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Reading disks from 1988 in 2018


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Jason Snell, formerly of MacWorld wrote this fun thing




You might be asking yourself, how would this project have gone if I hadn’t given in and ordered that floppy disk containing ADT Pro from RetroFloppy? The answer is that you can bootstrap an Apple II from nothing but a serial connection back to your Mac. You type a couple of commands into the Apple II, and then ADT Pro proceeds to use the serial connection to type in an entire program in machine code that you can run to begin transferring files or even initialize a bootable disk. Bananas.





Most distressing was all the stuff I’d written that I have absolutely no memory of. The real lesson of my spelunking through my disks from the 1980s is that out of the dozens and dozens of essays and stories that I wrote back then, I only really remember a handful of them today. The rest faded from view, largely because they were irrelevant and deserved to fade from view. But I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a little sobering to be shown a clear snapshot of my life in 1988 and fail to recognize a huge amount of it.

Am I glad I did this project? I am. It was a huge amount of fun to revisit an era of computing that I just don’t think about very often. These were the days when you booted off a disk, loaded the program on the disk, and then took the disk out of the drive—because once the program was in memory, you didn’t need the program disk anymore!

From the perspective of 2018 I’m also not impressed with the user interfaces of the 80s. To load a new file into Apple Writer, I have to type control-N (to make a “new” editor without the previously loaded file), type “y” to confirm and hit return, then type control-L, and then type the filename of the file I wish to load—including its volume name. If I want to see a directory listing of a disk, that’s a different command nested in a list of menus based on a different keyboard shortcut.

Ugh. No thank you. Nostalgia is great, but progress is greater.



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There's nothing unique about that experience. I had it. And everyone else digging through their old disks will likely have it too.


But it is fun to take some of my BASIC graphics programs and run them at +100MHz in an emulator. And stories? Pulled them back from the brink, too. It was fun to read through what we thought the future was going to be like.

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One of the biggest nostalgic things to do on vintage computers is to write programs that either work like modern computers or are even more user-friendly than modern computers. Nothing beats writing a program with only a few kilobytes to spare and feel like it has as much power and user friendliness as a modern PC with Gigabytes of memory and Gigahertz of speed. And let's not forget the mouse. Who needs a cigarette when you can satisfy the urge with a little, round point and click device.

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