I was an Apple user in my youth. I had an Apple II+ and loved it. I couldn't stop talking about it to friends who had TRS-80s and Commodore PETs and other antediluvian machines, superior little snot that I was. I used it to type papers for high school (using Bank Street Writer, because I grew up next door to Bank Street and had scammed a copy) printed out on my Epson MX-80. I generally thought I was the acme of computing badassery for the home user.

Then one day in 1983 I went into school and the kid next to me opened his bag and plunked something heavy, white and smelling of that indefinable 'new electronics' smell down on his desk. My jaw dropped.

It had a screen embedded in it. An LCD screen, 40 x 8 characters in size - 1/2 the size of my Apple's text window. It had a full keyboard and function keys. It was shiny. And then he did the impossible. He reached around, and without plugging the thing into anything turned it on.

I wanted one. Right there, I wanted one. I had to ask him about it, and he showed me the built-in 300 baud modem (I had to buy mine separately!) and told me that its CPU ran at 3 MHz. Damn it, that was three times FASTER THAN MY APPLE!

Oh, and the batteries lasted like 20 hours of use. And were AAs, easily replaced at any corner store.

This was the Tandy TRS-80 Model 100. I never got one, not until many many years later when they were being thrown in the trash and I scored one from a dustbin, still working, its 24k of RAM intact.

The Model 100 was built in Japan, originally, by Kyocera. It was sold to a few companies to rebadge as their own; in the U.S., they were found at Radio Shack, the captive dungeon of Tandy's retail operations. In Europe, they came in darker plastics and were sold by Olivetti, the maker of most Italian typewriters of the age. In Japan, NEC retailed them for the home market.

The Model 100 had an Intel 80c85 CPU. The first version had 8k (8k, people) of RAM and 32k of ROM which held the built-in software and OS. It came with a text editor (which was what it was mostly good for if you weren't a hacker type), a telecom program (not app, these were programs) for its built-in modem or serial port, and a decent BASIC interpreter. You could buy all kinds of gear for it - floppy drives, printers, or acoustic coupler modems for those times you just couldn't find an RJ-11 cable - and it was yours bare-bones for around $800 US. Bill Gates wrote some of the built in software his own self. Perhaps best of all, though, was that it was solid, Jackson. I mean, you could use it to drive nails and break car windows and it probably wouldn't notice. This endeared it to almost everyone who used it.

Although I never owned one when it was 'current,' I did carry one for about a year. It belonged to a friend of mine whose parents had lots of money, and hence he had lots of computers. He had two of them - his father had bought himself one and decided it was pointless. The two of us used to skulk around public places, hacking into various computers (this was hacking. It was before cracking) using 'borrowed' phone lines. We pulled off some epic intrusions with those little things. We once got into a large company in New Jersey that shall remain unnamed by social-engineering the security guards into believing we were mainframe technicians, courtesy of some faked badges and the two Model 100s in what looked like purpose-made sling bags that we'd carefully stitched together ourselves. We spent six hours inside the machine room of that firm, and the main reason all we came out of there with was credential lists was because we hadn't brought floppy drives and couldn't download anything.

There were problems with the machine as a business tool. It had a built-in calendar that used to semi-randomly change dates. The first version, as I indicated, only had 8KB of RAM of which 3-odd K were used by the OS when it was in operation. And if you didn't have a floppy you were forced to resort to either audio cassettes for storage or printing everything out over the built-in Centronics port, because once the AA batteries failed, the RAM contents evaporated. Still, especially in its later years, it was incredibly popular among journalists and college students as a portable text editor. Due to its standard RS-232 port and modem, it was easy to transfer files to more modern computers if you had one; after around 1988 or so they could be had for almost nothing if you looked hard enough, and there still weren't yet any real 'laptops' as we know them now. A Model 100 and a desktop at home were the ticket to ride.

I can't find my trashcan-score unit now. Damn it. I'll have to ask my Dad if it's at his place. I wonder if anyone has hacked an Ethernet interface onto these little things.

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