|"Well, children, there was life before The Web, and even then computers were marvellous tools for wasting everyone's time. Listen to what an old man has to say; you will hear frightening stories at the rim of your imagination about computers without DVD drives or web browsers - but it's still the truth and nothing but the truth."|
What can I say. I'm spoilt. I'm into computers. I'm a nerd. I spend way too much time at the keyboard. So it's no surprise I've worked with quite a number of computers in all those years. Let's see how many I can remember.
Below you'll find a moderately funny story or two about how foolish I was about those computers. These days, of course, I am a terribly wise guy. Or something.
I had been interested in technical stuff before, but I made my first steps in BASIC on our school's PET. For its time, it had a very professional keyboard, a tape drive, a decent monitor and rugged housing, and it looked veeeery... educational .-)
I found out about variables and arrays and loops writing a small, brain-dead vocabulary trainer which stored its vocabulary in hundreds of DATA statements - I had not learnt yet how to store and load data files on the PET's cassette drive.
The local wizards taught me some fun POKEs, and I heard about a magic thing called "machine code". Most of the time, however, we would team up to play Space Invaders on the PET. One of us would move the player's ship left and right while the other was constantly banging on the incredibly loud space bar like mad to shoot down those aliens. (Talk about "pair programming"! Ha!) We even developed our own techniques to reduce the noise whenever a teacher walked by on the hallway outside while still achieving good scores!
The first computer of my own. Whopping 3583 bytes of memory! Like the PET, its CPU was a 6502, and I learnt 6502 assembler in school by exchanging notes with a classmate under our desks during boring lessons. Some of the hexcodes are still deeply engraved in my brain - guess what $60 or $EA mean in 6502 language! I wrote a lot of small programs on this machine. One of them, a tiny racing program with some lines of machine code thrown into it, even got published in the German "Homecomputer" magazine. (Most unfortunately, I lost that issue, and I forgot which issue it was.) There are also fond memories of a Scramble game, typed in from a magazine listing consisting of more than 3000 hex numbers without checksums; of the world's coolest platform game "Bonzo"; of a friend's self-written Space Invaders version for the Vic; of my first experiments with high-res graphics using the Vic's character generator; and of many other things. I liked this machine a lot. I still have an unexpanded Vic 20 at home. If you happen to have an old memory expansion board or an expanded Vic 20 or other Vic 20 stuff which you would like to sell, please drop me a note!
I've got a ZX81 with a 32 KB expansion and a Centronics interface now, but in the machine's heydays, I only played around with the doorstopper every once in a while when visiting a friend. I was completely stunned by a small 3D maze program which somehow fit into the tiny memory of the machine. Like most of the other computers I own, I like it for the simplicity and the minimalism of its design.
Turned me into a stubborn computer geek. Brought me loads of fun, frustration, excitement. Finally got me hooked on games and technology.TBD:
These days, I also have a C128 system somewhere in the basement.
A friend of mine had a ZX Spectrum 48K, and I used to tease him for the low graphics resolution and the ... well... incredible keyboard this machine had. But one day, he really stunned me with a program which played 3 voices of music using the Speccy's primitive beeper, using a multiplexing technique. This really made me respect the Spectrum a little more!
The machine which taught me more about systems programming, operating systems and hardware than any class at university I ever took. I still like 68K assembly language a lot and consider it as The Assembly Language Dialect As The Lord Wanted Assembly To Be Like (TM). This machine got me into writing articles and books, which eventually helped to get me the job I'm in. See also the Atari pages.
My brother's favorite computer. As an Atarian, I couldn't help but being involved in one or two religious wars over time, of course. Looking back, however, the Amigas were fine products indeed. The only things I never understood about the Amiga were its ugly UI, the low standard graphics resolution of the earlier versions (can you say interlace?) and the fact that I managed to blow up an Amiga power supply and all the I/O chips in an A500 just by plugging in a RS232 cable. On the other hand, the Amiga's OS certainly was a beauty!
A cutie! I carried it around in libraries, class rooms and other public places to take notes, and it would run almost forever with only one set of batteries.
Probably the ugliest housing I've ever seen for a computer, but still a cool machine. Runs MultiTOS which is very UNIXese in the basic feeling, but without the X and Motif overhead. Loved it. Always had planned to run Linux on it - but now the machine's gathering dust.
The first workstation I had the pleasure to use. It didn't compare favorably to my lowly Atari ST, however. Opening a Motif-based shell window took about 20 seconds on this 16 MHz computer with its 8 MB of RAM. The same thing would happen almost instantly on my Atari which had a 8 MHz 68000 CPU, 1 MB RAM and a slow ST506/412 harddisk. And oh, and the joys of learning 'vi'!
Well, at least this machine was connected to a cluster, and so we wrote a distributed nine men's morris program which also learnt to become a better player over time. And at night, we used to chat on four IRC channels simultaneously. You see, every machine has its own special qualities .-)
The machine on my desk when I started to work at HP. Blazingly fast in spite of all the Motif and X overhead. Awesome 3D graphics. Ample disk space. My door to the InfoBahn. What else could I ask for? (Answer: A lot 8-)
Used as a personal organizer of some sort. Since I'm not that organized, it didn't get to do much, though - expect when playing Space Invaders, of course. But it was handy on the road if you had to calculate something which you would need a programmable calculator for, or for writing down notes and addresses, or for boring computer-illiterate people to death.
This was my first PC clone; in fact, it was my girl-friend's main computer. Of course, it was my job to do all the installation stuff, so I saw the wonders of BAT and SYS and can now fluently speak some DOSese if required (and paid for it obscenely well).
Well, over time, our shop turned into something Windows-centric, and I even played a major role in this conversion. Which means I've been using more PC systems over all those years than I could have imaginen in my worst hacker nightmares - all kinds of desktop systems and laptops from IBM, Lenovo, Siemens-Nixdorf, Dell, HP and many other manufacturers. Most of them ran Windows, but later I often used them to run Linux on them (most frequently Ubuntu).
I ported our main product, OneSpace Modeling, to Sun Solaris at one point of the company history. I also helped with the SGI IRIX port. Those ports gave me the opportunity to learn more about those UNIXes.
Small is beautiful! Used this as an organizer, game console, dictionary, notebook, ebook reader, MP3 player, and timesink.
Recently, I dug out the old iPaq which had been gathering dust since I got the Pocket Loox (see below), and tried to upgrade its German ROMs. I wanted the latest bits, and I also wanted English ROMs this time. I wasn't sure whether that was feasible at all, but I found notes and reports here and there, and arrived at the following procedure, which worked for me:
WLAN, Bluetooth, CF and SD slots, VGA resolution - everything the good ol' iPaq did for me and a lot more.