A Brief History of the Site
[Note: I had found some cc:mail data files from a long long time ago (long long before trs-80.com was created). These stubs are far from complete, and there seems to be some error in dates, introduced in my attempt to convert the CC:Mail files. The dates below may be incorrect. If anyone knows a good way to convert ancient cc:mail CCA archives to Eudora MBX format, please let me know]
On 3/31/1995, my best friend, Rich Buchman, told me about Jeff Vavasour’s Model I emulator. I downloaded it and tried to figure out how to run the Scott Adams text adventures. I registered the emulator on 4/3/1995, and joined the TRS-80 listserve on 4/4/1995.
There was already a decent archive of TRS-80 stuff on the web, at “musie.phlab.missouri.edu/pub/trs/trs-80” and I was in heaven running the old software again.
On 4/17/96, I was given a web-accessible account on my then-employer’s test web server … http://w3.infonorth.com/~ira. It didn’t really focus on the TRS-80, and a lot of friends had trouble accessing it (while some were changing w3 to www, it seemed that DNS was not really quick back in those days). It had my resume and a stock market analysis program I had written. On 4/19/96 I added a findings page (which seemed to be a list of web sites I liked). A visit counter went in on 4/22. As I learned HTML (which I did not know before 4/17/96), I implemented new things, such as image maps, but refused to learn cgi (something I still don’t know to this day).
At this point in history, I seemed to have gotten a Pentium 166/Mhz with 32MB of RAM and a 4MB Matrox Millenium video card for $1,600. My mom had just bought a Penitum 100Mhz laptop with 8MB of RAM, a 540MB Hard Drive(?), and a 4x CD reader for $900.
By 6/28/1996, I started loading the little bit of TRS-80 stuff I had onto the site (or, more accurately, onto the single page set aside for the TRS-80). I also seemed to have a LITRUG (Long Island TRS-80 Users Group) page as well. By July, people were already sending emails asking to help find some long lost piece of software they had enjoyed using back in the day. On 8/19/1996, Scott Adams had sent me an email advising that the page (it was still just a page) was “Fascinating”. On the same day, Robert A Fowkes invited me to “keep on Orch’in”. I think I had just created a ORCH page that day because a lot of the greats seemed to have gotten into the mix, including Jonathan Bokelman. On 9/13 (yes, this is out of order) Bill Hogue (Big 5 Software) said that I was bringing back a lot of memories “most of them are even pleasant!”, the same day Peter Trefonas (CLOAD) wrote in.
There was a snag though. There was no easy way to get TRS-80 disks converted over to TRS-80 format. There were a couple of utilities which could try to access the data, but these were messy to say the least. The most common way was over the serial port which was DREADFULLY messy.
However, Jeff Vavasour, as part of his Model III/4 emulator package had written a utility which made it much easier to read disks. Called “GETDISK” it was then the only program available which could read a non-Newdos/80 disk (there was an issue with how close NewDos/80 wrote track 0 to the physical center of the disk) and make it a DSK file.
But GETDISK was included in the non-shareware Model III/4 emulator package, so I contacted Jeff and asked if he could make this program publically available. Jeff had no problem with doing so, but he had licensed the right to sell the Model III/4 emulator to a distributor, and could not release the program without their approval. Jeff suggested that I contact this distributor and let the owner of the company that Jeff personally was approving its release, if it was ok with him. The request email was sent on 9/3/1996 and the request was rejected on 9/7/96.
On my next trip back to New York, [date unknown] I spent 9 straight hours using Rich’s Model 4 and GETDISK (I had registered the Model III/4 emulator) to convert my disks. I would format a blank disk on the IBM, and then used Rich’s Model 4 to copy my TRS-80 formatted NEWDOS/80 disks (which had the track 0 problem I mentioned earlier) to those IBM formatted disks. I would then read the IBM formatted disks using GETDISK.
The site seemed to progress very much then as it did now. As various people discovered it, they would get very excited and email. Inquiries as to where to get a TRS-80 repaired, where to buy TRS-80’s, where to find long lost software they had written, started to flow. On 9/9/96 I expressed frustration (to Jeff) as to how many emails I was getting and how much time the site was taking. The well wishes continued to come in, and people did what they could to get me their software (or to ask if I had a copy of their long lost software).
The site did manage to grow as various authors sent in their own stuff, and others were spurred to write emulators. Yves Lempereur, who had written the one and only TRS-80 emulator for the MAC had sent over every program he had written (the FunSoft collection). Tim Mann secured permission from Roy Soltoff to release the entire Misosys/Breeze library including LDOS and SuperUtility. The preservation efforts were really on track … but the most important piece, some way for people to read their own disks so they could be emailed in, was still stuck in “proprietary-land”.
To solve this problem, Matthew Reed graciously agreed to write a freeware program which would read TRS-80 disks in an IBM drive. The beta copy of READDISK was provided to me on July 1, 1997, with v1.0 released on July 15th … as freeware. This would not be the end of Matthew’s GIANT contributions to preserving the TRS-80’s memory.
On July 9, 1997, Tandy contacted me telling me that they were preparing 20th Anniversary of the TRS-80 web page and wanted to know if it was ok if they provided a link to my site. I said that it would be my honor! Shortly after their page went live, Ed Juge (YUP!) emailed in told me that he was “surprised to see so much lingering interest in the TRS-80” and that he had found my site through the “links” portion of Radio Shack’s 20th anniversary page. The site was also written up in “The Arizona Republic”, also in honor of the 20th Anniversary.
Actually, throughout the site’s operation I would receive a steady trickle of inquiries from various people about the TRS-80 which advised that Tandy had no idea how to answer their questions and referred them to the site for help 🙂
Jean Paul Martienne – 6/30/2020]
Je découvre par hasard votre site… et j’ai rajeuni de 40 ans.
Personnellement, j’ai acheté mon TRS80 (unité debase 16k ,extension pour avoir 64k, un écran, une imprimante à aiguilles et le miniK7…) en 1979 je crois, à Brest il me semble.
J’étais kinésithérapeute et mon épouse médecin. Bien sûr il n’y avait aucun programme spécifique pour la gestion d’un cabinet médical ou para médical. Il y avait “profile” pour la gestion des fichiers… et le “basic”… pour programmer.
Je n’avais bien sûr aucune formation dans ce domaine mais j’ai senti que c’était l’avenir et j’en ai fait mon présent.
J’ai commencé par petits bouts de programmes, aidé par un beau-frère étudiant en école d’ingénieur et ai appris, vite je trouve à exploiter toutes ces possibilités. En quelques mois et années, jour et nuit j’ai construit un ensemble de programmes reliés les uns aux autres et qui permettaient de gérer les 2 cabinets médicaux. Je l’avais appelé LOGIMKAM (LOGIciel Informatique pour Médecin Kinesitherapeute et Auxiliaire Medicaux… qui faisait envi aux amis médecins de Nantes et du club d’informatique médicale nantais.
Et il a fallu évoluer, passer de TRSDOS à NEWDOS, du basic au Gbasic et au Qbasic… de la k7 audio au 5″1/4, 1 face some densité aux 2 faces double densité. Quel miracle… 720k. Pour gagner de la place, je me souviens programmer en basic en supprimant tous les espaces…
Je l’ai gardé longtemps et l’ai donné à un club informatique à Banyuls que javais créé en 2002.
Voilà mon histoire TRS80 dont je suis très fier. Le programme gérait la partie administrative des fiches clients, les bulletins de salaire, le traitement de texte….
Merci à vous pour ces mémoires TRS80
Richard Vagner – 12/30/2015]
During the early eighties I spent a year using a TRS 80 with a three bay expansion unit writing a book about Lionel Trains. When the book was finished I had a stack of discs about twenty four inches high which went into the attic and were left there when I sold the house. I had a printer which I don’t recall the name of that used folded paper to send the material I typed to the publisher which was used to make the book. When I got a later Tandy Radio Shack with five inch discs after the TRS 80 “Trash 80” stopped saving I got a 50 MB hard drive which was considered large back then.
I had an 8 inch floppy which as I recall had DOS 3 as my main software. I also had something called Dbase which I used to doÂ research on dating the toy trains. I had other software I can no longer at 82 recall the names of. Several were bought by Micro$oft and used in their later editions.
I wanted to print out a picture of my original TRS 80 and the Expansion Bay but can’t seem to find the TRS 80. I think it was gray as was the Expansion Bay which had three slots for floppies.
I presently have an HP Pavilion with a fingerprint reader with win 7. I also have the same with win 8 which I don’t like as well as win 7. The site was interesting but many of the pictures I don’t think I ever saw back then. I never kept any of the 8 inch items because they were just too bulky and I moved around too much.
Jeanne Roitman [http://www.samroitman.com – 7/2/2009]
I was introduced to a fellow tenant in my building, an older woman “of a certain age”, who had come upon hard times. She was spry and lovely, albeit a bit eccentric — and very much afraid that her mind was beginning to go. I saw little evidence of that — but I did see the shadow of a woman who had once been quite a force of her own. She told me stories of her former life; of her ancestry which dated back to the Mayflower; of former roommates — all opera buffs — who all spoke different mother tongues (English, French, German) — but found they could easily communicate if they used the Italian of Puccini and Verdi .
In any case, this woman (I’ll call her ‘Helen’), could no longer live alone, and was being taken in by a relative in another state. But Helen’s apartment (a rather large 3 bedroom apartment — which is a commodity coveted dearly in New York City) had been sadly neglected and was stuffed from stem to stern with relics of her former life as an avid reader, as a woodworker, as a crystallographer — and heaven knows how many other avocations and hobbies. She needed to shed nearly all her belongings except for the clothes on her back. She was moving to a small room in her relative’s home halfway across the country and could not take (and had no need for) her furniture, linens, or other home furnishings. She wasn’t even taking her books with her. Please, she begged everyone she knew and met to take anything they thought they could use.
It made her happy to know someone would make use of things — rather than letting them go to waste and winding up in a dump. She took me from room to room, as we gingerly wended our way thru a Colliers brothers type maze — and she picked up item after item, begging me to take something — anything. It also depressed her being surrounded by such disarray and not being able to picture how she would ever get out of her NYC apartment (where she’d lived for 40 years) and how she would “pack”, and what she would do about all her “stuff”..,
She showed me linens (still in the original package from 20 years ago); tables and chairs, bookcase after bookcase (mostly with collapsed shelves), a fairly new surge protector (I took it), a printer attached to a parallel cable on one end – and no computer on the other. She picked up various pieces of old hardware, asking me each time if I could use it — and each time I told her as kindly as I could to let the landlord dispose of it. It was just too outdated for anyone to use or even donate… In the last hallway, on my way out, she picked up a dusty black “leatherette?” case from under yet another bookcase — and, as she started to show me an edge of some REALLY outdated piece of equipment inside it, I sighed sadly and shook my head and told her if the other things were good doorstops, this one was a great brick. “Just leave it behind and the landlord will get rid of it for you” I heard myself say.
But after she put it down, a little buzzer went off in my brain, as I thought that equipment was so old even *I* didn’t recognize it — and I began to wonder what it was. (In the 80’s I was a mainframe/ Cobol/CICS person) – and though I had gotten involved with PCs early on, had never gotten near or even glimpsed a “hobby” computer. I had to look at the label on it to know what it was – but when I saw TRS-80; I could hardly believe my eyes. It had no power cord, so I figured even if the machine was pristine, I’d never find anything that would fit to power it up. But I thought at least my “ex” would get a kick out of seeing it: he had owned a computer store in the 80’s.
I told Helen it was one of the first personal computers ever made — and I doubted it was worth very much – but I would give her any money I gained from it, should that unlikely event happen. Helen’s face lit up – not because we had discovered a rarity – and not because there was any possibility of monetary gain – but because I was actually carrying something out of her apartment!
When I got it home, I examined it more closely. I couldn’t believe it had a place for batteries. Not having known anything about those computers, I was shocked to see it took AAs. Well, there *were* 4 AA batteries still sitting in the bay. But my heart sank when I saw the corrosion and leakage. It was so bad, I was afraid it had leaked beyond the battery bay. I was just so curious by that point, I persisted and cleaned out the bay. But I really didn’t expect the thing to fire up as though it had just been shut down yesterday. I had no idea what I was doing, but starting pushing buttons and got something on the screen. I entered something to it and actually saved a file to it. I felt like the Egyptologist who discovered King Tut’s tomb. Didn’t expect this – but what an amazing find! A few days later, I showed it to my “ex”, who had actually built his own hobby computer once upon a time: he turned it over in his hands and looked like Proust savoring his crumbs of madeleine.
Jack L Calaway [jcalaway at ix dot netcom dot com – 1/12/2007]
In the late 70’s we developed an automatic video tape duplication system for AME, Inc., Burbank, CA, using a TRS-80.
Their main business was the duplication of commercials for TV broadcast. This is very labor intensive and easily subject to mistakes. The process consists of cueing a video tape, selecting color bars, then a slate, starting the video playing, selecting it then waiting until the end of the commercial, when the operator would select black while re-cueing the tape, and starting the process over again, and again, and …
So we developed a system that ran on a TRS-80 to do these functions.
The software was written in assembler, and was burned into a prom, which replaced the original basic prom in the TRS-80.
We repainted the buttons, and gave them new labels to ease the operators job.
We used the printer port to control the video switcher, and the serial port to control an CMX I2 (Intelligent interface) which was connected to an Ampex VR-2000 (used prices in those days of about $50,000).
We also added a TV sync. separator to the TRS-80 to regulate the system timing.
This system was used so heavily, that from time to time the internal flat cable between the TRS-80 keyboard and the mother board would break.
Richard Hesketh [rlh at online247 dot force9 dot co dot uk – 2/18/2006]
Hi Ira, great site and its reminded me how I got in to computing …
I was around 13 or 14 when I saw my first computer, a Tandy TRS-80 Model I Level I 4K machine … I had wandered in to my local Tandy store on my way home from school while I was doing a newspaper round. Because I was carrying a large newspaper sack the store manager asked me to take it off and leave it with him while I looked around … I walked up to a rather small display with a Model I computer on it and picked up the BASIC manual and started to look through it and type in some of the programs, I was instantly hooked! I asked the manager how much the manual was and he said I could have it if I delivered a load of their Flyer magazines on my newspaper round .. I of course jumped at the chance That night I started reading the manual from start to finish and soon realised that I needed the computer to get the most out of this new programming lark. So I returned to Tandy and asked if I could come in after school and try out some programming, the manager agreed on the proviso that I wrote some demo programs to show off what the computer could do!
I carried on visiting Tandy regularly and a year or so later I got a part-time job with them .. in fact I was a part-timer for over 5 years and got to work in five different stores in and around Bristol in the UK. I was awarded a 5 year pin which I still have I got to play with and program lots of different TRS-80 models including Model II / 16 (wow Xenix !), III, 4, Co-cos (big and small), the lovely Model 100 and some of the pocket pcs. From the money I earned I saved up and bought my first computer a Model I Level II 16K machine which later got expanded to 48K and three floppy drives plus a hi-res upgrade. I’ve just got the kit out of the loft and it all fired up first time … its nice to go back to a machine which I know how it works and I even have the circuit board schematics for !! Its a pity I no longer have most of the programs I wrote including a rather large stock control suite which was used in my local Tandy store.
Looking through the list of programs on the site it reminded me of all the great games I played .. my favourite was Robot Attack .. such cool speech synthesis through the cassette output and the way it rattled the tape relay was just plain scary! (thankfully mine didn’t burn out).
Thanks to Tandy getting me interested in computers I went on to college to do computer science (writing up my projects using Scriptsit and printing them out on a really LOUD daisywheel printer at the regional manager’s office – it was still really LOUD even in its own special sound proofing cabinet!). I then went to University and got a degree in Computer Systems Engineering, then did a PhD in Computer Science .. when I ran out of my research grant I managed to get a job at the University working in the Unix Support Team where my love for BSD Unix started and continues to this day with FreeBSD and Mac OS X
I hope to use resources on this site to get my TRS-80 back in to use .. I built my own RS232C interface and wrote an assembler based driver for it and so I might try using that to connect it up to my network through a Unix box … hmm, I wonder if I can get SLIP to work
Mark A. Barrett [mark underscore barrett at us dot ibm dot com – 12/30/2005]
Thanks for such a memory inducing site! I still have my Model 1 S/N B006841. I even hand soldered a chip with a toggle switch to get lower case.
My first exposure to a computer was to the TRS-80 Model 1 that my sophmore science teacher owned. By this time, I had basically gotten bored with school and I believe it saved me from a doom I’ll never know.
I had always liked things with push buttons and this was the ultimate. After a year of asking my teacher to stay after school to get to use the computer for “fun,” I decided to take the $300 I had been squirrelling away for an 8-track stereo and ask my parents for the difference to buy the used demo model I had seen in the Radio Shack store 30 miles from home.
I lived in a small farming town in Kansas and the likelihood that I would have any computer time was grim. But, my parents were the kind that could find a way to encourage their kids if they thought it would help them in life and I was able to talk them into the idea. We drove to Wellington, Kansas and stopped at the local Radio Shack where I used to spend time whenever my Mom shopped the area stores. After my father talked them down to $700, I was the proud owner of a TRS-80 Model 1 with Level 2 cassette BASIC. I also picked up a couple books, one being (if I remember right) David Ahl’s book of BASIC computer games.
Upon my arrival home, I learned my next lesson. They would not let me touch the machine until I had finished my homework assignment due over the Christmas Holiday – writing my “life story.” Luckily, I was young with little to tell. But, with the carrot placed in front of me I finished at a lightning pace. I knew nothing about programming, so I basically just keyed in the BASIC listings and learned from my syntax errors. I was used to using tools on the farm and remember thinking, “Finally, a tool for the Brain!”
I spent most of my free time during the 11th grade year learning how to program in BASIC and still remember the day I found out about the 80 Microcomputing magazine. I read it cover to cover and couldn’t believe I could even buy computer games.(naive, huh?) I still remember the giddy feeling when I typed “wave scepter” in the game Pyramid 2000 out of desperation and a stone bridge magically appeared. I don’t think I’ve felt that with any 3D platform game.
I guess I should make this long story short. By my senior year, I had taught myself BASIC and was asked by my science teacher if I would teach a 9 week course as part of my “Advanced Science” class. Besides thinking “instant A” it gave me the confidence I needed at a time that my geekyness wasn’t necessarily a plus. That was also the year that she (the science teacher) and I presented our computers to the school board to ask for funding of 3 more TRS-80s to use in the class room. I still remember picking to load the ELIZA program I had keyed in since I thought they would really be intrigued. It worked.
Flash forward 20 years later. I was able to donate a computer lab with the help of IBM’s matching funds so that the current student body could have laptops to take home and work on their projects. And hopefully, there will be at least one akward teen that finds direction using a tool for his or her brain.
Once again, thanks for putting together a fun and informative site.
Chad Goodstein [tasteslikechicken47 at hotmail dot com – 12/26/2005]
Hi! well, real quick 🙂 Im 27, I grew up with computers from the time I can remember things…..I was definitely around 2 or so and remember ‘Dancing Demon’ from the Model I days…..Then I guess we got a CoCo (because I just remember the games i played were color 🙂 I distinctly remember playing what i thought was called tic tac man ( i thnk its actually pac-tac ) but pacman was more square, and the ghosts weren’t as cool (all of the games we had were what i would think were bootleg cassettes with many games on each).
War Kings, Bloc Head, Birds, Pac Tac
Those are my most vivid memories of that wonderful machine.
I always wanted to get the real Pacman (which, at the time, I thought you HAD to have a C-64) so we sold the trs 80 🙁 🙁 I still remember watching as the guy went throught this oldschool leather cassette suitcase, man was I sad) but we were getting something “better”…..
Thanx for remembering a great computer from great times!
Chuck Sutphen [chuck at blackburn.edu – 12/06/2005]
In the summer of 1979, I became the manager of a Radio Shack dealership in a corner of a large drug store. At the time, I knew virtually nothing about electronics, and was hired because of previous experience running my own business.
My first day on the job, I noticed there was a Model I TRS-80 on display. I had never heard of them before, and was intrigued that I was now in the business of selling computers. Actually, it was quite a while, maybe a year or more, before I sold one. In the meantime, I took the thing home for a while and played with trying to set up a customer database on cassettes, inputting sales tickets into a third party program. We also had the “Eliza” artificial intelligence simulation that would make a question out of what you typed in. During slow times in the store my partner and I would take turns saying horrible things to it.
At first, most people coming in the store did not take the computer seriously. And, being rather clueless myself, when they would ask me, “What can you do with that thing?” I would lamely answer, “Well, lotsa stuff!” One time, an intelligent-looking woman came in, pushing her daughter in a baby carriage. She seemed interested in the Model I, and I tried to impress her with it, but no sale.
After a while, the store owners offered to let me take a programming class at a local college—paying for the class and counting my class time as work time. I took them up on it. The class covered BASIC and FORTRAN, and I ended up getting an A. No one was more surprised than I was. Over time, I was allowed to take other classes. Imagine my surprise when the teacher of my COBOL class turned out to be the woman with the baby carriage! She later became the chair of the college’s new Computer Science department. I developed a keen interest of my own in programming. By this time, we had moved on to the Model III in the store, which was a much more useful machine with two floppy disk drives. We started selling quite a few of those. At the time, ours was still the only store in town where a person could walk in and buy a computer.
In 1983, Radio Shack introduced the Model 100 laptop. The first time I held one in my hands, I was like, Wow, I’ve got to have one of these. So I bought one on credit, all loaded up with a whopping 32K of RAM, the first computer I ever owned! I ended up naming that computer Harold, and he became my good friend. The first and only program I ever sold was for a pharmaceutical sales rep who also had a Model 100. She paid me to write a BASIC program that would keep track of her daily calls and print out the info on her company’s call sheets.
In late 1984, Radio Shack came out with the Tandy 1000. It was their first real PC-compatible. We sold a ton of those. It was really about the point that “home” computers started to go mainstream, even in our little Midwestern town. I continued taking computer classes at the local college. Some were hard to justify from a sales standpoint, and I had to partially pay for those, but they still gave me work time to attend classes.
In 1988, I accepted a job at the local college as a programmer/analyst on their Digital VAX system. I got my B.A. in Computer Science in 1995, and I am still there today. And it all goes back to that Model I in the corner of the drug store!
Greg [greg at gngrafxdot com – 06/05/2005]
1983: One of our electives in junior high was a “Computing class, which was held in high regard by many students as a “total kick back class. Not everybody was interested in computers, but I was, so I signed up for it.
It was situated in a small “Computer lab, which was basically a regular-sized classroom with long tables set up to accomodate the 30 or so computers. It was chock full of TRS-80s, which were, at that time, the most convenient and easy-to-use machines for anyone looking to learn BASIC programming. It was also ruled by a small clique of the Nerd Elite—8th grade kids who not only knew BASIC programming, but were adept at it. They actually understood how to use the TRS-80s.
Nevertheless, this class was cake. The teacher was a total laid-back, mellow guy, who spent most of his time hanging out at his desk, feet propped up, chatting away with the Nerd Elite of the 8th grade and budding nerds of the 7th. Oh yeah, this class was nerd central. C’mon. Computers were gaining rep as a viable technological breakthrough, and these brainiacs were allll into them. Meanwhile, a couple of my friends and I were basically just hanging out ourselves, trying to make sense of these TRS-80s.
There was no class instruction, no class lectures, no homework. The only term assignment we had was a box full of a thousand or so Scantron-looking cards, on which we had to fill in certain bubbles with a pencil—there was no explanation as to what these were, nor what they did; the teacher just wrote some code on the board each day and we were supposed to fill in our bubbles accordingly.
