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Programming Technology

Born To RUN: Dartmouth Throwing BASIC a 50th B-Day Party 146

theodp writes: "Still hanging on to a dog-eared copy of BASIC Computer Games? Back issues of Creative Computing? Well then, Bunky, mark your calendar for April 30th, because Dartmouth College is throwing BASIC a 50th birthday party that you won't want to miss! From the 'invite' to BASIC at 50: 'At 4 a.m. on May 1, 1964, in the basement of College Hall, Professor John Kemeny and a student programmer simultaneously typed RUN on neighboring terminals. When they both got back correct answers to their simple programs, time-sharing and BASIC were born. Kemeny, who later became Dartmouth's 13th president, Professor Tom Kurtz, and a number of undergraduate students worked together to revolutionize computing with the introduction of time-sharing and the BASIC programming language. Their innovations made computing accessible to all Dartmouth students and faculty, and soon after, to people across the nation and the world [video — young Bill Gates cameo @2:18]. This year, Dartmouth is celebrating 50 years of BASIC with a day of events on Wednesday, April 30. Please join us as we recognize the enduring impact of BASIC, showcase innovation in computing at Dartmouth today, and imagine what the next 50 years may hold.' Be sure to check out the vintage photos on Flickr to see what real cloud computing looks like, kids!"
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Born To RUN: Dartmouth Throwing BASIC a 50th B-Day Party

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  • by Chrisq ( 894406 ) on Wednesday April 09, 2014 @08:14AM (#46703457)
    We've come a long way from the original BASIC to VisualBasic.NET, which is basically C# with a BASIC type syntax.
    • by CastrTroy ( 595695 ) on Wednesday April 09, 2014 @08:32AM (#46703571) Homepage
      Yes very much so. And VB.Net still puts people off because of that long history. Even though it's pretty much exactly the same functionality as C#. Last I checked, it has some features C# didn't have, the biggest of which is better background compiling. You can add entire classes with actually compiling your project, and Intellisense will work. Maybe C# will do that now, but VB.Net has basically always had this feature.
      • by Chrisq ( 894406 ) on Wednesday April 09, 2014 @08:47AM (#46703639)

        Yes very much so. And VB.Net still puts people off because of that long history. Even though it's pretty much exactly the same functionality as C#. Last I checked, it has some features C# didn't have, the biggest of which is better background compiling. You can add entire classes with actually compiling your project, and Intellisense will work. Maybe C# will do that now, but VB.Net has basically always had this feature.

        A developer who converted a lot of VB code from VB7 to .NET said that one difference with C# is that typing is more strictly enforced at compile time. After testing on a sample he discovered that porting to VB.NET was quicker, but converting to C# discovered some obscure bugs in the original code - some of which had work-arounds applied as they had ever been fully understood. We went for the port to C# with the result that the ported application was more stable than the original.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I think it would be more accurate to say that C# is Visual Basic with a C-like syntax so programmers no longer have to feel ashamed of using Basic.
      Let's face it: no matter whether you're using Java, C#, Python or C++ with a modern toolkit, we're all programming in Visual Basic now.

    • Well, they have about as much common with each other as FORTRAN I has with Fortran 2008. ;-)
    • It's a real shame that the original Visual Basic lineage was dumped in favor of .NET. It's like Windows XP... there's still plenty of people using VB6 to this day. I'm one of them. People never fail to underestimate the power of that language. The last version was released in 1998; yet I'm here on 64-bit Windows 7 and finding not only does the original stuff still work, but I have no trouble using API and Type Libraries to access all sorts of new Win7 things like libraries (music, docs, etc), damn near any
  • Memories (Score:5, Interesting)

    by kria ( 126207 ) <.roleplayer.carrie. .at.> on Wednesday April 09, 2014 @08:15AM (#46703465) Journal

    I remember as a child reading BASIC programs out of Compute Magazine for my dad to type in on our TI computer. That likely means I was reading code before I read my first real novel, which is amusing.

    I try not to admit at work that I've had to learn VBA for Excel for a tool we use.

