krpalmer: Imagination sold and serviced here: Infocom (infocom)
Delving into "old computers" may be no better or worse than any other form of "catching up now on what you missed out on at the time," but I can suppose it doesn't have to be as expensive as something like collecting old toys. The only problem there is that it doesn't have to be as expensive because one way to find documentation and applications is to dig into obscure archives for scans and disk images instead of the more upright method of buying actual products from whatever sources there may be. Still, when one archive being updated right now with new "cracks" of Apple II disks made before their physical media demagnetizes altogether had one of the very first versions of Zork I show up, I saved a copy of the disk image. In the process of realising there'd been one version even before it for the TRS-80, looking through the older archives for that computer, and pondering if the specific "Z-Machine" data files for those versions could be extracted and played outside of hardware emulation (it took looking in a third, interactive fiction-specific archive for patch files and installing a command-line interpreter), I did get to contemplating what else I might have missed in the first archive. When I searched for a particular piece of software, all of a sudden I'd completed another quest that had been going on for a while already.
Choosing adventure )
krpalmer: Imagination sold and serviced here: Infocom (infocom)
I often suppose one part of what motivates me to seek out information about the computers of the 1980s, one particular subject among a good many others, is the sense I was around at the time but not quite aware of a lot of things outside the amiable corner of the Radio Shack Color Computer. That sense can be carried too far, though. My related interest in the text adventure games dignified with the name interactive fiction does have something to do with my family having been given a copy of the Infocom adaptation of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which first made me aware of adventure games that could accept more than two words at a time and then suggested in a catalog there was a whole line of other games like it. The only problem was that the regular hints offered for the game in the Color Computer magazine The Rainbow never quite explained how to solve its last and most elaborate puzzle. When I did manage to make out the faded hints in a high school acquaintance's old hint book, the sense of it being too late to play any other Infocom game was right to the extent of the re-release collections having less elaborate packaging and being for more elaborate computers.
Advantages to the passing of time )
krpalmer: Imagination sold and serviced here: Infocom (infocom)
Every month, I go back to my old copies of the computer magazines 80 Micro (preserved and passed along through my family) and Macworld (which I managed to buy in online auctions for the formative years in advance of us getting a Macintosh of our own) and leaf through the issues from exactly three decades back. Moving through the summer of 1987, I've taken note of Macworld's enthusiastic promotion of the new capabilities of the Macintosh II and Macintosh SE, but 80 Micro's somehow uneasy mixture of technical programming tips for only some of the mutually incompatible computers still in the Radio Shack catalogs seems easier to just skim. Even so, in August that magazine did return to where things had started for it with a cover story marking the official announcement of the TRS-80 Model I on August 3, 1977.
Ten plus thirty )
krpalmer: Imagination sold and serviced here: Infocom (infocom)
Seeing a bit of attention paid to "old computers" from an unexpected but notable direction did get me thinking of the home computer games I'd actually played when I was young (instead of managing to get around to them years later), and which of them might be called "personal standouts." I thought of the Pole Position imitation I would load and then twiddle the TV's tint knob until the blue "artifact colour" of the backgrounds changed to "green grass" (although the Radio Shack Color Computer 2 could start up with its blue and red artifact colours switched, which made for a different experience again), of the "first-person perspective maze" our disk had gone bad for unfortunately early on so that long years later it became one of my most notable pushes towards getting emulator programs working, and of several illustrated adventures, some easier to play all the way through than others. After remembering those and other Color Computer games, though, all of a sudden I reminded myself that before it my family had started out with a TRS-80 Model I. Even with its low-resolution black-and-white graphics (converted to black-and-green with a thick piece of green plastic foam-taped to the converted RCA surplus TV that served as its official monitor), we had some games for it. Two of them that came to mind right away were the Berzerk imitation "Robot Attack" and a "swoop a spaceship over an enemy base and through a cavern" game from a "software every month" cassette magazine, both of which I'd got working on emulators in recent years. That double revival, though, had also got me thinking of a third game stuck in my mind but which I hadn't been able to find in these latter days...
The third game, and some illustrated proof )
krpalmer: Imagination sold and serviced here: Infocom (infocom)
As I was working towards hooking my family's TRS-80 Model 100 portable up to external files for the first time in two decades, I happened on a mailing list dedicated to that computer. After I'd proved to my satisfaction I could accomplish the hookup, I kept tabs on the list. Now, I've run across an interesting link offered to it, an in-browser emulator for the portable.