Everyone had a box, everyone had to do it. That was that. Oh man and this was so easy. It’s like, all we did was fill out those bubbles for like 15 minutes, and the rest of the class time was spent however you wanted. It turned out that later, at the end of the semester, we had to feed these boxes full of cards into some electronic reader, and voila! Some boring “fun program fizzled onto the screen. If your program ran, you got an A in the class. I guess, through the filling in of thousands of binary bubbles, we were supposed to be impressed with the magic of computers. I was not.
So how did we regular kids spend our days in this class, if we couldn’t be part of the Nerd Elite? We tried to make use of the TRS-80s. How? Most of the time, it was just staring at a blank screen, that white cursor blinking in the void, as we came up with interesting junior high topics of conversation. Or, we could do the ultra-popular name scrolling program, which meant that we learned an inkling of BASIC. The code went like so:
20 PRINT "GREG;
30 GOTO 20
This would scroll your name, or favorite band’s name (i.e., Duran Duran, Culture Club, Spandau Ballet, or Def Leppard), or expletive (whichever you chose), down the screen forever, until you hit ESC.
Now if one knew their BASIC shortcuts, they could substitute a “? for the PRINT command in line 20, thus shortening cutting their coding time by a whopping 20%. Whoopee.
20 ? "GREG
30 GOTO 20
This too, would also scroll your name, favorite band name (i.e., Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Men At Work, Flock Of Seagulls), or expletive (whichever you chose) down the screen forever, until you hit ESC.
Now if one knew their BASIC shortcuts and a little BASIC tweaking (usually learned from looking over budding 7th grade nerds’ shoulders), you could tweak the space within the quotation marks and add a semi-colon, something like this:
20 ? "GREG ";
30 GOTO 20
Now this would scroll your name, favorite band name, school crush’s name, or expletive (whichever you chose) in infinite diagonal columns across the screen forever, until you hit ESC. The amount of space you put between your name and the end quotation mark equalled the amount of space between the diagonal columns. It was mindless, hilarious fun, especially if you chose an expletive and ran the program right when class ended, so that the next student who sat at your computer saw a screen full of some VERY bad words.
Of course, all this got ultra-boring after awhile, so we had to find new ways to entertain ourselves. So I went to the local library and picked up some handy little books on TRS-80 BASIC programming, and learned a few cool tricks, which I shared with my friends.
One thing we picked up on was String Variables, which allowed some genuine, mind-bending interactivity for us thirteen-year-olds. It was like, Oh my God! The computer is talking to me! A quick conversation with the computer was coded as easily as such:
20 INPUT "WHAT IS YOUR NAME;A$
30 PRINT A$;, YOU ARE THE RADDEST GUY IN THE WORLD!
This would have the computer appear as if it was asking you a question:
WHAT IS YOUR NAME?_
You would type in your name, and it would “answer you, like so:
GREG, YOU ARE THE RADDEST GUY IN THE WORLD!
Oh, the hilarity. Oh, the wild entertainment. Depending on how cruel, cynical, conceited, or just plain stupid you were, you could have the computer tell you (or your friend / victim) all kinds of things.
GREG, CYNDI THINKS YOU'RE CUTE!
AARON, YOU RULE AT DEFENDER!
CHRIS, YOUR MOM IS PAC MAN!
ERIC, YOU SUCK!
CYNDI, GREG THINKS YOU'RE CUTE!
Yes, we would laugh our asses off at the creative nonsense. But the Nerd Elite just weren’t impressed. They would walk by and see our on-screen antics, and just push their noses up in arrogance. Especially one kid, Alex, who was indeed the almighty emperor of programming nerdness, and knew it. “Oh please, he’d say, rolling his eyes. “That’s so old.
My friend Aaron and I had to find some way to show him that we could do something as good as he could, so once again I ventured to the secret resource, the local library. This time I delved even deeper into the books, hitting the advanced chapters that had some real hardcore lines of coding, stuff which I just didn’t understand. Then I hit the magic chapter. GAMES. Yes!! Now I could write an actual game program, to challenge the emperor’s rule!
We could hardly contain ourselves as I fetched a little library hardback from my backpack a few days later. I told Aaron I’d found a cool game called “Dog Race, where 8 dogs raced across the screen, and you could bet which dog would win. It was the ultimate entertainment, and sure to cause some commotion amongst the Nerd Elite ranks.
Oh but it took forever to code. There were pages and pages of coding, and I lost track several times. Once you entered a line, you couldn’t go back and edit it if you made a mistake; you had to type the whole line over again. And then when I tried to run it, it would have a bug, and I would have to proofread my lines of code to see if I misspelled or misplaced anything. Keep in mind that I was basically just cutting and pasting here. Those lines of code were as incomprehensible to me as the tears one of my female classmates was shedding over the wedding of Duran Duran’s John Taylor.
But finally, after a whole class period of coding, the game was finished. I pressed ENTER to race my own little pixelated dogs for the very first time, and the dog I bet on lost. But, I had won. I had accomplished the ultimate in BASIC programming interactivity—a GAME. I showed Aaron, and we both called out to Alex in unison. I made sure to hide the book.
Somewhat annoyed, he answered. “What?
“Dood. Come over here. Look at this.
“C’mon. Don’t show me some stupid stuff. I’m busy.
“No, it’s not! C’mere.
He came over, expecting to see the ever-so-familiar diagonal columns of expletives flowing across the screen. But no. This time the screen was blank, except for a rectangle, in which eight faithful pixel-dogs waited patiently for the starting gun.
He tried to hide his surprise. “What is that? He asked.
“Pick a number.
“Why? Ok, 7.
I pressed ENTER, and the dogs moved across the screen in varying speeds. Some fast, some deathly slow. The whole time, I knew Alex liked what he saw. He really liked what he saw. Nobody had done anything with graphics in the class. But he tried hard to hide his interest. The dogs ran… #7 ran moderately, but not quite fast enough. At the end of the race, number 3 broke the tape. He held his face stern, showing the slightest disappointment in the results, and fighting harder to not look excited at the graphics display.
7 LOST, the screen read bleakly.
“Hahahaa – you lost!! We both said, slapping our knees in laughter. “Cool, huh?
“Ah, whatever. I can do that, he said, shooing the screen with a wave of his hands.
Despite his claim, he never could top my feat. I had, for once, faced up and defeated the Nerd Elite Captain. Yes, by dirty, scoundrely means, but it was still fun. But of course, this achievement went unnoticed, unannounced, as we once again returned to filling in those thousands of bubbles on those thousands of cards for that mystical, awe-inspiring “fun program we all had to look forward to at the end of the semester. But that “Computing class remained, and still remains, one of my favorite classes of all time.
Todd Howell [thowell at horizonview.net – 07/20/2004]
The TRS-80 Model 1, that old slow machine with large pixels, slow speed, and low memory was to me something much more. It’s role in my life cannot be overstated, for it changed the entire course of my life for the better.
I was 13. I was not always the brightest kid in some things. I played chess, but not well. I beat my sister’s 6th grade teacher in checkers, but beyond all that I seemed to struggle in the knowledge department. Life was about fun and toys, reading books and fishing. I didn’t really have a direction, I was not focused on anything, and I seemed to have a hard time in school in many areas. Math was tough to me, history was just something that occurred a long time ago, and English was simply something which we inherited from the British.
My dad was an electronics engineer. Three to Four people worked at the Columbus branch of his office. I used to go there and hang out when I had time and look at things. They had a digital decwriter tied to a computer which they were working on for a client. I was able to play chess on it, though I did not win. I always dreamed of having a job like dad. A few guys, doing what they enjoyed, making new things, and getting paid to do it.
One day, my dad brought home a computer. A TRS-80 model 1 with cassette drive. It was for the family, but he and mostly I were the ones who used it. I cannot begin to tell you how this changed my life.
I played with it, I remember one afternoon during the summer I typed in a program from creative computing. A space war type game. It took me many hours as I had never really typed before. Hunt and peck. I thought I had saved the program correctly, but when I did a cload it was not there. I called dad and when he came home he typed it in for me in no time. He was the man. I remember too that he built an interface for the computer to the decwriter. I admired his abilities and hoped someday that I could be as smart as he was. Then something occured one night. He brought his friend over who worked at Rockwell (previously North American I believe). He talked about war game simulations. I was intrigued but not sure I understood how he programmed them. He talked about ships, angle of firing, and so forth. He kept telling me math was the key to it all.
I now had a blueprint for myself. Math and computers. I started going to the library and reading up on Math, and I tried hard to learn more about programming. I expanded my reading to science, psychology, and more. Life became more than fun and games. Behind all this learning sat a little computer which was the fuel of my hopes and dreams. It was the canvas I painted on, it challenged me and made me think. You could not just turn it on and have it magically do what you needed. You had to program it, you were the artist. If I wanted it to do something, I had to make it. That old PC made me think, it forced me to tap into myself and learn. And the beauty of it – it gave me results back.
It gave me dreams I never thought about having before. My mind was a swirl of things now, from ufo’s and in-search-of on TV, to the library and it’s wealth of info. The TRS-80 was the glue which bonded it all together for me. While other kids I knew were out doing drugs, playing football, and other such teen things I was reading, playing chess, and programming. I had become the proverbial geek. Knowledge which has seemed so trivial to me at one point in my life now seemed like the most important thing.
Allow me to give but one example. I saw a star trek game for sale, I think it was $19.95. I did not have the money for it at the time, but I did have the screen shots from an add. Over a few days time I wrote my own version of it. I had to dig deep. How did I get the graphics on the screen? How did I make it move and fire? How to keep track of it all for scoring? I found myself working hard to do something. I found myself thinking about something real, something I could touch and see. I had to think and analyze problems and their solutions.
I think back to those days now, and I wonder what other kids were thinking about. Had I not got that computer, at that time in my life, I often wonder what would have become of me. What I learned from it followed me my whole life. Every job I got I found myself applying my skills, not programming per se, but analytic analysis and solutions. When I worked in manufacturing, I excelled at all aspects of it (I was a temp, hired in, made a shift lead), It did not seem to matter what kind of job I held, I did good at it. I am not being arrogant, I am being honest – I was able to leverage all the things I learned into any job I held. This to me goes back to my days of the TRS-80.
Where am I now? I left the computer field (One of my early jobs was wish a company that sold software, I was 19 at the time) for many years. At 28 I started getting back into it. After a divorce and a move to California I found myself as a computer tech for a small company. I was catching up with the times (I worked there when I was 30-31). From there I grew in my current skills, the old days came back to me. That company went under, and several more I worked for. And today, well today I am the site leader of a data center for one of the largest banks in America. People need me, I work all the time, and more than anything else I love what I do. Those dreams I had way back when, well they are coming true. Dreams which were fueled by a little computer that could. The road has been hard, winding, and long. But all along that path one thing kept me going on track, one thing kept me doing my best. My little trs-80. Yes I can credit myself, my dad, and others (they all most certainly were a part of me always).
But at the base of it all was that computer. It took me until I was in my 30’s to realize it. Now that I am older and wiser I look back and see the magic it worked in my life. It was my outlet, it was my guiding force. I forsake that computer as times went on, as the days of the computer changed. I left it behind, but what it gave me has stayed with me my whole life. For that I thank it and my dad.
Now I sit around with my engineers and we talk about those days. Scott adams adventures, games we played and wrote, the early days of computers, bbs’es and gaming consoles, those among my guys who are older shake our heads when the young guys talk about the internet and windows. We were the guys who came before it. Maybe we did not make a difference in the computer world then, but it made one on us. We saw it happen, we felt it happen, and for many of us it started with that little computer, that old slow blocky graphic TRS-80 model one. We were using computers before they were cool and in every house, before the days of point and click, before this thing called internet and email.
For all you have done for me, I thank you my friend. I could write all night about my TRS-80 and it’s effect on my life. Someday I will own a few more of them, and I will try hard to help them earn their place in History. And I thank you Ira as well for all you have done to preserve that great machine, that wonderful dream machine that made me who I am today.
Ted Hackler Jr. [ted.hackler at cocoa.tybrindot com – 02/15/2004]
I remember is was in the early to mid 70’s. I had entered the Air Force and didn’t make that much money. I was a mainframe computer tech and one day I took my wife to the mall to just look around. To my amazement as the mall was just closing, the people in the radio shack store were setting up the display of their first computer in the window. I sat down on a bench and couldn’t beleive they had a personal computer on sale. They finally got it set up and the mall had been closed about 25 minutes. I talked to my wife and she just couldn’t beleive I wanted to buy the computer in the window. I had to work about ten minutes on her to finally get her to say ok. I then ran and knocked on the window of the closed radio shack store. The guys inside told me to come back tomorrow, they were closed.
I then pointed to the small TRS-80 Model I computer in the window and said I wanted to buy it. They laughed and sort of said “SURE YOU DO”. When they realized I was serious, the keys came out and they shuffled me and my wife into the store. It took a couple hours to get everything together and for them to get me the credit to buy the expensive computer. But around 11:00 pm that night, I have my 4k of memory computer home and was loading up my first program, checkers, which loaded from a cassette player. From that point on, I was hooked on radio shack computers for the next couple years. I bought their model III, then their model IV, then finally the model 1000 which was really their version of an IBM clone.
I remember I had to buy the first hard drive they ever sold. It was a huge beast that was very heavy and held an incredible 5 MEG of storage. I was one of those guys that loved to run Bulletin Board systems and when I bought the 5 Meg Hard drive, I had one of the biggest TRS-80 bulletin board sites around. I remember every year I would switch to another BBS program. Remember the wildcat bbs systems, the TBBS systems, the lighthouse systems. There were so many different ones, I loose track of which ones I ran. It wasn’t to the advent of the cheap clone systems that I left radio shack brands for good. But I will always remember my first TRS-80 model one and the many nights both me and my wife spent at the keyboard entering basic code from magazines such as the TRS80 magazine. In those days, the only way to really get good new software was to type it in yourself. I’m now a Network Manager for a large company and still owe many of my talents (like typing at the dos prompt) from my early days with my radio shack computers.
In fact, all my radio shack computers are gone but I could never get rid of the software. In my closet are over 500 5 1/4″ disks full of software that will run on the old Model I/III/IV computers. I remember I bought the entire PCSIG shareware collection which was about 400 disks or so if I remember correctly. There will never be a time like that again with computers where anybody at home could use his imagination and write something so different, that it took the computer world by storm. For those that would like to chat about the old days, drop me an email. hacklert at hotmail.com My old bbs name use to be HACK’S BBS and I ran it out of Texas and Florida quite a long time ago……
Michael Dybus [mtybus at home.nl – 02/15/2004]
The very first computer I ever saw in my life was my brothers Trs-80 model1. I was visiting him in Maine , the first night he had to work so I was left alone with nothing to do. Being a Commercial pilot I was used to radios and electronica so was not too much of a problem to turn this funny looking machine on… What a fun night! I managed to load up Raaka-tu from a tape and got it started with the minimal instructions on the tape. Needless to say I was deeply immersed in the maze when my brother arrived at home in the morning and laughed at me sitting there with my first set of red computer eyes!. Hahahaha fond memories.. I have been searching long and sometimes hard for the first three games I played on that computer. Having long forgotten the names and only vaguely recalling the play one day while searching I accidently typed in the magic combination of words and your website was one of the first.
Donald Wycoff [dwycoff at maine.rrdot com – 12/14/2003]
When I was 14 years old I used to ride my bike home from school and pass by a Radio Shack on Auburn Boulevard in my home town of Citrus Heights. This was in 1979/1980 in my freshman year of high school, and a TRS-80 MODEL I was prominently displayed on a table as you walked into the store. Every time I rode by I would stop and look at the blank screen and sigh: I wanted a computer more than anything else. One day I plucked up the courage to go inside and full well expected the fellow behind the counter to kick me out. After a few moments I asked him how much a TRS-80 would cost. Though I don’t remember the exact price, I recall it was astronomical, an amount I could never come up with myself. I don’t mean to give a sob-story here, but my father had run off on my family a couple years before and we were dirt-poor: Money for a computer for Junior definitely wasn’t in the cards. The fellow behind the counter was a man named Richard. I asked Richard if I could play with the computer, and to my delight he said yes.So I sat down at the computer, figured out how to turn it on, and started reading a book that went with it that listed the first few lines of a BASIC program which I happily typed in, followed it with the RUN command. I cannot put into words the joy I found in getting that first program to run. Heck, I can even remember it:
10 PRINT "PLEASE ENTER THE SUBTOTAL"
20 INPUT A
30 PRINT "THE PRICE INCLUDING TAX IS"
40 PRINT A * 1.05
I don’t know how many hours I sat there, but eventually I had to leave. I asked Richard if I could come back another day. He said, “Sure!”
After school the next day, I was back.
Ditto the next day.
And the next.
And the next…
Before Christmas I had written a little demo program that had a glowing reference to Richard’s name, had the address of the Radio Shack in question, and was a pretty snazzy little demo if I say so myself. Richard would let me come in in the morning before school and load the program up and start it running, and he’d let it run all day until the store closed.Though I never had a computer of my own while in high school, Richard at Radio Shack made up for it: So long as he was present I could play with the TRS-80 to my heart’s content, and I definitely didn’t squander the opportunity.It should not come as much of a surprise that I am a software engineer now, and I have been since the 80’s. For a couple years I was even a professor at a college where I taught Computer Science. My current job has me developing high-performance trading systems on WALLSTREET that mix neural networks with fuzzy logic and wavelet analysis, and I enjoy the work tremendously.Wherever you are, Richard, I want to thank you, for I know I would not be the man I am today if it wasn’t for your indulging me with the TRS-80. Thank goodness Radio Shack had a man like you working for them. Wish I knew how to contact you and tell you this.
Mark Sornson [sornson at leland.stanford.edu – 04/26/2003]
My parents bought a Model I level 2 with 32K expansion interface, two disk drives & printer right when it came out. At the time, we thought it was an incredibly powerful machine! Our parents had a party & my brother & I wrote a program to make a blocky stick figure “walk” across the screen as a text banner showed the names of the people that were at the party. People would watch for several minutes waiting for their name b/c it was such a novelty! People at the party also played Eliza & had a great time.
We also used to type in programs from Byte magazine, some of which were very good for the era.
Johnn Audritsh [jaudritsh at comcast.net – 03/13/2003]
I’ve been involved with computers since 1972 and have a bachelors and masters degree in computer fields. I spent 2 years at Burroughs (remember them?) getting really involved in software development and found I very much enjoyed programming.
I wound up in Ford Motor Company, developing application software, then on to IBM internals, COBOL, JCL and assembler, etc .. and *always* wishing I could have a computer in my home.
I believe it was 1983 when I first laid eyes on a TRS-80, Model I at a school-sponsored computer fair. I had to have one after seeing how cool (and easy) it was to write and run a BASIC program. Within a week, I purchased my Model I/16K/Level 2 machine. I recall it costing around $800-$900.
Within a month, I’d purchased “Space Invaders” and other games — plus the assembler (on tape). Assembly language was fun and pretty easy — once you figured out how to get the tape unit to work. Only problem was saving the source, then object, then reloading to get it to execute. If it locked up or died, you had to reboot the machine. As for that (*&$ tape drive, I kept a bottle of denatured alcohol and q-tips handy as frequent cleaning of the heads seemed to help.
I developed 4 or 5 non-remarkable Basic programs (math drills, road racer) and sold a few copies. Found myself coming home from work, eating a quick dinner, then going on to the computer until the wee hours in the morning. It was just so much fun!
My next purchase was a Lynksys (sp?) modem. The Lynksys people were kind enough to send the names and phone numbers of other Lynksys owners in the area — cool idea. There were not many on-line systems available at the time. I was fortunate to run into 2 people – one guy (Ralph) who was running a BBS, the other (Dale) interested in having his own. Both of these guys were “shooters” as they had disk drives on their systems!
Ralph asked if I could fix a couple of bugs in his system and once I did, he loaned me a disk drive to “try”. I was hooked! No more tapes, much faster loads and no volume controls to mess with.
Ralph then sold a copy of his BBS to Dale and Dale asked me if I could help improve it. I gave Ralph back his drive, then borrowed one or two from Dale. We also made a good friend in Tony, a CE from Burroughs and his hardware knowledge helped us more than once.
The BBS was a combination of machine code (I think it was Radio Shack’s Host48) and Basic. I bought a disassembler and went through the machine code to understand how it worked … and then wrote my own version – squeezing the Basic as tight as I could and making the machine code as efficient as possible. We christened the new system LDBBS.
By this time, I’d bought 2 of my own disk drives (with the Expansion Interface [E/I] and 48k), the Pennington book and every other reference I could lay my hands on. I could not afford the double-sided drives but did get the higher density. Dale showed me how to punch the holes (timing?) with a 3-hole punch so we could use both sides of the disks. I recall a box of floppies (10) cost about $30 and held about 180k each.
I quickly learned about Basic’s “garbage collector” and why it was important to write the code as tightly as possible. I poked and peeked wherever I could, removed comments (that made life interesting), renumbered the code constantly from 1 by 1 (GOTO’s used ASCII charters for numbers) and made USR calls when I could. I found myself keeping two copies of the code, one with comments, the other without (for production). I wrote a utility that would strip the comments out.
I’d also become a member of the Dearborn (MI) TRS-80 User Group where I met Vernon Hester (author of Multidos, Super Basic and many other great products) and David and Theresa Welsh (Lazy Writer). Vernon, David and Theresa were all very nice, down-to-earth people who would answer any question, show interest in everyone’s programs and were remarkable open on what they did and how they did it. Within the UG, I made many other good friends, some who put up their own BBS systems using LDBBS including Randy, Tony, Jacques and Paul.
The E/I had the worlds worst connectors … at least for some time — and most folks found themselves constantly “wiggling” that 3″ cable on either end when their Model I’s fell “asleep”. Someone told me putting WD40 on it would fix things – sure did – went dead as a doornail! Yes, oil will inhibit the flow of electricity. DOH!
I was in grad school at the time and worked with 3 friends to develop an operating system simulation on our TRS80s. It was written in Basic and was quite sophisticated with a handful of I/O devices (simulated), a random job simulator, time-slicing and yes, even a couple of pages of documentation.
Somewhere along the line, I recall people being into lowercase modifications – some of the early hardware could only display uppercase. Was there a chip that upgraded it?
Remember when good friend Randy bailed out another friend (Dave). Seems Dave, quite by accident, put 110v to the Mod I’s expansion port. Randy rebuilt the Mod I chip by chip – amazing guy. Randy also taught me how to straighten out bent legs on RAM chips and why it was important to be grounded when doing so. Randy was also big on the CoCo including it’s machine language. He never quite seemed to learn that I was right and the Z80 was better than CoCo’s Motorola chip (in jest).
With LDBBS, we used Lazy Writer for all our documentation. We eventually had over 60 features and all were fully documented as were the error messages. During this time, I wrote my master’s thesis on Lazy Writer and printed it on an MX-80. We also began making optimized versions of LDBBS to run on Multidos – the fastest DOS in town. And about this time, I graduated to a Model III.
I nicknamed the Model III the “silver bullet” as it was silver and, with a speed up clock and CPU (think it was a 4mhz), ran much faster than the Model I. Even better was the “everything in one box” (except hard drive) and no more E/I and cable. Vernon’s help with the internals of Disk Basic, DOS – plus some work experience with a mainframe system called CICS led to CCP – Communication Control Program.
During one of the TRS80 UG meetings, a local vendor displayed a 10mb hard drive in something about the size of a shoe box. I about fell out of my chair. Recall asking him “would hard drives ever go below $1000”. His reply “never”. Oh, and he’s long out of business too.
