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Computing Pioneers Share Their First Tech Memories 99

An anonymous reader writes "Major names from the world of computing and technology such as Vint Cerf, William Gibson, Richard Stallman, Michael Dell and Hermann Hauser have shared their memories on their first computers and what inspired them to get involved with the computer. Highlight's include Cerf recalling his experience with the valve-based US air defense network Sage — as seen in Dr Strangelove — and Acorn co-founder Hauser building an eight bit computer out of marbles and a shoebox."
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Computing Pioneers Share Their First Tech Memories

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  • by grub ( 11606 ) <> on Thursday November 17, 2011 @05:25PM (#38090684) Homepage Journal

    CEO and founder of Dell

    From the time I was seven years old, I was captivated by blandness. When asked what kind of ice cream I wanted, the answer was always "Vanilla, please."

    My favourite toy was an old sock that belonged to my grandfather. It was the most dull, lifeless white sock you had ever seen. I called it "Blandy". When I turned 13 my parents let me paint my room any colour I wanted. I picked a decidedly neutral beige paint. I didn't want any excitement in my room, just a calming dullness. My whole room was like that: beige walls, beige lampshades, beige bedding. The only contrast was when I would place Blandy on my pillow. My room was the ultimate in dull. Sitting in it was almost like floating in a sensory deprivation tank. Except you could see that glorious beige everywhere.

    What are your memories of your first computer?
    I bought my first computer when I was fifteen. It was a Radio Shack TRS-80. The silver-grey painted chassis caused too much excitement in my otherwise dull bedroom so I spray painted it beige. The cassette tape's door was a shiny bit of transparent plastic, far too eye catching. I used some 120 grit sandpaper to take off the glossiness. You couldn't read the tape labels through it after that, but I didn't care. It was a small price to pay in my quest for supreme dullness.

    What modern technology do you wish you had growing up and why?
    I've learned that technology on its own isn't what really matters. What's important is how dull it is. How you can get someone to spend their hard earned money on something then look at it and wonder "Why did I buy that?" To me, making items that has people doing just that, even before they receive their order confirmation, is the greatest thing ever.

    Companies that go for excitement and innovation are certain to die. They have no future. Why, if it were up to me, I'd sell whatever company it was and give the money back to the shareholders. Printed on dull, beige cheques.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 17, 2011 @05:45PM (#38090936)

      Is it just me or does that guy have an incredibly tiny head? Seriously, look at the picture of him in the article.

      • by Tsingi ( 870990 )

        Is it just me or does that guy have an incredibly tiny head? Seriously, look at the picture of him in the article.

        I thought so too, then I decided his body was just huge.
        But you might be right.

    • by Pope ( 17780 )

      The was excellent, thanks for the laughs!

    • That was amazingly funny.
    • When it comes to length and relevance, this must surely rank among the best frosty piss's'es evahhhr a hundred and elevnty one. How you managed to bang that in without having subscriber neutrino privileges is beyond belief.

      Sir, I'm going to put a hat on just so I can take it off to you. Brafuckingvo, and then some.

    • I really don't get it. Where were you getting these non-beige computers in the 80s and 90s?
    • Grub,

      Very funny.

      Reminds me of the Futurama "neutral" race which enraged Zap Brannigan.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Clearly written by an Apple fanboy who likes all of his corners glossy and rounded.

    • The real story:

      "I heard how much money there was going to be in these 'computer' things, so I actually started my company before I had ever seen a computer.

      At first I thought it was some kind of fruit since people were talking about these 'Apple computers', and I spent a year researching orchard management before learning that computers were actually not a fruit.

      Then I went through my 'cow phase' when I saw the Gateway 2000 boxes, and I spent another year researching livestock management, thinking computers

  • by charlesbakerharris ( 623282 ) on Thursday November 17, 2011 @05:34PM (#38090796)
    Ahh, vintage Stallman: Because when all you have is an axe, everything looks like a grindstone.
    • by kiwimate ( 458274 ) on Thursday November 17, 2011 @05:40PM (#38090874) Journal

      I felt sad for the guy when I'd finished reading the article. He seems constantly annoyed and bitter. Everyone else in the article was excited, reminiscing about what sparked their passion for technology or computing. Stallman was just angry.

      • Nothing new there.

