1981 Radio Shack Computer Catalog
December 27, 2015 4:56 AM   Subscribe

Mashable: In 1977, Radio Shack's 3,000 stores started selling the TRS-80 (Tandy/Radio Shack, Z-80 microprocessor). Largely forgotten by the general public, the TRS-80 was, with Apple and Commodore's products, one of the pioneering personal computers of the late 1970s, and a key machine in the personal computer revolution. Byte magazine described the "1977 Trinity" of computers: Apple, Commodore and Tandy. [Images by Mefi's own Jscott]
posted by marienbad (91 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
 
System!
quickly
posted by DoctorFedora at 5:19 AM on December 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Byte magazine described the "1977 Trinity" of computers: Apple, Commodore and Tandy.

I wonder how that will pan out?
posted by fairmettle at 5:25 AM on December 27, 2015 [7 favorites]


I was given a TRS-80 Model 100, the first laptop you might say, by the small town newspaper I worked for, along with a gadget that plugged into the telephone line so I could file stories remotely. Eight short lines of text at a time were visible on the black-on-gray liquid crystal screen. Good times.
posted by tommyD at 5:27 AM on December 27, 2015 [11 favorites]


Forgotten?? It was my first experience with the computer, at the start of the school year in 82. The Trash 80 system we had in the computer lab was actually part of one of the earliest man machine interface studies (now better known as user research) involving regular folks, not scientists & researchers. I got to meet one of the researchers in San Jose some 30 years later. Apparently I was part of "user 101"
posted by infini at 5:27 AM on December 27, 2015 [9 favorites]


The advantage of the TRS-80 had was that it was dissected and every part of it documented. I ran an expanded one running LDOS until 1986 when I got an Atari ST. By that time I had a full suite of GNU tools running on it. In 1990 I had to do some work on an MSDOS machine and though OK it will be cool to work on a command line environment. So where are the stream editors, grep and awk? What are they was the response. Oh fuck! Needless to say 3 days later I had a bash shell installed and all the rest of the utils.
posted by lilburne at 5:41 AM on December 27, 2015 [6 favorites]


Take those prices and multiply by 2.72 to see them in 2015 dollars. That makes the starting base price for the Model II a whopping $9384...
posted by jim in austin at 5:46 AM on December 27, 2015 [15 favorites]


"user 101"

No! Not user 101!
posted by thelonius at 5:54 AM on December 27, 2015 [6 favorites]


Memories, light the corners of my mind
Misty water color memories of the way we were
posted by mikelieman at 6:03 AM on December 27, 2015 [7 favorites]


These are the days of miracles and wonder,
This is a long distance call.
posted by Splunge at 6:10 AM on December 27, 2015 [16 favorites]


I used to rag on my friend and his Space:1999-grade Model III and his fixation on dying computer languages like C while I proudly showed off the amazing things I could do with my heavily upgraded Apple ][+ running the language of the future, Forth, which I was mastering with the intention of becoming a big deal in the computer business.

Now, of course, he's a long-retired Microsoft zillionaire living in a soaring cathedral of genteel log architecture on the water in the Pacific Northwest with his meticulously restored Lake Amphibian bobbing gently at the end of his boat dock in between round-the-world jaunts with his wife, while I'm a loner fancy janitor with a poetry degree working construction for less money than a McDonalds line cook.

Who's laughing now?

Well, I am, but in a bitter and literary manner in-between coughing up specks of blood on a fancy embroidered napkin as I rely on Dorothy Parker and the lush intoxicant of the mother tongue for solace. Coding? That's not coding—that's typing.
posted by sonascope at 6:15 AM on December 27, 2015 [79 favorites]


I feel like learning programming on any of the classic 8 bit boxes is a bit similar to learning how to mechanic on cars circa the mid-1960s before the arrival of solid state ignition, fuel injection, and other other digital systems. In both cases you could gaze upon the entire thing and, like Thomas Young, know pretty much everything about it.

Your response to that era passing says something about you. Does that experience enable you, giving you the confidence required to learn new things? Do you occasionally look back fondly muttering "Good times" and maybe keep one around as a toy or hobby? Do you marvel at the amazing things you've seen and anticipate all the cool stuff yet to be? Or do you resent your formative things becoming obsolete and find yourself saying things like "Crap these days?"

As I get older I struggle with this sometimes but on the whole I try to remain inspired by the past without resenting that I can't live there anymore. There's so much cool stuff yet to see and do.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 6:33 AM on December 27, 2015 [22 favorites]


I was given a TRS-80 Model 100, the first laptop you might say...Good times.

Little bit of trivia: the firmware in the Model 100 was mostly written by Bill Gates himself...it was the last Microsoft project ever done with Gates' handiwork inside.
posted by JoeZydeco at 6:37 AM on December 27, 2015 [10 favorites]


A few years later, the much-missed Creative Computing magazine would publish "Tandy Radio Shack enters the magic world of computers" to present the inside story of how the company found itself looking for a different electronic product line after the CB radio boom went bust and determined that this "personal computer" market would be a good place for a new start.
posted by Doktor Zed at 6:51 AM on December 27, 2015 [6 favorites]


You can still have and program your TRS-80, in your browser.
posted by sammyo at 7:01 AM on December 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


I had a "trash-80" just before college. I made a program that was a "choose your own adventure" game in BASIC, and it was just so much fun. It was saved on a cassette tape.
posted by xingcat at 7:01 AM on December 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


Take those prices and multiply by 2.72 to see them in 2015 dollars. That makes the starting base price for the Model II a whopping $9384...

