Sunday, July 3, 2016

Ghosts from the past...

Ghosts from the past...  If you've been reading this blog a long time, then you probably already know that I'm the author of Tarbell Basic.  What?  You never heard of Tarbell Basic?  Well, don't feel bad – neither has about 99.99999% of humanity, and about 99% of the remainder wish they hadn't heard of it :)

I wrote Tarbell Basic in the late '70s, nearly 40 years ago.  In the world of software, that qualifies as genuinely ancient history, I think.  It was written in Z80 assembly language to run on the operating system CP/M, using an assembler, linker, and debugger that I also wrote as part of the same project.  The last time I worked on any of the source code for Tarbell Basic was probably in 1980 or 1981 – about 35 years ago.

I have no memory of when I last had an actual copy of that source code, but I strongly suspect that it was around the same time I switched over from CP/M to MS-DOS for my development environment – in 1982 or 1983.  It wasn't so easy to move files from CP/M to MS-DOS, and so far as I know I never did move the Tarbell Basic source over.  In any case, I haven't had access to that source code for something like 35 years.

Starting about 15 years ago, or maybe a tad more, I've occasionally been contacted by an enthusiastic hobbyist.  It's happened several times a year; probably over 50 times altogether by now.  Most often they want help fixing a bug they've found in Tarbell Basic.  Sometimes they want help understanding the non-standard Z80 mnemonics we used.  Sometimes they want the latest version of the source.  Once (just once!) someone wanted me to autograph their copy of the Tarbell Basic manual (I did!).

This morning I had two people contact me about Tarbell Basic.  One fellow, from New York, was very insistent that I immediately email him a copy of the very latest source code.  When I emailed him back to tell him that I couldn't do that, as (a) I no longer had access to it, and (b) I didn't own it – he threatened to sue me, and recommended that I “lawyer up”.  I wonder what theory he'd pursue in a lawsuit?  Willfully thwarting a New Yorker?  I wrote back telling him to quit being such an idiot, and asking why this was so important to him.  I got an answer just now: this guy is running his business (a pawn shop) on a custom program written in Tarbell Basic!  It was originally written in the early '80s for a CP/M machine, and was long since ported to a standard PC running a CP/M emulator.  His current programmer, a kid, told him that he had to have the source code to modify Tarbell Basic to accept bigger programs, as he was out of memory.  Hah!  I told him he was doing the equivalent of patching his horse-drawn chariot to compete with modern taxis, and he should bite the bullet and rewrite it in a language from the current century.  We'll see what happens with that :)

Mom and dad in Hawai'i...

Mom and dad in Hawai'i...  Longtime readers will know that Debbie and I are huge fans of Hawai'i – though not for the reasons most people are.  We never go to a beach.  Instead, we hike the beautiful volcanic island scenery, watch for wildlife, and go four-wheeling on the major volcanoes of the Big Island.  In the first years we started going (late '70s) through the early '90s, we didn't have enough money for anything fancy like a motel or a bed-and-breakfast, so we camped.  We loved the campgrounds on Hawai'i back then – they were uncrowded, cheap, in beautiful locations, and the facilities (especially in the state parks) were fantastic.  We especially liked Kalopa State Park and the Namakani Paio campground in Volcanoes National Park.

In the early '90s we decided to invite mom and dad to visit Hawai'i on one of our camping trips.  We had already done that with Debbie's mom, and it was a rip-roaring success.  The cost was considerably more than we could really afford, but we knew that such a trip would have to happen fairly soon – mom and dad were getting older, and there probably weren't many years left when we could do it.  So we dusted off a high-limit credit card, gulped, and just did it.

Debbie and I look at those trips now as one of the smartest things we ever did.  My mom and dad talked about that Hawai'i trip for the rest of their lives, and so did Debbie's mom until Alzheimer's claimed her mind.

My mom and dad had done quite a bit of traveling together, usually with at least some of their kids.  All of it was on a shoestring budget, driving and camping.  They'd been all over the continental United States and southern Canada.  Travel itself wasn't new to them.  But to get to Hawai'i they had to fly – something they had rarely done up to that point.  Beyond that, though, Hawai'i was exotic to them, with scenery, flora, and fauna that was completely unfamiliar.  We might as well have been in Africa from their perspective!

It was terrific fun for us just to watch them reacting to the new things they were seeing.  Countless times they'd see a plant, flower, bird, or piece of volcano that had them goggle-eyed with wonder.  My mom didn't like hiking, generally, but we even got her out on some of the easier trails and to tour botanical gardens and orchid nurseries.  I remember her standing under a papaya tree, staring up in wonder – it was nothing like she'd imagined it.  Mom and dad walked together under a giant banyan tree near Cafe 100 in Hilo, both of them floored by its sheer size.  Mom particularly enjoyed the large monkey-pod tree forest near Lava Tree State Monument, and dad shared my admiration for the koa forests at high altitudes on Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa.

