The Amazing 80's

The Amazing 80's

Exploring Technological Past: My Remarkable Encounter with the TRS-80

The year was 1979, and I was 13. Living in Brazil during a military dictatorship meant facing strict trade barriers, among other limitations. Personal computers hadn’t yet made their way into the country, and the technological advancements abroad were entirely unknown to us.

During this time, my father made frequent trips to the United States, often returning with magazines and publications. Amongst their pages were advertisements for personal computers, a novel sight then. I was mesmerized by those ads, envisioning the possibility of owning my very own computer, despite not fully comprehending its potential.

One day, upon returning from one of his trips, he announced, 'I bought a computer.' And there it was, a brand new Radio Shack TRS-80. I could hardly believe it—a lifelong dream coming true. The condition to unbox it and start tinkering was that I mastered its operation. It didn’t take long for me to devour all the manuals and books my father brought, proudly declaring my readiness. I’ll never forget that night when we plugged in the TRS-80. Typing some BASIC code into the interpreter prompt, the computer entered a loop that printed my name. I vividly recall one of the first instructions in the manual stating that nothing typed on the computer’s keyboard could harm it. It gave me the freedom to fearlessly experiment with any idea that popped into my head.

From then on, it became my obsession. The first programming language I learned was BASIC, but I studied frantically. Besides the many books I read about the TRS-80, I also followed some monthly publications like 'Interface Age' and '80 Microcomputing.' The latter featured a section where William Barden Jr., the author of several books on low-level programming for the TRS-80, wrote a column called 'The Assembly Line' that was very educational and inspiring.

Matthew Reed astutely pointed out on his website dedicated to TRS-80

"William Barden had a very engaging writing style which helped draw in readers and make the topics understandable despite the very technical subject matter."

It was common knowledge at the time that the Z80 microprocessor, powering the TRS-80, was sluggish. Relying solely on BASIC code within the resident interpreter greatly limited the possibilities. It was almost mandatory to code in Assembly to explore the hardware's full potential. So, I devoted myself to learning not only the processor's mnemonic language but also peripheral concepts, such as binary, octal, and hexadecimal number systems, the Z80 instruction set in hexadecimal, and low-level programming techniques to maximize the hardware's constrained capabilities. In no time, I could easily convert decimals to binary and hexadecimal in my head. Furthermore, I memorized the Z80's instruction set in hexadecimal, enabling me to glance at a memory dump and decipher the code's functionality.

By then, I knew precisely what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. My passion was cemented, and I couldn't envision any other possibility. At a certain point, during a 30-day winter school break, I decided to craft my own version of 'Space Invaders' in Assembly language. Without any external reference, I 'invented' the asynchronous loop to independently process various objects (invader ships, cannon, shots etc.) and breathe life into the game. It was an amazing achievement and I was just beginning.

Thus began my story. TRS-80 is a nostalgic fragment of my memories that has stayed with me throughout my life. How about you? Have you had interesting stories with TRS-80's? Do you remember William Barden's books? Leave a comment sharing a bit of your story.