The Good Old Days

Saturday, March 11, 2006
The top ten retrocomputers. My favorites:

When my friends were drinking beer and chasing women, I was programming things like this.



chuck said...


The PDP8. Yes, six bit stripped ascii characters, 12 bit words, memory pages 128 words long and a page bit to select the current page or page 0 where data could be shared. I no longer recall the the short boot program loaded in via the keys on the front panel but I did learn a lot by reading the code for the Fortran II compiler. Some of the early DEC instructions, i.e., auto increment, live on in the C language: ++i anybody.

There is also a story about the PDP-2 1/2, built by
Ed Rawson of the American Science Institute out of surplus modules that
were originally used in the prototype PDP-2.

Hey, I knew Ed Rawson. I babysat his kids.

Seneca the Younger said...


chuck said...


No stack.

chuck said...

And then there was TECO, the ancestral language of emacsen.

David Thomson said...

"When my friends were drinking beer and chasing women"

Trust me, you may have got the better part of the deal. The beer was often warm and flat---and your computers may have been more attractive than some of the women.

loner said...

Trust me, you may have got the better part of the deal.

Hmmm. The computer which was donated to my high school and the computers we used in Berkeley in the early years (all DEC machines no doubt) aren't even a hazy memory. I do remember lots of carefully organized cards. Boy was I happy to see the end of that phase.

When I relocated to PA in 1997 I worked in West Chester. Whenever a group of my colleagues got together there would come a point when they'd reminisce fondly with regard to one or all of the various Commodore machines they'd owned. QVC moved down the road (from the loop we were on) to the old Commodore building during my time back there. Needless to say, when such a point came, I availed myself of the opportunity to find the nearest bottle of single malt and to think back on all the computers which had left absolutely no impression upon me.

Yep, I'm a Philistine

Syl said...

I loved Forth!

I didn't play with the specific apparati mentioned here, but I had and played with every language ever available for the C64 and Amiga.

But ML on the C64 was my fave. And something called Helm on the Amiga (well, that and Scala).

I'm just so glad I was involved and aware during the early days (worked at IBM in the '60's) but now I leave the tech stuff to the younger generations.

I simply use my computer as a tool these days.

But, in so many ways, I feel I'm part of the machine. First the fascination with direct coding and ML, then as the programming tools and concepts developed (top-down, to input driven, to oop) I moved to the software testing and suggestions stage, and now I'm happily using the fruits of others' labor to do my thing.

It's like a knew where this was going all along.

But part of me is always inside the machine, looking out.

brylun said...

One of my old TI-99/4a computers with an expansion box is still up in the attic. The last time I fired it up (a few years ago) it still worked.

As a hobbyist, I wrote programs in TI Extended Basic and assembly language.

Fresh Air said...

Yep. Had a ZX81. It was hooked up to a black-and-white television set and portable tape recorder. The expansion memory was the size of a can of shoe polish and held 16K.

I would guess the ZX81's larger successor, the ZX88, which featured micro tape drives the size of a quarter (very James Bond-ish!), is still one of the lightest laptops ever made. Clive Sinclair was really onto something, IMO. He just didn't have any idea how to capitalize on it.

Of course, if Tandy Corp. had any idea what they were doing, we'd all be using TRS-80s.

rws said...

It's a good thing that Tandy didn't know what to do with it's computers. I made a nice living in the latter part of the 70's and early 80's modifying, fixing, and generally making those various flavors of TRS-80s do some real work. That lead me to being able to offer custom built multi-processor, multi-user S-100 based systems in 1980-81. Great little business systems well ahead of their time.

Unfortunately, in mid '81, some smartass company decided to get into the microcomputer field, and their advertising pitch was " Don't buy any computer until you see what we're coming out with". And guess what; people stopped buying computers; for three months, which was just long enough to drive small companies like mine under.

Darn IBM.

Seneca the Younger said...

No stack.

No problem. The first programs I wrote on a PDP-8 were in Forth.