According to the calculator I found, the $4727 price of that system converts to $12,861 in 2015 dollars.

It was in about 1982 that there were some TRS computers at my school. I'm not sure what model they were but they were running on cassette tapes rather than disks. They sort of worked but not easily or well, nothing like the Apples we played endless hours of Oregon Trail on a couple of years later.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:02 AM on December 27, 2015


The Dragon 32 was a licenced clone made in the UK which enjoyed some success, although it never really had a chance against the hardware-assisted gaming strengths of the Commodore 64, or the low price of the ZX Spectrum.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 7:06 AM on December 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


I get why they don't, but I would love to be able to peruse an Apple catalog in 2015 full of weird hardware addons in the same metal style as my laptop. I remember lusting after the weirdest stuff back then; like that "speech recognition" kit or the 60 dollar lower case support device. I strangely miss those days, where you could unlock more similarly shaped and colored potential out of a catalog.

But -- maybe it's my lack of imagination -- other than an external GPU grid or one of those USB 3D cameras you wave your hands above, I can't really think of anything we could want to add on to a laptop in 2015. It all went inside the box, then up on the network.
posted by neustile at 7:12 AM on December 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


All of the blocky, plasticy, peripherals that connect with audio wire are making me somewhat jealous of something before my time. Like this page.
posted by codacorolla at 7:18 AM on December 27, 2015


Personally, I wouldn't mind being able to add more RAM.
posted by schmod at 7:41 AM on December 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


This was my first computer! What the article misses is how it smelled, a plasticky, oily smell that I connect, now to the sound of the cassett-tape storage system.
I'm typing this on my phone. Which I just used to video-call someone on the other side of the world! Yet it doesn't smell
posted by From Bklyn at 7:49 AM on December 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


That was the year (or maybe it was 82) my mother decided we should have a computer so she let us pick one and we decided on a TRS-80 Color Computer. That Christmas that's all we got under the tree, rather than the usual assortment of toys and other crap. Probably the best gift I ever got.

I took to it right away, learning to make little animations in BASIC and then I found some computer pen pals and a local TRS-80 CoCo club, the primary purpose of which seemed to be to trade pirated software. Before long I was able to acquire any piece of software I wanted.

I eventually upgraded the RAM, changed out the keyboard for a better one, and even soldered on a little LED power light, which the original model was lacking. I swapped out the CPU when the first one blew up on me. LastOfHisKind really nailed it when he compared it to working on an old car. I knew that thing inside and out (literally) and could make it do almost anything.

My favorite game ever was called Dungeons of Daggorath. Sort of the original 3D shooter. I was mighty surprised to learn that that game was a major element in the recent book Ready Player One.

I still have a CoCo, several years ago my friend bought me one on eBay. I don't really do much with it, though my son has fooled around in BASIC a bit. I just like having it around.

I loved that computer. I spent many hours battling with my friends, arguing that it was better than their C64 or TI-994a. What I loved was that on the surface it was a piece of crap but once you learned about it a bit you discovered how much power it had and how much you could do with it.
posted by bondcliff at 7:50 AM on December 27, 2015 [11 favorites]


TRS-80, pronounced Trash-80.
posted by Nanukthedog at 7:58 AM on December 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


I took the inflation calculator the other direction, and looked up my current everyday jack-of-all-trades laptop (this guy) that I paid $400 bucks for. That's about $153.20 in 1981 dollars.
posted by codacorolla at 7:59 AM on December 27, 2015 [6 favorites]


With its integrated keyboard, monitor, and floppy drives, there's never been a computer that looks as computery as the Model III.
posted by straight at 8:18 AM on December 27, 2015 [7 favorites]


TRS-80, pronounced Trash-80.

That's pretty clever. Did you just think of that?
posted by bondcliff at 8:19 AM on December 27, 2015 [12 favorites]


I was lucky my gifted/talented class had one of the few computers in a classroom in Tulsa. And we had two -- a Model I and a Model III.

There were a few of us who really took to those computers. One kid, who showed how to crash a computer by writing to all the memory, is a VP of IT. Another, who was designing games in fourth grade for the C64, is a staff engineer for a defense contractor. And then me, who ended up doing UX.

And we all learned on a Trash-80.
posted by dw at 8:25 AM on December 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


Ah the nostalgia. I used the TRS-80's the high school computer lab got in 1978 but this was my first computer. It was, as the article mentions, surplussed through ads in the back of Popular Electronics for about $250, including a big library of games and software.

Because the Interact didn't have BASIC in ROM with the Level II interpreter loaded you only had 4698 bytes left for your own program and data. I printed out a disassembly of the much smaller and simpler "Edu-Basic" (which I later realized was a port of Tiny Basic), spent most of a summer vacation figuring out how it worked, and rewrote it to make it a lot more capable but leaving 8K for your own program.

