First Computer: TRS-80 with 4K

trs80-iiiScott’s first connection to the virtual world was via CompuServe in early 1983 on his TRS-80 Model III using a 300 baud AT&T modem he received in a trade for several cords of firewood. Here is how he got there.

In February of 1983 while in his final year of community college Scott won a Super Bowl Pool and from his winnings paid $750 for his first computer with 4K of RAM and a cassette tape storage system. The next day, to the horror of his parents he had taken the system apart to see how it worked. By the end of the week, he’d written a dice rolling game from scratch in BASIC that consumed all the system resources. By March he’d purchased 16K of RAM mail-order.

In April Scott answered a newspaper classified ad seeking a part-time BASIC programmer. A local educational materials company, Orange Cherry Media, was looking to add software to their catalog of film strip products. They employed Scott as the only hourly programmer, and several others were brought on on a per job basis. Scott had two tasks daily, to debug and validate contract worker’s code for educational TRS-80 games and to author new Apple II+ educational software. For the Apple development, he was provided with content in two forms, a BASIC listing from a Commodore PET 2000, and limited time to run the program on that system and take notes on its execution. He then had to replicate the program flow on the Apple II+. Scott quickly eclipsed the owner’s code by using the Apple II’s high-resolution (320×200) pixel-based color graphics. The PET 2000 was black and white block graphics. Scott kept this job throughout the summer working it mostly in the evenings and on weekends.

In June Scott graduated with an Associates degree in Electrical Engineering Technology from the local community college. Over the summer he started his driveway sealing business and used the proceeds from that venture to further upgraded his system. He maxed the memory (48K RAM, three banks of 16KB each with 16KB used by the ROM), installed a pair of internal single sided floppy drives (90KB per disk). Added an external 1200 baud modem, stripped the class-A amplifier from the cassette deck, and wired it directly inside the computer case, and cut through the case to install an external volume knob so his system could have sound. This was a “business” computer, and as such it lacked both sound and color.

In the fall Scott and a friend of his through Orange Cherry Media, one of the TRS-80 coders, left for Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). They had one of the few rooms outside the Computer Science dorm, which had not one computer, but two (both a TRS-80 Model I and III). The had also engineered it, so they had two phone lines in the room, and emergency access to the telco closet for those occasions when, well, I’ve already probably said too much. Let’s just say he made a lot of very low-cost phone calls home to his girlfriend, who’s now my wife of 30+ years…