Having seen the hard drive, I realize I could not live without one — a 5mb Radio Shack hard drive ($1200?!) in a box about the size of a mini-spare tire. But it was fast, quiet and reliable. The flexibility it offered was as great a leap as it was from tape to floppy. It significantly changed the operation, reliability and capability of the machine from hobby to serious computer.
Vernon Hester was quite an interesting guy – used to tell me how he’d work into the night on his TRS80 and his wife would find him the next morning, asleep, with his head on the keyboard. At one of the UG meetings, a vendor demonstrated his Basic compiler and said it made the code very fast. Vernon challenged him, saying his interpreted Basic was faster! The vendor set up his compiler, compiled a simple FOR/NEXT loop for 10,000 iterations and timed the run — it ran for a few seconds. Vernon typed in the same code using SuperBasic under Multidos – within a VERY short time after hitting the return key, the program ended – probably 1/3 the time of the compiled code. The vendor was astounded … and never came back.
I remember going into my local TRS80 software store (non R/S) and seeing a Model I, keyboard opened, unplugged from everything and sitting in a bucket of water. I asked the owner if this was a joke and he replied “no, someone spilled a Coke on it – the sugar, when warm would short things out, but soaking it in water, then later blowing dry with a hair dryer would fix it”. I did not stick around to find out, but other folks I talked to all agreed that was the way to do it.
CCP, like CICS, provided “services” for the Basic programs. Using one of the unused verbs (I think it was STR), we replaced the dead-end jump for STR to point to CCP. The numeric argument within the parenthesis would be used to JMP to a routine in CCP and other arguments [such as STR(3,”Test”)] could be passed for the service.
Some of the services I recall are upper to lower case conversion, hang up the line, log printer output to disk, send/receive binary files, send/receive ASCII files and store/lookup data.
Another aside – a young fellow came to our UG meeting and showed us some machine code he developed – could flip the screen around, do all kinds of things. Afterwards, we gathered around, asking him about programming and techniques (it was that good). Someone asked him if he had any techniques for Basic programs … he responded “I don’t write Basic programs – that language is just to difficult”!
CCP had other features including an overlay ability (a new routine could be read from disk and overlay one in memory) and saved memory by running all the initialization routines within a buffer area that was later used for file transfers.
My BBS friends chipped in and bought me a music card that connected to the expansion interface, complete with a music editor and some canned songs. I recall spending hours developing music and playing it on that simple 4-voice card.
I knew the Model III was getting tired when I noticed the paint was wearing off around the keyboard, disk drives, etc. CCP now detected when the printer was offline and automatically routed printer traffic to disk. New services included creating special indexed files, maintaining them and searching (such as valid registered BBS users and their passwords). CCP also could drop the phone line after a specific idle time (no characters coming in/out) and had word-wrap ability for chat (thanks to input from David Welsh).
I now graduated to a Model IV … and the fun stopped. I never liked the Model IV, even with the improved screen, 128K ability. Too many changes from the Mod I/III resulted in a machine that no one seemed to want to program for or use. I didn’t keep the Mod IV for very long, instead buying a Sanyo, MSDOS machine that had no hard drive. That lasted less than 4 months.
By this time, the competition for BBSes was much greater. Many were offered as 100% machine code and could run rings around LDBBS. And the TRS80 market was drying up. I’d purchased a Tandy 1000 by this time (kept it 6 months) and had moved on to MSDOS. I don’t recall what happened to all my documents, floppies, books or listings – but I’ll never forget how much pure joy the TRS80 (and the people around it) added to my life.
Randy Marsh [Randy.H.Marsh at kp.org – 02/13/2003]
This is for all the TRS-80 devotees. I graduated from college in 1978 with an Economics degree where I had one required class in Fortran. A 30 line program on key punch cards was no trivial matter, so computers weren’t on my resume’. I landed a job as an insurance adjuster in Dallas, Texas and soon realized peoples problems were not for me. It wasn’t too long before I plopped $1,000 down on a TRS-80 16K Level II with cassette drive. I was hooked! Well, the Iranian hostage thing came along, so being an Air Force brat and tired of claims adjusting, I went in the Navy.
Four months later after graduating from OCS, I was an Ensign on my way to the Navy Supply Corps School in Athens, GA. Six months later, and the very same day (January 20, 1981) that the hostages were released I reported to the USS Talbot (FFG-4) as the Assistant Supply Corps Officer for Disbursing and Sales. In short, I paid the crew in cash and then I took their money back selling them cigarettes, candy, and t-shirts. I had a lot of fun on that ship: withdrawing cash from the Federal Reserve Bank on my signature (way cool), deploying to the Mediterranean Sea and then sailing North of Norway a few weeks later where I became a “Blue Nose” for crossing the Arctic Circle on a Navy ship.
The next Summer, 1982, Talbot went into overhaul at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard which gave me time to finish the TRS-80 program that I was entertaining myself with on duty days. Duty days are the ones where a chunk of the crew stays on board to watch over the ship in the middle of the night. It was either program the TRS-80 or watch TV with poor reception. I chose programming and ended up writing a BASIC program to calculate my Ship’s Store profits. This allowed me to perform what-if scenarios near the end of the quarter so I could maximize profits to Talbot’s Welfare and Rec fund. If my profits were too high then $$ would go the general Navy Welfare and Rec fund. Plus, my inventory would be in a bad position for the next quarter. All in all the program made my life a lot easier. Of course today I would be able to do the whole thing in Excel in a day, but heh, the way of the Pioneer is not! the autobahn.
My TRS-80 had been safely stored at Mom and Dad’s house until I dragged it out about 18 months ago. I managed to get it working, the cassette drive needed some minor cleaning, but sure enough my true love was awakened from hibernation. Encouraged by my success I contacted the U.S. Navy Supply Corps museum in Athens, Georgia whose curator, Dan, was interested. I’m convinced and no one else has stepped forward, that I wrote the very first personal computer software to manage a Ship’s Store Afloat operation. December 31, 2002, Dan accepted my donation of the Ship’s Store Software and the TRS-80 on behalf of the museum.
Over Christmas vacation at my parents I had many fond memories of loading the software, starting my data load, making a pot of coffee and returning with a fresh cup of java just in time to see the data load finish. I had some trouble loading the data tape, so I managed to modify the program to back up the data to a new tape following an interrupted data load. To further archive the software and data for the museum, I hooked the analog cassette cables to my new Pentium III laptop’s audio jacks and saved everything to a .wav file. I was then able to load the software and data to the TRS-80 directly from the CD. I managed to pack everything nice and neat, write a User’s Guide, and send the whole piece of history to the museum. It’s not yet on display, but some day I fully expect to have my picture taken next to my very first computer in the U.S. Navy Supply Corps Museum.
Epilog: My first professional computer job came in 1985 from the Talbot’s 2nd Engineer (Main Propulsion Assistant for the knowledgeable) who left the Navy about the same time I did in 1983 and hired me into a startup in San Antonio, Texas. The startup developed software ported from DataPoint’s DataBus to Novell 1.0 using the PC-Bus programming lanquage. We accessed the server from MS-DOS remote boot PC-XT/AT diskless workstations. So, my entire computer career has it’s roots in my TRS-80 and the U.S. Navy.
I would like to thank everyone on this site for their contributions. The documentation CD sent to the museum has both the User’s Manual for Level 1 (I can’t track down the reference – my apologies), and David Keil’s Level II Manual. It also includes Matthew Reed’s and David Keil’s emulators. Thank-you everyone for this wonderful knowledge store that made this such an enjoyable donation for me. The below is a picture of USS Talbot (FFG-4) to which I can certify that the TRS-80 did in fact go to sea in the Summer of 1982.
USS TalbotUSS Talbot (FFG-4).
Ken Johnston [kenmarie at sk.sympatico.ca – 08/05/2002]
I computerized my tractor salvage yard in the winter of 1981-82 with a used Model 1, 10 meg HD, and two (yes, two!) floppy drives. Boy, we were the cock of the walk around our little town! 10 meg of hard drive space – wow! It was hard to comprehend at the time. I remember looking in a Radio Shack catalogue and wondering what the hell all this garble was about. Actually, a young high school kid that was working for me convinced me that I could put a computer to good use in my business. We hand bombed our card system into the old Model 1, using Scripsit. Our cards, when measured, were fifteen feet deep!!! We typed in about 12,000 entries, then converted to SuperScripsit on a Model 3. Of course, then we used a utility program to convert to a database program on a Tandy MSDOS of some kind. When we did a printout of our inventory, we had to take the cover off the poor old DMP500 so it didn’t overheat. It was about 350 pages!! We are talking about a three man business here, not GM of Ford. I have fond memories of that old Model 1. It is now in our local museum in Grenfell, Saskatchewan, Canada.
John Dahlman [jrdahlman at netscape.net – 04/27/2002]
In 1982 my parents got me a TRS-80 Model III before I got into high school. (A friend had a complete Model I setup, including speech synthesizer AND the rare voice-input digitizer, so I was biased to Radio Shack computers.) I used that thing all the way to 1990, when Radio Shack BROKE it on the way to a repair center. But there’s one thing I used it for that may be unique: to control a film camera for stop-motion animation.
I was also getting interested in film, and played with my parents’ old 1960’s Super-8 camera. Simple metal box with a plastic lens, no sound. I wished I could take single frames for animation, but it wasn’t built for it. It kind of worked if I banged on the trigger REALLY FAST, but I wished for a more automatic, “computer controlled” system.
I knew some electronics, but not enough to connect anything homemade to the printer port, much less the expansion port! Mostly I just read about the neat things hobbyists had built. But I did feel safe about the cassette port–especially the neat way the motor plug could turn things on or off. I’ll try it!
The circuit wouldn’t win any awards: basically I put a slip of paper between the batteries in the camera to block power, then literally stuck wires on either side of the paper to go to the motor plug on the cassette port. (I tried wrapping the wires around the tiny plug, but finally bought a bare plug adapter from good old Radio Shack.) Lock down the camera trigger, and ready to go. I could turn on and off the camera just by Sending the OUT command from BASIC to turn on the cassette port! With a FOR-NEXT delay loop between the commands and trial-and-error, I found the delay setting that popped the shutter just fast enough for a single frame. Camera on tripod, wires running to computer: instant homemade “professional” animation setup!
Being a hobbyist, naturally I never spent much time actually USING this setup–inventing it was the fun part. But I did shoot one bit of film where a Transformer toy “transformed,” and a time-lapse out the window with the afternoon turning to night. (At that one I discovered my timing wasn’t QUITE right: on the last frame the program left the shutter open. At least it made the last frame a nice long-exposure night scene.)
(While we’re on the subject of TRS-80’s and movies, I remember reading an article saying that a TRS-80-type computer actually DID help animate a “real” movie! It was in an issue of “American Cinematographer” in the mid-80’s. The polygons for the 3-D cartoon “Star Chaser, The Legend of Orin” were computed by a LNW-80! The article doesn’t explain that the LNW is a home computer, only that it’s “the equivalent of the Cray’s little finger.” Compared to the Cray that did “The Last Starfighter,” it could only do “a limited number of polygons” and the actual animation was done the old-fashioned way overseas.)
Eric Carpenter [ericmelissasydney at hotmaildot com – 04/27/2002]
I can’t believe the outpouring of emotion I have just witnessed on the stories page! There is nobody…….N O B O D Y like TRS-80 users. We were in a class all by ourselves.
I got a CoCo2 on Christmas 1982 (I would’ve been 10 years old) and was hooked IMMEDIATELY. Oh, I’d fight with the Commodore and Atari users, but I had a few friends I managed to bring over to my side. I didn’t get rid of the computer until about 1993, because I had lost all of my ROM’s and cassettes long before that, but everything else worked! A friend of mine even lent me the Speech ROM just before I got rid of the computer (he still has his, by the way…working condition despite the unit drinking a few beers accidentally) and I still got a kick out of it.
My only problem now is that I have an iMac with OSX and I can’t run any CoCo2 emulators. Phooey, huh? I’m sure there’s a solution….(little help?) Anyway…I sat down tonight with the intent of finding some old games, and I have, I just can’t RUN them.
I just remembered….I had a bootleg cassette from a friend of mine that must have been made of ROM games…you had to type CLOADM to load them from the tape, as opposed to a CLOAD. I remember WhirlyBird Run (“wbrun” on the tape), Trapfall (an exact copy of PITFALL but with different colours), BlocHead (a cooler version of QBERT that used a wider pyramid), etc. MAN!!! What memories.
Anyway, keep up the site.
Larry Fosdick [lfosdick at liscodot com – 10/22/2001]
I started using the TRS-80 Model I in early 1980. I bought it in Washington, D.C. and hand-carried it to Saudi Arabia, where I was working at the time as a chemist. Later that year a local Radio Shack store opened in Riyadh. The computers were popular there, but all the business software was written for the U.S. I moonlighted writing business software for the Saudi environment for almost two years. It was a lot of fun. I ended up with two Model I’s, a Model 3, a Model II, a Model 4P, a pocket computer (the first version), Tandy 1000, and a Model 100. All but the 4P, 1000, and pocket computer are gone. The old 4P came out of storage when I found your site, and it still runs. I was even more amazed that a program I published for the Model 4 is on your site (Reference Library, 1985). I still have the issue of 80-Micro that published the article, but have to thank you for the ability to get the code again and see it actually work.
I’m trying to interest my children in the early history of microcomputers, and sites like yours really help.
Ardeen Hague [ardeen at kcuhcdot com – 10/22/2001]
My first computer was a TRS-80 Model III (cassette). I purchased it for $1,300 after playing with my neighbor’s mom’s (now my mother-in-law) TRS-80 Model I. My friend (now wife) used to type in lengthy basic programs (usually adventure games). At the time my mother-in-law to be couldn’t save programs to disk because they would be corrupted — it was only later that we discovered you had to disable the real-time clock before saving files. We’d type for a couple of hours then play for a little bit, then sadly turn off the computer. Once, after typing in almost the entire program, one of us accidentally hit the “clear” button — we thought that cleared the memory, so we sadly shut off the computer not realizing that we only cleared the screen.
My first real job was a s a data entry person on a mainframe. After about nine months I was miserable and a co-worker found a job listed in the paper for someone looking for a person with TRS-80 experience. I applied and during the interview I looked at their computer and found an improperly closed file, fixed it and had the job on the spot. Ironically they traded the TRS-80 for a Tandy 1200 (the only 100% IBM compatible Tandy ever made). That got me into the IBM world. I love TRS-80’s and now my kids are starting to love them too — they’re always thrilled when I let them play a game on the TRS-80 Model III — that’s better than any CD-ROM I let them play on their computer…what more could a dad ask for?
Mary Thacker [jaymaryt at mn.mediaone.net – 8/21/2001]
I was born in 1985, on the tail end of the Age of Micros. I got a couple glimpses of the Old Micros as a kid, just enough to get me hooked. When I was 12 my brother and I got a Commodore 64; it gave us the experience of using a real computer. After a while, we progressed to an Apple //e (big pile of junk, no manuals, didn’t know how to save to disk, etc.), and then to an Amiga 500.
Meanwhile, our family in general had received a Pentium ][, for Quicken and games, etc. But I couldn’t forget my Amiga. I used it quite a bit before I realized that it wasn’t what I was looking for. It was too powerful.
I happened to be in Goodwill on the right day, and *gasp* there was a TRS-80 Color there! It took a little while convincing my dad, because he didn’t think my mom would like ANOTHER computer(I didn’t mention that an uncle had given me and my brother a Pentium for using), but I finally convinced him after informing him that a friend was going to buy my Amiga. At the time of this writing, I’m almost 16(so it’s been almost 4 years since the Commodore 64), my TRS-80 Color is in perfect working order, and I am waiting to buy a CCR-80 recorder for my TRS-80. I don’t plan to get rid of my TRS-80 till it breaks.
Gary Bateman [garybateman2000 at netscapeonline.co.uk – 1/31/2001]
My Dad brought me a TRS-80 Model 2 From Work in 1980. I remember when I first switched it on I said something like “Does it print” of course at the time I was only 9 years old. Anyway, a few month’s later I was looking through the referance manual. I found a command called TYPE, and so I used it. The computer was still sat on the living room table, my dad said in a panicking voice “what are you doing” I said, “It is listing a file on the screen. Don’t worry It’ll be all right”.
Eventually my dad did get a printer and to this day I have no idea were he got it from. It was a Microline. I can remember the first time I used it. I was amazed thinking “Wow! I made it do that”.
The computer also had it’s own set of woe’s. The screen was burned in with Hi-lighted images from Profile 2 Plus data base, the 8 inch disk drive permanently made a groaning sound whenever you used it, and if you were fortunate the letter A would actually work. Another woe it had, if you ran SELECT/EFC you were almost guaranteed a crash and have to flick reset switch because SELECT/EFC would not work (sometimes) so it was a case of cross fingers and hope for the best.
One time I will never forget, I was using the computer which by this time had moved from the dining room table, into the pantry, and finally off into my bedroom. I loaded SELECT/EFC and the screen flickered, I herd a bang and saw sparks. But it still kept working. Later my dad came home and I told him what had happened so we took it for repair and he replaced 7 microprocessors. I still do not understand how a computer can still keep working with 7 faulty Micro chips. He also fixed the floppy drive, but been a TRS-80 model 2 of course. It still carried on groaning a month later.
One day I decided it would be a good idea if I cleaned the inside of the computer. I went down stairs and took the vacume cleaner and removed the top off the computer, put the vacume on blow and blew all the dust out of it. My bedroom was about the size of a living room and it looked foggy for a whole day it took about 6 weeks for the dust to go. I told my mum that I was vacuming my room, but when she found out what I had done, she was not in the best of moods for the rest of the day.
Somebody came round to try and fix the keyboard to no avail. But he showed me how to program in Basic, which I managed in the end. I wrote an operating system called Direct Filling System, I still have a version of it to this day on PC DOS Basic, plus a compiled version.
The computer finally met its end when we moved house. Every time I switched it on the screen said 32k RAM instead of 64 so it would not run a thing.
But before my TRS-80 died in 1987 and went to computer heaven. In 1985 my dad bought an Oric 1 computer. But I still used my TRS-80. I think Dad wanted me to be a little bit more up to date. The only thing the Oric did for me was “COLOUR” and the fact you could play games. I had no games on the TRS-80 but I still spent more time on it than the Oric.
But when the Oric died and went to computer heaven, my Mum bought for 75 pounds a second hand MSX computer in 1988. I have to say it was the best home computer I had at that time. But not nearly as interesting as the TRS-80. This computer had very little software that actually worked because the cassette tapes were so well used before I purchased it. But all in all it was a very good computer although this computer started giving death throws, (it stopped loading software from tape) it was actually killed off in 1993. So in late 1993 I waved the white flags and surrendered to the IBM PC with windows version 3.00. I bought it second hand. I have been yearning for my TRS-80 ever since. But it is like a lot of things you have to move forward.
I think computers today are not as interesting and exiting as they once were. Due to change in markets and technology as a whole. But I do think that this will change as time moves on.
Though I think we will have to wait for Microsoft to become less dominant, a change in attitude, and an acceptance of new innovation. But I think that could be an awful long way down the road.
I can say that in 2001 my mates are interested and people at work also have an interest in what I did all that time ago. Somebody calls it “The dark ages of computing”. But he does seem to show a keen interest in what life on a computer used to be like. So on goes the TRS-80 emulator.
I cannot help but think that today’s generation is really missing out on computer education by not learning second or third generation language. You cannot learn how a computer works by using windows or any other graphic overlay. These programs are just a blanket over the computer system.
I really do miss that great big silver gray thing I had as a child from 9 to 16. In those days computers had a personality all of there own. OK I mean what fun can you have with a PC and Windows 98 they may be better systems and computers. But you cannot have the fun you had in those days. It was fun going to somebody’s house and using their system and what they had. You made friends with people who knew more than you did. You got a kick out of sorting memory configuration for programs that required just that bit more fine-tuning.
In those days computers were friends, lovers, antagonists, and teachers. You cannot take computers apart today like you could then. In those days you had to do that to survive (Where the hell would you take it). You would take it to someone’s house and you learned from them, and them form you. That’s how it worked. You truly can be a user in today’s computing environment. They spoil you with seemingly infinite disk space, sound, colour, high-powered microprocessors, and endless amounts of memory and software that can just about do anything you could ever wish for.
The marvel of the TRS-80 was people could write programs that did what THEY wanted, that worked how THEY wanted it to work. People would do wonderful things with such a limited amount of memory. You could fit an entire magazine written in a word processor on half a Meg. Today you are fortunate if you can get 2 pages on a 1.44-Mb floppy disk. If you wanted a program you could not buy, you wrote one and passed it to your mate, then he would pass it to his mate, and so on. That’s how it worked. Those people were real programmers.
Computers today seem to have lost the magic and character that the old machines had. There is no spark in them anymore. The old ones had style and there were so many different kinds. You went to a computer shop and you saw Amtrad’s, Apple Macintosh, Sinclair, Dragon, Commodore, and of course the TRS-80’s. Now you go to a computer shop and you get IBM-PC running windows whatever and Apple’s iMAC systems.
The closest analog equipment I think exists today is device’s like, the electronic notebooks. You cannot write large applications on these, you have to be tight and efficient.
Ah yes, just like the old days.
When my computer dies because windows has all these bugs in it. I just long for the days when computers used to be proper computers. How I miss those days when the only thing on the screen was:
I am writing this letter on a computer that can take you all over the world at just a press of a button. I get the same feeling opening this box of tricks as I do when I take the top of my horrible new outboard engine on my boat and wonder why they ever put electronic parts in to drive it.
Anyway, enough of my moaning. I thought I would say my point, I do hope it came across. I do not want you to get the wrong idea; I am not an old fashioned fuddy duddy. I just would like to see some character and excitement back in the industry that I love, and have spent most of my life growing up with. A few good software companies like logical systems Inc would be a good thing. Also may be another one or two new computer manufacturing company’s might be a good idea.
I liked the TRS-80 because it was different to the mainstream of computing at that time. It had that little spark and character, like I say systems lack today. Mind you, it is not surprising if there are only 2 main competitors of computer manufacturing i.e. IBM and Apple.
I thank Ira Goldklang for making this website possible and all the people who have contributed to it. Special thanks to Roy Soltoff for letting everybody use his software that Logical Systems produced. Since no longer in existence.
This website is so important to the history of the TRS-80 computer and to the history of computing as a whole and I hope it will last for many years to come. The TRS-80 deserves a good website I am so glad you did it.
Mel Hatfield [mhatfield at iquest.net – 9/3/2000]
I happened by your web site for TRS-80’s. Oh, the memories. We purchased a Model I for Christmas, 1980 at the wishes of my son, Bill Hatfield (aged 13). It clicked! He was in his realm. Bill went on to other computers later…but never forgot all the basics learned on that old computer (he still has it in storage). Bill is now a consultant and Corporate Trainer in web based technologies, as well as best selling author of several computer books, including the first book on Powerbuilder and two “Dummies” books (Active Server Pages and Visual Interdev). His web site is at www.edgequest.com. Anyhow, I just wanted you to know how pleased I was to happen on your site!
Kieron Murphy [kieron at reiwa.com.au – 10/27/1999]
I got a bit nostalgic the other day and started looking back to my beginnings in computers, I still remember exactly what happend the day I purchased one – a TRS-80 Model 1, 4K and Level 1 basic.
