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Ask Soup Something Stupid

There is a burning, yearning need to know. It smolders in the back of your brain, the heat of it cooking out all sense and sensibility. A deep, powerful curiosity has its claws in you, so you’re laying awake nights staring at the ceiling. You keep turning the question over and over in your mind like a crack-addled chimp with a Rubik’s Cube.

Sure, you’ve done some legwork. Plugged in a fruitless search or two or eighteen into Sherlock when you were sure no one else was watching. Casually perused every last antiquated tome on computer technology gathering dust at the local library while pretending to do research on UFO abductions. Adopted the guise of a professional dominatrix from Finland to tap the assembled wisdom of the chatroom gurus. All to no avail. The need to know still smolders malevolently at the base of your skull and it fills your head with black, noxious smoke. The pain and humiliation is just too much to bear, and you have never been so alone and bereft in your life. There is an albatross around your neck, a secret shame: You have a dumb question. A really, really strange one.

Fret not, my little netizens, for you need no longer live in wretched ignorance! Finally, there is someone who will not regard you as stark, raving mad because of the question you pose. Someone who understands that unquenchable desire for information on the most obscure and worthless topics imaginable. Someone unafraid to tackle the shambling, ramshackle mountainous mass of stinking, heaving refuse that is the sum of human knowledge to find what you seek:

An answer! An answer to anything relating to computers, the Internet, and information technology, no matter how inane or bizarre!

Ask me something stupid. Go ahead, you know you’ve got a weird, off-the-wall question or two you want resolved. That’s what I’m here for.

Once every other week, I will carefully comb through the big virtual bag of MacEdition email in search of the most pitiable, pathetic and preposterous requests for information imaginable. Donning a snorkel and swim-fins, I shall delve deep into the vast collective unconscious of the wired world to salvage a gleaming ingot of enlightenment and present it to you, polished and shiny, in a MacEdition exclusive report! Go ahead, this is your big chance to bend the mass media to your own sinister agenda ... ask me your funkiest questions! This week, it’s Binky’s turn to bask in my glow.

“Binky Boo” is an 80’s computer addict who just can’t let go, and in obvious need of professional help. Unfortunately for his healing process, I’m here to give him exactly the wrong kind of help. Binky asks:

“Hey Soup, I’m looking for a cassette drive for my Radio Shack Color Computer. Any tips? Also, I hear there is a version of BSD available for it. True?”

Well, Binky, you can take some comfort in knowing you’re not alone out there. Legions of nostalgia-deluded lunatics eschew their up-to-the-femtosecond PowerMac G4 in favor of a Radio Shack house brand that was shiny and new during a time when Reagan ruled with an iron fist. The Tandy Color Computer, or “CoCo” as it was affectionately known by its rabidly devoted following, was a surprisingly capable 8-bit home computer system made by a terribly confused leather-goods company. It was sold exclusively through Radio Shack, and competed ferociously for the hearts and minds of the average consumer with the Apple II, Commodore 64 and Atari 800 back when punk rock was a threat to our nation’s youth.

The CoCo tribes gather together at the TRS-80 & Tandy Color Computer Home Page, which is stacked high with links for everything from software and games to companies who make new CoCo clones and places that do scary, unnatural things to innocent Color Computers. You can find all manner of used Color Computer gear for sale, including replacement audio-cassette tape drives, on a web portal devoted strictly to CoCo commerce: buycoco.com. Peruse the message board for what you need, and post your very own “wanted to buy” message to get the ball rolling. From time to time, some CoCo kit also winds up at the penultimate yard sale, so fire up Sherlock and use the “shop” feature to cruise eBay for 8-bit bargains. If you pay more than fifteen bucks for what you want, have yourself committed.

Soup asks something stupid:

How many of you cool cats use and abuse Lotus Notes? I’m looking for horror stories and high praises: tell me what you want me to know, in as much gruesome detail as you wish. Drop a line to soup@macedition.com.

Now, as to the unfounded rumor that a version of BSD UNIX ran on CoCo hardware, I’m afraid that it will have to remain an unfounded rumor. I haven’t uncovered any evidence that such a BSD port ever existed. There was a UNIX-like OS available for the CoCo, called OS9, which sported preemptive multitasking and protected memory with a command line and a GUI, all on a single 320k floppy. Microware still develops OS9 for a variety of purposes, and that’s why they tried to sue the snot out of Apple for using the name “Mac OS 9”. No relation to OS/2 or Plan 9, either: it predates the former by about ten years.

If you have a hankering for a real UNIX to run on your “Trash-80”, brush up on your assembly language and C skills, then gird your loins and sign on as a volunteer with one of the open-source BSD development efforts. How much geek cred to get a UNIX command line prompt on a twenty-year-old 8-bit home computer with less than 64k? More than you can handle, Poindexter. You’ll be fighting off the babe geek-groupies with a stick. (Reality check! Providing there was such a thing as babe geek-groupies, you’ve probably never been away from your computer and outdoors long enough to find a stick.)

Ask Soup something stupid, and ye shall receive, Binky! I have delivered you enough ammunition to keep your big bunker of denial well fortified for years to come, and given you a reason to join the NetBSD project project. That should keep you busy until 64-bit systems are on every desktop but yours.

– SoupI.G. F.

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