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Retrocomputing: Commodore Curiosities

 

Commodore 64Albeit short by the span of a single human lifetime, personal computing has lived through a number of distinct, although occasionally overlapping eras. In the mid-1970s, there was the first wave, driven mostly by hobbyists savvy in electronics and bare-metal software development, one obscure sideshow of which I have chronicled in the previous installment in the series, Marinchip Systems. A second wave was the advent of very inexpensive “home computers”, generally all-in-one systems such as the Commodore 64, Radio Shack TRS-80, and subsequently the Texas Instruments 99/4. (The Apple II had a foothold in this category, but at a substantially higher price point, was perceived as more oriented toward the educational and business markets.) The third wave was represented by the IBM PC, its many clones, and the Macintosh, and subsequently we’ve had an accelerating series of waves culminating in what I call our present age of “extravagant computing”, which will give way in a few years to the “Roaring Twenties”. I’ll get to these eras in a while, but for now, let’s set the WABAC machine for the late 1970s to late 1980s and dip into the second wave: home computers.

I was late to come to this game. I’d participated intensely in the first wave, and when the IBM PC was announced, I saw it as an opportunity to get out of the hardware business and concentrate on what I and most of the people I knew did best: writing software, especially complicated programs informed by our mainframe experience which our systems programming background allowed us to shoehorn into the severe memory, disc space, and processing power limits of contemporary personal computers. As the 1980s wore on, and I had some success in the second wave market, I found myself, perhaps perversely, looking down and not up. Home computers were selling in the tens of millions; companies selling inexpensive software for them were springing up like mushrooms; and a host of magazines dedicated to their enthusiastic user bases provided a direct and inexpensive channel to market products to them. I was considering a number of mass market products oriented toward the same people who buy popular science books—this later became the short-lived Autodesk Science Series, which lives on at my Web site as Cellular Automata Laboratory, Terranova, Earth and Moon Viewer, Solar System Live, and Your Sky.

When you’re contemplating selling a product to a mass market, it’s wise to spend some time learning about what your potential customers already own which might run your software, just as if you’re planning to build a locomotive, you’d be well advised to note the gauge of the tracks in your area and make your wheels compatible. The Commodore 64 was well and away the market leader, so I bought a Commodore 128 (which was 100% compatible with the 64 if used in its base mode) and started to learn about the machine. As I explored the machine and its sound and graphics capabilities, I ended up developing several programs which, as every keystroke is sacred, were submitted to Commodore user magazines and some of which were published.

Commodore Curiosities is a collection of some of these programs. Programs include an extensible key clicker, a Moon phase calculator, and, most outrageous of all, neural network simulator implemented in fewer than 250 lines of BASIC. Programs which were published in magazines include their published versions. All programs include complete source code and floppy disc images which can be loaded into the VICE emulator to run them on contemporary machines.

Have you any poignant memories of the second wave of personal computing—or any home computer programs to share? Was your first experience with computing on one of these machines at home, school, or work? Did you ever use one of these rudimentary computers to access a wider world through bulletin board systems or services such as CompuServe, GEnie, or BIX? Did you imagine, then, where we’d be now? Weigh in below in the comments.

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There are 72 comments.

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  1. Moderator
    She

    In about 1978, Mr. She borrowed an IBM 5100 portable computer, and the little dot matrix printer that went with it, from the university computer lab and brought it home for the Easter vacation. He then promptly succumbed to some upper respiratory ailment, and spent the entire long weekend incommunicado, in bed.

    The kids and I fiddled around with the new toy, and a copy of BYTE magazine that had the BASIC code printed out for “Hunt the Wumpus,” a text adventure game (or what passed for an adventure game in bygone days).

    Once we had mastered “Hello World,” we turned our attention to the Wumpi. And we had a marvelous time, essentially learning programming by typing in the code and seeing how it worked. And once we figured out how to change prompts like “I smell a Wumpus!” to something like “I smell Michael’s stinky feet!”  we were in geek heaven.

    Thus did this English major who was, at the time, working as the receptionist/bookkeeper at a small law firm in downtown Pittsburgh, embark on the first IT adventure of her life.

    “Oh, my goodness, I bet you even remember Hunt the Wumpus!” has stood me in excellent stead as a conversation starter or pick-up line in certain circles, ever since.

