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Avon River Computer Service, In The Beginning...

Desktop-CalculatorMy first brush with computers was in high school. The math department had a punch card reading, desktop calculator similar to the one shown right. In order to get any useful information out of it, you had to program it to do the necessary calculations. To program the calculator, you would punch out perforated square holes which represented numbers and mathematical operators. It took ages to punch out the holes you wanted, and if you got it right, and hadn't made any mistakes, at least any obvious mistakes like making one of the square holes round, or tearing the card, you fed the card into the slot and instantly the calculator would display the answer on the 1 line, red illuminated screen. After all the work it took to punch the cards and checking for mistakes, it seemed like a bit of an anticlimax just spitting out the answer with no fuss or fanfare. I kind of wished it made some sort of sound when it presented the answer, perhaps a ta-dah, or maybe just a beep. We were told back then, that in the future, everyone would be involved with computers in their working lives, either as computer builders, repairers or punch card operators. I believed that computers would not amount to anything because they were too complicated for the average person, apparently, I was wrong .

Commodore Pet image

Back in 1980, I purchased my first computer, it was a commodore P.E.T. (Personal Electronic Transactor) 2001, and it cost me $999.00. Computers were just starting to become available here in Australia and there were very few people that actually had a computer, and even fewer shops that actually sold them. Nobody really knew what to do with a personal computer back then, and unless you were running a sizable business and had people to program your computers and maintain your programs, it really was just an expensive toy. The PET, this powerhouse, had a built in keyboard, 9 inch phosphor mono (green) screen, built in cassette recorder/player to save and load programs and data, and 8 kilobytes of RAM, yes 8 KB. Back then, there was no graphical user interface and no mouse. We used to get programs from computer magazines, which we would have to transcribe from the magazine pages by hand. This was a painstaking process of reading, typing, running the program, de-bugging the mistakes, (usually dots instead of commas, spaces where there shouldn't be,) and of course errors in the magazine text itself. There was, of course, the obligatory typing, debugging, re-typing, re-debugging etc. etc. until the program finally ran all the way through with no errors, and your heart would soar with this mighty achievement, and then the computer would crash, or you would lose the power, or something equally catastrophic. There was no "open the last good version of the program," if it wasn't saved to the tape recorder, it just vanished and you would have to start all over again. The only saving grace was that you had usually made all the mistakes already and you knew where to pay particular care, and the program would take less time to transcribe the second or third time. I remember going to a computer show one time, and seeing a display of commodore business computers sitting there, all with black screens and a cursor blinking on the left side, I wrote a quick program on one of the computers that would generate a random sized octagon on the screen, then step down and right a random amount and draw the octagon again, then draw another random sized octagon and repeat the process over and over. The result looked like an octagon shaped tunnel running down the screen at 45 degrees. The salesman came over and looked at what I had done and said, "Thank goodness, these things were just sitting here and nobody knows what they are or what they can do." It wasn't long before a crowd of people started to gather there, all staring at this simple drawing process as though hypnotized. I don't know how many computers they sold that day because people could see a computer doing something instead of looking like a turned off TV set. I thought it was funny.

Apple II PlusMy next computer purchase was a few years later, was an Apple-IIe.This had 16 kilobytes of RAM and could reproduce 16 separate colours. I purchased a 5.25 inch floppy drive and both of these, computer & floppy drive cost me $2,500.00. The monitor, (which was a separate purchase from the computer,) was a portable colour TV set with an RF modulator to convert the output from the computer, into something the TV could display via the aerial connection. There was no mouse, and graphics were very rudimentary at best, wire-frame and clip-art style of graphics. Apple had its own form of BASIC called Apple-soft which incorporated apple graphics into the language. I managed to write a "Target rifle competition scoring program" that could sort competitors into their respective grades and sort each grade highest to lowest working out count-backs in seconds, (with 40 competitors, the program could work out all placings in approximately 40 seconds), instead of more than an hour which was the norm when working out the results manually. This was really something back then. Today, you could do the same thing with a spreadsheet and it would work out your results on the fly in a fraction of a second.

 My next computer was given to me in the form of parts that needed to be put together. There was a motherboard, CPU, 1 stick of RAM and a CD ROM. I think someone gave me a keyboard and mouse. I purchased a case and was given an 80MB hard drive to complete the build. I managed to get a copy of Windows 3.1, (on several floppy disks) and I installed that. This was the first GUI (Graphical User Interface) and mouse system that I ever used. I now had a 386, IBM compatible computer with 8 MB RAM and 256 colours. My 80MB HDD housed the operating system, a few office programs and still had room for my data. After using this computer for a couple of years, I gave it to a young man who was in high school and needed a computer, but didn't have the money to buy one, I wasn't really doing anything much with it.

My next computer was in 1999 and it was an IBM OEM computer. This computer had 64MB RAM and a 6GB hard drive. I believed at the time that I would never be able to fill a 6GB hard drive. This computer had Windows 98 installed and compared to all the other operating systems I had used to date, this was the best I had ever seen. The full system which consisted of computer, monitor, keyboard & mouse cost me $2,500.00

 In 2002, I started a computer course at TAFE, certificate II in Information Technology, and completed the Diploma of IT, specializing in networking 3 years later.

 In 2007, I began doing repairs for friends and family and in 2009 I opened Avon River Computer Service, providing repairs, upgrades and sorting out computer issues for the general public.