In the late 1970's, when the personal computer bug bit you the choice was simple: Apple II v. Atari 400/800 v. Commodore PET. In retrospect, the answer is obvious. But I guessed wrong: first Commodore (~1977- ~1982) and then Atari (~1982- ~1984). I was an impecunious grad student, and the Commodore PET ( = "Personal Electronic Transactor" --- what a dorkismatic name!) at $800 was cheaper than the competition. It came with a massive 8kB of RAM, a built-in monitor, and a tape cassette drive for (slow) program storage and retrieval.

Once I got the PET I began to raise money for frills by writing magazine articles on hobby computing themes. The prose was pedestrian but the cash flow was good --- something close to minimum-wage, if one counted all the software development time, but I didn't know any better. And I would have done the programming regardless, so any return was pure gravy. (I wasn't a vegetarian then.)

A recent dig in the ^z basement uncovered a small shelf of old magazines containing many of those long-forgotten articles. Lest they be (mercifully!) lost to posterity, here's a summary of what surfaced, plus some notes on a few gaps in my PET bibliography.

The basement arch'ological dig also revealed a BYTE issue that contained an article by two good friends, Caltech astrophysics grad student comrades Doug Macdonald & Yekta Gürsel. They used my Commodore PET to develop the code for "Solving Soma Cube and Polyomino Puzzles Using a Microcomputer", a fascinating exercise in assembly-language programming and problem-solving heuristics. (Vol. 4, No. 11, November 1979)

These hobby-computing articles didn't change the face of human civilization, but they did trigger some interesting correspondence. Computer magazines at that time published the author's address, and I began to receive fan letters, including a couple from a mass murderer in California's Lompoc prison (the "trash bag killer"; he was interested in number theory).

I also got a series of long missives postmarked Mexico City, on onionskin paper, punched out in all-caps on a manual typewriter. Their author explained that Radio Shack was involved in a conspiracy against him, and that the gas ovens in WWII German death camps were teleportation/time-travel devices. He enclosed lists of license plates from cars that were following him. I did not write back.

Tuesday, May 23, 2000 at 05:55:43 (EDT) = 2000-05-23

(see PetBibli2)

TopicPersonalHistory - TopicProgramming - TopicWriting

(correlates: SeriousPerson, PetBibli2, ThanksAndAcknowledgements2, ...)