For the Love of Computers

The look, feel and use of computers has changed since the personal computer was brought on the market in the 1980s. Ben and I weren’t born into the age of computers but we were young and impressionable enough to fully embrace it. We found and still find it fascinating. We also have taken and given many computer courses since we began this incredible journey. Here’s a look at our two first computer courses we took.

Our First Computer Course

There were 6 people in the course which was 2 hours, once a week for 10 weeks. We even got a little bit of a price reduction on the course because we both took it. On the first evening each of the participants got to sit behind a computer. We were not allowed to touch it while the instructor babbled on about what he was going to teach us. After about one and a half hours I had to sit on my hands so as not to touch the computer. I tried to concentrate on what was being said, but that was very difficult. Quite honestly, the only thing I learned in that first class was how not to begin a computer class. Never, ever start a computer class theoretically while sitting in front of a computer. I wanted to see how the thing worked, immediately.

Computer Sharp MZ80A

At some point the instructor did get around to showing us where the on/off switch was and the fun finally began. We learned some simple codes in the programming language basic. At the end of the evening Ben and I asked if we could rent a computer to practice on. Which we did. We brought “our” new computer home, which was a Sharp MZ80A.

For my younger readers let me tell you how this worked. You turned on the computer. Once the green light on the monitor was blinking you could put in the tape cassette. You pressed the play button and the operating system loaded. A small matter of about 15 minutes or so. Then you were ready to program something. Anything. The world was at our beck and call.

Fast Learners

At home that first week Ben and I worked through the complete course documentation that we were given. We were really enjoying ourselves. On the second evening of our course Ben and I were more than motivated and ready to learn, learn, learn. We got there, rolled back our sleeves, turned on and loaded the computer and perched our fingers over our keyboards. Unfortunately, the other people in the course (the ones without the computer at home) had forgotten how to turn on the computer. So, the course began from the beginning, again.

Our instructor was Czechoslovakian and the program language “Basic” is in English. That combination made for an unintentional highlight or two. My favorite was when the instructor told us to type in “if ten”. I asked “what if we want eleven?” Then he said “No, no, ‘if ten” with the emphasis on “ten”. At that moment Ben kicked me under the table and whispered “then, THEN”. I realized my mistake, Europeans have difficulty saying “th”. I thanked the instructor for the information and the course continued no one the wiser.

When we got the chance we asked all kind of questions, more often than not we got the answer “that will be covered in the next course”. We were like dry sponges ready to get wet. I think our instructor was glad when the course was finally over because the poor man basically had to teach two courses in one.

Our First Computer

Ben and I were hooked; hook, line and sinker, we were goners. We weren’t really sure why we needed a computer and exactly what we were going to do with it. But we knew we had to have it. It didn’t take long and we had bought our very first and very expensive computer: Sharp MZ731. It was a newer model than the one we had rented. Our new computer didn’t load the operating system using a tape cassette either. It used one of those new fangled floppy disks. Ohhh! They were really big and floppy and single-sided with 360k.

The first time we turned our new computer on we pushed the floppy disk into the slot and waited. And waited. And waited. All we got was some cryptic message saying something was wrong. We tried every trick we knew, which admittedly wasn’t a lot. We pressed the ejection button and the floppy disk came out and we tried again and again. Finally we called the company we bought it from in Zurich and talked to the people in the know there. They couldn’t figure out what was wrong either and said it was probably a machine error of some kind. We should bring the computer in and get it checked out. They might have to give us a new computer. Ah, the things you do for your computer.

Our Second Computer Course

So, we packed the computer in our car and went to Zurich. When we finally got there we waited in the reception hall. After about a half hour someone came out to greet us and take us and our broken computer to the workroom. The same as we had done at home, they plugged it in, turned it on and pushed the floppy disk into the slot. They then pressed the ejection button lightly to lock the floppy in place. At that point Ben and I looked at each other in amazement. The button! We thought the button was just an ejection button. But depending on how hard you pressed it, it either locked the floppy in place or ejected it.

Naturally, the computer started without any difficulty. The people in the workroom couldn’t imagine what the problem was. Maybe the machine just needed to be shaken up a bit in the car from Berne to Zurich. We said we were just glad that it was working again. After a multitude of thanks and handshakes we got out of there as quickly as possible so we wouldn’t start laughing out loud. As soon as we got into the car we both burst out laughing.

We had just spent the better part of the day travelling to Zurich to take a 15 second course on how to press a button. I don’t think many people have had the chance to do that. Yes, computers can add so much quality to your life.

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