Hello World! (Really)

Normally I would remove this header, but that’s how it all started for me.

Hello World!

It was a long time ago. I sat hunched over a TRS-80 CoCo, and stared at the Television it was plugged into. I had a a book open next to me called “Getting Started with Color Basic.” The first program in every book has always been, “Hello World!” It was the first program I wrote (copied) as well.

In those days, the computer would present you with a prompt the second you turned it on. You didn’t have to wait for anything to load. It was loaded on the ROM or PROM (Programmable Read Only Memory) or EPROM (Eraseable Read Only Memory). Not to be confused with an EEPROM (Electrically Eraseable ROM).

To erase an EPROM, you would stick it in a box with an ultra-violet light. An EEPROM could be reprogrammed electrically – without removing it from the device (the CoCo couldn’t do that). If you got really serious, you would eventually swap your ROM with an EPROM, or even piggy-back a EPROM on your ROM.

In my case, a friend (Michael Collins in 29 Palms, CA) had written a machine code monitor that allowed me to peek and poke through the ram, and he soldered it on top of my PROM. One of the pins of each ROM was bent up and wired through a selector switch on the bottom right corner on my computer. I could flip the switch, hit reset (which I had moved to the front of the computer with a little bit of wire, some solder, and a tiny push button), and load his program into memory. It was great if you wanted to look at the machine code and figure out what was happening inside programs.

I had a lot of modifications on my little CoCo.

  • I glued a 300 baud modem into the lid and soldered the connections to my RS-232 port connector.
  • I had drilled holes in the case and glued LEDs into the lid to show power and modem status lights.
  • I had rubbed all the silver off my case using lacquer thinner so it was black. It took hours and hours and hours of rubbing.
  • Extra RAM had been piggy-backed inside the case to allow 64k of RAM.
  • The little square keys were replaced with a much better keyboard. the old square keys used to get stuck in the down position. I learned they wouldn’t get stuck if I struck them hard (a habit I still have – people sometimes think I’m mad when I type).
  • The Machine Code monitor obviously.

My grandfather would not allow me to buy video games, so I learned to program. I spent more hours than I can count learning how to program in BASIC. Initially, I programmed in BASIC, but I eventually started coding a little bit in Assembly Language – though I didn’t get very good at it until I got into college.

That is where I started. I really miss that old CoCo. It was stolen during a burglary of my grandparents’ house when I was ~18. It’s probably sitting in a landfill now, and it’s heartbreaking. That computer changed everything about my life.

Before the TRS-80 CoCo, I was planning on being a truck driver or a plasterer (I can still stucco). That was my families’ plan for me. They never really cared if I did homework or earned good grades. I didn’t even finish, and I took an equivalency instead. College wasn’t in the cards for me. I signed up for DeVry as a lark, and barely passed the Algebra portion of the entrance exam by plugging in numbers in the multiple choice answers instead of actually doing Algebra.

It was an interesting time. I almost didn’t show up. In fact, I skipped my scheduled enrollment date. Then, a week or so before the next trimester, I decided to go. Kind of the story of my life, and I still live spontaneously.

“A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week” — George Patton

I would be plastering your house right now if it wasn’t for this little $349 computer from Radio Shack and those two little words “Hello World!” That completely changed the direction of my life.

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