It was a few days before Christmas 1979, I had just finished school for ever (finally !!!) and wanted to buy a TV for my bedroom, next door to the TV store was a Tandy shop, I had been in a few times and saw these magical computer things but never touched them, I looked inside again and saw kids huddled around a computer, checked it out and incredibly, I saw them playing Space Invaders, as I was hooked on this game at the time, I had to have a computer, I ended up taking out an expensive loan for $699 Australian dollars and went home with my TRS-80, I didn’t sleep for nights on end, I scoured the manuals and wrote my first program fairly quickly, I can’t remember the exact syntax now, but it was rather advanced 😉 –
10 INPUT "WHAT IS YOUR NAME", A$
20 PRINT "HI "A$
(Note going to 20 for the line number so as to leave room for more code!!)
I ran it and was blown away – it worked !!! I was hooked for life.
I started buying magazines, I think I had the 2nd issue of a magazine called Australian Personal Computer which I seem to remember dubbed itself the TRS-80 magazine (Aussie readers will know the mag as it still exists today as a PC mag) and another Aussie mag called Your Computer, these had some great techo stuff in them like magic Peek and Poke codes, I needed L 2 basic immediately, back to Tandy and I seem to remember AU$200 later I had it, incredibly, it was reporting 16K of memory too, I though they had made a mistake in my favour!!! I purchased a basic games book from Tandy that had Star Trek in it and began feverishly typing it in only for the thing to die every time a reached a certain point, damm, what was wrong? eventually I take it back to Tandy and the problem is solved, normally when they did a L2 upgrade customers also went to 16K of RAM, the techo’s had accidently broke the shunts as routine and this gave me the erroneous 16K message ;-( I needed something like another AU$160 or so for 16K.
Luck came my way though, I saw a little ad in Your Computer mag advertising a 16K upgrade for AU$30 from a company called DeForest Software, I went to there store which turned out to be a little section of a dingy newsagent, the RAM was in one of those anti static tubes hanging in a plastic bag with hastily typed (and incorrect) instructions, all I had to do was go to Dick Smith Electronics (oh no, the enemy producer of the System 80) and buy 2 shunts. Got home opened her up threw the chips in, broke the shunts according to the instructions but still only 4K !!!!, I call DeForest software only to be told, sorry mate, we just sell the stuff can’t help. I finally and sheepishly wen’t back to my ever faithful Tandy man who worked it out in a flash, the shunt instructions where wrong, he soldered the incorrect bits so I didn’t have to buy new shunts and sent me on my way with a loan copy of Space Invaders and of all things EditAsm, AU$60 worth of software all up, a week later I went back to return it but he was gone!!! so now I had 2 languages, basic and a Z80 assembler.
Gee, I didn’t plan on writing this much, its just all coming back to me!!! i’d better cut it short here, that Christmas break got me thinking of being a Computer Programmer – I was an aimless youth before my TRS-80 but now I had something, I found a course, completed it and am now a Computer Manager, I owe my current rather comfortable life all to that Model 1 TRS-80. Sadly, I sold it around 1981 and purchased the ill fated Hitachi Peach, which was given computer of the year by the above mentioned APC magazine.
Oh yes – Space Invaders, did that to death, then discovered Scott Adams adventures and more sleepless nights, I had Pyramid 2000 which was a Tandy marketed version of the original Adventureland, Haunted House and Ghost Town, The latter 2 where AU$20 and came in a plastic bag with a photocopied sheet and of course the tape, I eventually had to buy a Hints Sheet, which cost $AU10 for a photocopied piece of paper, but it was worth it at the time!!! I then discovered Asylum 2000 – a graphical adventure and I seem to remember it understanding more than 2 words – put the round peg into the square hole rings a bell, remember the RoadRunner on the dragstrip in the maze ????
I had some of the Big Five software too, I remember Robot Attack which from memory was a copy of the Arcade Game Bezerk, not my fave B/F game but it had speech, all I remember of that game is a lot of Game Over Player 1 in 2 different digitised voices!! I also had a Scramble like game who’s name escapes me, but it had brilliant game play at the time.
Oh yeah, Sub Logic’s Flight Simulator came along too, which was of course the forerunner to todays Microsoft Flight Simulator, another photocopied manual, I remember it having a diagram of the programs structure inside too!!!
Anyway, enough from me, thanks for having such a complete site on the computers that surely must have launched many a career, as you can tell from the above, it has brought back many fond memories!!
Pat Barron [macgyver at MailAndNewsdot com]
I’ve really enjoyed reading all of the stories on the stories page, so I thought I would send in mine….
When the TRS-80 hit the scene in 1977, I was in junior high school. I had already had some access to computers and BASIC programming – our school had three ASR-33 Teletypes, that we could use to dial up to an HP minicomputer at the School District headquarters, at a blazing 110 baud, with most programs saved and loaded to/from paper tape…. I had gotten seriously into programming on the HP’s. Spent many hours each week sitting in front of those ASR-33’s, dialed up – skipped lunch hours, stayed after school, came in early before school started – I was clearly hooked. But the TRS-80, and other microcomputers, seemed a quantum leap to me; you could have your own machine, and you could do graphics and all instead of this “hardcopy-only” output thing. On weekends, I would often go to the mall, and spend time playing with the TRS-80 in Radio Shack, until the salespeople would kick me out … 🙂
Of course, the TRS-80 wasn’t the only microcomputer in my life. 🙂 The local Heathkit store had the H-8, which seemed pretty cool (and sometime later – don’t remember when – the H-11A came along, which was a Heathkit repackaging of the DEC LSI-11/2). But the H-8 was fairly expensive, especially considering all the extra stuff you needed to buy in order to make it useful, and you had to assemble it yourself, which I didn’t want to do if I could avoid it. The one I really wanted, though, was this thing I’d seen in some of the computer magazines called an Ohio Scientific Challenger C1P. It was less expensive than the others, you could hook it up to an ordinary TV for display, and *gasp* it could do COLOR! That was what I wanted.
I spent months and months of begging, whining, pouting, and generally being annoying, in an attempt to get my parents to buy me a C1P as a junior high school graduation present. They didn’t want to do it, because they were convinced that I’d play with it for a few days, and then put it aside and never use it again. But I managed to be miserable enough that they finally agreed to get me a computer of my own, but there was one catch – they would not get me the C1P, because we could only get it by mail order; they wanted to get something from a store, so they had a place they could easily return it to if it arrived DOA, or bring it in for repairs if that were ever necessary.
So, they asked if I would be happy with a TRS-80 instead. I somewhat reluctantly agreed – I *really* wanted the color graphics of the C1P, but I realized I probably wouldn’t get anything at all if I held out for the Challenger. So shortly after the last day of my last year of junior high school, we went to Radio Shack and bought a TRS-80. Neither my parents nor I could have anticipated the kind of impact that black and silver/gray box would have on the rest of my life …
I tore the boxes open when we got home, and put it together; the desk in my bedroom was already cleared off, and the computer was set up on the desk, where it stayed for many years. It was a very baseline configuration – Level II BASIC, 4K RAM, no Expansion Interface, no printer, no modem, only the cassette tape for program storage. Except for the RAM, it would remain in that configuration for as long as I had it. As for software, I got the Casino Games Pack with it, as well as Invasion Force. For the next year, saved up my lunch money, and bought just about everything Radio Shack offered that would run in 4K – various adventure games, Microchess, Eliza, and others – and, of course, T-Bug. Just about every day after school, I would come home, turn on the TRS-80, load something from cassette (maybe a commercial program, maybe one of my own), and hack around with it until dinner time – and then come back and continue hacking after dinner, until either I went to bed, or until something came on TV that I wanted to watch (which was rare….). Many times I’d even skip dinner – I had been a chubby teenager, but I started to lose weight pretty quick after I got the computer. 🙂
After a while, I started to take a real interest in Z80 machine language programming – I already knew something about 8080 machine language before I had even gotten the TRS-80, and I too had Barden’s Z80 book, and the small Mostek Z80 instruction set reference (which came with T-Bug, I think?). All of my early attempts were hand-assembled with paper and pencil, and poked in manually with T-Bug. Eventually, I learned the art of writing position independent code, and would have my hand-assembled programs in DATA statements in a BASIC program, allocate up a string constant, and loop over the opcodes in the DATA statements, POKEing them one by one into the space that was allocated for the sting constant (where I could get to them by just taking the VARPTR address of the string and POKEing it into the USR() function vector – a trick I learned from somewhere, I forget where … much easier than having to reserve high memory at the MEMORY SIZE? prompt). But that all got pretty old after a while – hand assembling code was fun for a bit, but eventually I wanted the Editor/Assembler – and that meant upgrading to 16K RAM.
I didn’t think I could *ever* save enough money for the Radio Shack 16K upgrade (funny how you view money when you’re 15 years old….), and my parents certainly weren’t going to get it for me, so I decided to do it myself – bought an aftermarket 16K upgrade kit from the back of a magazine. It took quite a while to save up for the kit – as I recall, it was about $100.00, and came with eight 16Kx1 DRAMs and replacement DIP shunts. It arrived by parcel post about 3 weeks after I sent away for it, and when I received it, I couldn’t wait to get it installed. I took the TRS-80 system unit into the bathroom, tied one end of a copper wire around my wrist for grounding, tied the other end to a cold water pipe, and then opened the machine up. I remember that I ripped out the old 4Kx1 DRAMs and the old DIP shunts, broke the right tabs out of the new shunts, installed them, and then started to put in the new DRAMs. Everything was going great until I got to the last of the memory chips; one of the legs wouldn’t go into the DIP socket correctly, so I tried to force it – snapped most of the leg right off the chip. My heart sank – destroying that chip would almost certainly mean having to save up more money, buying a replacement (and they were something like $12.00 or so each – it would take a couple of weeks to come up with that money), and either having the computer non-functional in the meantime, or going back to the 4K configuration. However, after some thought, I opted for a different strategy – I found a spool of heavy-gauge, lacquer-insulated copper magnet wire, took the lacquer off the ends of a small piece of it, then wrapped one end tightly around the “stump” of the broken-off DIP leg, and shoved the other end into the DIP socket. Then I closed up the machine, and hoped for the best. And you know what? It worked! The machine came right up, and it knew it had 16K! “Now,” I thought, “I have a really powerful machine!”. 😉
We went out to the mall the next weekend, and stopped into Radio Shack, where I convinced Mom to get the Editor/Assember package for me (even though she had no idea what it even was for….). I also got a better debug monitor than T-Bug – I forget what it was called, but I got it out of the TSE catalog; the big feature it had, that I wanted, was that it did disassembly, which T-Bug did not. But as soon as I finally had all of these development tools available to me, a particularly difficult school year began, and my TRS-80 hacking time got dramatically reduced. I did pick up some of the “… and Other Mysteries” series of books during that year, and spent a bit of time reading them. I was particularly intrigued by the “TRS-80 BASIC Decoded and Other Mysteries” book (I think that was what it was called), and spent a reasonable amount of time going through the ROM with the disassembler and the book; this book got a few ideas cooking in my head about hacks I could do to BASIC, but I never seemed to have time to really do much about them.
One of the things that was difficult about this particular school year, was that during this year that I started to discover girls in a really big way. 🙂 There was one particular Pretty Young Thing that I had my eye on, and I spent a lot of my spare time that year trying to get a date with her. In fact, she repeatedly told me that she wanted to, but she could apparently never work out the timing – on any given day, it seemed that we couldn’t get together after school because she had her after-school job, and homework and chores to do, and she always had previous plans for the weekend, so she’d suggest that we could defer until the following weekend. So I kept waiting for the next weekend, the one after that, the one after that, etc., etc., etc. You’ve probably guessed by now, she never intended to go out with me at all, and on the last day of our junior year, we had a confrontation about it; she told me that she wasn’t interested in going out with me, and never really had been, and that she basically thought that it was pretty funny that I put so much effort into trying to get a date with her, when I should have picked up the hint that it was never going to happen. I was crushed; I went home, went straight to my room, and pretty much didn’t come out except for meals for the next three days. Didn’t talk to anybody; pretty much didn’t even get out of bed. But after about the third day of that, I couldn’t do that anymore either, and decided to put some of my newly found teenage angst to productive use, before I got over it … 😉 I fired up the computer, and started on a hacking binge that lasted most of the summer.
Over that summer (between junior year and senior year of high school), I set out to create my Magnum Opus – a set of extensions to BASIC that implemented all of the stuff that Disk BASIC had, except for things that were disk-related; things like long error messages (“SYNTAX ERROR” instead of “?SN ERROR”…), string editing (MID$ on the left of the equation), binary/string number conversions (CVI/CVF/CVD/CVI$/CVF$/CVD$), multiple USR() functions – pretty much all of the non-disk features from Disk BASIC. Plus some other stuff – changing the cursor (block cursor, blinking cursor, no cursor at all), disabling/enabling the BREAK key from BASIC – little convenience things that I thought were neat. I worked on this project as if my life depended on it. I’d get up in the morning (well, more likely, in the afternoon…), got some food, and then started hacking on it immediately. Hack all day until dinner time, eat (sometimes….), then back to work until bed time. When I would go to bed, I’d turn off my monitor, but leave the system unit on, so I didn’t have to reload my code from tape the next day. Mom got upset that I was leaving the machine on overnight, so I learned to put a piece of black electrical tape over the power LED before bed – she was none the wiser…. 😉 I used the “TRS-80 BASIC Decoded…” book to find things like vectors to the tables where the error messages were stored (my code replaced those vectors), tables with vectors to the BASIC intrinsic functions (I replaced all of the vectors that would have normally just jumped to a “?L3 ERROR”…), routines to do string operations and math, and all kinds of stuff.
As I worked on this, the code got big – way bigger than I was prepared for. I got very paranoid about losing my work – every time I saved a new copy of the source, I saved two copies on each of two different tapes, and I had rotating sets of tapes – one save never wrote over the immediately previous save, so that in case a save failed, I never wrote a bad save over the previous good save. (You’re probably thinking, “that’s just common-sense system admin practice”, but I didn’t know that at the time – I just knew that TRS-80 tape saves failed to load a non-trivial percentage of the time, and I didn’t want to lose all my work….)
Because of the way the tape-based Editor/Assembler worked, your assembly source code, and the assembled object code, had to be able to fit into memory together (since all of the source code was permanently memory-resident, and the object code was assembled into memory, from which you would write it out on to a tape). Eventually, this was no longer possible – the source code had gotten too big. Initially, I started stripping out comments in order to make room, but that only worked for a while. In the end, I had to break the source code into two separate pieces, assemble them separately and write their object code to separate tapes, and then bring the two pieces of object code into memory under a debug monitor, which I would then use to write a new tape that had the entire object code in one file.
The software was finished by the time school started again in the Fall. I will say, I was really proud of it – the resident piece only used about 2K of RAM (and it allocated and protected its own memory, just like Disk BASIC – no need to reserve space for it at the MEMORY SIZE? prompt), and it added all of this functionality to BASIC. And it worked – as far as I could tell, there weren’t any signifigant bugs left in it when I finally set it aside – and I tested the heck out of it. I never used any of that functionality in any “real” programs, of course – I was more interested in the challenge of implementing the program than in actually using it. And, the whole project certainly kept my mind off of the girl who’d crushed my heart earlier that year. 🙂
During that last year of high school, I found out that the husband of one of my teachers had a TRS-80 at home. So, I asked her to ask her husband if he’d like to take a look at this little set of BASIC extensions I’d written. Eventually, the word came back that he really didn’t need a program like that, since he already had a disk drive (and therefore, Disk BASIC), but sure, he’d be happy to take a glance at it. So I brought in a tape, gave it to the teacher, and she said she’d take it home to her husband. I didn’t hear anything else about it for several weeks – until one day when the teacher sent for me during my last class. Her husband had come into school to pick her up, and while he was there, he wanted to meet me – it seems that he was totally blown away by the idea that such complicated software could be implemented by one 16-year-old, working alone. Unfortunately, he was the only other person who ever used this software – I had an idea that I wanted to publish it through TSE, or one of the other mail order places, but I never quite got around to it; plus, I wasn’t sure there’d be much of a market for a programming tool for cassette-based users, since they wouldn’t be able to run any of their extended programs without loading my BASIC extensions (from cassette) first – I wasn’t sure anyone would go through the effort.
Unfortunately, for most of the rest of that school year, my TRS-80 was at Radio Shack, being repaired – it had a flaky problem that would cause the machine to power up to a screen full of garbage (instead of “MEMORY SIZE?”) when it was powered on. Except, of course, while it was at the repair center, when it worked perfectly…. I forget what the actual problem turned out to be, but we had to send it back three times before they got it working reliably again. So, I spent most of my senior year hacking a new platform – the Apple II+ that our school had just acquired. It had 32K of RAM, *and* a floppy drive. Many afternoons were spent going through the ROM on that machine, too (a bit easier than the TRS-80, because Apple provided more docs than Tandy), and examining and modifying Apple’s DOS. Our (a couple of friends and I) main tool for DOS hacking was a sector editor I’d written, which I called “AppleZap”, a very weak imitation of SuperZap on the TRS-80 – lame, yes, but it did the job… 😉 (not that I had ever actually used SuperZap, since I had no floppy drives – I’d only seen some of the docs.) But anyway, the rest of this Apple hacking is another story entirely, best left to another web site… 🙂
I graduated from high school that spring, and (having already signed up for my courses ahead of time), I knew that I would need to learn Pascal for my first semester at college. I had a passing familarity with Pascal already – I had a number of books about the language, but had never used it. So, I got myself a copy of Tiny Pascal for my TRS-80, and set about learning the language. I soon discovered that Tiny Pascal was not really adequate for learning “real” Pascal, but I started playing with the innards of Tiny Pascal as well – I figured, I was able to productively dink around with the innards of BASIC, so why not try it with another language. I only ever implemented one extension – a random number generator function (using the random number generator in the BASIC ROM). But it was an amusing project, and on a lark, I decided that it’d be interesting to write it up and submit it to a computer magazine to see if they’d publish it. So, I typed it up (on a manual typewriter, even for the program listings – remember, my machine never did have a printer), put it in a nice envelope, and sent it into BYTE magazine. A few weeks later, I started looking for the rejection letter to come in the mail, and lo and behold, there soon arrived an envelope from BYTE. When I opened it up, I was shocked to find a check for $50.00, and a letter stating that “your submission will be published in a future issue of BYTE”. The check was what’s known as a “binder check”, and cashing it obligated me to not submit the article to any other magazines in the meantime (not that I’d saved a copy – silly me, I had not made a copy for myself before I sent the original in); the letter explained that further payment, in the amount of $50.00 per page, would be forthcoming when the article was finally printed. I *did* make a copy of the check, as a souvenir. After a few months, the article hadn’t been published (and therefore, I didn’t get the rest of my money), so I wrote them a note asking what was up. They sent back a nice response asking me to be patient, and my article would be published soon. Four months later (I had already started my freshman year in college by this time), I wrote them another letter asking the same question. After about another month, they sent back a reply – it didn’t look like they’d be able to find space for my article anytime in the forseeable future, so they decided to kill it – but I could keep the original $50.00 as a “kill fee”. And thus, I didn’t *quite* get my 15 minutes of fame – at least, not from that. More than 15 years later, I’m still waiting for my 15 minutes … 🙂
Once I started college, I had access to all kinds of truly cool hardware – class assignments were done on our Sperry/Univac mainframe, my work-study job was in a lab with a bunch of Apple II microcomputers, and there were various other minicomputers and microcomputers that I could use. Plus, we had some of those newfangled “IBM-PC” machines, and would soon start getting some of the “PC/XT” systems, too. Sad to say, it didn’t take long before the TRS-80 was taken off of my desk and put on to the floor, replaced by a Heathhit H19 terminal (borrowed from my work-study job), and a 1200 baud Novation Cat modem (also borrowed from work), which I used to dial in to the mainframe at school, and eventually into a Digital PDP-11/40 (obtained by our lab from another department that was planning to throw it away) that I helped set up Unix on, and which provided me with my first system administration job.
Now, lets fast-forward to present day – 1999. These days, I work for the largest information technology company in the world (who’s name I won’t mention, but I will tell you that it has three letters…), and work with more computers, and more different types of computers, than I could have ever imagined back in high school. It’s fun – a *lot* of fun, in fact. But I don’t think it’s quite as much fun as it was back then. Those of us working with the TRS-80, and other micros, were doing something bold, something pioneering – we were doing things that had never been done before. Sometimes I wish I’d been a few years older at that time – so I could have afforded more, and better, hardware, and maybe been able to produce things that others could use – to have been more of a player in the microcomputer revolution than just a spectator. But as it is, that machine, and the experiences I had with it, helped prepare me for the things I’m doing today. The TRS-80 ignited a true curiousity and enthusiasm about technology in me, which has not burned out to this day.
And as for that TRS-80 … it’s still there, in my mother’s house. After I finally moved out on my own, she carefully packed up the machine, and all of the software, so they’d be ready for me to pick up – which I have never gotten a chance to do in the last 13 years (mostly because it’s 300 miles away from me, and for the first 7 of those 13 years, I did not have a car….).
For 13 years, it has been awaiting its resurrection, in its little tomb of cardboard, with it’s little cassette drive, and it’s hacked-up 16K upgrade (never did replace that one chip…). But now that I’ve finally bought a house, I am planning to get it as soon as I can, as well as all of the books and the software (if the tapes will even still read) that go with it. I already have a place ready for it to be set up. It will be there when I have children of my own – children who will probably grow up with 750 MHz Pentium VI’s running Windows 2010 – for me to show them, and tell them “let me show you something Daddy did when he was … well, not much older than you are, really.” (and they’ll probably say “You used a language without objects, prototyping, and full polymorphism?? Jeez, how did you ever get anything done?” 😉 )
And once in a while, it’ll be there to just fire it up, and look at that screen that says:
RADIO SHACK LEVEL II BASIC
and think to myself, “Wow, wasn’t that a time….”
Bob Scopatz [bscopatz at kua.net]
I was feeling nostalgic and decided to visit the TRS-80 website again. I read through the letters and was amazed at how the various contributors had come to worship at the font of TRS-80-dom. I was inspired to share my own story.
My first exposuure to computers was as an undergraduate in California. I worked in an animal behavior lab and one of the better funded labs was throwing away it’s computer. I can’t remember the name of this monster, but it was clearly little better than a calculator. You programmed it by putting wires into holes on the face plate. I think I broke it within 36 hours of its arrival. That experience, and listening to my brother (the physics major) complain about punch cards kept me away from computer courses for the rest of my years at U.S.C.
I got to Columbia University in 1980 and started working in a lab full of Skinner boxes. Half of the boxes were controlled by a Data General mid-range computer with an interface that my advisor had built from scratch himself! The other boxes were controlled by three TRS-80 model 1 computers. I was informed that it was time to learn how to program and that, if I just gave it a chance, I’d learn to like it. Sure! Yeah right!
My introduction to computers was more hands on than I ever expected. Within a week of my arrival, the interface device that my boss had lovingly crafted while he was in grad school died a sudden and smokey death. He handed me a soldering iron, a scematic and the probes from a beat up Oscilloscope and said “I’m betting it’s those output transistors.” Sure! Yeah right!
We managed to get the thing working after a few false starts, and plugged that baby back in. It even worked for a year or so after that! I was impressed, and I was hooked. Suddenly these machines weren’t some mysterious obelisks but actual devices that could do things! You have no idea how frightening it was to try to “align the disk drives” on the big DG — unscrew the metal tab holding the drive’s read/write head, move it as small a distance as humanly possible. Screw the tab back down hoping it doesn’t move in the process. Repeat until the thing starts reading the reference disks again! Yikes!
