Atari Basic

By Shamus Posted Thursday Mar 31, 2011

Filed under: Personal 91 comments

This week’s episode of Extra Credits contained a mind-blowing blast from the past. This:

atari_basic.jpg

I would say I saw this image for the first time at some point in 1979 or 1980, which would have made me 8 or 9. I remember it so vividly because this image is what made me want to learn to program. Or rather, it made me aware that such a thing could be done. Way back in one of my oldest posts, I said:

I was 8 years old when [the Sinclair ZX80] hit the market. At the time I knew â€" on some primal level â€" that I needed to get my hands on a programmable personal computer. However, I had trouble explaining to the adults around me why I wanted it. I already had an Atari 2600, after all. Doesn't that play the games you want? What I wanted was a computer that I could program. I wanted a machine that I could understand and eventually bend to my will, but I couldn't get anyone to buy me such a thing.

I know it sounds insane; what sort of parent wouldn't buy a computer for their kid? But you have to remember, this is 1979 we're talking about here, and the utility of home computers wasn't a universally recognized truth. For a kid living in a home with a blue-collar father and a mother who worked in an environment where “computer” meant big-iron mainframes operated by gnomes, a computer was a strange thing for me to ask for. It was like a kid asking for his own cement mixer or printing press. What on earth would I use that for? Computers were expensive, and a sensible adult would fear that it would just be treated like a puppy: obsessed over for a week and ignored thereafter.

I haven’t thought about this image in decades, but the moment I saw it the whole thing came flooding back. The above is an advertisement from a catalog that came with all Atari games. This is how they advertised games when the industry was still too poor to afford television spots. (And of course the internet as we know it was almost twenty years away.)

I spent hours* studying this image. I examined that little screen in the lower left. Was that really what computer code looked like? How did it work? Or is this code just a mock-up, like the obviously nonsense “dear computer” crap on the other side of the page?

* Hours as measured by a ten-year-old. So, like, five minutes maybe? You know how it is.

I’m glad I didn’t get Atari BASIC. It required a special controller so you could type, and the thing looked awful. (It was tiny, even for a kid. And it wasn’t a proper keyboard. The keys were in alphabetical order. I’m sure it was torture to use.) Going by the quality of their other titles at the time, I’m sure Atari BASIC was crap. And of course, there wouldn’t have been any way to save – the Atari 2600 didn’t support any storage devices at all.

Still, it was amazing to see the image. It was the spark at the beginning of a very long fuse.

Also: A high-res scan of a 30 year old catalog? Where did they GET this image? Amazing.

 


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91 thoughts on “Atari Basic

  1. ccesarano says:

    Jeff Atwood of Stack Overflow/Coding Horror blogged about it a while back. I didn’t even know such a thing existed until I read that.

    What amazes me is that they were advertising the cartridge with a guy that looked incredibly stereotypically nerdy. I guess it wasn’t until the 90’s that people tried to dress up this stuff as being “cool”?

    1. Zukhramm says:

      Doesn’t look as much stereotypically nerdy as it looks stereotypically clown.

      1. MooseHowl says:

        I’m not even sure if it qualifies as human. Try making that face in a mirror for a minute. I tried, and I still have no idea how a mouth could be contorted in a way that would even come close to that drawing.

    2. False Prophet says:

      Well into the mid-80s, glasses and tie sent the message “this guy is smarter than you.”

  2. Steve Burnap says:

    I was a teenager when that came out and I had a friend who got one. It was pretty much crap. Between the difficulties in entry and the extremely limited memory, it was impossible to do anything useful with it.

  3. Ribbitribbit says:

    They had BASIC for the 2600? Wowz!

    My first program was written on the ZX81, and later ones on the 800XL. I remember typing in programs from the “computers” section on the back pages of a local teenage magazine. And they were full of typos, too.

    The next step for me was buying a real ASSEMBLY compiler and programming books for the 800XL’s 6501 microprocessor, which was slow as hell. I still have it at my mom’s (wonder how much it would go for on eBay…?)

    Boy, those were the days.

  4. RichVR says:

    PEEK POKE

    And that’s what I remember from Commodore Basic.

