80 Femtocomputing

by Roger M. Wilcox

Back in the heyday of the TRS-80 (the end of the 1970s through the early 1980s), there were a few magazines published for TRS-80 enthusiasts. And when I say "magazines," I mean actual, slick pages made out of paper, bound together at the spine, and sold through the mail (actual mail, not e-mail) and at various computer-oriented retailers. These magazines usually featured ads for professionally-produced TRS-80 software, articles on how to get the most out of your TRS-80, tips for BASIC and assembly language programmers, and — and this is the part that sounds hardest to believe today — program listings.

Yes, listings of BASIC (and sometimes even machine language) programs that you, the reader, were expected to type in by hand on your own TRS-80. This was the dark ages before the dawning of the Internet, you see. There were only 4 ways to send programs from one TRS-80 to another:

  1. Connect both TRS-80s to a modem, at an agreed-upon phone number at an agreed-upon time, and have one TRS-80 dial up the other;
  2. Save the program to a 5¼-inch diskette and mail it;
  3. Save the program data to an audio cassette and mail it; or
  4. Print out the program listing and send it to the other person to type in by hand.
Some TRS-80s didn't have a modem. Many didn't even have a diskette drive. The keyboard and the cassette player were these TRS-80s' only input devices. It was a lot cheaper to print up a program listing in thousands of copies of a glossy magazine than it was to mass-duplicate a cassette. And so, receiving a magazine in the mail containing a program listing for "Space Potatoes," and typing each line in by hand — without making any mistakes — became a way to while away your otherwise dull afternoon.

Well, one such TRS-80 magazine was named 80 Microcomputing. I loved 80 Microcomputing. I subscribed to it using my own money — which for a lad of 15 or 16 meant a serious commitment. I pored over the articles looking for ways to make the TRS-80 games I was trying to write even better. And then, one fateful day, the July 1981 issue of 80 Microcomputing ran a little joke article titled "News from Kitchen Table Software, Inc.".

That one little joke article changed my life. Or at least, it gave me an idea. I decided to write a parody of 80 Microcomputing itself!

The results are archived here, for your perusal. Despite the fact that it was only 1981, I decided to set them in the far-distant future year of 1984. By then, the steady pace of technological advancement would surely have given us such marvels as femtocomputers (clearly, a billion times smaller or denser than microcomputers), version 87.4 of TRS-DOS (the TRS-80's disk operating system), and compression algorithms that could squeeze all of Colossal Cave adventure into a single byte.

I wrote three issues before I ran out of steam. Mind you, I was a 16-year-old kid at the time, whose idea of a good time was memorizing pi to 200 digits.

And so, without further ado, here are:

The Issues

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