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I am fortunate to have a very intelligent, well read, forward-thinking man for a grandfather. When personal computers became available, he had a feeling they were going to be important. He wanted my brother and I to have access to one, so he bought a Commodore Vic-20 for my family, and one for himself. He has told the story about how he mentioned to one of the doctors he worked with (my grandfather was an anesthesiologist) that he was giving one to us. The man responded incredulously, wondering what in the world we would want with that. He was sure it was a waste of money. Now my brother and I both have positions that wouldn’t exist without computers.
I was about 7 or 8 years old and learning Basic, saving programs on cassettes. It wasn’t long before the Commodore 64 was released, and we upgraded. Yes, I spent untold hours playing games on it, but I learned a lot too. I was one of a very few students in my high school who could program a computer, and I taught myself to type on it a year before I would have taken the typing class in school. I was turning in essays printed from a dot-matrix printer (in “near-letter-quality”) while my classmates dealt with the limitations of typewriters.
At some point, I purchased a Commodore 128D, and that was the machine I used to do my first interaction design work. I and my best friend worked up a science fair project in which we wrote a computer program that would allow the user to manipulate the colors of the screen, among other things, and then ask them questions about their preferences. Their answers were printed out, and we compiled the results. We won second place at the state level.
This past Monday, the Computer History Museum celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Commodore 64. It’s on record as the best selling single computer model of all time. It was the first computer experience for many—it certainly had a large influence on my own life.