[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Benj’s Apple II Notes

February 1st, 2016 by Benj Edwards

Benj Edwards Apple II+ AppleSoft BASIC handwritten programming notes scan - circa 1990 or 1991An authentic, Coke-stained programming reference

I’m sure I’ve told this story somewhere else — probably about five times at this point, but here it goes again. When I was maybe 9 or 10 (in 1990 or 1991), my dad bought me a nice Apple II+ setup from someone at the local hamfest for about $100.

(I recently found the original handwritten price tag for that machine, which you can see here. I said about $100 because haggling was common, and he may have actually paid $70 or $90 for it. It’s worth noting that $100 was a lot of money for an old computer back then, and it commanded that price because it was perceived as still being useful at the time. Later, used Apple II prices sunk, then went back up again as they became collectible.)

As I learned to program BASIC on the machine using Apple’s fairly well-written AppleSoft programming manuals, I began to make a list of frequently-used programming techniques that I could easily reference.

It was my dad’s idea — and he was very big into making notes, dating papers, and documenting things. However, I found that handwriting cramped my hand because I didn’t hold a pencil properly, so I absolutely hated it. And yes, that gave me trouble in school. But I can still remember my dad’s words now. It was a familiar conversation:

“Write this down: Initialize prepares a new disk.”

“Ok, dad.”


Obviously, I did as he instructed, then continued to add to the list over the following days. Not long after creating it, I taped the notes to my desk right beside my Apple II+. There they stayed for at least a few years as I continued to tinker with BASIC.

Eventually, that desk (made out of a hollow, uncut door laying across two shelf pillars) got so nasty with stickers and writing that it went to the dump. Just before it departed, I peeled my BASIC note off and stuck it in my files. There it stayed until I rediscovered it just last year in some old papers.

As dirty and Coke-stained as the note is today, I am glad I still have it. At the risk of stretching a metaphor, it’s a little bit like rediscovering an old friend that helped me through a tricky period of my life. At the very least, I will always remember PR#6.

[ From Benj Edwards personal handwritten AppleSoft BASIC notes ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What was the first programming language you ever used? How old were you?

7 Responses to “[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Benj’s Apple II Notes”

  1. John Says:

    BASIC on a TRS-80 Model 3. This was 1981 and I was 12. Our school bought one and gave a small class on its use. I enjoyed it so much I used my library time to program it. There was no floppy drive, though. At first, everything was lost when I left and turned it off. Eventually, they got a tape drive for it and I brought my own tapes. Good Times! I remember this little demo program where you created an ASCII space ship that landed on the ground. Over time, my friend and I modified it to where little aliens would pop out after it landed and the ship would flash and drop bombs while moving side to side as it came down. So much fun back then.

  2. Multimedia Mike Says:

    Officially, I guess my first was LOGO driving the turtle graphics around an Apple II screen, and that was when I was in 5th grade (10 or 11?). I don’t like to count that as my first exposure, though. It was 7th grade when I got to do slightly meatier things using BASIC on a TRS-80.

    I eventually got to circle back to LOGO on Apple II in 9th grade when a teacher noticed that I was slightly more advanced than the rest of the class and ready to move beyond mere lists of turtle graphics movements. She gave me the LOGO manual which is when I realized LOGO was quite a full-featured language, not just turtle graphics!

  3. Stan Says:

    AppleSoft BASIC on the Coleco Adam and Apple II when I was 8, around 83 and 84. We got a Coleco Adam for Christmas, which came with an AppleSoft BASIC clone. Shortly after my mom signed me up for some sort of “Intro to Home Computers” course at the public library, where we did mostly BASIC stuff on the Apple II.

    I was one of the youngest kids there, so they always stuck me on one of the old Apple II+ machines instead of the then-new Apple IIe machines. I didn’t know the difference at the time, I just remember that weird old II+ keyboard with its giant white power light.

    Like most kids of the time, I’d borrow various AppleSoft BASIC books from the library and type in the programs at home. The problem was my Coleco Adam. The Adam BASIC was compatible for the most part, but it only supported 32-column text instead of the 40-column text that most AppleSoft programs were written for. So I’d have to go in and change the code so that the text would display properly. It was a annoying, but it was a good way to learn how to read BASIC code. Adam BASIC did support the AppleSoft low-res and hi-res graphics commands, so it wasn’t all bad.

    I did a lot of BASIC programming all through the 80s, but that pretty much ended when we traded the Apple IIe for a 386.

  4. Alexander Says:

    LOGO when I was probably 7 in elementary school — it took me years to realize that we had been tricked into programming, thinking it was some sort of game. We used the Microworlds program as our IDE on Performa series Macintosh machines.

    I’d like to think I got pretty good at it too. In fact, I wrote my first sub-routine when I was 8 to draw leaves on the screen, and it was pretty clear that I had stumped the teachers with what I was trying to do. I still have a print-out my handywork somewhere.

  5. David Kindred Says:

    Benj, that brings back such great memories! Around 1981, when I was 13, we got a Bally Astrocade, an Atari wannabe, which had a BASIC cartridge, and I taught myself how to code on it using its *calculator* keypad with a multicolor overlay that gave each button 5 functions. (http://www.glankonian.com/~lance/bally/bb_ovrl2.gif) How I envied those of you with real keyboards!

    In high school, when I was 15, we had some ][e’s and I remember well how much fun I had in AppleBasic. I think one of my proudest moments was applying knowledge from geometry converting radians to cartesian units when I wrote a program that drew an actual circle on the screen (AppleScript only did boxes). Naturally we used that as the basis of something important: recreating the GhostBusters logo.

    It’s funny, it was just yesterday I was talking to one of my teens while we were fiddling around in Linux. He wondered why DOS decided to rename the “ls” command to “dir”, since Unix predated DOS, and it would’ve been easy to reuse the same name. I said, “You think that’s weird? Guess what you had to type on an Apple back then? ‘CATALOG’.” I’d forgotten about PR#6, though, until I saw your note. Thank your dad for me!

  6. Moondog Says:

    BASIC on an Atari 400.

  7. fernando Says:

    I started with LOGO on a MSX when I was in 3rd grade. My mom worked at my school so I would hang out waiting for her shift to end, and started killing time going to the adult computer class that started after the kids left.

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