    I still have that old printout of Hunt the Wumpus, including the modifications we made.

    And yes, I lived through the Atari 400, the TRS-Model 100, worked from home, for a time, for MCI mail (acoustic coupler), hung out on bulletin boards and the first iteration of Compuserve, and have an early printed “edition” of the UseNet cookbook, a Christmas gift from some penurious young friends who’d sunk all their money into a little startup company that was to become the successful first Internet Service Provider in Pittsburgh.

    Professionally, after the law firm, I went to work for NBI, Inc., a Boulder-based word-processing company (the archetypal “founded by two guys in a garage” outfit), and MCI Mail (in support roles), sold IBM PC’s starting in 1984 (and Compaq–one of the highlights of our open house events was pitting the IBM AT (6MHz 80286 chip) and the Compaq Deskpro 286 (8MHz 80286 chip), against each other, fully loaded with 640K of RAM, math co-processors and graphics boards, 20MB and 30MB hard drives, respectively, running AutoCAD–and showing how much faster the Compaq was than the IBM. It largely didn’t seem to matter. Mostly, people bought the IBMs anyway.

    And from there, I moved into hospital IT management, and remained there till I retired in 2010.

    Those early times were very special, and fun times, though, and those of us who lived through them felt lucky to have done so.

    • #1
    • October 22, 2017 at 5:34 pm
    • 4 likes
  2. Member

    I bought my first business computer in 1980. I actually didn’t have much to do with the actual set up of it. It had software written for my type of business. It did give my company some gravitas . It should have for what I paid,40 thousand dollars. It was about the size of a washing machine, floppy discs and all.

    • #2
    • October 22, 2017 at 5:54 pm
    • 4 likes
  3. Moderator

    Oh man, I grew up with this stuff! My father, while running his electronics business, and who was coding in Assembly on computers at Bell Labs in the late 60s, was an early enthusiastic adopter of computers for his business (he was an early adopter too of Autocad, though he spent some time code cracking 1 version to add some features it didn’t include at the time).

    At home we got the cast-offs. We had a Vic20, then a series of C64’s that were cobbled together from various ones from work, and a Leading Edge branded 8086 IBM clone with a DOS based word processor (I think it was Wordstar). By 1983 we were the only ones on our block with not just 1 computer, but 4 total. My father learned the value at that time of backing things up though, as I one time spilled a cup of milk on a stack of floppies, and another time left my lucky horseshoe on a different stack.

    Fun times. We briefly had a subscription, via the C64, to the nascent Compuserve (based in our hometown of Columbus, Ohio) using a 300 baud modem, we had innumerable game cartridges for it (all eventually cracked and moved to bootleg floppies shared around at work), unlike the TRS80s that a few other households eventually got, we had full color graphics and sound.

    One of my employees today collects old computers and refurbishes them. He’s got a USB dongle that lets him read and write old C64 discs, and contributes what he finds to various online software archives. I don’t know how many systems he’s gotten, but I let him have them shipped to work in part so he can be there to sign for them, in part just so I can kibitz with him over what he’s found this time. He’s only 26, so didn’t grow up with this, but he’s one of those keeping these old things still going.

    • #3
    • October 22, 2017 at 6:02 pm
    • 6 likes
  4. Moderator
    She

    Shortly after the original IBM PCs came out, the company came out with the XT, which was essentially the same machine, with a bigger power supply and a 10MB, and subsequently a 20MB hard drive.

    This caused many people to buy hard drives and retrofit them into their old, original PCs. Bad idea. The puny 35-watt power supply couldn’t handle it, and regularly blew out, so you had to upgrade that, too.

    A company called “Plus Development” solved that problem in 1985, shipping a hard drive on a card that fit in a PC slot, and didn’t overtax the power supply.

    The original 10MB Plus HardCard retailed for $895. $89.50 per megabyte.

    Were you to buy the 1TB internal hard drive on offer today from BestBuy at that price, it would cost you roughly $93,850,000.

    But! But! You protest. That BestBuy drive only costs $59.99 today! Indeed it does.

    And if the Plus HardCard cost proportionally the same, you could have purchased it for roughly $.00085. Or about 1,200 of them for a buck.

