[TUHS] Book Recommendation

Clem Cole clemc at ccc.com
Wed Nov 17 00:56:58 AEST 2021

On Mon, Nov 15, 2021 at 11:09 PM G. Branden Robinson <
g.branden.robinson at gmail.com> wrote:

> It's hard to overstate the impact of BASIC on the first generation of
> people who grew up with computers in the home instead of encountering
> them only later in a time-sharing environment with professional
> operators and administrators.
FWIW:   A number of us learned BASIC in the late 1960s/early 1970s (*i.e.*
before the microprocessor versions ever appeared as they did not yet
exist).  Gates & Allen used it in HS on a PDP-10 with an ASR-33, and I'm
their same age.   I did the same thing in JHS and HS on a GE-635 [Mark-II
DTSS] and then later HP2000 [Community Computer Services] - 10 cps baby,
upper case only.

What I don't know is if the PDP-8 BASIC came before the PDP-10 version.
 But the point is that most of the mini's (no matter the manufacturer) had
an implementation of BASIC in the late 60s and early 1970s, long before the
micro's came on the scene.  I would later get to know/work with a number of
the people in DEC languages groups and I do know that the syntax and
semantics of the BASIC for RSTS implementation originally was based on the
PDP-10 BASIC (although they did have some differences).

In fact, DEC's RSTS/11 and the HP/2100 running BASIC were the two systems
that ended up being used by a lot of small timesharing shops and eventually
on-site at the high schools that could afford the HW. The reason being that
BASIC became popular on the small system was it required fewer resources
and because it was primarily interpreted matched.  An urban legend is that
when Gates opened in Microsoft in AZ, he bartered time from the local high
school running their RSTS system for them in return for being able to use
it as their development system [I definitely know that he used their
system, I'm just now sure how he renumerated them for the computer time].

> This is not because BASIC was a high quality language, especially as
> stripped down by Microsoft and other implementors.

It made perfect sense when Gates decided to implement it for the Altair.
 And he modeled his version on the DEC syntax and semantics - because that
was what he knew was used to from the PDP-10, and what he and Paul had
learned first.

> Everybody knew there were bigger, better, or faster languages out there,
> but they were priced commercially and marketed at professionals.

And more importantly, *requires many more resources*.
Consider UCSD-Pascal, you needed a disk-based system to run it, be an
LSI-11, Apple-IIe, or CP/M box.  The BASIC's often worked out of ROM.
 Hey, I can think of implementations of other languages such as FORTRAN's,
C, Cobol, PL/M, PL/1, and eventually many Pascals for the different
micro's, but they all took more HW to support the edit/compile/link cycle.

The point is that for a >>hobbyist<<, running BASIC was 'good enough.'  The
only HS in the late 1970s that I knew that could afford a PDP 11/45 and
actually ran UNIX on it, was Lincoln-Sudbury - which is in a high-end
suburban Boston.  They also had a lot of help from parents who per
professionals here in Boston working for places like DEC, DG, Pr1me,
Honeywell, and the like.   At that time, I was long gone, but I now my
father at my own prep school in suburban Philadelphia dreamed of an 11/40
class system to run RSTS, but they could not afford it.  So if they wanted
off a timesharing service like the HP/21000, they bought small
microprocessor (CP/M or Apple-II) gear and ran them as a hobbyist would.

> At one time, it was considered good sport to ridicule people whose first programming
> language was BASIC;

I'm not so much sure it was that their first language was BASIC, as much as
they did not go beyond it.   I will say that once the HW started to be able
to support more complete languages (such as Pascal), there was some of
that.  I used to say the problem was that they probably learned it in HS
and their teachers did know more.

My own father (who taught me BASIC on the GE-635 when I was in JHS), knew
only BASIC and FORTRAN because that was what he had learned working
part-time as a 'computer' at Rocketdyne in the late 1950s/early 1960s.   By
the late 60s, he was the first 'computer teacher' at the prep school when I
went (in Philadelphia, but not that dissimilar to Bill Gates's experiences
in Seattle at a local prep school there).  He taught us what he knew and *what
he had access to*. Eventually, I outpaced him a bit, and I started to learn
a little assembler for the HP because I was curious.  But I came to a point
where I knew way more than he did before I left HS [BTW: Gates and Allen
tell a similar story - of learning PDP-10 assembler at some point --
advancing ahead of their teachers].  The truth is I think my Dad was a bit
ahead of his time, *but he did not know what he did not know *and did know
to try to teach others anything other than BASIC and FORTRAN*.*

FWIW: I went to CMU and had to be re-taught - being introduced to Algol,
real FORTRAN, IBM Assembler, APL (and eventually many of other wonders).
BTW: By the mid/late '70s, I had taught my Dad Pascal so he could use it
with USCD-Pascal with his 'advanced students' now that he had a few
Apple-IIe's that could run it.

> after a while I figured out that this was a form of hazing, similar to
> the snotty attitudes adopted by a
> subset of student employees
Point taken... and I there probably was a lot of those, particularly later
once the HW ability and cost available made it possible to have a choice.
But the problem was that most of the young people had come from places
where the educators that taught them BASIC did not know better even if they
had had enough HW to do it.

Unfortunately, because the hobbyist and much of the press for entry-level
of the same, touted BASIC, many did not know better.   The fact is I'm
still now sure the HS and JHS are a lot better than they were.

I'll let Steinhart reply, but he wrote an excellent book recently targeted
to just those same students that what to know more, but frankly their HS
teachers really are not in a position to teach them properly.

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