Alas it was never very practical with that limited display but it taught me a lot about getting limited hardware to do something useful.
posted by Bringer Tom at 8:28 AM on December 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


My first computer job, which I did in college, was to write Z80 assembly code for a North Star to convert the audio cassette data from a TRS80 so it could be stored on floppy disks.

The speed of the cassette players (and the original recording) varied enough to make it interesting.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 8:52 AM on December 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


TRS-80, pronounced Trash-80.

That's pretty clever. Did you just think of that?


I for one appreciated your translation, straight - I was missing the reference upthread.
posted by fairmettle at 8:54 AM on December 27, 2015


My first computer ever was a Tandy CoCo back in 1985. I suspect it was due to them being cheap since we didn't really have much money. But still, I pushed that machine as far as I could get it to go, spending days typing line after line of BASIC. I would get books of game code from the library and spend weekends just clacking away, with no save backup either. It would be a few months before I could afford the external cassette drive. In time I picked up enough in the transcribing to be able to modify and create my own games.
If my family had had the means to support the rapid pace of my learning I might have been able to really make something out of my love of writing code. Sadly, once I maxed out what my CoCo could do that was pretty much it for me and computers for about 10 years. Still, I miss how much fun it was exploring the new world of computers with my CoCo.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 9:00 AM on December 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Your response to that era passing says something about you.

Mostly I feel sad that "kids these days" have a much higher bar for understanding everything because there's so much more to understand. The flip side of *having* to know everything about the machine and its software is that this was actually doable. Today, just the UEFI boot process involves many many orders of magnitude more code and transistors than the entire computing stack of thirty years ago.
posted by Slothrup at 9:01 AM on December 27, 2015 [6 favorites]


I can't begin to explain how happy it makes me that it took less than five comments for someone to say "TRaSh-80."
posted by entropicamericana at 9:06 AM on December 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


Years and years ago, back in the BBS days (I was running WWIV under DesqView on a work machine), a buddy (yay you, if you see this, Ace) had written a comprehensive BBS program for the Model III (which, for archival purposes, was called Hacker's Harem).
posted by Samizdata at 9:10 AM on December 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


(Also, I wrote a Russian Roulette game with the text/keyboard graphics on a CoCo.)
posted by Samizdata at 9:12 AM on December 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Voyage of the Valkyrie, anyone?

The way folks like Leo Christopherson wove machine code into the middle of a BASIC program was art. You guys know what I’m talking about. You’d get these games, and you’d say “But it’s BASIC, how can it do that?”, then you’d LIST and there would be what looked like normal code until your screen would start flashing and beeping what looked like alien scrawl.

Don’t forget, this game requires 21 free granules on drive 0.
posted by sydnius at 9:17 AM on December 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


Does that experience enable you, giving you the confidence required to learn new things? Do you occasionally look back fondly muttering "Good times" and maybe keep one around as a toy or hobby? Do you marvel at the amazing things you've seen and anticipate all the cool stuff yet to be? Or do you resent your formative things becoming obsolete and find yourself saying things like "Crap these days?"

Nearing the half century mark has me doing all of the above. That's "and"...

The flip side of *having* to know everything about the machine and its software is that this was actually doable.

You get to watch the shit getting layered on and things getting more and more complicated. You twinge once in a way for good old file manager in 3.1... but the upside of GIGO and syntax errors is that you fundamentally understand how a computer works and never mistake it for a mighty machine that's infallible.

Like the car, its still 4 wheels and a engine with a chassis on top even if they don't seem to have carburettors in there anymore.

I stayed back after school everyday to hang out in the computer lab. I now realize that I was the only girl there but was never made to feel so.
posted by infini at 9:24 AM on December 27, 2015 [8 favorites]


infini: "Does that experience enable you, giving you the confidence required to learn new things? Do you occasionally look back fondly muttering "Good times" and maybe keep one around as a toy or hobby? Do you marvel at the amazing things you've seen and anticipate all the cool stuff yet to be? Or do you resent your formative things becoming obsolete and find yourself saying things like "Crap these days?"

Nearing the half century mark has me doing all of the above. That's "and"...

The flip side of *having* to know everything about the machine and its software is that this was actually doable.

You get to watch the shit getting layered on and things getting more and more complicated. You twinge once in a way for good old file manager in 3.1... but the upside of GIGO and syntax errors is that you fundamentally understand how a computer works and never mistake it for a mighty machine that's infallible.

Like the car, its still 4 wheels and a engine with a chassis on top even if they don't seem to have carburettors in there anymore.

I stayed back after school everyday to hang out in the computer lab. I now realize that I was the only girl there but was never made to feel so.
"

Man, it would have been cool to have had girls back in our lab.
posted by Samizdata at 9:27 AM on December 27, 2015


I stayed back after school everyday to hang out in the computer lab. I now realize that I was the only girl there but was never made to feel so."

There are reasons it changed in the 80s. When Women Stopped Coding
A lot of computing pioneers — the people who programmed the first digital computers — were women. And for decades, the number of women studying computer science was growing faster than the number of men. But in 1984, something changed. The percentage of women in computer science flattened, and then plunged, even as the share of women in other technical and professional fields kept rising.

What happened?

We spent the past few weeks trying to answer this question, and there's no clear, single answer.

