I want number 5

After our test at the TU Delft university, we learned that it was difficult to be dependent on national institutions and their hard-and software. We would like to have more freedom to decide when we wanted to use a computer. That freedom was limited by our salary. The first home computers had become ‘cheap’ enough for consumers to buy. You could choose from a range of suppliers. The Apple ][, the TRS-80, the Commodore PET, the ZX-81, the Nascom and later the Commodore VIC-20, the BBC Micro, MSX 1 and successors, the Commodore 64, the Acorn Atom and the Atari 400 and 800 series.

At one point we found ourselves in an apartment in Eindhoven where the engineering office of Tricomp was located. It was a chaotic space. Everywhere there were boxes with computers and peripherals. You had to step over the boxes when you wanted a chair or table. Coffee was served on boxes while engineer Schröder apologized for the chaos. We said that we hesitated about a NEC APC microcomputer or an Apple ][. Engineer Schröder advised us an English Apple clone: the Pearcom. In the end we chose the Pearcom because it had 14 input / output slots. That was 6 slots more than the Apple ][ computer. Some data: screen size 25 lines of 40 characters (upper and lowercase). 32 Kbyte of RAM (expandable to 96 Kbyte on board). BASIC, Fortran and Cobol available. Full Colour PAL video supplied (16 colors). Professional keyboard with function keys and two Apple disk drives. In 1982 it costs us about 5677 Euro.

The first thing that annoyed me was that I now had to learn programming. There was hardly software available. So I tried to understand what was going on. There was a 156 pages textbook which explained how you could learn Applesoft BASIC (a dialect of Microsoft BASIC). But there was some help available. As the handbook explained ‘With this handbook, an Apple computer (in our case the Pearcom) and some time and patience you will notice that programming a computer is not at all difficult. The secret of success is that you take your time and try-out everything. You can’t learn to code or program by reading this book. Likewise you can only learn bicycling or playing the violin by doing. You have to make mistakes and correct them. Don’t let programming discourage yourself when you make mistakes.’

I browsed through the Applesoft BASIC textbook and looked through the chapters: starting with Applesoft, the principles of programming, PLOT error messages, GOTO loops, NEW, LIST, RUN and HOME, graphics, strings and arrays. It all seemed very interesting but puzzling at the same time. When the computer started the ‘DISK II MASTER DISKETTE VERSION 3.2 16-FEB-79 COPYRIGHT 1979 APPLE COMPUTER INC.’ appeared. The menu was also very reassuring. The textbook stated that the menu on the screen was in fact working on the same way as if you were in a cafeteria. If you would like to have fried eggs with chips, vegetables and coffee you just can say, ‘I want number 5.’ Number 5 is the color demonstration program.

At one point I was asked if I understood the operation of the presented program. First, an array is filled with numbers, after which the contents of the array is mixed up. Note that the array does not have to start at zero. Suppose we have two glasses. A wine glass (WINE) and a glass of milk (MILK). Oh no, there was something wrong. The milk is in the wine glass and wine sits in the glass of milk. Fortunately we have an extra glass (TEMP). We can use the extra glass to fill it with milk, then we pour the wine into the wineglass and then the milk in the milk glass. Now we have both drinks in the right glass. Well… its fine that we could use the TEMP glass to get the drinks into the right glass but why do I have to know that? It really did not make any sense at all.

The second point which annoyed me was the terrible low resolution. Yes… you had the choice to work in two modes: low and high-resolution. In the low resolution you could draw 40 x 40 dots. And you had 16 colors available. You could draw teletext-like images. The high-resolution screen counted 280 x 192. However, that reduced your color palette from 16 to 8 colors. A huge disappointment if you compared the resolution of the computers within the University of Delft. So what could we do with this Apple clone beside playing Space-Eggs?


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