Front Cover
 Table of Contents
 The harware packages
 The software packages
 Computer languages
 What's my problem?
 What are my alternatives?
 What should I look for?
 When I purchase... then what?
 To whom should I talk?
 The final decision
 Decision making tabulation
 Computer jargon and buzz words

Group Title: Computer series
Title: A Microcomputer for the farm family?
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00094898/00001
 Material Information
Title: A Microcomputer for the farm family?
Series Title: Computer series - Florida Cooperative Extension Service ; 561
Physical Description: 19 p. : ; 28 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Dobbins, Craig L
Suter, Robert C.
Publisher: Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida
Place of Publication: Gainesville, Fla.
Publication Date: 1983
Copyright Date: 1983
Subject: Microcomputers   ( lcsh )
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent)   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Bibliography: Bibliography: p. 19.
General Note: "Reprinted by permission from EC-527, Cooperative Extension Service, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana."
General Note: Cover title.
Statement of Responsibility: Craig L. Dobbins and Robert C. Suter.
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00094898
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: oclc - 10759256

Table of Contents
    Front Cover
        Page 1
    Table of Contents
        Page 2
        Page 3
        Page 4
    The harware packages
        Page 5
    The software packages
        Page 6
        Page 7
    Computer languages
        Page 8
    What's my problem?
        Page 9
    What are my alternatives?
        Page 10
        Page 11
    What should I look for?
        Page 12
    When I purchase... then what?
        Page 13
    To whom should I talk?
        Page 14
    The final decision
        Page 15
    Decision making tabulation
        Page 16
    Computer jargon and buzz words
        Page 17
        Page 18
        Page 19
        Page 20
Full Text

May 1983



JUL ,, 1983
L.F.A.S. Univ. of Florid-




Florida Cooperative Extension Service / Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences / University of Florida / John T. Woeste, Dean

ular 561

Reprinted by permission from EC-527, Cooperative Extension Service, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana.

Table of Contents
Definition. . . . . . . .. . 3
The Hardware Packages . . . . . . . . 5
The Software Packages . . . . . . . . 6
Computer Languages. . . . . . . .... 8
What's My Problem?. . . . . . . . . 9
What Are My Alternatives? . . . . . .... .10
What Should 1 Look For? . . . . . .... .12
When I Purchase...Then What? . . . . .... .13
To Whom Should I Talk? . . . . . ... 14
The Final Decision. . . . . . . ... 15
Decision Making Tabulation . . . . .... 16
Computer Jargon and Buzz Words . . . . 17
References . . . . . . . . 19

A Microcomputer for the Farm Family?
Craig L. Dobbins and Robert C. Suter, Department of Agricultural Economics

The next explosion of technology to
affect the American farm family may well
be the microcomputer. Some persons now
foresee the impact of the microcomputer
equaling that of the farm tractor in the
1930s. Some are predicting that the
well-managed commercial farm family can-
not afford not to have one and that a
microcomputer in the farm office will be
as common as a sugar bowl in the kitchen
by the end of the 1980s. If so, that
thing called "change" will again chal-
lenge every commercial farm and ranch
operator both today and tomorrow.
One may well ask the question,
"Why?" The task of keeping the farm or
ranch records, whether for financial,
tax, or other purposes, is a very tedi-
ous one and has never been particularly
enjoyable. The time and the arithmetic
involved in making farm decisions are
very demanding. The economic feasibili-
ty of investing in another 160 acres, a
new seed processing plant, or a large
livestock facility has often been
resolved without any formal economic
analysis and sometimes without even a
sharp pencil. With a microcomputer all
of this could change.
The microcomputer could easily be
the greatest gift ever to a farm or
ranch family. However, it could also be
the most troublesome technology yet.
Whatever the case, the challenges, the
costs, and the economic benefits (assum-
ing such can be measured) should be ex-
posed before investing in a microcomput-
er. The present-day costs appear small
relative to the promised results. How-

ever, both the costs and the results are
somewhat deceptive. Given the present
state of the arts and the nebulous na-
ture of any measurable results, the
feasibility and use of a microcomputer
is a very difficult question.

In the 1950s most computers filled
an entire room. They were essentially
central data processing facilities.
However, they were justified only where
a number of jobs were to be performed
and were repetitive. Data preparation
was generally done elsewhere. Various
persons or parties submitted large
batches of paper work to a keypunch
operator who then punched all relevant
data onto punch cards. These cards were
in turn processed in batches at the cen-
tralized facility. The user who wanted
some sort of an analysis had to submit
his cards to the computer and wait.
Sometime later, usually 2 to 4 hours if
things worked, the output became avail-
able. If there was an error, the job
had to be resubmitted.

Since then many things have hap-
pened. A whole series of dramatic
changes in electronics occurred during
the last few decades, and as a result the
microcomputer has come upon the scene.
The early vacuum tubes have been re-
placed by semiconductors and integrated
circuits and, more recently, by extreme-
ly densely packed silicon chips called
microprocessors. In fact, much of the
internal memory and processing logic may
today be contained on a single silicon
chip smaller than a dime. As a result,
today's microcomputer is substantially
smaller. The entire system often sits
on a desk top. Furthermore, it general-
ly costs less than $10,000.
The hardware or equipment includes
a cathode-ray tube which provides a
visual display of up to one thousand al-
phanumeric characters on a television-
like screen and is "conversational" in
nature. The terminal typically includes
a typewriter-style keyboard with a
number of special control keys which
edit one's commands, check on the
transmission of data, and indicate the
end of each message. The system gen-
erally includes a magnetic tape or disk
for data storage, along with a printer
which provides immediate output on hard
The microcomputer is more powerful
than might be expected. It has a broad
range as to capacity, memory and
storage. Software support is gradually
becoming more plentiful. The program-
ming process is becoming more efficient
as the language requirements have been
reduced. A new range of peripheral
equipment, such as printers and automat-
ic paper feeders, has become available.
The dollar costs have been reduced. And
all of this has occurred during a period
in which the need for data processing
and the cost of handling data (conven-
tionally) have both increased.

