Tuesday, February 12, 2013

My first computer....

It's hard to get across to newbies how far we've come. My first computer only had six letters I like to tell people. It looked like this:

OK that's a 6502 mine was a 8008. You'd punch away at that keyboard for hours entering pre-written machine codes. You'd have to calculate the jump offset of your branch or if statements. Can you imagine? Well anyways your reward for two hours of typing in low level codes was a number that looked like your expected result, something like 2718 on your calculation of the e constant. But of course it would say it in hex so it would say A9E. Sometimes it said A8E and you'd spend hours looking for a mistake. That's what computers were. Not video games. Not word processors. Not web browsers. A9E. Think about it.

Often when it said A8E you'd have to get out a soldering iron. Because the boards were early designs to support the processors and get them out for testing, but since so much was in design the boards would have jump wires where they needed a new connection. A lot would come lose or disconnect slightly. Then you'd get a program which said A9E sometimes and A8E sometimes. In the words of Tron you'd "bring out the logic probe" and track it down. Sometimes these connections gave way when it was hotter or more humid.  Things we never worry about today. Can you imagine software that worked but not on rainy days? Yep that's the way it was.

We programmed a "star wars" game for our HP41CVs, a RPN programmabe uber calculator the size of a brick.

An MIT student stole mine and I was so pissed about that.

From RSKEY.org - "A stunning calculator even by today's standards, more than 20 years after its introduction, the HP-41C remains one of the best handheld calculating devices ever conceived. The HP-41C line remained in production for over 10 years, practically defining the high-end calculator industry throughout the 1980s. Numerous machines remain in use today, no doubt due in part to versatility offered by the calculator's four expansion ports. The HP-41C has been used in the most exotic places, including the Space Shuttle or the cockpit of the Concorde."

Why was it called the CV? Well because of course it had FIVE TIMES the memory of the 441 byte HP41C. TWO THOUSAND TWO HUNDRED and THIRTY THREE bytes. I mean, can you imagine the luxury of having a thousand bytes to spare? I constantly tell my programmers that I don't want to hear them whine that a 2k memory leak isn't a big deal, that leak was bigger than my whole development platform on the HP 41!

Here is what our first video game looked like: (each line of characters was displayed one at a time, one line per second. The sequence below would take six seconds:
>                              <
  >                         <
     >                  <
         >     <
           > * <

Now what this was meant to simulate was luke firing his torpedo into the death star. You'd guess the left right position of the tube and enter a number. If you got it right you'd see:

that was a video game from the early eighties geek style. In order to see this game you'd need to load your code up with a strip reader, ten strips about four inches wide and half an inch tall. Having the extra magnetic card reader meant you were cool at a level that granted you immediate VAX access. We were geeks but the word hadn't been invented yet.

A rebuilt HP41cx with a card reader costs over 500 bucks today. That's how much people loved them.  Can you imagine writing your senior thesis on a calculator with one line of text at a time?

''The HP-41CX was the same as the HP-41CV but added the Time module (stop watch plus clock with alarms), an Extended Functions / Extended Memory module, a text editor, and some additional functions." 

Later the HP 71B came out. While the 41 only had 4k ram cartridges, whopping endlessly huge 32k RAM cartridges could be had for the 71. At the time it seemed like madness, who could possibly write a program that required 32,000 characters?

Later the ill-fated HP 42 would come out with TWO lines of text. TWO! Such luxury after starting with just four letters just a few years prior. This was amazing stuff. Where would it all end we wondered, where would it all end. My best friend fish told me that soon there would be portable calculators with eight lines of text but I told him that wasn't likely. I mean really four lines were more than enough for anyone.

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