[vcf-midatlantic] Not quite so linked lists (of books)

Herb Johnson hjohnson at retrotechnology.info
Tue Sep 15 17:40:07 EDT 2020

On 9/15/2020 6:39 AM, Adam Michlin wrote:
> Perhaps I could impose on you with a more specific question. I want to 
> learn more about 70s microcomputers, especially 
> pre-Apple/RadioShack/Commodore and S100 machines. I like technical books 
> and I like non-technical books.

1970's isn't very specific. It's like saying "that stuff before the 
mammals, you know, dinosaurs?"

I'd not use Apple to draw a line in time; they are unique to have 
survived from such an early date. Better to draw the line "before Tandy, 
Commodore and Atari"; I'm afraid to characterize them but they are all 
of a kind and started near the same time, for the same reasons. Stuff 
like S-100, and IC developments of the later 1970's, and just more 
familiarity, laid the groundwork to make those later home-systems 
possible and viable.

S-100 computers began in 1976 and were made into the 1990's as 
small-production systems and boards. A plausible guess is that over 200 
companies made S-100 IEEE-696 boards in that era. And that was when 
S-100 boards sold for hundreds of dollars, sometimes several hundred; 
and a few thousand dollars bought *a new car*.

But other things like S-100, would be SS-50 systems. Same deal, smaller 
scale but comparable. And then there were individual brands of bussed 
based systems: Ohio Scientific for instance. And: there were industrial 
systems also bussed: STD-Bus (Prolog) based systems, Multibus (Intel), 
various Motorola 6800/6809 bussed products; and then the lesser 
microprocessor companies' bussed products.

All these bussed systems have been called retrospectively, "big boards 
in ugly boxes". In the fundamentals they are awfully similar. S-100 is 
not a bad place to take a look at some.

The S-100 bus handbook – January 1, 1980 by Dave Bursky

It's technical, of course. Here's a bunch of S-100 boards by MITS Altair 
and others in the 2nd half of the 70's. Here's how those 8080 Z80 based 
systems worked. Here's the schematics. Some history and names.

These were bare-metal "systems" before there were systems; no OS, no 
file system (well, maybe cassettes), barely any languages. Not many 
peripherals. And no cross assemblers for most folks.  Sometimes I call 
this era "knocking stones together to make sparks", just to annoy modern 

If you want an early history on MITS and Processor Tech and other early 
S-100 actors, I imagine "Hackers" has something.

Any compilation of "Dr. Dobb's Journal" for the first three years would 
be both a good read of people reportage, and early tool making by 
Paleolithic microprocessor programmers.

If you want a business case on IMSAI as it became ComputerLand and was 
part of early computer-store development, and the hubris of such 
businesses in the 1980's era, read

Once Upon a Time in Computerland, by Jon Littman

If you want the pure heroin of S-100: read board and system manuals by 
Compupro (1st), Cromemco, Morrow,  NorthStar.  A few other brands wrote 
good manuals, maybe Ithaca Audio/Intersystems. "good" does not mean 
gripping narratives of persons dealing with conflicts. Good means, 
here's how the chips make the signals when driven by processor 
instructions driving the bus. That. is. what. it. took. to make it all 
happen, and to keep it happening. Four decades later, we can still make 
them do what they did - *that* is astonishing.

But most of the chatter and discussion - and some code and hardware - 
was in print magazines, or in local-club newsletters, or in national 
club-brand newsletters. I'm saying: there were clubs around processors, 
or around some brand of microcomputer. Later there clubs around 
*software*. Some good-tech stuff and business-progress stuff, was in 
electrical-engineering trade magazines and in computer-programming trade 
magazines. A little bit was in the academic EE and CIS journals.

It all started somewhere, and there was nothing before there was 
something (look that up).  MOst microcomputer progress was from the 
bottom-up, not top-down. Individuals, not institutions. Sometimes 
ordinary people did extraordinary things, because they didn't need big 
resources to accomplish what was needed. A good part of early 
microcomputing was driven by social revolutionaries, who wanted 
computing power "for the people, by the people". Such was the 1970's.

regards, Herb

Herbert R. Johnson, New Jersey in the USA
http://www.retrotechnology.com OR .net
preserve, recover, restore 1970's computing
email: hjohnson AT retrotechnology DOT com
or try later herbjohnson AT retrotechnology DOT info

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