It’s #retrocomputer time!

What vintage computers are you aware of that can be tricked in to talking to readily available modern hardware?

(Thread. I got stuff on my mind.)

@ajroach42 You might also want to check out the Sinclair Machines (ZX81 / ZX Spectrum). Plus on those machines is a majority of software was distributed on tapes so it's a simple matter of hooking up a phone and playing a converted .TZX / .TAP file as analog out.

@craigmaloney that’s a good point.

I ran a spectrum emulator for a while so I could play a handful of platform exclusives, and I remember the graphics making CGA look attractive.

@ajroach42 Definitely. But the upside is in the UK they should be plentiful. They never made it over here into the USA but I've still managed to import a few of them and refurbish them without too much trouble.

@ajroach42 (The Spectrum that is; the TS1000 is incredibly common over here).

@ajroach42 @craigmaloney dad eventually bought the 16 kb ram expansion pack and then built a wooden rig to hold it all assembled so the ram pack wouldn't fall out of the back when I was typing on it's membrane keyboard

@ajroach42 @craigmaloney when I started regularly bumping into the memory limitations of the ts1000 dad got me a ti-99/4a which brought color, cartridge based games, game controllers but not more memory so then he got his kaypro and let me use that for programming and telecommunications and here we are

@djsundog @ajroach42 I think the TI99/4A was a decent machine but my goodness was it crippled. Between the basic having to do two-pass interpreting (More here:

It should have been a nice machine but Ugh.

@craigmaloney @ajroach42 it was definitely a confused beast - I waited for all the cool peripheral expansions but they never came so it was mostly our crappy game computer

@djsundog @craigmaloney @ajroach42 The correct way was of course to buy the TI99 expansion box. (Or later, a Geneve.)

Boy, were those unattainable back in the day.

@djsundog @craigmaloney @ajroach42 @thegibson The only expansion I had for my TI99/4a was a 3rd party centronics printer interface (and an Epson RX80 printer), as the justification for buying the machine was that it would help my father doing business stuff.

(...which it did - we had the spreadsheet module, and I wrote an Extended Basic program that helped tally up the yearly stock-taking results from their shop. Still fired that up at the end of each year for a long time even after the TI had fallen out of general use, as the whole workflow had ended up being centered on that silly program.)

@galaxis Shoot, that reminds me of some of the businesses I've worked with in the last ~12 years.

You walk in to help with with a computer problem or to consult with them about their hardware and you notice everyone talking about "the mainframe" or "the old system" or "legacy" and eventually you pluck up the courage to ask and it turns out that they have an IBM/360 in the basement powering their POS, or an Apple IIc for their invoicing, or a couple of c64s running their "database".

@ajroach42 @vfrmedia @galaxis My father, a piano tuner, never found a better customer database than File Express (if I remember correctly), which runs on DOS.

@artsyhonker @vfrmedia @galaxis I used the calendar and address book on my HP 200 LX (DOS Based) well in to the 10s.

@artsyhonker @ajroach42 @galaxis and quite often these databases (and/or homegrown code/customisation) were often coded directly by the business owners or directors (which can cause a problem if these folk leave / retire and take the knowledge with them - often not through any malicious reason but simply no one else *wants* to learn how to maintain the systems and people eventually get old!

@vfrmedia @artsyhonker @galaxis I worked one place that had 100% of their day-to-day operations handled through an ugly mess of custom Batch files that they distributed to new users via floppy disk.

The owner had no idea. The whole system was designed and built by an employee who retired about 8 years before I got there.

The batch files were basically menus that recorded our decisions in to text files in a specific format and then imported them in to a database.

@galaxis @artsyhonker @vfrmedia The owner thought we were doing the entry by hand, he had no idea that these batch files a) weren't part of his software b) were custom made c) hadn't been updated in 8 years.

I was a file clerk. Wasn't supposed to be working on the computers at all (I was also, IIRC, 15 years old?)

Anyway, by the time everything was said and done, I had updated the batch files, and fixed a bunch of bugs that everyone had been working around for ~10 years.

@vfrmedia @artsyhonker @galaxis
And talked the owner in to switching to a browser based input system, and keeping a dev on staff. (Sadly/thankfully, I was not the Dev.)