As with an in-browser emulator for the older TRS-80s I stumbled on not that long ago, there's a certain appeal to seeing just what can be accomplished without fussing with a standalone program (in several cases, I've managed to get esoteric Windows emulators running via WINE, including the standard emulator for the Model 100 itself). As soon as that's been taken in, though, I do come straight back to contemplating how, since you're not using a different keyboard than whatever you have on your regular system or "running for hours and hours on AA cells," things can narrow to how where other old computers have big archives of software to fiddle around with, the Model 100's more limited list of programs can keep it seeming a "portable text editor that linked up with systems with larger screens." If a part of studying old computers is to learn about systems small enough to be easily grasped, sometimes the Model 100 starts to feel smaller than some, and in an ambiguous mixture of ways.
krpalmer: Imagination sold and serviced here: Infocom (infocom)
While "new" stuff for old computers stands out for not showing up every day, I can at least keep finding things I hadn't known about before as I turn back to fields left fallow. Not that long ago, for some reason I can't quite recall I started looking a bit more into that ur-laptop, the TRS-80 Model 100. My family has one of those computers, and it's certainly a lot easier to get going than any machine that requires a cathode-ray tube monitor to be carted around and plugged in, but the problem was that short of setting up the Color Computer we'd used in the 1980s or the now-antique Macintosh I'd tried out in the 1990s to link up over serial, I didn't seem to have any way to get the programs I did know about onto it save for the meticulous tedium of typing them in, much less any good way of getting anything off it before its batteries died in storage again. I'd known there were people who called it the "Model T" and could still put it to use as a text editor; I'd also known a gadget had been made up for it, as for quite a few other old computers, to simulate its old mass-storage portable disk drive but store that data on a camera card, thus allowing data interchange with modern networked computers with relative ease. The gadget had seemed a bit too expensive for whatever use or brief amusement I could imagine getting out of it myself, though, and after a while it seemed to sell out.
Discovering another option )
krpalmer: Imagination sold and serviced here: Infocom (infocom)
I spent this weekend working on replacing the tiles on my kitchen floor, which threw off my schedule for keeping up a minimal presence on this journal by mentioning just what computer magazine covers I've been posting elsewhere online. However, in the posts I've piled up I managed to include a good bit of introductory coverage of the TRS-80...

Kilobaud, September 1977
BYTE, September 1977
Creative Computing, September-October 1977
Kilobaud, October 1977
BYTE, October 1977
Personal Computing, November-December 1977
ROM, November 1977
Kilobaud, November 1977
BYTE, November 1977
krpalmer: Imagination sold and serviced here: Infocom (infocom)
The difficulties I had uploading pictures to my Photobucket account cleared up one day, and I stored the images I'd thought about building an experimental post around, but by that point I might have been thinking of "saving them for later." A post on another subject has been going pretty slowly, though, so the time to use the pictures seems now. So as to not to place a big footprint on the friends lists of others, I'm putting the pictures behind a cut.
Ideal and reality )
krpalmer: Imagination sold and serviced here: Infocom (infocom)
The Renga in Blue weblog aggregated on Planet IF has been working its way through a series of early text adventures for a while now. While it's moved a lot slower than The Digital Antiquarian, it has pointed out some intriguing obscure works on its way from the first mainframe-based games to the simple BASIC adventures squeezed into early home computers, now illustrated with screen shots from appropriate emulators. After a game I could tell had been ported to the Radio Shack Color Computer (although I did think of one person who's moved into the unoccupied niche of porting a slew of small games to the tiny variant of that machine sold for a little while in the effulgent year of 1983, when Tandy was churning out minimally intercompatible computers as if to see what would stick), though, the next set of images just had me guessing.

