Saturday, June 13, 2009

Who Invented Texting? (Updated!)

As unlikely as it may seem, I might have been the first person to invent and program an application for texting.  Yup, thats my claim.  I suppose I might have been first for a number of things, as it was the very early days of personal computers, 1980's on Apple ][+/e.  Firsts were easy back then.  I was probably the first to invent bit flipping to get colors that ordinarily you could not get from the Apple, maybe I was the first to actually document the hidden commands cross encoded in the CPU microcode (such as AND operations on 3 bits and not the others).  But those are so obscure and irrelevant that its not even worth writing about.  So I won't.

However texting is a big one.  Here is a link to the original post I made on the subject:

The program I wrote allowed a person to send and receive email via our bulletin board system by using a touch tone keypad.  You would spell out what you wanted using a 2 keystroke system.  Its a different entry method than today, but back then I figured it was easier to do 2 keystrokes on the touchtone pad vs. up to 3 for a particular character.  Today we have look ahead and better software that makes todays method far easier.  With my entry method for example, to get "C" you would press #2 and then #3.  First you would press "2" because that contains the alpha character "C" on it.  Then you would press #3 because "C" was in the 3rd ordinal position.

To walk you through how this worked, it would go something like this:  First you call from any phone to our BBS.  Using SAM, (or Software Automated Mouth) which was a voice synthesizer, our BBS would answer and say something like press 1 to enter voice mode.  If they didn't it would then send a carrier signal and it would be a modem connection.  In voice mode, you could have the voice synthesizer read your emails to you, read posts on message boards or read G-Files.  You would send or reply to emails using the method I described above.

We didn't call it texting.  I never even made the connection until reading a news article about a pair of engineers who had invented texting.  So I thought about it and realized that the program I had wrote in the early 1980s was in fact texting.  You used a touch tone keypad to enter messages to be relayed to other users on the network.  At that time no one was walking around with LCD screens in their pocket so we did the next best thing which was to read it to them via a voice synthesizer.  But all of the elements were there, including the method of input creating alpha numeric messages, and delivering them to an intended recipient.  Along with the ability to reply.  No computer required by either user, just a touch tone phone.

This was programmed in 1982 or 1983 on Dune BBS, which was then running on a 10 or 20 megabyte hard drive in Huntington Beach, CA.  My brother ran the BBS, and I believe he came up with the idea to do it, while I did the actual programming and data entry design.

Well the BIG NEWS update is that WE HAVE FOUND THE CODE!  Including the Dune BBS code, the SAM code AND both the Basic and Assembly programming I did for making it all work!

Many many thanks to my very dear friend Patrick in Las Vegas who has spent hours and hours - no - months and months going through all of my old programming discs to locate these files.  You see, after my programming career was in tatters, I was on my own, responsible for my 15 year old brother, had been in a bad car crash, lost my job as a programmer as the company went under and had just turned 18.  I boxed up all of my Apple stuff and never looked at it for the next 20+ years.  

After Patrick and I hooked up again about 5 years ago, one day I took the long drive out to Las Vegas and unloaded every scrap of apple hardware and software that I had.

Patrick has been able to find quite a few gems in there!  Including my modified F8 ROM, which was a useful tool for programmers in that it displayed disassembly in both ASCII as well as binary (for bit operations that were done in immediate mode, the only case in which you would want to know what bits were doing what).  This BIOS is actually a product being sold - today!  I find that amazing!  

Another program I wrote was for a 17 year old quadrapalegic girl who could only move her left hand.  Before using my program, she communicated with her mother by tapping morse code on her arm.  What my program did was to allow her to tap out morse code on a joystick, which then displayed the word in large letters on a screen, and when the word was done it would speak the word, and then the sentence when finished.  It opened up her world and was a very rewarding experience.  I've lost touch with the family so I have no idea what has become of her or how long they used the code I wrote for them.

Also found among the discs was the game I had been working on before the company went bust.  It was a 3-D maze where one encounters monsters etc.  I was particularly proud of having written an entire 3-D maze generator in 256 bytes (or one page).  Yep, thats right, entire 3D maze generator in 256 bytes.  Even more amazing is that I was able to compact all of the maze data for one room into a single byte!  A zero if the passage was clear or a 1 if there was a wall there.  I used separate lookup tables for things like doors, secret doors, locked doors etc.  All I had to do was to shift the bits one by one into the carry register, do a BCC or BCS and loop it until I had shifted all the bits through the carry.  That was my maze generator.  256 bytes.   Even though the game only had 8 levels on a 30 x 30 matrix, because of the compactness of the code and data representation, even with just 48K, we could have done literally hundreds of levels - all memory resident.  Oh and I wrote a vector based drawing program for generating the maze vs. a regular raster drawing which I used for things like flame, monsters etc.

And I failed high school algebra - hahaha.... 

Anyhow - thank you again Patrick for your time, patience and effort.  I know its been a labor of love for you too.

So Im not sure whats next.  I do recall reading about some guy getting an award for "inventing texting" in 1988.  Not that I would want an award.  But maybe I'll just make a youtube video or something if we can get it full functional, which is the next step now that we have located the code.  Anyhow, it would be a really cool thing for my kids to be proud of their dad for doing.  Its not like they understand that it was actually harder to build a company over 20 years, thats stuff they take for granted.  But texting, yeah, thats something kids understand :)

Hey if anyone out there has used my system on Dune BBS in 714 area code around the years 1982 to maybe 1985, please leave a note here.  I'd like to get at least 5 people who can personally attest to the fact that they did indeed use the system and estimate the year it was used in.  I'll update this saga once again if and when we get the entire things running again.  Its really complex and coming back to code you wrote as a 15 or 16 year old kid, well, it ain't easy.

As an additional thought, we were actually very fond of taking our telephones apart and making 'changes' to them.  We had a toll free number, but not in the usual sense.  You see, we rewired our telephone to make the phone company think it was ringing and ringing non stop, when in fact we had already picked up the phone and were enjoying a conversation.  To us back then, hacking and cracking were technical challenges for young and curious minds.  Unfortunately today, it seems more about profit and destruction.  And thats too bad.

Frank Segler

** Please remember to comment if you used our system on Dune BBS in the 1980s.  Please estimate the year you used it and leave your pirate name if you please.  Thank you very much!!

(I want to extend my most heartfelt thanks to Patrick Asato of Las Vegas, if it were not for him opening so many doors for me, all of this old stuff I did would have fallen on the dust heap of history.  Thank you for everything and all your hard work resurrecting this ancient magnetic dust :)

1 comment:

Okami said...

I found this completely on accident - I was teasing my mom and asked her whether there was texting in "her time" ((XD)). I looked it up, and found this. O: I think all I can say is: