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What do today's kids make of the Commodore 64?
August 1, 2012 6:29 AM   Subscribe

What do today's kids make of the Commodore 64? BBC News invited Commodore enthusiast Mat Allen to show schoolchildren his carefully preserved computer, at a primary school and secondary school in London.
posted by modernnomad (130 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
Ha! Now try explaining the 1541 floppy drive to them. It's 30 years later and I'm still waiting for an explanation for that one.
posted by Palquito at 6:33 AM on August 1, 2012 [12 favorites]


It's okay, almost no-one in the UK had one, so he doesn't need to.
posted by scruss at 6:34 AM on August 1, 2012


Oh this is great.

For C64 enthusiasts, there's a new book called 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10 coming out soon on MIT Press. Among the co-authors are Nick Montfort who wrote Twisty Little Passages and Ian Bogost who, along with Montfort, wrote Racing the Beam.
posted by griphus at 6:36 AM on August 1, 2012 [11 favorites]


It's okay, almost no-one in the UK had one, so he doesn't need to.

Ah. Well, from wikipedia for those who never had the pleasure:

"The drive-head mechanism was notoriously easy to misalign. The most common cause of the 1541's drive head knocking and subsequent misalignment was copy protection schemes on commercial software. The main cause of the problem was that the disk drive itself did not feature any means of detecting when the read/write head had reached track zero. Accordingly, when a disk was formatted or a disk error occurred, the unit would try to physically move the head 40 times in the direction of track zero (although the 1541 DOS only used 35 tracks, the drive itself was a 40 track unit, so this ensured track zero would be reached no matter where the head was before). Once track zero was reached, every further attempt to move the head in that direction would cause it to be physically rammed against a solid stop: for example, if the head happened to be on track 18 before this procedure, the head would be actually moved 18 times, and then rammed against the stop another 22 times. This ramming gave the characteristic "machine gun" noise and would, sooner or later, throw the head out of alignment. Some people even wrote code to vibrate the head at different frequencies to play simple tunes."
posted by Palquito at 6:40 AM on August 1, 2012 [5 favorites]


Broadened the PC market more than any other computer in history.
posted by Egg Shen at 6:44 AM on August 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've got a Raspberry Pi at home that I was thinking about putting a C64 emulator on. Fun for me and the kids!

Of course I'm pretty sure I've still got working Commodore hardware in a box in the garage ...
posted by Songdog at 6:51 AM on August 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've got a Raspberry Pi at home that I was thinking about putting a C64 emulator on.

Figure out a keyboard interface and you could put it *inside* an actual C=64 case.

The hardest part would be interfacing to actual cartridges.
posted by eriko at 6:54 AM on August 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Last Ninja 2 has the best loading music. I got so excited right when the video started.
posted by helicomatic at 6:56 AM on August 1, 2012 [7 favorites]


Presenter: "About the only time you want to switch on the machine and see a blue screen! Heh heh!"
Teenage audience: [silence]

I bet that worked better when he rehearsed it on the way over.
posted by CaseyB at 6:56 AM on August 1, 2012 [44 favorites]


I grew up with one of these. Man, I loved that the games were on cassette tapes. You could meet up with your friends and copy all their games onto blank tapes.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 6:59 AM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Kitty Stardust, you could also broadcast the tape noise over the radio, record it, and play it back as a program (given high enough fidelity). Learning that permanently changed my understanding of nature and information.
posted by jet_manifesto at 7:13 AM on August 1, 2012 [33 favorites]


Sinclair Spectrums are better
posted by Bwithh at 7:16 AM on August 1, 2012 [8 favorites]


Bangai-O Spirits for the Nintendo DS let you exchange home-made levels by encoding them as waveforms to be played on one DS and picked up by the mic on another. Here's an example.
posted by griphus at 7:17 AM on August 1, 2012 [6 favorites]


Ah, this brings back memories of prehistoric file sharing. As a kid, I'd go to the local C64 user group meetings with my computer and a small black and white tv. Everyone put their floppy disk cases full of software on the table next to their screen. You could just wander around the room, flip through people's stuff, and borrow whatever you wanted to copy. The thin copy protection (if any) that was used those days could easily be circumvented using "Fast Hack'em" or similar programs. I'd come home with a random mix of things like Ultima IV, Karateka, strip poker, and a 10-second Led Zeppelin audio clip (which was mind-blowing those days). Good times.
posted by brain_drain at 7:20 AM on August 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


@Bwithh

Don't start :)
posted by GallonOfAlan at 7:20 AM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


They don't know what a joystick is because they are barbarians, not because they're kids.
posted by 1adam12 at 7:28 AM on August 1, 2012 [8 favorites]


Sinclair Spectrums are better

Well at least it's better than at TRaSh-80! Ha ha!

My God, what an irredeemable geek I was.
posted by goethean at 7:28 AM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sinclair Spectrums are better

ZX for life
posted by schwa at 7:30 AM on August 1, 2012 [3 favorites]



BBC BBC BBC

Who's with me!?!

Anyone?
posted by ambivalentic at 7:48 AM on August 1, 2012 [7 favorites]


"Press play on tape"

*blank stares*
posted by gompa at 7:49 AM on August 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


I had the game version of Aliens for the C64. I still think that game kicks ass and would love to find a version for it that I could play on something else.

yeah yeah everybody get off of my lawn
posted by nushustu at 7:49 AM on August 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


What do they make of it?

This? Why, they can make a hat or a brooch or a pterodactyl...
posted by COBRA! at 7:50 AM on August 1, 2012 [11 favorites]


TI-99/4A represent!
posted by Hutch at 7:50 AM on August 1, 2012 [13 favorites]


"And you try and tell the young people of today that ..... they won't believe you."
posted by entropicamericana at 7:53 AM on August 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


The three categories of Brit kid computer in the 80s were Speccy, C64, beeb (for posh kids) and then anything else, the later category being a curiosity more than anything as you couldn't really do proper format wars Or fileshare with them. They were all great computers ti start programming with, or at least get a vague idea what code looks like by typing in programs.

The Amstrad came a little later and according to my mate with an Amstrad was far superior.

And then it all went Amiga/ST with the odd PC, Mac or even, for posh kids, Archimedes. Better graphics, but far less approachable from a programming point of view.
posted by Artw at 8:01 AM on August 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


Consoles also took off in that time. No keyboard! The horror!
posted by Artw at 8:02 AM on August 1, 2012


My first computer was a fire sale VIC20 because my parents just heard the "Commodore" part of my begging. I eventually got a C64 and had it for many years, but I can't read about or see one without feeling a twinge of the most incredible, frustrated longing. 40-character-wide screen? CAPACIOUS.

Elite Games has some ports of classic 8-bit games, including Paradroid, in the iOS app store; but it looks like they couldn't tie up the rights to MULE. Probably just as well: they're lazy ports that have cured me of a lot of my nostalgia.
posted by mph at 8:05 AM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


You kids these days have it easy with your Angry Birds and your Minecrafts. Back when I was a kid, we had to wait half an hour for a game to load from a cassette—a cassette!—before we could play. Sometimes there wasn't even loading music. And sometimes we even had to type the game in from a magazine listing. Pages and pages of numbers, and if you got one wrong, no game for you!
posted by acb at 8:06 AM on August 1, 2012 [13 favorites]


What do today's kids make of the Commodore 64? . . . A doorstop?
posted by ahimsakid at 8:10 AM on August 1, 2012


The three categories of Brit kid computer in the 80s were Speccy, C64, beeb (for posh kids)

I can't speak for Britain since I grew up in Australia, but the BBC Microcomputer was the defacto standard machine at the schools I attended. Admittedly I had a pal who had a C64 with cassette loader and I felt a little superior since our BBC had a disk drive. :-)

And then it all went Amiga/ST

And what an incredible shift in terms of computing power that was. I wonder what the equivalent would be today?
posted by ambivalentic at 8:11 AM on August 1, 2012


"And you try and tell the young people of today that ..... they won't believe you."

It is my experience that if you tell many kids today about anything older than six months ago, they don't believe you.
posted by Enron Hubbard at 8:11 AM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


TI-99/4A represent!
posted by Hutch at 7:50 AM on August 1 [1 favorite −] Favorite added! [!]

/nod.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 8:11 AM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Now try explaining the 1541 floppy drive to them.

Never had any problems with it. One of the best improvements in efficiency in my life was when my dad's friend gave us his 128. Not because I needed the 128, but because with the 1571 disk drive I no longer needed to swap disks in and out when pirating games with Fast Hack'em. You old people and your tape games. Took forever to play a text adventure. We had one where you were a b51 bomber pilot taking out targets in Russia and I think the plane could fly there faster in real life.
posted by yerfatma at 8:12 AM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


"While you're waiting [for the game program to very slowly load] can you listen to music, and, um, dance along with it, as well?"
posted by aught at 8:12 AM on August 1, 2012


I chatted with a ~5 year in the park yesterday, and when she saw me put my iPod away, she remarked on how big it was. It's an iPod Classic, and frankly, to me it still looks teeny tiny for something with a 160GB hard drive.

