How I Got Started, or Why I love Radio Shack

When I was a kid I spent a lot of time at the Radio Shack. I loved the Radio Shack. They had a battery club back then so you could get free batteries if you had a little punch card. Funny thing is I don’t remember what I used the batteries for but I can vividly remember getting them from the guy behind the counter. That guy seemed really cool to me, and in retrospect I should’ve realized that meant I was a complete nerd.

I guess I lied because I do remember one thing I used those batteries for. I had little motors that I’d attach to various things just to see them spin. Often there were Legos involved. (Not ironic I’m on the local Lego Robot Run board now.) While I was at the store I’d browse the aisles and look at the transistors, and cords, and various bits and bobs and wonder what I might do one day with that stuff if I had 20 bucks to blow. I never built my masterpiece but I certainly managed to shock myself a lot and learned a lot of skills I use to this day.

motor

One hot summer day, when I was 10 or 11, my dad dropped my brother Leon and me off at the Radio Shack. It was for a programming class using BASIC. My brother was clearly bored because I’m not sure he even remembers it, but I was amazed. (He’s in sales now, so the nerd never took.)

It was all command line stuff then but we didn’t know it was command line because that’s all there was. Microsoft hadn’t stole the GUI concept from Apple who hadn’t improved on it from PARC yet, so I was stuck just typing text commands into a window and seeing what response I’d get.

 

trs-80

While I learned on a Tandy TRS-80 (affectionally known as a Trash 80) my dad got me a TI-99, I’m guessing because it came for free from a business calculator he carried around for like 20 years. From there I got programming books (physical, paper books) where you’d copy the code by hand into your computer and then start playing around with it to see what you could make it do. Funny because then I thought it was somehow cheating but now I know that we rarely start coding with a blank screen. I’d save those programs to a Panasonic cassette player which worked double-time as a player for my John Denver cassette. But the bottom line was being dropped off at a Radio Shack as a kid got me playing around on a computer and sparked the passion for coding that I carry today.

 

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