Adding "scan lines" to the display of an emulator seems easy enough to do, but I wondered what TRS-80 emulator, or at least what obscure configuration of one, produced that effect. I could have thought of a browser-based emulator I had happened on a while ago, but there was the question of just how to run programs not included in its site's small selection... and then, in the next post, I saw a link to a new site that can load what seems every TRS-80 program in a large existing archive into the emulator. Not every one of the "Model I" programs seems able to run on the "Model III" emulator (which I believe was an issue with the actual computers), but it certainly lifts the online program a ways above "a brief diversion."
krpalmer: Imagination sold and serviced here: Infocom (infocom)
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.
Into the 80s )
krpalmer: (Default)
While fiddling around with a directory full of emulator programs for old computers could be grandly described as a way to "understand them as systems," I would have to say that more often than not when I start one of them up it's to play an old game. Because the Apple II emulators I are easy to use and have some interesting features, I do seem to concentrate on a computer that's long been described as "not as audio-visually impressive as the other big models" (although I can indulge myself in a TRS-80 game or two every so often, and the TRS-80's graphics were just slightly advanced from "ASCII graphics"), and out of the Apple II games I've tried I seem to find Lode Runner particularly interesting.
Convenience, authenticity, and a new opportunity )
krpalmer: (Default)
I took particular interest in the news there was going to be a new book written about the Radio Shack/Tandy Color Computer, the "home computer" my family settled on and stuck with in the wide-open days of the 1980s. The book would be written by Boisy G. Pitre, who's had a long connection to the Color Computer community, and Bill Loguidice, who takes a wider perspective in the subject of these old computers. It also seemed significant the book was being published by a "real publisher" where some other recent books on different computers were more "self-published." When my own copy arrived after much waiting, though, I discovered its signatures had been mixed up so that it seems to make a sudden leap years forward and then fall back in time to where it had been. On deciding I'd try and exchange it, I got a message back saying it was out of stock and could only be returned for a refund, so I decided to keep the mixed-up copy. It was still interesting for all of that, of course, but in its numerous details and "inside information" I did find myself asking new questions.
In 6809 style )
krpalmer: (Default)
Every so often, I read the just-archived messages from a mailing list about the Radio Shack/Tandy Color Computers, one of which is the sole piece of "8-bit" hardware I don't have to say "emulation is the sincerest form of flattery" about. On my latest look through the messages, I noticed discussion about Radio Shack itself posting some online videos in which a veteran engineer and a writer about old computers discussed the Color Computer, with one of the machines visible in the background.

I suppose it was seeing the company that once sold the computers talking about them that got my attention, just because it stood against a significant theme in the armchair quarterbacking that seems to go along with interest in "old computers," lamenting how the companies cruelly abandoned their 8-bit user bases to chase new respectability dismissed as in the end just playing into the hands of Bill Gates. (Well, I suppose I have seen comments that Commodore diverted time and money into trying to develop a "Commodore 65" when it should have been keeping the Amiga at the forefront of technology...) This might, I suppose, have a little to do with how, just a few years after Radio Shack finally took the years-old Color Computer 3 out of its catalogues, it stopped selling "Tandy"-branded PC clones and just started selling computers made by other companies. It is, though, still more or less in business, as opposed to certain brand names now owned by new people. Beyond the surprise, though, I also noticed comments there's a a book on the Color Computer in the works, and that might be very interesting.
krpalmer: (Default)
After having made a small point of mentioning the thirty-fifth anniversary of the introduction of the Apple II, it does seem it would be remiss for me to not also mention we've made it to the thirty-fifth anniversary of the introduction of the TRS-80: after all, my family actually had one of those computers long years before I saw an Apple II at school.

