Posted by Adam Brower on Aug 21, 2012

Typing In Code By Hand : How It Was

Kids today! Why they never knew they had it so good! *pumps fist in the air

Now I am not going to be one of those old timers that preach about, “when I was a kid, i had to walk uphill in the…” No i’m not, simply because I am not old. Kinda. I’m talking about the App Store. You see, when I was a kid, I would wait 30 days for a magazine to get my apps.  And in those days, they were called programs.

Rainbow Magazine June 1984 coverLet me ‘splain. No, there is too much, let me sum up. It was 1985, I had my first computer – a Tandy TRS-80 Color Computer 2. Embarassingly, they were commonly referred to as the CoCo. I never called it that in fear I would get my ass whooped. I was think I was the only kid in my hick town with a computer. I was damn sure the only person that knew how to use one. I would plug my computer into the family television set and wait for the green screen to come up with an “OK” prompt. It was actually only a fraction of what it takes Windows to load. Then, opening my latest copy of Rainbow Magazine (don’t judge, it was for “CoCo’s”), I would flip to the back where it contained pages of sample code. Hundreds and hundreds of lines.

Hours passed where I would patiently, manually, type the code into the computer.  …what the hell was wrong with me… There wasn’t a software store in town, or in the state, and I there was no app store or even any sort of network to access one. To see a computer do something, I typed. And typed for the big payoff. The code was on the lines of:

Extended BASIC Color Computer Tandy TRS-80 Screen10 CLS
40 IF Y$=”N” THEN GOTO 100
51 IF Y$<>”Y” and Y$<>”N” GOTO 200
60 END
110 GOTO 20
202 LET Y$=”BIG JERK”+1
210 GOTO 20

(Funny, as I typed that, I wanted to put semicolons, parenthese, etc into the code by habit – because I upgraded to the powerful PASCAL programming language after my BASIC days.)

That was an example off the top of my head. Don’t worry, the real program was much cooler. Hours later I would type RUN and hit return.  The computer would respond, “?SYNTAX ERROR IN LINE 91390”. After another hour of debugging, I would usually end up with a few stick-mountains and John Denver’s Rocky Mountain High playing Color Computer 2 Tandy TRS-80note by note in single computer tones. It was awesome. Or even better, I had a program that would help me calculate how much concrete I needed for a given area. Very useful for an 12 year old.

Oh crap, I had no way of actually saving any work. Nope, not even a floppy.

Welcome to HippoBytes. I may have not invented the Flashlight app, but I am pretty sure I was one of the first to program an awesome strobe light on the family TV.

The moral of the story, no matter how freaking lame and geeky you are, you still might turn out cool in 25 years.


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4 Responses to “Typing In Code By Hand : How It Was”

  1. JasonL says:

    I enjoyed reading that, thanks 😀

    I too started with the Color Computer 2, I dare not call it the CoCo around my Commodore 64 friends. I got enough flack from the TV add “The Tandy man can” lol.

    As cumbersome as it was, I too spent hours typing in code from Rainbow and other books. Luckily I had cassette tape though 🙂

  2. Jim Gerrie says:

    I still write programs like the ones you remember so fondly. And for the Coco too (or more specifically for its little brother the MC-10, but most of them will work just fine on the Coco). Today it’s just as much fun to write them as it was to type them in all those years ago. And about as useful. I still feel that thrill of finally hit “RUN” and not getting “ERROR IN LINE 20101″…

    Please come and try some of my creations for a blast from the Basic program/app past.

    • Adam Brower says:

      Thanks for sharing those sites – I went right into on the MC-10 basic programming – fun stuff! I will definitely be spending more time on these!

  3. I don’t remember what issue of the Rainbow it was in (though I still own every single one from my childhood), but in one was a program I typed in patiently for a few hours over a couple of days. The ultimate purpose was to give you a “text mode” in PMODE 4.

    It was long. It was in machine code. It consisted of nothing more than a few upfront lines of loader code that POKE’d an absolute megaton of hexadecimal values in the form of DATA statements. I won’t bother to reproduce it here; if you had the same experiences, your eyes have surely already bled. I won’t make you repeat that experience…

    Inevitably, you’d do something stupid, like -not- save it to your cassette tape drive (at some point my parents blessed me with a floppy drive), and you’d run it, and the machine would lock up – your patience and effort ultimately wasted…

    At some point I got all of it in. I managed to find and correct all of my errors, line by line, number by number. I got it saved, and backed up. And when I ran it, I got my text on a graphics mode.

    Then I promptly forgot about it, never to use it for its purpose, and moved on to something else.

    I guess times really don’t change that much, do they?

    Oh – and I am still somewhat “active” in the Color Computer scene, even today, as I rapidly approach 40 years of age. I still have both of my Color Computers (a 2 and a 3), my floppy drives, my RAM upgrades, my monitor, and my floppies – hundreds of them. The majority of them still work.

    I eventually transferred all of that to an emulated format, but I have to say that it brought a tear to my eye to see that old code run again, to know that all that effort so long ago had some purpose, even if it was only to make an older person think about their youth, and the fun they had.

    Sadly, today’s app-store addicted kids won’t have that experience. Hell, they’ll be lucky if they can even get their old iPad to even boot, if it lasts that long…

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