Saga – as a Youth goes from a TRS-80 to an IBM Clone

December 7, 2016

This is the story of a young computer user who bought his first computer in 1980 and his second in 1985. The story had many ups & downs but it never lacked for drama.

SAGA
by Ron Stoloff

Once upon a time there was, in Philadelphia City, one who sought the true knowledge that was to be found only at the keyboard of a microcomputer. After diligent search, this innocent decided upon the TRS-80. While seeking enlightenment, this waif was not rolling in the shekels and so he sought the lowest price possible and got it – but only by buying the basest of all such machines: with but 16K memory and tape feed. But he feared not, as all told him that it was fairly easy to upgrade it to a mighty Icon of Knowledge and Truth.

Soon he was able to get this growth underway and purchased an additional 32K of memory. As he sought to install this he was filled with much trepidation, for to do this he had to willingly break the HOLY SEAL TO THE VAULT OF KNOWLEDGE. This vault was sealed by just a scrap of paper but on that mere scrap was a curse of formidable portent. It spoke such that to tamper with it was to be doomed never to have the Icon replenished and/or refreshed by its creator if such were a need. But there was no turning back even though the instructions to violate the Icon were for an earlier one replaced by that which he now possessed. Even the instructions held fearsome portents, with statements to be careful not to move lest the gods strike him and the Icon with miniature lightning bolts. But at last he prevailed and looked forward to his next regurgitation from our Great Uncle, which was to come after the Ides of April.

Now he searched the hinterlands for one to aid in the further extension of his Icon, this time with a device such that to control it was to possess near infinite speed to move knowledge into and out of the Icon. This mighty device was called a DISC. He adjudged considerable faith in this, stimulated by its strange spelling of a device created by the Greeks many thousands of years ago.
He was escorted to one who possessed knowledge of such devices by a friend who was to become his mentor. They told him the operation would be brief and would as a result be endowed of not one but two of these miraculous artifices. He put forth his hard saved, meager earnings to a Keeper of the Light known as Caldwell and began a wait that was to extend to a point almost beyond endurance.

Soon the problems began. It was discovered that the High Priests of Percom would not supply just the Board of Control but would require that he pay a weighty tithe for one of their Discus’, thereby greatly raising the cost of the enhancement. Being a True Believer, he gave his affirmation for this with the understanding that the Keeper of the Light could still provide an inexpensive DISC that had been, Lo, resurrected from an Icon that had gone on to its Great Reward.

In a fortnight he was called by the Keeper Caldwell with the news that his artifice had arrived. Yet, when he arrived with his Icon, he was saddened to hear that all was not well – the High Priests of Percom had done it again: to secure the second DISC would require an additional talisman. The Keeper assured him that this was inexpensive and easily acquired.

The wait began.

In the mean time he made do with the single DISC, everyone telling him how much easier all would be when he received the second. They never realized how this cast the Youth into a great and deep depression, much as Moses on the mountaintop – would he, too, die in the wilderness, never to dwell in the land of Milk and Honey???

Finally, the High Priests informed the Keeper that the talisman could only be gotten if another gargantuan tithe were paid. In desperation the Youth decided on deception and sought to lie to the High Priests of Percom. And such a prevarication it was! He told one of its Inquisitors that in the midst of seeking to place the mighty DISC in his Icon, a disaster had occurred and, verily, a transformation device and its associated accoutrements had been horribly consumed by the angry gods. Begging their forbearance, he willingly offered to pay for another of these.

Amazingly, the otherwise wily High Priests were seemingly convinced of his squeaky honesty. He even offered to pay more so the messenger of the gods, a Mercury-like minion known as the United Parcelite, could bring his salvation more rapidly.

Alas, such was not to be.

The Parcelite was not so swift and the cruel vagaries of fate did once again do him in. You see, the transformation device he eventually received was not for the DISC he hoped to possess but for one to reside outside his Icon instead of within.

The Youth contacted the Priests again, informing them of the error, but feeling deep in his heart that this was one more test – a series of tests not much different than those which descended upon Job. But, yet the Priests promised to send, again, the proper talisman. When it arrived he gleefully flew in his chariot to the Keeper’s cave and felt all would be well and he would finally get the second mighty DISC after which he lusted.

