I don’t remember the specific date, but it was sometime between April of 1979 and April of 1981. The first computer used in Marine Corps administrative offices was colloquially called the “Green Machine”. Its real name was the “IBM Series I Model 4110”. You can read more about it at the Wikipedia article section on the Series/1 in the Marine Corps. The article states “the initial rollout of the equipment was on the west coast at Camp Pendleton in 1981” but that isn’t true. We had them for at least a year before I was transferred from the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego (I was stationed there after basic training and admin school). Without a firm date, however, I won’t officially dispute it. Using one of those computers wasn’t in my job description back then.
I didn’t work with personal computers at my next duty station, but I played around on a Radio Shack (or Tandy) TRS-80 that was kept at the automated services center. It had a black and white monitor and it loaded programs from a cassette tape drive. It took something like 30 minutes to load “Lunar Lander”.
It wasn’t until 1987, when I was stationed on Okinawa, that I actually did any work on personal computers. Our squadron had two, one for each admin office. They were Zenith 248 computers with IBM 286 processors in them. I remember the pain of using WordStar in word processing for the entire year I spent there.
After work one day, I discovered the joy of playing games on a Commodore 64 that another member of my squadron had in his room at the barracks. It was love at first sight (kinda sorta).
After I was transferred from Okinawa to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina and settled in with my family, I bought a complete Commodore 64C system – the computer, the monitor and the disk drive. While I enjoyed playing games on it, what I really wanted to do was learn how to program on it. I think I had it for a year (1988-1989) before I replaced with a Commodore 128D system. The 64 was limited to 40 columns and the 128 had 80 columns. That may not sound like a lot, but this was before things like “Windows” even existed. Graphical user interfaces were not the rage until years later.
I bought books to learn BASIC and assembly language programming. I bought books that contained all the memory maps and kernel routines. It was around that time when Josie started complaining that I spent more time on the computer than I did with the family.
While I was teaching myself everything I could, I discovered bulletin board systems. Though I was interested in them, they were all long distance calls away from where I lived. Our meager budget couldn’t afford doing anything on them for more than a few minutes a month.
After I was transferred to the recruiting station in Phoenix in 1992 and we were all settled in again, I started my bulletin board service – it was active until 1998 when I shut it down. In late 1994, I bought my first “real” personal computer. It was a Packard Bell and it had a whopping 72 megabytes of memory and a 20 megabyte hard drive. It could run Windows 3.11 but it couldn’t run Windows 95 when it came out. It was an expensive desktop PC and if I remember correctly, it cost me more than $2400.
Josie and I fought with each other over the time I spent at the computer and more than once, I unplugged everything and headed out to the dumpster with it. If Josie hadn’t stopped me, it could have been years before I’d get involved with personal computers again, aside from those I had to use at work.
After I retired from the military, my experiences with personal computers at both work and at home helped me get jobs I wouldn’t have otherwise been qualified for. One of them I left as the information technology manager (just before a pending promotion to “director” that I didn’t know about when I quit) at a telemarketing company. The time I spent learning the programming aspects of various personal computers paid off back then and it continues to pay off today.
Josie’s attitude about personal computers changed a little when she was required to start using them at her job. Her attitude changed a little more when I introduced her to Facebook in 2011. Her attitude changed a great deal when she started using my Skype account to talk to relatives in both the United States and the Philippines. Until I bought a second laptop for myself, the only fighting we did since then was over who got to use the computer at any given time. The days of epic battles between us are over.
I’ve had both desktop PCs and laptop computers over the last several years and now both Josie and I have our own laptop computers. While I no longer wish to learn new things about them, I have tons of experience and I troubleshoot everything. I know people who call places like Best Buy to get help from the Geek Squad, but I’ve never needed help from anyone. Not for software anyway. I’ve had to get help from friends with hardware simply because my fingers aren’t narrow enough to get into the tight spaces inside my personal computers.
These days, I prefer reading and writing, but I still administer the server containing the software that runs this website and I’m pretty good at it too.