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From paper tape to a patched-together Altair 8800, the story of my first computers

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pdp8efullfront.jpg (Image: Living Computer Museum in Seattle, Wash.)

The other day, I was driving down the road and pulled up behind a stopped car. It was sitting in the middle of the road. After waiting a few minutes and using all my self-control to avoid unleashing an I-was-raised-in-New-Jersey barrage of angry beeping, I drove around. Wouldn't you know it? The driver was furiously typing away on his smartphone.

At the local coffee shop, it's often hard to convince the next customer in line to order, because invariably, she's staring into her phone. Many teachers complain about how difficult it is to get students to put down their phones to just listen to the lecture. And I dare you to go out on a date night, to someplace fun like an ice cream shop or even a nice restaurant, and find even one couple not, at least part of the time, staring into their phones.

Read also: The 10 best smartphones of 2018 (shame about Huawei)[1]

In this environment of smartphone zombification, it's hard to believe that there was once a time when most people had never seen or touched a computer. When I grew up in the 1970s, we didn't have a computer. We didn't have any digital devices. We had a rotary phone and a black-and-white, 13-inch Zenith TV (our color 15-inch Sony TV would come in the next decade).

Filmstrips (like the infamous "Duck and cover"[2]) were still shown in class on actual film. At home, my Dad had a mechanical calculator, complete with the crank, and an IBM Selectric typewriter.

I learned to type in the required-for-graduation typing class, on a fully mechanical typewriter. Fun fact: I failed typing. If

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