    • Re:Memories (Score:5, Funny)

      by postbigbang ( 761081 ) on Wednesday April 09, 2014 @08:16AM (#46703471)

      Maybe you should GOTO the event.

    • As a teen I remember writing a small game program in BASIC on a sheet of "programming pad'. Then calling my friend and reading it over the phone while he entered it on his TRS-80. The game was called Catch. A little man got fired out and you had to catch him with the curser before he hit the ground. It worked first time no flaws. I didn't get to see it for over a week. We played that game quite often.

      Then it was on to FORTRAN punch cards.

      NOT the good old days.
    • by k6mfw ( 1182893 )
      for me in college I would see a BASIC program (this was in pre-internet days when magazine articles listed programs) I'd type it in and run the program to see what it does. Of course I have to go back and read the article to better understand what I just entered into the computer. Not the best way to learn but had fun with it. Regarding pre-internet, I did have a Compuserve electronic mail account but far from going to article online and do copy/paste.
    • I was reading BASIC programs even though I had never seen or used a computer.

    • There is no shame in VBA. If you use object oriented programming and comments it is maintainable. I have a fairly complex application that I built to automate statistical assessments using VBA in Excel. I initially wrote it as a big blob and it proved to be such a nightmare that the first time I had to modify it for changing requirements I had to rewrite it. After rebuilding it with objects I have had to modify it several times and it has proven clean and easy to do so.

  • by MooseDontBounce ( 989375 ) on Wednesday April 09, 2014 @08:29AM (#46703555)
    My companies MRP is the (very) old CA-Maxcim written in BASIC. About every other year some change needs to be made to the code. I grab my old BASIC manual and CA-Maxcim API guide and go to work. We use SQL Server, C#, etc. for all new work and have a 3rd party product to access the CA-Maxcim files but it's funny to think of a $80 million+ company core application is written in BASIC. It just works with no problems.
  • If you wonder why people abbreviate Microsoft as M$ in articles, consider that Microsoft got its start as a developer of BASIC for 8-bit home computers, including every Apple II computer from the Apple II Plus through the IIGS, IIc Plus, and Macintosh LC with IIe Card. The FAT file system also started with a Microsoft BASIC []; Tim Paterson incorporated it into the 86-DOS that he would later sell to Microsoft. And in this early era, before DEFSTR and DIM ... AS, all string variable names ended with a $, just as names of scalar variables in Perl would later start with $. The following is a BASIC program:

    10 LET M$ = "Microsoft"
    20 PRINT M$;" introduces BASIC"
    30 END

    (That and the $ helps to distinguish Microsoft from multiple sclerosis [].)

    • by colfer ( 619105 )

      Line numbers were great. You could add line 15 at any time!

      But M$ gave us BAT files, which are terrible.

      • But M$ gave us BAT files, which are terrible.

        In principle, BAT files are shell scripts. But in practice, I agree that remained underpowered as a shell. In fact, it was so underpowered that the maker of Scotch tape bought the name to use it for adhesive hanging hooks []. Cmd.exe in Windows NT family fixed this somewhat, but as I understand it, Microsoft's command prompt didn't fully meet the power of UNIX shells until PowerShell.

        • Having written BATch files since 1985, the first time I tried JScript I decided not to use BATs again except for very simple things. Windows Scripting Host was a good idea that apparently 1) appeared too late, and 2) wasn't supported on all Windows versions for a long time. Too bad.
        • I use the windows command prompt every day and have for a very long time but I do have a nice collection of vbscripts and third party tools that are intended to run from the prompt. I never use powershell and I work in a mostly windows environment I would say that those vbscripts and third party tools make it fairly close to powershell.

    • by colfer ( 619105 )

      And if you haven't seen ASCII-art porn images come clacking out of a teletype with a phone-cradle modem to a time-sharing computer, then you weren't there (thankfully perhaps). []

      Briefly I had to deal with compiled programs on decks of IBM cards. BASIC was much nicer for a student doing small programs because it was interpreted and you could fix it as you went along (in memory). Those card decks looked cool on Hawaii Five-0, but one syntax mistake in a cobol or fortran program

      • by swb ( 14022 )

        I used to have the astronaut on the moon ASCII poster in my bedroom in high school.

