staff writer David Colker covers personal technology.

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