My first computer.

Sharp PC-1500

Impressive, huh? It was 1983, and I was living on Long Island and working at an ad agency, fresh out of art school in Colorado. One of the agency's clients was a consumer electronics retailer in the city, and I had the account rep pick it up for me after a meeting.

My interest in computers began around 1970, when ads for various computer kits appeared in magazines like Popular Science. During the 70s the graphic design industry was slowly undergoing a shift to digital production techniques, and U&lc magazine ran a series of articles titled "Vision 80s," about impending computer-based design and production workflows. In 1984 the MacIntosh was introduced, but we had already been doing page layout/composition on film-based typesetting workstations by Compugraphic and others, and digital scanning and retouching on Crosfield equipment, etc. Having repaired and built stereo equipment, shortwave radio kits and more during my teen years, I was eager to play with this new digital technology first-hand.

The computer was portable, about the size of a large calculator, and came with a docking station/case that included a small roll-fed plotter, and an interface for backing up programs on a cassette recorder. It had 4K of RAM, ran on four AA batteries, and had an 8-bit processor running at a whopping 1.3 KHz.

Obviously there was no App Store in those days, you had to program the thing to do what you wanted. In my day-to-day work routine I used its calculator features extensively, and created BASIC programs to help with some of the more complicated calculations involved with spec'ing type, etc. I had an interest in typography in general, and I remember creating a program to plot superepllipses based on an old Scientific American article that I read somewhere was used by Herman Zapf when he created some of his fonts.

I also remember programming it to plot drawings for a window catalog I was designing, based on different input parameters. For fun I copied a program from a magazine that plotted biorhythms, a minor fad in the 70s and 80s, which I produced for friends and coworkers, who were suitably impressed. I also created a grocery list application that sorted the list in aisle order of the local market — very handy!

A short time later I graduated to a genuine PC, a Leading Edge Model D, skipping the Mac revolution because it just didn't have enough fonts available for our work. We used the Model D for bookkeeping, word processing, and spreadsheets, etc., and also for ordering type directly from the typesetter using a 1200-baud modem to transmit text files marked up with special tags that were interpreted by their equipment automatically to produce galleys we received back by FedEx the next day. Those tags were a lot like the HTML/CSS markup we use to build websites today — weird, huh?

Photograph by Rama, Wikimedia Commons, Cc-by-sa-2.0-fr

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