[See below a 1996 article from The Harold Herald, the world’s first blog, which I invented in the early 1990s. Yeah, you heard me right … The act of ‘composing at the keyboard’ is so ingrained today, one can forget when and why that started — and just how many technological eras our lives have spanned since. The newspaper that first employed me was still waxed and ‘pasted up’ on boards, with photos carved in with exacto knives…]
As I prepare to discard the computer on which I truly learned to type, compose at the keyboard and play video games, I’ve come not to bury the ol’ ATT 6300 but to praise it. After doling out the praise, however, it’s headed for the scrap heap.
For 11 years, this IBM knock-off served various housemates and myself extremely well under the most trying circumstances. I dare say, no unit still operating has endured more moves, more beer-dousings and random acts of neglect than has our intrepid ATT 6300.
Harold Herald Virtual Editor Dave Rose was the original owner, having purchased the machine via a special Wesleyan University discount deal prior to our senior year. Today, its game graphics would pale by comparison beside, say, those of any Fisher Price product. But back in 1985, this baby was state of the art.
In the years preceding Dave’s monumental purchase, I had no PC experience whatsoever. Hardly anyone did. For the first two and a half years of college, for example, I would write papers long hand. It was imperative that I produce a finished draft two days in advance, leaving me an entire evening to hunt and peck the final product on my enormous, ’50s-era electric typewriter, which my dad found at the dump and refurbished. These “typing” sessions were trying times for my housemates and me: evenings laced with profanity born of frustration and pungent White-Out fumes as disorienting (in their own way) as Thai stick.
Late in my junior year I took to typing-up papers on the university’s main-frame computer, which was painfully slow and inconvenient as it was located in the Science Library as opposed to our house.
All this changed senior year when Rose bought the computer, thereby opening up a whole new world to the residents of 8 Warren St.
The video games, crude though they were, proved the ATT 6300’s most enduring legacy. Sure I wrote my thesis on this machine but, more important, I also shattered the world Digger record some 10 separate times! I am not a talented nor part particularly ardent gamer but I made myself the all-time Digger champion through relentless dedication. This involved repeatedly drawing myself a draft beer (we were on tap 24 hours a day, 7 days a week my senior year), going upstairs to Dave’s room and “Digging” until something more important came along.
Digger was a sort of Pacman knock-off. Space Vades, a thinly disguised copyright infringement of Space Invaders, was another 8 Warren St. mainstay. There were innumerable Star Wars-inspired, fighter-jet “shooter” games, several of which made their marks as the next late-night obsession of Dr. Rose and perennial roommate Dennis Carboni.
Come to think of it, I associate much of the computer’s nocturnal use with Dennis, a.k.a. The Bone, That Bone, Bonish, El Carbon and (my personal favorite) You Goddamned Fuckin’ Bone.
That Bone was one of the world’s great procrastinators. He never started a paper until 3 a.m. the morning it was due. Invariably, I would get up for class, poke my head into the computer room and Dennis would smile back, his eyes bleary but lit a pale green by the monitor.
“How’s it coming, you goddamned Bone?”
“Oh, hey … No problem: 11 o’clock class.”
Obsessive nearly to a fault, Dennis and Dave would often become utterly engrossed in some new DOS-based computer game via the 6300 (in the same way they became engrossed in things like mail-order blow guns, palindromes or the album art of David Bowie). Invariably, they would play new video-game pursuits late into the night. Rarely, however, would Rose outlast the Bone.
One night Rose and Bone secured some flight simulator software that enabled them to “fly” virtual Piper Cubs, in real time, with functional control panels. After watching Rose navigate his way from Boston to New York City, I went to bed. It was interesting but quickly became tedious as the screen went a dull, blank green when one left Greater Boston. Such primitive graphic cards didn’t show any topographical detail at all until one approached Laguardia.
I saw Dennis the next morning and he looked like hell.
“Bone, you look like hell,” I said.
“Yeah, after you went to bed I flew to Salt Lake City!”
“How long did it take you?”
Upon graduation, the ATT 6300 went with Dave to Somerville, Mass. There the computer continued to serve a group function — meaning Rose owned it and I sponged off him. I composed my first resumes and cover letters on the 6300. I tapped out my first freelance project (for the New York Times Selective Guide to Colleges) on it. And in the days before CADD, Rose and I actually laid out several golf holes with it — Somerville Golf Club was a unique design, winding its way through the city landscape and featuring several dinosaur hazards (we were drunk, okay?).
Our greatest collaborative effort, however, was the now-immortal Consumer Junk Food Index, a comprehensive list which ranked foods, candy, soda and beer on the dual bases of thrift and an inherent lack of food value. At the time of its formulation, Rose and I thought this index to be the most hilarious thing ever written, by anyone, spawning as it did some of the greatest beer-soaked prose ever committed to floppy disk. See an excerpt here (and note that back in the dark, pre-craft years of 1987-88, Corona was considered fancy, expensive beer):
Beer: Lets begin by saying that if you’re eating junk food, you’re not drinking Corona. No limes here. These are affordable beers with panache. Expensive beer is expensive and thus unattainable. There is no “bad” beer. Light beer? What are you even thinking about?!?
- Budweiser: Let’s face it: Still the king. Everybody drinks it.
- Black Label (bar bottles): “The Beer of Kings.” Cheap and plentiful. Let’s face it, nobody drinks it; but they should.
- Rolling Rock: Not as trendy as everyone thinks.
- Haffenreffer Special Stock: “Green Death.” A good beer with more than a little spunk. And rebus caps. Strangely, the first cap is always pretty easy to solve. The second, third and especially the fourth prove more elusive.
- Blatz: A lot like water, only more expensive. But still very, very cheap.
- Schmidts: A very dependable beer. In every package store.
- Mickey’s Malt Liquor: “The Mean Green.” That’s the official name for it. We didn’t make it up. Wide-mouth bottle ensures excessive consumption.
- Red White & Blue/Wiedermans (tie): Are you an American, or a Nazi? For $4.99 a case, fascism doesn’t seem all that horrible.
- Special consideration is here given to “the” Matts Beer Ball: portable and potable.
Alas, the passage of time has not been kind to the ATT 6300. The ever-technologically-current Rose sold it to me in 1991, to help pay for his new Mac (I overpaid to make up for my years of sponging). The old machine made the trip to Maine a year later, but my subsequent Macintosh indoctrination at Golf Course News has rendered the 6300 essentially obsolete, despite the occasional Dig down memory lane.
As a parting gesture, Rose traveled to Portland late last year to help me sift through a mountain of old floppy disks. We were hoping to unearth a few gems, like college term papers, love letters or long-forgotten, drunken rants. Unfortunately, floppy disks weren’t built to last. Even Rose’s turbo pascal program — designed to mimic restriction enzyme analysis, a vital lab process the simulation of which might have made us rich! — wouldn’t run. Every time we inserted an unlabeled disk in the drive, the monitor was clear: System Error 23: Bad Disk or File Name …
And so, with a heavy heart I bid the computer, my first computer, adieu. Perhaps it’s fitting the ATT 6300 is retired this year, 1996, the 10-year anniversary of my graduation from college. It’s time to move on, with my life and the technologies that might enhance it. There will be no headstone, no physical memorial to the ATT 6300. But some things will survive: My memories, the few things I had the presence of mind to print out, and most important, my standing as the undisputed Digger champion of all time.