    (I think. Math was never my strong suit. It’s something like that, anyway.)

    The original Plus HardCard was enormously successful. I sold hundreds of them to companies like Koppers, US Steel and Rockwell International.

    • #4
    • October 22, 2017 at 6:22 pm
    • 4 likes
  5. Thatcher

    I bought an Apple IIe in 1979 with a language card to get the extra memory. I admit I am not a trained software developer as I am purely self taught.

    The best software I wrote at the time (in Pascal, as Algorithms + Data Structures = Programs) was to calculate the payroll for the UCLA Daily Bruin, at which time I was its editor in chief. The code is lost and it ultimately failed as what we paid exceeded the data type I had selected for pay.

    • #5
    • October 22, 2017 at 6:30 pm
    • 3 likes
  6. Thatcher

    John,

    I can just barely remember the Commodore. I think it came with 4K and I immediately bought the 16K expansion memory module. Yep, not Gigabytes, not Megabytes, we are talking Kilobytes! Boy did I have fun writing small Basic programs. It was a magical mystery machine and it was all mine to explore.

    FUN!

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #6
    • October 22, 2017 at 6:40 pm
    • 3 likes
  7. Member

    I was part of a Michigan-based automation and control startup that didn’t make it, and I inherited two Apple II-plus machines as part of the liquidation. 48K RAM, later 64, dual floppies, green screen monitors. I did some development on those for an outfit called MicroLab, and they went with me when I moved to CA and joined Digital Research in 1984. One of them grew a CP/M card, modem and terminal emulator software, and we found our first California social circle by hanging out on the Santa Cruz bulletin boards of the day. I wrote for and sysop’ed part of the Atari forum on Compuserve in the mid-80s (Atari ST days), doing dev work on an ST, but with the old Apple still serving as the terminal.

    I joined Apple itself in 1986, but the IIs were long out of date already, and became his & hers game machines. I remember Crush, Crumble and Chomp and Choplifter as favorites. One of them died at the hands of a friend’s kid, who cracked the keyboard PC board when playing games a bit too enthusiastically. The other was donated to a children’s shelter along with the game collection, and hopefully it gave some pleasure before going to the great swap meet in the sky.

    • #7
    • October 22, 2017 at 6:52 pm
    • 7 likes
  8. Member

    I had a TI 99/4A and a C64. I learned BASIC, FORTRAN and COBOL. I remember typing in stuff from the magazines. And saving programs to cassette tapes. Then I get all swanky and got a 1541 5.25″ floppy drive for the Commodore. I remember using a 300 baud modem to get into CompuServe and local BBS’s. Applying for BBS membership and waiting for the sysop to grant privileges. Then the big bursts of speed up to 1200 and 9600 baud modems. All the way up to 57600 baud. I still fondly remember the screeching sound of a connection and using those Hayes commands on the modem. Ah…good times.

    • #8
    • October 22, 2017 at 7:23 pm
    • 7 likes
  9. Thatcher

    Metalheaddoc (View Comment):
    I still fondly remember the screeching sound of a connection and using those Hayes commands on the modem. Ah…good times.

    I always thought that Data from Star Trek should at some point start a conversation with a machine with that noise of negotiating the connection.

    • #9
    • October 22, 2017 at 8:33 pm
    • 5 likes
  10. Member

    I had a Timex Sinclair TS1000 that I hooked up to a little black-and-white TV and a cassette player to save the programs with. Man, I thought I was high-tech! Cost $100. Would’ve been 1982 maybe? I even got the upgrade you plugged in the back to bring the RAM from 2K to 16K. If the system wobbled the extra RAM module would lose its connection and the whole thing would crash, so I wrapped electrical tape around it to help hold it together. I wrote some decent little programs on that thing, even one in machine code that had to be poked into the memory locations. That was tedious but I just wanted to see if I could do it.

    Later I got a TI 99/4a and fooled around with that quite a bit. That had a 300 baud Hayes modem. Might have been 87 or 88 when I bought a Leading Edge PC compatible and moved into that world, and used MS-DOS, DR-DOS, Geoworks, OS/2 Warp, and finally many generations of Windows.

