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Try a home computer on for size (1978)

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Try a home computer on for size

by Christia Johnson

Have you ever played blackjack with a computer? The Yuma Computer Club can show you how.

It can be done (you might even win) and in your own home. Take one cassette tape recorder, ad a television screen (videotape display, if you must get technical) and an average-size typewriter keyboard.

But you may be asking yourself why you would even want such a device.

Computers are fun, according to the some 33 members of the Yuma Computer Club. The club just recently formed this past July 28, and is on the lookout for computer buffs.

This type of buff doesn’t have to own a computer, doesn’t have to know how to program or operate one but just has to have an interest in computers — the club will take you from there.

Computers can be a hobby. And the cost is not prohibitive as you might think. According to club president Earles McCaul, a complete home computer unit can be purchased for around $600, with a more elemental unit offered for $250, or you can build your own.

The $600 one can be compared with a computer that would have cost some $30,000 10 years ago and filled a whole car garage rather than just some desk space.

Home computers can be used to play games — cards, backgammon, tic-tac-toe — whichever ones you want to program into it. McCaul has programmed arithmetic problems in his home unit so his son can study more effectively.

Payroll, bills, taxes can all be handled by home computers. Mark Lauss, treasurer of the club and a computer programmer at YPG, added that computers are great for cooks:

If you happen to have one pound of hamburger hanging around and one can of pinto beans, you can file this information into the computer and provided you’ve supplied the memory banks with enough information, the computer will tell you which of your recipes call for this combination and what else is needed to complete the recipe.

“You can do anything with a computer,” said Lauss. He works with computers all day at the office and can’t seem to get away from them — he’s even managed to hook his wife’s interest.

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In fact, about 60% of the club’s members deal with computers in their professional lives. Fifteen of the members have their own computers. So you can see that having a computer is not a prerequisite for membership.

The club meets every first and third Friday of the month at the Yuma City-County Library auditorium. And McCaul stresses that you don’t have to know anything about computers to have an interest in them, so come on down to see what’s cookin’.

The formal meeting is called to order at 7:30pm. But for about an hour before, the doors are open and the real fun takes place. Several of the members usually bring their computers and everyone gets down to figuring out problems and share advice and mistakes.

There is a variety of computers just like there is a variety of cars. The home units can be purchased constructed or come in kit form that you assemble or you may even build and design your own from scratch.

Rick Drapala built his own. His video display unit is an actual TV that can be watched as a TV as well as perform as part of the computer. However, as he said: “It’s easy to put it together. But it’s getting it to work…!”

Basically these home computers work the same as the bigger company ones. Just like any car will drive; the bigger and faster, the more expensive. The same holds true for computers — the bigger, the faster the functions can be performed.

The smallest unit of data all computers work with is called a bit. These bits are contained on a RAM which, according to size, holds from one to 64,000 bits. And various computers hold different amounts of RAMs.

The next size unit that holds data is called a byte and this contains a certain amount of bits. The relationship here, as McCaul explained it, is like five pennies making up a nickel.

Then there is a word unit of data. A word contains anywhere from eight bits to 16 bits (or two bytes) and on up to 60 bit words, depending on the type of computer in use.

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What this boils down to is that the more information you can feed a computer (and naturally there’s more infor on a 60 bit word than on an eight bit word), the quicker you will get the desired result.

The different types of computers also speak different languages.

Some are scientifically oriented, others speak in more mathematical or business terms. Most of the home computers speak BASIC.

This is the beginner’s all-purpose symbolic instructional code, explained McCaul, and was written in 1965. Lauss said it is the easiest language and has been universally taken up by the hobbyists.

On top of functioning in these different languages, each computers has its own idiosyncracies, according to McCaul: “We all write English but our script looks different — that’s the same with individual computers.”

Now we come to programming. Lauss said that the two limitations of computers are the memory and the programming: “The computer will not make a mistake on its own.”

He added that companies must really be careful about who they hire to do the programming. The programmer can cheat and cover his tracks extremely well in this white-collar crime.

Programming takes many forms. A person can physically type the data into the machine or in McCaul’s case, his computer will accept pre-taped data off of cassettes that are bought in stores.

The club members said anyone can learn to program. But programming can take awhile in some cases. Lauss has been working on a certain program for nine months and it’s still not done.

Club objectives currently are two-fold. One goal is for the club to design and build its own computer. Members also hope to sponsor a computer fair in Yuma, enabling people to see these computers, how they work and how they have home and business application.

The club would also like to see an Arizona Western College course offered in home computers.

And you too may be able to learn how to program a computer to start the coffee brewing by the time you get up for work.

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