my first time

using a computer.

yeah right. don’t hold out much hope for that story, bub. i know what you are thinking. i’m saving that one for the memoirs.

anyway, i was thinking about this the other day. or, more accurately, i was thinking about how little i remembered about it, and how i wished i could remember more.

because i truly was a pretty early adopter. even though i was only about 15 at the time, i used my first computer in 1978.

i had a job in a fruit stand at the time. the kind where you sell vegetables on the side of the road, except that the guy who owned it had recently moved us from the side of the road into a proper retail space.

the guy’s name was robert ogden. i’ve googled and come up empty, but this guy was really interesting. i think the fruit stand must have been a tax dodge, or some way to keep his wife, gerri odgen, otherwise occupied, because his real job involved computers.

apparently, if i’m remembering this correctly, he was some kind of consultant, and he took his computers up in airplanes, and used them to survey large areas of land. he was the first to do this, from what i understood.

and one of the large areas of land he said he surveyed was the amazon jungle, for the brazilian government. not too shabby a dude, for 1978.

and the computers he used to survey from airplanes were kept in the back of the retail space, once he’d gotten off the side of the road with his business.

he didn’t have tons of business, really, so i had hours of time to spend in the back, playing with the computers. he didn’t mind a bit–in fact he encouraged it. how lucky was i to have a computer at my disposal, in 1978? pretty damn lucky.

i wish i could remember more about the computer. i’d love to know what kind of computer it was, but i can’t even remember what it looked like. i do remember that he had an enormous floppy drive–either 10″ or 12″–which was a rarity in the days when people used (at best) cassette tapes to store data and programs.

i played a lot of games. i remember a star trek game, which involved typing in coordinates and going to places in the galaxy, and when you got there, if there were klingons or whatever, you typed in more coordinates and shot them, and then went somewhere else. it was all text based, but i think there may have been some ascii graphics involved as well.

and the main thing i remember was that all the software came not on the disks, but in books.

printed. on paper.

so to run a program you first had to type the entire thing in, in the programming language called basic, and save it onto the floppy. and the programs were very, very long, for the most part. i remember typing for days on end in order to be able to play star trek. and you couldn’t get even one character wrong, or in the wrong place, in the dozens of pages you typed, because then the whole thing might not work.

it was a great lesson for me, at fifteen, about focusing and the importance of accuracy, and the rewards of doing things correctly, and the perils of shortcuts and sloppy work. they are lessons i carry with me to this day.

and, while i never learned to program very much, i did learn enough to get extra credit in my first college math class. the flagler college math professor, dr. kearney, met my mom on parent’s weekend, and she told him about my computer experience. so he gave me an extra credit assignment to write a program in basic that did something or other. i don’t think he expected me to be able to do it, because when i wrote the answer down and gave it to him, he was pretty amazed.

and the credit i got made the difference between a “b” and an “a” for the class, which was cool and not the outcome he either desired or expected.

anyway, robert ogden was one of those people who cross your path, and you don’t realize at the time how important they are going to be. it’s not like i became a programmer or anything.

but all that typing of programs must have sunk in, or made some brain cells grow, or something, because i’ve never stopped using computers since. and i’m pretty damn good with them, too.

thanks, mr. ogden.