    I was on CompuServe for a while. I think my username was 104035,1415. And we had a Free-Net in Buffalo that I was active on. I remember how exciting it was to realize that a TCP/IP connection over PPP would let you do multiple things at once – it was entirely different than a terminal program sending ASCII characters back and forth.

    Good times. Young people will never know those thrills, growing up where they take smartphones for granted.

    • #10
    • October 22, 2017 at 10:06 pm
    • 6 likes
  11. Member

    I had started using computers in High School. Out school science labs had time share access to the city’s PDP 1170 using hard copy terminals, and had some Apple II’s in the math lab. The chemistry lab’s terminal was a teletype model with the “toilet paper” rolled paper and a ball type head, and a tape punch/ reader attachment. My friend Callan Carpenter and I preferred the chem lab terminal, because as students, we had no other way to save our code.

    The first computer I owned, was a couple years later, after HS, when my dad picked up a TI 99/4A. I didn’t so a lot with it, I did some graphics with it and typed in a driving program, saving the code on a tape recorder.

    I used a Compaq portable computer at a job after college to work remotely with an acoustic coupler; but unless I memorized the commands for the ISPF/PDF interface and pre typed them blind, the 300 baud connection was just too slow to do much more than check status.

    I used laptops from my job at the SEC a few years later to log on to BBS’s and take my first steps on the www.

    My first personal computer was a Gateway desktop.

    • #11
    • October 22, 2017 at 10:30 pm
    • 3 likes
  12. Member

    Clavius (View Comment):

    Metalheaddoc (View Comment):
    I still fondly remember the screeching sound of a connection and using those Hayes commands on the modem. Ah…good times.

    I always thought that Data from Star Trek should at some point start a conversation with a machine with that noise of negotiating the connection.

    Who says they didn’t, ultrasonic, of course, to assure privacy.

    • #12
    • October 23, 2017 at 12:40 am
    • 1 like
  13. Moderator
    She

    My mention, in a previous comment, of selling to PCs to Rockwell International in the mid 1980’s reminded me of what was surely one of the oddest products ever offered, at the time when IBM’s PC ad campaign was focused on Charlie Chaplin.

    The CEO of Rockwell at the time was Robert Anderson, and whatever “Mr. Anderson” wanted, Mr. Anderson got.

    Well, Mr. Anderson wanted a Macintosh (probably the only one I ever sold). And he would jet back and forth across the United States on his private plane with his Macintosh happily doing whatever it was he did with it (I made a career out of ignoring Apple until shortly before I retired in 2010, at which point I bought an iPhone).

    But the rest of RI was resolutely Big Blue. So, nothing that was done anywhere else in the company was compatible with anything on Mr. Anderson’s Mac.

    Enter MacCharlie, an accessory for the Macintosh, consisting of a box that hooked onto the side of the Mac, with a 5.25 floppy drive in it, connecting to the Mac via a serial port. If we were describing it today, we would say something like, “it was an IBM PC CPU, complete with BIOS, floppy drive, RAM and keyboard extender (because there was no number pad, or function keys, on the Mac), which connected to the serial port of the Macintosh, using the Mac as a dumb terminal, and piping the output from its exertions to the Macintosh screen.

    So, hook up the MacCharlie, and you’ve just turned your cool-kid Macintosh into a fuddy-duddy corporate IBM PC (Lord, I hope no-one ever put it to Mr. Anderson in those terms).

    I only sold one MacCharlie, too. Also to Mr. Anderson. Very wisely, no-one else sold many either, and the product quickly disappeared from the shelves.

    • #13
    • October 23, 2017 at 6:11 am
    • 4 likes
  14. Contributor
    John Walker Post author

    Metalheaddoc (View Comment):
    Then I get all swanky and got a 1541 5.25″ floppy drive for the Commodore.

    The 1541 floppy drive was a real piece of work. It almost single-handedly sunk the C-64’s prospects for competing with the Apple II in the business market. Whereas Apple’s Disk II transferred data at 15,000 bytes per second, the 1541, despite having its own 6502 microprocessor (the same as in the C-64) and built-in disc operating system, transferred data over the serial bus at a breathtaking 512 bytes per second. Copying a disc took twenty minutes: ten to read and ten to write. It was possible to connect two disc drives to a C-64, but since the 1541 had no DIP switch to set its device number, you had to open up the case of the second drive and cut a trace on the circuit board to change the device number.