    1. asterismW says:

      Wait, that was an actual command? Oh man, Reboot just got so much cooler.

      1. Kyte says:

        Yep. PEEK to read a spot of memory, POKE to change it. What, you thought those names were random? :P
        (In fact, they’re part of every BASIC I know of, even VB found a way to have’em)

      2. Two different commands, actually. PEEK allows you to discover the contents of a single memory address. POKE allows you to enter a value into a single memory address.

        Those of use who were moderately serious about programming Commodore PETs know* that it was possible to destroy your computer by poking the wrong value in a specific location.

        * For some value of “know” which does not necessarily imply truth.

    2. False Prophet says:

      A few years ago I was working in a library that still had one of those early 80s books I used to love with coding simple “games” (complete with ASCII “graphics”) in Commodore Basic–or maybe it was Tandy. I thought “the poor kid who requested this book is going to be really disappointed…”

  5. TheBoff says:

    A puppy obsessed over for the first few weeks and then forgotten about? That may possibly be true if you got it for a ten year old, but dogs are great: I’ve obsessed over ours for ages!

    Not immediately relevant to the article though, I must admit.

    1. HeroOfHyla says:

      Turtles fall into the “forget about” category a lot faster than cats and dogs.

      1. Rayen says:

        Only because you can program dogs to do cool tricks and cats demand attention… like the one who keeps jumping up in front of my computer screen right now (actually took 5 minutes to type because of cat. okay i’ll feed you…)

        1. Veloxyll says:

          My cat has mastered the annoying meow. I swear she’s part air raid siren

        2. Mari says:

          I wish mine just jumped in front of the computer. My stupid cat has mastered tapping me on the shoulder – with claws out. It’s not a swipe, it’s a tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Ouch! Damnit cat, hold on! Tap. Tap. Tap. I will KILL you!

      2. BenD says:

        There was a programming… environment… called Turtle.

        No wait, Wiki tells me it’s a method of programming vector graphics in Logo, which is indeed a programming language. I only think of this because Turtle was the first programming I did after BASIC. I’m not sure it was useful.

        1. Kayle says:

          LOGO was a more advanced language than the common microcomputer BASICs of that (early 1980s) era–it had real procedures and supported recursion! The relative-motion oriented turtle graphics worked really well with the physical turtle (did you know about the little turtle robots?), though somewhat awkward to implement user interfaces on screens.

  6. Hmm… If you saw it in 1980, I wouldn’t even be born yet for another 8 years. Still, in love with history as I am, I understand exactly what it was like.

    I think it’s cool you wanted to program at that time, Shamus. It makes you one of the few new people, the type that would usher in this technology-age we’re currently in. I think you were born at exactly the right time.

  7. DaveMc says:

    *adjusts dentures* Well, let me tell you young’uns about my first computer … It was called the Commodore Personal Electronic Transactor: built-in cassette tape drive, colourful keyboard, and a cool 4 kilobytes (that’s slightly over four *thousand* bytes!) of memory [*]. My dad was (and remains) an early adopter, and we got one of these things soon after they came out, some time in the late 70s. It came with BASIC built in to the OS, as I recall, and I learned to program simple things by typing away at that tiny keyboard. (Years later I upgraded to the awesome power of the Commodore 64, with 16 times as much memory.)

    I know I’m supposed to say “Man, those were the days”, but really, computers back then *sucked*. We just didn’t realize it. I guess it enforced a kind of memory-use discipline and efficiency that isn’t automatic these days unless people deliberately impose limits on themselves. (I was never a high-powered enough programmer to really learn the deep tricks required if you wanted to do really ambitious things on these tiny machines.)

    If you’re curious, you may view a picture of the beast, here (the picture in the top right is exactly what I remember):

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commodore_PET

    [*] I couldn’t swear in court that it wasn’t the 8K version. Both numbers are so laughably tiny that it’s hard to relate to them any more.

    1. Groboclown says:

      YES.

      I never had a PET myself, but a friend of mine growing up did. A wonderful contraption for the time. I later started using a VIC-20 with a tape drive.

    2. Nathon says:

      Just to ensure that you feel like a geezer, I built a machine more powerful than that from a pile of chips in college. It cost about $5 in raw materials.