(I said "That's because it's old." and she asked "Did it grow?")
posted by snorkmaiden at 8:14 AM on August 1, 2012 [47 favorites]


I can't speak for Britain since I grew up in Australia, but the BBC Microcomputer was the defacto standard machine at the schools I attended.

Yup, the schools all had them and you'd use them to draw a penis in LOGO or whatever, then posh kids would get bought one at home because it was "educational" and get to play all the Elite they wanted, the privileged shits. Grr.
posted by Artw at 8:18 AM on August 1, 2012 [6 favorites]


You lot with your colour computers and your qwerty keyboards and your multiple tens of kilobytes of memory. What know you of real computing, where a good chunk of the 256 byte monitor ROM is taken up with hex keyboard debounce and the tape interface is a majestic 300 bps?

Of course, in my day we built our own CPUs out of galena, hewn from abandoned mines, and rusty barbed wire for the point contacts. Old Doc Jefferson up at Mission, why, he got a clock speed of nearly 400 Hz and daresay he'd have had more if he could have pumped the bellows faster before his heart gave way.
posted by Devonian at 8:19 AM on August 1, 2012 [14 favorites]


You lot with your colour computers and your qwerty keyboards and your multiple tens of kilobytes of memory. What know you of real computing, where a good chunk of the 256 byte monitor ROM is taken up with hex keyboard debounce and the tape interface is a majestic 300 bps?

Of course, in my day we built our own CPUs out of galena, hewn from abandoned mines, and rusty barbed wire for the point contacts. Old Doc Jefferson up at Mission, why, he got a clock speed of nearly 400 Hz and daresay he'd have had more if he could have pumped the bellows faster before his heart gave way.


Back in my day we computed things by throwing rocks at dogs.
posted by pmcp at 8:22 AM on August 1, 2012 [15 favorites]


Yup, the schools all had them and you'd use them to draw a penis in LOGO or whatever, then posh kids would get bought one at home because it was "educational" and get to play all the Elite they wanted, the privileged shits. Grr.

Yikes, guess I was one of the privileged ones! As for Elite, I couldn't count the number of hours I spend flying that Cobra MkIII around the galaxy. Truly one of my favourite games of all time.

Good times.
posted by ambivalentic at 8:24 AM on August 1, 2012


CLASSRAGE!


:-)
posted by Artw at 8:26 AM on August 1, 2012


Android owners, of course, can enjoy very good simulations of just about every 8 bit computer of note, while Elite fans can even have animated wallpaper of their wireframed dreams.

Has Apple still got that blanket ban on simulators in its app store? Has it helped stem the tidal wave of 8-bit malware?
posted by Devonian at 8:29 AM on August 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


For what it's worth I never made it to the eighth galaxy, so I did suffer a little... :-)
posted by ambivalentic at 8:30 AM on August 1, 2012


He should have brought a copy of COMPUTE!'s Gazette (or whatever the British equivalent was) and shown them a program listing in hex that you had to type in by hand if you weren't lucky enough to have friends to pirate things with.

But it's news to me that nobody had 1541s in the UK. In my circle of decidedly middle class associates, a 1541 was just a given. I didn't know anyone that even had a tape drive. With a FastLoad cartridge, the waiting time was really not that much of an issue.
posted by Rhomboid at 8:33 AM on August 1, 2012


On Commodore saving money by making their own chips:

This was to Commodore's great benefit but MOS Technologies' downfall. They were the chip company that Commodore bought to design and make their chips, including the venerable 6502, a popular second-source chip for embedded systems to this day and which, along with the Zilog Z80, absolutely ruled the 8-bit microprocessor market.

But Commodore had them focus on making their chips instead of improving their tech and creating updated designs of their chips, and they treated the designer of the 6502 particularly badly. According to Wikipedia, MOS only sold out to Commodore because of a lawsuit waged against them by Motorola claiming trade secrets were stolen when several key chip designers left them to found MOS.

Elite Games has some ports of classic 8-bit games, including Paradroid, in the iOS app store; but it looks like they couldn't tie up the rights to MULE. Probably just as well: they're lazy ports that have cured me of a lot of my nostalgia.

MULE is ultimately owned by Electronic Arts, but they've been remarkably non-evil lately regarding the rights, allowing the Buntens to support the Planet MULE network game and apparently an iOS port is in the works.
posted by JHarris at 8:33 AM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


He should have brought a copy of COMPUTE!'s Gazette (or whatever the British equivalent was) and shown them a program listing in hex that you had to type in by hand if you weren't lucky enough to have friends to pirate things with.

Or bring in some old issues of the disk magazine Loadstar (who published some of my old computer games).
posted by JHarris at 8:34 AM on August 1, 2012


Back when I was a kid, we had to wait half an hour for a game to load from a cassette—a cassette!—before we could play. Sometimes there wasn't even loading music.

That's right, kids, not only did it take half a doggone hour, but sometimes it would get 20 minutes in and then it would just seize up and you'd have to start all over again. Or you'd give up and watch TV and you know what you watched? Whatever was on. That's what. The news, The Price is Right, Manimal - whatever the hell was on. And if it was good? You'd never see it again. And then you'd go back to waiting for the game to load. And frankly the graphics on Strip Poker were really about as titillating as a stock ticker, but if you hadn't found any magazines in the woods lately . . .

Hey, you kids, come back here! I haven't told you about how hard it was to learn about decent music yet!
posted by gompa at 8:36 AM on August 1, 2012 [9 favorites]


"You had zeroes? We had to use the letter 'O'"
posted by bruceo at 8:41 AM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Look on my IBM PCjr, ye mighty, and despair!
posted by dr_dank at 8:48 AM on August 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


a) I can't believe I remember that strip.

b) I can't believe Dilbert has been around for twenty fucking years.
posted by griphus at 8:53 AM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


The tape loading times gave you time to chat with your mates about what was on the telly last night.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 9:01 AM on August 1, 2012


We're at the exit to Lave Station, we've got 100 credits, a Cobra Mark III, it's dark, and we're wearing sunglasses.

Hit it.
posted by BeeDo at 9:01 AM on August 1, 2012 [5 favorites]


"The drive-head mechanism was notoriously easy to misalign..."

And ran very hot, as I see the article mentions. I briefly made the mistake of stacking a pair of them. >_<


And it had its own 6502 processor which could be programmed. My former boss wrote BBS software back in the day that used a 1541 for parallel processing.
posted by Foosnark at 9:04 AM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


It makes me think, this post. I spent a big chunk of time over the weekend reorganizing my shrine to computing nostalgia, inspired by my recent acquisition of a CFFA card for my collection of Apple ][ plus machines. It came in the mail and I was all giddy at the thought of transferring my huge collection of disk images to a USB drive and firing up my Apple with the intention of wasting a huge amount of time finally converting my personal data (including my second serious attempt at writing a novel) to a purely digital format.

Sadly, I plugged in four Apple ][ pluses, booted up and *POP*, the thirty year-old leaky electrolytic capacitors in the power supplies went out in machine after machine. It's an easy enough repair, BUT I WANT TO PLAY AZTEC RIGHT NOW, GODDAMMIT. I'm waiting on a package from Mouser Electronics, but eeeeergh.

I started out with Apple, with the Apple ][ plus from 1981 that was our first family computer and later, running the world-shaking (and now unfairly forgotten) Visicalc, which really is the all-time killer app. The fact that you've got a computer right now is very much the product of the first program that let you actually do something on a home computer other than play games and otherwise noodle around. Our Apple eventually started spending weekdays at the office, running rings around the tired old Northstar Horizon that ran our operation up to that point.

My first real computer, by which I mean one that was mine and just mine, and no, you can't use it because it's mine, was a beautiful loaf of hot brown Commodore 64 with the egg-like Datasette cassette "drive," and oh my, if I loved my ALL CAPS Apple with the beepy speaker and the Disk IIs going chuck-chuck-chuck-whshoopt-BRRAARPT-BRRAARPT at me, the Commodore was just sublime. I had an amber screen NEC monitor, so I missed out on having color that didn't have that weird hacky purple halo thing you got with the Apple II series (heck, Woz did the best he could with nothing), but man, it had lower case, and was sort of friendly and clever and smart, and came with a user manual that was an inch and a half thick and included actual information and circuit diagrams, for chrissakes.

I subscribed to Compute's Gazette, and would type in incredibly long programs, which would or would not make it to tape, depending on the whims of the day. Eventually, I got a 1541 that I'm fairly certain was stolen from a computer place in the Columbia Mall, and mine was pretty flawless, though I occasionally had to realign the heads, a process so simple you did it with a screwdriver and a program you could type in from a magazine. The games were lovely, the music-making abilities were enough to launch my amateurish musical career, and you could actually do real work on the thing, writing and editing and doing mathy stuff.