    The 1541 was famously unreliable. It had no sensor to determine when the head was at track zero, so when it encountered an error (which was frequent), it would bang the head up against a hard stop inside the drive to guarantee it was at the home position before re-trying the seek. This made a sound like a machine gun and quickly caused the head to become misaligned. The drive used in the first generation of 1541s would often fail to eject the floppy, forcing the user to pry it out with a knife, which caused it to be dubbed the “toaster drive”. The built-in power supply ran very hot, and users would joke about using the drive to keep their coffee warm.

    Later revisions of the drive remedied some of these problems, but without third-party firmware, it still remained achingly slow, which continued to damage the C-64’s reputation for serious work.

    • #14
    • October 23, 2017 at 7:10 am
    • 5 likes
  15. Contributor
    John Walker Post author

    James Gawron (View Comment):
    I can just barely remember the Commodore. I think it came with 4K and I immediately bought the 16K expansion memory module. Yep, not Gigabytes, not Megabytes, we are talking Kilobytes!

    The original Commodore PET, which was announced in 1977, had 4 Kb of RAM standard, which could be expanded up to 32 Kb with (expensive) modules. Later models supported up to 96 Kb of RAM and 48 Kb of ROM. The successor machine, the VIC-20, which was announced in 1980, had 5 Kb of RAM which could be expanded to 32 Kb. The Commodore 64, which was introduced in 1982, was essentially a VIC-20 with 64 Kb of RAM standard and dramatically improved graphics and sound. After working on a 4 Kb or 8 Kb system, when you fired up a C-64 and saw:

    Commodore 64 start screen

    it seemed like an infinite universe into which you could program.

    • #15
    • October 23, 2017 at 7:29 am
    • 4 likes
  16. Coolidge

    I got my start during the first wave; in 1977, when I was twelve, my dad bought a Processor Technology Sol-20, one of the first S-100 bus computers. (When I say he bought it, I mean he bought a kit and put it together; it was a natural progression from his ham-radio hobby.)

    At first we couldn’t do anything with it, because Processor Technology hadn’t shipped any software for it yet. I got hold of a BASIC programming book and started writing programs with pencil and paper. Eventually Dad borrowed a paper-tape reader from somewhere and got hold of a copy of Altair BASIC, and I was able to make my rudimentary programs work.

    Upgrades followed: eventually we had a staggering 128K of RAM, dual floppy drives, a polyphonic sound card, a speech synthesizer card, and a primitive joystick game controller my dad built. I wrote some overly ambitious video games; this machine was not designed for gaming, having no graphics capability, but I found a way. My code was mostly terrible spaghetti code, but it worked. I still have printouts of many of the program listings, but there’s no way to run them anymore (there is a Sol-20 emulator, but it knows nothing about the various expansion cards we had, to say nothing of the homebrew joystick). The Sol itself is still in a box in my mom’s house, but it doesn’t work anymore.

    We never had any of the mass-market consumer computers from the second wave. I desperately wanted an Atari 800 when I was a teenager, but I never managed to scrape the money together. Eventually Dad migrated to a curious little machine called the Lobo, a CP/M machine whose main selling point was that it had every kind of expansion connector known to man on the back. After that he bought a PC/AT clone, and our PC era had begun.

    None of the computers I’ve had in the years since have given me as much enjoyment as I got from that Sol-20.

    • #16
    • October 23, 2017 at 7:30 am
    • 3 likes
  17. Thatcher

    John Walker (View Comment):

    Metalheaddoc (View Comment):
    Then I get all swanky and got a 1541 5.25″ floppy drive for the Commodore.

    The 1541 floppy drive was a real piece of work. It almost single-handedly sunk the C-64’s prospects for competing with the Apple II in the business market. Whereas Apple’s Disk II transferred data at 15,000 bytes per second, the 1541, despite having its own 6502 microprocessor (the same as in the C-64) and built-in disc operating system, transferred data over the serial bus at a breathtaking 512 bytes per second. Copying a disc took twenty minutes: ten to read and ten to write. It was possible to connect two disc drives to a C-64, but since the 1541 had no DIP switch to set its device number, you had to open up the case of the second drive and cut a trace on the circuit board to change the device number.