      It did only have 2K of RAM though…but hey, 4 MHz!

    3. Nick-B says:

      Haha, funny you bring up a PET. I was helping m grandmother clean up some things stored at her (surprisingly large) house left there by my brother. one thing she wanted me to get rid of was my dad’s old PET. Now, he’s a pack-rat and will never throw out ANYTHING, let alone something as sentimental to him as that.

      But, even though I know it’s worthless, I took it home to show him. It’s a cute computer. I remember at the time thinking “how the heck do you store programs on a CASSETTE tape?”

      BTW Shamus, if you want to try it, and have an NDS, there is a surprisingly nostalgic game I would like to point you to.
      http://www.atari.com/agh1
      http://www.atari.com/agh2

      Really, the second one has that game BASIC PROGRAMMING on it, but ANYONE who’s first console was an ATARI 2600 like me should DEFINITELY look into these very excellent compilations that I totally missed until later.

      1. Tizzy says:

        These are collector items! You can’t throw them away!!!

    4. scragar says:

      I found a VIC20 in a charity shop and had to buy it, never owned a Commodore as a kid, was born too late.

      What I did want though was something I could program that would be low hardware, you learn a lot working on something with limited ram and processing power.
      Unfortunately after I bought it I realised it was missing a couple of parts so I’ve never used it, still, the goal of using it still stands.

  8. As far as where they got the ad from. There are a lot of sites that are focused around scans of old computer magazines. Retromags.com, for example, has a bunch of old issues of Analog Computing and Atari Age. AtariMagazines.com used to have a bunch of old issues of Antic for download, but the site unfortunately has become defunct.

  9. Eric J says:

    I had it. It was torture. Included in the instruction booklet were a few programs you could type in. One of them would create a pong-like game. As far as I could ever figure out, however, it was a few bytes bigger than you could actually input. I must have tried a dozen times, I could never finish typing the last line.

    1. BenD says:

      I had the Atari 800 and Atari BASIC for it, and I seem to remember running into this problem as well. (But at least the 800 had a proper keyboard.)

  10. Mystyk says:

    And it wasn't a proper keyboard. The keys were in alphabetical order. I'm sure it was torture to use.

    Several early typewriters had keys in alphabetical order. They tended to jam a lot, in part because of user speed and in part because of the proximity of certain frequent key combinations. That was part of the reasoning behind the (now ubiquitous) qwerty and (less so) Dvorak layouts. It took milliseconds longer to type, and frequently adjacent key press combinations were spaced out. By the time we got to electromechanical systems, the reason for the change had become irrelevant, but the changes stuck.

    1. Aldowyn says:

      All true, but by this time I’m pretty sure Qwerty was just as ubiquitous as it is now, so an alphabetically-arranged keyboard would be a huge pain then as well as now.

      1. Raygereio says:

        That depends on what you’re used to. A little kid getting his grubby hands for the first time on a keyboard is pretty much a blank slate when it comes to the different types of keyboards after all.
        Anyone can learn to type fast and errorless on any type of keyboard, it’s just a matter of practice.

        1. HeroOfHyla says:

          Apparently Dvorak is supposed to be the best, because it focuses much more on alternating hands every letter. I’m perfectly fine with QWERTY though.

          1. Klay F. says:

            The only thing I wish QWERTY did was to put the vowels on the home row. It always bothered me that 4 of the 5 vowels are on the top row. It just seems retarded to me.

            1. guy says:

              That’s entirely on purpose. It’s more awkward to type them that way, and vowels are among the most common letters. If they were all on the home row it would defeat the point of the special layout instead of being alphabetical.

              1. Klay F. says:

                Yeah except that is not true at all. DVORAK has every vowel on the RIGHT HAND.

                The purpose of the DVORAK layout is to have the most common letters in the English language be on the home row, thereby being the fastest to press. The least common letters being on the bottom and letters in between on the top.

                The age of typewriters was over more than 20 years ago, there is absolutely no reason to worry about overlapping and jamming typebars.

