Thursday, June 21, 2018

The TRS 80

TigerBlog is coming to you live from his MacBook Pro, as he does every day.

As he's sure you probably do as well, he completely takes the capabilities of this machine for granted. Without a single cord connected to it, he can access information from anywhere, send his own content out to the world, write, edit, design, look at videos and pictures, pretty much anything.

Look at yesterday afternoon, for instance. Without ever plugging into anything, TigerBlog was able to get an email from the Canadian Lacrosse Association at 3:30 and by 3:50 have a story up on Princeton's athletics webpage and social media about how Zach Currier would be representing Canada in the upcoming World Championships.

By the way, if you're a Princeton fan, you can start now to consider whether or not to root for Currier or Tom Schreiber, another Princeton alum who will play for the U.S., in what pretty much is an inevitable championship game.

That's certainly a higher probability than Portugal-Spain in the World Cup final, but hey, there's a chance for that too.

Meanwhile, the MacBook is certainly a far cry from where TB started out. Heck, it's a far cry from his first computer here, which was a Mac with a tiny screen, next-to-no memory and no way to be used unless it was plugged in to the wall and the printer.

And TigerBlog thought that computer was an incredible machine.

TigerBlog went to college in the late stages of the typewriter era, and in fact he was ahead of the curve with his electric typewriter with built-in correct ribbon. That was cutting edge.

Can you imagine what it was like, being one of the few kids in your dorm who could hit backspace, strike over a mistake and make the correction without having to use a separate correct tape or white out? That was big time.

When TB first started in the newspaper business, there were word processors in the newsroom. And what did you have when you went on the road?

You had something that was an incredible jump in technology. You had something that changed the way the newspaper business worked.

You had the Radio Shack TRS 80.

TigerBlog had one. The first stories he ever wrote about games at Princeton were written on his TRS 80. He'll tell you more about it in a few minutes, but first, why bring this up today?

It's because of this tweet he saw the other day:
That's a Radio Shack TRS 80, friends. Doesn't it look great?

Kevin Gorman, whom TB has never met, is a columnist and radio host in Pittsburgh. TigerBlog, by the way, has had one of those sandwiches with the French fries on them that Pittsburgh is famous for, and he can vouch for the fact that it's really good.

 Meanwhile, back at Gorman and the TRS 80, he also added this tweet:
Stop. TB is going to get weepy.

TigerBlog's first season covering Princeton men's basketball was 1989-90. Kit Mueller was a junior. Princeton had almost beaten Georgetown the year before. Everywhere the Tigers went, everyone wanted to see how they had come so close against the Hoyas.

In fact, TigerBlog wrote a story comparing Princeton to the Harlem Globetrotters in terms of how much of an attraction the team was. And he probably wrote it on a TRS 80.

Gorman says it was commonly referred to as a "Trash 80," but TB never heard that term. And, he can also tell you that before he got his own model, he used to have to either drive back to the office to file stories or, worse, dictate them (usually over a pay phone no less) if he was nowhere near Central New Jersey for a game.

The second tweet shows the Radio Shack in action. TB doesn't remember all of the workings of how you'd write a story on it, but basically you'd set up a new document, write the story and then transmit it to the paper.

As he recalls, the "F" keys were important in that process.

To send the story, he'd have to connect to a telephone line. Almost always this involved a phone jack, but when he first started out, there were still places that had phones whose lines went directly into the wall, like they did when TB was a kid. There were no phone jacks back then; you'd have to call the phone company and it would come and install the phone.

For the places he'd go where there were no phone jacks, he'd need what was known as acoustic couplers. You'd use the Radio Shack to dial out and, when you heard the "beep" that let you know you were connected, you'd have to take the phone and put it into this thing that looked like two suction cups.

Whether you sent it through the acoustic couplers or the phone jack, TB does remember that one of the "F" keys would light up while the story sent. Then, after a few minutes - yes minutes - that light would disappear, and presumably the story would be back at the newspaper.

Of course, you'd have to call and confirm, and about a fifth of the time there was some error in transmission, one that left the text at the paper just a bunch of seemingly random characters, requiring a resend.

And yes. The TRS 80 was a single-engine prop plane. The MacBook is the space shuttle.
Still, as Gorman's tweet suggests, there was something really, really special about the TRS 80.

Between games at Princeton, Rider, Trenton State College (now the College of New Jersey), Rutgers and Mercer County College, TigerBlog wrote hundreds of stories through the years on the TRS 80.

Part of a world that's gone, it was small and portable and for the most part reliable, and it was part of a great time to be part of the newspaper business. 

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