However, the real plus is not just
the size of the computer or its cost,
but the modus operandi. Like its large
ancestor, the microcomputer has memory,
it can be programmed, it typically has a
very versatile input-output capacity,
and it is no longer restricted to spe-
cial applications. Its use is limited

only by the creative ability of the own-
The quicker or earlier capture and
analysis of information have made the
microcomputer a much more effective ap-
proach to problem-solving. The user can
now have "interactive dialogue." In oth-
er words, he can "visit" with the com-
puter. A technical staff is no longer
necessary. The keypunch operator and
punch cards are no longer needed. Data
can be "typed" or entered into the sys-
tem via the keyboard-typewriter. The
data can then be visually checked on the
cathode-ray tube (CRT).
Depending upon how well the comput-
er is programmed, the operator may be
requested to make certain entries and
answer certain questions, usually in ab-
breviated English. Should a particular
entry be invalid, the operator or user
is informed immediately and is requested
to reenter the data. No longer does one
have to submit a batch and wait. Ad-
justments can be made and errors can be
corrected immediately. Thus, the work
is here and now rather than at some cen-
tral facility.
The microcomputer not only accepts
information from the operator and tests
it immediately, it may file that infor-
mation for subsequent retrieval, move
data from one place to another, all the
while sorting, collating, merging, and
perhaps getting rid of some of it in the
process. Best of all, certain arithmet-
ic and logical operations can be per-
formed. Finally, the answers alone can
be printed. Once a microcomputer is
operative, which is no small task, it
allows a completely decentralized ap-
proach to problem-solving and decision-
There is still a need to coordinate
dnd integrate traditional decision-
making principles with present-day mi-
crocomputer philosophy. However, it now
appears as though the microcomputer will
be cost effective in terms of reducing
the amount of effort involved in both
data handling and word processing. It
also appears that the microcomputer will
fulfill that long-held promise that a
computer can extend a businessman's in-
telligence. If so, it is destined to
become universally useful in both the
farm or ranch home and the business.

h. H dlThe
11 i Hardwe
The microcomputer is best described
in terms of its hardware, which is phys-
ical in nature, and its software, which
is more or less intangible. The various
hardware packages consist of a central
processing unit (CPU), some device with
which to enter the data, a storage unit,
a printer or output device, and perhaps
some additional communications equip-
The central processing unit is the
traditional little black box, containing
both intelligence and memory. The
modern-day version contains a number of
"printed circuit boards" which are the
heart and life blood of the microcomput-
er. On top are mounted transistors,
capacitors, chips, and other electronic
marvels. Underneath are ribbons and
ribbons of solder through which flow
various electronic impulses.
The central processing unit is the
component that does all the arithmetic.
It makes whatever comparisons are called
for by the program or the instructions
and does the work. Hence, it is the
core of every microcomputer system.
The input device is typically a
typewriter-type keyboard with a few ex-
tra keys and a cathode-ray tube (CRT) or
video display terminal (VDT). The key-
board is used to enter both instructions
and/or data into the computer. Each
item is displayed on the video screen.
This is what allows that thing called
"interactive dialogue"--immediate error
corrections, feedback, and other adjust-

The typewriter keyboard and video
display terminal have made the microcom-
puter a challenging and exciting bit of
technology. A full-sized screen--80
characters across and 24 lines up and
down--allows the operator to examine a
large amount of data and/or several in-
structions at one time. The more popu-
lar versions allow a dual intensity of
light, whereby some characters are
displayed more brightly than others.
Some allow a reverse image with light
letters against a dark background rather
than dark letters against a light back-
ground. Still others allow color graph-
ics to be used. The interactive dia-
logue "on the screen" has revolutionized
the data entry methods and made the
punch cards and the batch processing of
data obsolete.
The microcomputer is capable of
remembering information. The component
that performs this function is called
memory. There are two types: primary
memory and secondary memory. The pri-
mary memory consists of two types:
read-only memory (ROM) and random access
memory (RAM). The read-only type is
used largely to store frequently used
instructions, whereas the random access
type can be used to store either in-
structions or data. The read-only
memory is not available for storing user
information, so an important considera-
tion is how much random access memory is
The capacity of the RAM memory
varies depending upon the microcomputer.
In nearly all systems, the RAM memory
can easily be expanded; however, there
is a limit. (Every so often the amount
of information to be stored exceeds the
storage capacity.) There is one further
problem. When power to the computer is
shut off, the information stored in the
random access memory is typically lost.
For these reasons, it is important to
include considerable secondary memory or
storage as a part of any computer.
All memory--both that which holds
the instructions for the current task(s)
and that which holds the data to be
processed--is measured in units of "K,"
each of which holds or equals about
1,024 characters. Thus 4K memory is ca-