        2. Shamus says:

          Except, this wasn’t a proper keyboard. It was a controller. You held it in one hand and poked it with the other. You’re never gonna hit 60 WPM like that. :)

          1. Raygereio says:

            Point taken.
            But I do know on old guy who uses an alphabetically ordered keyboard for his computer. He can type just as fast with his crazy two-fingered styly on that, then I can using all ten fingers on my qwerty boards.

    2. FWIW, QWERTY was designed for speed and is very effective at providing it. We know this because it is the primary survivor in a market shaped by many public typing-speed competitions. They were ubiquitous during the late 19th century.

      Also, the noted Dvorak speed advantage was reported originally by people trying to sell Dvorak keyboards to the US Government and has been notably hard to replicate in experiments.

      1. Mayhem says:

        Actually Qwerty was specifically designed *not* for speed. It was designed to minimise interference between the most frequently used characters on a typewriter to prevent jamming. Apart from R, which was put in its place for marketing purposes.
        I think the breakdown in character usage is something in the region of 50% top row, 30% bottom and only 20% on the home row, and more common letters tend to be towards the outside of the keyboard.

        The main reason why more efficient designs haven’t been adopted in more recent times is the fact that because Qwerty is the de-facto standard for english speaking countries, everything else has been designed around it. Like keyboard shortcuts, program interaction and so on. If you try using international variants of popular programs, you’ll see that they actually use quite different characters by default, although they may be located in the same physical area on a keyboard to the qwerty equivalents. Its one of the headaches of localisation.

      2. MaxDZ8 says:

        As a DVORAK user…
        Those “quantitative” studies are probably not worth the paper they are printed on. I wonder how much ppl takes a few days/weeks off because of carpal tunnel syndrome. Happened to me. But not with DVORAK.
        Writing on QWERTY is more or less like going jogging with solid steel shoes.

    3. False Prophet says:

      In the 70s, touch-typing was a specialized skill of secretaries and stenographers. Back then, the handful of college students who could type and had access to a typewriter could make decent cash on the side typing up assignments for their classmates. It wasn’t until the PC revolution of the early 80s when word processors and other productivity software became ubiquitous in offices that more people were encouraged to learn typing. It’s a fair bet most computer geeks of the era (who were mostly electronics hobbyists–software was still in its infancy) couldn’t type worth a damn. Most of my coding friends today still can’t touch-type. This might explain why so many coding languages are difficult to type.

  11. Mari says:

    It’s amazing how much difference a few years makes. You’re only barely older than me in a historical scale. A blink on the geologic scale. But apparently that three or four years is an epoch in a technological scale. My first programming experience was in 1985 on an Apple IIc. Obviously the “language” was Logo. That fabulous little turtle hooked me on computers and persuaded me that I needed to learn to code for them. Unfortunately we moved not too long after to a much poorer school district that didn’t offer us even the most primitive computer lab until high school when we could finally learn to code in FORTRAN and COBOL. Sadly I discovered that FORTRAN and COBOL were a whole other animal and not one with which I was well adapted to communicating. Those stupid classes brought my entire GPA down. Thereafter I stuck with what I knew which was taking the things apart, souping up their guts, and putting them back together again and making them talk to each other.

    1. Aldowyn says:

      Technology seems to be on an exponential curve. Thousands of years to event the wheel, and farming, and now in a decade or two something can rise up and completely dominate our lives.

      Interesting.

    2. Soylent Dave says:

      A few years does make a vast difference when we’re talking about technology.

      I’m 30; I can’t remember a world without computers.
      My stepson (15) can’t remember a world without the internet. Or mobile (cell) phones.

      My grandmother (died last year, aged 90), on the other hand, remembered a world without electricity in the home.

      These people should not all know one another, much less have lived in the same world at the same time.

      1. Mari says:

        My grandfather came to west Texas in a covered wagon. No joke. He did a taped interview about it that’s in an area museum. He went from covered wagon and outhouses to indoor plumbing, indoor electricity, those first party phones to private telephone lines for each house. He saw a man land on the moon and lived through the Cold War from start to finish. I once asked him what the most remarkable advance of his lifetime was. He said, “It’s all been pretty amazing but the things doctors can do today to keep you alive, that’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen. Those antibiotics, heart transplants, kidney transplants, skin grafts. Why, sugar, in a few more years at this rate nobody’ll have to die ’till we’re just too tired to live anymore.”

