Retrospectacle: A Neuroscience Blog

Janet and Chris have declared a nerd-off, ostensibly in response to the sci-hottie awards that so cruelly snubbed them.

So, I feel that I must assert my Nerdelicious-ness by posting what I was wearing yesterday (under my labcoat, of course!).

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Back in the twilight of my nerd-hood in the early 80s, my father (an electrical engineer) brought home a most wonderous contraption. It was my very first computer, a TI99 made by Texas Instraments.

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Check these stats and drool! Processor speed a blazing 3.3 MHz, memory was an ample 256 bytes, PLUS 16 KB RAM. Can we say SAH-WEET???? It ran on Basic of course, only the most cutting edge OS would do for my three-year old brain. We even splurged on some righteous peripherals like a tape deck, and a 5 1/4 inch floppy drive. Whoa Nelly!

But what was most thrilling to this young nerdlet was the speech synthesis program that this TI99 had. The program came with a book of 200 or so words, which, if typed-in, the computer would say! I made it my mission to use these 200 words in the most hilarious (to me) and annoying (to my parents) way possible. The three words which fit the bill were: KICK, BOTTOM, and GOOD. Yes, ladies and gentleman, this poor TI99 was forced to say KICK BOTTOM GOOD KICK BOTTOM GOOD over and over for my delight until He-Man came on.

Later, when we got a Tandy, I became obsessed with text-driven adventure games such as ZORK (and all the spawn of ZORK), PlanetFall, MoonMist, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy…………..well pretty much ANYTHING made by InfoCom.
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In fact, one of my goals for this blog (I now immediately realize) is to make contact with one of those InfoCom guys. Although I would have to complain that the tip line for their games (you know, if you got stuck) was way over-priced.

Comments

  1. #1 JaysonB
    September 6, 2006

    zork used to give me chills while playing it (especially the garden with the bushes that moved). I think its still the best video game I’ve ever played.

    Thank you for making me feel extra dorky today.

    Oh, and BASIC wasn’t an OS, just as an fyi.

  2. #2 Shelley Batts
    September 6, 2006

    Very true, Jayson. A language indeed.

  3. #3 Scott Eric Kaufman
    September 6, 2006

    Your wish is my command! After my text-based dissertation adventure game got a link from BoingBoing, I decided to write another. If you check out the comments to that second post, you’ll find one by British columnist Michael Bywater, who claims (and I have no reason not to believe him) to have worked for InfoCom in the ’80s.

  4. #4 Kenneth Fair
    September 6, 2006

    A number of those Infocom authors are still around and producing new stuff. Actually, there’s been quite a bit of good interactive fiction produced since the Infocom days. Wikipedia has a reasonably detailed entry on interactive fiction. Games and interpreters can be obtained from the Interactive Fiction Archive.

  5. #5 Robert P.
    September 6, 2006

    I loved recording my programs onto a “tape” and then trying to reload it. And, that my screen could double as a black and white TV, say what?

    What was the game on the old IBM IV that was ASCI based with like 99 levels and wizards and swords and if you hacked it you could give yourself all these potions and stuff???

    Anyone remember?

  6. #6 Shelley Batts
    September 6, 2006

    Wizardry?

    PZ told me he hacked it…..

  7. #7 Shelley Batts
    September 6, 2006

    …who claims (and I have no reason not to believe him) to have worked for InfoCom in the ’80s…

    Is he single???

  8. #8 CMerlin
    September 6, 2006

    I only scored 96 (beer and Windows deductions). Back in the day, I got a 790 in the analytical section of the GREs and a 470 on the verbal, how’s that for nerdy. I thought they were going to make me take to TOEFL test!

    I loved those text-based games! Remember the Hitchhikers Guide game? You had the feed the dog at the beginning or he ate your miniaturized body later in the adventure!

  9. #9 Scott Eric Kaufman
    September 6, 2006

    Alas, all I know of the bitter, hilarious Bywater is that he’s British, bitter and hilarious.

  10. #10 pansauce
    September 6, 2006

    The TI-99/4A was my first computer too. After begging my parents for about six months, they saved up and bought it for me for christmas. Two months later, Texas Instruments went out of the computer business.