pable of storing about 4,096 characters
of information, 8K--8,192, 16K--16,384
characters, etc.
A storage unit or warehouse is re-
quired to store all programs or instruc-
tions not currently being used. These
storage facilities may consist of mag-
netic tapes, which were used by the ear-
lier microcomputers, or plastic disks or
diskettes similar to 45 rpm records.
Depending upon the system a cassette
tape recorder or a floppy disk drive
will thus be required.
Both magnetic tapes and disks or
diskettes are capable of storing large
quantities of data. The tapes are more
universal and are frequently used to
transfer data from one computer to
another (e.g., a program or mailing
list). However, the disks, which vary
all the way from the 5 1/4-inch "floppy"
disk holding several thousand characters
to the larger "hard" disks holding mil-
lions of characters, are much quicker
than tapes in terms of data retrieval.
They allow much faster microcomputer
The output device or printer pro-
vides a permanent record, once whatever
instructions are "punched in" and once
whatever appears on the screen is ac-
ceptable. These printers come in all
sizes and shapes. They vary from 80, to
120, to 132 characters in width. They
may be character printers which look
like and act like a typewriter or line
printers which print an entire line at a
time. The less expensive use sprockets
and feed-in paper with pin-feed holes
along the edges. The more expensive
ones feed in single hard copy sheets, 8
1/2 x 11. The paper may be plain or
pre-printed with logos, headings and
The microcomputer system may also
include some communications hardware.
One of these is referred to as a "modem"
which is short for modulate-demodulate.
This device, which can both send and re-
ceive signals, allows the microcomputer
to communicate through an ordinary tele-
phone. The typical modem consists of an
acoustic coupler and rubber gasket into
which the telephone receiver fits. The
more traditional purpose is to link a
remote computer terminal with a larger

computer processor. However, a modem
may also be used to solve a programming
problem in that a programming company
can analyze and maybe correct a software
problem from a remote location. One of
the more sophisticated modems allows a
microcomputer to answer the telephone
whenever a call comes in.
All of these component parts are
referred to as computer hardware. They
vary considerably in type and size or
capacity, and in compatability. There
are numerous "breeds, types and

Software #
While the microcomputer hardware
may look intriguing, no microcomputer
will function without a software program
or set of instructions. The software
program operates the physical devices,
controls the hardware, and tells the
computer how to perform each of its
tasks. Computers are not intelligent or
smart; they are just the opposite. They
must be told what to do at all times.
Thus, every microcomputer system re-
quires a software program appropriate
for whatever use is to be made of the
There are three general types of
software associated with a microcomputer
system: the operations software, a com-
puter language interpreter or compiler,
and the applications software. The
operational program is a very complex
one determining computer performance.
It acts as the central command, deciding
what parts of the computer are to be em-
ployed and when. It is usually written
by a special team of programmers called
"system programmers" who are employed by
the microcomputer manufacturer. The
operations software is usually included
with the microcomputer hardware.

The better operational programs are
written with the purpose of not only
handling all of a given computer's
operations, but also making any subse-
quent programming easier. However, the
owner or user is not generally able (or
even advised to attempt) to modify an
operational program. The operations
software makes the computer function.
It establishes the computer's limits.
And unfortunately, it makes each brand
of microcomputer somewhat unlike all
others. Hence, operations programs
differ in their capabilities, and com-
parisons are very difficult to make.
The computer language interpreter
or compiler translates the software pro-
grams written in a language used and un-
derstood by the programmer to a language
that is understood by the computer. Any
one of several different languages may
be used. However, this also is largely
specified by the microcomputer manufac-
All subsequent software programs
are applications programs. There are
about as many varieties as there are ap-
plications. They require the very best
experience on the part of the person who
writes each program, for he has to be
not only knowledgeable about computer
programming and the computer on which it
is to run, but also about the area of
application. This simple thought has
not always been apparent to many comput-
er enthusiasts, and as a result, it is
the origin of many a problem.
In fact, it is a very real problem
in the purchase and use of a microcom-
puter for a farm business. Most comput-
er programmers, even some of those who
have worked on farm records, have little
or no knowledge as to the data that are
needed for farm decision making. Farm
financial data tend to differ from that
required by the nonfarm business. The
farm family needs a record of the many
physical items--for example, pounds of
fertilizer applied, bushels of corn pro-
duced, pounds of feed fed, and pounds of
milk sold, as well as the dollar and
cents figures. Furthermore, these phy-
sical items often need to be related to
one another as well as to the different
farm enterprises.

In obtaining good application pro-
grams, the microcomputer owner has
several alternatives. First, he can
contract for, or purchase a custom-
designed program written specifically
for his particular farm business. This
alternative is generally made available
at the time the hardware is purchased.
The sales representative or an assistant
and the farm or ranch owner generally
work together in its design. A custom-
designed program may save considerable
time and effort in terms of getting a
microcomputer into operation. However,
the amount of time saved is variable and
very difficult to estimate. Acquiring
programs in this fashion also requires a
large dollar outlay.
Second, a new owner may find an
already-packaged applications program
that fits his particular situation rea-
sonably well. That program may be pur-
chased from a software company different
than the hardware manufacturer--one
specializing in software programs. How-
ever, determining whether a given
software program is useful is more than
just "finding" a program with a descrip-
tion that sounds like it fits. The pro-
cess should include determining (a) the
brand of computer required to use the
program, (b) whether the program does
what is desired, (c) whether there is
adequate documentation, and (d) whether
assistance will be provided to help
learn how to use the program and inter-
pret the results.
Every new computer owner needs to
make sure an applications program is
compatible with his particular
hardware's operations program. There
are strong packages and weak packages
and expensive packages and cheap pack-
ages. However, if the program will not
work on your computer, it is of limited
value regardless of its characteristics
or price. Thoroughly investigate
hardware, operating software and comput-
er language requirements before purchas-
ing applications software.
Third, a new owner with sufficient
time, some desire, and some expertise
may decide to develop his own software.
There are many do-it-yourself program-
ming books. Typically, one is distri-

buted by the hardware manufacturer as a
part of the hardware purchase. These
programming instruction booklets are
sometimes well written. Furthermore,
some persons find that they have a na-
tural talent in this area. The person
who has that programming talent as well
as a knowledge of a given farming opera-
tion can undoubtedly build a computer
program that will be quite advantageous.
However, regardless of what some comput-
er manufacturers infer, computer pro-
gramming requires considerable time and

