ASCII Star Wars Portraits & Other Weirdness From BASIC-Era Computer Magazines

Categories: Studies in Crap

​Each Friday, your Crap Archivist brings you the finest in forgotten and bewildering crap culled from Golden State basements, thrift stores, estate sales, and flea markets.

A Stack of BASIC-era Computer Magazines Including

People's Computers

Date: 1978
Publisher: People's Computer Company, Menlo Park, CA
Discovered at: Berkeley estate sale
The Cover Promises: If you drop $599 on a TRS-80, you might be able to design droid needlepoints.
Representative Quote:

"Level II BASIC at last!! The long awaited successor to Level I has finally arrived, and the improvement in capability and performance is truly awesome."

You know the way we are trained to view as revolutionary every incremental design innovation in the various screen-bearing devices that have come to dominate our lives? Digging through these stuffy yet grandiose computer magazines confirms that that's the way things always have been, at least since the days the folks at Tandy and Radio Shack started trying to convince the world that playing Oregon Trail would result in better grades.

Seriously, they did everything they could to prove that, right down to precarious child stacking:


That's science, there. See, hunt-and-pecking "10 PRINT" into a screen the color of Mountain Dew made kids much smarter than dumb ol' books ever could.

What's more, computer education advocates promised that this revolution in learning would be fun, a lie exposed by the software that I turned up at the same estate sale where I grabbed these magazines:


I'm no math whiz, but I suspect algebra dragons can only be hurt with imaginary numbers.

Of course, computers weren't entirely un-fun. Just look at what a dedicated Star Wars fan could whip up with just hours of labor and a stack of graph paper:

​The scariest Stormtrooper is an italicized Stormtrooper!

Here's more:


While those might look like squares from the Death Star Memorial Quilt, they actually are the ASCII "graphix" of Daniel Browning, as printed in that People's Computers magazine. What's remarkable is that in the DIY age computer graphics had such a handmade quality. (For serious geeks, I've scanned and posted the entire article on the third page of this post.)

Next: Why women, though frail, need not fear the microcomputer.

My Voice Nation Help
Sort: Newest | Oldest

I was there when these little computers were big-time stuff.  I even sold them when I worked at Radio Shaft!  I did!  And even with that, I can totally appreciate this column.  Well done!  Those were heady times indeed. 


I agree with Mikey this article is full of snark.  If you meant this article to be a respectful homage then the way you communicate is snark.  As well calling it crap is not helping.


You don't really get it, do you? How old are you? 20? Seriously, this was high-end computing for the home back then and it is pretty cool stuff. I mean, it may not fit in to your elevated world of smartphones and iPads, but you don't really seem to understand computers at all. I mean the "Crap" tag is pretty pathetic, really.

Arcade video games in 1978 weren't much more complex, and those helped define an entire industry.

LOL, then you'd better send your Irony Generator in for a tune up, nobody is 'getting it', it's probably the fact that you turned the snark up AND called it 'crap', but who knows? Maybe it's because of the increased solar activity of Russian mind-control experiments... ;-)

"Studies in Crap is a humor column."

Sorry sweetheart, calling it "humor" doesn't automatically make it funny...

grace f
grace f

Studies in Crap is a humor column. Maybe you should go back to your nerd temple and wait for someone to write about these crappy old magazines like the holy books you think they seem to be.

Alan Scherstuhl
Alan Scherstuhl

Settle down, Grace. This may be the internet, but that doesn't mean there's cause to be dickish. Thanks for reading, though!

Alan Scherstuhl
Alan Scherstuhl

You think the reason I bothered to scan and share all this is because I hate it all and prefer iPads? Read more closely, Mikey.


With all due respect, regardless of your intent, your article comes off as being highly dismissive of what people were doing with and what they were hoping for computers.


I didn't get that impression at all.

Now Trending

From the Vault


San Francisco Event Tickets
©2014 SF Weekly, LP, All rights reserved.