        The year he died my daughter was born into a world where she has always known the internet. She didn’t spend all summer babysitting to save up for a telephone and her own phone line in her bedroom when she was 12 because by then she had already gotten her own cell phone. We bought her a stereo a few years ago and I think she’s used it all of twice because every song she could ever want to listen to is stored on her cell phone or on tiny bits of plastic the size of her pinkie nail.

        I feel like bursting into some Louis Armstrong now. Sing it with me everyone. “I think to myself – what a wonderful world!”

        1. Soylent Dave says:

          That is all astoundingly cool.

          My nan lived in a house with oil lamps and a coal fire even when her children were of school age (that’s partly the march of technology, and partly being poor.. (my mum remembered collecting spilt coal from the (steam!) train line behind their old house when she was little)), so for her the best invention was gas fired central heating – when there came a point in her life that she never had to be cold, she was a truly happy woman.

          (and we all sweated it out in the year-round tropical heat of her house, obviously)

  12. Al Shiney says:

    I’m a few years older (47) than you Shamus, but I remember my Atari 2600 with the kind of love one generally reserves for their first kissing partner to whom they’re not related.

    Although I never owned this obvious monstrosity, I was so enthralled with computer games that I spent the better part of my high school senior year Advanced Accounting class on a TRS-80 model II using set / reset commands to make off-screen catapults destroy sections of a castle made of large white rectangles.

    I saved all of my hard work on a cassette tape that, as time went on and the code grew, would often take two or three minutes to finish. I watched those little spindles turn ever so slowly, all the while fearing that something horrible would happen and my masterpiece be erased forever. I actually have a tear at the corner of my eye as I think about it.

    Thanks for bringing back some awesome memories. They’re what led me to be a Data Processing major in college and set me forth on a lifelong path I’ve never regretted.

  13. Neil Polenske says:

    “A high-res scan of a 30 year old catalog? Where did they GET this image? Amazing.”

    Whoa whoa whoa! YOU do not have the right to be surprised that the internet HAS stuff like this! It’s…y’know, THE INTERNET!

    1. Aldowyn says:

      It’s a bit harder to find things that predate it. Anything current is probably somewhere within minutes, but something from several decades ago? You’re going to have to put some effort in.

      1. BenD says:

        Someone should start up a vault of pre-internet media-related artifacts before they’re all lost in the swamp of information originating 1991 and later.

  14. HeroOfHyla says:

    I learned to program in 6th grade, with an old Windows 95 computer in my Social Studies/Math classroom. It was QBASIC.

    Unfortunately, the only programming book I had was “Kids and the Apple,” which was for Apple Basic. It had a lot of differences.

    1. Mari says:

      I hate you just a little bit. An “old” Win95?? I graduated that year, kid! *waves cane wildly while shouting vaguely about the lawn*

    2. Veylon says:

      Oh, yeah. I remember QBasic. Discovering that in DOS is what made me want to be a computer programmer. I had to teach myself it via the help files.

  15. lazlo says:

    I’m kind of wondering when I should start talking to my son(s) about programming. My eldest is 7, and uses a hand-me-down laptop, primarily for Minecraft and surfing the Lego website (and occasionally to help with homework. Considering that writing is part of what he’s supposed to be *learning*, he can’t actually turn in word-processed work, but typing is so much easier for him than writing that doing composition while typing and then copying while writing is far easier than the steeper hill of composition + writing at the same time.)

    So I’ve got Scratch downloaded and installed, but I haven’t shown it to him yet. I don’t *think* it’d be that interesting to him yet, and I don’t want to sour him on it early (that happened sometimes with me when I was growing up. My parents gave me D&D long before I was old enough to really grasp the concept, which left me severely RPG-deficient well into college) And I’m *not* really a programmer, so I can’t rely too much on my own experience, so I guess I’m wondering, from the actual programmers out there with young geeks, when did they start getting interested?

    1. DaveMc says:

      I don’t have an answer, but I second the question. (I particularly approve of the after-school-special vibe of “talking to your kids about programming”! :) Because if we don’t talk to them, they’ll be getting all their programming information out on the street, and then where will they learn about safe programming?)