But here's a good starting place: The share of women in computer science started falling at roughly the same moment when personal computers started showing up in U.S. homes in significant numbers.
posted by fraula at 9:30 AM on December 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


Aw, yay Trash 80! I learned BASIC on a TRS-80 Model III at the Y in the early 80's.

Many years later I found the technical manual, which besides having schematics for everything is also a pretty fun introduction to computer architecture. I wonder if anything remotely similar exists for a modern machine.
posted by phooky at 9:30 AM on December 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


Our elementary school had Commodore PETs; our gifted program had TRS-80s and, in the back of the room, a motherfucking IMSAI 8080. Trying to get the latter to do anything identifiable was a bit beyond our young and tender sensibilities, so we spent our time pounding out BASIC and doing screen hacks and other silliness.

At some point someone created (or typed in from some magazine) a primitive RPG -- it wasn't a puzzle-solver like Zork but an all-text dungeon crawl with stats and everything. We found this utterly fascinating, especially since we could go into the source code and tweak things with in-jokes and ridiculous player buffs and such. It was a portal into another world AND WE COULD TINKER WITH IT. That alone was probably more of a recruitment-to-computer-science draw than anything else we encountered in that era.

The CoCos, on the other hand, weren't popular in my circle. I knew one guy who had one but we spent a lot more time huddled around his Atari 2600.
posted by delfin at 9:41 AM on December 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh heavens I miss those days :) Back in 1983 I was manager of a Radio Shack Computer Store in Santa Monica, which was the Apple Store of it's day. Everything in there was amazing and every kind of business was using them. My store serviced every type of business you could imagine from a drag show cabaret to the Los Angeles Unified School System. Apple? Apple was nothing more than a cute machine for hobbyists. Being a technophobe I loved all the different little computers and owned several of them from a Model IV to the little pocket computer (which I think was actually made by Sharp). The model 100 sold like hotcakes to the LA Times people, the very first practical laptop (albeit with a 4 line display) with an internal modem.

There were dozens upon dozens of computer manufacturers back then and innovation was practically a daily occurrence - then Microsoft would actively acquired a monopoly on operating systems in cooperation with Intel for hardware a few years later and innovation slowed to a crawl. The days of the wild west of computing were over. Now Apple is beginning to fulfill that role and the only "innovation" I generally see are smaller or larger sizes of the same thing lately.
posted by AGameOfMoans at 9:56 AM on December 27, 2015 [5 favorites]


Well, since everyone has such fond and thorough memories of the TRS-80 I'm sure at least one, if not more of you have a link or other means of access to the game "Sir Eggbert Jumper" which I've only been searching for since 1990something because I want to finally beat it once and for all....

Note, this game does exist, the advertisement for it can be found in the OCT 82 edition of H&E Computronics

I found the old DOS game Freddy's rescue roundup through similar means
posted by splen at 10:05 AM on December 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


Otoh, the boys kept the doors to the Chess Club tightly closed. I heard they played poker in there.

Thanks for the link Fraula. There's an insightful sentence in there = "really good at solving problems" and that's really what my gang and I ended up doing. Only one guy ever went on to do something with computers, the rest of us just muddled through college having seen the future but anchored to our respective presents in a strange time warp. The other side of that wild west of computing that AGameofMoans describes is the no mans land between high school and college for those of us at this end of Gen X. (if you didn't want to be a hard core coder/programmer/scientist)
posted by infini at 10:08 AM on December 27, 2015 [2 favorites]




I would like to play Galaxian again.
posted by infini at 10:11 AM on December 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


>I wonder if anything remotely similar exists for a modern machine.

Back then the architecture limited you to 64K and you could scroll through your entire OS on a hex editor (called the "monitor" back then) and find hidden treasures to share and / or write about. Now your OS literally takes up gigabytes with hundreds of files and it would take you years to scroll through it and understand it (by which time of course it would be obsolete). And of course decompiling is now strictly forbidden under our draconian new shrink-wrap laws so even if you found out neat stuff your publisher would be sued to hell and back if they ever published it.

The Brave New World only lasts so song as capitalism doesn't get it's hooks into it.
posted by AGameOfMoans at 10:11 AM on December 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


I was in elementary school 10 years later and we had none of this stuff. If there was a computer in the classroom, it was a Mac, and it was impossible to use to learn about computers... No programming language, no command line, no access to anything under the covers. It's worth remembering that things got worse before they got better.
posted by miyabo at 10:14 AM on December 27, 2015 [5 favorites]


>I would like to play Galaxian again.

Done

Atari too (Pong anyone?)

Miss your Commodore PET?
posted by AGameOfMoans at 10:20 AM on December 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


I was about 11 and my friend had a TRS-80 (we had a C64) and I remember telling my father my friend got a modem for his 80 and wondered if one of the commands to use the modem was "CALL COLLECT". My father found that hilarious. This, and the way it looked is all I recall about it.
posted by juiceCake at 10:22 AM on December 27, 2015


the little pocket computer (which I think was actually made by Sharp

I remember Sharp had some very early handheld scanners and various other amazing gadgets, back in the day, but if they still do, it seems to all be dwarfed by the TV biz
posted by thelonius at 10:26 AM on December 27, 2015


Ah, the days of getting a magazine like Compute! with source code printed so you could type it in manually. Does anyone remember one dedicated to games? It would usually have a (mostly) cross-platform BASIC adventure game, with descriptions ROT-13ed so you didn't spoil yourself.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 10:28 AM on December 27, 2015 [6 favorites]


I spent many hours at the local Radio Shack, when I was a teenager in Michigan, teaching myself BASIC on some TRS-80s. I'd type and explore as long as the manager would allow, before kicking me out.

