Northwest Computer Society

When I first moved to Seattle in December of 1977, I checked out the local computer stores. At "The Retail Computer Store" the clerk was Bob Wallace (bio) who later went to work for Microsoft in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Bob invited me to the Northwest Computer Society  meetings.

Club officers, December 1977 (124K JPG)

Bob Wallace's column from February 1978 club newsletter.

For a few years each issue of the newsletter had a member describe his computer system. In July 1978 I wrote this article about my system. (Scroll down to read the complete article text.)

Larger copy of newspaper (1.93M JPG)  (381K PDF)

Larger photo of my system

Here is a story I did about the 1981 London Computer Faire and a 1981 photo of me.


Michael Holley (July 1978)

My introduction to home computers was the now famous January, 1975 Popular Electronics story on the Altair 8800 computer. By January of 1976 I was looking the market over, reading every issue of Byte, and trying to decide which computer to buy. During this period computers were not as tame as they are today; no one was selling a complete computer system that would work when you got it home and assembled. I was living in San Francisco, one of the hot spots in small computers, and since computers came in kit form only I was able to make my hobby pay for itself by assembling kits for computer stores. Also I was able to play with all the new gismos before I bought one.

By the fall of 1976, Southwest Technical Products Corporation was delivering a complete system that would run BASIC and didn't have a gaggle of toggle switches on the front of it. My first working system was a SWTP 6800 computer with 8k of memory, an AC-30 cassette interface, and a CT-1024 video terminal. A major consideration for choosing SWTP was low cost hardware and software. This system cost less than $1000 and BASIC was only $5.

In the first part of 1977 I added another 8k of memory and a PR-40 printer. The major limitation of my system was the width of the output (32 columns of video and 40 for the printer). At this time in our computer hobby some major manufacturers were selling good items but poor systems. A friend of mine bought a Professor Tech SOL in January but BASIC wasn't released until June. I guess the manufacturers were expecting their customers to steal MITS BASIC. SWTP sold a complete hardware package with instructions on how to interconnect each unit and software that didn't require the user to write I/O drivers. I imagine there are still people who are trying to install all those jumpers to their I/O card and write an I/O driver for their hot copy of BASIC.

One drawback with cassette tape interfaces is speed or their lack of it: the SWTP lacks a lot of speed. With 8k BASIC taking 5 minutes to load, I didn't turn my computer off very often. In fact it ran 24 hours a day for about six months without failure, except a memory chip now and then. The diagnostics provided are very effective in pointing out any memory failure, however obscure. Memory, like wine, improves with age.

In April of 1977 I attended the First West Coast Computer Faire and saw 3 SWTP compatible disk systems in operation. A major consideration in choosing a disk system is the software, unless you just want to see the disk spin. Often a bargain in hardware isn't a total system bargain. Since SWTP had developed good low cost hardware in the past I chose their disk system.

That June I managed to get the first SWTP Minifloppy off the production line. It was hand carried back from San Antonio, Texas, by Chet Harris, a California computer wholesaler, a week before shipments began. I also had the first Minifloppy that didn't work right. If you have ever wondered who found the errors corrected by the errata sheet, it's the first people to get the kit.

The system that I have now is a SWTP 6800 with 36k of RAM, a dual mini floppy disk, a Hazeltine 1500 video terminal, and a Trendata 1000 Selectric terminal. This is my system but I have quite an assortment of other goodies also. I have most of the boards SWTP has made their computers plus EPROM boards from other manufacturers and half a dozen prototype boards. I have designed and built an 8 channel A to D and D to A board and various custom I/O boards. Of course I have a few modems; one of them is auto answer that allows remote use of my computer.

As for software, I have SWTP BASIC and Altair 680 BASIC plus some outstanding TSC packages. The disc operating system is FLEX by Technical Systems Consultants. This DOS is one of the finest I have ever seen; it even has features that CP/M doesn't have. The documentation is very complete, about 60 pages in all, with explanations on how to use all major subroutines with your own assembly language programs.

One of the nice utility programs is "EXECUTE" which reads a text file and executes the statements as if they were coming from the keyboard. I use this to set the characteristics of TTYSET and to assign my system and working disc drive with a one word command. The system comes with about 20 such utilities, with more on the way. The documentation explains how to write your own utilities and gives detailed examples. The output routine has the option of printing a full screen of text then pausing until you hit escape. Very nice at 19.2k baud. After 3 months of heavy use the DOS has yet to make a hard error.

The most useful package I have is the TSC text editor. I am using it to write this and it has also been used to collect a 500 line data base. It has all the features a terminal based editor can have, except macros.

Two other TSC packages I use are the mnemonic assembler and the text processor. A review of the text processor is in July Creative Computing.

Michael Holley's SWTPC Collection Home Page
This page was last edited October 27, 2013