Ride of a lifetime

“Dad, can we play that things-that-didn’t-exist-when-you-were-a-kid game again?”
– Son, from the backseat, yesterday

Oh, where to begin. Of course we didn’t have cell phones, flat screen TVs – color TVs, actually – remote controls, shoes with Velcro instead of laces, and in the words of a 4331-member strong Facebook group, “When I was your age, hockey bags didn’t have [bleeping] wheels on them”.

There were no Crocs, no CDs, no DVDs, no Euros, no toy Kalashnikovs, and no Star Wars Lego merchandise. We did have clogs, and VHS, and my father used to make wooden pistols, and leather holsters for me.

Facebook group of three.

But of course, there was no Internet, Xbox, or Nintendo DS. Well, there was Donkey Kong but I didn’t have one and it wasn’t quite the same.

Daughter turned four a couple of weeks ago, and one of the (too many) presents she got was a Hello Kitty “laptop”, a pink computer that has 45 little programs that teach her to read and count, play music, and play games. In three languages.

I was in high school, a year from graduation, when I opted for the “automatic data processing” class. It was the way of the future. We had ADP once a week, at an awkward time, late in the afternoon when the whole school seemed to be empty, except for the twenty or so of us.

The school had one computer. A brownish box, with a monochrome, black and white, 64 x 64 pixel screen, and a whopping one kilobyte of memory. The pixels were the size of a pinky nail so there was no point in trying to create anything too fancy.

Sometimes we got to go in the classroom during a break, and play some of the games. This is what the rally game looked like.

The ‘x’ was really just a white box (on a black screen), marking an obstacle you should go around.

Not that there were that many opportunities for hand-on programming, either. With twenty kids in the classroom, and one computer on a desk next to the wall behind the teacher, getting real time with the computer wasn’t in the cards.

Instead, we first learned the theory, and then, got to book some programming time, an hour a week.

The teacher, also our math teacher, stood in front of the classroom, going through the basics of Basic, the programming language we would use, and we wrote it all down in our blue notebooks, writing short pieces of code, little programs we would then try on the ABC, the name of the computer. Oh, the joy of seeing

10 FOR N = 1 TO 100
20 PRINT “RISTO RULES!”
30 NEXT N

return “Risto rules” a hundred times on the screen.

At the end of the semester, everybody was required to write a program of his own. I wrote one where the computer prompted sentences from our English book with certain words missing, so that the user would then have to choose the correct one out of the three choices listed on the screen. Aced it. Both the programming and the test – then again, I knew the right answers in advance.

At home, I had a ZX Spectrum, and its 48 KB memory to work with so when I was preparing for the business school entrance exam, to learn the ins and outs of linear optimization, I wrote a little program for it. Simply, you had to punch in the two variables, and bang, Spectrum would return the equilibrium point.

I like to think I aced that exam, too. At least I was accepted to the school.

Daughter’s Hello Kitty laptop probably has more computing power than our ABC.

Of course, the changes in my lifetime still pale in comparison with the generation just before me, and before them. Son’s paternal great-grandfathers were born in a Finland that was still under Russian rule. Riding horses was no luxury to him. It was work. A phone was a miracle.

The list of things that he didn’t have is pretty amazing. Rural Finland in the 1920s is not the suburban Sweden of the 21st century.

Maybe that explains some of my mothers favorite foods.

Son, here’s a couple of other things I didn’t have when I was a kid. A child car seat. Seat belts in the back. Or front, for that matter.

Buckle up.

3 thoughts on “Ride of a lifetime

  1. Don’t know which school you went to, but your story sounds exactly like mine. I even had a ZX 48KB and later a commodore 64 with a floppy drive…
    Now my (almost) 7 year olds have all the lates gadgets i could only dream of when being in their age. I guess we should not complain, but try to teach the kids that a life without all the latest is also worth living…

  2. I remember you as my friend’s cousin, "the older kid with ZX Sectrum". Talk of the neighborhood!
    Or do I remember correctly, you had TWO OF THEM?
    :)

  3. Heh, I did have two, but in succession, not at the same time. First the 48K one, then the amazing 64K model. :)