Still the gods toyed with him: the fingers of attachment called “screws” (some ill-gotten joke?) would not fit and then the door to the new sepulcher would not open with the shroud emplaced.

Oh, the gnashing of teeth, the renting of cloth, the cries to the gods begging to know why he, of all men of Earth, had been singled out for such punishments!

His friend and mentor quieted his sobs telling him to follow to his abode and he would, by various devices and incantations, make the DISC function.

And LO, he did! Finally, after five months of nearly unbearable frustration his Icon was at the maximum functional level its creators had provided for it so long ago.

The moral of this sad but ultimately happy Saga? Cheap sometimes has an infinitely higher price that mere Shekels.

Time passed and as it did the Youth became quite adept in the use of his Icon. But nothing stays unchanged, not even in the realm of faith and in the fullness of time the Youth became aware of changes in his faith.

We rejoin this Saga as the young man began to doubt his faith and began to cleave to another – nearly breaking his own heart in the transformation.

The Youth was a true believer in the Faith of his Mentors who originally brought him to the true faith in the World of the 8 Bit. That particular denomination was a fine one called Radio Shack, an old one which had spread its teachings via temples all over the land. It was much like the store front churches one finds in poorer neighborhoods. However, Radio Shack had almost all of its temples in shopping centers. At that, many of the temples did not just push the True Faith. They also provided for those who wished to make their own graven images – often in their own image. This at first troubled the Youth, not because he scoffed at what they were doing but because he did not see how HE could build a creed, all by himself.

Like most true believers, the Youth, when challenged by the holder of another sect, most notably, The Fruity Followers, was sorely discomforted as they often referred to HIS faith as “trash” often even giving it a number taken from its nick name. He was also disappointed in some of his fellow believers, as, is often the case of the persecuted, they began to refer to their faith by that scurrilous term – but only in the private company of other believers. The Youth always stood up for his creed no matter who or what the condition as his faith was insulted. It continually baffled him as more and more people joined the main rival faith of the Fruity Ones, even as many followers of that faith pointed out the faults of it. It never ceased to amaze him as this other persuasion quickly surpassed his and the leaders of that faith found their pictures and graven images on the covers of many magazines and in ads but his faith seemed to keep its LIGHT inside a basket.

But even though the Youth was concerned, he kept the faith, suffering the slings and arrows of the followers of the Fruity Ones and vowed that one day vengeance would be his.

One day, the instrument of this vengeance did come. Not from above as might have been expected, or hoped for, but from the followers of The Mighty Blue. This faith had existed for many years but mere common folk could not join as mighty temples were needed to hold the holy sepulchers. It was truly beyond the common folk. But as more people began to join the Fruity Faith and, to a lesser extent, the Radio Shack folk, the Great Blue began to realize that it too, might prosper among the common hackers.

And did it ever! Many who had hesitated before joining any of the micro faiths, now, as the Mighty Blue seemed to suggest it was right to join one of those of the “bargain basement,” great hordes began to flock – but not to the old, established, faiths, but to the new, Blue one.

And so it came to be. The instrument of vengeance against the Fruits was the cause of much damage to his own faith as many of the early members began to leave and head on up to the new, flashy, belief.

Many temples began to imitate the outer workings of the Blue Ones, seemingly cloning the inner workings and putting their own label to it. They even bragged about how much like the Blues they were, some saying they were more like them than any other.

And then the worst seemed to happen: the Youth’s OWN faith jumped on the downhill juggernaut and cloned itself not once but three times! Oh! The shame he felt! His own true faith had begun to sing the Blues! Sob! Now, as he went into the temples he saw the clones start to muscle out his faith. He felt as if the money changers had once again taken over the temples. But it was a seductive siren even for him.

Each time he approached, the Youth saw the new machines calling to him, to touch them, caress them, to fondle them.