Every computer's internal nature is
such that it relies on electrical im-
pulses. For this reason a machine
language based on a whole series of 1's
and O's is required. Each number and
each letter in the alphabet have a
specific and distinct code consisting of
some combination of 7 bits each
representing a 1 or a 0. D is coded
1000100 when it enters into machine
manipulation. However, all of this is
somewhat academic as far as a microcom-
puter owner is concerned.
There are computer languages and
computer languages, from the very so-
phisticated, highly confusing, and unin-
telligible language that only a computer
expert should worry about, to that which
is almost plain ordinary English and
which most anyone can soon learn. Each
hardware manufacturer generally pub-
lishes a reference manual which speci-
fies the rules to be followed with their
particular computer. However, each mi-
crocomputer also tends to have its own
language, and each language tends to
have its own vocabulary, grammar, and

Some languages require considerable
mathematical ability to understand and
develop an applications program. They
also require considerable documentation
if someone other than the program writer
himself ever attempts to use or change
the program. Other languages are fairly
easy to read. They may use meaningful
words--add, multiply, go to, if, etc. as
well as a number of familiar names--for
data identification purposes--to identi-
fy the program functions and data
When an owner-user decides to
design his own application programs, he
needs to anticipate the more usual ab-
breviations and data names that are
standard labels or could become so. In
this fashion, he can design his own par-
ticular programs with some degree of
clarity and efficiency in both remember-
ing and using the various input func-
tions. This saves considerable time and
future frustrations.
There are several computer
languages. No matter which one is
selected, the person attempting to learn
the rules for the first time may be
enormously clumsy. Yet, once the vari-
ous rules as to grammar, logic and syn-
tax are mastered, any computer language
becomes highly efficient.
One of the first universal and
highly acceptable programmable languages
was FORTRAN which is an abbreviation of
formula translation. FORTRAN was
developed primarily for scientific pur-
poses and to enable the very sophisti-
cated engineer and others to translate
algebraic and mathematical formulas into
a quick and easy computer language. It
was developed to work specifically where
various numbers are to be compounded, as
in an exponential expression, and where
a large number of decimal places are
needed if the final answer is to be ac-
curate. FORTRAN thus meets some rather
rigorous industry standards and is used
in many of the more complex calcula-
tions. While it is extremely useful to
the professor and his graduate students,
it is not easily understood by the man
on the street.
The language most commonly used for
microcomputers is BAS1C, which is the
acronym for Beginners All-Purpose

Symbolic Instruction Code. It still al-
Tows consTderable scientific expression,
yet is simpler, clearer, and easier to
understand than FORTRAN. The major im-
provement is that it allows one to use
more meaningful abbreviations and names,
thus improving program legibility, docu-
mentation, and data identity. However,
various attempts to simplify and clarify
this programming language has led to
several versions of BASIC, resulting in
considerable variation in the language
being used from one microcomputer to
Finding a program written in BASIC
does not necessarily mean that the pro-
gram will work on any microcomputer.
Before the program will "run," certain
modifications may be needed. These
might be both time-consuming and frus-
trating. The important idea is to make
doubly sure that the applications pro-
gram language used by anyone doing his
own programming is compatible with the
manufacturer's operations program (or
compiler) and that the latter will con-
vert the applications program into the
machine language used by that particular

The decision to purchase a micro-
computer is an ideal time for some
long-term creative thinking. Management
should take the time, every now and
then, to develop an accurate, clearly
defined, and realistic set of goals and
objectives. Unfortunately, some persons
view a microcomputer as a goal or an end
in itself. This it is not. It is, in-
stead, the means of accomplishing a
given set of goals and objectives more
rapidly and more efficiently.
A review of the farm or ranch
business and the family's desires is ex-

tremely helpful in the purchase of a mi-
crocomputer. It can affect, if not
direct, every aspect of the business as
well as the life of the family in the
future. A prospective purchaser should
take a serious look at his present modus
operandi. He should think about some of
the manual improvements that could be
made and work out a long-term business
plan. In this fashion, he is more like-
ly to make a good decision.
The person who has a fair idea that
the microcomputer might be useful in his
business faces a huge number of
alternatives--so many in fact that a
good decision is somewhat difficult.
The farm or ranch family is generally
desirous of obtaining a computer package
that will get one started fairly quick-
ly, one in which all of the pieces (both
hardware and software) are compatible,
and one with sufficient flexibility so
that additional components can be added
in the future. The farm or ranch family
is also hopeful that what they buy today
will not be obsolete and/or half price
Many microcomputer manufacturers
have entered the market, with many
varieties of hardware and software--
games, record-keeping, investment feasi-
bility, and text-editing capabilities.
The office equipment manufacturers have
developed word processors, along with
many bookkeeping and financial packages.
Some are merely interested in selling
machinery, and they leave a new owner on
his own. Some do a fair job of in-
tegrating the entire system--both the
hardware components and software pro-
grams. Some of the companies or busi-
ness representatives ask the prospective
owner--user about his business, his
problems, and his needs, and they then
develop and recommend a specific comput-
er system for him.
The purchaser of a microcomputer
also varies in terms of his objectives
from something to help educate the chil-
dren or to keep track of which cows are
bred and which aren't, to something that
will "post" the cash farm receipts and
expenses, analyze the business at the
end of the year, and provide all of the
information required to fill out various
income tax returns. A microcomputer is