The TRS-80 part of my story comes from having to fix them about 10x as often as the old Data General. As wonderful as they were — hey, we could play games on them — they weren’t really up to the life in what amounted to a large pigeon coop. Feathers everywhere! Fine white powder everywhere! We had to work on those machines pretty much every week. And even when they were working, we had our headaches. Any little power glitch in the 100+ year old building and our little Opto-Isolated interfaces (Interfacer 80 — a great little device for opening and closing switches in the Skinner boxes) would zap into the ALL ON position. Lights flashing! Birds receiving buckets-full of food! I learned to program with periodic refresh statements!
I learned to use the computer’s heartbeat as a timer. What fun! Turn off all devices, time events, turn the devices back on, save the data! But it worked. It worked easily and quickly. I don’t even remember the transition from non-programmer to running the programming for the lab. It was just that simple. (Not that my programs would have won any awards, mind you.)
We got Scripsit and started writing our papers for publication on the same TRS-80s we used to run the studies. So we lost whole reports sometimes. That’s how you learn to back up your data, right? We wrote our own statistical analysis programs because there weren’t any out there for us to buy.
Later came LDOS. I used it to write a data transfer program to the mainframe. A friend with more experience came by and showed me how to track my CPU time while this was cranking. I was using CPU time in real time!!! I ran through a $10,000 computer allowance in a weekend! Thank God it was University Funny Money! I learned how to write a better data transfer routine.
We later got a Model III in that lab and a Model 4 portable in another lab. Frankly, I lost interest. Opening that big old box on the Model III to fix things was just a chore. I missed the easy time I had with the old Model 1s. I missed running a pencil eraser over the expansion port contacts to clean the oxidation off so the boxes could communicate with the outside world again. And the Model IV. I opened it once. It was the same feeling I get when I open the hood of my horribly complex new car. What the heck is all this stuff?
The next generation was all PC-based. Now there were interface boards with modular designs created by real computer companies. The TRS-80 was dead as a laboratory machine. But it ran every experiment I performed in the learning and memory labs. I got my degree based on the work I did with those machines. The Model 1’s especially inspired a love of computing in me that persists to this day, where I sit writing notes on a laptop that could melt a Model 1 just by looking at it. But I love this machine not nearly as much. This one is just a tool. Those old Model 1’s were friends, lovers, antagonists, and teachers. Nothing can replace that. I suppose people just learning computers today feel towards their high-powered PCs the way I feel towards the old Model 1s, but I can’t help thinking that they are missing an essential part of the experience. Today’s PCs don’t force you to learn how to program just to make them useful — you can truly be a user in today’s environment. Today’s PCs aren’t really designed for casual users to go around opening them up and playing with their innards. On a Model 1, you had to do that to survive. Where the heck would you take it? You made friends with someone who knew more than you and they taught you. That’s how it worked. Today’s computers spoil you with seemingly infinite space and graphics and sound and color. The marvel of the TRS-80 was that people could write programs that would do marvelous things in such limited memory and disk space. Those were real programmers! The closest analog I think that exists today is in devices like the Palm Pilot. You can’t write big aps there; you have to be tight and efficient. Ah, just like the old days.
Well that’s it. Thanks for a chance to reminisce. The TRS-80 deserves a great web page. I’m so glad you did it!
David [cyberbear at cable.a2000.nl]
I have just spent a happy time wandering through your site and down memory lane. In 1978/9 I bought my TRS-80 Model I as a basic model from Tandy here in Amsterdam and have been hooked ever since. A girl friend of mine asked me then if it had a name. In Dutch the word for “ONE” is “EEN” (pronounced “AYN”) and maybe she didn’t hear me properly when I said “Model EEN” because from that moment on the computer was christened “Marlene”.
Marlene has had everything thrown at her through her life; has had every expansion and tit-bit fed to her; positively bulging with all kind of software and doo-dabs affectionately purchased and presented to her, as if she were a loving partner.
And did she return the pleasure! For as many years as I could hang on I used her for development for statistics and general games/fun and mind you this was all on cassette tape in those days, I could afford the disk drives then! My Boss appreciated the printed reports and the flexibility and immediacy of the data which I was able to produce for him quickly and cheaply. I had managed to buy an Epson MX and a suitable interface to connect it to Marlene. Remember, in those days we were still punching cards and running batch jobs on IBM mainframes and chain printers to get anything equivalent!
Eventually, early 80’s the IBM arrived. A model was quickly smuggled into the building and dumped on my desk. “David, you know about these things” (I didn’t, I was only an enthusiastic hobbyist) and quickly I formed a relationship with this new toy . . if only I knew then what was going to happen. All my BASIC programmes were ported over to the IBM and run at work. Marlene was not ignored but suddenly a 1.77MHz CPU wasn’t cutting it and, heaven forbid, that wait for the LOAD to take it’s perilous course while the tape cassette loaded the programme or data only to abandon with that silent brooding question mark and the ambiguous asterisk in the top corner of the monitor.
I was getting spoilt with the IBM disk. I took a bank loan and purchased my first disk drive Drive 0:. Quickly TRSDOS, and LDOS then NEWDOS/80 passed the parade (never did the MULTIDOS route) and all kinds of software there were User Groups to attend, other souls desperately holding on to the TRS-80 as “real computing”; there were exchanges of ideas and programmes; friends started up businesses, others went on to a change of career (as I was doing) and it all seemed so purposeful the IBM would be a work thing and Marlene would be the main girl.
How it all changed. Eventually Tandy bought out their 8080 machine and I succumbed. I can never tell you the feeling I had when I unpacked and installed it next to Marlene on her desk did I feel a dog! I did my best to convince myself I was only doing this as an experiment and Marlene would be the main machine. Tandy was beginning to feel the draught of IBM’s success though and in Amsterdam, Utrecht and Rotterdam the main outlets, Tandy was starting to sell off the TRS-80 stock. I purchased a second drive the luxury of keeping the system disk in Unit 0 and running the rest from Unit 1! Tandy started to drop the prices. I bought indiscriminately. Anything and everything that they propped up on the shelves.
Eventually I bought my first 286 machine, then a 386 which I built from parts, a 486 quickly followed, printers, mice you know the route a Pentium (oooh the speed!) and now I run a Gateway 450 with 320MB on board, 10GB and 4GB disks, tape streamer, cable modem, sound, colour, laser printer, colour printer and software, software, software . . . .
And Marlene? She’s packed up lovingly in her original boxes with all the copies of Micro80 magazine and all the literature I could then lay my hands on. She and her peripheral friends are waiting for that day when she will be lovingly re-assembled and re-awoken as a sort of digital Snow White a day I always never seem to have time for . .
And what became of me?
Well I work for Time Warner here in Amsterdam (started in 1980 in the Statistics dept) through EDP (!), Organised our PC Helpdesk and Training, and gradually became engulfed by the Information Services department. I develop database stuff for our European, South African and Australian offices, specializing in Delphi front ends for ORACLE back ends, wistfully and secretly yearning for those days when the only error messages were SORRY, HOW? and L3 ERROR! And the only prompt was READY> (which I had on my IBM pretty quickly!)
Mark von Oven [vonoven at hotmaildot com]
I somehow happened upon your stories page while searching for something completely different and felt compelled to tell my own.
I was 11 years old and the year was 1986, and the 5th grade was even easier than I had expected. I was the oldest of four boys, and we all lived in a trailer in Northeastern Pennsylvania, with Mom and Dad barely making ends meet. As if it weren’t enough for them to try and put food on the table, their oldest son knew Christmas was coming and wanted a computer, like all his other friends seemed to be getting. I knew it was a far-reaching request, but I figured what the hell, the worst they could say was no. Well, Christmas morning came, and I still wish to this day I had a picture of my face when I opened that box and saw the cream colored keyboard with wires that would change my life forever. There was no monitor…this puppy hooked right up to the television. No tape drive…that required money…not even a hard drive.
It did come with a book however, on how to write programs in BASIC. And I read it front to back the first day, trying small example programs, adding little personal changes, and then finally creating my own. I would sit at the computer for 4 hours creating “Choose your own adventure” text programs for my little brothers to play, only to have them play for the 5 minute duration of the adventure and say “You spent four hours making that?” Little brats.
Anyhow, while all my friends had the Apple and the disks to save games and joysticks and modems, I was learning to love computers at the most basic level, with the most basic tools.
Today I am a Systems Manager for Procter & Gamble, makers of products such as Tide, Mr. Clean, Cascade, Joy, Crest, and many, many more. I work with computers every day of my life and love every minute of it, always feeling the exact same way I did in front of that TRS-80.
Thank God my parents were poor.
Mark D. Manes [mmanes at EARTHLINK.NET]
I thought since I have received so much nice mail, that I would push my luck and tell you all a little about me.. and well, what my affection for the TRS-80 is.
I was a high school senior in 1980/81. I had my heart set on a career in the Navy and was fully involved in the high school NJROTC. That was what I wanted to do–be in the Navy. Now, you know how things are when you are kid — reality pills are often hard to swallow. I have an eye problem that is not correctable to a high enough degree that would allow me to join the service. My mom, wanting to be sure that I had some hope of a real career made a deal with me that ultimately changed my life. The deal was that I continue in the NJROTC program if I agreed to take a typing course. I thought, hey no problem, I’ll sit with the girls and take a nice typing class–an Easy A! So I readily agreed.
Well, my mom never had any idea what she really had done. It was that year that the business department which was run by my typing teacher got their first word processor–an IBM Displaywriter.
Now, I have another thing I should reveal. I am a die hard “classic” Star Trek fan and anything that looked or smelled like a computer I was interested in. I thought computers were really this big massive tape drives depicted in the movies at the time. The more lights the better!
Well I became fascinated with the Displaywriter so much so that I learned the ins and outs of the machine like no other. I was pulled out of class to “help” with the system. It was the first time that someone really needed/wanted me for a skill that no one else had. I was hooked.
So.. how does this long boring story relate to the TRS-80?
Well, I rarely attended a math class and the book rarely was opened. I was a master of creating situations where the teachers in other departments would “need me” to be taken out of class. One day I must have dropped my math book and the pages fell open to a page where a BASIC program was listed.
Now.. if you think about it–even todays text books do not have BASIC programs in the book. The chances of me running into a math class (it was algebra) that had a text book that with examples computer programming in the 1980s is well, so unlikely that Spock would consider the odds astronomical!
I took the text book, avoiding class again, and headed for the DisplayWriter! I sat down.. powered it up and started entering each line exactly as it was in the book. I typed RUN, just as the book said… what did I get? Nothing.. the big zero.
I complained to the teacher who was no help. She did not realize that I had attained a new level of atonement in the hierarchy of computer mastery! I relented and went to my math teacher hoping he would not notice my rare attendance and focus on the real problem at hand–my programming career! The stars were with me, and the math teacher answered the question with sacred knowledge that must have been passed onto him by the computer gods. He said that the word processor could not run programs and that I needed access to a computer–something the school did not have. I asked where I might find a computer–now I am thinking about that big tape drive with the blinking lights and the chances of me actually getting to one of these machines about the same as me finishing the construction of my real starship. Sigh.. if only I could solve this matter/anti-matter problem.
I woke from my daydream to hear him say — the college across the street and Radio Shack had computers.
I rushed over to the college library and sat down behind this huge box with a big keyboard and small white text. I started to enter my program again.
EXPECTED HELLO, JOB, DATA FOR LOGIN
It said that every time.
So I typed: HELLO
I discovered that I could not use this machine either. This machine was my dream but I had no username and no password. I kept trying until someone from nowhere appeared and explained that the library computers were for college students only and please.. don’t let door hit you in the ass as you leave.
Fine.. I said. There was still Radio Shack!
I got to Radio Shack after about an hour walk and entered the store. There was a computer there with a bunch of folks playing some sort of game. I was mildly interested in the game, but I desperately wanted to try my program that was in the book. I went to the manager of the Radio Shack and said “Please let me try this.. I really want to see what this does!”
After a while, the customers who were there just to annoy me, shuffled off muttering something about damn kids. I sat down in front of the Radio Shack Model I. It said
and I typed:
10 FOR X=1 TO 10
20 PRINT "HELLO"
30 NEXT X
The rest was history. I was blown away. I became so addicted that my Navy plan was out the door and I knew I had to go to college and learn this stuff. My mom was terrified that I was going to break one of these $1000 toys, but she figured that the Radio Shack manager would toss me out if there was a problem. And so, this teenager who should have been trying to chase girls and get the pregnant was instead going crazy trying to learn and hog the computers at Radio Shack.
The Radio Shack manager took pity on me and let me hang in there every Friday/Saturday night until closing. I sat there for hours learning the ins and outs of TRSDOS and BASIC. The Model I’s were replaced with Model IIIs and the rest is history.
I used to live at the local Radio Shack and then the users group that met at Thomas Nelson Community College. I drove the user group crazy as I did not own a computer, yet I came spewing facts and data and had a boatload of questions.
I never did end up owning my own TRS-80 Model 1/3, but did end up with a computer job after some time in college where I ran a Model II/16 Xenix box, but that is another story.
So my affection for the TRS-80 runs long and deep. It was my first real computer and more importantly the first computer that WORKED.
Today, I am a software product manager for Scala Inc. We make high-impact multimedia software for the PC. I spent time as a software developer within Scala as well. The TRS-80 changed my life and I type close to 100wpm. 🙂
If you made it through this entire post, well thank you.
I don’t suppose there is a guy on this list named Duane Sailor? He wrote a program for the TRS-80 called ComWhiz. He ran the users group back in the olden days, though he didn’t particularly like me.. I always admired him. It would be cool if he showed up on this list.
Mark D. “Zorba” Pickerill [zorba at mbari.org]
I saw my first TRS-80 when I was a freshman in college – at my old electronics
class at my high school, several blocks away. I still hung out there during
free time, the H.S. cafeteria was far cheaper than the college one, had
far better food, and the electronics shop was better equipped for some of
my “mad scientist” experiments.
This machine was a 16K Level II. One of the H.S. electronics students, only a year behind me, was a whiz with this thing, and I learned a LOT from him. (He went on to invent a well-known role playing game). It wasn’t too long before I had a 4K level I, which gradually expanded to a full blown system with 48K, level II, expansion interface, serial port, disk drives, etc.
I learned a lot on this machine. I interfaced a Teletype to the serial port, and wrote drivers so I could use it as a printer, or even operate the computer from the teletype. Using Small System Software’s RSM-2D monitor program, I was able to relocate cassette programs to run from disk. This included “Impossible” programs that LMOFFSET wouldn’t handle. I remember a friend telling me that the documentation said it was impossible to run Radio Shack’s “Pyramid” program from disk. “Huh,” I replied, “I musta missed that, I’ve been running it from disk for some time!!”
About 3 years later, I bought an IMSAI-8080, which was to become my main machine for the next 20 years. I eventually sold the TRS-80, but always missed it.
About 5 years ago, someone gave me a Model I, and I was amazed at how much I remembered. Obscure load and POKE addresses, etc. I eventually ran into Jeff’s emulator.
I had been hoping to be able to “skip” the IBM-PC. Kept waiting for the darned thing to simply “go away”. Never liked it, thought it was a kludge at it’s introduction in late 1981 (Combining the worst hardware attributes of the TRS-80 and the Apple ][, and the best features of neither. MS-DOS combined the worst attributes of TRS-DOS and CP/M, and the best of neither!)
Although I had made my living writing X-86 assembly code, I was perfectly happy with my 8080 based IMSAI. However, over time, I gradually lost interest in computers. The IMSAI languished, and eventually “went away”. I didn’t have a computer at home for about 5 years, wasn’t interested (Frankly, still aren’t!), but my once-computer-phobic wife had increasing need for one, so last year finally broke down and bought one of the dreaded PC’s!
Enter Jeff’s emulator. The best thing that PC is good for from my viewpoint is running Galaxy Invasion Plus! With sound!
And one last thing, a major inpact the TRS-80 had. I actually met the guy who was one of the 2 principles of Small System Software, the folks that wrote the famed RSM monitor program, still the best monitor I’ve ever used on ANY platform! One thing led to another and a new job was the end result!
Frederic Vecoven [veco at montefiore.ulg.ac.be]
The first time I saw a computer was in my school, I was 14 at this moment.
There were 4 TRS-80 model I showed by 2 professors and 2 which were owned by
students (these were in their last year, so they were 18)… I played a game
on it (Apple Panic) and then typed a small BASIC program that conjugated some
verbs… I was totally fascinated.
This was on a Saturday. The next Monday, I came to the TANDY shop (fortunately, there was a TANDY in my small town) and begins to sit up in front of the model I that was there. The vendor was very gentle with me and let me play and work for hours.
Some weeks later, my parents gave me a model III (model I was no more available) with 16K and a K7 player. I remember upgrading it buying 2K chips in the US 2 years later. I never had a drive, because there were too expensive.
I also meet in the TANDY a guy (who is one of my best friend) who built himself (and alone) a new TRS80 from scratch, just using schematics found somewhere. I think he still has this beast at home !
Then I bought an Apple //e and a Macintosh later… I got my first PC 3 years ago, to run Unix (I really hate Microsoft products, especially all the windoz).
By the way, in between, I had a degree in computer science and another degree of engineering in electronics. I worked for Sony. I am in Philips now… and hope to join Sun soon.
Dr. Terry Stewart [TStewart at massey.ac.nz]
My first experience with any microcomputer was in 1980 when my soon-to-be wife showed me a “micro-computer” her Uni. Department had purchased, with the aim of running some psychological tests. It was a cassette based TRS80 Model 1 running a blackjack game, written in Level 2 Basic. Having only 4 years ago, done a computing course where you had to submit your programs on FORTRAN punch cards and go and pick the printed output up the next day, I was amazed.
Anyway, a few weeks (or maybe months) later, I was walking past an office stationary shop, when I noticed a few microcomputers in the window. There was a Commodore Pet, an Apple II, a TRS80 and an elegant looking computer called a “System 80” being marketed by Australian entrepreneur and eccentric Dick Smith (I believe this model was sold in the US as the PCM 80 and in the UK as the Video Genie). The System 80 was wired up and lo and behold, it was playing the same games my wife showed me on the TRS80. The unit looked a lot more robust than the TRS-80 and had a nice full stroke keyboard with a build in cassette drive and TV RF interface. What’s more, it was only 2/3 the price of the latter!
In the greatest example of impulse buying I have ever experienced in my life, I duly arrived home with the sparkling System-80 under my arm, to the chagrin of my wife, who felt the money would have been far better spent on the deposit for our first home.
Life was never the same. I duly discovered Scriptsit, Big Five Software, 80-Micro Mag, Micro-80 Mag (an Australasian one), 80-US and Scott Adams Adventure games and a host of other wonderful things. I even dabbled in assembly language, a necessity as the System 80 wasn’t completely compatible with the TRS-80 and I had to patch Scriptsit in order for the print command to work. The thrill when the patch actually worked was unforgettable.
The Scott Adams games were played amongst my whole family, with frequent long distance phone calls from brothers, sisters and parents which went along the lines of “Have you tried throwing the beef jerky at the iron pharaoh?” etc. The concepts behind those adventure games spilled over to my work (I’m actually a plant pathologist), and I adapted the approach into problem-solving adventure games to train students in the diagnosis of plant diseases and disorders (see http://www.diagnosis.co.nz).
As far as TRS-80 culture goes, the System-80 dominated the Australasian scene, mostly due to the fact that the TRS80 models were so damm expensive “down under”, and TANDY did not have a very big presence. I used the System 80 for work and pleasure right up to 1987 or so. By the time it was retired it had 48K, two DS 80 track disk drives and an especially constructed RS 232 Box. In 1985 I even wrote my Masters thesis on it, a chapter at a time, then uploaded it through the phone lines (at 300baud) to our university PRIME, for formatting and final copy. I used the System 80 for editing as LazyWriter was FAR superior to any text editor I could find on the PRIME mainframe!
After I purchased an IBM compatible XT, the System 80 was gracefully retired. Our University was wired to the internet in 1989, and I discovered the newsgroups. I missed the old System 80, so I found an emulator newsgroup and posted a message asking if anyone had thought of emulating the TRS80 in MSDOS. I received a reply back from one person, who said they had been working on an emulator, but had become discouraged with the slow speed it ran at, on the then state of the art AT’s. That person was Jeff Vavasour.
Jeff and I corresponded off and on, and in the early 1990’s Jeff started working on the emulator again, this time to finish it. Machines were becoming faster and faster, and this made the whole idea viable. I had LOADS of TRS-80 software, and Jeff explained how to transfer this from the System-80 to an MSDOS machine and into his virtual disk format. For a few months, I was beta-testing Jeff’s emulator with all the software I had, as were some of the others in this group I’m sure. The rest you know.
I still drag the emulator out for a bit of nostalgia now and again. It’s great! The System 80 remains in the attic, like so many other people’s units. It will probably stay there forever. How can one part with such an influential icon in ones life? *s*
If you check out my web page (you might have trouble getting it just now..our server is playing up at the moment), you will see computers now play a large part in my working life. It’s been an incredible journey so far and as I type this letter on my sleek 4 GB, 32MB Compaq Amarda Laptop, you have to wonder what the future holds.
Jeff Vavasour[My first published program was in 80-Micro at the age of 12] In case anyone was curious, it was:
The world’s shortest word processor. You printed by holding down JKL in NEWDOS/80 or the like, and navigated with SHIFT + an arrow key. It was inspired by an article in an earlier issue where somebody had written a six line or so word processor.
Actually, it was later pointed out that it could be shortened to:
As a further matter of trivia, it was actually 80 Micro that inspired me to write my first emulator. There was an article called “Apple Core” where somebody had written a 6502 emulator that ran on a TRS-80. (As people probably know, the title-pun comes from the fact that the 6502 was the main CPU of the Apple II.) The “emulator” only emulated the CPU, not the architecture. But, I was feeling bored one Christmas break and decided to kill time and exercise my 80×86 programming skills by writing a Model I Emulator. I still remember the ticker-tape like display of “MEMORY SIZE?”, like it was coming through on a 300-baud modem. (Actually, I think the first thing it did was repeat “MMMMMMM…” over and over again on the screen. It didn’t get the increment-to-the-next-character bit right. Very few things ever seem to work right the first time.)
[i]n some real sense, it was Terry [Stewart]’s encouragement upon seeing my original prototype that lead to the original shareware release of my Model I Emulator. It’s really quite extraordinary how much that has in turn impacted my life, because this lead to my writing of a CoCo emulator, which lead to it being spotted by Digital Eclipse Software Inc., which lead to my job developing the 6809-based emulator in the commercial product Williams Arcade Classics, which lead me to leave my Ph.D. research in Physics (Quantum Gravity) to work with them full time. I’ve now written or co-written a fair number of commercial game products. If you’re ever in Vancouver (BC, Canada), Terry, I guess I owe you a drink! 🙂
BTW, that original prototype was about 3 to 5 times slower than the eventual version 2.0 that got released to the Internet. It also had no menus except the debugger. Virtual disk names were hard coded. Drive 0 was A:CONTENTS.A, drive 1 was B:CONTENTS.A, 2 was A:CONTENTS.B, and drive 3 was B:CONTENTS.B (confusing enough?). I probably still have the version 1.0 source code left behind on a 5.25″ floppy with my parents. (I left my Tandy 1000 and a few other odds and ends behind there with them when I moved from St. John’s, Newfoundland to Vancouver, BC in 1992. The emulator was written on that Tandy 1000, but just before I moved I got a Tandy 2810HD and was amazed that my emulator actually seemed to run at a reasonable speed there, which is part what made it feasible to continue, as Terry said. It was also a thrill to have a laptop version of a TRS-80 Model I, finally. 🙂 )
Version 1.0 was pretty buggy in retrospect. I guess I could probably dig it out next time I visit Newfoundland if I wanted to relive the equivalent experience of corroded Expansion Interface contacts and cold solder joints. 🙂 (I remember an early suggestion by one user of the emulator that I add a time-bomb random reboot option to the emulator, for authenticity. 🙂 )
Oh, and FWIW, on performance, my Model III/4 emulator had a rewritten CPU core, with the Model III emulator running about another 3 times faster than the Model I emulator. That same core was adapted to become part of our company’s recent release, Arcade’s Greatest Hits: The Midway Collection 2. (That’s a classic coin-op arcade game compilation featuring the games Spy Hunter, Tapper, Moon Patrol, BurgerTime, Joust 2, Splat!, and Blaster. The first three games there were powered by a Z-80. So was Pac-Man, incidentally. I certainly never would’ve guessed before I got into this job.)
