Blast from the Past – TI-99/4A

A few weeks ago my parents were packing away their Christmas decorations in their loft and whilst they were up there they bought down a whole bunch of old paraphernalia that we’d stored up there when we were kids.

Amongst the assorted goodies was an amazing collection of Lego, a racing car set that is compatible with the one my son got for Christmas and to my utter delight one Texas Instruments TI-99/4A home computer in perfect working order. Packed away complete with a tape recorder (persistent storage) and PAL UHF converter (sound/video output).

For those that aren’t familiar with this amazing piece of technology – it has some fairly modest specs – 16k RAM, 32k ROM, 40×24 character output with each character formed from the standard 8 by 8 gird (e.g. 320 x 200 pixels). The ROM comes complete with TI-Basic although things only really got interesting when you had the TI-Extended Basic module installed. Now I remember programming this little beast for many, many hours – back in the good old days when BASIC required line numbers, multiple statements per line (as you can still do today with the colon) and you could only edit one line at a time. That’s right, editing was performed using the LIST {line number range} then entering the line number you wanted to edit and pressing the down arrow to enter line edit mode. Amazing considering I had programs with several thousands of lines of code – each averaging 3 or 4 statements.

So I power it up – tune the TV to UHF channel 37 and hey-presto the screen is displayed in all its 16 colour glory. Hmm… this can’t be to hard – so I write a quick "program" – obviously starting with "Hello World" via the PRINT statement. Next I try a FOR loop with a PRINT and I’m greeted by the following error message:

* CAN’T DO THAT

Priceless. I try a couple of other attempts and am rewarded with:

* INCORRECT STATEMENT
* STRING-NUMBER MISTMATCH

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What an awesome machine… and great looking to boot. So much better looking than the Vic-20 and Commodore 64 that were very cheap looking.

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Of course having a very strong fan base this machine also has a emulator that is alive and well. I dare you to give Parsec a go!

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