often purchased with only one or two ob-
jectives. Then, after the owner-user
becomes acquainted with some of the pos-
sibilities, he decides that it might
just be useful in several additional
areas. Hence, there is need for more
memory or storage, for additional
software, and for additional add-on
A microcomputer may be most useful
in ascertaining the optimum level of wa-
ter or fertilizer, the corn versus soy-
bean profit levels, the least-cost com-
bination of feeds, and/or the break-even
price for each group of feeder pigs. It
may be most useful in determining wheth-
er a given capital investment (e.g., an
additional 160 acres or a new hog house)
is feasible, and in charting the day-
to-day variations in December corn, No-
vember beans, and/or July hogs.
There may be other objectives--
Junior likes to play chess, he needs
help in high school algebra, and he
hates writing (actually rewriting) En-
glish themes. Dad could use it to keep
track of all the entrants in the
tractor-pull contest. Mom might just
type in her favorite recipes and the
Christmas card list. There are numerous
possibilities as to family activities as
well as farm business.
Before purchasing any microcomput-
er, analyze your business and family
problems and think about a
microcomputer's most likely use. What
are our problemss? What are our needs?
Where will a microcomputer pay off?
Where else might such be used? Put to-
gether (1) a set of all currently kept
records--land use, livestock production,
inventories, depreciation schedules, em-
ployment and payroll records, cash ac-
counts, tax returns, (2) a list of all
information needed both day-to-day and
every now and then and for decision-
making purposes, and (3) a list of all
the other tasks that a microcomputer
might do. Each task should be described
as concisely as possible.
With a list of all currently kept
farm records, a list of information
needs, and a list of all other possible
activities, the microcomputer's business
representative is usually most helpful
in assessing the components that are
needed and in determining the programs
that are required.

Are My
A alternatives?
The first decision is whether to
purchase a complete hardware system from
one manufacturer or various components
from different companies. The component
approach allows somewhat more selection
in terms of applicability and perfor-
mance, yet the compatability of the
various components must be very careful-
ly checked, along with the possibility
of adding additional equipment in the
Some vendors (manufacturer
representatives) will assemble a system,
test it, and provide training in its
use. Others merely sell the machinery
and let the new owner figure it out him-
self. The same is true of service.
Some dealers provide local service while
others have to send a faulty machine
back to the factory. Every purchase--
microcomputer or other equipment--should
undoubtedly be preceded by a visit to
other businessmen who have already pur-
chased a given system to check with them
about their experience. A list of these
people can usually be obtained from the
salesman. This could save a lot of time
and effort and both money and frustra-
tion in the future.

The hardware components for a farm
family microcomputer will probably in-
clude some or all of the following:
1. A typewriter-type data entry
device and a video display. Punch cards
and tapes (paper or magnetic) should not
be considered. The display tube should
be at least 80 characters in width and
should display at least 24 lines (double
spaced). It is desirable to have good
editing and correction overrides at this
2. A central processing unit suf-
ficient to operate all of the system's
current components and perhaps several
additional ones that may be added in the
future. The operations program, which
generally comes with the hardware,
should be one which can run an easy-to-
use tape and disk system that is compa-
tible and reliable, and a BASIC machine
language compiler or interpreter. De-
tail specifications should be available
along with at least 32K and preferably
64K of memory.
3. Dual disk drives (one to use
for programs or instructions and the
other for data) and perhaps a cassette
tape for back-up purposes. The initial
disk storage must be sufficient to store
all of the probable functions and appli-
cations. It should be modular and thus
easily expanded in the future.
4. A printer capable of printing
both upper and lower case characters in
a word processing text or table-editing
mode. This component should be a highly
reliable one, as any downtime for
repairs can affect the availability of
the results.
5. A telephone hook-up or modem
allowing access to data and applications
programs from other computers over a
telephone. This is the one component
that may be deferred, depending upon the
need or desire to have current weather,
market information or application pro-
These five components perhaps go
beyond any given farmer's initial needs.
However, to purchase less may be like
purchasing a 16-foot diameter silo a few
years back when the 24 footers were com-
ina on the market. The above hardware
will cost $3,000 to $10,000, yet will

provide the flexibility desired by most
farming operations.
The alternatives as to hardware are
simple compared to those relative to
software. Unfortunately, a microcomput-
er is no better than its applications
software. The advertisements imply that
once you buy a computer you can play
games with the kids, help them do their
homework, budget next year's cropping
system, keep track of all the sows, have
a complete cash flow at any time, enjoy
up-to-date weather, prices, and news,
and have all of this communication in
rainbow colors. Yet, every one of these
jobs requires a specific set of software
The advertisements also infer that
a new owner can write his own software
programs, poking them in himself. How-
ever, programming for the majority of
owners and users is a difficult talent
to acquire. The uninitiated often find
that it leads to considerable frustra-
Canned off-the-shelf software is
available from many sources. At the
present time there are numerous programs
available with the prices ranging from
zero to several hundred dollars each.
In practically all instances the
software program is an unknown. Varia-
tions in a program's mechanics and/or
format specifications typically limit a
given software program to the particular
problem for which it was designed. This
means that one has to accept and use a
particular program as is, make or hire
someone to make modifications so the
program is more useful, or hunt for a
more flexible program assembled by an
independent company.
In some instances, the programs
don't perform according to their speci-
fications. In many instances, they are
not readily applicable to a particular
farm business. When this is so, some
programs are no bargain at any price. A
demonstration program or two may show a
prospective purchaser how simple it is.
However, the only way to check one out
or be certain, is to see that program

