Aubrey Portwood

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The Story of My Life in Computers: The Apple //e

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As far back as I can remember back to how all this began, I always remember my first computer, an Apple //e. It’s an icon of my beginnings. I remember it looked like the image above. Same large 5 1/2″ floppy drives all mushed up into one big block. I remember the odd power button on the top right of the monitor. I also remember just taking the plastic off and poking at the innards, even removing a chip or two just to look at it. Of course, I put it back.

The //e always gets credit for being the computer. I still wish I had one now, just to play with. It’s amazing how far things have come along since then. Now, it was probably 1992 or something close to that. I had this computer while others had much different one’s and the Internet was around the corner.

My mother got it at a garage sale. She had no idea how it worked, I doubt she had even really used a computer, but she handed it to me and I remember being in awe. A TV that I could put things on myself.

It came with some original floppy disks but all I could ever get was a prompt on the screen. I probably spent 2 days figuring this thing out. I remember typing nonsense on it at first. I looked through the manual that came with it as I got an error here and there. As far as I can tell, programming came naturally to me. Type that, then type that, then GOTO 10, type RUN and it went through the steps. After a few weeks I imagine I was on it all the time making these programs. I remember being specifically fascinated with making a digital pet, well maybe really just a digital friend.

I spent a great deal of my time inside anyways. I was obsessed with club houses, secret rooms and the like. I remember I took the bottom bunk because I could drape a sheet over the edges and have my own little space. I also liked rooms, organizing them, setting up my little space. The //e can vaguely be remember sitting command center style dead center on a long desk I had constructed out of probably 3 or 4 different desks or tables. I spent hours deciding if the floppy drive should go under the monitor or to the right of me with something on it. The //e had fit directly into my organized structure life, and so did programming I guess.

I had eventually learned (though I can’t remember how) to save the programs from memory to a floppy disk. I can’t really remember what these programs were, I just remember typing GOTO 12 this and GOTO 54 a lot, but can’t seem to recall what it would do when it got to the line. But, I will never forget the symbol ], on the //e that was the prompt.

Bring an Apple to School

No one saw my creations but me. I never showed it off and no one ever really knew what I was doing. Well that was until my 4th grade teacher got uncomfortable that I wasn’t playing some game on the Apple’s at school.

I remember the school got some of these computers. They took up a lot of room in the classroom, piled onto 6 desks all stacked up next to each other. They were exactly like mine at home.

I remember being kicked off computer quite often because I knew how to get to the prompt and do things there. I even brought my own programs over on 5 1/2″ floppies. I never thought it then, but maybe Ms. Amen, my teacher, thought I was hacking, or maybe she just didn’t know what the hell I was doing. Were viruses a thing back then? I don’t know, but what I was doing wasn’t what the other kids were doing on them.

I have no idea, but I’d like to imagine my teacher knew exactly what I was doing and was encouraging me by letting me type odd things on a computer. I remember staying after school to be on the //e at school. When you start creating something in memory, well you have to finish!

But she let me do it. After getting kicked off a few times I think Ms. Amen discovered what I was doing was harmless, and it was! I can’t even remember what I was coding. I remember realizing how cool it was to move programs from computer to computer.

IBM took over Apple

When I was a kid, I was maybe 11 or 12, I had no idea what or who IBM was. All I knew was that my Apple was not loading, something was wrong. My mom decided to take my computer to an IBM store in Roswell, New Mexico. If only I had knew that it would be the last time I’d see my Apple computer.

I did not know it at the time, but I think my mom could not afford to fix the computer. I remember being very weirded out by the people there. Big glasses, suites…old. Were those computer people? I’m not sure if I’m putting a memory in my own head, but I think I knew something was different about IBM. Even the logo seemed different than the cool //e one, just didn’t seem like my //e was in the right place — and I was right!

Anyhow, we left it there to get fixed. I remember going back a few times to check on it. I grew up in a small farm town south of Roswell and so it was a trip and so I’d only get to check on it every couple of weeks. But, something on the board had fried and it was in some room filled with cubicles. The place didn’t even have a sign, it had some IBM thing in the corner of the window. I never saw the //e again. I think they hated it, maybe the burned it!

I think my mom couldn’t afford to pay them to fix it. I still imagine it there actually. Like if I went in one day it might still be there. When I go back into town I don’t even go by the area where the computer repair place was. I kind of like it that way.

Anyway, I had no computer. I had to go back to being a normal kid again. I went outside and I even picked up smoking. I can’t remember what happened, did I just not care anymore or did I just genuinely get distracted by being a kid? All I know was that I remember being bummed out that my great friend the //e was not coming back, but I think I accepted that it was forever going to be hidden in that cubical filled room.

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