Happy Birthday BASIC!
May 1, 2004 9:14 AM   Subscribe

Happy Birthday BASIC! On May 1 1964 two Dartmouth College professors, John Kemeny and Thomas Kurtz ran the first BASIC programs; and BASIC went on to become many peoples' first introduction to computer programming.
posted by carter (31 comments total)
... including mine. I learnt a little BASIC in high school in the late 1970s, connecting with the city mainframe over an acoustic coupler and saving short programs to paper tape. Even though I liked the challenge, I was not terribly good at it, and my parents advised me to focus on studies that would enable me to get a good job when I left school.
posted by carter at 9:15 AM on May 1, 2004

There's a BASIC birthday party at the computing center tonite. Should be fun.
posted by crank at 9:39 AM on May 1, 2004

10 PRINT "Happy Birthday!"
20 GOTO 10
posted by Ljubljana at 9:46 AM on May 1, 2004

The best-paying freelance job I ever had was writing video games for monkeys. I am not, as the man says, making this up. I was hired by a lady primatologist and psychology prof to maintain and extend primate-training code she got from NASA. (Your space tax dollers at work.) NASA, it seems, writes in MS QuickBASIC. The code I inherited was absolutely textbook birdnest/spagetti code full of GOTOs (which may not all be harmful but these sure were.) Between her added features, her grad students' added features and my own added features (mainly extensive comments explaining what the inherited code did as I slowly stepped/traced through it) my own version got, shall we say, somewhat larger. I changed to MS Pro BASIC which had an integrated debugger. When the code outgrew the space available the ProBASIC development environment in DOS I switched to OS/2 where there was a little more room and a DOS cross-compiler. Finally I just coded in a text editor (qedit, very nice editor) and wrote macros to invoke the stand-alone compiler.

ProBASIC was, as I recall, not at all a bad language--very unlike Dartmouth BASIC, no line numbers, syntax largely stolen from Pascal and offering proper variable scoping, data hiding, explicit parameter passing, etc. but preserving BASIC's freedom to do things the computer scientists deprecate, where echt Pascal makes you do things the then-considered-right way. All it really lacked was pointers. These I did miss, because wherever I might need, say, a linked list, I had to reinvent the technique using arrays. Not in theory impossible but slower and with more code bloat. Also there was much less prewritten code out there for me to ste- I mean adapt to my own monkey business.
posted by jfuller at 10:01 AM on May 1, 2004


AMOS: now that's a language.

posted by bonaldi at 10:51 AM on May 1, 2004

Color Basic
represent, represent!

The TRS-80, with Color Basic right there when you turn it on, started me down this path of...of...posting to Metafilter on a beautiful saturday. Ahem.

But I'm not sure I'd recommend Basic for anyone learning to program anymore. There're languages now with the same initial 'simplicity', but that scale much better as you start to do more - and are a lot more fun. And is it just me or is it pretty funny that the demo for "TrueBasic" runs for "15-20 minutes"...
posted by freebird at 10:57 AM on May 1, 2004

freebird, I still have my color computer complete with cassette tape hookup and very playable versions of MoonRover and Zaxxon.

I was thinking about it the other day when waiting for my laptop to boot. It seems we've lost ground on this. My CoCo came up instantly as soon as I pushed the power button.
posted by vacapinta at 11:09 AM on May 1, 2004

I learned Basic when I was eight or nine. I stuck with it for years, in spite of all the people who told me I should learn C, just to prove the point that I could write anything I wanted to write in Basic. In fact, Basic was the beginning of my entire career; I spent so much time hanging out in the ZBasic online support forum answering questions and writing demo code when I was in high school that people started offering me contract jobs. I did move on to other languages eventually, but the damage was done; midway through college, where I had planned to get an aerospace engineering degree, I dropped out, started a company, and went into programming full time.

Nowdays, I work for Real Software, whose main product is REALbasic: a programming tool based on a modernized, object-oriented dialect of Basic. I spend most of my time in C++, but it's still fun to be working on a descendant of the language that first got me into programming.
posted by Mars Saxman at 11:51 AM on May 1, 2004

jfuller: QuickBasic did have an integrated debugger. I'm sure of it. (I wrote video games for monkeys, too, only my sister and friends were the only ones who ever got to play them.) If you did a ctrl+break, if would highlight the current line, and you could step through them with (I believe) F5. The fact that I remember this yet have not touched QuickBasic in about ten years should be a testament to its truth. Or something.
posted by kevspace at 12:01 PM on May 1, 2004

it, not if. it would highlight the current line.
posted by kevspace at 12:01 PM on May 1, 2004

Color Basic represent, represent!

Color BASIC was for babies and wussies. Real macho men used Extended Color BASIC. And had the bad-ass 160K floppy drive.

I was the most dangerous 14-year-old in Brandon, FL. Except maybe for my friend Bob who had a TI-99/4A with the expansion box and everything.

dungeons of daggorath was way cool. as was the dungeon-y game that Bob had for his ti.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:48 PM on May 1, 2004

back in '76, I was attempting to program tank battle games, in basic, on a teletype to mainframe setup.

I sucked at it.

But what sort of person would I be had I perservered, I wonder? Much less well rounded and much wealthier, I'd have to guess.
posted by troutfishing at 12:52 PM on May 1, 2004

Applesoft II BASIC, represent! Print Chr$(7)! Peek(-16336)! Poke -16368,0! Call -3288! Ampersand!

Good times, good times.
posted by kindall at 2:52 PM on May 1, 2004

I still have MSBasic sitting around somewhere, along with a bunch of Basic progs.
My fondest memory was from the various progs you could get from computer magazines. They started out with fun things you could do with batch files; then simple Basic progs.
Eventually PC World saved space and time by just creating a simple Hex compiler in Basic. You typed in the compiler once, then just endless chains of inscrutable Hex code that the compiler would turn into a Basic prog. Took a lot of the fun out of it.

