DC BUG

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My trusty Commodore 64. A gem from yesteryear

In the 1980s a Commodore 64 was the personal computer to own. Not only did they perform as advertised, owners enjoyed unsurpassed support.

Using a word processor software known as Easy Script I generated text for a host of magazines and journals. However, the C-64 came with drawbacks – usable RAM

As advertised, it came out of the box with 64k of RAM. But after the operating system, which was burned onto a chip, was loaded and the cursor was flashing only about 35k remained. I don’t recall how much memory Easy Script required. I only remember by planning ahead I could squeeze out 14 pages of double-spaced text, about 250 words per, or 3,500 words. The manufacturer had addressed that issue. By naming the end-of-file (EOF) in a correct manner my data on the floppy provided a “daisy chaining” effect.  As the disk drive finished one file it automatically fetched the second, a third, etc.. Perhaps that is why IBM coined the logo “Think Ahead” with the last letter, the D, hanging over the edge, about to fall off.

All of this planning and involvement of the operator created a unique operator-machine companionship, for lack of a better term. And out of that grew the Commodore User Groups and a host of Electronic Bulletin Boards. From that evolved a sub-group, a cooperative of three Electronic Bulletin Boards – Dr, Rom, Comm-Line, and Billboard which became known as DC BUG.

DC BUG quickly became an in-your-face social media where we shared computer knowledge, pizza, and fun. It also created a fiction, unstable character known as Doctor Rom. But that’s another story 

There are more facets to DC Bug adventure that are forthcoming, but for now I’ll share a fistful of 35-year-old photos of a DC BUG Picnic.

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Dale, the Driving force behind the entire DC Bug Adventure.

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Leo, a man of many voices, doing his Punch and Judy Show.

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We spread out two bails of straw and then tossed in coins

totaling $30. The activity was like Christmas morning.

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One of my granddaughters announcing

she’d found some money.

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Getting Here, The Rest Of The Story

The Continued Adventures of Dr. Rom

Dr. Rom continued as the scape goat for many things occurring in our area – a power substation going off-line, traffic lights going wacky. He was always number one suspect. Of course he held his own, claiming that he was teaching animal husbandry at Idaho State University.

The popularity of the Dr. Rom BBS exceeded all expectations of Dale and Tony, the co-sysops.

After a few months, and with the support of three BBSs – Dr. Rom, Comm-Line, and Bill Board DCBUG became nearly one-hundred strong. Monthly meetings were well attended where new members could participate in one-on-one help clinics, door prizes were given out, and program discs were sold. The first summer we even had a DCBUG Picnic.

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Dale giving an overview of what DCBUG was all about

Dale, with a voice that could penetrate the four-inch armor plating on the USS Missouri was our MC.

I borrowed a chicken from a neighbor and took it to the picnic. After drawing two-inch squares on cardboard we sold the squares for fifty cents each. Then we placed the cardboard under the chicken’s cage and waited. Eventually, she would poop, and the person owning the square on which it landed won the pot.

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Leo brought his portable Punch and Judy Show.

He was a man of many voices, five of which I heard.

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A behind-the-stage scene of Leo’s show. His wife, Tweedy,

is behind him handling the music and sound effects.

Perhaps most amusing of all was the incident involving Dr. Romm, a surgeon at the Eugene Sacred Heart Hospital. Tony was in recover, drifting in and out, when the PA speaker came to life: “Dr. Romm! Dr. Romm! Your assistance is required in operating room three.”

For a minute he thought Dr. Rom had become more real than anyone realized,” Tony said.

Getting Here

My first computer was a TI-99A. I had to use a television as a monitor, so the TI included a short cable for connecting the two. However, the short cable required the computer to be so close to the TV that the picture syncing pulses canceled some of the data traveling on the cable. It was useless. I considered fabricating a longer, shielded cable, but I wondered what other surprises TI had in store for me. So I traded it for a Commodore 64 instead.

The C-64 came with a whopping 64k of memory. That was all the memory in world. I was a little while realizing that once the thing was powered up the operating system consumed about half of that memory, leaving 35k of usable memory, or room for about 35 double-spaced pages of usable text. With a keyboard as the only means for entering data 35k was enough. I was usually fed up with computers by the time the memory was consumed.

A cassette tape machine soon became available. It was extremely slow, but it gave me a means for saving my data. That was when I began using the C-64 as a crude word processor. At best it left much to be desired, so I still relied more heavily on my Sears portable for stories and articles. Then came the modem. A period of time passed before I understood the value of the modem.

The first ones I saw were definitely a what-you-saw-was-what-you-got device. It worked for keyboarding with another computer user – chess, or simply rag chewing. In order to connect I had to dial the number on the phone, wait until it began ringing, then switch the line to the modem and wait for the connection to occur. When that happened it connected at 300 baud. When I was finished I had to use the command <ctrl +++> to tell the modem to hang up. I saw no advantage, so I passed on that, even after the sale price plummeted to $10. A few weeks later I heard by word-of-mouth about Electronic Bulletin Boards systems that could be accessed only by using a computer and modem. After seeing a demo I had to get involved.

I beat feet back to the store to claim one of those $10 modems, but I was too late. They were gone. After numerous phone calls I located an improved 300/1200 baud modem. I climbed aboard my motorcycle and braved a chill factor of near zero degrees for 50 miles and then cheerfully handed over $175.

The BBSs were a hoot. I had access to Cloud 9, Rino Kitchen, The Machine, Dales’s BBS, Comm-Line, Bill Board, and many others from which to choose. But my favorite was Dr. Rom.

Dr. Rom hosted a static message board, bulletins, computer news, and FIDO NET, a worldwide computer network. Equally as interesting was the fictional character, Dr. Rom, an impulsive person who apparently lived in a loft over where the computer sat. I was blessed to have his password, and I raised Old Ned with folks who thought he was a living, breathing person. They kept me in stitches.

There is more to this story, so I’m breaking it up. Please stay tuned.