Monday, April 2, 2012

B is for BASIC

This is the second day of April's A to Z challenge, which brings us to B.

Oh, how I miss BASIC! It was a good little programming language that came with all of the personal computers back in the 1980's. Simple. Easy to learn. Handy for those little quick and dirty programming tasks. It was a perfect first programming language for kids (and adults) to learn.

BASIC was created at Darmouth in 1964 by John George Kemeny and Thomas Eugene Kurtz and some grad students. It was an acronym for Beginner's All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code. It was the main language used for time-sharing on minicomputers and then was packaged (normally in ROM firmware) on nearly every microcomputer.

Three of the grad students went from Dartmouth to the Ford Motor Company in Detroit. At Ford, they found some labor lawyers who provided venture capital and they started a time-sharing company called Cyphernetics in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

I worked for Digital Equipment Corp (DEC) in 1969 as a Customer Engineer on their site and they taught me BASIC. It's not often you get to learn from the creators.

For those newer to computers, time-sharing allowed multiple people to use the minicomputers via teletypes to access the computers via modem over the phone lines. No punch cards. Input was by paper tape or keyboard entry. Output was typed on the teletype's paper or paper tape. It was real progress in 1969.

In the mid '70's, I did some freelance BASIC consulting a minicomputer in Tampa. The company sold printers and some of the first VCRs available. I redid their software accounting system in a variant of business Basic. (Mainly to allow them to hide their income from copying porn movies on six VCRs they had in a back room.)

When PCs first came out, everyone was having fun with programming in BASIC. There were all kinds of simple games available. The PC magazines used to print programs that you could, in turn, type into your PC.

When Florida started their Lotto, I wrote a small program so that I could input the weekly numbers and it would display the frequency for each of the winning numbers. It was a fun task. But, alas, I still haven't won the Lotto.

BASIC taught you to program. Its replacements such as Microsoft's Visual Basic amd .NET, teaches you how to click, drag and drop. It is too complicated for most people to grasp.

Maybe it is time to get back to BASIC.


  1. Isn't it amazing how far we've come and yest how much we've lost?

    1. So true Donna. Unfortunately, we can't turn back the clock (except for once a year when we fall back only one hour)

  2. I remember te first computers and having to type everything's in code. Amazing how it's all changed so much and smart phones!