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Kitchen Table International, an outrageous, albeit fictitious computer company created as a faux amalgam of Radio Shack, Apple, Commodore, and other organizations of the time, was the subject of one of the earliest regular computer humor columns, appearing in Wayne Green’s 80 Micro magazine[1] from January 1980 through July, 1983. The brainchild of computer journalist David D. Busch, the “world’s leading supplier of fictitious hardware, software, firmware, and limpware” each month introduced a new “innovation” that poked fun at the infant personal computer industry. These included a “black phosphor” computer monitor, and a programming language with all the worst features of BASIC and COBOL called BASBOL. The fictional company’s flagship product was the TLS-8E, a computer which was sold with a factory-applied coating of oxidation on its peripheral edge card connectors (“to protect them from electricity”), a 5 3/8-inch “sloppy” disk drive, and a keyboard that eschewed the familiary QWERTY array for a 16-key matrix that included a TBA (To Be Announced) key.

According to Busch, the operation was founded by one “Scott Nolan Hollerith” (after Adventure programmer Scott Adams, Atari co-founder Nolan Bushnell, and computer pioneer Herman Hollerith.) S.N. Hollerith, it was said, graduated from the University of California at Phoenix in 1970 with a degree in Slide Rule Design, and quickly built KTI into a multi-thousand-dollar empire on a foundation of selling maintenance upgrades for DROSS-DOS 8E, a microcomputer operating system that was a subset of CP/M. In 1981, KTI introduced the world’s “first” 32-bit microprocessor, created by piggy-backing two 16-bit chips on top of each other, until it was discovered that, at best, only one of the two chips actually functioned at any given time and, at worst, they spent a lot of time fighting over whose turn it was. The KTI staff gradually phased Hollerith out of active participation by relocating to a new, high-tech facility in Cupertino, California, and not telling him where it was.

Oddly enough, many of the most ridiculous phony products “introduced” by Kitchen Table International actually came to pass. Several years after the company demonstrated its Reverse LPRINT command, which allowed a dot-matrix printer to function as a scanner (the demo was actually a videotape run backwards, showing sheets of text feeding into a printer and coming out blank after they’d been “scanned”), Thunderware introduced the Thunderscan scanner, which replaced the ribbon cartridge of an Apple ImageWriter with a scanning module.

The Kitchen Table columns won the only Best Fiction Book award from the Computer Press Association for Busch in 1985, when he collected, revised, and edited the existing columns and some new material into a book, Sorry About The Explosion! published by Prentice-Hall.

Notes

  1. ^ http://www.trs-80.com/trs80-8c.htm
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