I read recently where more than 109 million U.S. households
now have a personal computer and of these more than half have
Internet access. Perhaps you received a new computer for Christmas
and helped add to that statistic. Did you ever stop to think
what a unique thing a PC is? It's universality is endless. Nothing
else you own can do so many different things. My wife keeps wondering
how I can spend seemingly endless hours at the computer. The
fact is, it is next to impossible to get bored. If I tire of
doing one thing, I just move on to something else by simply opening
a different application. One minute I can be writing this column
and the next I can be checking the status of my stock portfolio,
recording a video e-mail message, or creating a music CD.
We all probably remember our first computer. Mine was a used
Commodore 64 (C64). For those unfamiliar with this part of computing
history the number "64" came from the amount of Random
Access Memory (RAM) the computer had, namely 64 KB. In addition
to that "big 64 KB" memory, the C64 featured a 66 key
typewriter-style keyboard, 16 color graphics and a 9 octave music
synthesizer. C64 photos, statistics, and features are
on the Internet at http://www.zimmers.net/cbmpics/c64s.html.
A few years after the C64 version Commodore came out with
a model sporting a whopping 128 KB of memory called, of course,
the Commodore 128 (C128). You can view C128 photos, statistics,
and features at http://www.zimmers.net/cbmpics/c128s.html.
Today most PCs come with 128 MB of RAM. How far we have come!
I bought my C64 complete with a floppy disk drive (capable
of storing 170 KB of data on a 5.25 inch floppy disk), color
monitor, dot matrix printer, assorted software, computer desk
and chair, etc. for the vast sum of $400. The college student
I bought it from was upgrading to an Apple computer. Chances
are you probably don't hear much talk about Commodore today,
but Commodore 64 and 128 computing is still very much alive.
On the Internet one can find all kinds of information about Commodore
computing by entering the Commodore Webring at http://www.ncf.carleton.ca/~ag090/HomePage.ringpage.html.
For those unfamiliar with the term "webring," a webring
is a group of sites linked together by a common theme. You can
navigate around the entire ring from one site to the next by
looking for the ring logo and simply clicking the "next"
button. There are many such rings on the Internet and some linking
thousands of sites. A list of the 163 sites on the Commodore
Webring is at http://nav.webring.yahoo.com/hub?ring=cbmring&id=___&list.
The latest Commodore news can be found at http://homepages.ihug.co.nz/~bjreid/.
Back to my C64 story! Faced with the idea of a learning curve
to get use out of my new C64 investment I quickly decided, "why
go it alone when there is strength in numbers". I joined
the Brevard County Commodore Users Group, El-Shift-Oh (ESO),
in September 1984. Would you believe that El-Shift-Oh is still
in existence? They meet on the second Saturday of each month
at the Brevard County Suntree Library and continue to publish
a monthly newsletter called "Syntax".
It's all a bit nostalgic for me as I won a "name the
newsletter" contest which gave Syntax its name. I also found
myself elected to serving four years as co-editor of the Syntax
newsletter. My co-editor Phil Mazalewski and I had the fun each
month of trying to fill 12 pages with the latest Commodore and
El-Shift-Oh happenings. If we could not glean enough copy from
other sources we wrote articles ourselves. I did article editing,
proof reading, and created most of the graphics. Phil selected
the articles, did some article editing, and all of the typing
and layout. When all was finalized Phil printed the master copy
which was then delivered to a printing company for duplication.
Given Commodore's limited memory capabilities the graphics by
today's standards were quite crude. We did not even have gray
scale photographs but simple black and white line drawings as
the master copy was printed on a 9-pin dot matrix printer. We
tried to include graphics with each article and inject humor
wherever we could. For the President's Corner column, we had
a long running "poke fun at the ESO President" graphic
that changed slightly each month. It always included an outhouse
as his throne with different things happening in and around the
The ranks of El-Shift-Oh have dwindled from the over 200 members
in the "heyday" of Commodore to approximately 16 hardcore
members that today continue to carry on the Commodore tradition
despite all the enticements offered by current-day PCs. And for
some that may be all of the computing power they need. The Commodore
64 and 128 software offered wonderful word processing capability
(complete with spell checking) for writing letters to friends
and family. Some of the PC programs we see today were available
on the Commodore. "The Print Shop" comes to mind. Several
years ago when I bought the IBM Simply Speaking Gold voice recognition
program I was amazed when I tried it's text-to-speech module.
The sound of the synthesized voice and associated voice sound
editing capabilities of the software seemed similar to synthesized
voice software I had used years before on the Commodore 64. The
IBM module used the Eloquent Technology, Inc. text-to-speech
synthesis system (http://www.eloq.com/).
The C64 used a program by a different company. The program was
called "SAM" which stood for Semi Automatic Mouth.
SAM was originally created in 1979 by SoftVoice, Inc. (http://www.text2speech.com/).
Versions were available for Atari and Commodore computers. On
the C64 it could be used alone by typing in a phrase you wanted
it to say or you could use it in conjunction with a great shareware
word processing program by Busy Bee Software called "The
Write Stuff" which would read back that letter you had typed
to a friend.