        We used to print them on the DECwriter instead of the TTY33 because they were faster and looked better. The lab nazis would get pissed if they caught you running posters, but it was easier to get away with if it took less time. The TTYs were only viable if you snuck into one of the non-CompSci labs, like in the psychology building, after hours.

    • The AppleSoft Compiler. It seemed like magic, programs ran so much faster than interpreted. I seem to remember a demo BASIC brickout game being basically unplayable compiled because it ran so fast.

      • by jockm ( 233372 )

        Microsoft's TASC was also impressive because it was written in AppleSoft Basic and compiled with itself. No small feat, considering the Basic of the time. It was the first compiler I ever bought.

    • WAIT 6502,1
    • I'm sure it's coincidental that "M$" likewise suggests Microsoft's financial rapacity, of course.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by gstoddart ( 321705 )

      What you say is interesting, but I disagree.

      People use M$ in the same way they use Di$ney ... to connote money grubbing corporations.

      I have never understood that to have anything to do with variables in BASIC.

      Though, for all I know, you could be correct. But I've never used it that way.

      • It means both. But the BASIC meaning is a useful fallback for people who complain "you're immature for using $ to connote money grubbing corporations."
    • I assumed that it was a reference to their relentless pursuit of cash at all costs (including quality).

    • by markhb ( 11721 )
      The first Microsoft BASIC I ever ran was on the TRS-80 in my high school; I ran something like
      10 FOR A = 0 TO 1024
      20 PRINT CHR$(PEEK(A));
      30 NEXT A

      and somewhere along the way it came out with "M I C R O S O F T"
    • by mbstone ( 457308 )

      Mod parent -1 Complete And Utter Bullshit.

    • Microsoft BASIC for Atari was awesome. Only superceded by BASTIC XL. But Microsoft was not always evil. I agree that Windows 8 sucks, of course.
  • I'm going to celebrate by making each of my kids write a simple program in BASIC. They can start on 4/20 and have to be complete by 4/30.

    It's how I got started by gum and if it was good enough for me, and it was, than it's good enough for them! []

  • 20 LET X = 0
    30 IF X = 50 THEN 60
    40 LET X = X + 1
    50 GOTO 30
    60 PRINT "HAPPY "
    70 PRINT X
    80 PRINT " BASIC!"
    • As memory serves, you would want semicolons after lines 60 and 70 so as not to cause a new line. The dangers of posting untested code to the web.

      Anyway, I thought I'd share the greatest program I ever wrote: a chat-bot. I was 8 and taking a summer school BASIC class in 1984. Near the end of the summer, we had a group of seniors visiting, so I wrote a really simple chat program - just asked some questions and provided canned responses. When those seniors saw the computer talking about the weather they go

  • As a senior at Taylor Allderdice HS (Squirrel Hill) in Pittsburgh, I had my ONLY formal programming class, in BASIC. When I went to engineering school at Carnegie-Mellon, I was not required to take any programming classes, so I chose not to.

    So of course my entire career has been spent using computers. I did use BASIC on my first job (HP 9830, dual cassette drives and a whopping 16KB of RAM), doing real-time data acquisition on large centrifugal compressors. I also wrote a resume as a series of PRINT stat
  • by Gondola ( 189182 ) on Wednesday April 09, 2014 @09:21AM (#46703867)

    Back in the day, I knew people that could provide me with magic phone numbers that would allow me to dial anywhere in the world, for free. Imagine that, right? I was only like 13. Statute of limitations and all that. This was in the 80s I guess.

    Anyway, I remember we used to somehow dial into a Darthmouth mainframe and from there we could do a couple things. They had some kind of multiuser Zork (or Zork-ish) text adventure that you could play. I tried it a couple times but I couldn't get into it at the time, even though I loved Infocom games.

    The biggest appeal was getting into the chat system. There, we could chat with what I assume were Darthmouth college students. "JOIN XYZ" I think was the command from the main menu.