One morning when we were camped in Namakani Paio, we were up and making breakfast.  A lady came out of another cabin and started hollering at the birds for making noise – and that got mom laughing so hard she could hardly breath.  That lady came out repeatedly, really mad at the birds (who were simply greeting morning as birds do).  Dad discovered the native orchids growing out in the old a'a lava fields, and we took a short hike to enjoy those.

Neither mom nor dad had ever been four-wheeling for fun, though dad drove two-wheel-drive trucks often in places where many four-wheelers wouldn't dare go.  Also, he did a lot of off-road driving for his job in the Army Air Force during WWII, putting antennas in high places.  We took them to the summit of Mauna Kea, and then all around it at around 9,000 feet altitude.  We chose a spectacular day, with perfect weather for such a trip – and they got a rare treat, because even on the northeast side of the mountain we had perfect visibility.  This trip was full of exotic scenery for mom and dad, with the ocean-and-landscape vistas everywhere you looked.  Mom loved those views, especially when we got to the north side and were traversing the old Parker Ranch, looking over emerald-green rolling hills and broad, sloping sugar cane fields.  Dad liked that area as well, for the koa forests and the frequent little pu'us (old, small cinder cones grown over with greenery). 

We had some memorable meals there as well: fresh seafood, Thai food, and stuff we cooked, often using the unusual things available in the supermarkets there.  Mom particularly enjoyed the food there – so many things that she liked, and had never had before.  One example: a custard dessert she had at a Thai restaurant that she liked so much we went back twice more just for that.  Another: mahi mahi sandwiches at Cafe 100, which she declared were the best fish sandwiches she'd ever had.  We went back there a half dozen times for more :)

The very idea of my parents in Hawai'i is still sort of mind-boggling for me.  They seemed very out-of-place there; it's not the sort of thing one would ever imagine them doing.  Even during the trip, though, we knew we'd be happy we took them.  Afterwards, separately and years apart, both my mom and dad went to some pains to tell me just how much that trip had meant to them.  Dad wanted to go again, but didn't think mom would be able to.  We even made tentative plans for another trip in the late '90s, but the efforts around selling the farm and building a new home made him cancel it.  On my first trip to visit mom and dad after dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, mom started talking with me about that trip.  She got very emotional, choked up and crying, in the course of telling me how much she and dad cherished that trip to Hawai'i.  That's a memory I hold onto these days.  It makes the four years we spent paying off that damned credit card seem quite trivial...

Paradise ponders...

Paradise ponders...  The puppies are growing like little furry weeds.  I haven't weighed them, but I think Mako (the boy, and biggest) is getting close to 30 pounds.  The two of them continue their roughhousing, but with sharper teeth and (much) more muscle behind it – whenever I get in the way, I come away with cuts and punctures :)  In the 90 second video at right, you can see them being puppies – but after they spent 10 minutes beating each other up.

Race (our adult border collie) is especially tolerant of the puppies.  There have been quite a few times when he had two puppies hanging off him (on his ears or lower jaw), and he just keeps playing.  Miki is getting a bit more tolerant of them, though he still does lots of growling and will nip at them when they're especially bad (say, when there's one hanging on each of his ears!).  Both of them are still doing great:

When I first took the dogs out this morning, it was still a half hour or so before sunrise. The high clouds overhead, though, were fully lit. This made for a pretty high-contrast scene that isn't quite faithfully captured by my camera.  Our eyes have an essentially logarithmic response to brightness, whereas the camera's image sensor is linear.  This makes it nearly impossible to photograph a scene with very high contrast and have it look like what your eye sees.  Someday someone is going to make a log response sensor, I just know it.  Photography will get ever so much easier when they do :)

The construction crew has knocked off for the long weekend.  Here's what our three construction projects look like right now:

The first photo shows the yawning pit outside our bedroom, where the sun room will go.  Notice the basement windows are fully exposed, and the old steel casements are gone.  Each of those windows will get a poured concrete casement, with an area 50% larger than they used to be (to let more light in).  Then a seven-sided foundation (7 sides of a regular dodecagon) will be poured, a conventional joist floor built, and the sun room installed on top. 

The middle photo shows the craters outside our kitchen window.  These are where the six footers for our deck will go.  These footers will be poured concrete, using the “BigFoot” forms at right.  A cardboard tube is inserted in the top of this form to make the complete footer.  We'll have larger ones at the outside (farthest from the house), as those footers will be supporting both the deck and the roof over it.  The deck will be redwood on top of treated joists, with 18" of crawl space underneath.  The area under the deck is where nearly all of the underground services enter our house (power, water, septic, cable, phone, and gas) and where services to the barn leave (water, gas, and network).  You have to be mighty careful digging in that area!

The last photo shows the area outside our front door, where we used to have a brick walkway and a large poured concrete porch.  Now there's just this giant hole :)  Here there will be a mud room, roughly 10' x 12', built on conventional footers and foundation.  It will have a porch that is semi-circular, seen from above, made from concrete faced with rock.  That porch will be fairly close to our driveway, so we'll need a much shorter walkway.  This will also be of rock.