Inspiring Ingenuity

Alteryx, Bicycles and Teaching Kids Programming.

End of an era

Radio Shack is on its way out.  I was probably about 10 years old when my mom bought me a TRS-80 Model 1 (but level 2!) computer.  Although I had previously learned a little programming on my school’s time shared access to a PDP-11, this was my 1st computer that was all mine.

I loved that thing.  I spent hours studying every detail about that machine, even to the point of disassembling the built in basic interpreter to find useful routines, like the floating point arithmetic libraries.  My dad used to get up super early to go for a run and then commute into the city, and on multiple occasions he would need to tell me to turn off the light and go to bed – I had spent most of the night doing something and that machine.  I created all kinds of useless programs and games on that thing that never went anywhere, but I sure learned how to program.

A few years later I decided to learn how computers worked and bought a huge bag of relays from a grab bag shelf at Radio Shack.  I knew transistors worked somewhat similarly to relays, buts that’s really all I knew.  A few weeks of hand wiring all the relays together, I figured out how to create a circuit that could do binary addition, including a carry bit.  The inputs were 2 rows of DIP switches and the outputs a row of hand wired LEDs.  It had more in common with a Charles Babbage machine than anything modern, but learning the fundamentals of how these things worked filled me with a huge sense of accomplishment.

To be honest, the Radio Shack era probably ended 30 years ago, but the world just hadn’t noticed yet or something.  I walk into one occasionally out of nostalgia, but there is never much that I want to buy. Still, somehow I am sad to see them go.  I sure wouldn’t be here as the CTO of Alteryx without them.  So thank you Radio Shack.  And thank you mom for buying me that computer.  I still appreciate it.

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