    There was this cool VT display of who was in the chat, so you could tell how many people were there. I used to chat with these people all the time. It was great for a precocious 13 year old who couldn't talk with his peers because his vocabulary and worldview was greatly expanded from theirs. How unfortunate that my social skills were so backward at the same time.

    The details are a bit foggy, but I'm sure with some conversation with some of the same folks who used to chat there, I could dredge up those memories. Anyone remember chatting on that system?

    • by MrHops ( 712514 )

      The biggest appeal was getting into the chat system. There, we could chat with what I assume were Darthmouth college students. "JOIN XYZ" I think was the command from the main menu.

      There was this cool VT display of who was in the chat, so you could tell how many people were there. I used to chat with these people all the time. It was great for a precocious 13 year old who couldn't talk with his peers because his vocabulary and worldview was greatly expanded from theirs. How unfortunate that my social skills were so backward at the same time.

      The details are a bit foggy, but I'm sure with some conversation with some of the same folks who used to chat there, I could dredge up those memories. Anyone remember chatting on that system?

      Oh yes. I was a freshman in '80, and I spent a lot (too much?) time in Kiewit, playing the adventure game, writing programs in BASIC (and later BASIC7, which had a multi-threaded version if you can believe that) chatting on XYZ. Probably talked to you at one point.

      BTW, it's 'Dartmouth'. I'm not fussy, but I'm sure there are alums who are.

      • by Gondola ( 189182 )

        It was a typo, of course. I've typed "darth"-something many more times than "dart"-something else in my life.

        '80 was probably too early. I would have been single digits. It was probably more like '84-'85 maybe? I remember some people had personal channels they would use, like some dude named Greg hung out in channel 32 I think?

        I guess it would be kind of weird and wrong to ask what your username was? I can't even remember mine for sure; it might have been Warewolph, or The Hoodlum. Both awful handles that I

    • by J053 ( 673094 )

      The Dartmouth BASIC timeshare system also had Star Trek and Lunar Lander (in 1972, anyway). Good times!

  • BASIC is a horrible, horrible language. I'm conflicted though, since it's where I started, in 1978. I stuck with it for a few years not knowing any better, and even programmed the first Mac using MS BASIC for a short time in '85 before giving it up for good. But learning Pascal (Turbo flavour) was a breath of fresh air - almost as easy to use, and far, far more elegant and properly structured. From there it was a trivial leap to C and OOP, C++, Obj-C and the rest. I suspect many programmers of my generation
    • by Alioth ( 221270 )

      There are some good versions of BASIC, even from years ago.

      Consider BBC BASIC for the BBC Microcomputer (a very common computer in the 1980s in British education and schools). BBC BASIC supports named procedures and local variables so you can write BBC BASIC programs just as structured as pretty much any other language. It's one of the few BASICs where you can easily write recursive routines (since it has local variables).

      Then there are BASICs that are just awful, like the excuse for a language interpreter

      • by psergiu ( 67614 )

        Well ...
        BASIC is still used in the micro-controller & embedded device, and is now structured as ever.

        Check out MM Basic []

    • by slapout ( 93640 )

      That's what the B in BASIC is for -- Beginners. You use it to learn about variables and loops and if statements and other such concepts. Then you move on to other languages (C, Python, etc.) where the concepts are the same but the languages are better structured.

      • I remember as a kid believing in this odd concept of programming hierarchy.
        You start with Basic, move to Pascal, then to C finally you end up in Assembly.

        However experience has taught me that Programming languages do not fall in a hierarchy, but tools good at solving different problems.

        Basic is good at Throw Away code. Solve your problem give your result. Doing it in any other language you are just wasting your time with details.

        Pascal is good for that simple program that you want to maintain and share and

    • by narcc ( 412956 )

      This meme isn't dead yet?

      Give it up, man. If you can't, at least come up with an actual reason for hanging on to it.