      1. Shamus says:

        Next thing you know, your kids are learning COBOL.

        AND THEN ITS TOO LATE.

        1. Mari says:

          COBOL is a serious problem for today’s youth. We have to stamp it out before it’s too late and all our family values are destroyed!

          1. Bryan says:

            Don’t remind me of COBOL! I wasted two years of my life to that black hole at the end of high school. There were no COBOL rehabilitation centers at the time. I was fortunate enough to live near a Radio Shack where I was allowed to learn BASIC on the TRS-80. (The manager allowed this because I made demos which could actually show the system’s potential, thereby increasing sales.) From there I was able to move on to machine language, PASCAL and C. (The plusses had not been invented yet.) I consider myself to be one of the lucky ones in that I was able to recover and move on.

    2. Alexander The 1st says:

      Somehow the mention of D&D made me think that you encountered the grappling rules in your first session or something like that. Just the vivid image of that is pretty awesome.

      That said, one thing that seems a bit odd for parents is their insistence of forcing their hobbies on their children (Trust me, I wasn’t allowed to give up on hockey for 5 years straight, despite not ONCE scoring a goal. I still get nagged about father-son hockey sometimes, it scares me that my dad never got the message.).

      I think you did the right thing here, and if anything, I’d at most recommend dumping a few other programming languages on his computer just to be there. If he stumbles upon them and picks up programming, great. If he deletes the folders containing them for space to put downloaded videos of Superbowl 2015 ads on his computer, then so be it.

      Your insistence, if anything, will just further drive him apart from it. Like you and RPGs.

      1. Mari says:

        I’ve always been afraid of foisting my hobbies on my kids so I hold back and yet somehow they wind up in the middle of my hobbies anyway. I have one kid who forces me to run D&D games for her and the other one clamoring to join (but she just doesn’t have the attention span for it yet). I stayed out of theater for a little over a decade because I didn’t want to take the time away from my family and suddenly the youngest turns up demanding to audition for a play that we’re now in together at the community theater. I get hooked on Minecraft and the next thing I know I’m having to buy the kids their own copies just to be able to play my own copy. It’s weird.

        1. mac says:

          Parenting. You’re doing it right :)

  16. asterismW says:

    Sheesh, I feel really young. My first computer was a 750 MHz Compaq, with 64 MB of RAM*. My first programming language was C++. Of course, I got my first computer in college; I had no absolutely interest whatsoever in computers before then. And now I’m a PC/Engineering admin. Amazing how computers can change your life.

    *Running Windows ME. Even with no computer experience, I knew it was an awful operating system.

    1. guy says:

      Man, I’m even younger than you. We had old iMacs at my elementary school, and windows 95 at home. Windows 95 locked up three times a day but was still better. Did I mention I have an undying hatred of Apple products?

      1. HeroOfHyla says:

        We had Macs in middle school, some with OS9 and some with (brand new at the time) OSX. Mostly we used them to play Starcraft at lunch.

        At home we had some kind of Apple (maybe a ][e)computer that I played Reader Rabbit and Number Munchers on. I think we got rid of that computer when we got the Windows XP one? What my parents would do was give me their old computer when they got a new one. So I got the Apple when they got Windows 98, and I got the Windows 98 computer when they upgraded to XP.

        They still have that XP computer (but with a $25 graphics card I bought on Ebay for it so it could play The Movies) and I have my own custom built Windows 7 computer now.

    2. RPharazon says:

      750 MHz?
      Back in my day, we had Cyrix processors! They said they could handle 200MHz, but in reality it was more like 80MHz at the best!
      We don’t miss Cyrix.
      We also had graphics cards with a whopping 8MB of VRAM! It could handle playing Tribes and Starcraft! Barely! At 640×480!
      We don’t miss piss-poor VRAM capacity.
      We also had hard drives that broke the GB ceiling!
      We don’t miss being able to install an OS and Simcity 2000 and nothing else.
      We also had flight simulators with terrible graphics that ran at 20FPS with uber hardware!
      Wait no, we still have that. Crap.

