krpalmer: Imagination sold and serviced here: Infocom (infocom)
[personal profile] krpalmer
When I saw an all-ages introduction to programming in Python in the bookstore, I bought it. The awareness the line-number BASIC guides of my own youth have stuck with me where the C I took in high school hasn't might have given me a push there. As I got started on that attempt to look down a long road, though, I noticed the book's second chapter was on a "turtle graphics" module built into the language. That at once had me thinking back to the educational language Logo. Remembering a simple implementation of it for the Radio Shack Color Computer, I went back to some archives of Color Computer manuals and documents, and as I poked into them I happened to look in a directory of scanned magazines. When I saw an "80 Micro" subdirectory, some irrepressible whim made me look in there, and all of a sudden instead of confirming an unexciting familiarity I had reached the tag-end culmination of a minor quest.

My father had an amateur radio license in the late 1970s, and it happened that one of the radio magazines he subscribed to was published by the opinionated Wayne Green. When Green saw a fresh opportunity as the first hobby microcomputers were soldered together, he took it. Just how he lost control of BYTE magazine almost at once seems a matter of rumour and innuendo, but he bounced back with a magazine called Kilobaud Microcomputing. When the low base cost and wide availability of the original TRS-80 gave it a first leg up in the rush for and beyond hobbyist dollars in the last years of the decade, he then spun off a system-specific magazine with the original title of 80 Microcomputing. Promoting it in his radio magazine as well meant my father started with the first issue.

I do seem to have vague recollections of seeing issues of the magazine around home in the 1980s themselves, but for me things really picked up when my family moved at the beginning of the 1990s. Our TRS-80 Model I itself wound up in a closet (it did make hash of TV reception, after all), but the 80 Micro magazines turned up in boxes from the basement in two big waves. I've seen a lot of attention from other people seeming to focus on the steadily thickening instalments up to 1983, the absolute boom year of "8-bit home computing," in which Green's curmudgeonly, rumour-mongering, self-promoting editorials led off entertaining columns and varied articles. In 1983, though, he managed to sell out at the top and his editorials disappeared from the magazine as ads from Radio Shack returned (years later, I saw a suggestion he might not have been an entirely altruistic evaluator of the market, but instead held a grudge that Radio Shack hadn't agreed to sell all of the "Instant Software" he had got into publishing), after which the magazines got thinner and seemed to focus down to a residual core of serious self-sufficient programmers with increasing coverage of Tandy's MS-DOS clones eking things out. There were tidbits of interesting news-turned-history even in them, though. We'd managed to stay subscribed long past any real use of the Model I, our issues stretched out to February 1988 due the Color Computer-specific magazine spun off from 80 Micro, unable to overcome the head start of the cheerful magazine "The Rainbow," folding and rolling its subscriptions back. That did give us a wistfully retrospective "ten years since the Model I's introduction" issue but also, just a few months later, the announcement the last of the TRS-80 coverage would be dropped for an exclusive focus on the clones.

It was years after that specific dose of the "tragedy" that can keep lurking in melodramatic takes on this particular history, when I could add to the specific resources of our basement with material archived online by other people still taking their own interest in old computers, that I saw some suggestions the residual TRS-80 users had been more significant than might have been thought when 80 Micro had stopped publishing with its June 1988 issue. That we'd dropped out just before the magazine had might be seen as a strange, unwitting victory, but it did prompt a thought or two of "a complete collection, save for four issues..." I eventually turned up scans of a majority of the magazine, but it seemed the person making them had given up partway years ago, and a lone March issue from 1988 in the existing archive kept the bitter end in the shadows.

Now that someone else had filled in the gaps, I could see the magazine had managed to mark its hundredth numbered issue (there was a special and particularly thick "third-anniversary issue" as well) with a badge on the cover and a self-congratulatory editorial, and one issue later its last editor was having to admit that would be it. Beyond the sad post-mortem in a bimonthly newsletter for the last dedicated TRS-80 users (which then managed to run that way for as long as 80 Micro had covered those systems itself, getting to the days of emulation) that MS-DOS users hadn't appreciated whatever of the magazine's "do it yourself" spirit remained, I did get to remembering there had in fact been another magazine focusing on the Tandy MS-DOS clones, published by the same people who published "The Rainbow." I'd at least managed to see some ads from Electronic Arts promoting a port of its "Deluxe Paint" to the fixed sixteen-colour palette Tandy's clones had inherited from the PCjr. That, though, might have got me thinking back to how while the profusion of ads in the thickest issues of 80 Micro might be suggestions the TRS-80 market might not have been quite as "moribund" quite as early on as some looking back from outside might sometimes take it to have been, there hadn't been quite the same shift towards a slicker professionalism as in the first Apple II magazines. That in turn reminds me of a comment noticed that the sale of 80 Micro and increased ad rates, more than some sudden, unspoken impression of unaddressed obsolescence, had done its own part to depress its market and left the magazine in its more dour later mood for the long years I've reached the end of at last.

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