      • by Rogerborg ( 306625 ) on Friday November 18, 2011 @05:45AM (#38095948) Homepage

        He is angry. I had the, uh, "pleasure" of hearing him speak in person at the University of Glasgow, then do a Q&A session. He had brief jolly (lucid?) periods when he was rambling on by himself, but many of the questions sent him off on a tirade. When he was asked why most systems are GNU/Linux rather than GNU/Hurd he practically became incoherent, raving on about compromised principles (note: his principles, not Linus's), long term damage to Freeeedom, and the Great Patent Threat. I swear he was foaming at the mouth at one point. Of course, he didn't answer the question in any meaningful way.

        Also, he stank. I don't mean that in a jocular "Ha ha, smell hippy" sense, I just mean that up close, he really did look filthy and reek of stale sweat. It was physically repugnant to be near him, and if you don't think that does or should matter, well, I do because basic hygiene is common courtesy, and Stallman's lack of it shows contempt for others. It's not the way to make friends or influence people, which is basically Stallman's job.

    • by Pope ( 17780 ) on Thursday November 17, 2011 @05:56PM (#38091080)

      Apple's latest computers don't even allow users to freely choose what applications to install.

      Spreading the FUD a little thick there, huh, Stallman? But since you don't actually use them, I'm not surprised at all at your willful ignorance.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        The iPhone 4S is a computer, by any real definition of the term, and it's Apple's latest release, so...

      • by MrSteveSD ( 801820 ) on Thursday November 17, 2011 @08:33PM (#38093284)
        Well he's right isn't he? You can't side-load apps. You have to use the app store which consists of Apple-approved apps.
        • by gl4ss ( 559668 )

          exactly, not without tricks anyways.

          but at the same time, he says in the article that he got a personal computer pretty much just last year(or this): the yeelong, which he claims is totally free sw stack from bios up. why didn't he say that he would have liked to have that when he was growing up?

          also being obsessed with mainframes(or other by definition expensive, multi user) computers seems a bit of a contradiction with the whole free sw thing..

      • by Pionar ( 620916 )

        As much as I think the guy's a little nuts, he's right here. iPad users can only install what's in the App Store.

        After all, an iPad is still just a computer.

    • Nicely put - I see the parent modded as Funny, if I had points, I would mark it as "insightful".

      For the most part this is a puff piece with some mildly interesting comments (ie building adders & circuits using marbles is a nice image) - not as (yet another) soapbox for RMS to pontificate from.


    • by Anrego ( 830717 ) *

      Yup.. the man is _always_ on.

      Everyone knows someone like that. I've got a friend who is like that with religion (born again athiest)... joking around at lunch and mention something even remotely related to religion.. oh shit there he goes again on yet another tirade!

    • "If you're asking about the first computer I ever used, that was an IBM 360 to which I had to submit jobs via punched cards. It sure looked impressive, but the PL/1 program I wrote needed more memory than the machine could offer."

      Sounds like young Richard missed out on a promising career doing OS design for Microsoft.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      More and more Stallman is coming across as a bitchy little shit. I wish he would just shut his pie hole.
      For the record I respect what he has done in the past with GNU, and free software, it is just the last few years he has started sounding like a whiny little bitch to me.
    • When the only tool you have is an axe
      Wait for it......
      Every problem looks like the back of someone's head.

      For Balmer substitute chair for axe.

  • Stallman ROFL (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sproketboy ( 608031 ) on Thursday November 17, 2011 @05:34PM (#38090798)

    Question: "What modern technology do you wish you had growing up and why?"
    Stallman: "In terms of freedom, computing technology is getting worse."

    Nice sidestep Richard. How about just answering the simple question? We would have been interested in your answer.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by nurb432 ( 527695 )

      We would have been interested in your answer.

      Define "we". Most of us have tired of him decades ago.

    • Re:Stallman ROFL (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anrego ( 830717 ) * on Thursday November 17, 2011 @06:16PM (#38091360)

      The man is incapable of a light hearted discussion or joyful reminiscing.

      He has tuned every molecule in his body towards his views on software. I don’t actually think the man is capable of thinking in other terms.

    • I think he forgot to mention the first time he saw a copyright notice on software, which was shortly thereafter followed by his dad anally raping him.

      Explains a lot, when you think about it.

    • Nice sidestep Richard. How about just answering the simple question?

      I don't think it's a sidestep. The question was about modern technology. Stallman answers that he thinks modern technology is getting worse not better 'in terms of freedom'. Stallman quite often says that he started the FSF in the 80's because he was nostalgic for computing in the 70's. He quite literally sees things in terms of freedom and so it is consistent for him to say that he doesn't wish he had current technology when he was growing

    • by gl4ss ( 559668 )

      he doesn't wish he had any modern technology. that's the exact problem with rms and how he is failing to inspire people to "his"(in his mind it belongs to him) cause. he doesn't want to _do_ anything _with_ computers, he just wants to debate the rules under which they should be used.