My friends mostly had Atari VCS consoles, and I had my first flush of snobbery with my C64, because every single fucking thing that was ever on an Atari was absolute garbage (still is—bought one out of curiosity about twenty years ago and amassed a huge collection of carts, but except for Pitfall, which is sort of a stoner time-killer, it's just all unplayable crap). They had their Pac Man, honk-honk-honking squarely around a perverted fiction of a screen, and I had wacka-wacka-wacka, though I preferred long, complicated games like Montezuma's Revenge and Boulderdash, as well as my lovely Infocom text games. Plus, I had Paradroid, which is my favorite of all favorites (and is blissfully present in the C64 DTV "Commodore 64 in a joystick").

Of course, now I'm old and grey, and am in a position to be a person of authority with children of the small variety, and when I've been stuck with finding a way to entertain them, my C64 (or the C64DTV, which is functionally equivalent, in game terms) and my embarrassingly large collection of manual typewriters are two of the biggest draws. The manual typewriters are instant hits with kids, because, despite three decades of collective whining about how terrible it was to use a typewriter, there's a direct mechanical connection with a typewriter that kids love, and a kid with a stack of paper and an Olympia SM9 can have an absurd amount of fun for a shockingly long time.

The C64 is similar. The bulky brown loafiness of the machine is intriguing, and the keys that are actually keys and not a paper-thin picture of a keyboard have this sort of finger-fun quality. You give 'em the basics on how to use the file system, hand 'em a set of disks, and they'll explore. If they do nothing but play games, they'll enjoy the games, which did more with 64K chunk of program data than six gigabyte monster apps with state-of-the-art raytracing subroutines do.

"Uncle Joe?"

"Yes?"

"How do I get to email?"

"There is no email."

"Can't I go through the browser?"

"There is no browser. No wifi."

"That's it, then? Just that thing?"

"Yes. Though we did have a little way of connecting it to sort of the internet," I say, and that's my excuse to bring out my modem with an acoustic coupler, demonstrating how you'd dial into your local BBS (Abraxas in the house, y'all!) with your rotary phone, then wait until it went eeeeeee, then clap the handset into these rubber cups, and then you'd be connected...to one other computer.

"Then what did you do?"

"Argued about Reagan and said the other person in the argument was just like Hitler. We invented flame wars, you know."

"You're silly."

"Yes, youtube-girl, I'm silly."

"But you couldn't send emails?"

"Well, we could, but only to about a hundred other people, most of whom we didn't really know. Eventually, there was this thing called Fidonet, and you could send email to lots more people, but you rarely knew them, either."

"That's weird."

God, I'm so damn old.

I remember telling my eighty-something great aunt about computers, explaining how she could use them to balance her checkbook (which was the fake killer app you always heard about, but balancing your checkbook on the computer was about three times as complicated as just doing it on paper with a calculator) and storing her recipes (which was also ridiculous at its core), but she was fascinated and always told me she expected me to teach her how to use a computer one day. She moved from Georgia to Oklahoma in the eighties, though, and I started to write her a long letter about 15-20 years ago, telling her about all sorts of great things, but before I could finish it, my mother let me know she'd died, having never balanced her checkbook on a computer. We have her recipes, though, on stained index cards in a little box, readable by something other than a Disk II.

So the arrival of my CFFA card roused that sentimental bit of me that clings to these old machines because they're truly the last computers that I feel I can truly understand on a deep level, and in lieu of playing with the new toy, I dug out one of my Commodore 128s, as broad and flat as an aircraft carrier and as beige as a man's aspirations in the mid-eighties, played a few happy games and winced at the corpulent verbiage in some of my oldest writing, then took a break, put on some Towa Tei, and set about dismantling one of my Apple ][s.

Those old things are still a miracle of packaging and basic, utilitarian design. I unscrewed the bottom plate, set it aside, removed the keyboard, and carefully washed the main case in the sink, using a bit of toothpaste to clean old rub marks, then popped the keys from the keyboard and carefully washed them in a big stainless steel colander like I was polishing old teeth, then laid them out to dry. I cleaned the bottom plate, pulled the power supply, drilled out the pair of anti-tamper pop rivets, and unsoldered the blown caps, and went online to order new parts. I screwed everything but the power supply back together and looked over how nice and clean and new it all looked...and had a jarring moment of familiarity as I remembered spending time in my next door neighbor's basement workshop, watching him carefully dismantle an old radio into an organized mass of parts, cleaning every part and replacing a bad tube, then reassembling it into something that looked nice and clean and new—

Oh god, this is the old man's sweet reflection of my time.

Where Philco cathedral radios and '56 Chevy sedans were, computers and pristine first-run Miatas are now.

Well, things aren't as good as they were in my day, right?

"Mister Joe," I asked my neighbor, watching him gently re-install the dial on a relatively modern Grundig shortwave. "What's the difference with a shortwave?"

"Joe-B," he said (for the record, my youthful nickname was a response to his being named Joe, so that he could distinguish intent when my mother stood on the back porch hollering "JOOOOOOE!"), "with a shortwave, you can hear radio from all over the world."

He lent me that Grundig, and my father strung a long antenna between the towering oak trees around our house, and I started going to bed with the Grundig running, the faint glow of tubes making a pattern of dots on the wall behind through the perforated masonite back of the radio, and listening to all the strange foreign stations that came in at night across the wavering ionosphere. It was a glorious music of tongues and rhythms and news in curious accents about places I'd never even heard of, and sometimes I'd just listen to the strings of RTTY signals blittering in a phasing wash of sound and static until the night's oblivion settled over me like a blanket. In the morning, with the rise of the hot sun and the daily changes in the upper atmosphere, the voices would all go silent, except for the countries with local repeaters.

Where I had my accoustic coupler and my BBSes and then Veronica and gopherspace and usenet and pine and telnet and all those amazing realities drifting into the astonishing future before the internet bloomed like a worldwide field of mushrooms, Mister Joe had the superheterodyne wonderland of waves catching lucky shots to bounce around the world, and he'd sit in his ham shack, just like my dad, hand at the code key, sending signals into the void, asking the same thing—

I'm here! Is anyone out there?

I packed up all my lovely machines, and was sad to find that the constant humidity in the basement had caused all the original boxes for my Commodores to delaminate and mold, composting like old leaves under the glossy printing that made you feel like you were living in the world of the future. When you opened the box to a Commodore 64, you'd lift the flap and there, printed in plain letters on a silver background, it read:

WELCOME TO THE WORLD OF FRIENDLY COMPUTING!

And here we are, all these countless years later.
posted by sonascope at 9:05 AM on August 1, 2012 [84 favorites]


"Is it supposed to do that?"
posted by crunchland at 9:09 AM on August 1, 2012


1581 FTW
posted by Ad hominem at 9:13 AM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Figure out a keyboard interface and you could put it *inside* an actual C=64 case.

The hardest part would be interfacing to actual cartridges.


Well, there is this... not quite the same, but similar.
posted by FatherDagon at 9:19 AM on August 1, 2012


I've got a Raspberry Pi at home that I was thinking about putting a C64 emulator on.

Figure out a keyboard interface and you could put it *inside* an actual C=64 case.



READY.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 9:27 AM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Last Ninja 2 has the best loading music . I got so excited right when the video started.

Man, my cat did not like that music when I played it.

(Was that the Ninja game where you could fall through ceiling panels? I've been trying to figure that one out for years.)

It almost seems like cheating to show them a c64 without a floppy drive. You don't type load, you type LOAD,"*",8,1.

Also would have liked to see these kids play Maniac Mansion and all jump out of their seats when Nurse Edna throws them in the dungeon the first time they walk into the kitchen.

Ah, memories.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:39 AM on August 1, 2012


Or LOAD "*",8,1" rather. Guess I lose my nerd cred.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:41 AM on August 1, 2012


This is probably a good place to mention Retro Gamer magazine, a very well done British mag with big, glossy photos of blocky ass sprites! Well-researched articles and interviews, varying from simple reviews to detailed technical challenges that happened at the time. Although it's very English-centric (a lot of Speccy/BBC, not much C64) it really captures a lot of the spirit of old school video games, especially the older issues. And of course I know a lot more about games of the time that I had no idea even existed. You can get them to ship directly to the U.S. since it can be hard to find anywhere on shelves (though sometimes at B&N).
posted by lubujackson at 9:50 AM on August 1, 2012


Man, I grew up with nerds like that. We kept him in the basement rec room. This one is awesome... so well preserved. Must be at least 35, 36 years old. The kind of nerd who'd make a joke followed by a stifled laugh followed by silence so profound you could almost see the radioactive waves of awkwardness coming out of him. The kind who insists on showing you his gear and asking leading questions about it and fixing you with an expectant grin, even though there's nothing terribly remarkable about any of it. The kind of nerd who treats every small doing of his machine to say "yayyyy!". They just don't *make* nerds like that anymore. No wonder when they did a show where they take him to a school, all the younger nerds don't know what to make of him. They're looking at living history.
posted by bicyclefish at 9:53 AM on August 1, 2012 [6 favorites]


Another member of the pantheon of 80s computers - and the only one which was specifically Welsh - was also born 30 years ago today: the Dragon 32
posted by rongorongo at 9:55 AM on August 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Man, I grew up with nerds like that. We kept him in the basement rec room. This one is awesome... so well preserved. Must be at least 35, 36 years old. The kind of nerd who'd make a joke followed by a stifled laugh followed by silence so profound you could almost see the radioactive waves of awkwardness coming out of him. The kind who insists on showing you his gear and asking leading questions about it and fixing you with an expectant grin, even though there's nothing terribly remarkable about any of it. The kind of nerd who treats every small doing of his machine to say "yayyyy!". They just don't *make* nerds like that anymore. No wonder when they did a show where they take him to a school, all the younger nerds don't know what to make of him. They're looking at living history.

