John Rible

Dennis et al-

My contribution to PCC took the form of some letters and 'Extendable Tiny Basic,' submitted from Cambridge, Massachusetts about 25 years ago. Looking again at the article and code I submitted (yes, I still have the penciled original), I'm struck by how much of what I wrote then has persisted in my work since: my interpreter used separate arithmetic and subroutine stacks, allowed both 'token' and machine-code subroutines, and could be extended (by adding pointers to initially incomplete tables). It wasn't until a year or two later that I found out about Forth, which has been my language of choice ever since.

On one of my trips out here (I moved to Santa Cruz in 1985) I visited the PCC store-front in Menlo Park and was delighted to see so many kids playing games and proudly showing me what to do to use 'their system.'

Those were the days! I also still have the first Motorola 6809 data sheet I received: a photocopy where the text is typewritten and the tables of opcodes are hand printed!

My job at that time (1971-1977) was Director of Data Processing for a community college, and we were still using tabulating equipment for student records, 'borrowing' a different computer every semester to print our grade reports. I wrote, and rewrote, and rewrote, ... the Basic/RPG II programs to do this for each machine. My first assigned task there had been to plan the college's academic and administrative computer systems for our 'soon-to-be built' new campus. Five years later I resigned, frustrated because there had been no apparent movement, much less any new equipment. A few weeks ago I (2001) visited the school on a trip to Boston, and talked with my former assistant, who will complete 30 years there this Fall, still in the same job! (Yes, they've had a computer for some time, and had implemented many of my ideas 5-10 years after I left.)

Two more items of note: the community college's academic computing at the time consisted of two (ASR-33?) teletype machines connected by acoustic modem to some timeshare place which the students used to program in BASIC. And in one of the classes I taught, we used the CARDIAC cardboard computer to illustrate a computer's operation. After having given my own copy to a student, I found that Bell Labs wasn't making them any more, and was disapointed. Later, a MIT friend of mine showed me his--he'd written double-precision math routines for it as a high-school student--and an interest in adapting it to use today took root. There's a happy ending: at the 1999 Vintage Computer Festival I was given one by Lisa Loop! and my friend and I are hopeful of getting a current version out sometime.

In the intervening 25 years I've mostly been self-employed, doing a lot of embedded system programming in Forth, small cpu architecture design (oriented toward the Forth virtual machine), and, after a small start-up folded in 1990, more and more hardware design and verification in Verilog. (Our start-up failed when my hardware partner's wife insisted on returning to the midwest after the Loma Prieta earthquake.) I've always enjoyed teaching, and have been doing it for a number of years, both for UCSC Extension and as a substitute in an public alternative elementary school.

Thanks for the chance to write down these memories,

-John SandPiper Technology hardware, software and so forth...

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Last Modified: Tue May 29 22:05:28 2001