Tech, Autos, & Gear in Layman's Terms Since 2006

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May 18, 2007 • Editorials

My First “Pocket” PC – A Tribute to Clinton Sr.

[Judie’s note: This article is also currently running on Clinton Fitch (Dot) Com!, and it can be viewed in the original format (with even larger pictures) there. If you haven’t already checked out the many Windows Mobile software reviews on Clinton’s site, then be sure to visit soon.]

If you read my biographical information on the Clinton Fitch (Dot) Com! Staff page, then you will see that I’ve been writing reviews of some type since the late 1990s. Likewise, if you read my blog entry over at Smartphone & Pocket PC magazine last month, then you read about how I got started using Windows Mobile devices. I’d like to go back a bit further and introduce you to my very first “pocket” PC, The Radio Shack TRS-80 Pocket Computer.

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The TRS-80 Pocket Computer

The history behind this device is as much a personal story as it is a technical one. As I look back, it?was?seeing this device that I attribute to my strong desire to work in the technology field and that?ultimately lead to the creation of Clinton Fitch (Dot) Com! and others in the past.

The first time I saw the TRS-80 Pocket Computer was at my Grandfather’s house. He – Clinton Sr., for those interested – has been an amateur radio operator for 50-odd years (K5ASU) and as is often the case with “Ham” operators, always had a fascination with technology. As I remember, I was around 11 years old in 1980, the year he purchased this computer. He showed it to me and it instantly attracted me. I had seen his desktop computer – a TRS-80 Color Computer, we didn’t have one at home yet – but I simply could not believe that a computer could fit into your hand. I can remember that for many years after seeing the Pocket Computer that it dominated my thoughts each time I would go to his house or would find out we would be visiting. Each time we would go to visit my grandparents I would sneak back into his “radio room” and play with the device, quickly figuring out the small quick reference card that was in the computer’s slip case, I could program it to do simple things like creating a number guessing game. I don’t remember him ever catching me playing with the Pocket Computer but I always made sure to stay quiet just in case!

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Quick Reference Guide – a “Cheat Sheet”!

In terms of processing power, the Pocket Computer was not exactly, erm, a screamer! It ran on a SC43177 processor that cranked at a whopping .25mHz. Memory was an impressive 1.5 Kilobytes. As you can see from the picture, it has a one-line, 24-character LCD display which may not seem impressive, but at least I could read it outside in the sunlight versus today’s Windows Mobile devices!

The 1.5K of memory was RAM meaning that so long as you didn’t completely drain the 4 LR-44 button batteries in the device or reset it with the reset button on the back, your program would stay in memory. If you wanted to retrieve data or store your programs though, it required an external storage location. The storage location of choice was a cassette tape! In order to do this however you had to have the TRS-80 Pocket Computer Cassette Interface, a docking station of sorts that connected your Pocket Computer to a cassette player via the microphone, earphone and remote 2.5mm jacks on the player. I can remember it worked reasonably well, given the technology and media involved.

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The Pocket Computer With its Cassette Interface

The only real?accessory of interest for the Pocket Computer -?that neither I nor my grandfather owned – was the Printer Interface. It too was a docking station-like device which had a 14 character wide dot matrix (not thermal) printer. I always thought it was funny that the printer was 14 characters wide while the display was 24 wide. If I can ever find one on eBay I’ll probably pick it up just to say I have the complete kit!

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The Printer Interface For The Pocket Computer (Courtesy of Oldcomputers.net)

Fast forward with me to 1988. I had graduated high school the year before, and my wife and I?had recently married. We were visiting my grandfather’s house, and my grandfather and I were in his radio room talking about computers?when he pulled out the Pocket Computer. He asked if I remembered the Pocket Computer, so I told I did and confessed to him my secret trips back to the room to play with it. We laughed, and he said something to the effect that while he doubted it would do me much good, I could have it if I wanted it. I couldn’t believe it and immediately jumped on the offer. As my wife will attest, I spent the better part of the next month using all my free time re-learning how to program the thing and saving programs to cassettes!

As you can see from the pictures the Pocket Computer has some wear and tear but it still works and is something I still pick up from time-to-time. Honestly, it is now more of a sentimental item than a technical gee-whiz item. I always remember my grandfather when I see it or pick it up.

Clinton Sr. is still alive and well. In his late 80s his knees don’t work all that great anymore, but he is as sharp as ever when it comes to technology. Surprisingly one of the few gadgets he doesn’t have is a Pocket PC, although I am pretty sure he has the most current computer of the four Clinton’s (Clinton Sr, Clinton Jr, Clinton III (me) and Clinton IV (my son))! He was the first to have a computer amongst us, the first that had a digital camera amongst us (working on his 4th or 5th now I think!), and sadly is the only one who is a “Ham” – a fact I plan on changing in his honor.

Thanks Grandad for being a geek!

3 Responses to " My First “Pocket” PC – A Tribute to Clinton Sr. "

  1. Allen Hong says:

    I still have a PC-8 which I bought with my hard earned bucks when I worked part-time at Radio Shack during high school. I found a picture online to show everyone.

    http://www.trs-80.com/images/computer-pc8x300.gif

  2. I love this story. 🙂

    Isn’t it amazing how the simplest set of circumstances can instigate a lifetime tech interest? I wonder how often the person that influences us even realizes that they have done so. With that said, I think it was amazing that your grandfather still had the very device that so intrigued you. 🙂

  3. Isn?t it amazing how the simplest set of circumstances can instigate a lifetime tech interest?

    I completely agree! It is like many things in life: Watch what you say and do because there are people watching you and you do impact people.

    I think it was amazing that your grandfather still had the very device that so intrigued you.

    Yeah, that I think is the coolest part of it. He hung on to it for years which isn’t all that uncommon for a “ham”. They tend to hang on to stuff – you never know when you will need it! 🙂

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