This is precisely what I thought when I saw the video. It is like a window back to a time not only to when home computers were slow and clunky, but to when home computers were almost exclusively the preserve of nerds with extremely limited social skills, rather than things that are part of the everyday life of pretty much everyone living above the poverty line. And yet, deliciously, the widespread adoption of computers couldn't have happened without the old-skool nerds going around telling everyone how wonderful they were.
posted by modernnomad at 9:59 AM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


"My first computer was a fire sale VIC20 because my parents just heard the 'Commodore' part of my begging."

My first computer was also a VIC-20. In my case, it was the Winter of 1982-83 of the year I graduated high school and I had been living on my own and working at my first full-time job: an overnight radio disc-jockey at minimum wage. I couldn't afford a C64, it was far out of my budget. I could barely afford the VIC-20.

This wasn't the first computer I had extensive experience with, though. One evening my freshman year of high school, 1978-79, at a group sleep-over I saw my first PC: a TRS-80. A few people were interested, but...something....just happened to me. It was like being entranced. I sat down with it, tried some things the owner showed me, and then plunged into the adventure game (Haunted House, I think) he loaded and ran. I never moved from that chair for ten hours, everybody else went to sleep, I played until I won the game the next morning shortly before everyone woke up.

Two years later, my junior year, in a Spring "mini-course" I selected one about computers — it was held off-campus, at the university's computing center with a persnickety rack-mounted minicomputer. These Spring short-classes were held each year for two weeks and there was a morning class and an afternoon class. I had the computing class in the morning, band in the afternoon (which was required for all the band members). On the first day of class they introduced us to writing a "hello, world" BASIC program. Then they loaded up some others and I looked carefully at the code. I went to band that afternoon — that was the last day that I did. By the next day I was writing more ambitious programs, learning the minicomputer's boot procedure from the college students who were there, and helping the other students through both sessions of the class. My dad was a mainframe programmer there at the computer center, and so on the third day and through the rest of the two weeks, after the afternoon class ended, I just stayed and then went home with him in the evening. Dad gave me a COBOL book and I started to learn the syntax, but when I discovered that the programs weren't interactive (and my dad had trouble understanding why I thought that was important — he expected me to be interested in sorting algorithms dealing with punch-card data and stuff) I lost interest.

That year my high-school got their first PCs. Just four of them, all TRS-80s. Three were in the library. The head of the science department got one in his office. That was also the year that I almost entirely stopped going to school for nearly two months until the assistant district attorney set up a meeting with me and told me that for truency I could be sent away to the state "boy's school". I'd also been showing up at school drunk. Anyway, that's the context for why the science teacher my senior year made arrangements for me to have the run of his office and the use of that TRS-80 after school, even when he wasn't there, until I let myself out in the evening. He was trying to find ways to engage me and keep me in school (he deserves a lot of credit for the fact that I didn't drop out and did manage to graduate on time, though by the skin of my teeth).

I look back on this now, and how I was literally the only person I knew of at the high school who was actually very interested in those PCs, how there wasn't in my world such a thing as the computer nerd I so clearly was, and my encounters with computing then seem like a kind of destiny.

So I was thrilled to get that VIC-20. I got every drop of use out of it I could. I bought the 8K RAM cartridge, taking it to a total of 13K. I was also a tinkerer, had built my own telephone from experimentation and only access to a phone line and random parts (and incurred the phone company's wrath when I and a friend took that hand-made phone and fifty feet of wire, alligator clips, and in the middle-of-the-night attached them to some old lady's phone line outside her house and made a long-distance call). So, among other things, I built a phone answering machine out of the VIC-20, its tape drive, joystick port, and a reel-to-reel I had — I used the mechanical ringer on my phone and the joystick port to detect the ring via the contact between the clapper and the bell (better and much easier than messing with it directly because the ring is 70v and a hefty current and you have to monitor that line without lowering the resistance enough to signal to the station that you've taken the phone off-hook), the program on the VIC-20 triggered a double-throw relay which connected the line to the R2R and turned it on. It wasn't useful because I hadn't rigged up anything to send an outgoing message and it deeply confused people who called me (which was amusing in its own right, listening to the recordings). It was more proof-of-concept.

Because I'm a drummer, I worked for a long time on a program that would take a rhythm from the keyboard and turn it into musical notation in a time-signature. I discovered, as you might expect, that this was prohibitively difficult, especially for someone at my programming skill level. Even given a standard tempo for reference, the fuzziness and seemingly-but-not-really arbitrary nature of how to actually assign durations for percussive notes proved insurmountable.

One of my favorite games was the card game Mille Borne. That proved to be my most ambitious program yet — and I managed it. The computer player's code ended up being 75% of the program and I learned a huge amount writing that program. For example, randomizing the deck was an iterative learning process as I had to learn that the elegant, "proper" solution was far less efficient than the messy, inexact solution. And the first complicated subroutine I wrote was the discard subroutine — and once I'd finished it, I only then realized that I'd also written the "what card to play" subroutine, too (I'd assigned game context dependent values to the cards to determine the least valuable card to discard, which obviously also told me the most valuable card to play). I quickly realized that I had a problem in deciding what the computer player should know; or, rather, remember: should it have perfect memory of every card that's been played or discarded? When it played that way, it was far better a player than me, I couldn't win. And that was a deeply memorable moment for me, too: when this program I'd been writing was just beating me at a game I had long enjoyed. And with the perfect memory, it was eerie, like it knew what cards I had...because, of course, in a probabilistic sense, it did.

I got the assembler cartridge and started to learn assembly. I didn't do much with it because it was hard. I'm not a born programmer — I learned that, too, then.

I didn't dial into any BBSs because I lived in a town of twelve-thousand people and it was 1982-83. But the following year I did subscribe to two online services: first, Dow-Jones News Retrieval, and then CompuServe.

Part of the design and appeal of the VIC-20 was that it was also sort of a game console. I bought several game cartridges — two are all that I can recall, but both vividly: an instrument-only flight simulator of a small plane (that was difficult but fascinating) and a clone of Galaga, which I played quite a bit.

Interestingly, and revealingly, I never considered CS or BIS for school — because that's what my dad did. And, in fact, that was probably wise because even without me majoring in it back then he'd already been a jerk about it. He was abusive and, I think, threatened by me. He mocked PCs and mocked my interest in PCs. Merely that my interests were in his domain was problematic; both of us being programmers would have been impossible, even if we'd been in very different fields. Instead, I first tried music and then a couple years later, physics.

Anyway, a lot of this will resonate with many, many people, of course. This falling in love with PCs and hacking away for hours and hours and hours — this is the formative story of computer nerds. To me, my own story is only remarkable in that it occurred in a context where there were essentially no other computer nerds. Of course there were others like that out in the wider world — even in my small university town, there must have been some. In my small high school (about 600 students), though, those two years I describe there were no other students who were using those TRS-80s my school had bought, however. But, like that guy who had the TRS-80 at home, there were a few people who had one at home like he did and someone else besides me was probably becoming a computer nerd. But I knew a lot of people (despite being both a delinquent and a part-time nerd, I was moderately popular) and I never heard of anyone else like me then.

I would have loved a C64. Loved one. But by the time I might have had the money to buy one, my lust had shifted to the Amiga, which was a huge advance at the time. And then in 1986, during a temporary stay with my parents, I started working/playing with IBM PC compatibles, with a couple (one quite memorably a huge luggable) my dad had for work (which he used exclusively for dialing-in).
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:08 AM on August 1, 2012 [14 favorites]


I had the game version of Aliens for the C64. I still think that game kicks ass and would love to find a version for it that I could play on something else.

OH GOD THAT FUCKING DROP SHIP TUNNEL.
posted by Etrigan at 10:13 AM on August 1, 2012


"OH GOD THAT FUCKING DROP SHIP TUNNEL."

and I'd written

"I bought several game cartridges — two are all that I can recall, but both vividly..."

I don't know how I possibly temporarily forgot this, but my OH GOD THAT FUCKING X is in response to the third game I vividly recall for my VIC-20 — Scott Adams's The Count.

It's been thirty years. And I clearly remember "There's a tremendous amount of HEAT and LIGHT coming from the oven." My friends and I spent many hours and became stumped and obsessed with that damn oven. We probably had just missed something else and the oven was useful for when you finally were faced with the vampire. But we were badly stumped and it especially bothered me.