Dr. Terry Stewart [TStewart at massey.ac.nz]
I remember this article!
Those were the days, lines and lines of code on printed pages to type in. They used to keep a hunt-and-peck typist like me up all hours of the night. (-:
I also remember A:CONTENTS.A and B:CONTENTS.B Jeff. 🙂 Thank goodness for *.bat files which allowed me to use the rename command when working with the virual disks. I’m sure I still have that old prototype somewhere on a 5.25 inch floppy too (at least the exe.). One day I’ll have to find it and run it, just to relive the nostaligia (whilst reliving the nostaligia). I remember the first program I ever ran on that prototype emulator. It was Cornsoft’s Scarfman. It was a heart stopping moment and I was expecting my XT to lock up but…wonders and wonders…..there was the big pacman chasing the fleeing moster across the screen.
What a thrill it was to see that, even if that pacman in the title credits did take 5-10 minutes to get to the other side of the screen (-: The point was, it worked!
We will have to buy each other drinks Jeff, because I’m very grateful you wrote the emulator. It wasn’t just that I wanted to boot up a virtual TRS80 now and again, it was also that I wanted to preserve all that software I had, in a standard, living format. I knew the old NewDos 80 Disks I had would eventually crumble away, but with software preserved in Vdisk format (and now burned to a CD ROM), that part of my life will now live forever (-:
Steve Batson [steve at bat-softdot com]
I remember the basic one liners from the CoCo magazine, “Rainbow” (I never
had the TRS-80 Model I/III/IV), but I think most of the basics were pretty
similar in how they worked aside from the machine specific stuff and alot of
the magazines had simialr tips and trick sections. It is amazing what they
did with so little code in a line of basic, but looking back, I have to say
that the code really wasn’t one line. Basic has the ability to put several
statements that would typically be on seperate lines in one line seperated
by a semicolon as long as the line didn’t exceed a certain number of
characters (256 or something like that). Still, people figured out some
pretty cool stuff within the space allowed. It’s things like that, that seem
to be fading and/or missing from today’s computer world. Back then, many of
the computer users knew at least the basics of how their computers worked,
how to install things and most could at least use some simple basic
commands. What amazes me today is the number of people that can barely
install their own software and the excuses as to why they only want to turn
it on and use the the programs, not know how it works. The better you know
the basics, the better you understand and can use most software…enough
Those old machines were fun!
Phil Scopes [phil at philmore.net]
I got started as a TRS-80 programmer when I was 8 years old, when I was
getting on the computers in the Radio Shacks. My parents would pick me up
from the Shack and the salespeople would tell them to get me a computer. My
parents thought they were just trying to hustle a sale, but it wasn’t until
the family dentist told my father he bought a computer for his kid that my
father finally decided to get me a computer. I went to a computer show, and
looked at all the possible models. I could’ve bought any computer (it
would’ve just as easily been obsolete), but settled on the TRS-80 because I
liked the keyboard the best–it had all four arrow keys, unlike the Apple II
that didn’t have up- and down-arrows. Also, the TRS-80 had the best DOS. I
thought the TI99/4A was lame for some reason, so a TRS-80 it was. Since I was
always around the Shack, and one of the salesmen liked me, he gave me an “on-
site install” and delivered and installed the computer and desk at my house on
November 10, 1980.
In March of 1981, I got to be on TV. Rob Weller was doing a documentary on “gifted” kids called Young Giants, and the TV people went to my school to recruit kids. They were impressed with me and my knowledge of computers, so I got on the show. They did taping at Radio Shack (with the sales person I was friends with) as well as at my house. They even featured an original song of mine in the opening and closing credits of the show (I am still a songwriter, and I write much more impressive songs than I did in 1981). The show aired in August of 1981 and January of 1982.
In 1983, that was when the fun began. I got a serial port and modem, and discovered CompuServe and BBSs. I tried to run my own BBS with software I put together myself (with the help of a well-known host driver program) but blew two power supplies running the computer all night. I was too young to realize that I should’ve gotten fans to run by the computer, which is what the sysop of the Greene Machine, a well known TRS-80 BBS, did for his system.
One thing I will have to say is that I was probably the last person ever to get rid of the TRS-80 Model 1, as I didn’t get a PC until February, 1988!!!!!
Bob Klahn [bob.klahn at toltbbsdot com]
My late wife was a full time homemaker. About the time our oldest, and only at the time, child she started thinking about going to work. She thought it might be worthwhile looking into computers, so she checked into computer courses at the local business college. The cost was right around $1000 dollars, and I told her I could buy a computer for that.
She said, “You’d buy me my own computer?”
Well, folks, I came that close to getting away with her thinking I was making the sacrifice for her. Ultimately we did go out to buy one, but by then she realized I wanted it even more than she did. Which brings us to the purchase part of the story.
Once upon a time there were two computers vie-ing for public acceptance. The Commodore Pet seemed to have a few advantages, so I decided to buy one. The price was $800, so I went out and bought a money order, as the only dealer in the area was in a town 40 miles away across the state border. My wife and I walked into the store and I told the salesman I wanted a computer. He said, “OK, there’s a two year waiting list.”
Well, I wasn’t goin on any two year waiting list, so I took my money order back and got my money back. Shortly thereafter I ran into a fellow who had a Mod 1 keyboard only for sale. For $300 and a standard video monitor and I was on my way.
4K ram, 4K rom, and a tape recorder for program storage….but it was a computer.
BTW, I am the moderator of the Fidonet TRS-MOD134 Echo. My first job outa high school was as a teletype operator, (remember those?) in a computer departement of a paper company. Our computer was, IIRC, an IBM 1402. It’s hard to describe, cause the CPU portion was in one unit, the hard drive was in another, and the I/O was an IBM selectric.
Ram was about 16K, which my Mod 1 was shortly after I got it.
The hard drive was more of a soft drive. It was a wax disk and the data was scribed in with something like a heavy duty phono needle. If the air conditioning broke down we shut down. If the disk got hot it would melt.
Robert Brooks [robertb at geocitiesdot com]
Nothing wrong with sitting around the electronic campfire telling TRS-80 tales! I was lucky enough to be in a family that was ahead of the curve — I was 14 in 1981, my dad was an electronics technician who had built a kit computer that you “programmed” in hexadecimal, and my stepmom was a mainframe programmer from back in the days before computer classes — she had a MS in Mathematics. They were as excited as I was to get such incredible computing power in a package that would fit on a desktop!
First, we just set it up right on the floor. Then, we discovered the wonders of static electricity… scoot around on the carpet a while, and *poof* “MEMORY SIZE? >”
So we cleared off the bar/countertop in the kitchen and started working. It wasn’t long before we got to the basketball simulation in a LII BASIC book… and ran out of our 4K of RAM. Who’d have thought you could actually fill up over four thousand characters with one little program? So we got 16K, and eventually a LNW expansion interface.
I tended to stick to my roots, though… my favorite project was my shooting gallery in BASIC and machine language. Most of the game processing was handled in BASIC, but the time-sensitive screen movement routines needed the speed of ML. So I got a Z80 book, wrote the assembly language, translated to binary, then to hex and decimal, and used POKE to put the machine language in memory for calling by USR. When I finally got an editor/assembler, I created a communications program for my 300-baud modem.
But when my high school days ended, I ran out of play time, and my poor TRS-80 became the closet ornament it is today. I still look at it now and then, though, and my 300-baud modem is sitting next to my 486 PC. Of course, it’s not plugged in… but sometimes when I go online, I flip the switch from Off to Originate and whistle…
Rik [RikP at poboxdot com]
I was a bit older in 1978 when I wandered into a Radio Shack, saw the big grey box there, sat down and opened the manual and did something similar to your for x=1 to 10, print”hello”, next x
I was there for a couple hours while I was supposed to be up to the house with a paint brush. My wife was quite angry when I turned up with this enormous Radio Shack box in the car.
Them was the days, wasn’t they?
By the way, does anyone recall an old game called “BeamRider” that was on the Color Computer? This is not the Activision Beamrider. I simply loved that old game and would love to find a version that might work on todays machines.
Christopher Currie [ccurrie at bloxwich.demon.co.uk]
Well, another ‘first time’ story…
More than 20 years ago I was thinking of a career change (which didn’t happen) and someone suggested computing to me. Had never touched a computer, but after getting a book out of the library became fascinated with the idea of programming. Perhaps I could make a machine do what I wanted instead of what it wanted! A few months later I moved to London, where the first micros (mainly PETs and various curious British machines like the NASCOM 1) were appearing in the shops. I wanted a system to analyse a large collection of data I’d accumulated a few years earlier, but also wanted to learn programming.
I was advised ‘not to waste money on a micro, they can’t do anything’ and instead went to the university computer centre, where despite the aid of a very kind adviser and a pile of ‘beginner’ documentation as big as two Model II manuals (remember those?) it turned out that I could only use their system for at most half an hour a week six weeks a year, because their opening hours pretty well coincided with my working hours. At that rate it would take several years to enter the data on punched cards, by which time micros might have got cheaper and more useful, so I started looking again.
I eventually realized that, despite the way it was slagged off in the British computer press, a TRS-80 Model I would be best for the job but I couldn’t afford one (the happy custom of selling US imports at a pound for a dollar–when the pound was worth $2.40!–was already established). Should I buy a cheaper micro just to learn programming?
After nearly two years of visiting micro shops and fairs and agonizing over the prices, including a visit to an obscure suburb of South London called Wallington which was the only place where you could buy the Video Genie (that’s the Dick Smith System 80,,,) I screwed up my courage to order a Sinclair ZX81, believing that Sinclair would have overcome the vapourware problems he’d had with the ZX80. Not a bit of it. It would be wrong, of course, to suggest in public that the vapourware aspect was intentional.
After weeks of waiting for a parcel that didn’t arrive I got my money back, plucked up my courage, and went to look at the new Model IIIs that were being advertised. They were American stock that the importer had fitted with (massive) transformers, since Tandy wasn’t yet selling the Model III in this country. IBM did the same thing with the PC a year or two later: the idea was presumably that by restricting the launch to the US for six months or a year, they’d help American software houses to get a commanding lead. Perhaps it was imposed on them by the Reagan administration.
So I came home with a Model III. The first thing it was used for was to write a tape database for my wedding-present list; I’d never have got the computer if I’d got married first! It was very educational, because only Model I programs were available and they taught me useful lessons about software authors’ and vendors’ claims about compatibility. (The machine-language programs of course mostly loaded too low, or somewhere or other used Model I printer routines, or other addresses that didn’t work on a Model III. Compatibility has to be 100 per cent; 99.9999 per cent won’t do for inexperienced users. Of course eventually I found out how to tweak a lot of them to work on the III, in ways that most people on this list will know all about).
I soon bought a LPVII and got into word processing with non-lining characters, finding out how to use Scripsit with tape at 1500 baud instead of the default 500…I eventually got the research database work, which was the excuse for buying the ‘puter in the first place, done three years later using Aids-III, after upgrading to add disk drives and many other things, and a small fortune spent on 80-Micro! (I still have a long run of them). The Model III was in use for seven years, and was then transferred to some colleagues to use as a terminal to JANET. After a few months it was sidelined and junked, alas; I’d have sent it to the Science Museum, sicne those early imports were rare specimens.
But I continued to use a succession of Model 4s and 4Ps until 1992; still have two in working order; and in 1988 I bought the Hypersoft Model III emulator so could run many of my programs on a PC. Jeff’s Model I emulator came to the rescue later, for the games, including some I’d never been able to run on the III…
I can’t match the guy who is still using a Model I to run his business, but the London Computer Centre in Grafton Way was still using one for stock control and accounts in the late 1980s, years after it had become a PC dealer. And the UK’s national TRS-80 user group is still going, just.
Leonard Erickson [shadow at krypton.raindot com]
I got started in computers in 1972. I was a junior in High School and one of my teachers recommended me for a non credit computer course a local university was doing for high school students. We learned FORTRAN on an IBM 360. In 74, I was taking computer courses at a vcommunity college. The computer was an *old* Honeywell. I learned assembler, and played around with FORTRAN when I could get machine time. We also had a couple of TTYs in the library that hooked into an HP system belonging to the county. That’s where I learned BASIC.
I remember the first articles on “build it yourself” computers. I’ve got the issue of Radio Electronics that had the Mark 8 (based on the 8008 cpu).
Years later, a housemate got a TRS-80 Model I. And I wound up being the guy who fixed everybody else’s coding mistakes. In Dec of 1980 I got my own system, a Model III. I still have it, though it’s been upgraded to a Model 4, 128k with hi-res graphics. As I like to tell people, I’ve got a $4k-5k computer that isn’t worth $40.
George Phillips [gp2000 at rogers.wave.ca]
I just can’t resist adding my little nostagia/trivia trip.
I discovered the magic of computers in a Radio Shack. My brother and I typed in a small sample program [ 10 INPUT “WHAT IS YOUR NAME”;A$:PRINT “HELLO, “A$ ] and I was absolutely astounded at what it did. It seems silly in retrospect, but I’d never seen anything like it before. We manged to get all of the lunar lander program typed in and running before the store closed. Soon after we discovered that our high school had one hidden away and it just went from there.
Now fast forward about 10 years. I’m now a grad student with the usual “spare” time to fill and my brother and are idly considering how we might recreate those old TRS-80 programs for ourselves and others. He hacks up some screen display and keyboard input routines, I make a BASIC -> C translator and before we know it a 10 MHz AT (286) is running those TRS-80 programs. Boy, did I learn some things I didn’t know about BASIC.
But, of course, some programs don’t run because of PEEKs and POKEs we don’t support. Sure, we could fake some more of those, maybe even a whole ROM routine or translate simple USR() calls, but why extend everything ad-hoc when you could just bite the bullet and emulate the whole Z-80? It could work, right? Could it? There was only one way to find out. After some sleepness nights out came a Z-80 emulator in C that when mated with our screen + keyboard routines would emulate the TRS-80 slowly. I hadn’t written assembler in years and never on the PC but clearly it _had_ to be done.
It was cool the way the TRS-80 got me into bare-metal programming on my new PC. Soon enough the emulator was running in real time and I knew I’d never have to go without playing Time Trek ever again.
R.L.Ethridge [gp2000 at rogers.wave.ca]
I have fond memories of my TRS-80 computers. I read Ira’s web page and thought I’d respond. My first computer was a 16k Level II cassette Model I system. I really didn’t have much money so I couldn’t buy much software for it and the cassette drive was extremely limited in what it could do. It did allow me to program without being “tied” to a mainframe. For it’s price it had remarkable power. As newer, less expensive computers came to the market I sold my unit and bought a VIC-20 system. I deeply regret that decision! After a year and a half I gave away the VIC 20 . In 1987 I purchased an Amiga A1000 and enjoyed it but it wasn’t quite the same.
I’ve since gone on to the IBM compatible route and have even built one from parts. The experience came from buying a TRS-80 Model 4P at an auction. A friend and I installed an additional 64k to max the machine’s standard internal ram. I later bought a diskless green-screen Model 4 and retrofitted a serial port and disk drives. They say this is a fair tough project but it worked! By tearing down and rebuilding Model III’s and 4’s I learned a lot about computer construction. Of course, I also learned the fine art of removing the vacuum from a picture tube!I have since retrofitted a Model 12 to a 512k 16B computer with external hard drive. I had help from the fidonet TRS-MOD134 message conference in setting the necessary jumpers on the memory boards.
This brings me to one 16B computer, two 128k 4’s, a 128k 4P and, yes, a 48k Model I with two drives was given to me and rests honorably in my den. I’ve acquired a large library of books, tapes and disks that I still use frequently. With emulation, I can run most software on my “clones” even if my old machines break down and parts are impossible to find. I can’t say that I work for some large computer firm; I’m just a hobbyist. I enjoy them and will continue to do so long into the future!
Steve McCoy [smccoy at simologydot com]
It was fall 1980, during the semester of my Senior year at Benton High School, in Benton Illinois were my computer career started. From the beginning of the year I was playing with a Apple II at school during study hall that no one was even turning on. The computer just sat in the corner of the library doing nothing. I started reading the manual and learned to type in programs (BASIC) and save them on the single sided floppy disk drive.
By christmas the teachers had also found interest in the machine since I seemed to understand it, and had moved it into the teachers area of the library. As christmas got closer I was told that I could no longer use the Apple now that the teachers understood it and wanted to use it for other school duties. I complained to my parents about really enjoying the machine and wished for one of my own.
That christmas they purchased a Model III 16k cassette tape machine for $1,000 dollars along with two programs Haunted House and Raaka-tu (text based adventures). I couldn’t get enough time on the silly thing. I bought books and typed in my own BASIC programs and ‘CSAVE’ my programs on cassette tapes.
I’m now 35 and have a wonderful career working as a Computer Consultant/Engineer for fortune 500/200 insurance companies. I feel that I really owe large amounts of my career to my parents (who purchased that first computer), Radio Shack (who built the Model III), and people like my wife, computer clubs, and friends who have supported my efforts to learn more about these fascinating machines.
Bernhard Zeller [zeller at de.ibmdot com]
I started with TRS-80 and computers at all in 1987 when our school started first time with computer lessons. Before I found my fable for programming when I got contact with TI99 and Casio FX501P programmable calculators.
First we had only cassette an 16 k !! RAM. Later we got the single sided 35/40 track drives and TRS-DOS. I soon was bored by basic and started assembler programming. Since tbug was the only program that was available for us, I wrote my own disassembler in Basic (one instruction per second) and analyzed the ROM to write own extensions using the DOS vectors. Then I started to repair the hardware if necessary.
1981 I left the school and the TRS-80s but in 1986 the school bought new computers and I got one very cheap including four 5.25″ and two 8″ drives. At this time I had NEWDOS-80. Finally I got a doubler (like LNW but a german product) that worked more reliable than single density (it had a better data separator, even for single density). The only thing that did not work was to format double density 8″ however I could read 8″ double density that was written by another computer. At this point I gave up but in 1990 I bought a 3.5 ” drive that worked fine with low density (720k) but not with 1.44 MB. The same effect as with 8″ drives.
Disassembling long nights within NEWDOS-80 and the datasheet of the WDC 1791 finally gave the answer. NEWDOS-80 had a bug in the format routine (think it was SYS6/SYS). The gap length was incorrect (longer than it should be) and this took me very long to find because I saw the mismatch but did not think that it is a problem when the gap is longer than it should be. Zaping the newdos 80 now fixed the problem. Another zap was necessary for the different drive rotation speed of 360 instead of 300 rpm. Now I could store 1.44 MB but had not enough software to fill up one diskette and a single drive copy took about 45 diskette swaps. At this time I bought a second cheap TRS-80 with two double sided 40 track disk drives but then I stored them in the cellar where they remained in the box during 2 moves.
Some weeks ago I unpacked them because I noticed that the boxes became wet in the cellar (it’s an old house where we live now). I had to disassemble all the boxes and clean the boards. I had to fix some errors and found that some ICs went bad during the time. But some time ago I could by a Tektronix oszilloscope from my company and this helped a lot to find the problems.
Now they are back in the box because my woman is back from vacation and we don’t have a big flat. But I have an emulator running on my PC …
Robert [lord-of-hell at quanta.paypcdot com]
Hello there! I saw your letters page, and couldn’t help but share my own impressions about the TRS-80 and how it introduced me to the wonderful world of computers.
Let’s rewind the calendar to summer 1979, shall we? I just turned thirteen. Computers with 16k RAM and cassette storage were $1,000, and 48K Apple ][ systems were over $3,000 with all of the components (monitor, disk drives, etc, were all sold separately).
Hard disks were ridiculously expensive and were generally only available for fantastically expensive systems, and even then, they were such behemoth sizes like 5 and 10MB and were 8″ (or more) in diameter. My only impressions of computers were from brochures I’d acquire by writing to these giant companies like HP, IBM, CDC, etc. I’d dud up my name and make a big-sounding company to maximise the chances they’d take me seriously enough to mail back something. About 2/3rds of them actually did.
Being a child of a single mom and not even middle class at that, the idea of getting a computer was as remote to me as those machines in the brochures – I could only dream of what promise they offered.
Later on, a wonderful private school (Avon Old Farms in Avon Connecticut) gave me a full scholarship to attend their prestigious institution. And lo! They had these computers! A PDP-8/e with 2 DECWriters, a smart term, a blue pig (Lear Siegler ADM-3A), and one paper tape punch machine and 2 TRS-80 Model I Level II (16k) w/cassette storage. With vivid clarity, I remember touring the school and when we got to the computer room, I couldn’t resist! At last!
What an introduction I had, though!
RADIO SHACK LEVEL II BASIC
WOW! A real live computer! Halting first steps, but damn, I could TALK to this MACHINE!! Well, I loved the school (which is an all boys school built out of red sandstone with slate rooves – the place looks like a Mediaeval English Castle — if you’re ever near Avon, it’s worth a visit).
Anyway… fast forwarding a bit. I had this insatiable curiosity to learn how to talk to this thing! My advisor, the Dean of Students actually (H. B. Pennell), was also a computer nut and had hundreds of pages of hand-written materials he used as a textbook for his computer classes. He was a very patient older man, who must have sensed my massive hunger to understand these things. Every day, he’d hand me another dozen or two photocopied pages of his “textbook” — even though I was just a freshman kid, and not in any of his classes… He fed me all of his textbook, day by day until it was exhausted… It concluded on some pretty advanced stuff, and stopped just shy of assembly language.
WOW! I remember my first program… of course it was the probably universal two-liner that everyone must write…
10 PRINT "Hello there!"
20 GOTO 10
and then variations to make cutesy patterns like….
10 FOR I = 1 TO 50
20 FOR J = 1 TO I
30 PRINT " ";
40 NEXT J
50 PRINT "HELLO"
60 NEXT I
70 FOR I = 1 TO 49
80 FOR J = 1 TO 50-I
90 PRINT " ";
100 NEXT J
110 PRINT "HELLO"
120 NEXT I(golly, such naive code, eh? later on I learned that you didn't need to specify variables for the NEXT statements, and you could chain more than one statement in a line).
Then... through my kind Dean's "textbook" I learned the computers had GRAPHICS!!!! Simple, chunky, really hacky.... but I could make pictures! I could draw things! All of you reading this now who weren't there, probably can't imagine what could possibly be exciting about 128x48 monochrome graphics (3:2 aspect ratio no less - it wasn't until the Macintosh that computer graphics had square pixels [in the consumer market]). You're all (now) using megapixel displays with 24 bpp, sporting CPUs hundreds of times faster than this humble computer's. But I assure you, this was magic. It was awesome - and it was a VERY short time before I used up my birthday savings on William Barden Jr's Z-80 assembly language book + Tandy's assembler (software delivered via CASSETTE tapes). I was in heaven. My very first assembler program was also probably everyone's first:
Yeha! I could blink the screen faster than the eye could register it!! I still remember the opcodes for LDIR (EDB0) and LD HL,xxxx (21 xx xx).... And then I wrote a scrolling routine to whip the screen around... and then a scanline scroller (TRS-80 heads can appreciate what's involved with that -- since the graphics were really special characters (six-pixel matrix 2x3) high-ascii from 128...191).
