Five miles uphill in the snow both ways

My main Mac just warned me that it was running low on space on the startup disk and I should clear some. It seems I have only 239 megabytes left. My first computer’s hard drive had less than 20% of that amount of space completely empty. The first computers I worked with (Apple II’s I think, but maybe Commodore 64s) had no hard drives. I’m not sure how much space there was on a floppy back then, but it was probably about 360K or so. In fact, I remember at least one computer I worked with didn’t even have a floppy drive. You stored programs on audio cassette tapes that recorded the modem tones! You young whippersnappers don’t know how good you have it. :-)

7 Responses to “Five miles uphill in the snow both ways”

  1. George Bailey Says:

    No kidding. I’m getting that message a lot these days. Then I’ll quit photoshop, safari, and a few other programs and my free space goes up to 1.5GB. If I restart I’ll have more than 2GB free.

    I remember paying $1,700 for an 80MB Jasmine(? or something like that) drive when they first came out.
    And way back when I worked for a month on a non-trivial game in 6502 assembly for my Atari 800. When I was finished the executable was about 8,000 bytes! I found it the other day online and was able to get it running under emulation, which was pretty cool. But now I’m wildly off-topic.

  2. Johnny K Says:

    Yeah the Commodore 64 used audio tapes, and you’d have to note down the numbers from the tape deck (I don’t know what you call it but it was like an odometer ) so you could load specific levels, rather than going through the whole game again.

  3. John Cowan Says:

    Ahem. Move aside, younkers, and let Grandpa (born 1958-07-02) talk.

    The first computer I used had 8K words of memory (1 word = 12 bits) plus a 256-word ROM to operate the DECtape, a form of mass storage that allowed a magnetic tape to simulate a disk (randomly rewritable blocks); it held 1474 128-word blocks. I wrote a device driver for it to access a mark-sense (as in “make your marks heavy and black”) card reader; the driver had to fit in 256 words, of which half was the EBCDIC-ASCII conversion table.

    The first modern system I used was an IBM PC AT with a ‘286 chip and a 10 MB hard disk running Xenix System III, Microsoft’s Unix. (Microsoft resold Unix before it resold DOS.) I forget how much memory it had, perhaps 1 MB.

    A few months ago, I acquired a used Toshiba Tecra 8000 laptop, the first computer I have ever owned. All the others have belonged to schools or employers. I’m using it now.

  4. George Bailey Says:

    Well, I don’t exactly what a “younker” is there, John, but I was alive when you were born. I guess the whole “five mile uphill both ways” phenomenon is unavoidable, but I’ll try to resist now. :-)

  5. Barend Garvelink Says:

    At 24, I probably qualify as a “younker” ;-). First PC I used regularly (my parents’) was a Philips PC XT with 640k RAM and DOS 3.22. Remarkably, it had a 20MB HD. Several of my pals (or their older brothers) had Commodore 64’s. When I was in college (compsci no less), I was shocked to for the first time meet computer-savvy people who nonetheless had never seen a commandline before.

    Oh, and when we cleaned out a kitchen cupboard in my student flat, we came across a stack of 8″ floppy disks. First and last time I saw those.

    Not sure what I’m trying to say here. I share the amazement over just how _huge_ software programs have become these days. I think Rational Application Developer 6 takes just over 7 gigabyte of HD space.

  6. Ed Davies Says:

    I’m 18 months (and about a week) older than John. The first machine I used (an IBM 1130, when I was about 15) had 16K of 16 bit words – so Moore’s law must have been working backwards then. Mind you, the other machine I used at school had mercury delay lines.

  7. MikeB Says:

    Now I don’t consider myself OLD, exactly, but the first computer I ever touched was an IBM 1401. In high school I was allowed to spend a week ‘helping’ at Norton Air Force Base. I hung tape reels on drives, only occasionally forgetting to insert or remove the write-ring. I also got to write a Fortran program on punched cards (printed the squares of the first twenty integers!), but actually operating the keypunch machine was considered too advanced, so I had to write the program on a coding sheet and hand it in to a ‘professional’ keypunch operator (female, of course).

    My first real programming job five years later was at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where I had an entire computer dedicated to the project for which I was the only programmer. It was a DEC PDP-1 (serial # 13). It had a paper tape bootloader initiated by setting binary instructions with toggle switches. The bootloader started a program that could read a magnetic tape drive (IBM), which contained a rudimentary OS. Once that was loaded, interaction was through an electric typewriter. This looked like an old Underwood, and had switches and solenoids under the keys. However, the best peripheral was a six-foot tall robot with tank-tread locomotion, two massive arms with grippers (the elbows could move through 300 degrees and the wrists could rotate continuously), and two TV cameras on a pan/tilt head. This was used to make a short film to promote interplanetary robot exploration. Judging from the current Mars rovers, it seems to have been a success.

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