It's been pointed out more than a few times in recent years how Radio Shack's silver and black plastic-cased computer (designed to match the black and white surplus RCA television adapted into its monitor) outsold every other computer in the late 1970s, be they cased in beige-to-tan plastic (designed from scratch) or sturdy metal. Just linking this to the all the Radio Shack stores doesn't seem enough to be a lesson for our times; instead, I've seen it linked to how the basic TRS-80 was less than half the price of the cheapest Apple II (although I've looked at enough old catalogues to have the impression adding the improved BASIC and more memory and the external box needed to hook up to the disk drives brought the prices closer to level). We never went quite that far ourselves, and given things I've heard over the years we may have escaped hassles by just adding on a third-party tape-cartridge drive. (It also damped out the "keybounce"...) The second part of the morality play seems to be commenting on how Radio Shack, in selling only software it could put its own logo on in its own stores, let that first sales advantage slip from its hands. Introducing incompatible systems one after another might not have helped, though, although I've been a little struck by how not that many years separated Tandy Corporation dropping the last "proprietary operating system" computers from its catalogues and it no longer making PCs with its own name on them. After that, there seemed nothing left but the memories.
krpalmer: (Default)
Keeping up my occasional interest in "old computers," I took another look at a mailing list about TRS-80 computers and saw a link to an emulator that runs in a browser. The comment that it ran just with Javascript and not Java caught my attention somehow in a "technology had advanced" way. After that, though, I managed to remember that I've seen and used emulators running in a browser that use "just Java," including a Color Computer one and an Apple II one I learned about not that long ago, linked to by someone who had just written a text adventure specifically for that computer. (That caught my attention at the time in a way that a piece of interactive fiction written for one of the modern cross-platform engines might not have, although I know that this particular adventure only has a "two-word parser.") In any case, you can do things with the TRS-80 emulator right off; several games can be loaded into it, and I'm tempted to recommend "Sea Dragon" and "Galaxy Invasion," so long as you understand their graphics are one low step up from "ASCII graphics."
krpalmer: (Default)
After posting about how I worked out how to get a Color Computer emulator running and was able to play one particular, not-quite-famous game for it again at long last, and posting about how I had gone on from there to buy a book about the original Radio Shack computers, the thought of creating a "trilogy" did occur to me. In the process of looking up information on emulators and software disk images for them, I had learned that some people had worked out a software-hardware solution that could use a modern computer as a substitute disk drive for a Color Computer (as demonstrated in this video, and there was something compelling about the thought of that...

It did take me a while to order and receive the serial cable that would make the crucial connection, but once I had my family's old Color Computer 3 and monitor dug out of storage and powered up again for the first time in years, my concerns that things just couldn't be as easy for me as other people had said sort of evaporated. Programs were loading without any fuss, and even having tried them out in emulation beforehand there was something about seeing them in a full-screen view and being able to use joysticks again.

Of course, it's all an elaborate exercise in nostalgia, and I'm conscious that in the "platform wars" of the 1980s, Color Computer users were sort of off in their own self-contained world, very often playing unofficial clones of arcade games that got actual ports to other computers. With graphics and sound not quite as good as with other notable systems, even after the improvements made to the Color Computer 3, users might instead boast about the multi-tasking "OS-9" operating system. It's always sort of seemed to me, though, that there wasn't a lot of other software that needed it to run (as opposed to just being started from regular "Disk Basic")... Still, with that well in the past too, I can just sort of enjoy the present novelty.
krpalmer: (Default)
(subtitle: How TRS-80 Enthusiasts Helped Spark the PC Revolution)

