Packet Rat: A Ratrospective: Thanks for the RAM

Michael J. Bechetti

In observance of GCN's 20th anniversary, the Rat decided it was time to share a bit of computing history with his offspring. But first, he had to remember where he'd buried it.

'Unfortunately, we didn't have the Global Positioning System in 1982, or I could have avoided all this,' the whiskered one said regretfully as he and the oldest ratling rolled over yet another rock from the border of the family garden in search of his personal time capsule.
'I can't believe they had computers then,' his younger son said.

As the cyberrodent shoved a spade into the ground, he finally heard the clang of metal on metal. 'Jackpot!' he cried.

After some spirited digging, the Rat patrol unearthed a 25-pound steel box and dragged it to the garage.

'That's a time capsule?' his younger son asked.

'No, this is a Compaq portable computer. The rest of the time capsule stuff is still out in the hole.'

'That's a laptop?' The ratlings squealed, staring in disbelief at the suitcase-size monstrosity.

'It was called a luggable back then,' the Rat gasped as he hauled up the trunk with the rest of his retro booty. 'Put it on the workbench, and I'll show you.'

The wirebiter rotated the carrying handle and rested the steel box on it, then unsnapped the keyboard to reveal an eight-inch monitor and two floppy drive slots.

'Whoa,' his eldest marveled as the Rat plugged the ancient beast into a wall socket. 'What's that? A stereo sound card?'

'They're called acoustic couplers,' his father replied. 'We used them to hook up modems before there were RJ-11 jacks everywhere. Here, let me show you.'

He pulled a black square from a binder labeled 'DOS 1.25' and shoved it into a slot on the luggable. 'Boot floppy,' he explained to his puzzled offspring.

With a beep and a rattle, the computer ground to life and began performing a power-on test of all 512K of its memory.

'Ah, such nostalgia,' the Rat reveled. 'These were real men's computers. No girly LCDs back then'just the business end of a cathode ray and enough radiation to make your fillings glow at night. But it was all worthwhile to get so much screen real estate'more than the eight lines of LCD text on the Tandy TRS-80 Model 100. Of course, the Model 100 didn't come out until 1983.'

When the start-up finished'a full pot of coffee later'the Rat thumbed through the floppy binder to find an appropriately vintage application. 'Aha, WordPerfect 1.0!' he cackled, sliding the 5.25-inch floppy into Drive B.

'Dad's having too much fun,' the No. 2 son whispered to his older sibling.

But his brother was transfixed by the all-character display. 'You mean to tell us they had debug screens back then?'

'No, that's the operating system command line. The whole thing is debug.'

Father Rat pulled a 1,200-baud modem out of the time capsule. 'Hand me the disk labeled Kermit, will ya?' he asked. But it was too late. His offspring had spotted a Commodore 64 in the trunk and were connecting the cassette tape drive to boot up Broderbund's 'Choplifter' game.

'Some things never change,' the Rat sighed.

The Packet Rat once managed networks but now spends his time ferreting out bad packets in cyberspace. E-mail him at [email protected].


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