An ode to Radio Shack


A certain subset of computer users – those aged in their late twenties to middle-late 30s – will remember Radio Shack with absolutely fondness. I, for one, used to think of the Shack (as it’s now to be called) as a den of iniquity staffed by people who knew a thing or two about electronics. Those days are long gone, but it’s nice to read posts like Jeff Reifman’s about his love of Radio Shack and how it defined him as a programmer.

Eventually, I parlayed $600 in horse race winnings (my Dad picked and placed a good exacta bet for me at Hollywood Park) and about $600 in sales from my entire baseball card collection to upgrade my computer to have a 5 1/4″ floppy drive. Yes, $1200 for an internal floppy drive. It turned out to be a good investment if you count my later time at Microsoft.

After taking an assembly language class at the Wilshire Radio Shack store (I was the only teenager enrolled), I started hanging out there. I was shocked and saddened to hear from my employee-friend Chuck that Ivan had committed suicide – it was not something I was able to understand at that age.

At one point, Chuck paid me $10/hr (a fortune) to manually re-type the entire contents of private investigator Gavin De Becker’s client database. Chuck set up two Model II computers side by side and I manually moved his entire database from (I think) Profile Plus to (I think) DBase. Basically, it was a catalog of all the psychos tracking his clients such as President Reagan (prior to his election) as well as a lot of code names, e.g. I think Reagan’s was Pigskin. The Model II used 8″ floppies.

Bill Gates, at least according the Malcolm Gladwell, got good because he spent hours and hours on computers before anyone else. I think this generation got good at abstract computing because we were spoiled – we didn’t really see hardware level as the goal and so we weren’t as interested in the nuts and bolts as Gates’ generation was. Thoughts?