  • ewww (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DriveDog ( 822962 ) on Wednesday April 09, 2014 @09:42AM (#46704071)
    Familiarity, in this case, bred contempt. I've written far more code in all sorts of dialects of BASIC than anything else, and I avoid it now if at all possible. For 1964 or the limited hardware in the 70s (6502s, Z80s, etc.) I suppose it was OK. But this isn't 1964 or 1978. VB isn't Dartmouth BASIC, but it looks and feels like V'GER—all sorts of stuff agglomerated onto a simple-minded core to add capabilities. So I'll celebrate not having to use it. MS made gigabucks in spite of BASIC, not because of it. Too bad K&R didn't get to work a few years sooner so we would never have heard of it. Some older cities still have lead pipes. Doesn't mean it was ever a good idea, and they'd be better off had they never used lead in the first place.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Too bad K&R didn't get to work a few years sooner..

      Too bad K&R got to work at all. C is just a bastardized form of BCPL []. The IT world would be a better place if the BCPL language tree had died at the root.

  • by T.E.D. ( 34228 )

    Yeah, I've got a box full of old Creative Computing mags in the attic, and yeah, BASIC was my first programming language. But celebrate its birthday? Meh...

    The language certainly has its place in history, but frankly I moved on a long time ago, and for damn good reason. To me, this would be like celebrating the birthday of the Hustle or Electric Slide. I might occasionally pine for the days of wall-to-wall shag carpeting, but that doesn't mean I'm about to install it in my living room again "for old time'

    • by slapout ( 93640 )

      Think of it more like the anniversary of the slide rule. Sure, you wouldn't use it today for doing calculations, put it has a place in history and was a step toward more powerful things. And some amazing stuff was done with it, like going to the moon.

  • []

    "BASIC Computer Games
    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    BASIC Computer Games
    Author David H. Ahl
    Subject Computer programming
    Publication date
    BASIC Computer Games (1973, 1978, 2010) is a compilation of type-in computer games in the BASIC programming language collected by David H. Ahl. Some of the games were written or modified by Ahl as well. It was the first million-selling computer book.[1]

    The first edition of the book, released in 1973, contained 101 games that h

    • by j-beda ( 85386 )

      I had to pay for a copy of that book from the library, which got misplaced. I swear it was returned, but they never got it. It was more expensive then I thought it should have been.

    • by markana ( 152984 )

      Sigh. I still have my 1st edition copy, slightly worn. It took 4 of us in high school to type in sections of that Star Trek game (110 baud ASR-33, acoustic coupler). But then we played it until they banned the game due to excessive paper use :-) The advent of CRT terminals a few years later was greeted like the 2nd Coming...

      The book itself was banned in a number of school computer centers (well, the few schools that *had* computers at the time). Including the one at SPC, where a certain kid named Gate

  • by Overzeetop ( 214511 ) on Wednesday April 09, 2014 @10:53AM (#46704759) Journal

    The last, and only, computer language in which I was ever fluent.


  • When I first got interested in running a computer bulletin board system, around 1986-87, I had a Tandy Color Computer 2 (with a whopping 64K of RAM) and a 300 baud auto-dial/auto-answer modem. What I didn't have was any good software to use for the purpose. Back then, the only BBS package I really knew of for the platform was a commercial one called Colorama (typically sold in "Rainbow" magazine, a Tandy Color Computer publication). As a kid who had a LOT more time than money, I was pretty uninterested in t

    • by rk ( 6314 )

      There was a POKE you could use on the CoCo2 (and some versions of the CoCo1) that would switch to a character palette that displayed the lowercase characters as such.

      I recall having a driver that let you use the "hi-res" (256x192! Look out!) mode as the console, so you got more space, but more importantly could mix graphics and text quite easily. If your friend was responsible for that thing and you're still in touch with him, please thank him for me, because that thing rocked.

  • by spaceyhackerlady ( 462530 ) on Wednesday April 09, 2014 @11:09AM (#46704883)

    ...and the world is all the better for it!