      I was recently in a uni class where the teacher had to explain what floppy disks were. Here I was, remembering the good ol’ days of using magnetic tapes on a ZX Spectrum…

      1. Shamus says:

        Man, I was just doing that with my son (he’s 9) yesterday. I still have a 3.5″, but I was fresh out of 5.25″ disks. I was trying to explain the storage difference between the 3.5″ floppy and the 2GB memory stick my wife had on her desk.

        He laughed.

        1. Ben says:

          Whats really bad is when you have to work with floppies now even though no one has the tools to work with them.

          One of the ECE labs at my university has oscilloscopes that can only save waveforms (for further analysis in MATLAB or something) to floppies as opposed to the newer ones that directly connect by USB. When we had to use that lab it was terrible, finding blank floppies was hard enough but finding a computer with a floppy drive or an external floppy drive was a multi-hour chase around campus. As it turns out only the Mechanical Engineering department had a single external floppy drive and they were very reluctant to part with it, even temporarily.

          1. scragar says:

            I remember back in high school where everyone was given ONE floppy disk, and if you lost it that was tough luck.

            We ran win 95, upgraded to 98 while I was there. There was storage space on the network, but if you had a file that needed printing, or transferring to one of the offline PCs(say because the PC you were on didn’t have some program or wasn’t connected to the scanner) you needed to save it to a disk and work on it from disk.

            I’m betting there were only a couple of disks around after the first year, by the end of the third year someone would always be selling floppies inside the classroom.

        2. Soylent Dave says:

          It’s fun asking kids what they think the symbol next to ‘save’ is on most applications.

        3. HeroOfHyla says:

          I’m surprised so many people stopped using floppies before there was a good alternative. I remember burning things to CDs occasionally back before I had a flash drive, and it was quite a pain compared to sticking a floppy in the drive and saving to it. I guess the iMacs started that trend?

  17. Peter H. Coffin says:

    I got luckier. I had farsighted parents and a little more household income, and by April 1980, there was a VERY shiny Apple ][+ on an old dining room table in the den, with TWO floppy drives, Visicalc (which blew my mind) and a database program made by the same company that sucked so bad that even a 12-year-old could tell that there was a LOT of room for improvement. (256 bytes of fixed width storage per record? That ain’t NEAR enough…)

  18. Patrick The Caustic says:

    I wanted the 2600 so I could…no no….because I ABSOLUTLY had to play Adventure!

    Somebody get this freakin duck away from me!!

    And don’t even get me started on how awesome Combat was!

    1. Shamus says:

      Combat was responsible for about 90% of the violence between us.

      1. Patrick the Traumatized says:

        I still have the scar above my eye where you slammed my head into a wall….*sniff…..

        I think that one was from frogger though….

        1. Mari says:

          Frogger caused violent outbursts. That game was a menace. I happen to know the people who moved into my childhood home. They told me a while back about renovating the house and how they found a patched over hole in the drywall in what used to be our family room. It brought back memories of the day that hole happened in a Frogger-related fit of pique. Wii-mote wasn’t the first remote that “slipped” out of people’s hands and flew across the room causing damage…

  19. Patrick The Caustic says:

    On a interesting note, I DO remmebr Shamus’ first ‘computer’….the MC10.
    It had no storage device, everything had to be saved on a CASSETTE tape. I think its max was 4k…not 4 MB…not 4 GB…not even 4 mB…no…4k…the picture of dice at the bottom of this screen would have been to big for it to even recognize. But he OBSSESSED

    1. Alexander The 1st says:

      Wait, is that 4KB, 4kb, 4kB, 401k, or 4k?

      1. Patrick the Nostalgic says:

        ummm….now you have me confused. Whichever one of those is the smallest amount i am sure.

        1. HeroOfHyla says:

          kb = kilobit
          kB = kilobyte

          1kB = 8kb

          1. Shamus says:

            Yeah, my first machine was 4kB. Then I got a 16kB expansion. It was heavy and hot very hot when in use, but it took me up to glorious 20kB!

    2. Ian says:

      Hah, my first computer was a VIC-20 with a datasette drive and a whopping 5KB of RAM (4.3KB accessible in BASIC). Sadly, the computer fried, but I think I still have some cassettes with “programs” (more like amusements) that my 3-5 year old brain came up with.