The first graphics program I ever coded was one for a Robert Frost poem. It made "snow" fall on the screen, which was around 40x80 pixels, I think. And now I live in Vermont.
posted by doctornemo at 10:34 AM on December 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


>I would like to play Galaxian again.

Done


heh, I don't have any iOS


It's worth remembering that things got worse before they got better.

Just saw some hype around IoT... wonder if that's necessary qualifying as "better" ...
posted by infini at 10:36 AM on December 27, 2015


My dad was a politician, and every election seemed like it was going to be the last (even though it wasn't, for over 20 years). So one day he brought one of these things home and stated teaching himself to program.

I can't even imagine what our lives would have been like if he had lost and become a software engineer. I do remember that I was totally bored of the thing and didn't get interested in programming until about 20 years later. It didn't have any interesting games or colour and the only sound it made was "bzzzzzzzzzz."

I remember sitting on the floor with my toys and looking up and saying, "what are you doing daddy?" "I'm learning to peek and poke!"

But man, I had no idea those things were so expensive. We were a family that never spent more than a few hundred dollars on a car.
posted by klanawa at 11:16 AM on December 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


And of course decompiling is now strictly forbidden under our draconian new shrink-wrap laws so even if you found out neat stuff your publisher would be sued to hell and back if they ever published it.

Well, not everything is licensed that way...

Linux Cross Reference

posted by mikelieman at 11:19 AM on December 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


The model 100 sold like hotcakes to the LA Times people, the very first practical laptop (albeit with a 4 line display) with an internal modem.

Here's a nice short piece on the Model 100 (including this TV commercial for it at the end).
posted by fairmettle at 11:28 AM on December 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Alas it was never very practical with that limited display but it taught me a lot about getting limited hardware to do something useful.

This skill...lost in the mists of time...and cheap memory and fast CPUs.
posted by Insert Clever Name Here at 11:30 AM on December 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


The Brave New World only lasts so song as capitalism doesn't get it's hooks into it.

Nostalgia is fun, but I don't miss the old days so much. I don't miss spending a full day touch-typing a program into a ZX81's fiddly keyboard, only for it to crash and make all that work evaporate in a puff when a passing breeze from a closing door would help the 16 kB expansion pack bend out of its brittle connection.

Build quality aside, computers are also ridiculously cheaper. In the 80s, it seemed to be that $4000-5000 was the entry level for the best consumer-level PC. In the 90s, it would be $2000-3000 after after adding a co-processor, sound card, etc. Nowadays, you can literally put the equivalent of a childhood supercomputer into your hands with a 12-hour battery life and full Unix environment for under a grand. Hobbyists who really want to work on something on a supremely low level can get a credit-card sized computer for ~£4/$7.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 12:12 PM on December 27, 2015 [6 favorites]


Ah, the days of getting a magazine like Compute! with source code printed so you could type it in manually.

I vaguely remember Byte magazine having stupid DOS tricks printed on the very last page. They were mostly presented as a raw dump of the program binary (forget having the source code!) in hex, and you'd be expected to use the "debug" command to write out the binary file on your computer. As a kid, I had no idea what any of it meant. My old 8086 may have some weird primitive virus on it as a result.
posted by rmannion at 12:19 PM on December 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


This skill...lost in the mists of time...and cheap memory and fast CPUs.

I don't remember where I saw it, but once upon a time I was reading a thread about ridiculous coworkers and one poster related the tale of a former coworker who was an old-school UNIX greybeard who hadn't quite twigged to the fact that his priorities weren't valid anymore. Apparently he was very pleased that he managed to get a particular process to run in just a few kb of memory, considering the fact that this multiple-times-a-day task took several hours to complete unimportant.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:28 PM on December 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


so did anybody else do this as a kid:
if you turned the TRS-80 on and off frequently then sometimes you could get instead of the regular screen a blinking screen of gibberish
i kept thinking that I was looking at some secret code that I vaguely associated with the cold war, I mean they were Reagan years and I was ten-twelve
posted by angrycat at 12:30 PM on December 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


I spent many hours at the local Radio Shack, when I was a teenager in Michigan, teaching myself BASIC on some TRS-80s. I'd type and explore as long as the manager would allow, before kicking me out.

Would any modern computer store allow this? Apple stores are set up for people to use the machines but I doubt they would allow someone to program for hours every week.
posted by Dip Flash at 12:37 PM on December 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


Jesus, this takes me back. I first learned to program in BASIC on a Model III back in the early 80s. I can still feel the oh-so-satisfying *chunk* the disk drives made when you opened or closed them, and hear the noises that one of the program tapes made when on a whim I played it in a regular tape player. Good times.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 1:13 PM on December 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


Apple stores are set up for people to use the machines but I doubt they would allow someone to program for hours every week.

