RunScore History Part 2

Part 2 – Portable (luggable) Computer

Scoring with a portable computer

In 1975, IBM announced the IBM 5100 Portable Computer. Do not confuse this with the IBM Personal Computer which was announced in 1981. The IBM Portable Computer was, what we called, “The Luggable Computer” since it weighed 50 pounds. It cost about $20,000. One could also purchase a printer which cost an additional $5,000. It was a dot-matrix printer which meant that we could put a Ditto© master in.

The IBM 5100 Portable Computer could be programmed in BASIC or APL. APL was the language we used from 1970 through 1973 to time and score high school cross-country meets.

The Central Processing Unit (CPU) inside the 5100 was a 4-bit microprocessor. Someone had programmed an IBM System 360 emulator on top of the microprocessor. APL is an interpretive language meaning each statement is interpreted and then executed. There was no compiler. This made APL easy to work with since changes were immediately available with no compile/build step. However, it made for inefficient operation. Someone else took the APL interpreter, which had been programmed for System 360, and put it on top of the emulator. That is, there was an interpreter sitting on top of an emulator sitting on top of a rather slow microprocessor. But it worked and, for applications such as scoring a race, it worked great.

APL worked on the concept of a “work space.” Within that workspace were your programs and your data. There was no full screen support. Everything was done at a command prompt although I recall that editing of the “functions” (programs) was full screen. The workspace was 32 kilobytes.

Meanwhile at IBM, I and a co-worker had developed a graphic package, which we called Graphpak, for APL. In early October 1975, after the 5100 was announced, we were contacted by IBM at Rochester, Minnesota to see if we would be interested in putting Graphpak on the 5100. We agreed and within a day of arriving in Rochester on October 16, we had Graphpak running on a 5100. The 5100 was very good at attaching devices through its serial port so we are able to support a variety of plotters and display devices.

At IBM, we had access to several 5100 computers. Also, at this same time, I and several others had created a Boys Scouts of America Explorer post to teach computer skills. The main person behind this was Elmer Galbi who was manager of Intellectual Rights (patents). Elmer had enough pull so that we were able to bring teenagers into the IBM Glendale Development Laboratory in Endicott, NY in the evening once a week. At one of our meetings, I challenged the Explorers to write a program to score a running race. Twelve-year-old Doug Galbi rose to the challenge. With a fair amount of help from me, he wrote a program which we used for several years at races until the IBM Personal Computer was available in 1982. I received permission from IBM Management to take one or two of the computers out for the weekend.

At this same time I was president of the Triple Cities Runners Club. We had monthly running meets at the State University of New York, now called Binghamton University. After each meet, I would go into IBM with one of the Explorers and score the meet.