  11. #11 Alon Levy
    September 6, 2006

    CMerlin, I scored in the 99th percentile of the GRE subject test in math.

    Shelley, I invent languages. I invented my own lexicon when I was 2, then I started really conlanging at 8. Right now I have one fairly workable language and a few skeletal ones.

    And I’m not even a linguist.

  12. #12 Cyrus
    September 7, 2006

    What was the game on the old IBM IV that was ASCI based with like 99 levels and wizards and swords and if you hacked it you could give yourself all these potions and stuff???

    I seem to remember it was called, appropriately enough, Hack. Does this look familiar?

  13. #13 somnilista, FCD
    September 7, 2006

    We even splurged on some righteous peripherals like a tape deck, and a 5 1/4 inch floppy drive. Whoa Nelly!

    (Yawn) I used to work on a Z-80 microcomputer with eight inch floppy drives.

    I wrote a program for it in machine code.

    The carriage returns from the editor were killing me, so eventually I took the easy road and switched to assembly code.

    If you don’t know what the difference between machine code and assembly code is, you flunk, Lil Miss BASIC.

  14. #14 JaysonB
    September 7, 2006

    Shelley, I invent languages. I invented my own lexicon when I was 2, then I started really conlanging at 8. Right now I have one fairly workable language and a few skeletal ones.

    And I’m not even a linguist.

    That’s off the charts geeky. That’s on the same level of someone who speaks esperanto.

    Hell, I’m automatically a super geek for even knowing what esperanto is and speaking of it in public.

  15. #15 somnilista, FCD
    September 7, 2006

    I’m willing to bet $5 you’ve never even seen an eight inch floppy drive.

  16. #16 Shelley Batts
    September 7, 2006

    8 inches! Hot dog! :D

  17. #17 Robert P
    September 8, 2006

    Actually, Hack says it had “shops”, so I think it must have been Rogue!!! That is it. Plus, it made me remember this other game about going over the Rockies in a covered wagon and you had to buy food and stuff to make the journey. I saw an updated version a few years later with graphics and thought, pshaw!

    p.s. my mom was the first keypunch operator in the CIA. So, take that!!!

  18. #18 somnilista, FCD
    September 8, 2006

    trash-80 with eight inch floppy drive – this is not the computer model I worked with, I just hunted up an image of an 8-inch drive.

  19. #19 Shelley
    September 8, 2006

    You could put a frisbee in that thing.

  20. #20 Robert P.
    September 8, 2006

    Oh my God, our high school office had something like that. I had totally forgotten.

  21. #21 Phillip
    September 8, 2006

    “You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike.”

    “XYXXY!” damnit. “PLOUGH” crap.

    (Anyone remember that one?)

    And what about the old Timex Sinclair?

    As for 8″ floppys…feh. Paper tapes and punch cards, baby. That was what sexy was all about back in the day.

  22. #22 somnilista, FCD
    September 9, 2006

    punch cards, baby.

    Known to the cognoscenti as Hollerith cards.

  23. #23 Jeffery Keown
    September 9, 2006

    I had a Timex-Sinclair. It had the 16 Kb expander that plugged in the back like some kinda electronic growth.. But how’s this for geeky? I couldn’t do anything with it the first day, because I had to go to a D&D game. (And I was the Dungeon Master then too… )

    That was in 1983, I beleive… and I’m DMing a game tonight, too.

  24. #24 steve
    September 10, 2006

    >…who claims (and I have no reason not to believe him) to >have worked for InfoCom in the ’80s…

    >Is he single???

    How old would he be? hahah

  25. #25 Shelley Batts
    September 10, 2006

    Hey, its my party, ain’t it? :P

  26. #26 Jon H
    September 24, 2006

    Shelley,

    There’s a guy on the net named Mike Morton, who worked for Infocom, and lives on Maui (last I knew). I used to work with him (post-Infocom).

    The drawback is that I’m pretty sure he didn’t work on the games, but rather worked on their short-lived, ill-fated database product.

    You can still play those Infocom games. There are a bunch of interpreters that can use the data files from the games. And there are new games being produced. The latest tool for producing them, called Inform 7, is extremely cool. You write the game in something like normal English. You can describe a room and its contents, then click a button to turn it into a playable game. It’s very cool.

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