Gateway Gadgets

gear diary gates of gear(Gates courtesy of JKMedia)

We all had that one device that led us into the world of true gadget loving. It’s that one device that you obsessed over, read about, joined forums to discuss…once it starts it’s an addiction. Since it’s the holidays, I thought it might be a good time to head down memory lane and see what gadget was our first geek love…

Carly Z

For me, it was the Palm M100. I remember buying it my junior year of college, and thinking it would help me stay on top of my assignments. By senior year I was taking all my notes on it with an external keyboard, wrote a decent chunk of my senior thesis in Wordsmith, and knew all sorts of tricks and hacks for it.This was all followed by a parade of PDAs, from the Zire 71 to the Palm TX.

The next thing I knew, I had a Treo 650, followed by an iPhone, a Samsung Epix, an E71x, a Samsung Propel Pro and back to the iPhone. Somewhere in there I discovered Macs, and before I knew it I was a full fledged geek!

Doug Moran

Well, it depends on your definition. The “gadget” that I first obsessed over—at least the first one I remember—was a Commodore PET. I taught myself BASIC because I wanted to write programs for it so bad. I stayed after school (in High School!) to fiddle with it. I hacked so much that by the time there were official classes in my Senior year, I earned credits by being the TA for the class.

Of course, I was a nerd from way back. I loved my Dad’s Zeiss camera, and 35MM cameras in general. I bought a used, hand-wound 8MM film camera and fiddled with it to get it working. I was fascinated by my Dad’s slide rule, although I never learned how to jockey one. Anything brass and gadget-like drew me—sextants, anti-interference compasses, etc.

With regard to “gadgets,” it was the Palm Pilot 1000. As soon as I saw one, I knew I had to have it. Once I got it, I played with it obsessively. It was pathetic. I don’t early-adopt technology as a rule, but with PDAs/Smart Phones, I’ve been on the edge for a long time. It’s my thing.

Travis Ehrlich

I remember learning some basic coding on the Apple IIe and the TRS-80 in elementary school. I would sit and try different lines to make names run across and change color or flash. My masterpiece was a sports quiz game I worked on at a Radio Shack my best friend’s family owned. It was very cheesy, but I was super proud of it. I would sit at the computers for hours in the store just exploring. Everything I learned, was learned on my own.

I did not have much growing up so I spent more time taking apart radios and broken gadgets than I did having ones that worked. In my adult life, I was able to get a Handspring Visor. I carried that enormous thing around in my pocket! I loved finding applications for it and pushing it to its limits. My five year old son is easily on his way to follow in my footsteps of being a geek and loving gadgets. He often asks me if we have an app for that!

Amy Zunk

Well, my first exposure to geekdom was using an Atari computer to learn the European states and capitals when I was in 6th grade. I learned BASIC on it and used to make pretty pictures with plotting graph points. Yes, I built it pixel by pixel. Ouch.

For me, it was a combination of my grandfathers Pentax 35mm camera and my own Palm III. The camera because I loved watching him wind the film and play with the lenses. My palm II, because I finally had something other than my Franklin Covey planner or a piece of paper to take notes and keep my schedule. And when I found the and Handango web sites— I downloaded tons of apps and games. I have been hooked ever since.

Perry Reed

I also started my computing life on Commodore PET computers that the high school had. I wrote more useless BASIC programs on those little computers… Eventually my parents bought us an Atari 800 computer, which I absolutely loved. I still have it, in fact, and to this day, my all-time favorite video game is Star Raiders on that old Atari.

I’m trying to remember what gadget may have been my first. I had the old Mattel football and baseball handheld games, and those were very very fun. I picked up the remade versions a couple of years back and given that the display is just some red LEDs, they’re still very fun.

From a productivity standpoint, I had a digital watch that had a calculator and keypad built in, and even a really rudimentary (but very fun) version of Space Invaders (again, all red LEDs, but surprisingly entertaining).

My first PDA was an HP100LX which I carried everywhere with me and had all kinds of DOS programs loaded on it. From there, I’ve owned several up to my current Windows Phone.

