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Shall. We. Play. A. Game?


I was going to post tonight about how I made my first strawberry jam, but I didn’t make strawberry jam. I made a big smelly bowl of angry black napalm. Mmmm! So, seeing how much fun everybody was having geekin’ out, I dared Uncle B to dig out his old Osborne 1 and see if we could kick it back to life.

Remember the Osborne? It was the first sort-of portable computer. They called it a “luggable.” I saw my first at the very same 1985 computer fair where I bought that copy of Hack. I thought it was the most unbelievably mindblowingly cool thing ever.

All packed up, it was about the size and weight of a typical Singer sewing machine. Lay it on its side, the bottom came off and became the keyboard. There was a tiny green monitor in the middle, like an oscilloscope. There were buttons and knobs (buttons! and knobs!) and 5¼” floppy drives (Uncle B was rich enough to buy the dual-floppy model, but not rich enough for dual-sided drives. The operating system was on one floppy and the program on another). Oh, it was very. So very.

Uncle B had TWO. That’s right, beyotches; that’s how cool he was. He doesn’t know where the other one got to, but we’ve been lugging this one around from place to place. So I made a high-pitched keening noise until he let me plug it in and switch it on (I did so well with the strawberry jam experiment, why not?)

Did it boot? No, of course not. He doesn’t know where the OS floppy is (though you can bet he’s got it somewhere). But it woke up and it by-god TRIED to boot.

Anybody know where we can get a single-sided 5¼” copy of CP/M?



Comment from Gromulin
Time: June 25, 2009, 9:48 pm

Wow. my best friend’s step-dad was an electrical engineer that worked for the company that made that thing. I had an early “laptop” for a while, that worked on the two-floppy system. I had one working program…some proto role playing game. King arthur was involved, IIRC.

good times.

Comment from apotheosis
Time: June 25, 2009, 10:09 pm

Whups my geek nostalgia box. Last year I dug an old Intergraph Interpro 225 out of the corner of the shed, and damn if the thing doesn’t still boot.

It’s running some obscure flavor of *nix and can’t be set to the proper date, victim of the Y2K bug, but if I can come up with a 10b2 to 10bT balun I’m going to try to hook it up to the interwebs.

Comment from The_Real_JeffS
Time: June 25, 2009, 10:44 pm

Ain’t those old clunkers the KEWLEST things evah?

Never had an Osborne myself, I started out with the venerable Trash 80 Model III (one drive), and eventually graduated to the Model IV with an external 5 MB hard drive. Ran that for years, until I finally bought an IBM 386….with a color monitor!!!!1!!!!1111!!! That came from Zenith, courtesy of a gubbermint contract with an employee friendly option.

Eventually, I built a voice synthesizer for it, something that I bought from Heathkit; the voice sounded a sentient computer on a cheap sci-fic movie, but it worked. I once used it to leave a message at the office one day, saying that I would be late. It freaked everyone out.

Then I picked up a TRS-80 Model 100 Portable Computer at gubbermint surplus sale in Alaska a few years back, still fully functional. The bugger runs on 4 “AA” batteries, and I programmed a couple simple games into it. I use it mostly for demonstrations of the way Things Useta Be, before Play Station, but after slide rulers*. (Them youngsters get all wide eyed when I tell him about IBM punch cards and the Hollerith Code.) But it sits on the shelf, mostly, yearning to be touched one more time.

Jeez, Sweasel, you touched a memory button there!

*: Yes, I have a slide ruler. I even know how to use it.

Comment from Dave Ihnat
Time: June 26, 2009, 3:40 am

Ah…I have about 8 or 9 Osborne-1 machines in the basement. And I know I have the original boot floppies and copies (some with ZCP/M, most original). Dunno if I have any SDSS blanks, but probably. If you’re really interested, let me know and I might be able to send some bits over the water. (I’m in Chicago.)

Comment from Pavel
Time: June 26, 2009, 7:31 am

My dad had an Osborne, along with his TRS80 with a mighty 4kb of ram. They were slightly more efficient than counting on your fingers.

I played with the Osborne when I was younger. Star Trek rocked. But it didn’t rock THAT much.

Comment from apotheosis
Time: June 26, 2009, 8:26 am

The thing about the Osbourne is it has four floppies. FOUR.

You could easily imagine that as the nuclear suitcase in some 80s tecnho-thriller where four different guys in uniforms – one from each branch of the military, maybe – solemnly insert the SUPER SECRET CODE DISK to access the arsenal.

Maybe it’s just the story’s subject line affecting my brane.

So here’s to everyone in Hollywood who thinks ICBMs need to sit in a silo and warm up like a 72 Gran Torino while smoke pours theatrically from the engine bells prior to launch.

