Would you sell your apartment to gift a close relative an unlimited subscription to the latest OpenAI APIs and the best deep learning rig money could buy?
If you're like me and can't resist a good nostalgia trip, keep reading. Maybe you'll get into the mood and will share your own first computer story. If you started with a Binatone console as the first computing device or just a fancy Texas Instrument calculator? Share that sick story in the comments below.
I found myself inspired by a recent watercooler discussion at work about our "first websites". It got me thinking about the computers colleagues used to create those sites and how they even got your hand on them in the first place.
My obsession with computers was born when my godfather let me play games on his workstation once every couple of months. Still remember spending a whole weekend solving detective Freddi Fish's puzzles.
In Ukraine in the late 90s, having a PC at home was close to a miracle. To get a feeling for the vibes and standard of life back then, check out the movie "Rhino" if you like Eastern European vibes. The plot of the film is average, but the vibe took me way back! The cars, the streets, and those sweater patterns... OMG! But I digress.
What I was trying to say is that having a computer for myself was not in my wildest dreams. It would take over a year's worth of my dad's salary at that time to build a reasonable machine. So, I mostly dreamed of the days I could go to my godfather again, and this time he would show me how dial-up works its magic and people can talk to each other through chat programs like ICQ.
Then, one dinner in 2003 turned out special. My dad informed the family that his mum wanted to get something special for her grandkids and gifted me and my sister 600$ each. My dad concluded that if we combine gifted money, it could get us a decent computer. The news was ecstatic!
"Now back off a little. Where the hell did your grandma get that much money? Didn't you just say having a computer would take a year worth of salary?"
Glad you've asked. My grandma used to work as an engineer at a factory back in the USSR days. She was a modest pensioner at the time she made a gift. She definitely hasn't had a secret stash of money as all savings were wiped out with the collapse of the Soviet empire.
"Did your granny win the lottery?"
She did like statistics and numbers in general. I am pretty sure my grandma hasn't skipped a single Sunday-morning national lotto draw. She watched every single one noting the winning sequences and making adjustments in her square grid notebook. The only lottery tickets she ever used were once she wrote herself. She liked to only check if she'd win if she had a ticket with the sequence she predicted. So, no - definitely not lottery money. And for the love of 2Pac, lotteries are SCAM!
"Robbed a bank maybe?"
HAHA I'll spare you the torture.
As we later found out, my grandma was obsessed with getting a better education for the grandkids. As an engineer in the past was fascinated by computers and all the new tech that was coming out in the late 90s. She hinted at my dad to get a PC for the kids if she gave him the money.
"What is this village now? And how is OpenAI involved in all of this?"
My parents found out that post-factum, grandma has sold her farmhouse. Old but livable single-story building, with lots of land and driving distance from the capital Kyiv. It had a beautiful national park close by and the Dnipro river is stunning in that area.
Granny got a mere 2400$ for the farm. In 2023 money that's not even 4000$ inflation adjusted. Granny decided to split the money into four parts. Kept one for her own needs and gifted 600$ to each of her three grandchildren.
On one hand, it was probably one of the worst financial decisions. The land in the region was only getting more expensive... while computers were obeying Moore's law and getting cheaper by the day. On the other hand, without my grandma's vision and incredible heart I would not get exposed enough to programming. Would most likely neither build the web gallery site for my parents nor parts of the software running this blog.
The computer we bought wasn't any geeky classic like Commodore 64, which people usually rave about. It was a modestly specced Intel Celeron 2.4 running Windows Me.
The beautiful sound of Windows Millennium Edition startup... said no one ever. Still, gives me nostalgic goosebumps to this day. Of course, I couldn't bear the horror of that operating system for more than two weeks before I wiped it clean and installed a much more reliable Windows 98.
This is how my granny traded a farmhouse for an unlimited subscription to the newest available technology for her grandkids.