    The 1541 was famously unreliable. It had no sensor to determine when the head was at track zero, so when it encountered an error (which was frequent), it would bang the head up against a hard stop inside the drive to guarantee it was at the home position before re-trying the seek. This made a sound like a machine gun and quickly caused the head to become misaligned. The drive used in the first generation of 1541s would often fail to eject the floppy, forcing the user to pry it out with a knife, which caused it to be dubbed the “toaster drive”. The built-in power supply ran very hot, and users would joke about using the drive to keep their coffee warm.

    Later revisions of the drive remedied some of these problems, but without third-party firmware, it still remained achingly slow, which continued to damage the C-64’s reputation for serious work.

    John,

    You saved your programs on a cassette tape. The Commodore wasn’t a Model T but more of a Curved Dash Oldsmobile. It got you moving at an incredibly low price.

    Work shmurk, it was just exciting to type in code and see what it would do.

    FUN!

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #17
    • October 23, 2017 at 7:36 am
    • 4 likes
  18. Contributor
    John Walker Post author

    Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. (View Comment):
    None of the computers I’ve had in the years since have given me as much enjoyment as I got from that Sol-20.

    Marinchip‘s first product, before the M9900 CPU, was McMON, an 8080 debug monitor aimed at assembly and machine language programmers. It had many nice features, such as the ability to set breakpoints, dump and change registers and memory, and single-step code. By some of the sneakiest dirty tricks in the book, we managed (we being myself and Duff Kurland, who eventually became a founder of Autodesk, who was working with me informally at the time) to squeeze the entire thing down so it would fit in a single 2708 UV-EPROM chip, which provided a massive 1 Kb of memory. This allowed it to plug into a ROM socket on the Sol and provide an alternative to its low-level monitor. I don’t recall if we ever sold any of these, but we gave away the code to a number of Sol users at a local educational computer facility.

    I wish I had a listing of this program just to remember the ends we’d go to save one or two bytes to fit something else into the limited space. One favourite trick was jumping into the middle of a subroutine with registers pre-loaded to do something different than the way the subroutine was usually called.

    • #18
    • October 23, 2017 at 7:47 am
    • 4 likes
  19. Coolidge

    John Walker (View Comment):

    I wish I had a listing of this program just to remember the ends we’d go to save one or two bytes to fit something else into the limited space. One favourite trick was jumping into the middle of a subroutine with registers pre-loaded to do something different than the way the subroutine was usually called.

    The fun thing about computing in those days is that no one had even considered the concept of security. Anything and everything was accessible with full control!

    The Sol had an alphanumeric display, 16 lines of 64 ASCII characters. It was meant for text. But because it was memory-mapped, my BASIC programs could “draw” on the screen by directly writing ASCII codes to locations in RAM. With a combination of asterisks, hyphens, bar characters, and various other obscure ASCII symbols, I was able to create my video games.

    One time I was working on a game with a typical layout: a spaceship at the bottom of the screen, firing upward toward some sort of enemy. The animation of the laser bolts was implemented as a FOR loop, basically just decrementing the memory address of the object’s location by 64 bytes at a time. But because of a math error, my loop failed to stop when it reached the top of the screen.

    As a result, the first time I tested the program, my spaceship fired a laser bolt that traveled up and off the top of the screen, and then proceeded to drill a hole right through the BASIC interpreter and everything else in RAM. Needless to say, my only recourse was the big red power button on the back.

    • #19
    • October 23, 2017 at 8:38 am
    • 8 likes
  20. Coolidge

    Wow. The Commodore 64. So this is a double-whammy of nostalgia for me. My parents ran a small Montgomery Ward store at the time, and they used the Commodore 64 computer there. It was our family’s first personal computer, but more importantly, it was the first time I could play video games without spending quarters on the arcade games at the bowling alley down the street! I would go to the store after school, not to price merchandise or stock shelves, but to play video games on the computer! It was paradise!