Should I
Look For?
1. The first software program
needed by practically every farmer today
is one that tabulates beginning- and
end-of-the-year farm inventories, that
develops all farm depreciation schedules
for income tax purposes, that classifies
and totals all cash farm receipts and
cash farm expenses, and then calculates
an end-of-the-accounting period income
statement and perhaps a current year in-
come tax return. To the extent that
physical quantities of various farm
resources and farm products are desired
and/or included, this will be a very
difficult program to find. This first
program should therefore be one that al-
lows for some redesign, and furthermore,
one that can be updated every now and
2. Some farmers will want the op-
portunity to design and develop a pro-
gram or two of their own, specifying a
crop and fertilizer program perhaps, a
breeding and feeding program for milk
production, and/or one which keeps track
of the sows, the pigs per litter, the
feed fed, and the rates of gain. These
are specialized enterprise accounting
programs, but they're not generally
available commercially. As a result,
individual farmers with some degree of
talent are probably going to design them
on their own. What's required? Every
farmer with a desire of this nature
needs to check out the hardware
manufacturer's instruction manual to see
if the instructions for that particular
computer are fairly straightforward.
3. Many farmers may want to sub-
scribe to a data-bank organization's
time-sharing program whereby they can
get the most recent commodity prices,

along with whatever market analysis that
is available. These data may include
the weather as well as the most recent
market data and in some instances, gen-
eral news bulletins as well. The time-
sharing organization may also provide
sports, movie reviews, and other infor-
mation, even special programs such as
In some instances, the computer be-
comes an electronic bulletin board, al-
lowing all subscribers to communicate
with one another. The costs (or rates
per hour) vary throughout the day with
the highest rates being charged during
the peak hours of use. A telephone
(private line) plus some companion or
auxiliary on-line equipment is generally
4. Generally available are a
number of smaller programs which do most
anything. These programs are aimed at
particular problems--checkers and chess,
beginning algebra, household budgets,
Christmas card lists, recipes, health
and exercise programs, mailing lists,
and many others. These smaller programs
are available from many sources, includ-
ing the program-it-yourself owner-user.
However, one needs to investigate the
transferability between microcomputers.
A program that will operate on one sys-
tem might need modification to run on
another. In each instance, the program
may or may not be well documented and/or
Thus, there are several to many
sources of applications programs. It
may be possible to purchase the desired
program from a company that specializes
in software. It may be possible to
develop or obtain applications programs
from some of the land-grant universi-
ties. The easiest way to get the exact
program desired is to hire a programmer
to create a custom program. However,
this is quite likely to also be the most
expensive. Acquiring programs written
by others may serve as a source of
software; however, the documentation
that accompanies some of these programs
may be poor. Furthermore, many of the
programs provided by individual users
have not been checked for errors.
There are several questions that
should be raised with regard to any
packaged software program:

1. Is this program compatible with
the particular microcomputer on which it
is to be used? Is the higher-level com-
piler language or interpreter available?
2. Is the program documented to
the extent that its logic is easily un-
derstood and its applicability (or lack
thereof) is readily apparent? What does
the outline, the narrative, the flow
chart, the file layout, and the entry
and other instructions for the operator
look like? Documentation should
describe the kind of information needed
to use the program, how the results are
obtained, and an explanation of how to
interpret those results. For the more
complex programs, this may mean that
some kind of training in the use of the
program is desired.
3. Is there a minimum warranty
period during which the software sup-
plier "stands behind" or fixes any par-
ticular problem with the program?
4. Must the program be used as is,
or can the program be tailored to fit
the peculiar characteristics of the
business? Can the program be reduced or
expanded? And if so, will the company
help do this? In other words, who is
responsible for the modifications?
5. Once the program is modified,
does it still belong to the company or
is it property belonging to the farmer?
Can the farmer lend or sell it to a
6. If, in a year or two, the pro-
gram needs modification and/or updating,
what are the alternatives available at
that time? (For example, the income tax
regulations may not change, but the tax
brackets and rates may change.)
Applications software cannot help
but get better, simpler, and less expen-
sive in the future. This may mean that
a microcomputer purchase should be de-
layed. Yet, after studying the present
day possibilities one may decide to pur-
chase a microcomputer, purchase some ap-
plications programs and design some in-
dividual programs. This takes time to-
day but will save a tremendous amount of
time in the future.

When I
I Purchase...L
Then What?
In getting acquainted with a micro-
computer, it is desirable to have some
training on how to use your particular
system. Some manufacturers infer that
all you need do is take the computer of
your choice home, plug it in, and in a
matter of minutes run whatever program
has been purchased and/or written. This
is seldom the case. Considerable time
is required to become familiar with the
procedures needed to operate a microcom-
Most all computer manufacturers
provide self-instruction manuals that
explain various steps. However, these
manuals are often difficult to under-
stand. If the computer does not
respond, as the manual indicates it
should, it is helpful to have someone
available to answer questions. In fact,
the learning process is greatly enhanced
if some training is provided by the
manufacturer to acquaint a new owner
with the basic operations of the comput-
Learning to program a microcomputer
or to modify a purchased program re-
quires knowledge of a given computer
language. The difficulty of this task
will depend upon the computer and also
upon the language. A high-level
language, such as BASIC, takes less time
than the lower-level languages. There
are several to many manuals available

which describe the characteristics of
various languages and the rules that
must be followed. However, learning to
program a microcomputer is accomplished
only through practice. Several computer
companies offer classes in computer pro-
gramming. This is a tremendous help in
learning to write programs.
The computers being sold today are
considerably more reliable than those of
20 years ago. The most susceptible com-
ponents to breakdown are the mechanical
parts, such as the printers and disk
The methods used by various
manufacturers to service computers vary.
Some companies provide local computer
servicing. This method is generally
fairly quick, and it allows the use of
the computer to be regained fairly soon.
Service personnel may come to the home
or office to make the needed repairs; in
other instances, an owner-user may have
to take a component that needs repair
into the local store. In these situa-
tions where the company requires the
component to be brought in, it (the com-
ponent, i.e.) may be sent to a regional
service center or to the factory for
servicing. This kind of servicing re-
quires time. In fact, it may take
several weeks. The service company may,
of course, provide a replacement com-
ponent while yours is being repaired.
However, it is best to know their policy
before purchasing a microcomputer.
While repairs to a computer system
are not needed frequently, they can be
costly. Several computer companies pro-
vide service contracts which cover the
cost of periodic service calls and
repairs. These contracts are similar to
insurance policies in that a certain
cost is traded for a larger and uncer-
tain cost that may never occur.