Belonging to El-Shift-Oh allowed me to share my computing
experiences with others and learn much more quickly than I could
ever have done on my own. In those days there was no instant
access to software and computer information as we have today
with the Internet. Most information came from dedicated computer
magazines such as Compute's Gazette, Ahoy, Run, Info, and Transactor.
Perhaps you subscribed to some of these as I did. Your old issues
are probably long gone to the trash but some dedicated Commodore
users are using the Internet to preserve history for all of us
to enjoy again. Relive some Commodore moments by going to the
Transactor Online Archive at http://www.cyberus.ca/~csbruce/commodore/transactor/.
Many of the Commodore magazines featured software programs
one could type in and save to a 5.25 inch floppy disk. The typing
was tedious but oh what a joy when you ran that program for the
first time and it worked, confirming that you had typed it in
correctly. If the program happened to be in the Commodore Basic
programming language, all of that typing actually helped you
to learn how to program. I tried my hand at programming. Hopefully
there is still a label making program I wrote and put in the
public domain floating out there in Commodore cyberspace.
Learning Commodore Basic gave one a much better understanding
of how the Commodore 64 computer actually processed information.
It was not unlike learning the HTML (Hypertext Markup Language)
of today for creating web pages. In fact, learning basic HTML
is probably easier than it was to learn Commodore Basic. It is
partly because of this Commodore experience that today I highly
recommend to anyone wanting to create a personal home page, that
they first seriously consider learning HTML. Just buying an HTML
Editor and blindly trying to create a web page can cause problems
down the road. You may at first succeed for simple web pages
with the latter approach, but sooner or later the HTML Editor
will do something to the web page source code that you did not
intend. Without a basic knowledge of how the underlying HTML
code works it may be impossible to simply undo the mistake.
In the past I have recommended a great free course in HTML
called "Web Tutor." See my June 1999 Web Master
Wanderings article at http://www.scpcug.com/wmwand05.html.
Web Tutor has now been integrated into a new site called PageTutor.com
The same great Basic HTML Tutorial is there at http://www.pagetutor.com/pagetutor/makapage/index.html
but now it is only free if you read it online with ads. If you
pay a membership fee you can read it online without the ads.
The same membership fee also allows you to download the course
as a zipped file. The zip file download was also previously free.
I guess all great things can't be free forever! In any case,
if you are interested in learning HTML, I suggest you checkout
PageTutor.com as this site provides a lot of helpful information.
Back to my C64 story again! A familiar name to many Commodore
computer users is Loadstar. For a subscription fee, Loadstar
would send you each month a floppy disk filled with C64 software
programs covering everything from productivity utilities to games.
A similar disk was produced quarterly for the C128. Loadstar
has been supporting Commodore users since 1984 and today is still
sending out those disks. Loadstar is on the web at http://www.loadstar.com/.
They now publish eLOADSTAR, which brings Loadstar to PC users
via C-64 Emulation. All of you former C64 users out there in
cyberspace, do you remember those great games, puzzles, quizzes,
and award-winning short stories? Get a taste of them again. Download
a free eLOADSTAR Sampler at http://www.loadstar.com/page4.html.
I was happy using my C64 and later the C128 which I bought
in the late 1980s. I continued to use these computers well into
the 1990s and thus delayed buying a Windows PC. My rationale
was that Windows software was too expensive and I did not want
to go through the big learning curve associated with a new (to
me) operating system. I still hear that excuse from some who
have chosen to stick with the Commodore computers. When Windows
95 was released I finally decided to make the plunge into a "real"
PC. I was pleasantly surprised to find the Windows Desktop Graphical
User Interface (GUI) was not all that different from the Desktop
Interface called "GEOS" (Graphical Environment Operating
System) that was introduced to the Commodore 64 and 128 computers
in the late 1980s. GEOS photos and features info is on
the Internet at http://www.zimmers.net/geos/index.html.
There was really no big learning curve to learn Windows 95. Granted
the Commodore Desktop icons for the trash can, disk drive, and
folders were in black and white, but they all seemed quite familiar
in their Windows 95 incarnations. GEOS even used a swap file
to transfer data between the disk drive and the computer (similar
to what Windows does when you run out of physical RAM). The GEOS
swap file facilitated scrolling the Commodore screen since the
Commodore's RAM was extremely limited. With PCs we are told if
we see and hear a lot of hard drive activity (indicating the
swap file is in use) it's time to add more physical RAM to the
many megabytes we already have. With the Commodore using GEOS,
much swap file disk drive activity was a way of life.
I hope you have enjoyed my stroll down memory lane and perhaps
learned something about computing history via the Commodore 64
and 128. Maybe I have even given you the incentive to explore
some of the mentioned Commodore links further. I would like to
think so. Some of you might even consider pulling that old C64
out of the hall closet and firing it up again just for old times
Note: Web Master Wanderings
articles contain links to external web sites. Web addresses are
constantly changing. There is no guarantee that the information
links provided in this article will remain unbroken or up-to-date
beyond the date that this article is originally published.