Judie Lipsett

My general gateway gadget was the oft mentioned robot that my brother got for Christmas from my paternal grandparents – I think this was in 1972 or so, and I remember thinking that he was much too young for such a cool toy. It ran on batteries – probably C or D cells, it had lights that would flash when you pressed certain buttons, and there was an animated battle scene that would light up on it’s “belly” … and that’s about all I remember, other than the absolute envy that I felt, because I had received a doll, and I really wanted that robot. Convincing Mark that he would rather have the doll took some smooth talking, but my dad later made me give it back. :-(

My first handheld game was in 4th or 5th grade (around 1976 or 1977) – a Texas Instruments Little Professor math training toy, and I used it so often I went through several of them. I thought the red LED display was amazingly futuristic — it looked like the prohibitively expensive red digital watches that I lusted after but didn’t think I would ever own. Some time around late 1991, I discovered a device that would ignite my future passion — the HP 95LX, which was eventually replaced with a Tandy Z-PDA, or Zoomer, in 1993. In no time at all my entire life was contained on these devices, it didn’t take long before I had fatally scratched the Zoomer’s screen from repeatedly playing Pyramid, the included card game.

I really wanted one of the later Apple Newtons, but just couldn’t afford its cost at the time; if I remember correctly, the one I wanted was almost $1000, and I didn’t want to “settle” for the $700 one. My next major PDA purchase was the Palm Pilot Professional in 1997, and the rest is history. :-)

Your Stories

So what was your first “gateway gadget”? Have you set your friends on the path of technolust with your enthusiasm? Share your stories below!

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68 replies

  1. One of my earliest memories was playing “Outhouse” on my Dad’s work Vic20 ( Sometime after that we got a c64 and I was away – gaming, basic, the infamous “quicksilver” hack…

    My PDA obsession started with a Handspring Visor Deluxe, c/w Thinmodem ~2001. Back in those days there were very few review sites, I would literally spend hours reading all the dialog on The-Gadgeteer :)

    After the Visor, it’s been a new device every year or so. Funny, the device I was the most excited about receiving was the iPaq h2210 in 2003. Back then it was great, if someone handed it to me now though I wouldn’t even give it a second look. Times change, and with it our expectations.

  2. Gateway Gadget? Dunno since I have been consumed by anything with buttons, LED’s, CPU’s or trackpads since 1980! I think the gateway one though was Mattel’s Electronic Football.

  3. My first gateway gadget was the Hewlett-Packard HP200LX palmtop computer. It started out as a work aid and became a hobby and then a business. I formed in 1996 to cater to the 100/200LX community and had a worldwide community of developers who contributed to the site. It contained tips/tricks, a software repository, a mailing list, macro generators, a database collection and much more. (You can still see a skeleton of the site at My wife still uses her creaky 200LX after all of these years.

    I ran the site on a hand built Linux PC hooked to the net 24/7 through a dialup connection on a US Robotics Courier modem. I paid the local internet provider for a static IP address and had elaborate redial scripts that would keep the site online if I was away and couldn’t tinker with things. At the time the only “broadband” was a $1500 a month T1 line or a pesky 128 Kbps ISDN line. I could afford neither.

    So that was it, the 200LX took me down the rabbit hole of tech lust which I still suffer from to this day. Like a reformed alcoholic I try to stay away from Engadget as there is just too much “shiny shiny” out there and I am easily swayed. I do love the gadgets though and I have a new Kindle 2 that just arrived the other day.

  4. PalmPilot Personal. And “gateway gadget” is the perfect term!

  5. These were two Christmas gifts I received when I was a kid:

    (Note: this site isn't mine; I just found the items with some Googling.)

    I was hooked.

  6. Philips Velo 1. Windows CE 1.0!

  7. It is cool how most everyone has a different gadget that brings them into the geek world. Some had gadgets most would think of, then others like Judie had a brother with a cool toy. Great post!

  8. HP OmniGo 120 but then traded it for the original Pilot 1000…and then a long and varied gadget road ever since!

  9. Texas Instruments “Dataman.” Hours of fun playing his games. I still have him, along with the Atari 2600 with the Basic cartridge and the 2-piece keyboard controller.

  10. I also had a PalmPilot – it still works!

  11. I never replied because I don't know where to start – I feel my tech life has been like a roller-coaster: from early fascinations taking stuff apart to Pong in the early-mid 70's, my first large personal tech purchase of an Apple ][+ when they were new, and later, in my professional life things really started when I grabbed my first HP95LX and then later the Newton, finally settling nicely into the Newton MP2k and HP200LX as devices I loved and still have.

    Never much for the Palm stuff early on … way too weak compared to the stuff I had.


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