Then another shock: All Hale Brown, the leader of his little faith group jumped to the Blue Clones. But he stayed ’round his flock, answering their questions about the faith he had rejected but all the while telling them seductive things about his new credo and showing them the neat tricks it could do. It was hard to resist and some began to fall.

One of the most dismaying of these defections was the Youth’s First Mentor, the one who had led him into the church and shown him the way to greater understanding and expansion. When he fell, the Youth felt there was little left to believe in – his leader, his mentor, his very faith had all fallen under the sway of the Blues and he perceived the foundations he had painstakingly built up over the past years being swept away in the maelstrom. It would be only a matter of time, he knew, when he too, would fall. And there was nothing he could do about it.

Eventually, he could resist no longer. He felt like a traitor but he would make the leap to the Blues. But then he found that the Blues, still remembering their heady days of the giant temples, required mighty tithes before allowing one to enter their church. It was then the Youth learned the advantage of his connection to his old faith – he could convert and still stay in the SAME TEMPLE! He wouldn’t have to give up all he had held dear (especially his money) to become one like unto the Blues. But he still needed money for the conversion ceremony, the ritual Dance of the DOS, and that meant he would have to sell his beloved Icon, the one to which he had grown so attached. He placed ads on the public ways and told all he came in contact of his plans and then finally he found another youth who somehow reminded him of himself so long ago.

On the night before he was to turn over his old friend, he lovingly packed the holy Books of Documentation and the program wafers and hoped that his Icon’s new owner would get as much pleasure from it as he had these past years. On the day, he took in his Icon and placed it upon an alter in the meeting room and told the new person how lucky he was to have THIS Icon. He pointed out the special ways this one was different from all the others in the world. As the time for final good-byes came he caressed its chipped paint and wished it well. That was the last time the Youth ever saw his Icon but to this day, whenever he sees one in an add, on TV or even in a store, he remembers the fine old times they had together.

That night, for the first time in years, the Youth was without an Icon. Like an addict he paced the floor, constantly moving to the alter where he had kept the Icon, sweeping away some dust that had gone undisturbed beneath it and wondering what his old Icon was doing now: was it writing a story, making a list (checking it twice) or playing a game with its new owner? Then he realized there was no time for moping but that he must quickly seek a new Icon of the 16 (almost) bit type. He sought out an Icon provider in the Land of Jersey, ordered it and sat back, impatiently, to wait its arrival – all the while missing his old friend.

When he began to learn the strange ways of his new Icon, the Youth often paused, usually when trying to make a prayer move in the same way he had done with his old Icon. He glanced around, shamefacedly, looking to see if anyone had seen this misstep. But, of course, no one had. Often at that time a bit of wetness welled up in his eyes.

He told himself it was but eyestrain.

In the fullness of time the subject of our Saga, a Youth no longer – truly he had become Greybeard – continued to expand his new Icon filling its innards with the magical Tarot Cards of Expansion. But then disaster struck! One of his DISCs coughed and died. In its death throes it devoured the creative works not only of our Greybeard but of many others. By using several favored incantations and mystical machinations, most especially those of the Great Artificer Norton, most of these were saved from the abyss. But he knew that the DISC must be replaced as the tithe to repair the device was often more than that of a Virgin, fresh from the Styros.

The question was where was such to be procured? He questioned several of his Mentors as well as his cronies. Many advised he move on to another Plateau of Faith – that he cast not for a mere replacement of the DISC of the Soft variety but go far beyond its capabilities to a DISC of the Hard which possessed such unimaginable capacity that merely to ponder such made Greybeard’s mind reel. “No,” he protested, “I need only to procure what I have had…. Such a Grand Artifice is far beyond my needs or resources. I have a home and a wife to support…. To get such would be frivolous beyond words.” The others smiled and said that if he were to just replace the DISC he would eventually realize he had proceeded foolishly and he soon would be wretched and froth would boil upon his lips.

