Old School Geek Quiz

assemblercode.pngThe other evening I was down at the MIT Enterprise Forum’s Angel investing event, hanging out with Michael Blake of Adams Capital. He and I had a great time reminiscing about the early days of the micro-computing industry. Our discussion inspired me to put this list together. It isn’t really a “quiz”, per se. More like a fun walk down memory lane. Enjoy!

These were all taken from my own experiences. I’m sure that other folks have some good ones, too. Feel free to pile on by adding a comment down below. ;)

1) If you’ve ever had to do this:

echo ATA > COM1

or this:

echo "AT&M0&K0&N6" > /dev/ttyS0

Bonus points if you still remember what those old Hayes-compatible modem registers actually did. Deduct points if you have never actually used a modem, because the only thing you remember is broadband. Deduct additional points if the slowest modem you’ve ever used personally was a 1,200 baud modem.

2) You not only know what a FOSSIL driver does, but you also know that it stands for Fido Opus SEAdog Standard Interface Layer. You get bonus points if you actually know who Tom Jennings, Ray Gwinn, and David Nugent are. If you thought BNU was a better FOSSIL driver than X00, give yourself 5 extra points.

3) You remember how utterly earth-shatteringly cool it was to toggle back and forth between two tasks using DESQview.

4) You remember fighting tooth and nail to convince your boss that Visicalc would be a worthwhile tool to have laying around at the office. Bonus points if you know who Dan Bricklin is. Additional bonus points awarded if you were able to convince your boss successfully.


5) You remember how ticked off you were when your only CP/M boot disk went bad. Bonus points if you ever booted CP/M (or anything for that matter) from an 8-inch floppy disk. Deduct points if the only diskette size you’ve ever seen is a 3.5 inch floppy. For those of you that have never seen an 8 inch diskette (or god forbid, a 5 1/4 inch diskette), see the image below comparing them all. Nice, huh? :)


6) You remember how much of a quantum leap it was when you upgraded from XModem to YModem, then to ZModem. You get bonus points if you remember using Kermit or uucp from the command line. Additional points awarded if you know who Ward Christensen and Chuck Forsberg are.

7) If you considered performing Fidonet FREQs (File Requests) as an early version of P2P networking. Bonus points if you remember how long it took to download the latest version of Binkleyterm, Maximus, or Frontdoor via FREQ over a 2400 baud modem. Additional bonus points if hearing the names of Scott Dudley, Joaquim Homrighausen, Vince Perriello, Bob Hartman, and Andrew Milner make you smile.

8) If you remember how much devastatingly faster the “new” 1200 baud modems were (as compared to your old 300 baud unit). You get serious bonus points if you’ve ever used an acoustic coupler.

9) If you remember going through hell and high-water to get the COHERENT operating system running on an Intel 8088-based computer, only to be utterly frustrated when you realized that it didn’t have a native C compiler or a TCP/IP stack (that didn’t cost you extra, I mean). You get bonus points if you remember upgrading from COHERENT (or Xenix) to Minix. Additional bonus points if you’ve ever corresponded via e-mail with Andy Tannenbaum.

10) If you remember the old MFM, Winchester, and RLL format hard drives. You get bonus points if you remember that they weighed 25 pounds each, took 60 seconds to spin up, and only held 10MBs of data. Additional bonus points awarded if you’ve ever freed up stuck mechanical heads in a Winchester drive by repeatedly smacking it on the side with a thick-handled screwdriver (a nod there to my old pal, Kruges).

11) If you know the difference between a blue box, a beige box, and a red box. Bonus points awarded if you’ve ever used any of these (deduct 5 points if you were ever caught.) You get additional bonus points if you remember John “Captain Crunch” Draper.

12) You remember having to upgrade the UART chip in your serial ports from an 8250 to a 16450 or 16550A in order to prevent dropoffs.

13) You not only know what a “Duff’s Device” is, but you’ve used it in production code. Bonus points awarded if you’ve ever submitted code to the International Obfuscated C Code Contest (IOCCC). Additional bonus points awarded if you enjoy sitting around in your spare time unravelling other people’s obfuscated C entries.

14) You have not only been to the GUE (Great Underground Empire), but you went back several times. You get bonus points if you actually know the meanings of the words “Zork” and “Frobozz”.


15) You’ve ever daisy chained several 1541 floppy drives together and ran a BBS. Bonus points if you ran a BBS from your Apple II and kept the cover off of it half the time.

16) You learned 6502 assembler programming from the master, Jim Butterfield.