I was in pigshit heaven. My first programs were hand-assembled (I kept a tiny white booklet always nearby for opcodes -- MOSTEK Z-80 thing) and POKEd in and run. (I now appreciated what Memory Size? was really asking me for here! :))) )
Now Avon Old Farms was very good to me... at the end of that year, they actually let me borrow the computer over the summer and use it. When I think back now, that was a truly amazing thing they did for a kid like me. After having had some dealings with the neurotic school administrations of the school a young friend of mine, I couldn't imagine this happening in today's world.
Anyhow - later on after the first year in high school, that summer... I met a friend who happened to have a Scott Adams Adventure game (Pyramid of Doom, #8) WOW! His copy was a bit worn, and there was a dead-even chance the program wouldn't load - I had fiddled with the tape recorder's volume to maximise chances of success... folks, these 8 or 9K programs would take 2 or 3 minutes to load - at any time, a CRC error could kill your load attempt, forcing you to rewind the tape and try again. The TRS-80 put up status during a SYSTEM / load (**) and would blink the right * as records were read off tape. I'd cross my figures and sit there hoping I'd not see the dreaded C show up indicating a failed load.
Seeing the *? prompt was like seeing the Holy Grail... a quick slap of / (enter) and I was up and running - I'd leave the thing on for DAYS and DAYS while I played it. (yes, folks, computers back then rarely crashed - in fact, the only time I ever "rebooted" was when I turned it off or lost power - amazing, and hard to believe I know). Also, remember... these things were absolutely SILENT. No fans. The Macintosh Plus and Amiga A500 were the last machines really to be made without fans. Funny, as I sit in a room of 3 computers and many hard drives, the din all of those fans is not trivial.
Anyhow... that little text game riveted me... and I remember spending dozens and dozens of hours trying to find the Pharoah's Heart (it was a red herring in the game - not a treasure per se, but often hinted about).
My next game was Morloc's Tower from Automated Simulations. A sort of D&D / arcade game with very blocky graphics, but was still a lot of fun. Rush's "Tom Sawyer" is linked with this game for me, because I remember hearing it on the radio which would be playing in the background... Weird - whenever I hear the song even now, my mind imagines Morlock's Tower and the TRS-80 screen "shaking" (by sending an OUT command to the right port, you could switch the character set to a double-sized one -- by flipping it to double-size and back you could "shake" the screen -- a cheap hack, but it was actually pretty cool).
Anyway.... by this time I was MASSIVELY hooked. I spent my life in my room (which I convinced my mom to move to the basement where it was cool and dark)... I'd tear apart program listings - I remember hacking the crap out of Gomoku and translating it to assembly language and improving the AI to the point where it would beat me more than I beat it. Names like Yves Lempreurer, Leo Cristopherson, Scott Adams, etc were legends to me.
Games like Asylum.... (don't look UP!), etc - all very cool, and groundbreaking in their way even though by today's standards, they might not rate a second look. And that would be a shame - because what those old games had was creativity and playability. But of course, I may just be guilty of old man's halcyon disease! 🙂
Incidentally, I was starting to consume more and more information and data about computers... I had begun to cast a not-so-mildly jealous eye at the Apple ][ with its colour graphics, sound, hardware expansion, etc. But there was no way in hell I'd be able to afford one for myself.
That summer of 1980... I'll always remember with fondness. Atari VCS2600 gaming, hacking on my TRS-80 (experimenting with animation, sound, all sorts of mischief)... I was in my own world - and through the computer, it seemed so vast and wonderful. There didn't seem to be any limits. I never looked at the thing and said "aww, only 16k, can't do anything with that" I always looked past it. When I started to exceed the symbol table limits for my programs, I'd assemble them in stages and write "multi-loaders" to piece them together. I'd always find a way to make it work. It wasn't sexy - debugging was often tedious - at times, as simple as poking stuff onto the screen during the gnarly stuff, especially during interrupt routines.
I always ran across people who were willing to help me out or share their programs with me. The environment back then was totally wide-open and free. Tons of source code... tons of programming tips and tricks... It was awesome.
My love affair with the TRS-80 lasted a few years... well into the Model 4 era and LDOS. I remember finding all of the documentation on LDOS's internal to be utterly fascinating reading (filter drivers, all sorts of things) -- I was a natural OS junkie - getting into writing device drivers and key filters the works. My first hack to TRSDOS was to yank all of the stupid delay loops in it during bootup to make it load in a second, rather than 8. Of course, the next one was to eliminate the security stuff to make copying anything I wanted a breeze... 🙂 🙂 The PATCH * command was my friend.
But sooner or later... the Apple ][ proved too seductive. Colour graphics (160x192 colour, 320x192 mono (with lots of gotchas and tricks), sound, etc... I managed to eventually get one, and Wizardry hooked me really badly (I was into AD&D in a big way then as well)... My love for the TRS-80 wasn't gone totally... I had actually gone QUITE far in bringing Wizardry to the TRS-80... (Using the Legacy of Llylgamyn "windowing" interface style) -- I was just about ready with the dungeon module, before giving up interest. (All the character generation and "management" was done, most of the graphics, etc -- I probably still have my TRS-80 graphics layout sheets somewhere -- those funny graph paper like sheets Tandy sold to help design graphics, etc 🙂 ).
Anyhow... there's so much more to tell, but I can't imagine it has that much value to you all... I ran into a very friendly Tandy store manager who let me use his very nice setup (3 floppies, 48k, WOW), in exchange we entered all of his daily report stuff at night and took card of his SOS (Store Operating System) stuff - kept it backed up and running smoothly. He wasn't a computer guy at all - and the other store guys were very cool too. We were all friends, and we had a very casual relationship going... we'd hack on their machines by day, and when the store closed, we'd enter the receipts, transmit the data to the homeoffice via their 1200 baud modem connecting through Tymnet, and they'd drive us home).
It was really ... a different era. I couldn't possibly convey what it was all like... I can only hope I shed a tiny bit of light why remembering and using emulators like TRS80 and Stella (VCS2600) are so emotional for me. These computer don't look impressive now. They're 1.77Mhz... no graphics, really... 1 bit PWM sound, if you can call it that. But they inspired a whole generation's dreams, and for us digital kids it fostered a respect for technology and an uncompromising desire to make the "impossible" real. We could fashion our reality in the manner we imagined - and for once, perhaps, the artist could really bring his imagination into existence. No more shadows on the cave walls here.
I'm still tracking down some of my friends and some authors from the age (William Barden Jr is California and has a website, for instance)... but it's a warm and fond recollection of what was so much of my life as a young lad.
It was the summer of 1978 right before my sophomore year of high school. Electronics was my hobby was naturally my favorite hang out was Radio Shack. I walked in and saw this strange item with a knobless TV set in front of it. It was a computer, for $599.00! Needless to see, I stayed in there and played with their demo until they kicked me out saying, "Kid, you wanna play with one, buy one!"
OKAY I thought to myself. My sister just got a job at a local Dunkin Donuts so I thought maybe she could get me a job too. Yes she did, and I slaved for 6 months at $2.65 an hour to save that money. Actually, I had a little more than that so I could buy some programs. So, on April 28th 1979 my new toy, hobby I should say, became part of my life.
It was fun at first, until I realized how unreliable cassette was. But, I was determined to make the best of this. I started writing programs ; small at first, then more complicated and larger to where 4k was just not enough. My part time jobs ( after suffering a lay off from D-Ds ) yieled another $280.00, enought for Level 2 and 16k!
Whew! We were smoking now! All sorts of neat functions like SIN, COS, VARPTR, STRING$!!!! But, the usr() function was what really intrigued me. I learned to write small assembly language programs like a screen capture to even stand-alone programs.
College was upon me, and the $99.00 upper/lower case mod helped with writing papers. Also more part time work yielded enough to buy 2 TEAC disk drives and a 32K Expansion Interface from American Small Business Computers at a much lower price than Radio Shack ( I wonder it they're still in business ). A lot of what I did in college involved the computer - to mathematical simulations or even keeping track of Student's grades for my teacher assistant job. Even some software I wrote and sold was sufficient for my resume ; it helped me land a job in Fall of 1987.
Then, the time had come; 1990 brought on the demise of my trusty old '80. The expansion connectors could not stand another erasing - and then video had lost sync for the 3rd time. So, I found a place to donate it and my computer hobby advaced to a PC clone.
I still kind of miss my '80. The amount of software and documentation available for it was outstanding. You can't find out that type of info for windows from a $19.99 "and other mysteries" book. I'll always remember how that little TRS-80 got me a fun hobby and led me to a great career.
November 11, 1991 - Roy T Beck
The title of this article represents a small amount of literary license in that I have borrowed on the recollections and knowledge of other people in its preparation, with special credit due to Art McAninch, Jr.. Art is a great repository of Model I hardware, software and lore, and is really the man to talk to about the Model I.
The Model I was Radio Shack's first venture into computer manufacturing. It was not their first offering in the market place. Indeed, I have an old catalog of theirs which predates the RSC-x series of catalogs, and it lists some S-100 stuff! But the Model I (it did not originally have a model number, it was just the TRS-80 Computer) was my first desk top machine, and like other first loves, it sticks in my memory.
I bought mine with the LARGE memory, 16K, if you please, as opposed to the standard 4K which normally came with the Level I! I believe that cost me an extra $100 when I bought it. It was the Level 1 version because that's what the store had on hand and I was anxious to get it home and play with it. I upgraded to Level 2 at a later date (for another $100).
What is the difference between the Level 1 and Level 2 ROM's? The Level 1 ROM was a 4K ROM which contained the cassette operating system (OS) and a version of BASIC known in that era as Palo Alto Tiny BASIC, written by a gentleman named Wang, I understand. The Palo Alto BASIC was very limited in size, and could only accommodate TWO strings, A$ and B$. It also was very limited in variables, 26 being allowed, and those were the letters A-Z, of course. The OS was cassette only, and was not a DOS. That came later. Tiny BASIC was delightful in one respect; most commands could be abbreviated to a single letter. You sure could write tight code with it!
Level I was a marvel of simplicity and terseness. It only had two diagnostics, which were WHAT? and SORRY. WHAT? meant you had a syntax error, and SORRY was sort of a catchall, which could mean almost anything.
The Level 2 ROM was a 12K set of 1, 2, or 3 chips (there were several versions of the Level 2 chip set) which was still a cassette OS, (by Microsoft) but which had built in "hooks" for a future DOS to connect to. Level 2 allowed far more variable names for both numeric and string variables, and you could do a lot more with it. Unfortunately, you now had to spell out all the commands; ? for PRINT was the only remaining single letter command abbreviation. Also, L? would not work in place of LPRINT; (I tried). But you could still pack BASIC statements with no spaces between symbols. That was the era when we learned how to pack BASIC so tightly it became unreadable! A write-only language, you might say! I remember several people wrote some clever utilities which would unpack and print out any BASIC listing in elegant and readable form, even a program which could not otherwise be easily analyzed.
For a while, a trick was popular which involved having both Level 1 and 2 available in the same machine, selected by a toggle switch. The idea was clever, but it was difficult to implement because of the varied physical configuration of the level 2 ROMs and because of the additional power required. The switch selected an enable line of one or the other ROM(s), giving either Level 1 or 2 operation. Shifting on the fly was not permissible; the machine would bomb. A reboot was necessary in order to achieve operation in the other BASIC.
The power supply for a Model I was a small black cube, about 3" on an edge which plugged into the power strip and had a trailing cord which plugged into the keyboard or EI. The cube was factory sealed with solvent, and could only be opened with a sharp knife or a hacksaw. When a power supply died, the knowledgeable owners knew to open it up by whatever means to gain access to the small fuse soldered inside! Never before have I seen a fuse hidden inside a piece of equipment such that it was not reasonably replaceable. Two of my power supplies are presently taped together because of this "undocumented feature".
As originally designed, the Model I keyboard had +5 Volts available on one pin of its 40 line bus. I never knew why it was there, but in theory you could use this 5 volts to power some outboard accessory. However, RS soon decided this feature was a liability, as you could easily overload the power supply serving the keyboard. Thereafter, whenever your Model I keyboard went into a RS Computer Center for modification, repair, upgrade or whatever, the technician always cut the 5 volt source to this pin, and grounded the pin instead.
The Model I also had only upper case symbols in its screen display, as RS did not anticipate anyone doing word processing on it. In order to save about 10 cents per machine, they omitted the static memory chip for bit 6 of the screen memory, and did a little peculiar logical arithmetic which finally sent an address into the character generator ROM and caused it to output an upper case character whether you typed upper or lower case into it. This bit of logic was the cause of some strange errors in BASIC. For example, if you accidentally input a lower case version of some letters, the resulting internal representation was not per the rules of BASIC and would cause SYNTAX ERROR to appear; yet the line looked OK! As I remember, the "@" sign was one of the trouble makers.
Several solutions were developed for the problem of the missing lower case. Remember, the character generator contained the lower case character set, it just couldn't be accessed by the original firmware. The most popular fix was to add a 1 bit X 1024 static memory chip (a 2102) piggy backed on top of one of the seven original static memory chips. One trace cut and two jumpers were required to complete this fix. This fix became known generically as the "Electric Pencil" fix, because Electric Pencil users needed the lower case capability, and they showed in their manual how the customer could do it.
Unfortunately this fix gave rise to the notorious "flying a". For some reason, the character generator ROMs used by Radio Shack had the lower case "a" stored in such a way that the "a" was one or two scan lines too high on the screen. This did not affect the printed output, of course, but it sure looked funny on the screen until you got used to it! One of the apochryphal stories about this "feature" was that supposedly some other customer ordered a large batch of character generator ROM's and the ROM manufacturer located the "a" incorrectly. Radio Shack then was alleged to have bought the batch of defective ROM's "real cheap" and worked out the upper case only routine so the ROM's were usable. Who knows the truth?
However, simply adding a static memory chip revealed what else Radio shack had been doing to the firmware. With the additional memory chip installed, the firmware now called for control characters from the character generator and the machine now produced gibberish at boot time, and required a software routine to produce valid letters.
This lower case fix of adding a static RAM chip became the de facto standard, and the designers of after-market operating systems all included some logic to detect whether the machine had the extra RAM chip or not, and would handle screen displays correctly. Except Radio Shack, who had to do the fix differently! They did something else to the circuitry, I don't remember what, which made their software a little different than the aftermarket software. The aftermarket people then had to incorporate another wrinkle to detect the Radio Shack fix and apply the necessary logic to it.
Yet another lower case fix was offered by The Electronic Closet, 8187 N.E. Blakely Court W., Bainbridge Island, Washington, 98110; they are still in business and offer a substitute ROM to go with the added static memory chip. Their character generator has an extra set of lower case letters in it, one where ASCII code expects it, and another which replaces the control characters! With this setup, you can have lower case in cassette operation and all disk software works properly also. The only problem is you can't have control characters on the screen even if you try. There aren't any! They also offer other features, including custom ROM's and a selectable alternate character set, such as Greek or French or whatever.
Another problem with the Model I was the lack of a CONTROL key. Electric Pencil by Michael Schrayer (which was ported over from the CP/M world) needed a CONTROL key. The same page in the manual which showed how to add the memory chip for lower case also showed how to add the missing control key. The keyboard matrix allowed for the key, it simply wasn't there. The fix was to install any available momentary contact push switch somewhere on the keyboard and attach it electrically to the empty position in the matrix. You should have seen the modifications which sprouted on the Model I's owned by the more adventurous! This particular fix was obviated when Michael Schrayer rewrote Electric pencil to use the CLEAR key as a CONTROL key. This also became a de facto standard. Any programmer who needed a CONTROL key and who did not need the CLEAR key simply programmed the CLEAR key to be interpreted as the missing CONTROL key.
The Model I was notorious for bouncing key contacts. The actual keys on the keyboard actuate tiny switch contacts underneath the keycaps. If the tiny contacts bounce excessively, the keyboard scanner software may interpret this as multiple presses of the key and put multiple images on the screen. Some keyboards were far worse than other. Three different fixes were available. One was to attempt cleaning and adjustment of the contacts. In the original keyboard, the keycap could be pulled straight up and off, exposing the contacts to the tender ministrations of the owner or his friend. Sometimes cleaning and/or bending of the contacts improved matters, sometimes things got worse. Very iffy. The second fix was to modify the scanner software so that it would wait longer to decide if the key was closed or not. RS offered a software fix for the Level I Model I in the form of the KBFIX tape cassette program. This loaded in and replaced the scanner in ROM and did help the situation. I don't remember what they did for Level II. Disk systems included the improved scanner as part of the DOS. The real fix came later as a new keyboard, made by ALPS and known to us by that name. The keys were shaped differently, which allowed easy external identification, and the keycaps were no longer removable. The ALPS keyswitch was quite different internally and was a vast improvement over the original. The Model III and later machines got the ALPS keyboards from the beginning.
Unreliable cassette operation was a problem with the original version of the Model I. The machine appeared to be critically sensitive to the playback level of the cassette when loading files.
One of the aftermarket devices offered was the Data Dubber, about a $50 item which was supposed to clean up the waveforms and allow easier loading of cassette files. I know they sold a lot of these, but I don't know how successful they were in improving loading. I am sure they were on the wrong design track in tackling the problem, as the real problem was a timing problem in the ROM.
After a year or two of complaints, RS announced the solution to the problem and a fix. The problem was a bad assumption made when the ROM was designed. The fix compensated for (but did not cure) the bad design and was designated the XRX board. It was a small board, about 2" x 2" with a couple of chips on it, a few wires to be soldered to the keyboard, and a couple of trace cuts. I had it added to my machine, and the improvement was magical. From a delicate adjustment of the volume control, operation went to almost no concern at all about the volume setting. I just left it at midscale thereafter and never had to touch it again. Radio shack would install this fix for free if you complained loudly enough. This was fixed in software in some of the later Model I ROM's, those that showed "MEM SIZE" on the screen at boot up, as opposed to "MEMORY SIZE".
Originally RS supplied a CTR-41 cassette recorder with the Model I. Later they changed to a CTR-80 machine. And then the troubles began! Owners besieged RS with complaints that the recorder was damaging prerecorded tapes. RS refused to believe this was possible. Finally the truth came out. If the recorder's STOP button was actuated in the middle of a playback sequence, the signals on the tape would be garbled. But how was this possible? When the STOP button was actuated, the motor current was interrupted, and an inductive kick was generated which somehow fed back to the record/playback head which put a glitch on the tape. But why didn't the CTR-41 do the same thing? And what could be done to cure the problem? I don't know all the answers here, but evidently the internal circuitry of the CTR-41 was sufficiently different that the inductive kick of the motor did not reach the record head. As for the cure, I don't know what that was, either, but anyone who had the problem could take his CTR-80 to RS, who would wave their magic wand over the internals and make the CTR-80 stop messing up the tapes.
The pink pearl treatment was another trick discovered to keep the Model I working adequately well. The original problem was penny pinching by Radio Shack. The edge card connectors of the keyboard and the expansion interface (EI) were originally tinned with lead/tin alloy solder instead of the more professional gold plating. This worked fine initially, but eventually and gradually the lead would oxidize, which caused the edge connector to become plated with lead oxide instead of solder. The lead oxide was a semiconductor, and would interact with the 5 volt signals to cause strange values to appear on the buses, with disastrous results. Usually, the machine would simply cease operating (freezeup or lockup), necessitating a RESET to regain control. Spontaneous reboots were also commonplace. Someone discovered the Pink Pearl pencil eraser would clean the coating of lead oxide off the edge connectors, and everything would work OK again for a month or two. This became a ritual with Model I owners. Then along came EAP Co of Keller Texas. This outfit discovered a source of male edge connectors which could be soldered over the deficient solder tinned edge connectors, and which in turn had gold plated fingers. With these connectors installed, the spontaneous reboots and freezeups went away. EAP is still in business today, if you need the connectors.
Art McAninch reminded me of some other ingenious uses of the pink pearl erasers. Since the density doubler board plugs into the bottom of the expansion interface, there is a tendency for the doubler to work loose and fall out of its socket. A suitably carved pink pearl makes a useful spacer to hold the doubler in place. The RS-232 board had a different problem, and some people found a pink pearl was helpful there, also.
Those who bought a Model I without an expansion interface (EI) had several limitations to contend with. One was limited memory. The keyboard had either 4K or 16K (Max) of RAM. The other 32K was only available if you added the EI. Secondly, the floppy controller and the RS-232-C interfaces were in the EI, so you were limited to cassette operation only, and no Serial port if you lacked the EI. And finally, NO PRINTER. The printer interface was also in the EI. Of course when the cost of printers was $1000 and up, (the keyboard-only machine went for about that amount, also), most of us couldn't afford new printers. Therefore the lack of a printer port was just another minor complaint. But to their credit, RS did come out with a printer interface that plugged into the keyboard, so as printers came down in cost, the port (for about $100) could be made available. Of course the port consisted of only about 6 chips....
The original RS expansion interface was a problem. As long as you operated it only as a cassette system, it usually worked adequately. But when floppy disks came along, it shortcomings became evident. Apparently the root cause of trouble was bad signal timing on the bus brought about by poor design of the bus. RS originally blamed the trouble on "non-Radio Shack" memory chips installed by owners unwilling to pay their exorbitant price for chip sets.
When this explanation failed to explain all the observed troubles, they dug deeper. The next fix was a small additional cable between the keyboard and the expansion interface spliced by means of a small DIN connector. This too was only a patch, and the troubles continued.
The next fix was the addition of a special 40 line cable between the keyboard and the expansion interface, known as the "pregnant cable" because of the small black plastic enclosure in the middle of the cable which contained a couple of buffer chips. This fix had an unintended side effect. Since the pregnant cable required +5 volts, RS elected to change the function of a ground line between the pregnancy and the expansion interface. One of the ground wires was reassigned for use as a +5 volt wire. If, later on, an unmodified cable without the pregnancy was connected to such a modified expansion interface, it promptly blew the inaccessible fuse in the power supply serving the expansion interface!
The final fix to the bad expansion interface problem was a new expansion interface board design which got rid of the bad design features and which could be relied upon to work properly. Radio Shack did this, and even kept it physically compatible with the old board so it would fit in place of the previous bad board in the same case, thus avoiding the need for a new case.
Radio Shack strongly believed the customer should stay out of the internals of his computer, and so the Model I keyboard and the EI each had one of the enclosure screws covered up with a bit of sealing wax, or something similar. If you wanted warranty service and the wax was gone, you were out of luck. When they worked on it for you, they put a special sealing label over the screw head. I can remember waiting for my warranty to expire before I dared to cautiously open up my keyboard. That was in the beginning. Later, I seldom bothered to put the screws back in place; I just slapped the boards into the case and dropped the top cover on it, and that was that.
An interesting sidelight to this problem of the deficient EI was the creation of a new company known as LNW Inc. which was in the Orange County area of southern California. This company took note of the RS design problem, and resolved to design a new EI board of their own which would function properly. They succeeded and were a factor in the Model I arena for a couple of years. They built up several different Model I-like machines, the last of which was called the "Team" machine. I never knew where the name Team came from. Their machine had provision for color, alternate CPU's, and some other features. Unfortunately, they lacked sufficient capitalization, and they were effectively following RS, not leading. They finally folded.