Rapper Prince Harvey made an album in the Apple store, and model Isobella Jade wrote her memoirs in an Apple Store, so it's not unheard of, though the fact that those two cases are noteworthy are perhaps the exception that proves the rule.
posted by fragmede at 1:24 PM on December 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


If Apple was smart (and they are), they'd make a point of inviting artists into their store to create stuff on the premises, and they wouldn't even have to be famous, as they would better mirror the aspirations of potential customers, although they wouldn't want them to take up all the floor models.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:34 PM on December 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Amid all this pining for the old days, I think one thing that's getting lost is how dedicated you had to be if you wanted to learn how to program.

At age 9, my parents bought us our first computer : an Apple IIc. When you booted it, you were dumped directly to a BASIC prompt, and sure, that was an open invitation to tinker. But if you actually wanted to learn how to tinker? Good luck! The instruction manuals that came with the Apple II included a very cursory introduction to BASIC; like, I'm not even sure it covered FOR loops and GOSUBs. As dedicated as I was (and believe me, I was a lonely kid), the most I was able to accomplish was writing some programs that generated MAD LIBS. Oh, and the manual briefly covered low-res graphics, so I managed to produce few pretty pictures using PLOT statements. At one point, one of my parents picked up a book of BASIC source code that you could type in by hand, and in no way did I have the patience for that! Typing in line after line after line was so tedious, I just couldn't get into it. Was a lot more fun to play Dr. J Vs. Larry Bird One On One (which was as close as I ever got to playing actual basketball).

And so my growth as a programmer was stunted, until about age 13 or so when I went over to my friend's house who had PRODIGY and this fabulous program called Procomm Plus which dialed up local BBSes. And holy crap was that a new world for me! That was the first time in my life I had the opportunity to meet kids at other schools, other kids with the same interests as me! I made my first real friends over BBSes, people I'm still friends with 20some years later. I got back into programming because I wanted to modify my BBS software (WWIV represent!) and impress my friends. Shows you how nerdy my little circle was.

So I picked up a copy of Borland Turbo C++ and taught myself C. The TC++ manual had a brief chapter that covered the most basic fundamentals of C programming. The rest of my education came from tinkering around with Wayne Bell's nigh-unreadable WWIV source code. When I ran into a problem I couldn't get past, I called my buddy Dino. "Hey Dino, what happens when you de-reference a pointer?" Dino was a little older than me and had been tinkering around with C for a while, so it was slightly better than the blind leading the blind. Still, my highschool had scant resources for programming education -- a single class in BASIC that was taught on Apple IIe's, outdated even by the standards of the mid-90s. I guess there were books I could have read that would've been more comprehensive than the TC++ manual, but I didn't have time for that. I wanted to code! I wanted to tinker!

Compare all of that with my current job. I work with cutting-edge distributed stream-processing technologies, stuff that would be considered supercomputer-level as few as 10 years ago. And yet, any time I have a question, all I have to do is ask google "how do I pass parameters to a Samza task?" and boom! There's an answer! And if all else fails, I can always just post to a mailing list or look at the source code on github. It has never been easier to learn how to code. There have never been more resources, more examples, or more helpful people in the field.

Furthermore, computers can do so many more interesting things than ever before. With my Apple IIc, I was the part of the first generation whose first computer could actually do demonstrably interesting things. I have so much respect for anyone who got into computers in the 60s or 70s, back when you had to use punch cards and teletypes and things. The fact that, from that point in history, people could see the potential of what computers could be? We owe those people everything. But now it's obvious to anybody with a computer that, if you can imagine it, you can make it happen.

And it's that realization more than anything else -- if you can think it, you can make it -- that drives and will drive people to create software. And if we can inculcate the current next with that attitude, we will have done our job as engineers and as people.
posted by panama joe at 1:39 PM on December 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


(current next = current generation)
posted by panama joe at 1:45 PM on December 27, 2015


My first computer was a TRS-80 Model III. I fell so deeply in love with that thing that it actually pushed me away from computers for about 10 or 15 years -- even as a callow teen, I was self-aware enough to realize that I was getting into addictive behavior, and I hated the way it kept me sitting in my room hour after hour, while the glorious Northern BC seasons came and went.

I mostly stayed away from computers -- other than arcade games and a couple of courses at university, which were terrible -- until the mid 90s and the tail end of many years of backpacking around the world, when I got jobs doing software development stuff first in Greece, then Australia.

Turns out I was kind of right to be wary -- I spend most of my waking hours in front of computers now, 35 years later, and I'm glad that I forced myself to Go Outside way back when.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 2:33 PM on December 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


"user 101"

No! Not user 101!


"You asked me once," said O'Brien, "who is user 101. I told you that you knew the answer already. Everyone knows it. The thing that is user 101 is the worst software user in the world."
posted by ennui.bz at 2:47 PM on December 27, 2015 [11 favorites]


As for the price thing, I recently acquired an iCraig Windows 8.1 tablet which is a fully functional Windows computer for $99 on sale (in-store only, off and on) at Office Depot. That would have been around $35 in 1977. Of course in 1977 you couldn't get a naked microprocessor chip for $35, much less a fully functional computer capable of doing multiple kinds of real work.