Since posting about the convolutions I worked through to play one old computer game, I've continued on an "old computers" kick with the emulators I found, digging out some of my family's old computer magazines to start to type in (and debug the errors I made typing) some of the shortest programs they printed and also going through all the information I can find online. I also ordered a book I'd heard about a while before; there's something about "spending money" on this new kick that seems to make it a little more serious, even if it's also to learn more... "Priming the Pump: How TRS-80 Enthusiasts Helped Spark the PC Revolution" is by a husband and wife who wrote and sold a word processor ("Lazy Writer") for those computers. While they've interviewed a number of other notable people from those days, going from initial chapters about how a few people at the Tandy Corporation started a small project to build and sell a pre-assembled computer to make up for the CB craze drying up at Radio Shack stores and how a whole series of third-party disk operating systems were written for the TRS-80 to make up for actual or perceived flaws in the "official" DOS, apparently released too soon, to a chronicle of David Welsh growing up as an electrical experimenter does sort of make the book feel like a "personal project" in every sense. Still, something about that is appealing. The book doesn't feel as if it's out to settle old scores of any sort, although it does deal with old controversies...
History as morality play? )
krpalmer: (Default)
Years and years ago, back when we were a "Radio Shack family" when it came to computers and, convinced that pretty much all computers more or less just used black, white, blue, and red (the latter two just "artifact colours" to boot, the way a tweed suit might "shimmer" on an old TV) for their graphics, I was more than content in an unconscious sort of way with that, one of the Color Computer games we had on our anonymous collection of floppy diskettes was called "Androne."

Your computer has been invaded by Data Bugs. Call on Androne, a user-controlled robot to hunt through your memory banks and "de-bug" them.
(from Radio Shack computer catalog RSC-12)

It was, I suppose, a mid-1980s-vintage take on the "first-person shooter," which involved steering step-by-step through a maze (with Pac-Man like markers on the passage floors you hadn't already been down), shooting down flying eye things on the way to zapping Maltese cross-like targets. I might not have played that game any more than any of the other games we had, but what might have made it catch in my mind was that one day, the diskette it was on just wouldn't load any more. That might, perhaps, have been the sort of small loss that sticks just because it is so trivial.
Hurtling up to the present... )
krpalmer: (Default)
During the Easter long weekend, I started looking through one of my family's old encyclopedia yearbooks. (I always had the impression, though, that Grolier more stopped sending them to us than we stopped ordering them...) I was looking at the events of 1983 with one particular anniversary in mind, but in a serendipitous discovery, I realised that 1983 also marked the introduction of the TRS-80 Model 100 Portable Computer... which makes it twenty-five years old this year. (March may even be its anniversary month...)

Growing up, I suppose, I was part of a "Radio Shack" family... I barely knew you could get computers anywhere else until "plain" PCs started showing up in the homes of friends around the "EGA" era or so. When Radio Shack introduced a portable computer, my dad got one to take to work, and a while later it became about as close as I've ever got to a "portable of my own..." As some still take pleasure in pointing out, as a one-hundred percent solid-state device, it was fast to switch on and ran for a good long time on ordinary AA batteries. Still, with a screen that only displayed eight lines of forty characters each (the title of this post won't quite fit on one of those lines), it could get kind of hard to follow the flow of a large document. As hard as it may be to believe, I could start feeling lost in thirty-two kilobytes of onboard memory... To go beyond that, though, over the years we found a variety of solutions to interface it with desktop systems to store files and then move them into different programs... and all of those desktop systems themselves are more or less obsolete these days.

On realising the anniversary, I found my family's Model 100... the internal battery had at last gone dead after long years in storage and the memory had blanked, but once plugged in it still worked. I remembered how noisy the keyboard got and how I had once tried to use it to take notes in the university library at least as much for that "retro" feel as anything, only to get everyone around me upset. One thing that did strike me, though, was how thick it seemed (5 cm thick according to this reference)... when a principal selling point of modern portable systems like the MacBook Air is how thin they are (1.94 cm thick at its thickest), it may have carried some extra significance for me. I also did some nostalgic searching and discovered that there's an emulator program... and wrote a draft of this post in it, just for the strangeness of getting used to that eight by forty screen again.

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