Retro-Computing: the TRS-80 Model 100 and old school coding

TRS-80 Model 100 Portable ComputerSometime in late 2010, I purchased a TRS-80 Model 100 Portable Computer. The computer, one of the first true notebook computers, was a marvel of its time: integrated keyboard and LCD screen, built in MODEM, up to 32K (yes, K…that’s THOUSANDS of bytes) of RAM and a host of software.  The computer ran off of AA batteries and was fully self contained. It had Microsoft Basic (THE standard of the day) along with personal information management software. It was a very popular computer and you can still see them in use today.

Recently, I dusted the computer off and took it for a spin.  I wanted to show my son just how a geek in my day had ‘fun’.  I sat there, while he played Call of Duty on the Xbox and wrote a crude space invader style game. Right there, on the device. NO development environment to speak of, just the line oriented editor.  Oh, and LINE NUMBERS.  Remember them?

100 Print”Hello, World”

Wow. I have not used line numbers in years…decades, even.  I don’t know, there’s something quaint about them…having to figure out a decent increment because, you know, you will, at some point, have to insert a line or two of code because you left something out or, more likely, figured out you needed to add or move something to fix something somewhere else.  Ah, the joys of spaghetti code.  Nothing like it.

So, in that hours time, I managed something that sorta kinda resembles a one invader space invaders game. My little invader, which was sorta animated, would go back and forth on the top line of the 7 line screen. My base was centered on the bottom of the screen and touching the space bar would ‘fire’ the missile at the invader.  Only a direct hit would score your ten points. The game continued until you press Q.  This version does not have the alien invader retaliating, only moving back and forth.  With only about thirty lines of code, there isn’t much there.  But, hey, not bad for such a crude little machine and hours worth of time. 

This little exercise reminded me that sometimes we don’t always need the most recent, hottest or best of anything to have a good time.  I was having a ball playing with the computer, figuring out how to do things without reading the manual (which I have.)  And, for this developer, using that old flavor of Microsoft Basic was a blast.  Line numbers, PRINT @, and the ever so enthralling ‘SOUND’, which makes high pitched beeps. Good stuff.  Makes me appreciate .Net even more.

If I can transcribe (I.E. feel like retyping) the code, I’ll post it here, if there is any interest.

One note about the computer: while the LCD screen is terrible, the rest of the computer, ergonomically, is superb.  The keyboard has a nice feel and the whole thing is surprisingly light.  The fact that it uses AA batteries is awesome. No cumbersome recharger, expensive batteries or funky adaptors. Just AA batts. Oh and the menu screen is easy to use, but, for some odd reason, you have to actually go into BASIC and issue a command to delete a file.  Weird.  Hey, it was the 1980’s. Hell, it’s easier to use than some newer devices today…like Pandigital’s e-Reader and the Kindle.

Update:

Here is a wonderful site full of TRS-80 information and nostalgia. Also, there is an emulator for the Model 100.  I won’t put a direct link here since the emulator contains copyrighted material, just use Bing or that other search engine.  Search for VirtualT.

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