I eventually wrote some story where I satisfyingly DESTROYED an oven emitting a tremendous amount of HEAT and LIGHT with DYNAMITE by BLOWING IT THE FUCK UP.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:26 AM on August 1, 2012


Palquito: " Once track zero was reached, every further attempt to move the head in that direction would cause it to be physically rammed against a solid stop: for example, if the head happened to be on track 18 before this procedure, the head would be actually moved 18 times, and then rammed against the stop another 22 times.""

Why is this making me think of that Piano Playing Muppet from Sesame Street who always banged his head against the piano?
posted by symbioid at 10:29 AM on August 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


If you're like me and always wondered how some of those games/demos did stuff that should have been impossible: Behind the scenes of a C64 demo
posted by Rhomboid at 10:31 AM on August 1, 2012


Disappointing that he mostly presents it as a machine for playing games. He should've let them try GeOS or Speedscript (after making them type in the source code from a copy of COMPUTE! magazine, of course).

(I remember basically scorning GeOS as bloatware when it came out, although I didn't have that term to use for it.)
posted by straight at 10:32 AM on August 1, 2012


ambivalentic: (in reference to the 8 to 16-bit transition) And what an incredible shift in terms of computing power that was. I wonder what the equivalent would be today?

I'm not sure we'll ever see a shift that large again. That was a huge inflection point. The Amiga was the first modern OS, and most people today, if forced back onto a computer from the late 80s or early 90s, would be happiest on an Amiga, because it would be most similar to what they're used to. It had multitasking, high-res graphics, impressive coprocessors (sort of a super-primitive version of a modern NVidia or AMD video card), windows, and, critically, device drivers for storage. (also for printing, but Amiga printer drivers were pretty bad.) Those storage drivers were awesome, and were much of why the Amiga lasted so long for so many people.

You could put absolutely scary (for the time) amounts of RAM and disk on an Amiga, and it would be perfectly happy. Even the very first models, from 1985, could support 8.5 megs of RAM, and hard drives that were at least hundreds of megs. At the time, even 512K of RAM was staggeringly expensive, so they were selling $2250 machines that could be outfitted with another $15,000 or so of RAM. And the well-designed storage system meant that every Amiga, ever, could use hard drives that were at least hundreds of megabytes, possibly larger, without needing any particular changes to the OS or software. And this was unreasonably well-designed as well, because hard drives were almost nonexistent in the home market at the time.

As you might imagine, that kind of RAM and storage expandability gave Amigas very, VERY long legs.

The real secret there, of course, was that the Amiga was really a 32-bit machine, just one using a 16-bit data bus. It didn't have much CPU grunt compared to later, true 32-bit machines, but the software was mostly designed with that target in mind. When someone bought an Amiga, they were jumping from a 8-bit, single tasking computer with 64K of RAM, straight to a 32-bit machine that was limping along on "cheap" hardware, but could still offer multitasking, windows, and device drivers. (A loaded Amiga 1000 [512K, two floppy drives] was about $3000, so 'cheap' is very relative here. :) ) Unfortunately, the OS was unstable as hell in the early days, which put rather a damper on things.

PCs, of course, transitioned from 16- to 32-bit as well, but because it was done in so many small steps, I don't think there's a single bright and shiny moment when capabilities advanced that much. First we had 16-bit DOS, then EMS and XMS, and then QEMM let you emulate an EMS card with your shiny new 386. Then DOS4GW started letting games run in 32-bit mode. (utility software mostly stayed 16-bit.) Then Windows 95 implemented a 32-bit Windows stack, while still allowing DOS programs to hit the hardware directly, while NT's 32-bit stack allowed no such nonsense. NT was, therefore, much more stable. So, overall, it was a bunch of small inflection points, instead of a single, really big one.

One other transition may have compared -- when the iPhone first became programmable, that was gigantic. Being able to treat a handheld device like a mainstream, 32-bit computer was probably the largest inflection point in phones, and judging from how many hundreds of millions of smartphones have shipped, I'd say it had a great deal more societal impact than the 8- to pseudo 32-bit shift in 1985. Was it as important for the actual users? I'm not certain, of course, but I suspect the overall impact, per user, was pretty comparable between the two. Basically, for people who were really into their machines, it was HUGE, and even mainstream folks saw giant differences in what kinds of things they could do with their devices.

But, going forward? They can keep making 32-bit machines smaller, but I don't foresee the same kind of impact in bringing computing into smaller form factors. I think it'll be important, but not transformative in the same way.

That, however, may be a gross failure of imagination on my part.
posted by Malor at 10:33 AM on August 1, 2012


About the only time you want to switch on the machine and see a blue screen!

Sometimes I wonder if that's why Microsoft chose blue for the color of its 'screen of death'. A semi-subtle 'up yours, Commodore'.
posted by oneswellfoop at 10:34 AM on August 1, 2012


I remember basically scorning GeOS as bloatware when it came out, although I didn't have that term to use for it.

I had GeOS for my C64 & C128, and the big question was always, "well, now what?" You had this sort of lackluster suite of clunky fake Mac programs running under a clunky fake Mac user interface that you accessed with a clunky fake Mac mouse, and which couldn't really do very much beyond show off that you sort of were almost as good as a Mac, but not quite. Also, without an HD, even running off a pair of 1541s, you just sort of got stuck in the land of duh far too often.

Now Sonus Super Sequencer and a Passport MIDI interface—that was a killer app.
posted by sonascope at 10:56 AM on August 1, 2012


Disappointing that he mostly presents it as a machine for playing games.

I knew Mat in my videogame collecting days, and I reckon the fact the he has possibly the largest collection of C64 games on the planet might have some bearing on that.
posted by anagrama at 10:56 AM on August 1, 2012


PCs, of course, transitioned from 16- to 32-bit as well, but because it was done in so many small steps

That same pattern carried over to the 64 bit transition. Even today if you run 64 bit Windows, a good deal of applications are 32 bit. If your application doesn't necessarily benefit from being 64 bit, it's a lot easier to test and maintain a single version. It's a somewhat different situation at the Linux and BSD camps. The source for everything is expected to be available, and the job of porting/bugfixing is distributed over a long tail of volunteers. And they've been supporting non-x86 non-ILP32 hardware for a long time, and so they've mostly already found and dealt with the class of bugs that crop up in code that was only written and tested on ILP32, such as assuming int is the same width as void *. Therefore you tend to get a more pure 64 bit system, but the 32 bit emulation and libraries are still there and still available, since they are sometimes still required.

I don't think there's a single bright and shiny moment when capabilities advanced that much.

If history has told us anything it's that the market dislikes radical leaps forward that break backwards compatibility. Intel learned that with Itanium aka Itanic. It at first shipped with x86 compatibility through software emulation and later through hardware, but it was never really that good. The plan had always been to get people to do native ports, but the architecture depended on the "sufficiently smart compiler" fallacy and never achieved the performance that was envisioned. The x86 / x86_64 commodity market always had the advantage of scale and eventually ate their lunch. I doubt we will see anyone advocate such a similar leap of faith any time soon. Advances and innovations will come incrementally.
posted by Rhomboid at 10:56 AM on August 1, 2012


I was 41 when I found out that my high school computer lab had been part of the very first forays into what is now known as user research but has been variously called HCI and even, man machine interfaces. Just call me user 101, in binary of course.
posted by infini at 11:02 AM on August 1, 2012


(Of course, that's not to say they didn't happen -- the Apple camp can list several big ones. It's a lot easier to pull off when it's only 5% - 10% of the desktop market and you have dictatorial control over both the hardware and operating system.)
posted by Rhomboid at 11:02 AM on August 1, 2012


On Microsoft's choice of blue fortheBSOD color: honestly, Commodore would have fallen off of Microsoft's radar long before that point. I think Microsoft's only connection with the company was that they wrote their BASIC, which doesn't reflect well on the company at all, as Commodore BASIC 2.0 was extremely limited, forcing you to do almost anything of importance with POKEs and SYS.

Geos (that's the proper capitalization) was an awesome graphics hack for its time, and allowed the creaking hardware to seem viable for a couple of years longer. What sonascope overlooks is that the Mac 128K cost about eight times that of a C64 and 1541 disk drive.

But Geos' real usefulness was in allowing WYSIWYG editing on the C64, a machine with 64K of memory, which still seems kind of amazing to this day. The bitmap buffer alone consumes 8K of that memory! To make it work required weird hacky virtual memory techniques, on a processor with, I can personally vouch, absolutely no virtualization features. The system made it work by using a custom-written fastloader and, I assume, lots of function stubs. I heard that Geos was much MUCH more responsive if you had a RAM expansion cart; it still used virtual memory, but it got it out of the RAM instead of over the drive's serial cable.
posted by JHarris at 11:19 AM on August 1, 2012


Does anyone remember Uptime? Somehow as a twelve-year old I wound up with a free subscription in returning for reviewing/ rating the games on the floppy they would send me every month. The Internet is surprisingly free from references, but here's a disk image that totally just sent me back to 1988. There's a passing reference to it at Wikipedia as well.
posted by yerfatma at 11:25 AM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


We wound up with a copy of Geos but could never figure out what to do with it. My Dad ran his business on an office suite (and I use the words lightly) called Trio (or Treo?) that had a word processor, spreadsheet and some kind of half-ass database in it. The funny thing to me, given I wound up as a web developer, is I typed a number of papers for high school on Trio Word. All you could do was bold, italicize or underline a word, which you did by wrapping it in <B>, <I> or <U> and the corresponding terminator characters. You can guess what those looked like.
posted by yerfatma at 11:29 AM on August 1, 2012


"If history has told us anything it's that the market dislikes radical leaps forward that break backwards compatibility. Intel learned that with Itanium aka Itanic."

