Computing: 1980 Style

I saw my first personal computer in 1981. At that time, the closest you could come to a computer store (where I lived) was a back corner of the local Radio Shack store. There you found models of their TRS-80 computers, offering all manner of unimagined possibilities – but almost no software. Ready to buy and load (via audio cassettes) were a basic word processor (Scriptsit), a spreadsheet program (Visicalc) and a handful of games, including Galxian, Asteroids, Targ and Zork.

Dot-Matrix Print

But we didn’t buy computers because we wanted to play games or even to word process. Have you ever seen the print from the early dot-matrix printers? We bought computers because we wanted to learn about this new thing that was “going to change everything.”

Early Computing Magazine
Early Computing Magazine

Unsurprisingly, we had to go to print in order to learn and a few early magazines was the bast place to go. Even then, the gestation time of new books was way to long to be reliably up-to-date. New issues of zines were frequent and regular, and among them were BYTE, PC, Compute and even Family Computing.

We learned the latest that was known about these early TRS-80, Atari, Apple and Commodore computers. But better, was the programming tips we could learn by typing code that was included on the zines’ pages.

A Home Accounting program for the Commodore Pet computer
Submitted by Robert Baker of Atco, NJ
January 1980

Of course, the programs never worked the first time. It was impossible to key the code in without mistakes. So we spent as much time going back and decoding the programs, OR we taught ourselves how to write our own programs.

😉

Our Greatest Missed Opportunity?

Apple IIe Computer

I’m working on my new book and just ran across this article, an ingenious project at Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools, here in North Carolina. Jim Tomberg, a teacher at the High School has received a grant from state and federal funds, to establish a software development course for his school. The funds were intended to promote unique and innovative projects in education.

The high school students in the project were to create original, documented (software) to the specifications of teachers in the elementary grades. Tomberg wanted the programmers to work closely with the students and teachers receiving the (software).

To make the entire project educational, Tomberg says he “let the kids make all the decisions. They organized the whole course.” They studied various brands of computers and decided what equipment to buy. Then they came up with the idea of doing a newsletter about their study – all composed on computers using word processing programs.

The (elementary) teachers who requested material did, however, retain complete control over the content of the programs. In every case, students spoke directly with each teacher to insure useful results in the classroom.

Sheila Cory, the districts computer coordinator is quoted saying, “The computer is (forcing) us to reexamine our goals in education.”*

If you’d like to read the article, you’ll have to dig up a September 1983 issue of Compute Magazine, page number 100.

In many ways, I think that we were more innovative and even forward thinking back before computers and the Internet became mainstream.

* Blackford, J. (1983, September). Computers in school: New approaches. Compute!, (40), 100. Retrieved from http://www.atarimagazines.com/compute/issue40/computers_in_school.php