  • BASIC may not be the best programming language, far from it, but it was my first and it gave me the love of programming that lead to where I am today. I got my first TRS Color Computer 2 when I was 10 for Christmas and I will never forget typing in my first example program (and saving it on a tape) and then starting to experiment and figure out what else I could do with this wonder. From there I upgraded to a CoCo 3 and eventually QuickBASIC on a PC. With that I wrote an AI program that got me to an Inte

  • ... is that one evil smirk on the TRS-80 monitor?
  • In typically breathless university press-release prose, TFA says "on May 1, 1964, ... time-sharing and BASIC were born"

    BASIC, sure, but time-sharing might better be dated to 1961, when CTSS was first demonstrated, and soon after widely used at MIT.
    • by time961 ( 618278 )
      JOHNNIAC Open Shop System (JOSS) was another early time-sharing system, demonstrated in 1963. By 1964, the time-sharing idea was becoming widespread.

      But, yes, undisputably, Dartmouth gave us BASIC, and like George Washington's proverbial axe (which had both its head and handle replaced multiple times), BASIC remains with us today. At least it's not as harmful as C; BASIC arrays and strings always had bounds-checking.
  • by mdsolar ( 1045926 ) on Wednesday April 09, 2014 @12:11PM (#46705439) Homepage Journal
    cause FOTRAN is hard --Barbie
  • Dartmouth CS (Score:1, Interesting)

    by CauseBy ( 3029989 )

    I graduated from Dartmouth in 2002 with a CS degree. Let me tell you, the reason they are throwing this big party for BASIC is because that department hasn't done shit since 1964. If I had to do it again, I would do it at a different school. The only good thing I can say about Dartmouth is that I found refuge in a gentle, fostering fraternity [] -- and that is the one thing that the Dartmouth administration has been bent on destroying []. That campus is a wasteland of feuding heartless conservatives [] and asinine l []

  • I still think that Basic Programming [] by Kemeny & Kurtz (Basic creators) is a very fine way to teach a language. Practically every sample was useful in itself. Very didactic and well written.

    • The deal with Basic was it was everywhere. Any computer you had access to had Basic readily available from the command prompt.

      Now , it's Javascript. Available on most computers and runs on most computers.

  • Yes, I have a few Creative Computings around. But I got my start after reading an article in Atari Explorer magazine about BASIC. I cut my teeth on the horrible Basic that was Atari ST Basic. But then I moved to the awesome GFA Basic. From there to C and various other languages. Remember the "B" in Basic stands for Beginner. It's a good language to teach the fundamentals -- variables, looping, etc.

  • Surprised at the number of hateful comments regarding BASIC. Even when it was created it was aimed at novices not experts, hence the name: Beginners All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code. The true value was that the simple syntax made learning programming concepts much simpler. I used to teach a beginning programming class in the 80's that used BASIC. I always felt that I was able to instill a better understanding of what was going on with the simple Line # VERB parameter syntax of the early language.

  • We all know the Dijkstra quote... "It is practically impossible to teach good programming to students that have had a prior exposure to BASIC: as potential programmers they are mentally mutilated beyond hope of regeneration."

    Enough bashing then... what is an *excellent* choice of language to teach to beginners?

    • by psergiu ( 67614 )

      I recommend MMBasic on a Maximite

      Quoting from [] :

      MMBasic is a free and open BASIC interpreter for 32 bit microcontrollers.

      It includes floating point numbers, extensive string handling, multi dimensional arrays and structured programming features like do loops, multiline if statements, user defined subroutines and functions.

      MMBasic is generally backwards compatible with Microsoft's MBASIC and implements much of the ANSI Standard for Full BASIC (X3.113-1987).

  • Well then, Bunky


    20 GOTO 10
    30 REM This comment so the Slashdot filter won't complain about the all caps code yelling

  • I'm surprised that they haven't put some kind of DTSS/BASIC system up for people to shell into to see what it was like. I know there's a simulator, but they could put up a system with that XYZ and other things I've seen in this discussion. I had heard about DTSS before, but never got to experience anything like that...unlike some other lucky Slashdotters with high schools privileged enough to have a terminal connected to some university system.

  • My very first program was 'hello world' in Basic on the High School computer lab's Apple ][ in 1981 (learned Fortran in that same course). I got a TI 99A for my birthday that year, and I wrote more noddy programs in Basic over the next few years, saving them meticulously on cassette tape.

    I can't imagine using Basic for anything useful these days, but it was fun while it lasted.

Recent investments will yield a slight profit.