Saturday, August 04, 2012

TRS-80 + 35

As my long-suffering wife knows all too well, I have a lot of strange habits. Thankfully they aren't dangerous, illegal or unhealthy. I don't smoke. I don't drink and drive. Come to think of it, I barely drink. I don't skydive or ride a motorcycle on one wheel, either. I don't spray paint my tags on public sculptures and I don't jaywalk. Much.

I lead a pretty boring life. And in the absence of all those at-the-edge habits, I limit my weirdness to the creative side. I write. I shoot pictures. And, I remember tech-era milestones. This week, Radio Shack's seminal TRS-80 computer turned 35. I'm just old enough to remember when it showed up in the store near my house. My friends and I flocked to it like moths to a campfire. It changed us, somehow.

Not immediately, mind you, as it really couldn't do much at first. Unlike today's computers, it booted into a blank screen. Not icons, mice, or apps. Just a blinking cursor on a dark background as you stood there like an idiot and wondered what to do next - without looking like a newbie in the process.

Eventually, we learned a few essential commands in BASIC, the programming language that got us all into this new world of the personal computer.

20 GOTO 10

Ah, it was great fun. The 35 years since those unassuming moments in a long-since-vanished store have turned into a pretty crazy journey for most of us. I can't help but think that this now-laughable piece of technology was at least partially responsible for the paths we've all taken since then.

Harry McCracken, Time Magazine columnist and author of Technologizer, wrote this excellent piece:

Please Don't Call It Trash-80: A 35th Anniversary Salute to Radio Shack's TRS-80

Here in Canada, the stores are now called The Source. In the U.S., they've morphed into The Shack. They're no longer an iconic presence in the lives of future-seeking kids, and I'm pretty sure the battery of the Month Club no longer exists, either. Come to think of it, a lot of things from 35 years ago don't. But if you listen carefully, every once in a while you can hear - or maybe even feel - an echo from a piece of long-forgotten technology that helped shape the person you ultimately became. Not a bad thing to remember.

Your turn: What are you nostalgic for?


CorvusCorax12 said...

the time before cell phones..not saying it isn't a great invention, it saves lives, great for an emergency's or to call hubby to tell him we need milk and keep track of the kids.
But sometimes i miss the days where i could just go somewhere and not be found LOL. I know i could turn it off, but the awareness that the phone is there never leaves.

. said...

The TRS-80 and Radio Shack are very special to me... In fact my college dorm room was known as Radio Shack for all of my gadgets, including not the TRS-80 by that time but my Commodore 64 and later the 128. Good times. :-)

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

The first computer I remember seeing in a person's house was at a college friend's of mine (after he'd graduated): a Kaypro.

I'd learned BASIC in high school...amusingly enough, my first real job after college was writing BASIC programs to value futures and options on futures on the Apple II. (I remember well when the Apple IIe came along: 64K of memory, an enormous 33% increase!!!)

Thumper said...

Ha...we had great fun going into stores and using some very basic BASIC to scroll messages on all the monitors. I'd pretty much forgotten about that--it was the dorkiest fun, and I'm surprised we never got tossed out of the store.

rashbre said...

I remember using a TRS-80 with the replacement LDOS operating system. In the non GUI era it was pretty good.

The external (non Tandy/Radio Shack) hard drive disk configuration increased its storage to a princely 30 Megabytes.

mikey said...

Back in the mid sixties I got my hands on a ten or fifteen year old Halicrafters Shortwave receiver. In fooling around with it, I discovered the HF HAM bands. Like any nerd of the times, I was totally hooked, getting my HAM license and building and modifying transmitters, receivers, power supplies and antennas. Along with my fascination with homebuilt telescopes, this was pretty much all my joy for a long time.

Radio Shack was different then. Before cell phones and computers, they were components. Along with the obvious resistors, capacitors, potentiometers and switches, you could get breadboards, steel and aluminum enclosures, power rectifiers, meters and soldering irons. There was NOBODY in that store you couldn't start a conversation with, and discover you had parts you could trade.

The Internet and Cell Phones have taken all the fascination out of 2 way radio (at least until civilization collapses), but it sure was fun back in the day...

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