      I just wish I would have had speedier cpu when I was a teenager. and a flat 24 inch monitor, and plenty of memory. modern software? not so necessary for the things I would have done with it then, but typing on a 56hz screen suck

    • Question: "What modern technology do you wish you had growing up and why?" Stallman: "In terms of freedom, computing technology is getting worse."

      Nice sidestep Richard. How about just answering the simple question? We would have been interested in your answer.

      By not directly answering the question, he showed what his answer actually was, namely that some things are more important than having cool new toys.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 17, 2011 @05:41PM (#38090878)

    ...not a computer pioneer.

    Hell, the man himself admitted he didn't know thing one about computers when he wrote 'Neuromancer.' They were magic boxes to him.

    • by ackthpt ( 218170 )

      ...not a computer pioneer.

      Hell, the man himself admitted he didn't know thing one about computers when he wrote 'Neuromancer.' They were magic boxes to him.

      Amazes me how people who aren't in directly in a field suddenly become of interest to people in the field.

      This year's Heisman contenders include Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford; Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama; Brandon Weedon, QB Ok. State and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, because there's a lot of Heisman talk on his social media site.

    • I was shocked by the very considerable noise the floppy drive (a separate box) made. I had assumed these machines had no internal moving parts... The whirring and clicking of the IIc's drive seemed Victorian, disappointing.

      I quite liked the "thunka-thunka-thunka" of disk drives and printers.

  • by pclminion ( 145572 ) on Thursday November 17, 2011 @05:43PM (#38090900)
    Did somebody 'shop his head to be too small?
    • Yeah I noticed that too. The way his neck is positioned he kinda looks Jim Carey-ish (you know how Jim Carey's neck always looks weird.) Some of those pics look... odd, to say the least. Cover Warwick's mouth and he looks like he wants to rip your throat out. I won't even touch Stallman... just like I wouldn't in real life.
    • by ackthpt ( 218170 )

      Did somebody 'shop his head to be too small?

      I think his shoulders are overlarge. Probably has a parka on under his suit.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      No, Vint Cerf squashed it with his fingers.

  • by PlatyPaul ( 690601 ) on Thursday November 17, 2011 @05:45PM (#38090932) Homepage Journal
    Skip TFA and go straight for the print view [].
  • Why Gibson? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by PlatyPaul ( 690601 ) on Thursday November 17, 2011 @05:48PM (#38090972) Homepage Journal

    Don't get me wrong - he's a hell of an author. But his inclusion seems a bit odd, given that he doesn't really work in "the computer industry".

    Of course, neither does Michael Dell.

    Thanks, folks. I'll be here all week.

    • I bought an Apple IIc and mechanical printer from Eaton's. ... They were marked down for quick sale. ... I was shocked by the very considerable noise the floppy drive (a separate box) made.

      Was it marked down because the previous owner had disassembled it possibly?

    • by aabrown ( 154032 )

      Also, Gibson explained that his IIc's drive was an "extra box". The IIc had a built in drive - maybe he had two?

      • Also, Gibson explained that his IIc's drive was an "extra box". The IIc had a built in drive - maybe he had two?

        Or he is mis-remembering his IIe as a IIc, especially with his memory of it being phased out in favor of the Mac - the IIc was actually released after the Mac came out.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Lynch may not even have enough passion to remember the correct model number of the machine that inspired his passion (there is no BBC Micro 650 - there was a model A, a model B and a Master). But I kind of like the irony that it was Hauser, in the same article, who was playing with cereal packets, who made Lynch's toys. Nice.

  • Your selection of "pioneers" reminds me of an "American boy band": New Kids on the Block. Seymour Cray, Danny Hillis, Steve Wallach and many others in the 1970s-90s were the real "pioneers". Get off my grass!
  • I remember mine. It was given to me when I was five. It ran DOS and had enough physical memory that it could ether have the original Civilization game or Lamborghini on it at any point in time. Fond memories those. How about everyone else?
    • Came here for this sort of thing. Kinda weird everyone else isn't automatically reminiscing.

      Anyway, I'm 27, but my story starts with my father. Growing up out of the 50's, he was a technological enthusiast. He thought he'd be a wielder on space stations or something. He paid a month's wages to get his first calculator. This is right before transistors bottomed out the price.
      Dad had bought a TI-99/4A. He thought he'd be doing his taxes on it or something. We used it for games. And I'm in the picture now.
    • I have only faint memories of my "first" computer. Basically I remember playing "boa" on it because it had a mouse, and boa was the only program on it at the time that made use of the mouse.

