March 22nd, 2003


Smirking at the good old days

As you might be aware, I live in the Antique Capitol of Washington. Or maybe just Western Washington. And truly, it doesn't matter much, because I live pretty far from town.

But today, I went into Snohomish, City of Antiques for lunch. And on my way back to my car, I stopped by the used book store. And found BASIC, An Introduction to Computer Programming with the Apple. Ah, yes. The good old days, when a computer owner was a computer programmer.

I'm skimming through the book now, chuckling at inaccuracies as well as the onward march of technology. One such case that the book suggests as a thought experiment:

Example 9. A researcher has compiled three lists A, B, and C of 500 measurements each and wishes to determine the average of all possible sums obtained by adding three measurements, one from each of the three lists. We are to write a program to assist the researcher in this task.

The book presents a 10 line program (quaintly starting at line 290, like all good software), which the authors estimate would take 385 hours on their Apple ][+. Just for fun(!), I ran a similar program (admittedly, written in Python, not Applesoft BASIC). It completed in about 2 minutes on my shabby old P3/800. Thank you to an entire generation of hardware engineers.

An aside: I've been watching too much MST3K of late, so I keep hearing Kevin Murphy (Servo)'s voice echoing that filmstrip voice: 'Milwaukee, City of Opportunity!'. Imagine if you will, Kevin as Servo as Filmstrip Documentarian trumpeting the capabilities of this device: 'And as the 1980s dawn, we usher in the age of ELECTRONIC COMPUTING! With the capacity to store 143 THOUSAND characters on a convenient FLOPPY DISK the size of a potholder! Brilliant PIX-ELs in your choice of any of sixteen different colors! Yes, Tommy, the future truly is here today!'

Um, yes. I really just wanted to set the stage for the following quote from the book. I don't make this stuff up, kids.

Many video games involve a moving ball capable of rebounding off a wall. The moving ball can be simulated by plotting a point, causing a short delay, erasing the point (plot it in the color of the background), and moving on to the next point. The program segment

300 GR 
350    LET X=X+1 
360 IF X<=39 THEN 320 

simulates a ball moving from left to right along the horizontal line Y=5. If you keep X fixed and vary Y, the ball will move along a vertical line. The delay (line 330) is necessary for two reasons: it extends the length of time the ball is visible so that it can easily be seen, and it controls the speed of the ball.

Nothing technically incorrect there - perhaps a few quibbles with their wording, but I allow myself to smirk at how long it's been since I actually read this kind of stuff and found it useful. Readers of the future, feel free to smirk at my naivite from your vantage point of 2023.

And now, my fellow residents of 2003, I'm going to get into my FOSSIL-FUEL burning LAND VEHICLE and drive into town again. For truly, the future is being made today in thriving SNOHOMISH, WASHINGTON!
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