10 in 10

This post commemorates the first 10 computers I used in my life – by sheer coincidence, my experience with them spans exactly 10 years.

My first 10 computers

1978 – I use the IBM s/360-158 installed at Milan’s Polytechnic to write and run a Fortran-IV program for the “Electronic Computers” exam. I can’t remember what was the objective of the program, but I remember dropping the pile of 80-col punchcards and having to reorder them by hand. Twice. (Don’t laugh!)

1981 – I use the DEC PDP-11 managed by my thesis professor (Solid State Physics) for the calculation of the geometrical shape of liquid-phase necks in the sintering of an Ag-W mix of powders. These beautiful little Pascal programs are probably appended to my dissertation’ final report; the actual experiment should have run on the Space Shuttle Endeavor as part of the ESA-sponsored scientific payload, but never made it to space because of the Challenger disaster.

1982 – having joined IBM, I write my first Cobol/CICS program, a procedure for the calculation of payroll which will happily run for many years on the client’ system. This is the time when, chatting during a lunch break with the data center operators, and wanting to behave like the expert IBM said I was, I ask: “Where do you keep the CPU? In another room?” They look at me awkwardly, as if it was some kind of expert trick question before uttering “You’re sitting on it!” I had never seen a 4330 before and I must say I highly disapproved of the almost total lack of blinkenlichten  when compared to proper mainframe consoles. For the first time, my terminal has 15 more colors on top of the customary green phospores.


1982 – I discover, in the basement of the IBM branch where I work, a room dedicated to application systems engineers; it contains four terminals connected to the big mainframe (no idea of model) in IBM’s HQ in Segrate. Thanks to a friendly informer, I get access to the rogue “The Cave” text adventure game that someone installed on that machine. Playing that game familiarized me with the VM operating system (IMHO IBM’s best ever) none of my clients used: my first instance of learning something of no practical use whatsoever. My wife to this day still believes my boss at the time made me pull long nights.

1983 – I have become the country specialist for a Project Management application. Its first installation on a s/370 CPU of an Italian client grinds it to a screeching halt, causing the client to upgrade the CPU, migrate to MVS and upgrade two disk strings. I am a hero (at IBM!)Sinclair ZX Spectrum.jpg

1983 – I smuggle in my dirty underwear to avoid customs a 48k Sinclair ZX Spectrum bought at WHSmith; with its pseudo-Basic I write a 6×4 cell spreadsheet (why? because I could, that’s why!). I am able to run the four arithmetic operations, but I do not have enough memory to do square roots. I am sure that cassette is still somewhere.


1984 – I have now joined Olivetti. In the branch where I work as a salesman, it is considered disgraceful to even touch the word processors used by mere secretaries, but I stay longer at night for the privilege of typing my own letters, something that earns me a formal reprisal by security. When our office is assigned an M24 PC, it obviously lands on my desk and with such power and the help of Ashton-Tate’ Framework I create a little system to keep track in real time of my incentives, the envy of all my colleagues. Oh, I also keep score of the company-wide Briscola Chiamata card game tournament. A hero again!

1986 – I move to Windsor (UK) and a then very young Lotus Development Corp. gives me a Macintosh SE. I remember its 3.5″ disks and the “puke” sound effect I had assigned to the eject command. Priceless when in front of management!

1987 – returned to Milano I decree, as the CEO of the newly minted Italian subsidary, I deserve a top-of-the-line Olivetti M24 with a whopping 10 MB of hard disk. In the rather anarchic style of the company, its six Italian employees use PCs by four different vendors.

1988 – my first portable (luggable?), a Toshiba 3100SX; a great machine which I take home to show off on its first day, but as I am locking my car, the computer falls on its side and the disk is gone. I had booted it only once.


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