10.13.2007

Trash 80...


Back in the early '80s, I was involved in a gifted students' program sponsored by a major university. Basically, they let a whole bunch of 7th graders take the SAT with the intention of keeping up with the brainiacs. Those of us who did best on the standardized test were invited to the Big University campus to take part in an awards ceremony. There were fabulous prizes for those who did best on various parts of the SAT, and while I got a softcover copy of A Handbook to Literature, that's not the prize I wanted.

The prize I wanted was what they gave to the real mental giants among us: A Radio Shack TRS-80 Model 100 portable computer. This computer was the granddaddy of both the Alphasmart (with which Marko's so happy,) as well as every laptop on the market today.

Sporting a 32K ROM, among the last pieces of software actually coded by young Bill Gates, the Model 100 was a fantastic laptop computer for its day. Totally silent in operation thanks to its firmware-based operation, it blinked into life immediately, had a built-in 300 baud modem, and could be hooked to a variety of peripherals. With its full-stroke keyboard that is tactilely superior to the Logitech 'board I'm typing this on, plus its 20+ hours of battery life on 4 AA cells, it's little wonder this machine was still popular among writers and journalists long after its day had passed.

When my friend Byron came up to VFTP Command Central this weekend, he brought a Model 100 that had been darkening his attic for the last dozen-and-a-half years or so.

Who knows? Maybe I'll use it to write the next great American novel.

14 comments:

comatus said...

And will the title be "In Pursuit of the Death Angel"? I don't see how it could be other; the title page should be burned into the screen of every TRS by now.

Marko said...

Whoa...a Trash-80. That's pretty cool.

Wonder if there's a way to get text files off of it? If so, that'd be an awesome little word processor. Carry it over to the Borders cafe and watch all the Powerbook jocks scratch their heads...

Tam said...

It has an RS-232 port...

Tam said...

BTW, I'm kinda shocked at how well "Still Life With Tennis Ball And Crappy Computer" turned out... :)

Chris said...

My first real computer was a TRS-80 Model 102. Fantastic machine.

In fact... *runs down into basement, roots around under workbench* Yup, I thought so. I still have three of them, along with the old acoustic coupler and two Traveling Software RAM expansion packs. I wonder if any of them still work?

rickn8or said...

"Who knows? Maybe I'll use it to write the next great American novel."

Or, run a lawn sprinkler...

Oh, don't go by me, I get nostalgic about trying to find another Northgate Omni Keyboard.

Dr. StrangeGun said...

One of my "museum pieces" is a 102.

And I have the disk drive unit for it, in the original box somewhere :)

Oh, and a pristine (the last time I checked under the cover) TRS-80 Model III is in storage too... I should fetch that sometime soon.

Anonymous said...

@Rickn8tor:

http://www.northgate-keyboard-repair.com/

The other alternative is Unicomp, who make new and repairs old IBM/Lexmark "clicky" keyboards.

http://www.pckeyboard.com

Don Meaker said...

I had a job in college writing code to solve differential equations for a Ecology and Evolutionary biology professor.

I coded a state of the art 4 step Adams Moulton Predictor Corrector routine on the Control Data Cyber with its 64 bit words. Output was felt pens, customized for the printer. The Main Frame ate up 90 percent of the professor's research budget really quickly.

On the 10 percent was left, he bought a TRS-80, and I ginned up a quick Runge Kutta 4th Order. His output was a polaroid camera with a cardboard screen hood. Sure, he had to let the thing run all weekend, but that was nearly free. The professor, based on that new way of working, wrote some 20 papers, analyzing everything from Measels in Baltimore to Hudson's Bay Company fur returns (300 years of data on over 100 large and furry species). Large furry species get a lot more research grants than small and ugly species. He got a mention in the last chapter of the first edition of John Gleick's book "Chaos, the Making of a New Science".

When I graduated, I went to work for the Navy, doing maintenance engineering on air launched missiles. We had an old TRS-80, and I got a bonus for developing a program that used common statistics to calculate spare demands.

Good memories from the TRS-80, as well as good science.

Brian J. said...

The Duke University TIPS program, eh?

I still have my score booklet here somewhere.

Tam said...

Smartypants.

No pun intended, of course. ;)

Chris Byrne said...

Tam, that's funny, because I got the exact same computer from a very similar program, though a couple years after you (not too many); and of course in an entirely different state (Massachusetts).

Chris said...

Up in my neck of the woods they called it the "Rocky Mountain Talent Search". They didn't give out prizes other than the opportunity to come out to UC Denver for a month and take intro level college classes over the summer.

I was beyond thrilled to leave the trash-80 behind when they put me behind the wheel of an HP mini. I've still got my printouts from the teletype. as a teenage boy it only took me a few hours to figure out how to get fortune to loop out the obscene fortunes until I chewed up all the green bar I could get away with.

There were one or two rich kids at the camp sporting the model 100's - severe jealousy ensued!

John B said...

My first comp was a model 1 level 1. I spent for 16K and level 2 basic and got pissed off that I had to relearn basic all over again. I sold that after 3 years and got a ZX-80. Most expensive frisbee I ever owned. At the time of our house fire in 1989 I owned a //c, a Visual Commuter PC, a Micro color computer, and a model 100 TRS-80. I cried for it's loss in the house fire, the visual survived the chimney falling on it, my monitor also survived til about 10 years ago. I still see the cut-off cord with the construction grade plug I put on floating around my garage, and I mourn for that chubby kid who would and could take on the world.

somewhere in my closet I have two mod 100's, and I'm praying that I removed the batteries before I stashed them. to make a stand I cut a white barrel BIC pen in half, I have a thousand little feet for one end, and the other I bulked out a bit with masking tape. I also had a half dozen home mage battery packs, -more than I made for any other computer since- and an assortment of phone interface equipment that I wouldn't want to show to Matt G's FBI friends. I'm probably not the only geeky guy that has more servicing tools and equipment for the phone system than most repairmen. Nowadays it keeps me in what Tam calls the donuts. Thank God for the Single Owner Home Office.

Darn you Ms. Tams! I just went and dug out my model 100. I'm gonna use it as a 'keyboard', for my nokia 770 internet tablet.

Tam, if you are even half assed serious about writing the Great American Novel, I'll meet you on the field of honor, -also known as National Novel Writer's Month (nanowrimo.org)- Next November 1.

I should have a workable rs-232 to usb adapter running on my thing by then.

I'd also toss in a reference to running a canon daisy wheel printer off both the Visual, and the mod-100. I used to write term papers for cash.

I'm going now, I found the old 'Defender' game for the 100, and I'm gonna lose 4-5 hours of sleep....