VTech Pre-Computer Power Pad … I love thee.


My little cousins pulled out my VTech PreComputer Power Pad (the laptop looking version) while I was home this holiday at my Grandmothers house. I hadn’t seen the thing in years and was so happy to see it still around. I waited for them to get tired of it and sat down at the kitchen table to give it a go. It had been years and I recall one application but I couldn’t remember the name. It was the only one that would let you type and type and type, almost like a word processor, but you couldn’t save anything.

I always loved computers as a kid and when I was given this vtech I was a little disappointed. It was 1994, going on 1995 (christmas gift) and Windows 95 was coming out. My friends were playing solitaire, my uncle had a Mac PowerPC with full paint application and screen savers… and I was given a VTech. It played crossword puzzles, and math games, some basic trivia. Basically my 11 year old self saw it as a toy, capable of nothing more than making me a better student, but never teaching me about computers like I wanted to learn about them. I would go and hang out at office depot and circuit city just so I could play with the real laptops of the time with their spring loaded roller ball mouses, and tiny screens.

I recall hating mine, it was pointless… useless! I would still play on it, pretending to be a troubled lawyer, or possibly some form of hacker. I recall one day opening that “one word processor application” and typing gibberish in while pretending to be stealing top secret government files. When I pressed enter on the keyboard the screen lit up… it was lines and lines and lines of gibberish back, x’s, 0’s, #’s, and I was sure I had broken the thing, pulling the plug and restarting it fixed it right up, and I could never figure out what I had typed.

So now, 2011 is here, it’s been nearly 14 years since I was given my first VTech from my grandma and I sit down at her kitchen table to play with my old “toy” laptop that was “useless” for all those years. Something is different this time, I’m telling my little cousins that there is an application on here and you can just type whatever you want… it was the one I used the most as a kid. Then I realize it and a huge smile comes across my face. I look down at the buttons (applications) that you can press and I see one, almost in disbelief, it reads “BASIC”.

At this point I’m in disbelief, I press the button and sure enough the screen reads “BASIC HAVE FUN!”. This was IT, this was that application… and what’s even cooler, is now I’ve been working full time as a programmer since I was 20… and now I know what BASIC is! I immediately realize that this “useless” toy is far more powerful than I had ever realized as a kid! I sat there at that little laptop on a tiny screen only capable of displaying a handful of characters at time taking requests from my cousins and writing them little applications, there was a birth date calculator, a weight on mars calculator, a square footage calculator, I made special messages appear when they entered correct words when we played 21 questions.

That little VTech sparked my inner child again, and I’m still floored that I was given (and wasted) such a valuable tool as a child, I hope that I sparked the same interest in my cousins that day and they’ll spend as many hours playing with that little VTech as I did… but hopefully they’ll be able to grok BASIC and get a real head start on the “other kids” with their fancy WIndows 7 and OS X.

And that’s how I learned that I achieved my first buffer overflow at the age of 11… on accident.


04 January 2011