Hardware … and Software

Yep, I go both ways. My penchant for hardware was fostered in the 3rd grade. My uncle got me a “crystal” radio kit for my birthday.

Science Fair Crystal Radio Kit

I also spent many after school hours at a friend’s house working on the Radio Shack electronic X-in-one kits. The first being his 100-in-1.

Science Fair 100-IN-1

Many others followed: My own 10-in-1, then a 150-in-1, and so on.

At the time, software was not a thing for kids my age. My interest in electronic circuits did get me looking at Popular Electronics magazine at the city and Jr. high school libraries. Eventually, I convinced my mom to get me a subscription for myself. I’d read those monthly issues in great detail, and I’d pick up old issues at bargain book sales.

Popular Electronics

Next came the subscription to Radio-Electronics.


My freshman year in high school finally provided me access to a TRS-80 Model I after school. The data processing classroom had two, and certain respectful students were allowed to learn on them until the janitor came to clean the room and lock the door at the end of his shift. I went out and plunked down $5.95 plus tax to get this manual so that I could start learning BASIC.

BASIC Computer Language – Instruction Book

I learned BASIC at home, with the computer, but then came into the classroom to try my programs. I also tried some programs out at Radio Shack, but would usually get shooed away by the sales team before I got very far.

It wasn’t too long before I started hearing about the ZX80, and then the big price drop happened at the introduction of the ZX81. I ordered an assembled unit and 16K memory expansion for about $150. I had my first computer.

ZX81 Kit Advertisement

From there, I got into the computer magazines: Compute! and Byte.


At that point, I was of both worlds: Hardware … and Software.

I still tend to work right there, right at the bare metal interface of the two worlds. That duality always comes up in my job interviews. When I saw the following video for the first time, I realized that I’d forever remember it in every interview going forward.

The Origin of Job Interviews

2 thoughts on “Hardware … and Software

  1. Ah, the ZX81 with the wobbly 16k RAM expansion pack – those were the days 🙂 Did you have one of the metal foil printers as well? I’ve never actually seen one of those.

    I was a BBC Model B owner myself. I still have it somewhere although the last time I ran it ( probably more than 10 years ago now ) the power supply was a little dodgy. I think that the electrolytic smoothing capacitors have long since dried out.


    1. Nope, I didn’t have anything more than the ZX81, 16K expansion, a black and white TV, and a Sony TCM-747 cassette recorder. We did have the Radio Shack Quick Printer at school. That printed on aluminized paper. http://www.radioshackcatalogs.com/catalogs_extra/1979_rsc-03/ (page 17). I learned from the data processing instructor that the paper costs were high. That limited printing to maybe two feet per student per project. It was neat to watch the print head etch the foil away. I kept a foil listing for Star Trek for some time. I think I intended to type it in somewhere else. I’m not sure where it went. It was possibly gifted to some aspiring student along with my original David H. Ahl books. I did re-purchase those a few years back.


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