I got my first real job in 1975 programming in assembly language on Burroughs accounting computers. I bought my first real computer in about 1976, a DEC PDP-8 with a DECwriter II printer. I paid $18,000 for it, and another $15,000 for an additional core memory board. Sure, it was a lot of money, but then I had 16 K of core, which was more than anyone would ever need. It even had a high-speed (300 baud) modem and 8-inch floppy drives that held 128 K each! After I bought an ADM-3a video display, you could play a mean game of Lunar Lander or Star Trek.

From 1975 until 1988 I did a lot of custom programming and hardware design, mostly relating to telecommunications and data security. My list of projects got rather long during those years, even considering that there were almost a dozen security-related projects that somehow vanished from my resume. The most glamorous project was the terminal system for the Space Shuttle launch computer network.

I managed to get my sticky fingers into the guts of almost every kind of computer (though I did very little with Data General machines). I continued to use the PDP-8 as my personal machine until the Osborne-1 was introduced. That machine, with a full 64 K of RAM, a lightning-fast Z-80 microprocessor, and tiny 5¼” floppies, was a truly portable computer — barely larger and heavier than a sewing machine!

After the introduction of the IBM PC in the early 1980’s, more and more of my work centered on personal computers. I got my first Apple Macintosh shortly after they came into being, and though I continued to do DOS (and, later, Windows) work for the bulk of my income, the Macintosh quickly became the platform I was most likely to actually use. I wrote a suite of cross compilers and debuggers so that I could use my Mac for my DOS programming tasks. I eventually wrote a successful bit of Mac shareware (remember BackDown, old timers?) which allowed me to spend more professional time with the Macintosh. I did quite a bit of writing for MacWEEK and Macworld, and discovered that writing was even more fun than system design.

Computers were always more of an overgrown hobby than a career, and in 1988 I realized that I was financially and professionally secure enough that I could go back to medical school. Though I continued working while I completed my undergraduate degree (in literature/writing, just for something different), I cut my hours way back to 30-40 per week. Even so, computers and networking continued to be a big part of my life. I bought a PowerBook 140 in 1992, and used it to take class notes (indexed, typeset, and published!) during my first two years of medical school. I also used it to lay out the Murmur, our student newspaper.

I upgraded to a PowerBook 5300cs in 1996. With 24 megabytes of RAM it was more than 1,000 times more powerful than my first machine, at about one-tenth the price. It’s a cool machine; a lot of folks have had trouble with them, but mine’s been great. I’ve long been a fan of laptops, but ever since discovering the Newton and, more recently, the Psion Series 5 I’ve decided to move up to the (now discontinued) UMAX/SuperMac S-900 and use my palmtops when I need portability. I recently boosted the S-900 with a PowerLogix G3 card from Small Dog Electronics. The 5300cs now sits quietly under my desk, working as a server/router here at risley.net.

Why a clone? I suppose I was mad at Steve Jobs for killing the Newton, and didn’t want to give Apple any more money. Besides, it’s a great machine and it was a fantastic buy.

Date created: March 8, 1996
Last modified:
Copyright © 1996-2000 Ron Risley