And DEC with the Alpha, which was a 64-bit microprocessor in 1992.

For people like us, those for whom what was really going on with the microprocessor and the OS, there were periodically these attempts at leaps to next-gen technology that were so damn exciting and then without fail heartbreaking when they failed. For me, the first example of this was the Amiga. It wasn't a failure by any stretch — but I so strongly recall reading about its specs in a magazine in early 1985 and, as Malor makes so clear above, it was so huge a leap forward that it was almost unbelievable. I thought that it would necessarily become the personal computer, the standard for the future. And that didn't happen.

I closely followed the joint IBM/Microsoft development that fell apart and became 32-bit OS/2 and NT — my father-in-law was the IBM Canada PC product manager and got me a copy of OS/2 before it shipped and I managed to get an NT, too. I was so excited to see the transition to a 32-bit, pre-emptive multitasking desktop OS. I fully expected one of them to become the dominant desktop OS, replacing Windows. That didn't happen. (As Malor says, it only happened, sort of, with Windows 2000 and at the cost of badly damaging NTs robustness.)

What I really wanted to see was a 64-bit version of NT on the Alpha, but the 32-bit version for the Alpha never did that well.

I was an early adopter of the Gravis Ultrasound. Surely that would become the standard. Nope. (Though, like everything else, the basic technological change it represented eventually did.)
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:37 AM on August 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


I was an early adopter of the Gravis Ultrasound.

GUS rulez!!!
posted by zsazsa at 11:46 AM on August 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think the trouble with GEOS (I'm taking my capitalization off the actual GEOS window) and WYSIWYG editing on the C64 was that it wasn't really WYSIWYG, in that the end result on my MPS-1000 either completely different from what was on the screen, or that it was WYSIWYG, and produced a jaggy, blocky, aliased mess in which we felt compelled to use every font in every document because we could. A cultural problem, I'll admit, but oy, those old WYSIWYG docs.

Actually, that's sort of beside the point. The trap for me was that there was never anything of note for GEOS except for the stock applications. Had it been possible to walk into Babbages and pick up software for the GEOS environment that wasn't more office-y stuff that my youthful self just didn't need...well, that would have been a thing. It's a shame, because GEOS was really an amazing piece of work, but like the similarly named BeOS, if there's nothing available for it and you're not a programmer yourself, you're kind of stuck.

Had GEOS made a C128 as good as an eighth of a contemporary Mac, it might have worked out, but the total was less then the sum of its parts.

BTW, and peripheral to that point, I had (well, have) the gigantic and very brown Magic Voice cartridge, which was one of the most frustratingly unusable Commodore accessories ever. CBM was big on weird technological dead ends.
posted by sonascope at 11:49 AM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't want to start a holy war here, but what's the deal with you C64 fanatics? I'm sitting at my freelance gig copying one file to my 1541 floppy drive for the past 15 minutes!
posted by porn in the woods at 11:53 AM on August 1, 2012


I remember excitedly ordering OS/2 2.0 when it was announced and then installing it, only to realize that I would need a few more megs of RAM to have a usable system. I would eventually settle on DESQview instead. The idea of a protected mode operating system that could multitask 16 bit real mode DOS applications was just so appealing at the time. Around that time I ended up working for a company that had adopted OS/2 as their standard desktop platform. It had a lot of very good things going for it, and in that 92-95 period it really felt like we were on the cusp of something. Then Windows 95 came out, and that was pretty much it. It took a few years for things to work out, but eventually it was clear that OS/2 was not the promised land, and that while 95 was technically inferior, it was the future.
posted by Rhomboid at 11:56 AM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


SYS 64738 FTW
posted by ElGuapo at 11:56 AM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


My soph year of high school ('94), we participated in a regional technology fair at the mall. Our booth was split into two halves, a "timeline of personal computer history", and a demonstration of this novel new thing called The Internet. All of the machines in our timeline were our own, as many of us had our own little collections of PCs. We had a Spectrum, C=64, Osborne 1, IMSAI 8080, Kaypro II, BBC Micro, a Tandy CoCo, an Amiga 500, a TI-99, an Apple ][, original Macintosh, and a few others, up to then-current Mac and PC desktops. It was a pretty wide spread. We encouraged people to get hands-on with the machines; some we left at prompts and some we had running games like Karateka, Oregon Trail, M.U.L.E., Raid Over Moscow, and Lemonade Stand, or applications like GEOS, MacPaint, 1-2-3, and such.

The best part for me was that not only was the C=64 the most popular machine at the show, but that people had gone nuts with PEEK and POKE commands, or the shifted-character set, making colorful signs on-screen saying 'NICK LOVES KATE!' or whatever, all from scratch, all from memory. (Also, we had an Exploding Fist tournament that was pretty epic.)

Might have to go unbox the old 64 from the garage and fire it up. :)
posted by xedrik at 12:01 PM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Amiga 500 was a HUGE success, and between it and the ST ruled the personal computing scene of my teen years, but they fumbled later generations and never managed to capitalize on that.
posted by Artw at 12:13 PM on August 1, 2012


I wish I could remember the one-line (<40 char) BASIC program you could type into a C64 and cause it to start drawing a random maze all over the screen (it used reverse-space character codes).

I used to love typing that into a C64 on display in a store and then have the sales drone stare in wonder and ask me how I did that.
posted by straight at 12:17 PM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, for the record on the "whatever became of the C64/C128 line," I give you Commodore Business Machine's completely irrational next steps:

The Commodore 16 - Really, Commodore? We're competing with that absurd little brushed aluminum turd from Texas Instruments? What? No unusable chicklety keyboard? How 'bout an expansion system that makes your fully-expanded computer into a giant horizontal silver tapeworm on your desk?

The Commodore Plus/4 - Really, Commodore? We're trying to compete with those strange little tickety-boo machines that they love in England, especially the ones made by the maker of Britain's iconic electric death-scooter. And wait, they're not backwards compatible? Well, that's just keen.

The Commodore 128 was sort of a right step, but man, that was one big, beige, flat, unstackable computer. Eighty columns and CP/M was great, but did I mention it was one big honkin' beige flat unstackable computer (your monitor had to sit waaaay back unless you were crafty and built a little bridge over the computer).

By the time the Amiga was making headway, I'd already jumped ship back to Apple, except when I wanted to play games, which never got any better for me than they were in that magic moment when 8-bits and some really thought-out code could keep you going for entire weekends at a time. Plus, going Mac meant my desk didn't look like a dumped-out toybox with everything wired together.

Ah, now I want to go home and play with my C64 some more. Paradroid, here I come!
posted by sonascope at 12:18 PM on August 1, 2012


10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10
posted by Artw at 12:20 PM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


My Dad bought a VIC-20 in the early 80's. It's somewhere in his garage, along with the tape deck. We didn't have many games, but we had fun typing in the programs at the back of the book.

My childhood best friend had a C64. I loved playing Wheel of Fortune. I used to dance around to the music when I won. :)
posted by luckynerd at 12:35 PM on August 1, 2012


t is my experience that if you tell many kids today about anything older than six months ago, they don't believe you.

I have a bridge and a religion I'd like to sell you ..just jokin...
posted by elpapacito at 12:53 PM on August 1, 2012


Does anyone remember Uptime? Somehow as a twelve-year old I wound up with a free subscription in returning for reviewing/ rating the games on the floppy they would send me every month.

Yep. That was part of a weird sideline to the type-in computer magazine industry at the time, the magazine that was supplied on disk and so meant you didn't have to type anything in. Compute's Gazette's disk, Ahoy's disk, Uptime and Loadstar are the ones that leap to mind, but I'm sure there were more. Softdisk Publishing, who published Loadstar, did a number of those for different systems, but it's mostly remembered today as the company that made Carmack and Romero fed up enough to quit and start id Software.

Oh, for the record on the "whatever became of the C64/C128 line," I give you Commodore Business Machine's completely irrational next steps:

The 16 and Plus/4 seemed to exist primarily as ways to make kids disappointed in their parents. The 128 was great for what it was, but of course it was never as popular as the 64. But the seeds of their downfall were sewn when they treated the geniuses working at MOS like crap and used the company as little more than a cash cow. They designed the 6502 processor family, and thus for awhile just about every time a microcomputer, made by anyone, was sold Commodore got a piece of the pie. And yet that processor line dead-ended fairly quickly. If they had played their cards right we could have been running machines with 6502 descendents today, but they basically handed that market to their competitors.

