Monday, August 17, 2015

Computer Juicer

  Before I get into the joke that is Computer Juicer, let me take you back to the world of 1984. If you had a home computer, it was probably an Apple IIe, a Commodore 64, an Atari or a DOS PC. The Mac and the Amiga were coming up on the horizon but hadn't ridden into town yet. You had paper magazines with pages and pages of "program listings" that, if you wanted to use the program, you were expected to type in the whole thing without error. There were a few commercial programs on the market but basically in the 80s you were expected to type in the ones you wanted from magazines.

  Then along comes Jim Mangham, a guy from Shreveport LA who worked in a bank. He got the idea of doing all the typing himself and supplying the programs on disk through the mail. You'd subscribe, just as if it were a paper magazine, but you'd get a disk in the mail each month -- a disk you could run in your computer. In early 1981 he and his wife, Judi, started Softdisk, a "magazine-on-disk" for the Apple computer. Al Vekovius, a dean of mathematics at the local LSU branch, joined them soon after as partner.

  Early hires were Dan Tobias, from Carnegie-Mellon University, and Jim Weiler, from DeVries. In 1984 a new magazine-on-disk was launched for the Commodore 64 computer, LOADSTAR. How do I know this? Because I have a bunch of newsletters that Dan Tobias wrote starting in 1987 and in them is a "History of Softdisk" that continues up through 1989. I had forgotten I had it, but now I can be more accurate with dates. Here is page 2 of the first Soft Talk newsletter, dated September 1, 1987, with my first mention. So I must have started in August.
  I plan to have much more history in coming nights, but for now let's get to Computer Juicer. I knew from looking at the 43 issues done before me that the April issue was the "April Fools" issue. This didn't cheer me up much because (1) I didn't find traditional computer humor all that funny, and (2) we didn't have any "April Fools" material ready. But I figured we had to have at least one gag and I came up with Computer Juicer. It didn't do anything; it was just a big menu on a screen, with a ridiculous Read It.

Now that you’ve balanced your checkbook, burglar- proofed your home, written your novel, and catalogued your stocks, bonds and friends, you might find yourself wondering, “Just what else will my C64 do?”

Well, believe me, there’s plenty more, and this month we’ll find out about a little-known feature of the 1541 disk drive. First, let’s go over the basics.
Have you ever wondered what makes your disks turn around in the drive? That’s right, a motor. And have you ever sat back and realized that the heart of any food processor, from the lowly Mr. Meatsauce from K-Mart to the finest Parisian Cuisinart, is nothing more than . . . you guessed it, a motor!
So all that’s needed to turn your 1541 (or 1571 in burst mode) into a computer juicer is clever software and a few utensils found in any kitchen. A NOTE OF WARNING: Do not attempt to run the program until you have read the following directions very carefully.
Let’s first gather up the things we’ll need. As a demonstration we’ll learn how to make one of my favorite beverages, Spam Juice. You’ll need:

1 large tomato (the older the better)
1 can condensed milk (any size)
3 tbsp olive oil (or substitute)
1 five oz can of Spam
6 sprigs parsley (optional)
You should also have a butter knife, a 24 oz pitcher and a supply of towels.

Have you ever noticed those louver-like slots at the back of the disk drive? Those are mainly for ventilation, but we’ll use them as slicers for the food before it gets to the processing action of the motor.
Simply run the program from the LOADSTAR menu and at the first screen tell COMPUTER JUICER which speed you want. For Spam Juice, we’ll start with the tomato and condensed milk so you should choose M for MIX.
IMPORTANT! Remove the disk from the drive. Serious damage to the disk could result from pouring condensed milk into the drive with the disk inserted.
First, position the pitcher directly underneath the disk slot on the front of the drive. Place towels over items in the room that may react unfavorably with any of the ingredients.
Press F1 to start and you’ll hear the motor begin its action. Gently push the tomato through the slots at the back of your drive. You may want to peel the tomato. Then pour the condensed milk into the slots. When the liquid stops flowing into the pitcher, press SPACE to return to the menu screen.
Now it’s time for the olive oil and Spam. Press P for PUREE and then slowly, yet inexorably, push the Spam through the slots. For best results pour in the olive oil after the Spam has been processed. If the Spam is not fresh, you may need to pour in half of the oil before the Spam is pureed.
Sprinkle sprigs of parsley around the edge of the pitcher if desired. CAUTION: Under no circumstances push the parsley through the drive. Serious damage to the user port may result.
If, at any time, a piece of meat or whatever gets caught on the drive head, you should free the head with the butter knife. Failure to do so could give you an UNDEF’D SAUCE error later on.
That’s about all there is to it! To clean up, simply place the drive in any low-impact dishwasher on the bleach cycle. To prevent unsightly water spots, I recommend using Sprinkle, the drive detergent.
So, the next time your friends complain about there being nothing new under the sun, show them COMPUTER JUICER, and they’ll change their tune. Available only from LOADSTAR.

A TECHNICAL NOTE ON COMPUTER JUICER: Due to certain ROM changes, this program should not be run on drives having serial numbers higher than A00000034-1. Serious damage to the monitor and/or printer could result.

2015 Postmumble: As I remember it, Mike Maynard and Jim Row advised me against running it on LOADSTAR. They said that there would be at least one or two customers who would not recognize it was an April Fools spoof, and we’d get some hot complaints. Well, I decided to go with it and there were no complaints. No comments of any sort. I breathed a sign of relief and was glad I didn’t run it by Al Vekovius or Jim Mangham, who would have undoubtedly told me not to include it. Why take a chance?

Tomorrow we come to a mild obsession of mine back in the 80s: pentominoes. And a bad program inspired by a pretty good Isaac Asimov novel.