(I also have a HP Stream 7 which has the same specs for the same price and is better made, but is also a bit smaller and doesn't have the real USB and HDMI ports.)
posted by Bringer Tom at 2:50 PM on December 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


, Radio Shack's 3,000 stores started selling the TRS-80 (Tandy/Radio Shack)

How did I never know (or forget?) what the TRS ever stood for?

Those ads, so verbose, and yet so informative, makes us look a bit Idiocracy.
I almost miss that era.
posted by Mezentian at 2:52 PM on December 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh also I have a real Model 100 that's been sitting in my trunk for several years (hey, tiny house, very limited storage space, stuff tends to end up in the car). Got it for $1 from a university surplus auction. It's marginally functional, some of the keys don't work and there are no accessories. Thinking about ripping out the guts and putting in a Raspi Zero... maybe hook up the original 8-line character screen as a serial terminal, and Dremel in a hole for HDMI out.
posted by miyabo at 2:57 PM on December 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


"Trash-80" is still the greatest dismissive platform warrior burn in history. "Crapple" and "Micro$oft" got nothin'.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:18 PM on December 27, 2015


I had a model III and later a model 6000.
The Model III is still perched on a shelf in the garage.
posted by twidget at 3:38 PM on December 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


In the early 1990s it was very common for every classroom to have a lone TRS-80 in the back as a silent memorial to the largess enjoyed before the budget cuts came. Half of them didn't even turn on, and you were extremely lucky if the slightly bent 5 1/4" floppy labeled "Zork" booted successfully. Most of the teachers just ignored them, except one.

My first grade teacher was a zillion years old. She had gray hair, glasses straight out of the 1950s, and she addressed us kids individually as either "Master" or "Mistriss" [Lastname]. She also had a room with about a half-dozen TRS-80 Model 200s all sharing the same dot matrix printer. She maintained them herself, and transferred files between them and her own Model III. She was the first "old" person I knew of who wasn't afraid of computers.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 3:45 PM on December 27, 2015 [7 favorites]


Good times. Back then, they were still "microcomputers". IIRC the term "personal computer" didn't become more popular until the IBM PC came out.

The first microcomputer I ever saw was a friend's TRS-80, in 1977 (his family was crazy wealthy, or perhaps simply crazy, something that never occurred to me back then; it had an 80-column screen and a disk drive, things no computer that I could afford had at that time). He had written an "asteroids" game for it in assembly language.

My first "personal" computer encounter was the same year. The university's main computer (a mainframe) was a Burroughs 6700, but they also had a secondary mainframe, an IBM 1130, that wasn't being used for anything important, and they turned that over to the computer club. We did some crazy things with that machine that year. The next year they took it back to try networking it with the Burroughs. The cool kids programmed it in ALGOL, COBOL or Assembler; the less-cool kids like me used FORTRAN.

I never used the FORTRAN for anything else, but the textbook also had BASIC in it, and I learned that on the side, so that when I eventually bought my own microcomputer several years later (a Sinclair ZX-81 with that notoriously wobbly 16K expansion pack) I was all set.

I eventually bought a Spectrum and gave that ZX-81 to my father, an electronics buff. He completely disassembled it, then put it back together - and it still worked. He also managed to rig the expansion pack so that it didn't come loose.
posted by Autumn Leaf at 3:47 PM on December 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


My dad had a Trash-80 as his first computer, which means that's what I had for my computer in college - it was 1987, so almost no one had one still, so it actually put me ahead of the game, as most of my classmates had to fight for computer time in the shared computer rooms on campus if they didn't want to us a typewriter (though some had word processors).

My sister was three years younger, and got a Macintosh. I was crazy jealous. But I kept my TRS-80 for at least three more years after I graduated, until it was too obsolete to even word process because there was no way to take a file with me to work that would work with the IBMs they had at work.

I also remember a text and ASCII game called Imhotep, where the goal was to build the Egyptian pyramids without crushing too many slaves to death. Would love to play that one again. Any chance there's an emulator out there?
posted by Mchelly at 3:56 PM on December 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


There are indeed several emulators.

I don't think I ever saw a TRS-80 in a classroom- it was always Apple ][s as far as the eye could see right up until middle and high school, both of which had dumb terminals hooked up to a server room somewhere.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:00 PM on December 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


(* I remember 80 columns but it must have been only 64 columns, because given the year it must have been a Model I. But it definitely had a floppy drive even though allegedly that wasn't offered till 1978. Memory is a funny thing.)
posted by Autumn Leaf at 4:02 PM on December 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Every once and a while someone dusts off a Model 100 and tries to do something with it.

(Disclaimer: I wrote the article linked in that article on connecting it as a serial terminal, although I am disappointed to report that they never e-mailed me to let me know that the link to ESR's page was out of date)
posted by ckape at 4:06 PM on December 27, 2015


I came away from that era with a degree of hatred for RS232 that immediately kills any interest in any device that doesn't have Ethernet. Sorry Model 100.
posted by wotsac at 4:52 PM on December 27, 2015


The trash-80 holds a pretty fond part of my computer nostalgia. It the mainstream home computer just ahead of my time. I wound up growing up on the Vic-20/C64/C128/Apple ii era and always got to talk with folks using the TRS-80. My uncle told me about how hishe floppy drive would fritz out. I couldn't understand why he liked the printer for it, as it clearly wasn't dot matrix and looked very very funny - like a throwback to the IBM teletype printed iirc their name. The machine held a fair amount of mystique for me and it wasn't until the 90s before I got to rip one apart.