17) Much to the dismay of your wife, you don’t have to heart to throw away your old Timex Sinclair, Commodore (PET, C116, C64, C128, or VIC-20), Kaypro, Texas Instruments (TI-99/4A), Heathkit, or Osborne. Bonus points for even knowing what these are anyway! Additional bonus points if you thought the 5 inch monitor built into the Osborne was “more than enough.”


18) If you ever hooked up an 8-port (serial) DigiBoard, and ran Wyse terminals all over your house so you could monitor your (UNIX, COHERENT, Xenix, SCO, Linux et al) system from most any room. Bonus points if you did this in an apartment and had to pay to repair the sheetrock from the damage caused by running those thick serial cables (especially those Digiboard “octopus cables”) through the walls.

19) You vividly remember the day they took your favorite pinball machine away from the [bowling alley | arcade | pizza parlor ] and replaced it with Space Invaders, Pong, or Asteroids. Bonus points if you ever played the coin-op Space Invaders so much that you heard the ominous background sound of “dum dum dum dum” in your sleep. Deduct points if you paid money for the Buckner & Garcia album featuring “Pac Man Fever.”

20) You remember how huge the Sperry / Burroughs merger was (forming Unisys). Bonus points if you ever actually used a Sperry or a Burroughs system.

21) BONUS: You ever developed something comprised of at least 100,000 lines of Fortran, Assembler, COBOL, or C (not C++ or C#). Bonus points if your code was put into production somewhere and is still running. DEDUCT points if you ever programmed in LOGO, and thought it was the next big thing, or if you used Pascal and got all worked up about it.

22) BONUS: You ever mounted a magnetic tape reel in a mainframe data center while smoking a cigarette in your mouth, and juggling a hot cup of coffee.

Some fun links for you:



  1. Vince Perriello · July 2, 2006 at 4:02 pm

    I remember a few of these.

    Just a few… I think I forgot most of the others :)


  2. Hi there, Vince, and thanks for stopping by and dropping in a comment.

    Always good to hear from some fellow Fido-refugees. :)

    ( Raises a toast to Binkleyterm … )


  3. Your quiz brought back memories indeed. Betty and I went over it on the way to Sunday Breakfast at the Flying M Ranch.

    May I suggest some additions?

    Include a Persci 8 inch dual drive. That was the cat’s meow when it worked. And before that there was the DF32 – 32k words on a pdp-8.

    Points for programming in BDS C. Bonus points for having seen the MARC operating system in action.

    And bonus points if you know the difference between the 6044 and 6046 instructions on a pdp-8. (Offhand, I’d say about two is the snide answer.)

    Points for toggling in the pdp-8 boot loader. More points for toggling in the pdp-11 loader. Many points for toggling the loader on a Data General with those uncomfortable switches.

    And how many points if one remembers what Modemgate was about?

  4. Hi there, Chuck, and thanks for stopping by. Looks like the gang’s nearly all here :)

    The quiz I put together was more focused on the micro – the PDP was a mini – but you came strong, with some good memories. :)

    I don’t recall ModemGate, but I remember NixGate, which was a product I wrote and handed out about 20 years ago. It allowed you to dial up your favorite BBS, then connect over a null modem cable to another box (running UNIX), and you could access the very early Internet from there. Mostly gopher, but it was pretty hip at the time.


  5. I paid $45 for my first four function calculator, after employee discount. And it was a kit. Yes, Heathkit … I staffed one of thire first retail stores in Canada (my first civilian job), so thanks very much for the link to the Virtual Museum!

    p.s. my first PC was a NEC “Trek” … Z-80, 1.2MHz, 8K RAM.

  6. Ben – thanks for stopping by.

    I found another link that everyone may find of interest:

    The HP Computer Museum – some good stuff here:



  7. Hi Scott,

    Finally got a chance to read this entry at my leisure. I think I score about 50% on most of the topics. Does it count? Also, I had the joy of using punch card decks for all program entry, non-of this mamby-pamby CRT screens, where you could actually backspace. It was always fun the first time you dropped a thousand card deck and realized you didn’t number them. One summer, I also wire-wrapped 16 boards for a lab M6800, each board held a whopping 1K of RAM. It was always fun debugging those boards to find the messed up wire-wrap. My first PC was an “Orange”, a kit for building an Apple. Thanks for the memories.


  8. Joaquim Homrighausen · August 20, 2007 at 7:36 am

    Memories, memories, memories. And what fun memories!

  9. Andrew Milner · September 3, 2007 at 6:44 am

    Wow, some of this stuff sent a shiver down my spine!

  10. Bonus points if you know what the sofa table in Dennis Hayes office looked like!

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