To Whom
I Talk?
The prospective microcomputer owner
may want to visit with several hardware
or equipment manufacturers and/or to
start with some of the software houses.
The latter provide programming, consult-
ing, and other computer services. They
may or may not sell the hardware. They
usually provide across-the-board con-
sulting services--both hardware com-
ponents and software programs.
The computer-services distributor
typically offers a "turnkey package"
which includes the needed software as
well as the various hardware components.
His "pay" includes all profits on the
sale of the software plus the dollar
differences between his costs (or
discounted prices) and the list prices
on any hardware he sells. The farm own-
er may want to obtain the best of all
computer processors, peripheral equip-
ment, and software packages from several
different manufacturers in this particu-
lar fashion. Furthermore, the
computer-services distributor is usually
less reluctant to become involved with a
prospect's business problems.
Nevertheless, before buying a mi-
crocomputer, a farmer should ask to
visit with one or more of the firm's
previous customers, someone who has pur-
chased a similar system. And again, the
real secret is to make sure that the
software programs fit the problems.

Final '
Sooner or later the farm family
needs to sit down, tabulate, and compare
alternatives. A specific set of ques-
tions and a definite answer to each
should be ascertained with regard to
each alternative. A surprising number
of questions are never raised (and
furthermore, they are never answered)
unless some of the answers are recorded
on paper. An objective tabulation elim-
inates the salesman's personality and
some of the company bias. Hence, a
fairly sizeable tabulation sheet is
quite useful for decision-making pur-
Lastly, a microcomputer is not
likely to save a lot of labor that can
be used more productively somewhere
else. The farm family is likely to be
just as busy as ever. A major benefit
is that less time will be required to do
the arithmetic--the totalling, the cal-
culations, and the checking. More time
will be available to analyze the prob-
lems and study the results.
The real benefit is that the infor-
mation required to make decisions will
be more readily available. This addi-
tional information will vary from indi-
vidual to individual. However, it is
this information that leads to more
day-to-day control over the management
of a business and that will determine
whether a microcomputer is a good or a
poor investment.
Regardless of the system selected,
expect some frustrations. If new inno-
vations are enjoyable challenges, a mi-
crocomputer could be a great investment.
If a well-tested ("let someone else get
the bugs worked out") piece of equipment
is desired then the purchase of a micro-
computer should be delayed. However,
given time, the microcomputer is likely
to become a powerful and useful
decision-making aid in the management of
the farm business.

Decision Making Tabulation


Systems Distributors
Software sources
Hardware sources
Check for Software Availability
Programs) Documentation
Machine language
Flow chart
Entry instructions
Sample output
Modification needs
Hardware Components
Typewriter keyboard
Video display terminal
Size (width, lines)
Central processing unit
Disk storage
Size (paper)
Expansion alternatives
Rental or Lease Arrangements
Maintenance Costs
Type of service
Cost per month
Other Local Owners
Total Sales Price

Computer Jargon and Buzz Words

Access time: the time required to
retrieve information from the computer.

Address: A number specifying where
a unit of information is stored in the
computer's memory.

Assembly language: Programming
language using groups of letters; each
group represents a single instruction.

BASIC: (Beginner's All-purpose Sym-
bolic Instruction Code.) A relatively
easy-to-use computer language that comes
with many small and personal computer

Batch processing: Literally, a
batch of programs or data which has been
accumulated in advance and is processed
during a subsequent computer run.

Baud rate: The speed at which in-
formation is exchanged over communica-
tion lines, generally expressed in bits
per second.
Binary: The basis for calculations
in all computers, this two-digit number-
ing system consists of the digits 0 and
1, in contrast to the ten-digit decimal
Bit: The smallest unit of informa-
tion that the computer recognizes, a bit
is represented by the presence or ab-
sence of an electronic pulse, U or 1
(see binary).

Bug: A fault or error in a computer
Byte: A byte is composed of several
bits (usually 8). A byte is used to
represent one character (a number or
letter) of information.

Chip: A thin silicon wafer on which
electronic components are deposited in
the form of integrated circuits. Tech-
nologically, the key to the micro-
electronic revolution in computers.

COBOL: (COmmon Business-Oriented
Language.T A high-level programming
language widely used in business appli-

Computer program: A collection of
instructions that together perform a
particular function.

Compiler: A special program that
converts a programming language into
machine language.

CPU: (Central Processing Unit.) The
part of the computer that controls the
interpretation and execution of the pro-
cessing instructions.

CRT display: (Cathode Ray Tube.) A
televTsTon-like screen which may be used
for viewing data program instructions.

Data: The raw information within a
computer system.

Density: A term used to describe
the distance between the magnetized
spots on a magnetic tape or floppy disk.
The higher the density, the more data
can be stored on a given tape or disk.

Diagnostics: Programs for detecting
and isolating a malfunction or mistake
in the computer system; features that
allow systems or equipment to self-test
for flaws.

Disk: A revolving plate upon which
data and programs are stored.