Comment from Deborah
Time: June 26, 2009, 10:06 am

I wish I still had all the computers that my husband and I bought through the years, starting with Radio Shack’s “TRS 80 Model 4P.” That baby was as portable as a boat anchor!

Comment from jwpaine
Time: June 26, 2009, 10:39 am

I had a TRS-80 Model 100… maxed out at 32k RAM, a spreadsheet chip, and external floppy drive. It ruled.

Comment from Войска ПВО
Time: June 26, 2009, 11:32 am

“Remember the Osborne? It was the first sort-of portable computer. “

..no, it wasn’t. That distinction goes to the KayPro and/or the TRS-80 (mentioned in a comment above). Or, at least they all tied for that honor. As the former owner of two KayPro IIs and current owner of a slumbering KayPro 2x (affectionately called Darth Vader’s Lunch Box because of the gunmetal grey color) , I can attest to the fact that the Osborne was a decidedly inferior product.

But, that would be because KayPro and Osborne owners were mortal enemies and the KayPro had a 9-inch screen versus the little “peephole” that the Osborne CRT was. By the way, it did not boot because CP/M occupied 2K of the floppy as opposed to being resident on an internal hard drive. If you get a boot disk, fire up your machine, start up WordStar ™ (v3.30 with the self-patched mods) and waltz around in it for a while. One will be surprised how much functionality was built into a 2K operating system and a 40K application. Them was woderful times.

And, yes Virginia, Gary Kildall did die as the result of a fight in a biker bar.

Comment from MCPO Airdale
Time: June 26, 2009, 1:47 pm

HA! This is a computer! http://tiny.pl/36xw

Comment from Uncle Badger
Time: June 26, 2009, 4:50 pm

Войска ПВО makes an interesting point. As I said to The Weasel only few minutes ago, there isn’t a great deal of basic business grind that I couldn’t have done with my Osborne – other than handle graphics and store gigantic amounts of data.

And that was its attraction: it handled the core business applications (WP, spreadsheet and database) and actually came with those programmes which, bought separately at the time, would cost damn near the price of the machine. That was Adam Osborne’s stroke of genius.

The small screen was a pain but easily remedied, ISTR, with the purchase of a cheap, separate amber monitor which lived on top of my Osborne.

I still have find memories of CP/M and remember how scandalised I was when I later encountered Microsoft’s rip-off replacement.

But then came the whole, sorry, Apricot saga, which the USA was spared. And a version of Billyshit’s MSDOS which wasn’t IBM compatible.

These were(n’t) the days.

Comment from GrannyJ
Time: June 26, 2009, 6:43 pm

I still have two, maybe three, Osbornes sitting in various closets, plus manuals & software. I became so addicted to Wordstar and Supercalc that I didn’t switch to the Microsoft product until I got an iMac two years ago.

Comment from Uncle Badger
Time: June 26, 2009, 6:50 pm

I’m with you on Wordstar, GrannyJ. Once I’d nailed all those commands into my brain, I never did quite unlearn them.

And there’s damn-all that Word offers that I find an improvement (which is why I wont use it).

Comment from dfbaskwill
Time: June 28, 2009, 5:59 pm

A true beauty! I have my model of the original Babbage machine and my first Palm Pilot from US Robotics. Can’t let go of them!

Comment from Former Lurker
Time: June 29, 2009, 11:25 am

Oh, dear. I started with a Commodore 64 and would have died for an SX-64 (the portable version!).

I cut my CP/M and Wordstar teeth on a Xerox Model 820-II. I learned how to program laser printers to draw graphics with Wordstar and Xerox’s IP (InterPress) language – a predecessor of PostScript. Ah, the good old days…

(Hey Weasel! I haven’t been around in a while, but I’m back! Great to see you’re all still here!)

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: June 29, 2009, 1:15 pm

Hey F’Lurker! Good to see your smiling ASCII again.

I love these threads. They bring out the geeks.

Comment from Sigivald
Time: June 29, 2009, 5:25 pm

Try here?

You can probably buy or thrift-shop a 5.25″ drive for a PC, and various places seem to have versions of the “teledisk” program those images are used with.

So you can probably make that stuff work with a little effort and almost no money.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: June 29, 2009, 6:21 pm

I brought a 5¼” drive with me, Sigivald, but I don’t have the connectors. Looking at the thing, I remembered that the ribbon connector was different for the old drives, and I surmised you’d need an old floppy disk controller card for it. Wouldn’t you?

Comment from Former Lurker
Time: June 30, 2009, 11:22 am


Yeah, I think you need the controller for the floppy drive. Back in those days, I believe those were an “accessory” item. Or maybe it was just the hard drive controllers I’m thinking of…

Gosh, I’m really helpful, aren’t I?

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