This was mind-blowing for me; science-fiction was becoming reality. I pored over the magazine trying to understand what these machines were, what they could do, and dreamed about how I could possibly get one. It turned out that a friend of my dad's had given him the magazine, and more issues started to arrive. Some of the articles reviewed hardware or showed how to build circuits, but other articles talked about programs. Some of these programs were in machine and assembly language and were completely incomprehensible to me, but some were in a language called BASIC, and I could figure out some of what they did. Not long after that, the first computer store in Dallas opened up. My dad took me there and I got to see some of these machines in person. Some of them had boxes with switches and lights on the front, others just had a power and reset button. Some had keyboards and little TV monitors connected to them. I could press the keys and see the letters appear on the screen. On one of our visits there, I tried typing in a little program...
10 PRINT "GREG"
20 GOTO 10
... and my name went racing up the screen. What a thrill!
Thoughts of computers filled my mind. A company called Commodore came out with a computer called the PET which you could buy for $600, and it included everything you needed to write BASIC programs. My goal was to save up enough money to buy a PET, which seemed achievable with a lot of work. I did not consider the dream machine, the Apple II, which at over $1000 seemed unobtainable. In the meantime, I heard that my High School had a course called Computer Math that taught BASIC programming, so I signed up to take it my Sophomore year. I didn't think it would be a very good course, but at least I would get to program a computer.
That summer, my dad surprised me and delighted me to no end by bringing home an Apple II with 16K of RAM! I probably spent every spare hour I had that summer on the computer, typing in programs out of magazines, playing little games, and coming up with my own programs.
When it came time for me to take the Computer Math class, I had already learned on my own most what would be taught in the class. There was one other kid in the class, Chad, who also knew a lot about computers, and we became friends. Chad and I did well in the class, but Chad had stories of a kid named Mike who had taken the class earlier and was quite a computer wiz. Later that year, our teacher took Mike, Chad, and myself up to North Texas State University (now UNT) for a programming contest. This was my first time to spend any time with Mike, and although he was kind of strange, he was clearly very smart, and I admired him. We did not win the contest, but we had a good time. On the drive back, Chad and Mike put a tape in the car stereo, and a very strange song began to play. It seemed to have a religious theme, but it was not like any religious song I had ever heard. I couldn't tell if it was serious, or making fun of religion. I now know it was Larry Norman singing Moses in the Wilderness, and this song was a kind of sign of things to come.