Friday, July 10, 2020

Saving the world with the TRS-80

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280px-Trs80_2 Thirty years ago today MacOldie Corporation acquired its very first computer. The Tandy (Radio Shack) TRS80 had 8KB of RAM and a cassette input device. Hopes were cherished that this rather neat little box would handle all the MacOldie Corp. accounts, compose and print letters and reports and even make the tea. 

Such hopes were very soon dashed, not surprisingly with 20:20 hindsight, and the little computer proved utterly useless for business purposes, although it was well regarded by the hobbyist and still has a strong following. It languished in the cupboard and an electronic single-line display typewriter was purchased from Olivetti. This had a fiendlishly difficult method of viewing and correcting documents and proved to be short lived.

Then along came the Superbrain, a one-piece terminal-style unit in a cowl that would not have been out of place on the Starship Enterprise. This, with it's twin 5.25in floppy disks and a tad more memory, proved an altogether more useful asset. The introduction to Superbrain came from a small north-London company peddling accounting software and MacOldie, who always had a penchant for mechanisation of the bean counting, soon had a reliable and serviceable business system. Letters and reports were rattled off on WordStar and clients began receiving personally-addressed mail-merged letters, the wonder of the age.

Pretty soon MacOldie got to worrying about data security (as he was to do on and off for the next thirty years) and a decision was made to acquire a hard disk. This came in a substantial metal enclosure and stored a massive five megabytes of data. It cost a fortune and, today, it would just about hold one medium-size photo from Aunt Flora MacOldie's digital camera.

Intl206t No looking back from then for an increasingly digitised MacOldie. Soon the Superbrains were replaced with Apricots, still running the CPM operating system, then came the first Dells with MSDOS. WordStar, the early-80's word processor of choice was ditched in favour of Microsoft Word, pre Windows of course. Windows provided a real breakthrough in useability and served MacOldie Enterprises well for many a year.

So it was a very experienced Windows user who finally converted to Macdom in 2005, 25 years after the first byte was bitten. The speed of development has continued to accelerate throughout the past 30 years of the personal computer and these days we take a massive leap forward every year, particularly in terms of memory and storage. In those early days 5MB was an inconceivably large amount of spare disk; now we are on the verge of ditching the gigabyte in favour of the terabyte and the fabled petabyte is on the horizon. Of course, everything we use--operating systems, programs, data--get bigger in line with the increased memory and storage so we are still sometimes scrambling for RAM or disk storage. 

Getting Things Done (Chapter 1)

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I'm an inveterate list maker and I am never happy until I have all my tasks filed away and categorised. As I get older I realise I begin to rely more and more on my reminders and task lists. For new Mac users there's an easy and simple way of keeping track of your tasks built right into iCal. These tasks can be synchronised between computers (for instance by MobileMe) and you can view the lists in Mail. Also, working in Mail, you can create Smart Folders to provide views such as all tasks in a particular calendar or all tasks due today.

If you are a bit more ambitious I would recomment Filemaker Pro's Bento as a way of adding to the rather basic task management capabilities of iCal. The beauty of Bento (apart from the fact that it is a powerful and easy-to-use database in its own right; it's the database for the rest of us) is that it works directly on your iCal tasks data without any need for synchronisation. You can even add fields to your iCal tasks for greater analysis and reporting capabilities. Yet these fields remain in Bento and are not added to the simple items in iCal. Whenever you open Bento they are there.

Bento allows for Smart Groups but with greater customisation of parameters. All in all, it provides a great enhancement and adds great power to the standard iCal offering. I also use Bento for customised databases which are easy to set up--such as an exercise log, a list of books, a packing list. It's really easy to use.

The major drawback of Bento is that there is no iPhone version available. And that's where OmniFocus comes in. It's a very powerful task management system based on the GTD principles of David Allen. GTD is a fascinating concept and needs an item of its own, so watch out for Chapter 2.