BYTE is back!
It was the winter of 1979. Allen Ordway, Brian Grenke and me sat at a table in the Algebra teacher’s room. We were typing in a Basic program, carefully inputing each line number, from the back pages of BYTE magazine onto a brand new TRS-80 computer.
The print on the pages was microscopic. It contained hundreds and hundreds and even more hundreds of lines of code. We took turns typing it all in over several days. All the data was saved on a tape recorder-like device that hooked up to the computer. What a miracle! All that typing saved on a cassette.
When finished, it turned out to be some kind of shooting game. A small “tank” would bounce back and forth on the bottom of the screen, and whenever the space bar was pressed, a “missile” would launch towards these blocky objects at the top. If the blocky object and missile intersected, points were added to a running total at the top.
What fun! We could go into the code and tinker with it. Make the tank bigger, or the missile slower. Ever better, we could give ourselves extra lives.
My triumph was to take a column from BYTE and use what I had learned from it to create a spoof program, whose purpose was to mimic the command line of the TRS-80 (this was long before the days of computer GUIs). Then, when some unsuspecting soul would try to type in his programs (for course credit), the TRS-80 would at first behave and process the commands normally, but after a few lines the machine would begin to insult the user. These insults were taken personally and caused more than one freak out.
And then there was Jerry Pournelle’s columns, whose columns I didn’t always follow but which I always read. Plus, all those ads for all that stuff which I just had to have, but which I had to wait until Halloween of 1985 to get. This was a Commodore 128, purchased at a Kansas City toy store when I was TDY from Kadena AFB, and which had 128 full kilobytes of memory, thank you very much.
BYTE is back! But only, so far and possibly forever, on-line. Jerry Pournelle is back. Of course, Pournelle has carried on Chaos Manor on his own site for many years, but it’s nice to seem him back under the old banner.
Missing are the pages of tightly packed lines of code. Well, code is one of the cases where if you have to ask how it’s done, you’ll never learn. You just have to go out and figure it for yourself, liberally borrowing from working code.
The look and feel of BYTE is there: the website has decidedly old-school feel to it. The editor Gina Smith has included Tips and How-To columns, with titles like, “Disconnect the HP TouchPad the Correct Way”, “Check How Long Your Computer Has Been On”, and “How To Resize Large Photos in OS X with GIMP.” As some geeks say, “Meh.”
The real fun is always in the reviews. BYTE doesn’t quite reach the level of independence and objectivity of, say, Consumer Reports, but they’re more authoritative and trustworthy than going to some fanboy’s site. Usually.
Controversy already! In the first issue, Demetrius Mandzych had the poor sense to take on Apple. If you’re a die-hard Steve Jobs follower, I advise you to avert your eyes from what follows.
Consumers need a wakeup call. So does the press. Stop giving Apple or any other company a free pass. Companies are beholden to shareholders, not customers. They care only about the money they make this quarter, this year, what have you. They are for-profit enterprises, after all.
The reaction was, as you might guess, about sixteen miles past vehement. Mandzych’s piece was poorly written, but what fun to see the Apple-natics react like fans at a wrestling match arguing over which spandex-wearing mat-grabber is best! The beset upon Smith was forced to line-through the entire column and prefix it with a long explanatory note of “How sorry, lesson learned, etc.”
Head on over to BYTE.