Geos was WYSIWYG enough for the 1980s -- being able to use actual proportional, resizable fonts on your 8-bit computer screen seemed like some kind of deep magic.

SYS 64738 FTW

That's the command (minus the FTW) that hard resets the C64. Yeah, I got that from memory.

I don't want to start a holy war here, but what's the deal with you C64 fanatics? I'm sitting at my freelance gig copying one file to my 1541 floppy drive for the past 15 minutes!

The 1541 is incredibly slow, but I don't think it's that slow.

My favorite Commodore hack is the one that lets you play audio cassettes on the Datasette tape drive. It was extremely scratchy and hard to make anything out, but it worked.
posted by JHarris at 12:56 PM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Not sure I would have picked Buggy Boy as my demonstration game though I suppose he was looking for modern equivalence and ease of play, neither of which is Wizball. Might have been fun to hand them the original Football Manager though.
posted by feelinglistless at 1:33 PM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


My volunteer fire department almost bought a Commodore system but ended up with, of all things, a DEC Rainbow. Ah, memories.
posted by tommasz at 1:39 PM on August 1, 2012


The 16 and Plus/4 seemed to exist primarily as ways to make kids disappointed in their parents

So a company that made Transformers and Go-Bots? Quite the innovation.

Eighty columns and CP/M was great

As a kid who was nerdy but perhaps not smart enough at the time, I'd heard CP/M was going to be a great thing. Can someone explain why?

I was an early adopter of the Gravis Ultrasound.

Thirded.
posted by yerfatma at 1:39 PM on August 1, 2012


The mistreatment of MOS is particularly galling because one of the truly genius things about Commodore when they did things right was that they could make brilliant little ASICs to farm out processor tasks to what amounted to hardware subroutines. On the C64, you got the SID sound chip, which is so nifty that they're making new cartridges for a dead platform to turn it into a musical instrument. In the Amiga line, the ASICs that came in the original chipset really just put them at the top of the pack.
posted by sonascope at 1:40 PM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


The 1541 is incredibly slow, but I don't think it's that slow.

It couldn't hold enough data. Even after you punched out the tab on the other side. Man, that's one of those things I miss nowadays, the magic discovery the bastards are shorting you by only letting you use half the capacity. Buy yourself a fancy hole punch (or just use a hole punch/ scissors carefully) and you've improved things by 100%!
posted by yerfatma at 1:42 PM on August 1, 2012


It couldn't hold enough data. Even after you punched out the tab on the other side. Man, that's one of those things I miss nowadays, the magic discovery the bastards are shorting you by only letting you use half the capacity. Buy yourself a fancy hole punch (or just use a hole punch/ scissors carefully) and you've improved things by 100%!

Hah, I loved doing that. And then having to buy those little stickers to fold over the hole so as to "write protect" the disk. Memories!
posted by modernnomad at 1:48 PM on August 1, 2012


1581 FTW

I wish the SID was still manufactured. I make do with Plogue Chipsounds.

About half the stuff I did on my C64 was musical experimentation. I had it before I had my MicroMoog or my Yamaha DX-100 or my Korg DS-8.
posted by Foosnark at 1:52 PM on August 1, 2012


On CP/M: I don't know. It might have had to do with making the system seem more Unix and/or DOS-like. I do seem to remember that it was already aging when it became a big feature for the C128 to support it, and that it required including a Z80 in the system to run it that could only be utilized in a special mode that disabled the 8502. I think it also enabled the system to run pre-existing CP/M software, but as a kid that was a world completely foreign to me and I scarcely know anything more about it now.
posted by JHarris at 1:55 PM on August 1, 2012


What do today's kids make of the Commodore 64? . . . A doorstop?
No! Music!
posted by byanyothername at 2:13 PM on August 1, 2012


10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10

Artw, the one I was talking about would actually print a reversed square then move the cursor in a random direction on the screen and print another one so that you'd have this drunk-walking cursor leaving a trail all over the screen.
posted by straight at 5:43 PM on August 1, 2012


Christ, I can't believe how antiquated that Commodore 64 is. And by that I mean that MY Commodore 64 came with the 1541 floppy drive, and we didn't have to wait years for games to load. My dad once broke out a Commodore PET with a cassette player built-in and that seemed impossibly old even in the late 80s.
posted by chrominance at 5:59 PM on August 1, 2012


As a kid who was nerdy but perhaps not smart enough at the time, I'd heard CP/M was going to be a great thing. Can someone explain why?

My Amstrad CPC came with CP/M disks, which was some kind of selling point - "Look, you can use this to run business software". As far as I was concerned, CP/M was just an extra barrier I had to climb over to run Logo.
posted by Jimbob at 6:08 PM on August 1, 2012


JHarris: Geos was WYSIWYG enough for the 1980s -- being able to use actual proportional, resizable fonts on your 8-bit computer screen seemed like some kind of deep magic.

That was as close to the real deal as we'll ever get. It was a surpassing feat of technical wizardry.

In a way, I find it slightly horrifying that, in reading a thread about the Commodore 64, Firefox is presently taking up 199 megabytes of memory, just to read this one page. I don't have any other tabs or windows open, and my browser is eating as much RAM as 3,200 Commodore 64s. (And then Steam is eating another 200 megs doing absolutely nothing but displaying my library. I do, admittedly, have a good-size library, but it's not THAT big.)

Within five years, it should be possible to ship a new Commodore 64 at mass-market pricing, except with gigs instead of K.
posted by Malor at 6:14 PM on August 1, 2012


As a kid who was nerdy but perhaps not smart enough at the time, I'd heard CP/M was going to be a great thing. Can someone explain why?

CP/M was the predecessor of MS-DOS (or, more precisely, the OS the developer of QDOS, which MS-DOS was developed from, copied). The main difference was that CP/M ran on the 8-bit Z80 CPU, used in a lot of late-70s/early-80s microcomputers, whereas MS-DOS ran on the Intel x86 architecture, which had scaled up to 16 bits and the flexible IBM PC architecture. Had the PC (and the wave of cheap PC clones) not come along, perhaps CP/M would have been the next logical step for Z80-based machines (some, like the Amstrads, used it, and the Commodore 128 had a secondary Z80 CPU whose only purpose was to take over when it was switched into a CP/M mode). The rise of the PC blew that out of the water, though.

I remember seeing green-screen text-only computers, used in technical offices of the pre-PC era, which ran CP/M and used an unusual high-density disk format. My dad worked in an office which had those, and on some school holidays I'd get to go in and spend the day dialling bulletin boards and downloading games (typically variants of Adventure or Hunt The Wumpus, IIRC). The CP/M machines seemed, whilst older, to have a certain gravitas about them that the newer (and cheaper) home machines lacked; their integral floppy drives, sophisticated (by 8-bit microcomputer standard) operating systems and 80-column displays (i.e., more than a TV would resolve) lent them as much.
posted by acb at 6:42 PM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


I held on to my Commodore 64 until pretty late in the game—I was still using fritzterm and novaterm when I started dialing into the University in 1992 (we must have had a PC downstairs by that point, but the computer in my room was "the commie"). This was honestly not a bad system for reading Usenet, playing a few MUDs, and hanging out on IRC.

fritzterm used the standard text mode(40x25 characters) but I recall that it had some sort of good scrollback capability, so that you didn't have to wait while the next screen of text loaded. 2400 baud (up to 240 characters per second) was not bad for just text, but you still noticed the few seconds that it took the 1000-character screen to fill up with text.

novaterm sported an 80-column mode which was in a slow graphics mode. It couldn't scroll fast enough to keep up with 2400 baud, but on the other hand it had a mode where instead of scrolling it would simply wrap around from the bottom to the top. (scrolling was slow, displaying characters was fast enough) I seem to remember that ircii could enable a similar mode while keeping the line of text entry fixed at the bottom.

Holy cow, that's 20 years ago.
posted by jepler at 7:15 PM on August 1, 2012


That was insane. Of all the games that he could have picked to show those kids he chose "BuggyBoy." When our family had a C64 I was very young and very few games stuck in my memory.

Once we got an Amiga 500 the Commodore was overshadowed pretty quickly. If asked, there wasn't one Commodore game I could name... until now. I still have fond memories of this one - probably because it's simple, bright, colourful and a joy to play.

BuggyBoy available as flash game (where I'll be all afternoon).
posted by Start with Dessert at 9:08 PM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


My dad once broke out a Commodore PET with a cassette player built-in and that seemed impossibly old even in the late 80s.

Maybe, but a Commodore PET playing Hangman off of a cassette player seemed impossibly cool in 1980.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 10:45 PM on August 1, 2012


Original C64 in a custom laptop portable format.
posted by porpoise at 12:00 AM on August 2, 2012


He should have shown Archon. Archon's intro music was incredible.
posted by Malor at 12:58 AM on August 2, 2012


there's a direct mechanical connection with a typewriter that kids love, and a kid with a stack of paper and an Olympia SM9 can have an absurd amount of fun for a shockingly long time.