Another quirk of the Model I was the floppy drives. The original drives were 35 track, single sided Shugart SA-400's at a shocking price. The floppy drive industry was just taking off at that time, and apparently originally thought 3 drives was aplenty for a machine. Radio Shack, to their credit, figured they should design for 4 drives.
Needing a 4th drive select line, they opted for unused line 32 in the ribbon cable. To simplify inventory stocking and to keep customer's icky fingers out of the drives, RS developed the "pulled teeth" concept for the ribbon cable which connected as a daisy chain to all 4 drives. The effect of this was that all four drives were addressed with all drive selects enabled. The 4 connectors on the cable were unique, each one having only one select finger intact, the other three being missing. Thus the position on the cable determined what the drive number would be, and the internal drive select jumpers were never altered.
Note that the concept of a universal drive which did not have to be internally addressed by the installer was such a good idea that IBM adopted it, with a variation, for their PC machines. In their scheme, all floppy drives are also addressed the same, and the curiously twisted floppy cable takes care of the actual addressing.
However, when Shugart (or someone else in the industry) decided a 4th drive select line was necessary, they decided the 4th select line should be line 6. Worse, double sided operation was being developed, and a side select line was needed. Another someone in the industry decided the logical one to use was line 32. But Radio Shack had already assigned line 32 as the 4th drive select line! Alas and Alack! What to do about the problem of four double sided drives?
Radio Shack came up with a solution. Ignore the problem and hope it will go away! It didn't. The outside DOS vendors decided the only way was to allow four SS drives, or three DS drives, and this required a new ribbon cable with all teeth intact, no pulled pins. So junk your old ribbon cable and go buy a new one with 5 connectors on it with all teeth intact. $Ouch!$.
And then along came an unsung genius/hero who noted two things. First, the ribbon connectors were reversible; that is, they would plug onto the edge card connectors either way if the little key was removed (it was often missing, anyway). Second, all the odd numbered connectors were ground, and only the even numbered connectors had functions assigned. The genius part was to recognize that if ALL five connectors on the drive cable were turned 180 degrees, then the previous even lines (with some teeth missing) all became odd numbered ground connectors, and the previous odd lines (with all teeth present) became even numbered signal lines. Suddenly the missing teeth problem was moot, as no more than three were missing on any one connector and the remaining lines were ample for grounding purposes.
The remaining part of the solution was to revise the addressing on each drive so the drive would respond to only one address line, instead of all four, and the side select function would respond to address line 32. Now DS operation with 3 drives was feasible for the Model I.
The floppy disk controller (FDC) originally chosen by RS was not able to separate data pulses which were very close together. With 35 tracks, the system worked adequately; with 40 track drives, the high numbered tracks were sometimes unusable. PERCOM solved this by offering a data separator designed to work with the FDC and reliably sort the data out of the noise.
Double Density was a whole new ball of snakes. The original floppy disk controller was the WD-1771, designed only for single density (SD) operation. Since the Level II ROMs in the machine knew almost nothing about reading disks, and what they did know was limited to single density, the boot track (zero) had to be in single density, no options. Several designers of double density adapters considered the problem long and carefully. Their solution was to have TWO floppy disk controllers (FDC) in the machine, the original WD-1771 working in single density to boot the machine, and a second FDC able to operate in double density. A data separator was included to make the operation reliable. The DOSes then had the smarts to know when to enable one or the other of the two FDC's. But wouldn't you know, after PERCOM had established a workable technique which was acceptable to the aftermarket DOS authors, then RS had to do it differently (probably in a futile attempt to control this niche of the market) which muddied the water for everyone. The result was the aftermarket DOSes had to be revised to tell the two schemes apart and work properly with either one. Radio Shack wrote some new software to work only with their own scheme, but the whole issue soon became moot, due to the arrival of the Model III on the scene.
Did you know the RESET button on the Model I (and a heck of a lot of other machines, including CTL-ALT-DEL on the IBM) is not a RESET at all? On the Model I, the RESET button was actually wired to the NONMASKABLE INTERRUPT of the Z-80. Now you know why some lockups could not be overcome by hitting the RESET button; it never was a RESET! What was supposed to happen was the Z-80 would jump to a location (66D, I believe), and execute the recovery code chain which began there. But most of the code chain was in RAM, loaded there at BOOT time, and if the software bomb which locked up the machine altered any of this code, then you could not recover control with the RESET button. When such an unrecoverable lockup occurs, the only solution if you don't have a real RESET button is to turn the power off, wait awhile, and turn it on again, which of course loses everything you had in memory. To overcome this little trick, I wired an extra push button to the actual RESET line of my Z-80, and as long as I did not hold it down more than momentarily, I got an honest RESET which would overcome ANY software problem. Some knowledgeable IBM types do this today to their machines, for the same reasons. The RESET terminals exist on the IBM motherboard, they just don't connect to anything.
The Model I had an optional RS-232-C board which mounted in the top structure of the Expansion Interface. It suffered greatly from erratic contact between pressure contacts on the board and in the well of the EI which housed it. Due to poor design, the contacts often failed to make good contact, and the RS-232 would become erratic. Several tricks were developed by users to solve this problem, including use of the pink pearl as a spacer cum spring, mentioned earlier. None of the tricks were really neat, in my opinion. The best was to eliminate the spring contact system and solder a piece of cable in place of them, which yielded a solid, reliable system.
By this time, Radio Shack realized they had a good thing going in the Model I, but it had glaring deficiencies. The most stringent was its inability to meet a newly imposed set of FCC radio frequency interference (RFI) limitations. In fact, the Model I is notorious for the RFI crap it puts out. The FCC rules going into effect were so tough that the existing Model I could not meet them without major repackaging, and all of the foregoing narrative shows its other weaknesses. The solution was to redesign and repackage the Model I into the Model III, keeping the same logical layout for upward compatibility of software, fix all the worst features, including lack of lower case, lack of double density, lack of a decent RS-232, excess RFI, add built-in power supplies, more reliable and higher speed cassette operation, make provision for a hard drive, but still no double sided operation. The Model III is quite a good machine. And it was a one piece machine with almost no external cables for people to complain about.
Hard drive operation on a Model I was provided for, but only as an afterthought. Initially, the hard drive package was only made available for the Model III. Later, an adapter kit (No 26-1132) was offered which would permit operation of the 5 Meg hard drive package on the Model I. The package included LDOS 5.1.3 from MISOSYS, the adapter, and the TRSHD driver software.
One of the Model I's quirks was its behavior when a print operation was called for with no printer connected, or if the printer was connected and was non-functional. If you hit LPRINT or LLIST without a working printer, the Model I would wait forever before doing anything else. You had to reboot it to recover, which usually meant losing something you were working with. I once built a little connector which went on the printer edge card connector instead of the printer. This connector had a couple of pieces of wire on it so it acted as if a printer in the ready mode was always connected. I simply grounded the Paper out and BUSY signal, as I remember. This made the non-existent printer seem to be always READY, and never out of paper. The computer would then send all its data to the port, and quickly come back to Ready. I thought this was a nice little device.
As you know, the original Model I video display was a factory modified RCA television receiver, and it came with the short persistence, blue-white TV tube in it. Tough on the eyes. A company named Langly-St. Clair offered amber and green replacement tubes which you installed yourself. The amber tube had longer persistence than the the original TV tube. The green tube was even longer. In fact, the green was so slow that some people complained about the effect it had on the animation of some of the graphics games!
The Model I had a built-in relay on the keyboard to turn the tape cassette motor on and off. Unfortunately, the relay contacts tended to weld together, probably because the motor current was higher than the relay could safely handle. The result was the motor would continue running even when the software told it to stop. The temporary cure? Pick up the right end of the keyboard and bang it down onto the desk top, HARD. This would usually jar the relay loose so it would work again, for awhile. A fellow in the Los Angeles area came up with the permanent fix. He cast a germanium transistor and a couple of resistors into a small potted shape (I think he used his refrigerator's ice cube tray for a mold) with two cables hanging out. One cord plugged into the cassette player, the other mated with the cable from the computer. This allowed the relay in the keyboard to switch only the base current of the transistor, and the transistor handled the motor current. This completely solved the sticking relay problem, and was cheaper than replacing the relay, to boot. I never did replace my sticking relay, it never stuck again!
Another curious accessory for the Model I (offered by Radio Shack) was the Screen Printer. This was a device which would give you a Polaroid-like snapshot sized copy of the screen image on a piece of aluminum foil coated paper, accompanied by a burning smell. The printer used an electric arc to selectively burn away the foil, leaving the black paper showing through. It did this remarkably rapidly, the whole print cycle requiring only about 3 seconds, if I remember correctly. The concept of the printer was remarkable, as it actually took control of your Model I away from the Z-80 and did a DMA scan of the screen memory of the Model I, then transferred control back to the Z-80. Because of the DMA scan, the "Screen Printer" port on the Model I is actually just the bus of the machine. Probably RS would not have made the bus accessible to us users if it had not been for the Screen Printer! However, the Screen Printer wasn't compatible with other devices, gave only a small piece of paper, and soon fell out of favor.
Another curiousity was the Exatron Stringy Floppy. This was a cassette tape drive using tiny cassettes which were endless loops. This scheme included a 1K ROM which was addressed into the Z-80 memory map where RS had left a blank area. If memory serves, the blank area in memory was 3000H to 37FFH, except for a few locations used by the printer and the floppy disk controller. To get started in the Exatron ROM, you did a CALL in BASIC to a location in the ROM. Because 3000H is 12288D, they put their entry point at 3045H, which was 12345D. You did a CALL 12345 in BASIC, and you were into the String Floppy system, Clever mnemonic!
Their Tape Operating System (TOS) linked with the Model I's ROM. Because their storage media (the tape) was endless, you had to go all the way around to load a program which you had just saved. No big deal, as the tape was short. The Exatron system died because the original tape cassette fabricator was a sole source, and when that company quit, no one else could produce usable cassettes, although Exatron made a valiant effort to find a second source.
I remember another cute piece of hardware by another vendor which occupied the same part of the unused memory map where EXATRON located their EPROM. This other piece of equipment was basically just a power supply, a 1K memory chip, and an address decoder. When activated, it provided a small monitor which could take over the machine and allow you to do research in and about the machine under control of the monitor instead of the RS ROMS. Since it was addressed to the same memory space as Exatron's EPROM, you could not have both in the machine simultaneously.
Another branch of the development of the Model I was by Holmes Engineering in Utah which built a sort of mother board/expansion interface, into which you plugged whichever accessory module you were interested in. I believe they offered memory, a clock, 8" drives, and I don't remember what all else. I think it was good equipment, but the market wasn't strong enough to support them. The name "Chipmunk" comes to mind as one of their product names, but I'm not sure of anything.
One of the complaints about the Model I, especially by owners of Apples, etc, was the multiplicity of wires and cables draped about a fully loaded Model I. It sure did take a lot of cable to interconnect everything! However, when I look at the back of a loaded IBM or clone these days, I feel right at home again. Wires all over the place! Oh, well.........
Some weird and wonderful aftermarket devices were created for the Model I. One of the less well-known arrangements was a board by a company named HUH Electronics which contained about a half dozen S-100 sockets. The intent was to allow use of S-100 boards on the Model I. The idea was not bad, as the HUH board plugged into the 40 pin Screen Printer socket, and tried to convert each bus over to the other, as required. The failing was that the clock line and some other important S-100 signals were not available on the 40 line TRS bus, and so any S-100 card requiring them had a problem.
A major name then, and still around, I believe, is Alpha Micro Technology. This outfit offers a motherboard and a line of accessory cards for it, including analog and digital I/O cards. Their relay cards can operate larger loads by means of the relay contacts. They had an interface card which would plug into their bus (named the A-Bus) and into the Model I, allowing the Model I to control whatever was plugged into the A-Bus. I am sure they have interface cards for other machines, including Apple, IBM, etc.
Alpha also offered a speech synthesizer. I remember a comment by a club member once that some one's speech synthesizer spoke with a Scandinavian accent, although I don't remember if it was Alpha Technology or Radio Shack's own Speech Synthesizer board! Yes, Radio Shack offered one, also.
Alpha also offered extension cords and cables of various sorts, such as floppy drive cables, hard disk cables, wye power cables to run two half height floppies on one power supply etc. They also offered the NEWCLOCK for the Models I, III and 4. This contained a clock chip and a small battery to keep it ticking when the computer was shut down. This avoided the need to answer the DATE and TIME question every time you booted up, and also put the correct time and date on your files.
Ever here of the Electric Crayon? It was an auxiliary board for the Model I which allowed you to create color images on a color monitor. I saw one once, but I don't know how it functioned. Must have had a block of memory plus a scanning circuit in it.
Another weird and wonderful device was a Rube Goldberg contraption which squatted on top of an electric typewriter, (most any brand), and by means of solenoids, struck the typewriter keys below it. This allowed any computer to interface with any electric typewriter, in theory. I once saw one driven by a Model I, and it ACTUALLY WORKED! Marvelous ingenuity to get it to function at all, but I hae me doots about its ultimate reliability.
Another problem was operation of CP/M, which was then big, on the Model I. At least two, maybe more companies created adapters for this purpose. One device was known as the Shuffleboard, which logically "shuffled" the TRS memory around in 16K blocks so CP/M could have RAM starting from 0000H, as required by CP/M. Another company, OMIKRON, offered a similar device which I bought, and which lived up to most of its promises. The most severe limitation was that only 48K of RAM was available, which did pinch a little as far as CP/M was concerned. But the device worked, and I enjoyed using it. OMIKRON also had a second adapter to allow the use of 8" floppies on the Model I, but I never tried it. Another source of CP/M for the Model I was Lifeboat Associates, who offered a modified form of CP/M which began loading at 4000H instead of 0000H, but this was incompatible with normal CP/M, and was very limiting to the user.
I also discovered another use for the OMIKRON mapper never intended by its manufacturer. The mapper had a 2K EPROM on board to give it enough intelligence to take control of the Model I at boot time, and also to contain the BIOS of the CP/M. By changing a jumper, I could prevent the EPROM from taking control, but could still engage it under control of RSM, a widely used monitor program of that time. Initially this just allowed me to disassemble the onboard EPROM to see how it was doing its tricks. The next step was to replace the OMIKRON EPROM with any 2K EPROM I wanted to read. Finally I figured out how to read a 4K EPROM in two halves by jumpering an address line. At about this time I bought an EPROM burner card for my IBM clone, and so have stopped playing with the OMIKRON mapper. But it was a useful tool in my learning process.
One of my friends, to this day, is making effective commercial use of two Model I's. He uses them to produce the paper tapes which control numerically controlled machine tools for his company. He keeps one Model I at work and has one at home, so if he has to take a problem home, all he carries is one floppy disk.
One of these machines is identified as a Model 1P (for portable); it is assembled with side brackets, a hinge, and a suitcase carrying handle. A couple of floppy drives are similarly packaged, so the whole machine is portable as two pieces of luggage, with only 3 cables to connect when he sets it up. Very effective and neatly done. We still see this machine at every monthly meeting of the San Gabriel Valley TRS User's Group, of which I was president in 1991.
The Model I can play music via a small addon board named Orchestra-80. This was a mono version, and later a stereo version identified as Orchestra-85 was offered. Still later there was an Orchestra-90 for the Models III and 4 and an Orchestra-90 CC for the Color machine. The Orchestra-90 produces fairly decent sounding music with up to 5 "voices" through an audio amplifier.
The radio amateurs developed an interface for the Model I which allowed it to transmit and receive frequency shift keyed (FSK) Morse code, presenting both the incoming and outgoing messages on the screen and saving them to disk files, if desired. This hardware worked well and was fairly popular. Considering the variability of incoming code (duration of dots, dashes and spaces) the software for this setup was really excellent.
Probably more different DOSes have been written for the Model I than any other machine that ever existed. I will list the ones I know of, although there are probably others.
TRSDOS came with the disk versions of the machine. Version numbers include 1.0, 2.0, 2.1, 2.2, 2.3, 2.3a, 2.7DD and 2.8DD. Version 1.0 was atrocious, unusable and short-lived. 2.0 was buggy and barely usable. 2.1 was better, but still buggy. 2.2 was a general cleanup of troubles, but included a new, fatal error of its own. It was so bad that 2.3 came out within a few days. I don't know 2.3a, but I have been told it is incompatible with 2.3. Art McAninch has discovered a V2.7S, single density that was released with a software program. This too seems incompatible with almost all else! 2.7DD and 2.8DD were double density DOSes, incompatible with all the foregoing.
A genius named Randy Cook was the author of the early versions, up through V2.3 if my rumors are correct. Randy gave TRSDOS its architecture and flavor, and it is really a great credit to Randy that our DOSes have so many nice features. Randy had a falling-out with Radio Shack, and went his separate way.
The Model II/12/16 family also had a DOS with version numbers 2.0 and 2.0a and also a TRSDOS 4.x series; these had nothing to do with the Model I, but the similarity of names sometimes led to confusion as to which was for what.
NEWDOS 2.1 was a cleaned-up version of TRSDOS V2.1 done by APPARAT, Inc, of Denver Colorado. Primarily it fixed up the errors of TRSDOS V2.1. NEWDOS+ was NEWDOS 2.1 with added utilities, including the famous Superzap. NEWDOS80 V1.0 was a completely rewritten DOS for the Model I. NEWDOS80 V2.0 was an improvement over NEWDOS80 V1.0, and is highly regarded and still used by many persons today, as a version of it was also written for the Model III.
There also were patches for NEWDOS 2.1 which made it into NEWDOS 77 for use with Percom's 77 track drives. My guess is the patches were by Percom.
There is also a NEWDOS80 V2.5 for both the Models I and III. These are the hard drive versions of NEWDOS80 V2.0. They consist of some additional files and an additional appendix and some ZAPS to the V2.0 manuals.
There are also versions of NEWDOS80 identified as NEWDOS86 and NEWDOS90 BY Warwick Sands in Australia. These exist in both Model I and III versions, and the latest version is being offered at the present time. Newdos80 and its successors was probably the most flexible DOS ever written (except perhaps MULTIDOS) when it came to configuring it for different floppy (and hard) disk formats. The most difficult thing about it was configuring it to read and write those selfsame formats. Many is the hour I have spent struggling with the rather terse manual, my machine and a strange disk, trying to make them all compatible. The formatting structure was controlled by the infamous PDRIVE command.
In fact, the PDRIVE was so difficult, especially if someone gave you a disk and didn't tell you what the PDRIVE was, that there was a real need for a routine to read the disk and determine what PDRIVE had been used to write the disk. I saw such a utility (called PDIR, if my memory is good) some years ago; Lance Wolstrup recently wrote another such device as a "finger exercises"! He writes good code just as easily as I drive a car. Phenomenal!
Art also has discovered a TRSDOS V3.0 for the Model I, apparently never officially released. It is single density, and when it boots up it, a title screen similar to V1.3 for the Model III appears on the Model I. Its commands and utilities are similar to V1.3 for the Model III, but the file formats are incompatible.
And now reenter Randy Cook! He brought out a DOS of his own and named it VTOS. In fact there was a VTOS 3.0 and a VTOS 4.0. Why 3 and 4? They were successors to TRSDOS V2, and so he simply went to 3 and 4 as the logical successors to TRSDOS V2.
Still another DOS was TRSDOS for the Model III. This DOS is not very compatible with anything, and has limitations such as single side only operation and no provision for hard drives. This went through V1.0, V1.1, 1.2, and 1.3. Still later, an aftermarket person developed it through V1.4 and 1.5. The V1.5 is now sold as SYSTEM 1.5 through TRS-Times, and now has the ability to operate double sided disks. It still has no hard drive capability, but otherwise is an excellent DOS. It also includes an Owners Manual, a rare feature these days! You have to print the manual from a file on the disk, but you do get a manual.
A DOS named DOUBLEDOS (DBLDOS) was written by Percom and was issued with or as a supplement to their doubler. Art has several versions of this DOS and also another Percom product named MICRODOS which is totally menu controlled from BASIC, and which he says gives you the feeling of operating an APPLE II. WHEE! Percom also offered an OS-80 at one time.
A company named LOBO International (I think) also developed an improved version of the Model I hardware named the MAX 80, and needed a DOS to go with it. Somehow this effort and a company named Galactic Software came together and the result was LDOS V5.x.
Later, Galactic Software became Logical Systems Inc., with Bill Schroeder and Roy Soltoff as two of the principals. There were other people, also, but I don't remember their names at this late date. Notice the Version number of LDOS, 5.x. It was the successor to Randy Cook's VTOSes, so up went the count. The Model III also received a version of LDOS, again with the V5 designation. LDOS went through version numbers 5.0.0, 5.0.1, 5.0.2, and 5.0.3 before it went to 5.1.0. From there it went through 5.1.1, 5.1.2, 5.1.3, and 5.1.4. The Model III version then went to V5.3.0 and lately 5.3.1. The Model I went from 5.1.4 directly to 5.3.1 to regain version number consistency with the Model III and 4 versions.
Still later, Radio Shack developed the Model 4, and needed a DOS for it. LSI produced LS-DOS (also known as TRSDOS) V6.x. This DOS for the Model 4 went through a number of upgrades, fixes and revisions, including V6.0, V6.1, V6.2, and V6.3, with 6.3.1 being the latest. All of these versions underwent minor revisions indicated by a third numeral. V6.2.1 was especially long-lived. LSI and MISOSYS, between them, put out versions of LS-DOS 6.2, 6.3 and 6.3.1 for the Model 2/12/16 family.
Another widely used DOS is DOSPLUS, done by Micro-Systems, Inc. in Florida, and it went through versions (that I know of) of V3.3, 3.4, 3.5 and 4.0 for both the Model I and Model III. They also had a version IV for the Model 4. Good DOSes, widely used and respected. The company was originally located in Hollywood FL and later moved to Boca Raton, where it may still be in business.
Another DOS still under sporadic development even today is MULTIDOS by Vern Hester. This DOS is known for its ability to automatically recognize and accommodate disk formats of almost every other Radio Shack DOS for the Models I, III and 4.
For further information on MULTIDOS and Vern Hester see Art McAninch's article "DOUBLE YOUR DENSITY? The Model I in Double Density, Part 2" in Computer News 80, Volume 4, Number 4, pages 4-6. In that article, Art relates the history of MULTIDOS, as told to him by David Welsh, the author of LazyWriter and a close personal friend of Vern Hester. MULTIDOS was a follow-on to ULTRADOS. ZDOS, MDOS, and LAZYDOS were all "kernels" of MULTIDOS. MULTIDOS 2.1 is still available for the Models I, III, and 4 from Alphabit Communications, Inc., Box 20067, Ferndale, MI 48220.
Art and I both have heard of SUPERDOS, but have no other information on it. Art would like a copy for his archives if anyone has it.
These are all the DOSes Art and I know about, but there may well be others!
Another area of interest is the software which was written for the Model I. Kim Watt, a well known genius in the Model I, III and 4 era wrote a marvelous utility known as SuperUtility which allowed editing of disks and memory on a byte, sector or other basis. It had the ability to copy much protected software (except itself!). It's major failing was its inability to access hard drives. Later, Kim brought out other versions of the program which could access hard disk files, known as Tool Belt and Tool Box. These and SuperUtility were all acquired by and are now available through MISOSYS.
An interesting trick developed by Kim Watt was his technique for writing both single density AND double density sectors on the same track of a disk at the same time. This allowed him to offer only one disk which would autoboot on either a Model I in single density or a Model III in double density. This allowed him to stock only one disk for both machines. A darn clever trick!