linguistics, computers, and puns

Dead Tree Nostalgia

Tim Hammerquist September 10, 2012 Updated: October 11, 2023 #assembly #basic #books #rpn

So I was digging through some old computer books the other day and found what you might call my first "serious" programming book [picture right]. (My first was this colorful gem.)

The Tandy 1000 Programmer's Reference Manual has has seen better days, but it's in pretty good shape for a 27-year-old book. But I own plenty of books published pre-1990. What makes this one special? Aside from it being among my first geek tomes, it also represents so much of what has changed about technology.

The dec al is in the details

Tandy 1000 Programmer's Reference

The Tandy 1000 Programmer's Reference, published in 1984 by Tandy Corporation and Microsoft Corporation. Distributed with new Tandy 1000 PCs, lower-cost clones of the original IBM PC, and evidence of two significant facts that have been lost in time:

  1. Computer buyers expected to program their new computers.
  2. Computer manufacturers allowed this and even provided documentation to this effect.

This manual is a testament to its era. Take a look at the table of contents and ask yourself if your modern computer user's guide discusses anything more than plugging in cords and booting Microsoft Windows.

All-in-all, 248 pages laying out the PC's system, BIOS, and OS architecture. It shipped with MS-DOS 3-something and so includes documentation of MS-DOS extensions to the OS at the time.

HP-16C Programmer's Calculator

What's more, the Tandy 1000 was the cheap-imitation-knock-off of the premium product, the IBM PC/XT. And it still came with this detailed manual of memory maps, IRQ specs, and BIOS/DOS interrupts.

Even this ancient HP-16C desktop calculator (ca. 1984) came with a full programmer's reference included. Yeah, a programmable calculator in the early 80s! With documentation!

But those days are gone. Knowing how your gadgets work is premium knowledge, and in many cases even verboten. Now we get fold-out posters of where to plug the power cable, and an offer for premium support.