@ajroach42 @artsyhonker @galaxis for a small/medium company it would maybe have been a difficult decision, where they would have *liked* to employ you in the tech role but supporting business critical system full time is a *lot* of responsibility to put on a teenager (or even anyone under 30) and there are moral (and possibly legal!) barriers, yet the budget may have been lacking for you to be trained with the dev (and you may also have understandably wanted to enjoy your youth whilst you can!)

Nah, they would have given me the job in a heartbeat, if I'd been willing to be exploited.

I wanted more money than they were willing to pay for the role, and we couldn't come to terms on scheduling.

They've tried to hire me twice since then, but they still want too much for not enough.

The poor guy they did hire... $30k/year to unifi their two incompatible legacy systems and port them to a new platform. Not worth it.

@ajroach42 was previously working in public service (environment ministry), my current employers had to outbid certain public sector agency in the SW of England 😉 and UK Border Force (who wanted British Asians for investigative work).but
would have had to relocate anyway, those jobs aren't fun, managers are Oxbridge types without life exp and said to the Civil Service "Mr Blair is making a mistake this time , what he is stirring up in Middle East will bite us in the arse 10-15 years later" 1/2

@ajroach42 but $30000 a year for that sort of work is low even by standards of UK/Europe were salaries are much lower outside of big city areas (or deprived areas that are trying to now be "tech hubs") and with smaller companies (especially bearing in mind that part of contribution to national healthcare is already paid for by your employer) 2/2

@vfrmedia Yeah, even in a small town, and even 10 years ago, this was a position that should have paid $50k or more.

Today I wouldn't do it for less than $80k, but honestly I wouldn't do it at all.

I don't want to work for a company like that.

@ajroach42 @artsyhonker @vfrmedia All those small businesses with five or ten employees don't have a budget for software development. They usually get along abusing some off-the-shelf software, or a specialized business software for their respective trade. Which is often being developed by small software companies with a handful of devs. The software my parents use today still shows its DOS roots in some places.

@galaxis @artsyhonker @vfrmedia I mean, this was a small company, but it wasn't a ten employee company.

They had two offices with about 60 people in each, plus two factories, sales reps, and installers. All together they were probably employing more than 500 people.

But yeah, even businesses of that size don't *really* have the budget for software development.

@ajroach42 @galaxis @artsyhonker where I work for is a similar size and I am the main full time IT person for 3 sites; we do indeed use a custom app for our patients/staff info (.NET GUI frontend to SQL server) and two others for finance all developed by small companies with odd quirks/glitches; although for one company we've had to change operational system 3 times in 10 years because the devs and support staff at these small companies just burn out and the software gets increasingly unsable!

@ajroach42 @artsyhonker @vfrmedia Yeah, many even have a limited general IT budget.
Which, in turn, is currently the main driver for the company I'm working at - we're not doing "cloud", but just infrastructure outsourcing and managed services for all those special snowflake enterprise systems that companies in the range of maybe 100 to 5000 employees drag along. All those are a decade (or more) behind current developments, and we're on the verge of having to fend off prospective clients...


this is surprising to hear from UK and a bit worrying; I'd always thought folk in DE might have a bit more foresight and want to keep *some* tech skills in house which is what used to happen a decade ago; as its also how the next generation is trained (and I've heard elsewhere from younger Germans that companies place too much emphasis on traditional academic qualifications even for basic sysadmin work). This is not sustainable for any country!

@ajroach42 @artsyhonker

@vfrmedia @ajroach42 Totally depends on whether the company sees IT at the core of their business. I mean, I've seen shops with nearly 100 physical servers where "IT infrastructure" is a single bullet point on their risk report.

There's this closet over there with six servers that don't have a UPS. Do you have any idea if they support any critical services? Uh... Will anyone notice when the A/C of the server room fails? Uh... Which workflows will break when the Internet is unavailable? Uh...

@galaxis @ajroach42 I wouldn't be surprised if businesses didn't think a UPS was a justified expense as compared to a lot of its EU neighbours mains power in DE is much more reliable and the business managers don't realise exactly *why* a hard shutdown is generally bad for computers and the data stored on them!

What does worry me is if competition forces down prices to the level that the IT outsourcing companies don't quite have the budget (€+*time*) to recruit/train new staff..

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