Note for advanced users: there must have been about four different system 'clocks' you could use for program randomnization, to like 8 decimal places. I wonder if there is any Windows program that could scramble that well.
posted by kablam at 3:27 PM on May 1, 2004

Basic got me started before I even had a computer, when I was about 8. I remember learning Basic from a book, and typing programs out on a typewriter then asking my dad if he thought they would run. (It occurs me now that I should ask him how he knew Basic...he is, after all, an irrigation equipment salesman. Maybe that says something about the universal appeal of Basic).

My favourite flavour: Locomotive Basic on the old Amstrad CPC. For an 8-bit, 4mhz computer born in 1984, the version of Basic offered independent definable text windows, direct access to machine code (including defining your own add-on commands), and even interrupts that allowed one to experiment with a simple form of multitasking.
posted by Jimbob at 4:22 PM on May 1, 2004

10 PRINT "Happy Birthday!"
20 GOTO 10

5 REM The following version fills the screen better.
10 PRINT "Happy Birthday! ";
20 GOTO 10
posted by ZenMasterThis at 4:35 PM on May 1, 2004

ROU_X: There is a PC Port of Daggorath available. The beating heart concept was just incredible and made the game immersive.
posted by vacapinta at 4:57 PM on May 1, 2004

> jfuller: QuickBasic did have an integrated debugger.

Oh, no doubt it did. I was thinking of the sort of fancy-ass programming environment that Real Programmers® aren't supposed to need, that can do stuff like halt program flow if a variable reaches a certain value or if a certain condition becomes true, or display all your variables' current values in a separate window as you single-step, or execute the program backwards (COMEFROM, aka how the hell did my flow of control get here?)
posted by jfuller at 5:16 PM on May 1, 2004

I never understood this machochistic tendency towards simple tools. I once knew a webdesigner who wrote everything in Notepad - obviosly considering himself quite 1337 because of this.

What's the logic here?
Using the most primitive, slow method == high level of skill?
("Oooh, look at me, I can alt-tab between notepad and the commandline compiler faster than anyone else!" or "I don't need undo history, because I keep it all in my head!")

Why are programmers, who should appreciate logic and work done by computers, so prone to succumbing to this fallacy?

Why don't they just enter their data in binary, trought the parallel port, using a battery? Now that would be 1337.
posted by spazzm at 5:57 PM on May 1, 2004

Keyboards are for pussies!
posted by spazzm at 6:03 PM on May 1, 2004

5 REM The following version fills the screen better.
10 PRINT "Happy Birthday! ";
20 GOTO 10

10 PRINT "Happy Birthday";
20 GOTO 10
posted by falconred at 6:10 PM on May 1, 2004

posted by majick at 6:26 PM on May 1, 2004


toggles terminal echo on or off.

Typically, terminals attached to the system operate in "echo plex" or "full duplex" mode. Characters typed at a terminal are sent directly to the computer and must be "echoed" back to the terminal before they are displayed on the screen.

"echo off" stops this echoing; that is, characters entered at the terminal are not seen on the screen. However, the characters are sent to the computer and processed as usual; also, any output that originates within the computer is displayed on the screen.

"echo on" returns to the normal mode of full duplex echoing.

via Raining Data
posted by SPrintF at 6:41 PM on May 1, 2004

So spazzm, are you knocking your web designer friend because he has poor taste in text editors, or because he knows dreamweaver is for wussies?

(Real, non-wussy, web programmers use jEdit, btw).

Back to the topic: Atari Basic, represent!
posted by wheat at 6:56 PM on May 1, 2004

**** COMMODORE 64 BASIC V2 ****
posted by arto at 10:15 PM on May 1, 2004

10 ? "HELLO";:GOTO 10

Microsoft Basic, written by Richard W Weiland (so it said if you wrote a routine to peek from the OS RAM addresses and poke them onto the screen)
posted by Pericles at 6:14 AM on May 2, 2004

> Why are programmers, who should appreciate logic and work done by
> computers, so prone to succumbing to this fallacy?

The more you permit the computer to do your work, the more you're a slave to decisions made by the computer, which is to say, decisions made sometime in the past by some other programmer.

An artist who can't or won't mix his own colors is limited to only those colors he can buy at the art supply store.

I saw Applesoft checked above. It was cool for its time and place but I dumped it for 6502 assembler just as fast as I could learn the latter.
posted by jfuller at 6:15 AM on May 2, 2004

10 x=0
20 x=x+1
30 PRINT x
40 GOTO 20

That's what we'd write on the Apple 2CI startup basic system in middle school. Then we'd switch the monitor cables so nobody could stop it. MWAHAHAHAHA!
posted by Tlogmer at 12:34 PM on May 2, 2004

**** COMMODORE 64 BASIC V2 ****

Yeah! I was six years old... it was my first love affair. Me, my computer magazines, and BASIC on my Commodore 64.
posted by vorfeed at 1:55 PM on May 2, 2004

120 GOTO 110
posted by jammer at 10:04 AM on May 3, 2004

So spazzm, are you knocking your web designer friend because he has poor taste in text editors, or because he knows dreamweaver is for wussies?

No, I'm knocking my web designer friend because he thought that webdesign was a valuable skill.

An artist who can't or won't mix his own colors is limited to only those colors he can buy at the art supply store.

True, but you don't see many artists going to the cobalt mine with a pickaxe either. They buy their cobalt blue from the store.

Doing it in a more difficult manner does not automatically mean the end result is better. Rather the opposite, often.
posted by spazzm at 9:35 PM on May 3, 2004

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