      I managed to upgrade to a Commodore 128 recently. Making the SID talk is fuuuuuuuuuun.

  20. Adamantyr says:

    Where do they get them? Heck, I kept ALL my old catalogs. And magazines. And books. Yeah, I probably won’t program much in BASIC anymore, but they’re worthless to take down to RE-PC, so I may as well keep them to puzzle the grandkids. Or maybe the sons of the American Pickers will find them and go “Wow, ancient computer manuals! I’ll give you $10 for the whole lot!”

    My first computer was a TI-99/4a, which my parents bought at a local department store. They went with TI because it was a brand name they were familiar with thanks to Speak n’Spell and Speak n’Math, and the price was right. Naturally they didn’t know all support for it had been cut in late ’83…

    So answer me this… who still HAS their original first computer? Because I do. And it still works. The only part I’ve ever gotten replaced was the keyboard; the cheap membrane deteriorated in storage so I had a guy put a mechanical keyboard in. It will outlast the silicon, in all likelihood.

    1. Bryan says:

      I used several different computers before I bought my first. I don’t have my first computer, a VIC-20, because the power supply failed and my mother (who thought computers were a waste of time and money) considered it to be trash and tossed it. I still have my second computer, A C-64 which I still play games on when the nostalgia hits me. And I’ve only had to repair it three times. If I hadn’t been in college at the time, I’m sure my mother would have tossed that one too.

      1. Adamantyr says:

        Moms… they just don’t understand! Fortunately, my brother and I trained ours early to leave our stuff alone…

        A long time ago, she threw away some ROM comics because they were tattered messes. We made such a fuss she vowed to never to throw ANYTHING away again without asking us first.

        We also had dad helping us. His mom had never respected his stuff; he came back from the army to find his cousins had sold books and other things in his room while he was away, and his mom’s response was he shouldn’t be so attached to things.

  21. unnamednpc says:

    Just be glad the little leaflet wasn’t made by EA.
    “EA BASIC – Your mom will hate it!” *flash tits*
    The Shamus we know probably wouldn’t exist…

  22. Simon Buchan says:

    I have sitting on my desk the 1983 (3 years older than me!) book “Understanding Computer Graphics” by Judy Tatchell and Les Howarth, unfortunately missing it’s back cover, but otherwise in near perfect condition. It packs into it’s 48 pages a full, surprisingly accurate, description of computers’ internal architecture with kid-friendly graphics, a rundown of the current and predicted uses of computer graphics, and 4 BASIC program listings: a version of the “Mystify” screensaver, an interactive vector graphics inbetweener, a version of LOGO, and a real-time game where you control a bug bouncing around a screen – all in under 80 lines, and with instructions on how to get them to work on the BBC, SPECTRUM (Timex 2000), DRAGON and the Apple (II?).

    Looking at it now, I’m sure if I actually had a system with a BASIC implementation at the time I would have up to 10 years more experience programming than I do now (depending on when the heck I was actually given this book).

    I should also note that when I tried reimplementing some of these programs now, the 73 BASIC lines for “Mystify” became around 400 or so lines of C for Windows, creating a window procedure and setting up a timer took about 1/2 to 3/4 of the code. People sneer at BASIC – and I sure wouldn’t want to work in it myself, but there’s a lot to say for the interactive loop programming model, rather than the modern OS’s event dispatcher. I wonder how children are learning programming nowadays – are they still learning BASIC? What kind of programs do they write?

  23. dhx says:

    Pffft — you are all whippersnappers.

    I played “Trek” on a teleprinter and tried to program my first “Wumpus” clone on a DEC-10.

    In 1981.

    We had 120 seconds of processor time *a week* back then, and by golly, we were glad to have it!

  24. Carra says:

    Ah yes, basic.

    I also set my first steps in the programming world on a schneider, locomotive basic PC.

    Those were the days :)

  25. decius says:

    “A high-res scan of a 30 year old catalog? Where did they GET this image? Amazing.”

    Jason Scott: ascii.textfiles.org, and a slew of other subdomains.

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