So yeah, the Trash-80 is one that my quick comment may have been misinterpreted as flippant, but it likely contributed to my life long interest in computers.
posted by Nanukthedog at 5:42 PM on December 27, 2015


I don't think I ever saw a TRS-80 in a classroom- it was always Apple ][s as far as the eye could see right up until middle and high school, both of which had dumb terminals hooked up to a server room somewhere.

I was the inverse. Never saw an Apple, but we had Microbees, and boy, did they suck? Yes, they did. (Although they were apparently well remembered enough to turn up in Kung Fury).
posted by Mezentian at 5:58 PM on December 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


I fondly remember the catalogs. Somehow it all still looks so futuristic.

My dad finally got a Model I second-hand after they were no longer being made. At that time, he was his church's financial secretary, and he could now do the accounting for the Sunday offering on a computer. It took hours longer than to do it by hand, but...

A cassette with the "Robot Attack" game came with the computer, and I spent a lot of time having fun with that.

And I so badly wanted a Model III because 1) they looked so damn cool, and 2) Isaac Asimov.
posted by bryon at 9:55 PM on December 27, 2015


"Trash-80" is still the greatest dismissive platform warrior burn in history. "Crapple" and "Micro$oft" got nothin'.

"Macintosh. For the rest of us ... Amish hog farmers."
posted by Chitownfats at 11:24 PM on December 27, 2015


Mchelly, Imhotep.
(from http://willus.com/trs80/)
posted by blueberry at 8:19 AM on December 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


I came away from that era with a degree of hatred for RS232 that immediately kills any interest in any device that doesn't have Ethernet.

Oh my, my experience is exactly the opposite. In the early 00's I told our salespeople that if a customer came asking for ethernet, if they didn't know exactly how they wanted to use it RUN.

The problem is there is no real standard way to transfer a stream of data over ethernet. Oh sure there's TCP, but TCP is a terrible protocol for streaming data, which is why almost all online games and streaming services use UDP. But there are no standard applications that can peek in and troubleshoot UDP. You can't just crank up hyperterminal or some other standard program and see if your data is there.

And I have seen applications wrecked by well meaning modernists who switched from RS232 to ethernet because IT'S BETTER RIGHT? No, it's terrible. You unplug the RS232 cable and the data stops, but you plug it back in and the data starts right up. You know what happens when you lose a TCP packet? At the receiving end everything comes to a screeching halt while the stack times out. Once you get things restored further packets which you could be using are piling up in a buffer while the stack keeps asking for the one that got lost. So what happens out on the line is you got a guy who hits the print button and nothing happens for 30 to 60 seconds, and this happens several times a day.

Or take another customer who came to me wondering why it takes 7 hours to transfer their kits-of-parts database. I looked at the code, which was originally written or RS232 and that worked OK, but when the customer said ETHERNET IS BETTER ISN'T IT they ran home to the easiest solution which was a TCP raw socket which is, wait for it, a virtual RS232 port.

Except that ethernet isn't RS232, it's packet based and sending a packet is expensive. So back in the 1960's one of the geniuses who invented the internet realized that in an application like Telnet it's a bad idea to send a packet for every character received. So when you give the TCP stack a little data to send, it doesn't send it right away -- it waits 200 milliseconds to make sure there isn't any more data coming along. There is no way to tell the TCP stack "that's it, send a packet;" the guys at Berkeley decided that was a bad idea. So here's this protocol that sends a part ID and waits for a response, and when it gets the response it sends the next part. For 75,000 parts. And the TCP stack waits 200 milliseconds out and 200 milliseconds to send the response for every single one. Thanks, John Nagle.

You can learn a lot about whether an RS232 link is working with a voltmeter -- whether there is data on it and whether the drivers are driving proper voltage levels, not to mention whether the other end is hooked up and whether you have something stupid like TX and RX crossed. You can hook your computer up to it and look at the data and learn a lot about it even if you have no documentation at all. You can do it even if your customer is paranoid about hooking strange computers up to their precious network. Good luck doing that with an ethernet connection. Did you know a lot of embedded devices won't even answer a ping?

The one exception, which I have embraced wholeheartedly, is now that we have ethernet devices with file systems that can build little webpages I give my customers statistics in HTML and .CSV. They love that, understand it, and it answers that other warning to run, "I want to get the data on a computer." But for streaming and process control, unless you have a PLC for which there is an established protocol, RS232 still rules.
posted by Bringer Tom at 8:50 AM on December 28, 2015 [7 favorites]


Mchelly, Imhotep.

YOU HAVE STARVED 279911 PEOPLE. ZOSER WANTS YOU MUMMIFIED ALIVE IN THE HOUSE OF THE DEAD.

OMG Blueberry, thank you!

So. Many. Feels.
posted by Mchelly at 9:50 AM on December 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


CLOAD and those flashing asterisks are forever embedded in my consciousness.
posted by vac2003 at 6:38 PM on December 28, 2015


Splen, there's a listing for Sir Eggbert Jumper in Rainbow Magazine of August 1985, page 129. Happy jumping :)
posted by reynaert at 8:55 AM on December 29, 2015


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