How I discovered computers

My Dad likes gadgets, and so when the Timex Sinclair 1000 came out, he got one and brought it home. There wasn’t much you could do with the TS 1000 except learn to program. At the time, my siblings and I didn’t understand why anyone would want to learn to program that thing, so it sat around gathering dust.

Next came the Commodore 64 and it had possibilities: a cool space game, a typing game and even a word processing application. As the World’s Worst Typist (I’ve since improved) the concept of word processing was a godsend. No more Liquid Paper and starting pages over and over! Of course this was the early days of commercial software and the user interface was pretty primitive. The software was programmed so that the keys for Save and for Revert were right next to each other. During late night paper writing the chance of hitting the wrong key grew exponentially bigger as the hour got later. I thought computers were somewhat useful, but also annoying.

Then I met my suite-mate in college. Her name was Jana and she was almost completely blind; she could tell dark from light and that was about it. She carried a little machine (probably a VersaBraille) with her to class that had an eight-key chording keyboard and used cassette tapes for storage. She could read back what she typed because running the cassette caused a series of rubber-tipped pins to form braille letters.

That was cool, but what really impressed me was that she could also write papers on that thing. All she had to do was hook it up to a printer, which could be either braille or a regular dot-matrix. With this technology, plus some extra assistance from the school like readers and tutors, Jana was able to graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in Music. I began to see how useful computers could be.

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