I am Ed Snider, also known as Zippster. Among other things, I am a retrocomputing enthusiast currently specializing in all things CoCo. This was not always the case…
Like many of my generation, who grew up with the early micro-computers of the 1980’s, I have fond memories of the times spent in front of a CRT and a keyboard. Playing games, learning to program in BASIC, and exploring the machines that were part of the explosive computer revolution of the era.
Parents everywhere were getting computers for their children and themselves, as it had become obvious that everyone had to learn to use computers, or be left behind. In my case, the system my family chose was the Apple 2. I was 13 or 14 at the time, and… it was awesome.
Many years, systems, and life changes later, I found myself in my mid 40’s. With the busy days of my 20’s and 30’s mostly behind me, I found myself looking for a new hobby. Something intellectually stimulating, something where I could make stuff, a creative outlet.
I had always liked electronics, computer hardware, programming, and related things. I had made a few forays into those subjects in the past, but never got much past the dabbling stage. I had always been impressed with those hardware and software gurus who seemed able to pull off almost any project. I thought to myself, “Maybe I can do that. Maybe I can still learn something new well enough to be one of those guys.”
So that’s what I set out to do. I joined the N8VEM retro computer group. These guys were designing and building new single-board and bus-based computers using 80’s era electronics; Z80’s, TTL logic, UV-erasable EPROMS, etc. And they were writing software for them too.
I built most of the projects they had going at the time, and played around with a little Z80 assembly under CP/M. It taught me a lot about electronics assembly, debugging builds, and a little about assembly programming (I had previously used C and BASIC, but not too much). I got into distributing PCBs to the group, having the existing designs produced, and getting them out to group members for their builds. I even started to play with PCB design with a free copy of Eagle.
Around this time I decided to dig through my bins for an old computer to play with. I had casually picked up old systems on eBay or elsewhere and kind of collected them in storage mostly, taking them out to get them running, play a few games on, experience the platform a bit…
It was interesting to me to check out all the myriad types of 80’s systems that I never had a chance to use as a youngster. On this particular occasion, I pulled out a bin that contained two computers I had snagged on eBay dirt cheap and not taken the time to look at yet.
Two white, slightly scuffed, all-in-one style thingamajigs from long ago. What were they?
Researching them on the internet, I discovered they were Tandy Color Computer 2’s. Hooking them up, I was pretty disappointed that all they had for video output was RF. I set about using what I’d learned at the N8VEM group to fix that ASAP. I designed a composite video board and shared about it on the CoCo MaltedMedia email list, which I had recently discovered.
I really wanted some sort of storage option for these computers, and had read about the CoCo SDC on the list. They sounded like just the thing, the only trouble being that they weren’t being made at the time. A conversation started up regarding whether Darren Atkinson, the creator of the SDC, would permit someone to produce them.
I caught his response to the group, that he wouldn’t mind that happening, and I jumped on it. I had never done such a thing before, but experience with the N8VEM group had left me confident in board assembly and the process of getting PCBs made. I could do it.
I volunteered, Darren approved me to make them, and I started taking names for a run. I had so many responses that I shut it down at 100 units, fearing I might be getting in over my head!
But, it went fine. Boards were assembled, or parts sorted into kits, distributed, and done again, and again. By the time of this writing I have distributed almost 700 CoCo SDCs.
Anyway, that’s the story of how I got into the CoCo. Since then I’ve completed many projects, and sold many hardware items designed by myself or others. I’ve gained so much experience, so much knowledge, and developed so many new skills pursuing this hobby and working with the CoCo these past few years.
Because of this, the CoCo, and the wonderful community that surrounds it have become very special to me. A part of my journey now, just as those old computers were a part of our youth.
This ancient machine provided this experience to me now, in modern times, despite being ‘obsolete’. That’s a value of retrocomputing that’s beyond mere reminiscing. The computers of yesteryear can still teach one things, even now.