Disk memory: Memory using rotating
disks as its storage element.

Downtime: The period during which a
computer is not operating because of a
machine fault or failure. Downtime con-
sists of repair delay time, repair time,
and machine-spoiled work time; as op-
posed to available or idle stand-by time
in which the system is functional.

EDP: (Electronic Data Processing.)
The transformation of raw data into use-
ful information by electronic equipment;
sometimes referred to as ADP, or au-
tomatic data processing.

Floppy Disk: A small, flexible
recordiingsurTace that looks a lot like
a 45-r.p.m. record contained in a pro-
tective cover.

FORTRAN: (FORmula TRANslation.) A
computer language widely used to solve
scientific and engineering problems.

Hardware: The physical components
of the computer processing system, for
example, mechanical, magnetic, electri-
cal or electronic devices.

IC: (Integrated Circuit.) An elec-
tronic circuit or combination of cir-
cuits contained on semiconductor materi-
al; the basis of a computer's intelli-

Input: The data that are entered
into the computer; the act of entering

Instruction: A group of bits that
designates a specific computer opera-

Interface: The juncture at which
two computer entities meet and interact
with each other; the process of causing
two computer entities to intersect.

K: Computer shorthand for the quan-
tity 1,024; the term is generally used
as a measurement of computer memory

LSI: (Large-Scale Integration.) The
process of integrating a large number of
circuits on a single chip of semiconduc-
tor material.

Machine language: The language that
each machine understands.

Magnetic tape: A recording device
used to store programs and data. Resem-
bles audio tape used in tape recorders.

Memory: The section of the computer
where instructions and data are stored;
synonymous with storage.

Microcomputer: A small computer in
which the CPU is an integrated circuit
deposited on a silicon chip.

Minicomputer: A computer that is
usually larger, more powerful and cost-
lier than a microcomputer but is not
comparable to a mainframe in terms of
productivity and range of functions.

Modem: A specialized device used to
attack a computer or one of its devices
to a communication line, often a tele-

Operating system: A series of pro-
grams generally provided by the computer
manufacturer that perform the computer's
basic, most heavily used functions.

Output: The information generated
by the computer.

Peripheral: A device--for example,
a CRI or printer--used for storing data,
entering it into or retrieving it from
the computer system.

Plug-compatible hardware: Computers
that can be operated with software ori-
ginally developed for other kinds of
computers; usually refers to hardware,
manufactured by competing companies,
that can be plugged into systems
designed for other equipment.

Program: A set of coded instruc-
tions directing a computer to perform a
particular function.

Programming language: A set of
words and rules that constitutes a
language understood by the computer and
operator alike.

Realtime: The processing of data as
soon as it is entered into the computer.

Response time: The time required
for the system to respond to a user's

Semiconductor: A material such as
silicon with a conductivity between that
of a metal and an insulator; it is used
in the manufacture of solid-state dev-
ices such as diodes, transistors, and
the complex integrated circuits that
comprise computer logic circuits.

Software: A general term for com-
puter programs, procedural rules and,
sometimes, the documentation involved in
the operation of a computer.
Storage: See memory.
System: The computer and all its
related components.

Terminal: A peripheral device
through which information is entered
into or extracted from the computer.

Throughput: A measure of the amount
of work that can be accomplished by the
computer during a given period of time.

Timesharing: A method for more than
one person to use the computer simul-
taneously at separate terminals with a
given time.

Turnaround time: The measure of
time between the initiation of a job and

its completion by the computer.

Word: A group of bits that
puter treats as a single word.

the com-

Word length: The number of bits in
a computer word.

Barden, William, Jr., Guidebook to Small Computers. Howard Sams and Co., 1980.
Barden, William, Jr., Micro Comp-uters for Business Application. Howard Sams and
Co., 1979.
Brabb, G. J., Computers and Information Systems in Business. Second Edition, Hough-
ton Mifflin, 1980.
Brown, C. W., The Mini Computer Simplified: An Executive's Guide to the Basics.
MacMillen, 1898.
Cohen, J. A., How to Computerize Your Small Business. Prentice-Hall, 1980.
Gupton, J. A., Jr., Getting Down to Business with Your Micro Computer. Source
Books, 1979.
Kenney, D. P., Mini-Computers: Low Cost Computer Power for Management. Revised Ad-
dition, Amer-ican Management AssoTciation, 178.
McGlynn, D. R., Personal Computing: Home, Professional, and Small Business Applica-
tions. John Wiley, 1979.
Ogdin,;C.A., Software Design for Micro Computers. Prentice-Hall, 1978.
Osbourne, Adam and Steven Cook, Business System Buyer's Guide. McGraw-Hill, 1981.
Sippl, C. J. and Fred Dahl, Computer Power for the Sm-allTUsiness. Prentice-Hall,
Tomeski, E. A., et al., Fundamentals of Computers in Business: A Systems Approach.
Holden-Day, 1979.

This public document was promulgated at a cost of $1,588.50, or 12.7 cents per copy, to provide
information on a microcomputer for the farm family. 05-12.5M-83

SCIENCES, K. R. Tefertlller, director, In cooperation with the United States Department of Agriculture, publishes this Infor-
mation to further the purpose of the May 8 and June 30, 1914 Acts of Congress; and Is authorized to provide research, educa- I
tional Information and other services only to individuals and Institutions that function without regard to race, color, sex or
national origin. Single copies of Extension publications (excluding 4-H and Youth publications) are available free to Florida
residents from County Extension Offices. Information on bulk rates or copies for out-of-state purchasers Is available from
C. M. Hinton, Publications Distribution Center, IFAS Building 664, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida 32611. Before publicizing this
publication, editors should contact this address to determine availability.

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