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Friday, November 11, 2011

ASCII Star Wars Portraits & Other Weirdness From BASIC-Era Computer Magazines

Posted By on Fri, Nov 11, 2011 at 7:00 AM

click to enlarge studies_in_crap_peoples_computers_cover.jpg

Each Friday, your Crap Archivist brings you the finest in forgotten and bewildering crap culled from Golden State basements, thrift stores, estate sales, and flea markets.

A Stack of BASIC-era Computer Magazines Including

People's Computers

Date: 1978

Publisher: People's Computer Company, Menlo Park, CA

Discovered at: Berkeley estate sale

The Cover Promises: If you drop $599 on a TRS-80, you might be able to design droid needlepoints.

Representative Quote:

"Level II BASIC at last!! The long awaited successor to Level I has finally arrived, and the improvement in capability and performance is truly awesome."

You know the way we are trained to view as revolutionary every incremental design innovation in the various screen-bearing devices that have come to dominate our lives? Digging through these stuffy yet grandiose computer magazines confirms that that's the way things always have been, at least since the days the folks at Tandy and Radio Shack started trying to convince the world that playing Oregon Trail would result in better grades.

Seriously, they did everything they could to prove that, right down to precarious child stacking:

click to enlarge studies_in_crap_electronic_learning_cover.jpg

That's science, there. See, hunt-and-pecking "10 PRINT" into a screen the color of Mountain Dew made kids much smarter than dumb ol' books ever could.

What's more, computer education advocates promised that this revolution in learning would be fun, a lie exposed by the software that I turned up at the same estate sale where I grabbed these magazines:

click to enlarge boring_computer_games.jpg

I'm no math whiz, but I suspect algebra dragons can only be hurt with imaginary numbers.

Of course, computers weren't entirely un-fun. Just look at what a dedicated Star Wars fan could whip up with just hours of labor and a stack of graph paper:

click to enlarge studies_in_crap_peoples_computers_stormtrooper.jpg

The scariest Stormtrooper is an italicized Stormtrooper!

Here's more:

click to enlarge studies_in_crap_peoples_computers_x_wing.jpg
click to enlarge studies_in_crap_peoples_computers_vader.jpg

While those might look like squares from the Death Star Memorial Quilt, they actually are the ASCII "graphix" of Daniel Browning, as printed in that People's Computers magazine. What's remarkable is that in the DIY age computer graphics had such a handmade quality. (For serious geeks, I've scanned and posted the entire article on the third page of this post.)

Next: Why women, though frail, need not fear the microcomputer.

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Alan Scherstuhl


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