I did this.

We never had any of the cool computers at home, but went straight from one week with a borrowed weird little Bull homecomputer to a bog standard PC XT clone, where my dad opted to get the version with two floppy drives rather than the harddrive and one floppy, as two is better than one....

Us kids also bought a Philips game computer (a whole 8k memory) sometime in the late eighties, then resold it sometime in the early nineties, which I'm still kicking myself over.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:21 AM on August 2, 2012


Archon intro screen and gameplay.

Personally, I was more a fan of M.U.L.E.
posted by crunchland at 2:26 AM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


My first computer was a fire sale VIC20 because my parents just heard the "Commodore" part of my begging.

My brother got a VIC 20 in 1982 or so. None of the games worked, but I tinkered with it enough to learn a little bit of BASiC.

I am just about old enough to remember Amigas or Commodore 64, but by the time I was 8 the Game Boy had come out and everyone wanted one of those, then the SNES. In 1993, my dad tried to convince me that the VIC-20 could do anything a PC could do. ('What's a 'cd-one'?) He was pretty stingy and it took some effort to convince him that modern technology was more than a 'gimmick' - it took until 1996 to persuade him that I should have a CD player - but I think that day someone had switched his Senior Service out with jazz cigarettes.
posted by mippy at 3:58 AM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


When my dad did buy a PC, in 1998, it had a 5 1/2 inch floppy drive. Computers were VERY expensive in the UK then, so even recent second-hand PCs weren't cheap, but I'd never even seen one before. It took me a whilke to realise they were the same thing as the hard plastic disks we used at school, and not much longer to realise there was no way to bring my files home and actually work on my schoolwork.
posted by mippy at 4:02 AM on August 2, 2012


It was an Amstrad 386.
posted by mippy at 4:04 AM on August 2, 2012


In 1993, my dad tried to convince me that the VIC-20 could do anything a PC could do. ('What's a 'cd-one'?) He was pretty stingy

God, you aren't kidding. I'm trying to imagine this. "Why would I need four megabytes of memory? Pure luxury, make due with the three K in your Viccy! And what's this I hear about those fancy Windows? 22 columns of text should be enough for anyone!"

Actually from trying to picture it, I kind of like him.
posted by JHarris at 4:50 AM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


When my dad did buy a PC, in 1998, it had a 5 1/2 inch floppy drive. Computers were VERY expensive in the UK then, so even recent second-hand PCs weren't cheap, but I'd never even seen one before. It took me a whilke to realise they were the same thing as the hard plastic disks we used at school, and not much longer to realise there was no way to bring my files home and actually work on my schoolwork.
posted by mippy at 4:02 AM on August 2 [+] [!]


It was an Amstrad 386.
posted by mippy at 4:04 AM on August 2 [+] [!]

Oh hey my family had an Amstrad 386 as well, it rocked. Of course we had one with the 3.25" drive. And my dad replaced it with 486 around 94-95....

For all his faults (he's quite stingy as well) I can't fault my dad on realising the significance of the personal computer and that we had access to reasonably up to date technology. Might have had something to do with the amount of time he spent in his career working computer controlled industrial lathes.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 6:18 AM on August 2, 2012


Back in the early 80's, I had a summer job working for the school system in the town where I grew up. They were moving everything back and forth between two schools turning an elementary school into a middle school and visaversa. The key part is that the job, though back breaking, paid roughly $200 a week, which worked out to be exactly what all of the major peripherals cost for a C64. So one week, I bought a new Commodore monitor, the next week, I bought a 1541 disk drive, and the next week, I bought another disk drive. Later that year, I introduced my first BBS called "Bohemia BBS." It ran on my C64 with a 300 baud modem, and had an online game, but most people called to get the pirated software -- I offered a new 640k diskette full of pirated games for download every week.
posted by crunchland at 6:34 AM on August 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


JHarris, he was very much someone who believed he was the Word of God. It manifested itself in ways that made for less fun anecdotes (I once asked if I could borrow a camera, and ended up in tears after being harrangued for not looking after things. He never ever used the camera!) but trying to convince him of technological changes was hilariously frustrating. 'Nicam? I could get a big box, paint it red and call it [Surname] Stereo System, it wouldn't make it better!' (CAD was popular in his industry at the time, but I doubt he'd even used a Windows PC at this point.)

I'd already been told consoles were verboten because 'my friend's son is always mithering for new games (a cartridge would cost £40 then, but I just wanted to play Mario all the time), and besides, they only make them 16bit to make money, they have the technology to make them 32bit, but they won't, because they want people to upgrade to the new thing.' The Amstrad he got in 1998 had a dot-matrix printer (which left peculiar gaps in the page mid-sheet) and ran on GemStart, a kind of ersatz Windows. When he got a 'normal' computer (second-hand, so still not high-spec) I wasn't allowed to keep my own files on it (he'd delete them if he found them because 'you keep filling it full of rubbish' so I had to hide them in a folder) so I had to use the sodding thing for ages. The internet was incredibly expensive until unlimited dial-up and then broadband, so I wasn't allowed on it - I had to get my rich-parents boyfriend, with their fancypants ISDN line, to ring me in the morning and tell me what e-mail I'd got because I could only go online at his house.

I've inherited his disdain for buying things purely on the brand name (when I wore a pair of prescription Ray-Bans I often wondered if I could prise off the little logo on the side), but it took me a while to learn that while buying things for the logo on the front is the hobby of fools, buying the cheap crappy thing that will last 1/3 of the time of the thing that costs more (but does its job) saves nobody money. Even if I have memories of having to sellotape the auto/radio/tuner button on my 'music system' so I could tape things off the radio without it cutting out.
posted by mippy at 7:45 AM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


"The main difference was that CP/M ran on the 8-bit Z80 CPU, used in a lot of late-70s/early-80s microcomputers, whereas MS-DOS ran on the Intel x86 architecture, which had scaled up to 16 bits and the flexible IBM PC architecture."

There was CP/M-86 and DECs CP/M-86/80, both which ran on x86. The latter ran on DEC's competitor to the IBM PC, the DEC Rainbow. The Rainbow actually had two microprocessors, both a Z80 and an 8088 — that's why the "86-80", it had both variations of the OS. I worked in a university's business school's microcomputer lab in 1984 where they had gone all-in with the Rainbow instead of the IBM PC.

I seem to recall a slight difference in the file-system, too. (But this is where the 8.3 filename notation originated!) It's notable, too, as you wrote, that it was the predecessor to DOS in that it CP/M was the first microcomputer OS and was, in turn, based upon DEC's minicomputer OSs, notably PDP.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:06 AM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


He should have shown Archon. Archon's intro music was incredible.

I loved how the Adventure Construction Set came with a main overture and a fugue that were designed to be snipped up to provide appropriate bits of music for your overworld, combat, danger, victory, entering a mysterious place, finding a thing, etc.
posted by straight at 10:17 AM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Adventure Construction Set is generally amazing, Stewart Smith came up with a pretty clever way to do primitive scripting in it so you could have all kinds of arbitrary responses to player actions. Sadly the interface was weird, the graphics kind of funky, and it didn't help that the Commodore's disk drive was a major drain in trying to do anything with it.
posted by JHarris at 10:30 AM on August 2, 2012


In 1993, my dad tried to convince me that the VIC-20 could do anything a PC could do.

Strictly speaking, he was right. You only need enough cassette tapes, and time.
posted by CaseyB at 11:56 AM on August 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Strictly speaking, he was right. You only need enough cassette tapes, and time.

Technically, you'd also need to modify the Datasette to allow the VIC-20 to control the direction of the motor.
posted by acb at 3:52 PM on August 2, 2012


I miss Commodore 64. I used to be able to program in BASIC and make cute little animations in school. Now I can't understand any damn programming language for shit.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:23 PM on August 2, 2012


Now I can't understand any damn programming language for shit.

This is something that concerns me slightly regarding my son. He's just turned 6. By the time I was 7, I was writing little programs on the Amstrads we had at school. The fact that you could just turn one on, and type:

plot 1,1
draw 100,100

And get it to draw a line on the screen was incredible (sucks to be a C64 owner who had to use pokes). Now days, it feels like if my son wants to muck around in a similar way, his options are either weird graphical languages like scratch, or learning to write Python scripts, with all the messing around with loading libraries, running them in a separate interpreter etc.

Which is why I've downloaded an Amstrad CPC emulator, and plan on showing him that.
posted by Jimbob at 8:13 PM on August 2, 2012


Have you considered Arduino? If I were teaching kids about programming, I think that's where I'd start.
posted by crunchland at 8:52 PM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also notable about CP/M was that IBM originally went to Digital Research for the OS the first IBM-PC but they weren't able to strike a deal. (there are various stories about why)

At that time Microsoft dealt in languages they supplied BASIC to almost everyone (except Apple) and were going to do the same for IBM. That's when they bought QDOS -> MS-DOS which was the basis of Microsoft becoming the giant it became.
posted by Bonzai at 10:30 PM on August 2, 2012


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