Headline Mar 30, 2015/ ''' GOING GOLDEN : O'' GOLDSMITH?! '''



HOVERING over the computer was Bill Gates  -a Stan Laurel to Ed's Laurel Hardy. He was running a memory test to make the sure the machine would be ready for me.

Plugged into the slots on the Altair bus  -an Ed Roberts innovation that was to become the industry standard  -were seven IK static-memory cards. 

It might have been the only microprocessor in the world with that much random-access memory, more than enough for my demo. The machine was hooked up to a Teletype with a paper-tape reader. All seemed in order. 

It was getting late, and Ed suggested that we put off the BASIC trial to the next morning. ''How about dinner?'' he said.

He took me to a three-dollar buffet at s Mexican place called Pancho's, where you got what you paid for. Afterward, back in the truck, a yellow jacket flew in and stung me on the neck.

And I thought,  This is all kind of surreal. Ed said he'd drop me at the hotel that he'd booked for me, which I'd thought would be something like a Motel 6. 

I'd bought only $40; I was chronically low on cash, and it would be a year before I'd have a credit card. I blanched when Ed pulled up to the Sheraton, the nicest hotel in town, and escorted me to the reception desk.

''Checking in?'' the clerk said. ''That will be $50.''

It was one of the most embarrassing moments of my life. ''Ed, I'm sorry about this,'' I stammered, ''but I don't have that kind of cash.''

He just looked at me for a minute; I guess I wasn't he'd been expecting, either. then, he said, ''That's O.K., we'll put it on my card.''

The following morning, with Ed and Bill Gates hanging over my shoulder, I sat at the  Altair  console and toggled in my bootstrap loader on the front panel's switches, byte by byte.

Unlike the fat plastic keys on the PDP-8, the Altair's were thin metal switches, tough on the fingers. It took about five minutes, and I hoped no one noticed how nervous I was. This isn't going to work, I kept thinking.

I entered my 21st instruction, set the starting address, and pressed the Run switch. The machine's lights took on a diffused red glow as 8080 executed the loader's multiple steps  -at least that much seemed to be working.

I turned on the paper-tape reader, and the Teletype chugged as it pulled our BASIC interpreter through. At 10 characters per second, reading the tape took seven minutes.

People grabbed coffee breaks while computers loaded paper tape in those days. The MITS guys stood there silently. At the end I pressed Stop and reset the address to 0. My index finger poised over the Run switch once again........

To that point, I could be sure of anything. Any one of a thousand things might have gone wrong in the simulator or the interpreter, despite Bill's double checking. I pressed Run......There's just no way this thing is going to work.

The Teletype's printer clattered to life. I gawked at the uppercase characters; I couldn't believe it.

But there it was : MEMORY SIZE?

''Hey,'' said Bill Gates,  ''it printed something!''  It was the first time he or Ed had seen the Altair do anything beyond a small memory test. They were flabbergasted. I was dumbfounded.

We all gaped at the machine for a few seconds, and then I typed in the total number of bytes in the seven memory cards: 7168.

''OK,'' the Altair spit back. Getting that far told me that  5  percent of our BASIC was definitely working, but we weren't yet home free. The acid test would be a standard command that we'd used as a midterm exam for our software back in Cambridge.

It relied on Bill's core coding and Monty's floating point math and even my ''crunch'' code, which condensed certain words  (like ''PRINT'') into a single character.

If it worked, the lion's share of our BASIC was good to go. If it didn't, we'd failed.

I typed in the command PRINT  2+2.

The machine's response was instantaneous : 4.

This was a magical moment. Ed exclaimed, ''Oh my God, it printed ''4''! He'd gone into debt and bet everything on a full-functioning micro-computer. And now it looked as though his vision would come true.

''You're the first guys who came in and showed us something,'' he said. ''We want you to draw up a license so we can sell this with the Altair. We can work out the terms later.''  I couldn't sop grinning.

Once back at the hotel, I called Bill, who was thrilled with the news. We were in business now, for real; in Harvard parlance, we were golden. I hardly needed a plane to fly back to Boston.

In the life of any company, a few moments stand out. Signing the original BASIC CONTRACT was a big one for Bill Gates and me.

The Honour and Serving of the  ''operational research''  continues. 

With respectful dedication to the Students, Professors and Teachers of the world. See Ya all on !WOW!  -the World Students Society Computers-Internet-Wireless:

''' Grab Here. Join Here '''

'''Good Night and God Bless

SAM Daily Times - the Voice of the Voiceless


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