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It’s the Small Things

DSC07621My computer interest is turning back to the small microchip processor such as the Parallax products. Writing small computer code and having total control what it does has always been one of my best life experiences. From the very early days of my computer experience, this is what is most enjoyable.

I don’t get as much enjoyment from running just a store-bought application. I enjoy using the computer but the MOST enjoyment is seeing you own thought processes being executed. Tweaking the basic code to do exactly what is personally desired.

That’s how it was in the early 8080 days. I was writing computer code before a micro operating system was ever invented. I lived through Digital Research CP/M (Control Program / Microcomputers) and the birth of (IBM/MS) DOS (1.0 or less) when floppy drives became available / affordable. In those days CP/M and DOS had a programming language that could be invoked, called a batch (.bat) file. Also, a config.sys file. All other software run “on top” of these operating systems. A very good plan.

CP/M stuck around for a while on a PC style computer called the Osborne. The IBM / DOS won the PC standards war from the Digital Research folks.

Getting back to that kind of compact programming is what the “Basic Stamp” and other micro controllers provide. Small efficient coding for specific applications. There is the availability of high level programming with “BASIC” type programming (which gets interpreted before execution). There is also assembler programming.

Not the purest machine language code, but far smaller and compact than the huge overload of excess background code running in the standard PC configuration.

The higher-level systems like Raspberry Pi / Linux, are OK but carry a huge burden of excess operating system code. A price that is paid for more automatic functions. These little machines can do quite impressive things. I do not disdain using them when they serve the purpose. Performing far more complex operations than the tiny Basic Stamp. But each platform has it’s place. I like having the choice or option to choose what is best for what is to be accomplished.

I often think of the old Dr. Dobb”s Journal of Computer (Tiny Basic) Calisthenics and Orthodontia slogan: “Running Light Without Overbyte” It an old computer hacker’s publication (abbreviated DDJ) back in 1975-6, the early days. (It continued in altered form until the end of 2014!)

I hand entered a full 2 Kbytes of Palo Alto Tiny Basic into the front panel switches of my Imsai 8080 microcomputer. It was published (in printed form) in DDJ as octal binary code. I debugged my entry errors and saved a fully functional BASIC interpreter to perforated tape. Those were the days.

That’s the nostalgia the Basic Stamp brings back to micro computing. Very light weight operating system and compact code writing. Doing more with less is a good feeling.

My Imsai 8080 started with only 4K of system static RAM. No hard drives or floppies. All code was saved by using a teletype machine for Input/Output and saving memory to punched (perforated) tape. Later I added an audio cassette tape for saving memory content. Eventually I added more RAM. It was all static RAM as the dynamic RAM hadn’t been perfected yet.

My next computer was the IBM/1. I sold the Imsai 8080 to another Ham Radio guy.

How will I use a tiny micro controller? Oh, well there are about 1000 things I can dream up. I plan to blink LEDS and simple temporary breadboard projects until I get back into the swing. I have been away for a while. I have a strong controls background from my career in buildings and energy management controls. I am revisiting my model boat conning project. (More on that later.) I have a few control system projects in mind with lighting and environmental concerns. I am thinking of amateur radio applications too. Many things I “could” do with a tiny controller.

I am just going to “play” at first. Maybe dabble some in robotics.

If this avocation gets bigger and uses more of my time, I’ll add a micro-computing section to this website. Especially when I drift into Amateur radio type projects. The data links I will be using will be in or near amateur microwave bands. Of course, my license is not necessary for Wi-Fi, but with a license I can use other frequencies.