    • #20
    • October 23, 2017 at 1:06 pm
    • 8 likes
  21. Member

    Our first personal computer was a TRS-80 which used a common cassette tape machine for program and data storage. I played around with it learning some DOS and Basic but the memory seared into me is, after Mrs. OS had spent many hours laboriously entering her recipes, all was erased! Oh the agony of Delete! That was how I learned the value of regular backups. And I went to Radio Shack to spend almost as much as the original purchase price on an amazing 5 1/4 floppy disk drive. It had amazing data capacity and speed! And for only most of our disposable income for about 6 months!
    If I’d had any idea how fast and far computers would come, I would have waited awhile.

    I wrote some things we used in our Home Schooling but never anything marketable. I later got into building my own machines until that wasn’t feasible due to bargains available online.
    I despise Windows and use Linux on my machine but have one Windows machine as Mrs. OS needs it for her genealogy program. She has tried an OpenSource genealogy app but didn’t like it so I’m stuck doing maintenance work on her machine in perpetuity it seems.

    • #21
    • October 23, 2017 at 3:47 pm
    • 6 likes
  22. Contributor

    I purchased my first Commodore 64 in 1985. I coveted Micro League Baseball™ which would allow me to be Sparky Anderson and manage the 1975 Cincinnati Reds.

    It had the capability for building your own teams and soon I was scouring flea markets and garage sales for back issues of the World Almanac (Remember those?), which frustrated me even more because they assumed that if the gave you the roster for the 1948 Boston Braves you already knew all of their first names.

    • #22
    • October 23, 2017 at 3:48 pm
    • 5 likes
  23. Member

    I had a Commodore Amiga which was an amazing machine for it’s day.

    • #23
    • October 23, 2017 at 3:57 pm
    • 1 like
  24. Contributor

    I had a TRS-80 for my first computer (we called it the trash-80) and I liked it. And a daisy wheel printer to go with it. Wow! It was great until I saved my master’s thesis on it, and then couldn’t retrieve it. I had to take the darn computer to Radio Shack and I explained the problem. They guessed that the computer was perfectly happy to save every bit of my thesis, but wouldn’t upload the file–it was too big! They went in and broke the file into smaller segments and I was able to upload each part and print it off. Phew!

    • #24
    • October 23, 2017 at 4:06 pm
    • 5 likes
  25. Thatcher

    In the mid-80’s my parents plopped down a big chunk of cash and got us the Commodore Amiga 1000 – complete with dual 3.5 floppy drives and a 256KB memory upgrade. That thing blew every other personal computer on the market away – nobody else could touch it. Alas, it turned out to be one of the “also rans” despite that. I mostly played games and generally mucked around with it. Eventually I ditched the GUI and ran everything off the command line interface.

    • #25
    • October 23, 2017 at 4:09 pm
    • 4 likes
  26. Contributor

    Metalheaddoc (View Comment):
    I had a TI 99/4A and a C64. I learned BASIC, FORTRAN and COBOL. I remember typing in stuff from the magazines. And saving programs to cassette tapes.

    TI/99 here as well; bought it at Target. Used it to play text adventure games and do rudimentary programming. Also:

    I remember using a 300 baud modem to get into CompuServe and local BBS’s. Applying for BBS membership and waiting for the sysop to grant privileges.

    Those were the days, eh? The BBSs were quite a thrill in those early, isolated days. Then of course something big came along and everyone else got to play, and it wasn’t special anymore. (I refer of course to the Usenet)

    • #26
    • October 23, 2017 at 4:31 pm
    • 6 likes
  27. Moderator
    She

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    I had a TRS-80 for my first computer (we called it the trash-80) and I liked it. And a daisy wheel printer to go with it. Wow!

    This comment reminded me of the early 1980’s field engineer’s nightmare, the Qume Twin-Track printer. I cannot even find a picture of one: possibly this is because a quorum of FE’s met one night far out to sea, and dropped all those remaining in the world into 12,000 feet of icy water. If that’s what’s happened, I completely understand.

    The carriage was almost two feet wide, and it had two daisy wheels instead of one. Under normal circumstances, one daisy wheel had ordinary alphanumeric spokes. The other one was usually for greek/math/equation/symbols.

    The NBI word processor (the company I worked for) was unique at the time in that it had a “scientific mode” whereby you could create and view complex scientific equations on the screen. (Because of this, NBI “owned” the scientific market, of which there was quite a bit in Pittsburgh at the time, starting with several flavors of Westinghouse, and Rockwell International). Then you could print them, and the easiest way to do that (for the operator) was to send them to a Qume Twin-Track, where they could be printed in only one pass.

