One of my first ‘investments’ I made after college, when I started making a boat-load of money (that’s how it felt, at least) with my new job, was a TRS-80 computer from Radio Shack.
Today I ran into an article on Mashable about that Trash-80 that brought back memories of sitting on that machine for long nights, the ash tray overflowing, discovering all the things you could do with BASIC.
Despite my feeling of being totally rich, my pay check of nearly 2000 Deutsch Marks would not allow me to buy anything but the entry model of this computer. At that time the US Dollar was around 4 Marks which brought the price of that computer to an amazing DM 3000 – one and a half month’s pay. This made me think about what that top model Tandy computer would cost in today’s Dollars – – – turns out to be over 26 thousand Dollars!
And looking at the exchange rate from the other side – I made only $1500 in today’s Dollars and I thought I was rich? Now I wonder if the exchange rate of DM to US$ really reflected the relationship of cost of living. A quick Google search reveals that in 1980 a bread in the US cost about 50 cents, while a bread in Germany cost DM 2.50 – so the exchange rate is at least in the ballpark.
Maybe I should have moved to the US right after college – I might have been able to afford one of those fancy floppy drives from Radio Shack…
It made me feel sentimental as my very first computer had been a Trash-80 and I remember having a lot of fun with it. One of the most difficult tasks for me to understand, at that time, had been the idea of an interpreted language, like that TRS-80 Basic.
Before that computer, I had been mostly exposed to assembler and some high-level language like Fortran and PL3 on an IBM mainframe. The idea of typing in human-readable code and directly running it – without compiling and linking – was a strange concept for me to grasp.
The TRS-80 I had was far less sophisticated than the one shown in the above catalog, so I looked around and found a picture that matched better what I remembered:
I believe that I had the 16kB model but certainly no floppy disks – I saved my programs and data on cassette tape. With my difficulty to grasp the concept of interpreted languages the first program I bought was an assembler. I was quite some work to get anything done with this setup:
Insert the cassette with the assembler and load the program
Edit and assemble the code, keeping source and assembled program in memory
Insert a new cassette into the recorder and save the source file
Insert a different cassette into the recorder and save the assembled program
Load the assembled program (overwriting the assembler in memory)
Running, testing the assembled program and writing down errors
Rinse and repeat
This lengthy procedure trained you to really think ahead and consider all possible errors – it took too long to ‘just try’ something. In this regards those interpreted languages are much easier and train programmers to be much sloppier.
The bigger part of the internet now is based on such sloppy work – whenever you have a PHP file it is more or less interpreted like the old Basic in my Trash 80. I once read – and it made a lot of sense – that we would do a lot to avoid global warming if we would compile all those billions of lines of PHP code into machine code once and then execute that on the server. All data centers around the world could be scaled down considerably if each line of PHP code would not have to be compiled over and over and over again, thus saving energy for the processors of the webserver and the energy for cooling them.
Maybe, then the web could run on a couple of TRS-80s.