But the Aged One protested and he decided to go the Faire of Trenton, an annual event when purveyors from all over the Kingdom hawked their wares. There he would be able to reasonably purchase a new DISC. One the appointed day, he traveled to the Faire which was held at a University and, as usual, he cursed that he had tarried so long before he began his journey. He was forced to leave his chariot almost in the next county. Once he and his Trusted Companion, one that he had become a Mentor to, had located his Sire, the Search for a DISC began in earnest. He was disappointed at the prices – he felt that in the 3 years since he had last sought the DISC that the prices should have gone down further than they had. While he searched he happened across the new leader of the Faith who had risen to Power when All Hale Brown had sought, in the fullness of his years, to abdicate. Griggs, as the usurper was known, had in a mighty struggle been forced to pick up the Cudgel and lead the cantankerous and contentious lot. Most, though they seemingly made light of his accomplishments, were impressed with his leadership. Griggs, once again, when Greybeard told him of his quest, suggested the Hard route and again Greybeard protested. Griggs said that he ought to at least check the possibility.

The Seed of Temptation was so easily sown.

Alas, the purveyor Griggs mentioned had not the special ROM, that mystical rectangular, black compartment which would make Greybeard’s Icon talk with the Hard One. He had learned nothing in all his disastrous past experiences and Greybeard, once he made the portentous decision to leap to the Hard One, could not wait until such a ROM could be sent to him. He had to posses it NOW! Lust had swelled within him with such an all consuming fire, there could be no pause between purchase and fulfillment of the mania. Greybeard wandered about until he came upon one who claimed to have such a ROM. The symbol of this purveyor was an animal which stood for wisdom.

Greybeard spoke to the Purveyor and was assured the Hard One would satisfy the Lust welling up in him.

He bought.

The next day Greybeard disassembled his Icon in order to enshrine the Hard One. By now he had been inside so many Icons that there was barely a second of pause as he began to emplace the device. Some indecision began to strike as he tried to remember how the Purveyor instructed him to place the ribbons of connection. He called his Mentor and was given advice which he carefully followed.

At last all was in readiness and with just a small trepidation he threw the switch. Nothing happened as was supposed – the Icon refused to recognize the new artifice. More calls to his Mentor. Frantic changes to the Board of Control. All without fulfillment. Visions swept through his mind of somewhere the Purveyor laughing hysterically about how he had fleeced a rube of his wealth.

The next day Greybeard called the Purveyor who had a familiar answer the calls. Finally, the Purveyor responded that there was nothing wrong with that which he had sold but it must be the Icon that was the sinner. Greybeard protested and the Purveyor relented saying he could send it back and all would be made well in short order. Greybeard, being still impatient, asked if he could journey to his cave when he discovered it was in the nearby Town of Allen. Placing his wife in his chariot with him he made the frenzied journey. She was most understanding and had the kindness of not echoing the fears in Greybeard’s mind that this, too, was a Chase of the Wild Winged One.

Arriving at the cave of the Purveyor, Greybeard was told that there was no real problem. All would be well with a few simple incantations. So simple would these be that mere moments would be necessary to conclude the Ceremony. Greybeard was still unsure but the Purveyor spoke reassuringly, saying that it “Probably” was now cured but if Greybeard was that unsure he would keep the Hard One, test it and send it by the United Parcelite when assured of the exorcism. Greybeard was still possessed by the Lust and fled the cave, hurling his chariot homeward to reemplace the Hard One.

Need we recount the next heart rending episode of this Saga to you or can you guess that the gods laughed down the corridors of time, echoing in Greybeard’s mind? More calls to the Purveyor and this time the Hard One was sent back to the Purveyor’s cave with assurance that only days would be necessary.

Days stretched into weeks as Greybeard paced the floor in frustration. More calls to the Purveyor. Each time the promise was the same, “Next Tuesday, for sooth.” Then at last the United Parcilite appeared at the threshold with the hopper containing the long lost Hard One! In a flash Greybeard placed it in his Icon, mouthed a silent prayer and threw the switch.

Huzah!

It worked! When Greybeard entered the sacred command of DIR the response was 21,000,000. His eyes gleamed with relief and lust as he thought of all that he had gone through to reach this point and with what he could do with this new artifice. Now all he had to fear was the dreaded CRASH. This will hopefully not become a part of the SAGA.

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