Tag Archives: preservation

Preserving My TRS-80 Likes Me

Things really were simpler then, at least when the topic is computing and the era was before 1980. One document in our catalog (item #1030) is,

My TRS-80 Likes Me – When I teach kids how to use it!, by Bob Albrecht.


The eight page document is “a resource guide for the elementary teacher.” Within those eight pages are example programs, fundamental computing concepts, and a playful attitude. Similar guides are possible now, but their instructions are likely to be layered on browsers, apps, and operating systems. Back then it was: boot the machine, type the code and RUN. But the guide also taught more fundamental concepts, as well as setting a tone and culture that encouraged kids to play and learn.

We’re preserving such documents so researchers and the curious can study and recall an era that redefined the way we learn.

The programs were all in BASIC. He prefaced the text with a disclosure:

“IMPORTANT NOTICE! I am not saying that the TRS-80 is the best computer for a// purposes. I am not saying the TRS-80 is the best overall educational computer. I am saying that I think the TRS-80 is the best computer that I have used (so far) to teach elementary school children, grades 4, 5 and 6, how to understand and enjoy BASIC.”

Programs start with four lines, grow to over a dozen, and end with one program that has three dozen lines. Elementary school students learned to print their name, but also how to write games and create graphics for the screen. 

At the time (1979), BASIC had been available for about 16 years. There were advocates for programming languages like FORTRAN, and for limiting classes to college students and graduates; but Bob knew younger people could learn to program, too.

As he wrote:

Why not? They control the future; so, let them control the computer, the tool of the future; give your kids this tool: let them shape it in ways unknown to us. Then stand back and enjoy!!”

One lesson that helps illustrate the fundamentals that had to be taught were “Tell them about the prompt(> ) and the cursor(-).” Cursors continue, but > prompts are hidden behind those layers described above.

Starting with such simple lessons is logical, but the more important lesson may be the attitude.

“Let the kids do all the hands-on stuff. Be patient- let them make mistakes, correct their own mistakes. and above all, encourage them to EXPERIMENT!”
“Now the fun begins.””

There may only be eight pages, but there’s enough in them to provide insights into history.

Bob Albrecht didn’t do all of the work. As he said in an interview we posted earlier, “people like Gerald Brown and Mary Jo did such a beautiful job of pasting it up, laying it out,…” The story behind the group effort leads to People’s Computer Company (our previous post), the Whole Earth Catalog, and about 32 more books on BASIC published as recently as 1996.

History is a network. Documents influence other documents. Contributors contribute in more than one place, and unintentionally inspire others. There’s enough to explore whether you’re interested in early educational technology, BASIC, the TRS-80, creative hand-produced publications, or a community that mixed programming with wine tasting and Greek dancing. (Read Interview with Bob Albrecht by Jon Cappetta for more.)

Preserving such documents for researchers and the curious is why we’re creating our virtual museum. Even one edition, like this one, can provide a cornerstone from which to build broader research projects and histories. Tell us where it leads you.


Assessing Preservation of the HCLE Archive

We know what we need to do. But how do we describe it so others understand (and fund) the work?

2013 and 2014 are when HCLE has been building the framework for the construction of the Virtual Museum. General plans are in place. Initial collaborations have begun. Our network is extending into all the necessary fields: humanities, history, education, computing, computers, curation, preservation, exhibits, etc. Now the details begin to reveal themselves.

HCLE is applying for an NEH (National Endowment for the Humanities) Preservation Assessment Grant. (HCLE > NEH PAG – Maybe we all need shorter names.) Our first step is straightforward to us: get the right help to steer us to the best way to turn a collection into a widely-accessible digital repository. Every collection starts with a bit of chaos. Now is when we put some order to the informalities.

Here’s our draft abstract. You are welcome to comment.

1. Project abstract

The target collection is an historical record of the introduction of computing into teaching/learning environments from the early 1960s to 1990. It comprises documents (publications, correspondence, notes, manuals, product inserts, etc.), software (printed listings, paper tape, magnetic tape, audio cassette tape, various floppy disk formats), hardware (mini- and micro-computers and peripherals), and recorded conferences and interviews (multiple formats). The goal is stabilizing, preserving and inventorying educational software and supporting documents used in teaching of the humanities. In the case of historic software, transferring software from historical to modern media is not a simple case of reformatting; it is preservation because a) the original magnetic media will degrade and b) devices capable of accessing the software from original media are rapidly becoming unavailable.

Creating a digital repository sounds simple, but it only stays that way if every artifact is like the rest. Hundreds of copies of a magazine can all be processed the same way as one. Our collection is a mix of documents, software, and hardware. The documents exist as newsprint, mimeographs, dot matrix, hand-written notes, instructions on the backs of boxes, etc. The software is on such a diverse media that we may find that no one has a complete collection of drives and readers; and then, some of the software is stored as printed text that must be typed in.

a selection of the collection
a selection of the collection

Error checking may require proper emulation environments to make sure each program operates properly. (And then someone has to play the games to make sure they work.) The hardware was usually designed to only last a few years. Obsolescence wasn’t planned. Technology changed so quickly that everything was effectively obsolete as soon as it was available for sale.

We plan to hire a consultant to provide a professional opinion, and as usual be very grateful to our volunteers. While this may seem like a small task, it is a necessary one that will enable the very existence of our Virtual Museum. These are exciting times for our (currently) small museum. Thanks for being a part of it, even as a spectator.