Sunday, April 29, 2007
We finally had a real computer in the house! It ran CP/M and H-DOS (we use mostly this OS) and we had a couple of different versions of BASIC for it. We had something called Benton Harbor BASIC. The computer had no graphics modes, but it had graphics characters and I remember my brother Ernie was working on a version of Galaxians for it. We wrote a bunch of games. I remember my father also did some assembly language programming for it (or perhaps he just typed in straight machine code).
One thing I remember about the machine was that it used hard sector diskettes, and the floppy drive was loud. It would make clunking sounds. Ka-chunk, ka-chunk!
Thursday, April 26, 2007
I was able to use the techniques in the book to create demos for the computers at NEECO. The customer would ask the computer about itself, and the computer would try and respond appropriately with a demonstration of features.
The book can still be purchased used on Amazon.
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Obviously a computer with a full size display screen (though one could be added) would have been preferable but we were excited at the prospect of having a computer in the house! Ultimately the AIM-65 was not our fate because my father decided that the nature of the deal amounted to a conflict of interest.
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
There were many different kinds of computers that could be bought from Heathkit at that time including the H-8, the H-11 and the microprocessor trainer ET-3400 which had a breadboarding area, could be programmed in machine code and could also be expanded to drive a terminal and be programmed in BASIC.
We spent a lot of time fantasizing about these and other machines, but we never got to see one in person. Computers were too expensive for kids with paper routes. Of course that would all change very soon.
Monday, April 23, 2007
Richard was smart, and he was always very nice to me and this mattered quite a lot since I wasn't exactly a popular kid. Richard taught me a lot about Apple computers, and we had a lot of fun playing games. He was also very active in his Boy Scout troop and was working on Eagle Scout. My mother called his mother and they became friends.
One interesting thing about Richard also was that he was into electronics and was the sort of person who wasn't afraid to modify his computer.
After I hadn't seen Richard for some years I tracked him down after I got married. I was glad to see he was doing well, but now I don't know where he is. I hope you're doing fine Richard wherever you are!
Sunday, April 22, 2007
NEECO was to become a central influence in my life for a couple of years. What a store it was. I have many memories of the place.
When I first started visiting the store there were the following models I can remember:
- Apple II
- Commodore PET and CBM 8032
- Intertec Superbrain
- Hewlett Packard HP-85
- Atari 800 and 400
There was usually something fun running on each machine, especially the Apple and Atari computers. They also had a magazine rack and lots of software for sale.
I spent a lot of time there. Sometimes I was helpful to the people running the store, but I think they sometimes wish I was somewhere else. I owe them a debt of gratitude at least. ;-)
Saturday, April 21, 2007
When these machines arrived at the local Radio Shack store my brother and I went to have a look. The only interesting thing you could do with the machine was program it. They may have had a couple of applications on tape in the store but we ignored them. The programming manual was very friendly, with a cartoon character that looked like a TRS-80 spouting explanations.
As I understand it the Level I BASIC that came with the machine was a custom version of Tiny BASIC. It had single letter variable names, only one string variable (I think), and it had only three error messages for the programmer:
- What? - Syntax error
- How? - Divide by zero, etc.
- Sorry. - Out of memory
Level I BASIC also had SET and RESET commands so you could draw graphics on a 128x48 grid.
Friday, April 20, 2007
He also bought one for my brother Ernie. This was not as nearly as powerful as an HP-67 (or the TI-59 my brother Neil had), but it was a wonderful first "computer" for me and my brother. Since we both had the same model we had a lot of opportunity to work together on games and other things.
These calculators came with very good instructional books and also a pad of program sheets where you would write down all program steps and explain what the program was for and how to use it. Great stuff.
Some of the sorts of programs we created did things like:
- Compute primes
- Plot curves
- Artillery games
- Lunar lander
- Number guessing games
Thursday, April 19, 2007
We wrote our own programs and we played the classic Star Trek game and some others too. The connect speed was 300 baud. It was pure magic.
I don't know whose idea it was to be so generous with their computers. All I can say to you whoever you are is "THANK YOU!" You really made our summer great. :-)
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Before IBM blandified the computing landscape by killing off people's imaginations with the IBM PC there was an unbelievable amount of variety in computers. Computer companies were popping up everywhere and non-computer manufacturers were also getting into the game.
Some things that stand out most in my memory are:
- A really cool red and white R2D2 style robot that was roaming around the conference floor. There were other robots too.
- A computer that you programmed with geometric symbols as part of the syntax. I can't remember the name of the computer unfortunately.
- The RCA COSMAC VIP computer. Boy did I want one of these. It was a single board computer you could plug into your TV set. You assembled it yourself and programmed it in 1802 machine code using the hex keypad. The VIP had a cassette storage interface. It was expandable with a real keyboard. Very cool. I wish I could still get one of these! :-)
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
The calculator in question was an HP-67. http://www.rskey.org/detail.asp?manufacturer=Hewlett-Packard&model=HP-67
My father was really wonderful about finding ways for me and my siblings to pursue things we were interested in. As long as my homework was done I could use his HP-67 in the dining room. The calculator came with a wonderful manual which taught programming in a most clear and enjoyable way. The HP-67 uses a Reverse Polish Notation style of arithmetic entry. It also supports a GOSUB and RETURN style of programming like BASIC. The other amazing feature of the HP-67 is a magnetic card reader. This is like a tiny floppy disk drive except that the card just moves straight through the calculator instead of spinning around. The cards are about a half inch in width. This made the HP-67 more of a personal computer than a calculator.
Monday, April 16, 2007
I had no idea of course how to do anything with these kinds of electronic parts, but it was very intriguing. I wasn't sure yet what a computer was, but I knew just a little bit. My life was about to get interesting.
Sunday, April 15, 2007
I enjoyed reading the book and I understood some of it. I didn't get to try any of the ideas from the book until at least a year later.
Interestingly I found a similar book at the MIT flea market http://web.mit.edu/w1mx/www/swapfest.shtml a couple of years ago. I purchased it soley for nostalgic reasons. The book is titled Computer Programming in the BASIC Language, by Neal Golden. It's a well illustrated book, with lots of flowcharting and examples. The typography is strange to me because all the code listings substitute a slashed zero for O and vice versa.
The original TI-30 was bulky compared to TI-30 derived LCD calculators you can buy today. It was wedge shaped (like a sports car) and had a red LED display. Mine came with a blue denim pattern zip case.
The calculator was fun to use. When you used an advanced math function it spun a digit around in the display to indicate it was thinking.
Probably the best part of the calculator wasn't the calculator at all, but The Great International Math on Keys Book (yes, that really is the title) that came with it. This was a really fun book full of interesting things to do with a pocket calculator.
So, this isn't really a microcomputer but it makes sense for me to start my journey with the TI-30.
The first microprocessor (the Intel 4004) was invented in 1971 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/4004 and the first commercial microcomputer (the Altair) was first produced in 1975 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Altair_8800 I managed to come pretty close to the beginning. ;-)
Hang on, I've got a lot to say!