      I do remember very fondly spending time with my friend Jeremy on my second or third computer making DOS boot disks. We would remove things from config.sys and autoinit.bat, by trial and error trying to figure how we could remove enought stuff to free up the memory to play the newest game we'd spent our allowances on. Th

    • Mine was my dad's IBM PCjr, complete with tandy 3voice audio, highly modified EGA graphics, ugly chicklet keyboard, and a totally nonstandard hardware IRQ layout. Dad splurged on getting the Racore Rapport disk drive and DMA controller upgrade, which pumped the system RAM from 256k to 512k. This also added backed up real time clock, and a few other goodies.

      It ran IBM DOS 2.1

      Spent quite a bit of time playing Kings Quest 1, and banging out silliness on the built in bios BASIC interpreter. Dad insisted the com

  • look like John Carroll Lynch? [] A relation, perhaps?
    • A better question is why does Hermann Hauser look like an aging Fred from Scooby Doo and has Michael Dell been pumping iron or is that a cybernetic body?

  • by bogidu ( 300637 ) on Thursday November 17, 2011 @06:22PM (#38091426)

    Most of them wished they had the internet when they were growing up. Granted, I'm about a generation behind most of them and got my first internet access account when I was 23, however I have to admit that over the last 10 years the 'potential' of the internet has pretty much turned to crap thanks to a) ISP Corporatism b) government meddling & c) the mistaken belief by so MANY groups that it is something that needs to be "CONTROLLED".

    Personally i'm starting to take the pov that anything that has occurred on the internet could have eventually happened with 'near-line' or 'on-line' bbs's. I mean honestly, has http actually made things BETTER, or just more accessible by the masses?

    • by HeckRuler ( 1369601 ) on Thursday November 17, 2011 @06:42PM (#38091748)
      That's because a crappy restrictive Internet is still a hell of a lot better then no Internet.

      Also, you're talking about the "potential" of the Internet, the forecasted outlook of where it's going. It isn't looking stellar with the reduced competition among ISPs and politicians trying to restrict it. Back in the 90's, the Internet was a mystical land that was going to revolutionize everything. Lots of potential.

      And it happened. It DID revolutionize how we do... quite a lot of things. And right now, in it's current state, it's pretty awesome. A vast swath of the Internets potential has been realized. Welcome to the future.

      Finally, being more accessible by the masses IS BETTER. That bar has constantly been lowered. Facebook and all didn't do anything you couldn't have done with a bit of code and a personal website (and/or BBS), but it made it easier. And it's a good thing. Or do you want to have to string together an array of shoe-boxes with marbles?
    • Also your last sentence confuses the Internet with the Web (which is built out of http). The Internet is bigger and more inclusive than just http traffic.
  • Wang 3300 Basic Ready>

  • Matrix (Score:4, Interesting)

    by kytreb ( 2508498 ) on Thursday November 17, 2011 @06:43PM (#38091770)
    I was at the end of 8th grade when the Matrix came out. I was fascinated at that point. I actually had a minidisc player as tried like hell to get it to work as a regular disc drive. I started listening to industrial electronic music. I deleted windows from my computer and figured out how to get linux running. I started reading books on C++. I subscribed to 2600. FREE KEVIN. Throughout high school I was obsessed be programming. I kind of got out of it after my first year as a computer science major in college. After having spend the majority of my past 5 years in front of a computer screen I decided it was enough and got into economics. As dorky as it is to say, The Matrix had a huge impact on my youth. I'm still interested in tech. It is still a hobby (I am commenting on /. after-all). But the days spent with Mountain Dew, my face in a thick programming book and the glow of the CRT while listening to God Speed You Black Emperor at 3am are gone...
  • I never thought I would have anything in common with Stephen Elop but I have to agree that one of my most formative experiences was learning the EDT editor on a VAX. I already knew the PET, the Apple ][ , the BBC Micro, the HP-85 but that editor just made developing a pleasure. On that machine I graduated from the various flavours of Basic and assembly to Pascal (because the manuals for DEC Pascal were lying around) and then someone showed me a copy of K&R and that changed my life.

    In a way the things

  • Highlight's include ... Acorn co-founder Hauser building an eight bit computer out of marbles and a shoebox

    Cardboard box?

    Hauser: Aye.

    You were lucky! We had to build our four-bit computer out of bits of gravel in a paper bag at the bottom of a septic tank.

They are called computers simply because computation is the only significant job that has so far been given to them.