    Center your paper on the platen, and then let it rip! The twin daisy wheels would whip back and forth at blazing speed (about 30 characters a minute), switching from one to the other, as required by the contents of the document.

    Some of the symbols were too big to fit on one spoke of the wheel, and so required a second imprint of the other part of the symbol, to complete them. The slightest misalignment of, or poor synchronization in, the wheels, and the output quickly became unreadable or useless.

    They were the very devil to keep functioning properly.

    I remember when they were replaced by laser printers as big as washing machines. We all cheered.

    • #27
    • October 23, 2017 at 5:13 pm
    • 5 likes
  28. Member

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    I had a TRS-80 for my first computer (we called it the trash-80) and I liked it. And a daisy wheel printer to go with it. Wow! It was great until I saved my master’s thesis on it, and then couldn’t retrieve it. I had to take the darn computer to Radio Shack and I explained the problem. They guessed that the computer was perfectly happy to save every bit of my thesis, but wouldn’t upload the file–it was too big! They went in and broke the file into smaller segments and I was able to upload each part and print it off. Phew!

    You remind me that our first printer was a dot-matrix that used tractor paper with holes along the side to advance and align the paper which was fan folded. You had to remove the perforated tractor strips and then separate the pages at their perforations. It wasn’t hard to tell when it was time to do that because the printer was noisy enough to drown out normal conversation. When we got our first laser printer as an upgrade to our Home Schooling investments it was amazing just how quiet printing could be. I did have to add considerable memory to the printer when we began producing the local newsletter for the NW OKC Homeschool Support Group as it ran to 12 or 16 pages. In those days the entire document had to be uploaded to the printer before it would begin to print. Today the PC uses either RAM or virtual RAM on the HD to store the document or sections of it and sends to the printer in batches so printers don’t need much memory. Mrs. OS and her best friend became the Editors and I was the unofficial Publisher for that early effort at publishing helpful information and articles for those early Homeschoolers. It was fairly time intensive but we learned the worth when a family moved to Oklahoma from California and upon meeting Mrs. OS at a support group meeting said, “Are you THE (her real name)?” I think there’s only one, it’s a fairly unusual name.

    As I may have said here, and have said many times, “I didn’t have a brain so I married one.” Mrs. OS is the smart one I just muddle along.

    • #28
    • October 23, 2017 at 6:04 pm
    • 5 likes
  29. Thatcher

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    Metalheaddoc (View Comment):
    I had a TI 99/4A and a C64. I learned BASIC, FORTRAN and COBOL. I remember typing in stuff from the magazines. And saving programs to cassette tapes.

    TI/99 here as well; bought it at Target. Used it to play text adventure games and do rudimentary programming. Also:

    I remember using a 300 baud modem to get into CompuServe and local BBS’s. Applying for BBS membership and waiting for the sysop to grant privileges.

    Those were the days, eh? The BBSs were quite a thrill in those early, isolated days. Then of course something big came along and everyone else got to play, and it wasn’t special anymore. (I refer of course to the Usenet)

    First came the Rise of Usenet, then the September That Never Ended. Kinda funny being around for both.

    • #29
    • October 23, 2017 at 6:08 pm
    • 1 like
  30. Member

    You folks are way more sophisticated than I; but, I did get in to computers early, or reasonably early. My first machines were two DEC (Digital Equipment Corporation) machines that I bought in 1980. They were configured as Word Processors and ran software called, I believe, WPS. Each had two 8-inch floppy drives (one for the software, the other for data) which fitted flat into the two drives mounted side-by-side in a drive unit separate from the console and keyboard (and which made noises like those in a haunted house).

    We developed in my law office a few very rudimentary programs and an accounting program sold by DEC when I bought the machines. The accounting program allegedly had been written by a Big 8 accounting firm and perhaps was, but after months of agonizing work and study by one of my daughters was demonstrated to be flawed.

    I have to say that the WPS word processing program for which the machines were created was the best that I found until the later iterations of Word Perfect and Word. Somebody at DEC knew his business.

    • #30
    • October 23, 2017 at 6:12 pm
    • Like
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