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From WIRED Magazine:

We all agree with this- but somehow, more credence is given to it because it was published in a famous techno-aware magazine. Oh, well, you can read it here, or jump over and read in the context of the rest of the issue in which it first appeared. Oh, and we all know Tandy's "Genius" only amounted to selling them at your local Radio-Shack... Kyocera deserves most of the praise...


Tandy's Text-Typing Genius

Computers aren't known for how well they KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid). But back in 1986, some geniuses at Tandy made the Tandy 102, a legendary portable computer that to this day can slap a new PowerBook around.

I'd been looking in the paper for months when I finally found one for US$50 (that's not a typo). So what else is so great about this 8 1/2-by-12-inch box? Well, it lasts 20 hours on 4AA batteries; it has a built-in 300-baud modem; it weighs 3 pounds; it has a really full-sized keyboard (like a giant calculator on steroids); start-up is instantaneous; you can travel stress-free because it's too ugly to steal; you can add an acoustic coupler (I've heard of reporters who file stories from static-filled Russian pay phones with it); it has a transparent, condom-like encasing (writers I know have spilled full whiskey glasses on it without hurting a thing). This is genius!

There's no hard drive and no disk drive. In fact, the keyboard seems to be the only thing that moves, except for its 8-bit CPU and screaming 2.4 MHz processor that somehow keeps up with my typing. It uses text-based software stored in ROM and has an application for writing with cut, paste, and find - no spell check, but you can carry a dictionary and your pack will still weigh less than a PowerBook. It has a telecom application for downloading and sending data and a BASIC application for writing code and file management. Files are stored in RAM and kept there with a small hearing-aid-type battery. I bought an extra 8K RAM chip for $16.

Sure, the eight-line LCD display is small, but it works. Sure, it holds a finite amount of text, but you can modem files out, or use a serial port. You can also attach a 3 1/2-inch floppy drive and a television/video monitor. And, if you've completely lost your mind, it has a special port for downloading files onto an audio-cassette deck.

The manual, by the way, is a study in prehistoric, but surprisingly visionary, computer history. It points out that you can access over 100 BBSes in the country, gives detailed instructions on how to access CompuServe, and advises using electronic mail because it's faster and cheaper than the postal service.

As I use mine, I wonder, in this age of rampant gee-whiz technology, Why is some ugly old beige piece of plastic making me so happy? The answer is that its first, last, and middle name is "simple." I wish hardware developers would learn how to KISS better. They could make one of these in their sleep now, and I'd buy it in a second. - Caleb John Clark

Tandy 102, by Tandy Corporation: no longer sold; check classified ads for orphan processors.


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