Monday, February 25, 2013

Revisiting The Cosmac Elf—The Number “1802”!

Last week a couple of things happened in the real world that were pretty simple things, trivial things even, but in a personal way they were important to me. I didn’t want to interrupt the sequences of posts last week because I was really enjoying doing those two topics, so I just put off the little things until this week.

So this week, today and tomorrow, I’m going to talk about two trivial little things that just mean a lot to me in a personal way. So these two posts are kind of like very old fashioned blog posts, just a blogger going on about himself.


Revisiting The Cosmac Elf—The Number “1802”!

Last week Wednesday, “The Stars From Here: A Puppet Thriller”, was my post number one thousand, eight hundred and two. The number 1,802.

The number: 1802.

It’s a very cool number and I can’t describe the wonderful thoughts and wonderful memories the number brings back.

But I'll try.

Here’s why.

Back in the late 70s and early 80s it was a very exciting time for people interested in the technology of microcomputers. Technical types. People like me.

In those days people—well, people like me—used to actually talk about computer chips and compare different kinds of instruction sets and the technical choices that went into the design of the support chips and all manner of similar stuff.

For instance, the Apple II computer used a microprocessor called the 6502 which was very famous and used in many home computers. IBM elected to go with chips from the Intel 8080 family of microprocessors. People might not remember this, but the most popular computers in that era ran an operating system called CP/M and one of the most popular microprocessors for those and other machines was called the Z80 chip.

And there were other chips as well. I personally used a Motorola 6800 (that’s hundred) microprocessor in my own embedded systems studies. It was a very beautiful chip, with an elegant architecture and elegant support chips.

A very popular microprocessor for industrial design in that era was the RCA 1802.

That number!

The 1802 was used in many home computers among very technical types and RCA supported the chip with a wide array of other chips and even completely assembled development boards that could simply be plugged together.

One such home computer built around the 1802 was called the Cosmac Elf and people on the internet keep the memory of this device alive on various websites.

The “Cosmac” part was a play on the word “cosmic” and/but was an acronym for Complementary Symmetry Monolithic Array Computer. And it was an “Elf” because it was small!

Those were such wonderful days.

I never owned an 1802-based system myself, but it was something I aspired to, one day, after I learned enough—so my thinking went—to best take advantage of the cool features of the chip and the many support boards offered by RCA.

Those were such wonderful days.

I was working for a giant corporation in downtown Chicago in those days and living just north of Lincoln Park. I’d ride the elevated train home from work and once a month I’d go past my normal stop. I’d get off a little north of my apartment, stop at a magazine stand and buy the new issue of a computer journal called Dr. Dobb’s Journal (which is horrible today, wildly different from what it was in the early days), and I’d walk over to a very relaxed soup & sandwich restaurant on Lincoln Avenue and eat a cool early dinner and read technical articles comparing algorithms in various assembly languages and discussing design issues of hardware interfaces and all sorts of similar things.

Those were such wonderful days.

Those were the days when I was writing my first novels, too (all of which would remain unpublished, sadly) and I was getting better at guitar and everything was exciting and everything was fun and the future seemed like it really would be spaceships and science fiction and all manner of wonderful things.

Most of those things didn’t really work out the way I—or, for that matter, anyone else—really thought and hoped they would.

But that’s life.

Things are still exciting and fun, just quite a bit different from anything I’d ever imagined. I never imagined I’d be working with a music workstation and making little stop-motion movies.

To be honest I miss *this* very much, but I’m still having fun and excited by almost everything that’s happening today and almost everything that promises to happen tomorrow. Just a little older. A little tired. And, well, fatter.

The only really bad thing, awful thing, nightmare thing, is that books are pretty much gone. Books are gone and the things that are still around and that look a little like books are such grotesques that it is something like torture.

But nobody said life was supposed to be easy and all fun and all excitement.

So I’ve been think thinking a lot about this kind of stuff because of that number: 1802.

It’s a really cool number.

The RCA 1802 has lived an exciting life. It was used to control the Galileo spacecraft that went to Jupiter.

The “Cosmac Elf” became a Cosmic Elf for real!

Some of those science fiction dreams came true!

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